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Old 06-03-2009, 10:34 AM   #91
Eric D
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Fantastic adventure, beautiful pics and report.Thanks for posting these.
I look forward to continuing
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Old 06-03-2009, 10:44 AM   #92
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Great stuff. Don't suppose you got any photos of the Kurdish moped biker gang?!
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Old 06-04-2009, 08:51 AM   #93
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Esfahan



Because I have been to Esfahan there is no real sightseeing pressure and I can just relax and enjoy the city. I settle into a nice routine: Go to a park, read, eat ice cream, nap, start over, maybe do a bit of sightseeing early in the morning or late in the afternoon. The Iran hotel is reasonably priced and there is no rush to leave town. Compared to my last visit in early March the parks are now green, the fountains are on and Esfahanis and local tourists are out in droves, especially in the evening.

This is the only place in Iran were I see no camping signs and surprisingly it is actually enforced.

Especially Imam square comes alive around sunset. Itís just filled with people having picnics, playing games, smoking a qalyan and generally having a good time.

The boys and girls play football

One of the nights Iím there, taking pictures of the Imam mosque, I hear someone shouting my name. Hm, that face looks familiar. Itís the guy who gave me some free ice cream in Borujerd. He is here with his extended family and Iím introduced to all of them and we take a group shot. Mum asks me how old I am and is very worried about me, traveling all by myself. She points out that her son, who is the same age, at least has a (very attractive) fiance. Not much I can say about that.

Another day I go to the Khaju bridge for sunset and listen to the guys sing and recite poetry under bridge. The singing sounds very unusual for Western ears. A bit like a stuttering yodel attempt with a sour throat but at the same time it is actually very melodic and it sounds like it is very hard to do. Most of the songs are an interaction between two or more guys under different arches of the bridge or some distance away. Even if you donít understand the words itís just beautiful. Iím glad some kind soul told me about this daily ritual the last time I was here.


I spend half a day looking for a lens cap to replace the one I lost a few days ago. The first one I find costs $10 and I tell the guy to get back to watching TV because he is better at that than running a business. I finally find another used camera and repair shop not far from my hotel and have a lovely chat with the old chap running it, reminescing about the old Russian Zenit and East German Pratica SLRs I used to own and he still sells. Iím briefly tempted to buy a medium format camera but with space limited on the bike I decide against it. Nearby is a top photographer and I consider to have my portrait taken.

I do get around to do some sightseeing eventually:
Imam Square at night

Chehel Sotun Palace


Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque


Imam Mosque

Bazaar


I took so many pictures that I had to split up posts. So, to be continued ...
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Old 06-04-2009, 11:00 AM   #94
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The people of Esfahan

Esfahan 2

During my extended stay in Esfahan I had plenty of time to take some pictures of the locals. Other tourists miss the obvious shot

If you think all the women shuffle about in black with their faces fully covered your are very much mistaken. Esfahan women can be very fashionable and they are not afraid to talk to you or even flirt with you.
















Men holding hands is very much OK in this part of the world

Some wear black,

some wear something more colorful

The kids are having fun in the fountain. A gardener tries to keep them out with not much success.




Local bikers





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Old 06-04-2009, 01:45 PM   #95
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Vielen Dank

Great trip report, looking forward to your next installment. Good luck, und viel gluck.
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Old 06-04-2009, 04:52 PM   #96
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Superb report
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Old 06-04-2009, 06:31 PM   #97
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Eye opening. I hope that doesn't make me sound too tragically ignorant, but I just never realized the scope and variety of ANYTHING in Iran. You sir have been a great educational tool, and have a pretty good eye.

Keep the story/photo's comming.

Thanks.
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Old 06-04-2009, 08:17 PM   #98
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Thanks for sharing this great RR and the amazing photos.
Cheers
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Old 06-04-2009, 11:56 PM   #99
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Esfahan 3

My favorite building in Esfahan is Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on they Eastern side of Iman square and I go there a few more times. It is a simple building as far as mosques go. No minarets, iwans or courtyard. Just one richly decorated dome.










Another must see is the Jameh Mosque, which impresses with its size and the different styles that have been used in its construction. It has many nooks and crannies that beg to be explored. The big brick dome just has to be seen.






One of the many donation boxes in the Imam mosque is very clear on the return you get on your charity.





All good things must come to an end and one afternoon I pay for my room and plan for an early departure the next day. I want to go to Jolfa on my last night and buy two bus tickets for the grand total of 10 cents. They come with free candy and a big smile from the ticket seller. I find the right bus and get on, men in the front and women in the back. Vank cathedral is well hidden behind high walls, just like other active Christian churches in Iran. I pay the $3 for foreigners and looking at the surroundings that money is put to very good use. In contrast to the Armenian churches I have seen in Turkey this one, dating back to the 17th century, is very plain on the outside but has beautiful frescoes on the inside. Alas, photography is not allowed inside. So head on over to Wikipedia to have a look at the frescoes .



Attached to the Church is a small museum with some interesting exhibits of Armenian books and historical artifacts and some gruesome pictures of the 1915 genocide.
After leaving the church I park myself in one of the fancy coffee shops and get carried away with too many cafe frappes while I sort through my pictures on my laptop. This cafe could be anywhere in Europe: lounge music, fancy coffee drinks at high prices, snack food, filled with young couples on a date or people working on their laptops. Except maybe for the headscarfs, which ride at the very back of the head, revealing more than they cover. In my hyperactive state I think it is a good idea to take a picture of this orange glowing orb before buying some energy drinks on my way home.





I have so much caffeine in me that I walk all the way back to my hotel where Iím unable to sleep for most of the night after these guys stare at me.





At 4am I realize that I wonít make my planned early departure and think ďscrew it!Ē, turn off my alarm and sleep in. Thus, I get to spend another day in beautiful Esfahan. The front desk guys make of course fun of me when I finally appear from my room. I tell them to rename the place ďHotel CaliforniaĒ.


Read in the next installment how I almost got electrocuted in a "Lost Paradise"
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Old 06-05-2009, 12:30 AM   #100
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Hey Guys,

Thanks for the feedback. I'm currently in Yazd, using a long weekend, thanks to yet another relgious holiday, to catch up on my posts.

I'm thinking about a little swing into Georgia and Armenia. If anyone has any recent information about riding there I'd be much obliged if you'd share.

Cheers
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Old 06-07-2009, 12:04 AM   #101
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Esfahan to Behesht-e Gomshodeh

Esfahan to Behesht-e Gomshodeh


When I come down the stairs early in the morning the lobby is filled with Dutch cyclists, well past middle age, in tight Lycra. Bit hard to stomach that early without breakfast. Here is a piece of advise: If you are cycling for fun, not trying to break records, you are fine not wearing tight Lycra shorts Do the people around you a favor. I can only imagine the stares these guys get in Iran Anyway, I extract the bike from the lobby and head over to Imam square for some hero shots. There are plenty of ways to sneak a bike in the square. Just watch the locals.

After the photo session I return to the hotel for a quick breakfast before leaving Esfahan. The first part of the trip is on a major highway with enough traffic to keep you on your toes.





Halfway Iím back in the mountains proper. There are small fields on either side of the road and in this part of the country the harvest seems to be a manual affair.

The cut wheat, I assume, is put into neat piles

to be thrashed on the spot with a portable machine

It will later be picked up by one of the ubiquitous blue pickups.


I spot a defunct Selcuk bridge just off the road

and a little stream makes for a nice rest stop.

I stop at the ďPersian GateĒ for a picture.

This is a narrow passage in the mountains where the Persians unsuccessfully tried to stop Alexander the Great on his way to Persepolis in the winter of 330 BC. It was an heroic battle of 700 Persians vs. 10,000 Macedonians, which sealed the fate of the first Persian empire. So, Iím pretty much following their tracks on the way there. There is not much in the area in terms of infrastructure even now and I briefly wonder how they could sustain such a huge army back then. Iím briefly lost but then return to the same road to continue on to the Margoon waterfall. Just before I pass the Persian Gate a second time I see a two car head on collision. The cars are trashed but the drivers seem to be at least alive. A timely reminder to be ready for anything on these roads.
Up in the mountains I see more nomad camps.

Road signs indicate that this road would take me all the way to Yazd, although my map doesnít show this. This would be a nice way to go there for somebody following my tacks.
The Margoon falls are very nice and there are plenty of Iranians around camping and having a picnic. the falls just seem to shoot out in the middle of a huge rock face.

Unfortunately the camp sites are too far away from the parking lot and there is already too much interest in my bike. So, I decide to move on to Behest-e Gomshodeh, or ďLost ParadiseĒ, a mere 35 km as the crow flies. So I ride off into the sunset, down a dirt road through beautiful countryside.


All the little villages along the way seem almost deserted


The goats are brought home just before sunset.


There are many forks in the road and I have to ask for directions a lot. At some point a bunch of people gesticulate wildly and make me understand to cross to the other side of a river, although my map indicates otherwise I do so. This puts me back on tarmac but it turns out there is no way to get back to the other side until about 10km after my destination. Thus I arrive at my destination with a bit of a detour in the dark. There are bright lights and loud music when I arrive and Iím not quite sure what to do. So I go to one of the restaurants. They have takhts set into the river and there is one tent on one of them. I have dinner and pitch my tent on one of the takhts in the middle of the river.

Just when Iím falling asleep, thinking this ainít so bad, there is a lot of noise outside and the hole takht starts shaking. Turns out they are building a suspension bridge just outside my tent in the middle of the night. The wires for the lights they have strung everywhere are sheafing on the suspension bridge cables and the frame of my takht. Hm, sitting on a metal frame in the middle of a body of water with some 220V cables sheafing on the frame doesnít sound good. Before I can say anything the power goes out but the guys are persistent and unsuccessfully try to start a little generator for more than an hour. Meanwhile I reroute the cables to a safer spot. They get the generator going a few times but the load is just too big, which they donít seem to realize. When the show is finally over I get some sleep.
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Old 06-07-2009, 12:09 AM   #102
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Shiraz to Firouz Abas and back

Shiraz to Firouz Abas and back


I leave Shiraz at 5:30 am. At this time the roads are deserted and it is nice and cold. I watch the sun come up as I drive South into the desert.

Near Firouz Abad, on a bluff just off the road, sits Ghalíeh Dokhtar, also known as The Maiden Castle. It was built by Ardeshir I, of the Sassanian Empire, in 209 AD, roughly 500 years after the fall of the first Persian empire.

I climb up the bluff and follow a path that spirals up inside the guard tower into the castle. The ceiling is covered with bats. It looks like the reconstruction work has come to a grinding halt suddenly. Scaffolding is inside the main structure

A mangle of scaffolding hints at a major construction accident.

I continue of a few kilometers past some green fields, thanks to irrigation,

to the Palace of Ardashir, built a few years after the Maiden castle.

The palace is pretty well preserved and quite large at 104m x 55m.
Just past the palace is the Sassanian city of Gur, but all thatís left are what is thought to be the remains of a fire temple.

It looks like the town was built in a circular pattern and there are little mounds everywhere. Plenty of work for a few generations of archaeologists.
The fire temple is also the turnaround point for my trip. Iíll be going home from here.

I return to Shiraz just in time for my siesta.
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Old 06-07-2009, 12:11 AM   #103
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Shiraz

Shiraz

Well, after Esfahan Shiraz was a bit of a let down. Iím sure the heat and the terrible Zand Hotel didnít help. Besides some large species of cockroach I also meet a few other bikers there. First an older couple, dare I say going on sixty, on R100 and R80 Beamers with a very impressive repertoire of anecdotes of previous motorbike trips. They are on their way through the Stans to Mongolia. They are very modest about their accomplishments. I hope Iíll be as energetic when I reach that age. The attention I get here is a bit much at times but probably nothing compared to what happens to that lady when she takes her helmet off!
Next is a UK/German duo fresh from the Iran/Pakistan border, hating everything they have seen so far in Iran. Severe case of having been on the road for too long. I make my excuses when they want to join me for a trip to Persepolis. In all fairness I have to say that 50+ degree heat does funny things to your brain and Iím sure theyíll fully recover.
They are lucky they made it through at all. After a bomb blast on 5/29 in Zahedan, near the Pakistan border, that killed 25 people, followed by riots and an arson attack on a bank that killed another five people, the Iranians have closed the border to Pakistan. Three people claimed to be involved in the terror attack have been hanged publicly already. Justice can be swift. I just hope they got the right guys. A French overlander got abducted on the Pakistan side in the last few days as well. My decision to give Pakistan a miss for the time being seems to be the right one. Hopefully the border will reopen soon. There ought to be a few bikers stuck on either side as this is smack in the middle of the narrow time window for making the trip from India to Europe or vice versa.
I do a bit of early morning and late afternoon sightseeing. Shirazí center is dominated by the large Zand period Karim Khan citadel with a nice garden inside.



One of the corner towers has a distinct lean and the citadelís Haman next to it is being blamed for that.


I wander through town a bit, going from one ice cream or smoothie place to the next, locking at what is on offer in the bazaar

and nearby stores. Something black for the ladies?

or maybe a space cowgirl outfit for the little one?

Iran bread. It goes stale the second it comes out of the oven. Nothing like the tasty Turkish flat bread.

Just in case you need to know your weight and height, there is a machine for that.

A corner is dedicated to motorcycle shops.

This is as good as it gets: a 200cc Enduro for the uebercool hipsters

I watch a funeral procession

and have a look at the Iranian Disneyland

before I watch a snake charmer. His combover was more impressive than his snake charming.

This must have been a mirage. An open air pool in Iran? No way! I was so tempted to fall in.

I visit the tomb of Persian poet Hafez. I have to admit I know nothing of his work but most of it would be lost in translation anyway. The way it goes with poetry.

When I get there I do realize that they really do like him still, a lot. Old and young practically throw themselfes on his grave, shedding tears.

This is also the only place I have seen where Iranians donít dare to litter. I just sit there and study the spectacle when a couple asks me to take their picture. After that another couple asks me and soon is becomes the popular thing to have your picture taken by the foreigner.
On the way back to my hotel I visit the shrine of Emir Ali, housed in a domed 19th century building, which has every surface inside covered by mirror ornaments.

After many failed attempts I do get into the Vakil Mosque



and the nearby Haman, turned carpet museum.

I decide to extend my visa here, which means I have to stay at least until Sunday. Iím cutting it a bit close at the rate Iím going and my last day would be the election day, which is probably not a good day for a border crossing. So, off I go on a Saturday morning in search of the visa office. Once I get there they send me straight back to the Bank Melli near my Hotel to pay the 20,000 Rial fee. Someone at the bank helps me fill out the deposit slip and I hand the cash and the paper work to a cashier. All is going well until a feisty women barges in and throws a huge wad of cash on top of my little money pile and starts arguing with the cashier. Iranians have no notions of queuing or privacy. They always go straight to the front and interrupt anything that might be going on. The clerks try to deal with everyone at once and the result usually is that everyone has to wait forever and mistakes are being made. Being shy in these situation just means you will be pushed aside and wait forever. I remind the cashier frequently of my existence and eventually have to get a little pushy Iranian style to get my deposit slip stamped. I dash back to the visa office. A very friendly young officer helps me fill out the forms and leaves me in the office of the senior officials who actually do the extensions. The jeffe is in a foul mood. Yelling at subordinates and generally being an ass to everyone except me. He does give me a full 30 days though, starting at the expiration date of my original visa. So, not bad and all done in a couple of hours.
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Old 06-07-2009, 02:25 AM   #104
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Go on

Its been a plesure reading your posts!! Go on and good luck. I was in turkey for 12 days (5900 km) and we are planing a 15 day trip next May to Iran so please keep all information about your trip to this country!

Best regards
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Old 06-07-2009, 09:55 AM   #105
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Persepolis

Persepolis


I leave Shiraz very early, hoping to be able to get some good shots of Persepolis right after sunrise. Iím the first one in and enjoy the site by myself for a short time. Persepolis is quite a big site and there is so much to see that I decide to stay for a couple of nights. The fancy Apadana hotel right next to the entrance has secure parking and gives me such a screaming deal that I think the very attractive woman at the front desk must have made a mistake and I ask her to write the number down and even then I clarify that it is in Rials and not Tomans. It must have been my very good looks or maybe it was just my lucky day. Only hitch is the big pool in front of the hotel is empty. I guess it would be a bit much to have such a pool in operation right next to Persepolis for everyone to see half naked bathers.
I wonít bore you with the historic details of the place other than saying that it was the ceremonial capital of the first Persian empire during the Achaemenid period and it was burned to the ground by Alexander the Great in 330 BC. Artistically the Achaemenids happily mixed styles and ideas from the areas the conquered. Itís quite fascinating and it let the pictures speak for themselves.


















I notice that the Basij, the religious militia defending the revolution has taken a day off.





Sadly, the picture below is only one of many carvings of early western visitor left on the Gate of Nations. Fools are truly international.





Many Iranian families are around and they take the obligatory family shot at the Gate of Nations.





Persepolis is a nice spot to watch the sun set behind the mountains.





At night the place is lit up with barely enough lights working to make it visible.





My hotel has only fish for dinner, a poor choice in the middle of a desert. I walk down the road in search of a couple of restaurants I had seen on my way in and get a lift from a local on a small bike. We talk about the upcoming election and he tells me that he will not vote because he thinks it doesnít matter. The restaurant turns out to be a psychedelic faux grotto in slime green. What a trip! The food however is excellent.


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