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.
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!).
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.
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.
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!
Later the night we took an overnight bus leaving at midnight to Yadz and the adventure continues!
Highlights of Shiraz:
- Nasir al-Mulk Mosque
- Persepolis and Necropolis
- Hafez tomb
- Carrot ice cream (local specialty)