Sunday, March 9, 2008

Shiraz, Shiraz .......and not a drop to drink

There are five buses going from Bandar-e Abbas to Shiraz and we arrive all at the same time: 4 am. Four in the morning! Fortunately the bus station is clean and modern and there are plenty of seats in the waiting room. Gayle quickly gets into her sleeping bag and drops off to sleep again. I get stuck into War and Peace in the hope that it will send me off. It doesn't. I am awake to hear the pre-dawn call to prayer. The muezzin sounds strangely like Johnny Weismuller in full cry. Me muezzin. You pray.

Eventually the sun casts its big smile in clear skies, and we emerge out onto the street. Shiraz gets poor reviews from some of the travellers we have met here, so we are pleasantly surprised to find it quite nice. Mind, we have just come from Bandar-e Abbas (after Bandar, even Rochdale would look nice) and it is Friday and the roads are deserted, so that improves any Iranian city. We are also relieved to get back to a fresher climate. One thing that has struck us is how many trees there are in the cities, lining the main roads and also the number of parks, of which Shiraz is particularly blessed. It really makes a difference, and the Iranians love them. On sunny days you can spot people having picnics or sleeping in the shade, couples talking quietly together and holding hands, everyone eating ice cream or drinking tea...

We visit a mausoleum with a wonderful tiled dome. Inside the courtyard there are people coming and going, and from inside we can hear the plaintive singing of a man. It turns out a family is holding a memorial service. Zeinab, the grand-daughter of the deceased speaks English and welcomes us inside - although there are separate entrances for men and women, so we sit in different parts. The inside of the building is covered floor to ceiling in mirrors. There are a few green lights and the effect is quite wild. The man who is singing continues for quite a while and the effect is hypnotic. We say farewell and depart with food boxes that have been prepared for the mourners.

Shiraz sits on the slopes of very dry hills and its climate and location proved ideal for grape cultivation and wine production. Sadly this is no more. A glass of red wine would have gone down well after a long walk around the city. Instead we make do with banana milkshakes and a roast chicken (ahhh, good ol' roast chicken) - it is wonderful.

Nearby are the ruins of Persepolis,one of ancient Persia's finest cities, which was sacked and burnt down by Alexander the Great. The city was then lost for centuries until excavations in the 1930's revealed it again. We visit on a holiday so there are plenty of nationals visiting too. Inevitably there is not much of the buildings still standing, but you still get a sense of the grandeur of the place. The palaces and halls were accessed by ceremonial staircases, the best of which have detailed bas-reliefs showing the might of the Persian kings over their subject states. As we wander around we are approached for photos by some young English teachers. It's all in the day of a minor celeb. How strange it will be to go somewhere and be completely ignored.

Whilst we are in Shiraz we extend our visa - a fairly straightforward process of finding the right building - the Aliens Office (with lots of help from local shopkeepers), finding the right man (The Colonel), and then Gayle getting some photos of herself in headscarf whilst I trolley off to the bank to make the payment. We then return to The Colonel who makes sure our forms are processed quickly and signs us in for a further 30 days. We are privileged customers - there is a scrum of Afghans and Pakistanis also going through the process who get no extra help from the officials. Our plan now is to visit Esfahan, go back to Tehran to collect our Uzbekistan visa and apply for a Turkmenistan transit visa, before returning to Yazd for the two weeks of the No Ruz (New Year) holidays.

1 comment:

yellowlemonie said...

don't forget to try the ice-cream in shiraz! especially on a hot day (not sure how "warm" it is now... ;p)