Turkey: Lycia

From Anatayla we were carless, which meant we would be on the turkish bus system for our remaining time in Turkey. Our first taste was a journey to Olympos. This was in the heart of the Lycian region, which encompasses some of the southern coast of Turkey. Like the Olympics, Olympos has been ‘hosted’ by many ancient empires of its time. Persian, Roman, Hellenes, Macedonians etc.

Olympos beach

As a modern nation Turkey went through a lot of development of roads and industries in the 1960s under a lot of guidance from Germany. After the 1990s tourism took off. In 2019 51 million people went to turkey. (for reference NZ has 4 million arrive a year). This had led to the coastline being absolutely bombarded with hotels and resorts. Olympos is marketed to tourists as a remedy to this. It is a quiet town located on the coast with none of the major developments of say Antayala.

Beer courtesy of a man with a chilly bin for a backpack, belly courtesy of the beer.

We spent three nights here, mostly hanging out on the beach and checking out some of the surroundings. One of the natural highlights was the Chimaera flames.

Chiamera flames

These methane fuelled open flames have been burning since forever ago. Used as ancient lighthouses for the greeks and allegedly the inspiration for the chimera myth (Homer). It seems the chimera has been tamed by tourists as the ‘fire breathing, mythical beast with the body and head of a lion, with the head of a goat arising from its back, and a tail that ended in a snake’s head’ now spends its days toasting everyone’s marshmallows.

Chimeramallows, hand of a human, arm of tree, blood of sugarcane

From Olympos, another bus. Complete with a complimentary (it was for free) cup of tea. We arrived in Kaş (ş = sh). This is a small seaside town surrounded by massive mountains and Greek islands.

Looking back toward Kaş
One of the beaches on the Kaş peninsula

During our time in Kaş we went on a boat trip. This was a relaxing way to spend a day. The tour took us through some of the nearby islands and stopped several times for a swim.

Issy had the camera, sorry viewers

We cruised past Simena, another ancient Lycian town. Simena had the added interest of being a sunken city. The clear waters allowed for incredible views of houses, docks and buildings which had been submerged since an earthquake in the 2nd century.

Simena

From here we climbed to the top of the island into an old fortress in Kekova. The boat decided to forgo chairs in lieu of mattresses which made it extremely comfortable to chill out. After a few more swims in the incredibly salty Mediterranean we called it a day.

Looking down from Kekova fortress

Our second day in Kaş involved a scooter hire. We drove around and had a thoroughly enjoyable day. Due to an overaggressive grip at the petrol pump we had an excess of gas in the tank. Kas peninsula has a loop road about 4km around. We thought we would host our own ‘Isle of Mann’ to get rid of the extra gas. We spent around 2 hours driving this loop having a great time.

One more bus, destination Fethiye. From Fethiye (Fet – E – ye) we decided to go on a walk. This would prove to be more difficult than we had anticipated. Our map was somewhere between suboptimal and woefully inadequate.

Photo captured by a cctv camera on a local water tap.
Issy making the most of usufruct
Looking down at Oludeniz

We spent 3 hours bush bashing up a hill in the middle of the Turkish summer. Despite the odds, we made it to the top only to find a road which we could have taken. We continued onwards and enjoyed the views. We spent the night in our trusty tent in the middle of nowhere. We didn’t have any sleeping bags or blankets, so it was a bit of a chilly night under our clothes. The next day we continued on to butterfly cove. This was pretty spectacular. We thought we might be able to climb down, but without ropes it was a bit much to consider.

Butterfly Cove

We caught a bus back to Oludeniz, where we were surprised to find ourselves in an English town. We had to do a double take but right there was George, a sunburnt Englishman eating an English breakfast in a pub yelling at the cricket, whilst holding a 10 quid note out to the waiter. The entire town was copies of this, the only changing being the sport, the accent, and the maximum size of the t shirts in the shirts next door. The largest we saw was XXXXXXXXL, not even kidding. I’m pretty sure it was a repurposed sail. For reference, Oludeniz is a small town outside Fethiye, with a great beach and paragliding, it is particularly popular with the English.

Fethiye harbour

After being talked out of trying on the t-shirt (white’s not my colour), we took a quick bus to an abandoned town named Kayaköy. In the 1920’s parts of this area of turkey were inhabited by Greeks. A massive repopulation of 1.6 million people post WWI due to the Ottoman collapse, rise of Turkey and numerous other political happenings occurred.

Looking down from the high point of Kayaköy

Turks from Greece and Greeks from Turkey swapped towns wholesale. The Turks who were moved to mainland Turkey refused to live in buildings which had been inhabited by Christians. As a result the town was abandoned.

It’s interesting walking around ruins of this age, as they are in much better condition than the older towns around. I was reminded of looking at Italian renaissance paintings and how the buildings look in much better nick than today barring the restored stuff. After a reflecting (read: pretentious) walk up here we returned to Oludeniz, where we went out partying. The next morning we had a delicious English breakfast.

Beer 3 of a few.
Paraglider, the sky was never empty while we were walking

Next bus: Pamukkale

Central Turkey

Trabzon is a city right in the North East of Turkey. It is one of the most important trade cities on the Black sea and home to just under a million people.

Trabzon

We got out of our marshrutka and were making our way to our accommodation when a fighter jet took off right next to us. It doubled back and was so low in the sky. It was incredibly loud and quite shocking. We spent 2 days in Trabzon. We saw the Hagia Sophia (not the main one) and started to eat a lot of Turkish food. Every meal we had in Turkey ended up being accompanied by an ayran which is a delicious yoghurt drink and a tea.

Tea
Trabzon Hagia Sofia
Sumela Monastery

We decided to do a road trip to the south and got a car. On the way out of town we went and checked out Sumela monastery. This is a really cool Greek monastery which is carved into the side of the mountain. We continued throughout the country and spent a night in Sivas. The roads were surprisingly good but eastern Anatolia had a rural feel to it.  It was the first time we had driven a car in 5 months, and felt a bit different on the right hand side of the road. Worse was to come.

In the countryside
On the road
Local transport
Cows; Turkish

From Sivas we went to Goreme in Cappadocia. This is a very famous tourist attraction in the middle of Turkey, best known for its geological formations and hot air ballons. The afternoon was spent on a quad bike tour and visiting the Uchisar castle. Our tent from Sziget had made the journey with us and we decided to spend a night camping in a field near by the city, with tasty pide from a local bakery.

Uchisar Castle
Up close, this used to be home to 1000 people in byzantine times
Cappadocia views from the castle.
Fairy Chimneys, from the quad bike tour
Camping spot

The next morning we rolled out of the tent early to watch the ballons, we followed this up with about 4 turkish coffees to offset the early rise and spent the dawn admiring the sky.

Apparently its 300 euro per person to ride these
coming down

We continued on the road to a famous underground city, which was neat.

From here we went south to the coast to a place called Kizkaleesi. From a quick google maps This looked like a small village on the mediterranian coast. We were surprised to find a massive resort town. Either the heat or trying to park in the incredibly narrow streets caused us to work up a sweat. We ventured to beach. Having grown up in NZ we are both used to a certain style of beach, notably empty. As far as we could see the beach was packed 10 loungers deep.

Beach with people

Once we were past the loungers we got to see the castle in the sea which was pretty neat.

Kizkalesi

The legend of this place goes; a fortune teller informs the king that his beautiful daughter will be poisoned by a snake. Shocked by the fortune teller’s words, the king tries to save the princess by building a castle on an island where no snakes live. He sends his daughter to live in the castle. But a snake hides in a grape basket sent from the mainland and poisons the princess. I think the modern rendition would be the same, but sub snake for beach goer and grape basket for jetski.

From a distance

We spent a night here and the next morning we set off on a long coastal drive to Antayla. This drive was very pretty, with mountains, coast and beaches comprising the scenery. We ate gozleme (cheese pancakes) at an roadside stall and had our first cactus fruit. Issy was particularly captivated by these treats.

Old Antalya harbour. there are big resorts down the whole coastline here

We arrived in Antayla in the evening. This is a reasonably popular city, especially with tourists. We spent a few days here and had a great time.

We checked out a few notable places including Termessos, an ancient mountain town which even Alexander the great didn’t manage to conquer. It was abandoned after an earthquake destroyed the aqueduct. The best bit about this was how empty it was. We were on our own to explore in such a nice backdrop.

The old bathhouse and gym Termessos
Enjoying the show at the ampitheatre
View from the top

We also went to Karain cave, this has been occupied by homo species for 200,000 years. Whilst some of the interior decor felt a bit dated, it was pretty amazing to visit see the layers of history.

Main chamber
Research digs

We visted Phaselis which is an old roman port and a great place for a swim.

Phaselis beach
Inside aspendos, considered the best preserved large theatre. they had a production of Carmen on that evening.

Aspendos was also a stop, where Issy was tempted by a delicious looking cactus fruit on the side of the road. In her haste she forgot the cactus part of the deal and subsequently had a hand full on spines. To her credit she managed to eat the fruit to settle the score. The local dairy owners, who spoke no English recognised exactly what had happened when we went to by a coke a few minutes later, much to their amusement.

Roman bridge over Koprulu canyon

From here we went to Koprulu canyon, where we had a bit of a swim and paddle in a raft.

Getting dunked in the waterfall, very cold
Hanging out
Our journey. It took us about 7 days to do the entire thing.

Hungary, Georgia, and Armenia.

In early August we arrived in Europe. Budapest was the lucky city. We were here to catch up with some friends for a music festival. As it turns out the music festival was extremely popular with antipodeans.

Those with a keen eye will notice an All Blacks flag flying.

I swear the most popular passport in the entry queue was the New Zealand one. We had a good time in Budapest and saw a lot of the old city. The houses of parliament along the Danube river was amazing. We found out that Budapest is used to be two cities, Buda on one side of the river and Pest on the other.

At the gates.
A couple of Pests.

In total we spent a week in Budapest, thoroughly enjoying our friends company after months of only talking to each other.

From Budapest we flew into Tblisi the capital of Georgia. We arrived pretty late at night and were feeling tired after week at the festival, so we stayed quiet in our AirBnb for a couple of days. We also sort of forgot about photos for a few weeks so don’t have much.

When we made it outside it proved to be quite nice.

Tblisi means warm and is known as such for its famous hot springs. Unfortunately for us, the receptionist at the baths we had booking at was not so ‘Tblisi’, and we were short changed out of our booking by a suspicious ‘change’ in our booking time.

On a hill in Tblisi

We managed to squeeze in a walking tour (as has become customary for each city we go to) This tour was interesting as Tblisi and Georgia have had such a fascinating history.

Georgia is located on the edge of pretty much every major historical empire, somehow never being fully assimilated each time it was overrun. This has led to a very distinct Georgian culture being established and the city has begun to reflect this since the economy stabilized after leaving the soviet union in the mid 2000’s.

“Balcony’s are the glue that holds Tblisi together” – Our tour guide.
Proximity principle at work in a cosmopolitan city.

The city clock tower. 7pm is puppet show time.

Tblisi was quite captivating, particularly at night, the old city having a real vibe to it. This is helped by the food, beer and wine. Georgia excels at these pursuits. The wines were incredible, with names and styles I’ve never heard of, but after a few tastings we had a real taste for it. The food tasted amazing, but being 50% cheese by the end of four days our belts had gone out a notch.

Khachapuri for one!
They love dogs in Georgia. If you put in a plastic bottle, dog food comes out.

In typical Chris and Issy fashion we had neglected to plan our time in the caucauses very well at all. We did not manage to explore any of the Georgian countryside, which is supposed to be full of great walking and mountains. But, with time up on our Airbnb and a few days before planning to go to Turkey we were looking for things to do. Enter Armenia.

We had met a number of travelers in Iran and Central Asia who had come from Armenia and had nothing but good things to say about it. So we headed to the bus stop in Tbilisi and waited for a few hours for our marshrutka to fill up. We had free entertainment from the Georgian bus drivers, who between puffs of cigarettes, yelled at each other. This was interspersed with riotous laughter. To this day we still can’t figure out if it was good natured yelling or not.

After a long bus ride, Russian lemonade goes a treat.

We misjudged the length of the trip. We were anticipating a four hour journey to get to Yerevan, It took a full 10 hours. The border crossing was one of the most hectic we have been through, just a crush of people for 2 hours masquarding as a line. To be fair, the mountains and countryside on the Armenia side was quite pretty.

Yerevan is known as the pink city and is about 3000 years old. It is so named as most of the buildings are made from pink granite. It is a sparsely vegetated city which makes the effect even more pronounced. We spent a few hours both nights checking out the city, which has a vibrant food and beer scene.

At the top of the Cascade
Down the bottom.

We went on a tour to check out some of the highlights of Armenia the next day. Armenia is the oldest Christian country in the world around 3rd AD century. So naturally some highlights include Mount Ararat of Noah’s ark fame, old monasteries and religious sites. These were broken up with some natural features such as waterfalls. We closed the day with a wine tasting and this made watching the sunset over the countryside all that much better.

Issy with Mount Ararat

The next day we had to get on our way to Turkey. So we booked an overnight train from Yerevan to Batumi which is on the Black sea. We got the last seats and were in different carriages for the trip. It was exceptionally hot on the train and it moved at a top speed of about 35km/hr.

3rd class. 40 degrees.

When we arrived in Batumi we were surprised to find what can only be described as a Russian tourist town. We spent two days here, and spent our time on the beach, and looking around the town. We ended up at a dolphin show. This was a very surreal experience, but overall quite sad. The dolphins were incredible athletes but it all felt very cruel. The audience was packed and apparently every show (3 a day) sells out in peak season. From Batumi, it was another marshrutka to Trabzon in Turkey.

Batumi
Real mix of vibes in the place
Bus station in Georgia, for the curious.

Backpacking Iran: Kashan and Tehran

We only stayed one night in Kashan, so it was a flying visit. We managed to get a taxi driver to take us to some of the highlights of the city. We had already been out in the old city the previous night and were keen to see some of the surrounds

Looking out at the desert early morning

So, early in the morning we set out. Our driver was really good value and knew exactly how to entertain us. He also stopped to picked up two watermelons. He put on his bangers as we were cruising on the way out to the desert.  Once it was finished, he would ask “one more?” and throw it on repeat. Our first stop was the Namak salt lake, just out of town.

On the salt flats
I’m not sure how, but we were talked into this one.

After the desert we went to the Maranjab desert, it was pretty cool walking around the dunes as we were the only people around. It was still early enough to be cool (which is still 30+ degrees!).

Sand dunes
Thank goodness it wasn’t too hot

We thought that buying two watermelons might have been a bit much, but our driver knew a lot more than we did. When we got back from the dunes some camels had come over to say hi and we were able to feed them the water melon. Its hard to describe how much fun this was. They were incredibly shy, but also pretty keen on the watermelon which made for a few laughs. They were very gentle with their teeth which was a nice surprise.

“Hello?”
Loving it

After this treat, we continued on to the Nushaband underground city. This was neat. It was ‘found’ in the 1920s after being lost for a few centuries. Its thought that the city was built to hide from aggressive raiders, or to protect its citizens from the extreme temperatures outside. Either way it was fun to scurry around underground, the passages had old sites of booby traps and rolling stones. Very Indiana Jones.

Old entrance chamber
Exploring the city
Going down further

We went to Aran Va Bigol mosque after this which was very colorful. From here we finished our tour at Jalali castle which has an interesting history of sieges, battles and earthquakes. After this we jumped on our last bus in Iran to Tehran. All of which were incredibly comfortable, with reclining leather seats, TVs and snacks provided

Aran Va Bigol Mosque (borrowed photo)
Jalali Castle
In the watch tower, hot at this point.

We had a few days in Tehran we spent a fair bit of time just walking around and taking in the city. It’s a pretty sizable city, 24th biggest in world and home to 16 million or so people. It is crazy busy however, and traffic is daunting. The local advice for crossing roads was ‘close your eyes’ and ‘walk, don’t run’, both of which are impossible. The metro system is impressively full too. It was the busiest one we went on in our trip, maybe rivalled by Mexico city only.

Not even rush hour.

We spent a bit of time following a self guided walking tour around some of the older parts of town, where the Qajar and the current government have their administrative buildings, and the baazar . We also checked out the art history museum which had some really cool stuff, highlighting the different dynasties styles.

Then we went up to the mountains behind the city. These are over 5000m high and apparently have great skiing in the winter, which we will be returning for one day. The tochal chairlift to get us halfway up from the city took 45 minutes. It looked like it had been in use every single day since 1956, the café at the top had a great view. Their were some local donkeys hanging out there too.

Looking down at Tehran from Tochal
One of the cable cars

At this point we had had some pretty tasty dishes in Iran, but we found a restaurant close to our hostel which would become our favourite. We went four times in 3 days. It was so good.

We also checked out Golestan palace, which is where the last Shah was residing before the turbulent 50’s. This place is stunning and well preserved. It was interesting to reflect on our all the different palaces of the dynasties that we had stood in over the trip.

In the main hall
Outside Golestan
The throne. Complete with puppet
Tusks
Meteorite
Tourists
Lots of Mirrors. The effect with sunlight is amazing

On our last day we checked out two final places. The National museum to the Iran-Iraq war. This was a high tech and immersive museum, and was an interesting and intense way to learn about the war. One particular hall was a simulation of getting bombed by a fighter jet. Complete with shaking floors and incredibly loud noises. Outside the museums the exhibits showed all of Iran’s rocket developments, and all the cars of physicists who have been assassinated since 1979. (very morbid)

As it looks.

Our last stop was the Den of Espionage, FKA the US embassy. This was where the events depicted in Argo took place. This has since been turned into the home of anti us propaganda. It was an entertaining and interesting reading through the documents that were displayed.

Back at work
No.1
No.2 (apparently this is the most major concern with the sanctions for people)

We left for the airport that evening, after one last MesMes meal, and flew to Hungary via Istanbul.  

Post MesMes glow

Backpacking Iran: Isfahan

We started out from Yazd on another bus, and arrived some 6 hours later in Ishfahan. We arrived late at night and were expecting to turn up in a quiet city. We were wrong. The city is one of Iran’s biggest, home to around 2 million people. So we jumped in an old Renault which served as a taxi and sped through the neon lit city streets to our hostel.

The next morning, following another delicious Iranian breakfast, we set out on a tour of the city. We learnt that the city flourished from 1050 to 1722, particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries under the Safavid dynasty when it became the capital of Persia for the second time. An Afghan invasion in 1722 caused instability. The city lost its political importance over the next 50 years, culminating in the Qajar dynasty moving the capital to Tehran in 1775.

Square complete with tourist horse rides

 The tour took us to the heart of Isfahan Naqsh-e Jahan square. This is one of the largest city squares in the world and a UNESQO site. The square is the site of the bazaar, the Jameh mosque and the Ali Qopu palace.

No polo in the square today sadly.

The Jameh mosque is one of the oldest in Iran, and has been remodeled a number of times. It has elements of all the major historical influences in the city including Mongols, Muzzafarids, Timurids and Safavids. The end result of all this is an incredible mosque, with unbelievable tiling and colours. This was the most impressive mosque we saw while in Iran

Entrance to the mosque
Looking up and out the entrance way
Detailing on one of the domes
Courtyard, under repair.
The mosque exterior

From the mosque we went to Ali Qopu palace and had a look around. Each of the floors was very different style and function. The music floor had intriate wood paneling which improved acoustics, and the balcony was where the Shahs enjoyed watching games of Polo.

Palace on the left
This ceiling is made from bits of wood, cut to fit, no glue.
Square and caravanserai in background
Wood panelling carved for acoustics

As per ‘how to run a tour guide for dummies’ we went and saw a traditional print maker in the bazaar, which would be more accurately termed a labyrinth. We returned here later in our stay and got quite lost.

One of the more quiet bazaar alleys

Then we tried some ice cream. Issy was very excited about this. The flavours were rose and saffron. Issy was very disappointed about this. From here we went to a summer palace where we saw some old murals which were pretty neat.

Summer palace.
Mural, too large to focus well sadly, note the moustaches on the right.

That evening we were invited to a house party. We were not expecting anything like this and it turned out to be one of the more memorable events in our time in Isfahan. We got in a taxi and drove for about an hour out of town to a very nice house. Here we had lots of food and music. The women were able to take off their headscarves and dance with guys, which normally is banned. There was also a couple of bottles of moonshine type alcohol in old coke bottles, which apparently get smuggled across the border. We were able to talk to locals about growing up in Iran and stuff like that.  Very different to what we were expecting, but still a great time.

The next day we went out to the Armenian quarter, New Jolfa. About three hundred thousand Armenians moved to Isfahan when the Ottoman empire began persecuting them. They were welcomed by the Shah due to their knowledge of silk trade.

Inside Vank cathedral

The area had a nice cathedral and it was accompanied by a really interesting museum which had clandestine copies of bibles, information about the Armenian genocide (which was news to both of us) and a really neat inscription of the koran which was etched onto a single strand of hair and had to be seen through a microscope. After the cathedral we went to a music performance with traditional instruments.

Super blurry again, but the bit down the bottom right is a touch different. This takes up an entire wall in a cathedral.

We spent the rest of our time in Isfahan mostly in the square. Here we met a few people who came to talk to us to practice their English and learn about us. Having been so many places where this inevitably leads to a scam it was quite refreshing for people to just be friendly and curious. This happened more times in Iran than anywhere else in the world and it made a big difference to how we viewed the country. Our final night we went for a picnic to Kahju bridge.

View from our picnic spot

From Ishafan we went on a road trip north to Kashan. We stopped at a couple of places along the way. First up way Hanjan castle. This place was falling apart and it felt very dodgy walking across the holes and beams. There was a really random exercise park next to it too.

Not sure why this was here but it was quite fun
Looking at the Valley, most of the countryside is super dry.

Then we went to Abynaeh, which was a town in the mountains. It is made from a red type of clay and built on a steep hillside. Then we went to Kashan, there was an interesting garden, called Fin garden. We learnt about how the Shah organised a stabbing of a prime minister figure in a bathhouse of an otherwise very pretty garden.

View of Abyaneh from across the valley.
Gotta stay hydrated. Public water supply in Iran was amazing everywhere we went
The power of water.

Backpacking Iran: Yadz

We arrived at 6.30am on our bus from Shiraz and our kind bus driver helped our half asleep selves to get a taxi taking us to hostel in old quarter to our hostel. The hostel we stayed in was another absolute jackpot- it was beautiful with the rooms situated around a main courtyard, and we got a private room for only $10 USD including a buffet persian breakfast every morning, including carrot jam (I have no self control around buffet breakfasts, I was in heaven). After breakfast we went on a walking tour organised by a local hotel which showed us around the old quarter of the city and gave us some insight into Yadz.

Yazd is a city of the desert with its old quarter being a labyrinth of winding lanes, mud-brick houses all joined at their roofs to make it possible for a quick get-away from an enemy.

Yadz is recognised by UNESCO as one of the oldest towns on earth originally settled 5000 years ago, and was once an important stop on the Silk Road- Marco Polo once stopped in Yadz around 1270AD called it “good and noble city”. Remnants of its past as a silk road stop can be seen in multiple features of the city, for example, in the minarets adjoining the mosques where they used to light fires in the large balconies to guide travellers towards them for food and shelter.

We explored a beautiful local mosque in the late afternoon, after sheltering from the 45 degree midday sun in our hostel (in front of the air conditioner!).

Our next day, after another buffet breakfast, we sluggishly headed out to one of the top tripadvisor sights for Yadz- the water museum. It sounds like a strange place to go to but we could not work out how this city in the middle of the desert survived for 5000 years with no nearby river or lakes. I won’t go into all the details but in summary it involved a complex underground aquaduct system moving water from mountains afar to the city which they think were first built 2000 years ago (now modern water systems are in place). We learnt that now Yadz is running out of water, the rivers that once supplied that city have gone almost dry and the city is having to get water from far away cities to supply its population.

Another amazing sight in Yadz, you can see the minarets in the back and the balconies at the top were they would light the fires to guide silk road travellers

We walked (foolishly) in the midday heat to a Zoroastrian fire temple about 3 km from the centre of town. The brick temple contains a fire that has burned for more than 1,500 years. The ancient flame has been kept alive since and relocations, and continues to burn today. The fire was first lit in 470 and has had two other cities as its home before settling where it is today.

About the Zoroastrian symbol
Chris and the very old fire (kept behind glass inside the temple)

We just about passed out from the heat on the way back only to be saved by copious water and the humble soft serve ice cream sold to us by a nice man on the street. We probably could have called it a day then but we had one more sight in Yadz we had to see- The Towers of Silence.

The towers of silence are the two building you can see on the hills in the background

The Towers of Silence, built more than a millenia ago, is the old Zoroastrian cemetery where until 1960s the bodies of the deceased were transported to their final resting place and left to the vultures. In the Zoroastrian belief contaminating the elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water) with decaying matter such as a corpse is considered sacrilege. Sky burial is considered a clean death because it prevents putrefaction—bodies are exposed to the sun and birds of prey such as vultures can eat a body down to the bones in just a few hours. To me it sounds like a gruesome way to go having grown up in a different belief system, however I can see how it fits in within the Zoroastrian religion. Information at the sight also stated that this way of handling the deceased helped for sanitation “it is said that in case of spreading diseases such as cholera, typhoid, plague, or when large wars broke out, a large number of people were killed in one day and burying the corpses were a big challenge so they used sky burial to prevent disease from spreading.

Since it was disused as a burial site (less than 50 years ago) it has become a local and international tourist spot.

Inside the tower
I did not like being in the towers, I just got a yuck feeling and I left pretty quickly out of them
View from the hill one of the towers is on of Yadz, the towers used to be far out of town but now with the expanding city it is much closer

That evening we had dinner above the city in one of the rooftop restaurants with an amazing view.

The next day we did a tour to Kharanaq, Chak Chak, and Meybod.

We first visited the crumbling mud-brick village of Kharanaq. The site has been occupied for approximately 4,000 years, while the rundown adobe buildings that draw foreigners from around the world date back around 1,000 years.  

The village of Chak Chak, also known as Pir’e Sabz, consists of a Zoroastrian Fire Temple perched beneath a towering cliff face in the desert out of Yadz.

We were a little disappointed at the tea lights supposed to be the fire shire in the temple after slogging up the hill in 40 degree heat

Finally we hit Meybod village where we saw an old castle ruin, a caravanserai dating back to the silk road, and the ice house which was definiately the best part. The ice house is a domed, thick wall structure where ice was stored during the winter months and enjoyed during the hot summers, basically it was a massive freezer.

empty pool outside the ice house, in winter these were filled every day with water and then the ice from the frozen pool was cut up and stored inside the ice house for summer
in the ice house

That afternoon we took a 5 hour bus north to our next destination- Isfahan…

Highlights of Yadz:

  • Free walking tour
  • Walking through the old quarter
  • The beautiful mosques
  • The water museum
  • Zoroastrian fire temple
  • Temple of Silence
  • Meybod Ice house

Backpacking Iran: Shiraz

Iran… wow, where to start?

We heard from other travellers that it was an amazing, hospitable country that was unrivaled for backpacking. After doing a bit of research we were sold and added it our travel itinerary. A week before we were due to fly to Iran seized a UK oil tanker, as well as this the US/the president was talking about Iran in a way we were nervous they might start something- we were pretty concerned and actually discussed not going in case the US bombed Iran etc. In the end we decided we would go, and I would make that decision ten times over.

There were a surprising amount of european backpackers (and even a few aussies) that we met whilst staying at hostels. We learnt whilst we were in Iran that it was forbidden for US, UK, and canadian nationals to travel through Iran unless they were on a government approved group tour.

Our route through Iran over 14 days

Iran was our favourite country of our trip, iranian people were some of our favourite people we have met, iranian food was some of the most delicious and surprising we have had. I can not recommend it enough, the only downside was the visa cost (150 euros each!).

Shiraz

We flew from Almaty via a 5 hour layover in Sharjah airport to arrive in Shiraz, Iran. We checked into our beautiful hostel ( Taha Hostel) with a courtyard, couches and chairs, and a koi pond in the middle of it at around 2pm, and after scoffing down some falafel we walked around the nearby area which was buzzing with people.

Shiraz is one of the oldest Iranian cities, with a vibrant culture of art and craftsmanship and a rich history, both of which are on spectacular display at the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, one of the most beautiful mosques in Iran.

Outside the mosque doesn’t look like anything special but once inside it’s so lovely. With stunning stained glass, painted tiles covering the ceiling and Persian rugs covering the floor, this place of worship is a gorgeous rainbow of color in every direction, like stepping into a kaleidoscope. It became known as the pink mosque because of a large number of pink tiles around the courtyard area, however it is most well-known for the interior of the mosque- when the sun hits the stained glass windows and illuminates the walls and floors with a rainbow of colours. The trick is to go first thing in the morning to catch the morning light.

As we were walking along the road to the next mosque we wanted to see we were approached by a lovely guy in his 20’s who asked where we were from and what we were doing in Shiraz. He told us he normally worked as a teacher and was on school holidays, and asked us if we wanted to hang out and he could show us around. Chris and I are SUPER suspicious of people talking to us now given that every short conversation seems to be a way to get us to go to someone’s shop or buy a tour or go to this guesthouse etc etc. This would be our first of many experience with genuinely friendly, interested locals wanting to chat and show us around! He was super nice, and he went with us to our next spot which was the Shāh-é-Chérāgh Mosque and shrine.

To enter this mosque complex I had to wear a chador (a chador is a body-length outer garment, usually black in colour, but mine was white covered in flowers provided by the mosque). We were shown around by a volunteer tour guide, he normally worked as an engineer but told us he loves meeting tourists and showing him the complex so volunteers once a week. . There was fantastic architecture in this holy mosque with very beautiful crystal mirrors ceiling. It has a dreamy atmosphere and it is easy to forget where you are or what you are looking at. 

We then headed out to Persepolis and Necropolis.

Persepolis is among the world’s greatest archaeological sites according to UNESCO. The city’s immense terrace was begun about 518 BC by Darius the Great (the first), the Achaemenid (Persia) Empire’s king to become the new capital of Persia. On this terrace, successive kings erected a series of architecturally stunning palatial buildings, among them the massive Apadana palace and the Throne Hall (“Hundred-Column Hall”). Unfortunately the city was invaded by Alexander the Great in 330 BC and they plundered the city and burnt down a significant area of it.

The gate into Persepolis

Naqsh-e Rostam (aka Necropolis) is a necropolis of the Achaemenid dynasty including Darius the Great used from approx 550–330 BC with four large tombs cut high into the cliff face. Well below the Achaemenid tombs, near ground level, are rock carvings with large figures of Sassanian kings, some meeting gods, others in combat.

On our way back into the city we stopped for a photo

The next day we went to the Citadel from the Zang dynasty which was constructed in the 18th century, it was ok but after seeing the mosques yesterday we were a little underwhelmed.

We exchanged some more money, nearby to the mosque to find that the exchange rate was completely different to the one we saw when we looked on currency websites. Don’t worry it was good for us! The exchange rate meant we got about 3 times more than we were expecting exchanging the US dollars we brought over. The small downside was that we had old US notes which meant they gave a slightly lower rate but what can you do!

In the early evening we walked to the tomb of Hafez which is the resting place of one of the famous persian poet- Hafez. The tomb is set in a small park complex which was full of couples enjoying what was a surprising romantic setting for a park set around a tomb but I guess it’s the soft lighting and all the poetry that did it.

We finished the day with an ice cream. Ice Cream is super popular in Iran and the streets of Shiraz (and all of Iran) were crammed with shops selling ice cream (usually soft serve). We discovered a local specialty with help from our teacher friend from yesterday’s recommendation. It’s basically a persian take on a spider. Freshly squeezed carrot juice and vanilla soft serve ice cream. I know how it sounds but actually it was pretty tasty! We ended up having more than one!

where to eat in shiraz food guide
image of carrot juice and ice cream borrowed from https://thecitylane.com/where-to-eat-in-shiraz-food-guide/, because I FORGOT TO TAKE A PHOTO!

Later the night we took an overnight bus leaving at midnight to Yadz and the adventure continues!

On another note- the hole in Chris’ shoe is getting bigger- he can no longer walk on wet ground without getting a soggy sock. He refuses to wear his runners, send help.

Highlights of Shiraz:

  • Nasir al-Mulk Mosque
  • Shāh-é-Chérāgh
  • Persepolis and Necropolis
  • Citadel
  • Hafez tomb
  • Carrot ice cream (local specialty)