Once upon a time, in the year 1393, we travelled through Iran with our bicycles… and it was so impressive that it took us 9 weeks to sort out pictures and stories for this blog! By now we have crossed the Black Sea with a ferry to Odessa and have cycled through Ukraine and Moldova to Romania. But even after such a long time, thinking about Iran we could still lose ourselves in endless descriptions about the great hospitality of Iranian people, beautifully contrasting deserts and jungles, a booming fast food industry, the unfortunate waste and concrete filled Caspian coast, crazy Islamic politics and fascinating ancient Persian culture and so much more… but knowingly pictures say more than a 1001 words. So, see for yourself below – or maybe in a next holiday to Iran!? We can definitely recommend it to everyone!!
…even though for us it all started off very hilly and cold on our way from Sarakhs (border with Turkmenistan) to Mashad…
We entered Iran during No Rouz, the Iranian New Year (Persian Calender). It’s the most important holiday with two weeks off for everyone and at the border checkpoint we were thus greeted with the very best wishes for a Happy New Year 1393 ! 🙂
During this holiday the whole country is on the move. Families get together to visit relatives and friends and almost every second car stopped to welcome us, take pictures, invite us to their home, chat and give us heaps of chocolate, oranges, nuts, water, cookies….. it was wonderful!!
Sometimes also the pets joined the family on their holiday trip
First camping night in Iran, close to Shurlukh. Niiiiice!!
In the late afternoon the smell of fresh warm bread filled the air in small villages. Very often we couldn’t resist and stopped to get some. And IMAGINE, during one month in Iran we have only once paid for bread, all the other times the bakers refused to take money for it (and of course we were following the tricky Ta’arof tradition and tried more than three times to give it to them – without success). More likely than paying for the food we would end up having lunch at the baker’s home with his family.
Some efforts to push up the bike usually got us to some nice camping spots!
Other times we were not as successful and ended up in the parking lot of the Emergency Service. Not very scenic, but it got us hot tea and a toilet.
The worst day of cycling so far was when we entered Mashad: the day started with light rain in the morning, then heavy rain for two hours, so all clothes were already wet when the temperature dropped and it started to hail. From then on it was a combination of snow, rain, hail and wind…. ohhhh it was so awfully cold and wet 😦
…BUT then we finally made it to Mashad and luckily our couch surfing host Saeid saved us from the 20 cm water on the streets and picked us up with his car somewhere in the city. So, thanks once more Saeid, Zara and little Homa for receiving us with so much warmth and kindness in your home!!
A typical No Rouz table at home with the ‚Seven S‘ on it. –>Note the round pot of grass, it will come up again in our foto-story later on 🙂
Mashad city impressions:
Saeid even got us into the for non-muslims hardly accessible areas of the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza, one of the most important pilgrim places in Iran. It was fascinating and a bit crazy during No Rouz when it feels like the whole country squeezes in for prayers.
Trip to a nice mosque outside of Mashad
After 5 days in Mashad we cycled on towards the Caspian Sea, down through Golestan Jungle and then along the coast to Fereydun Kenar.
Enjoying the people and typical food along the way…
Besides the many many positive experiences there was of course also the quite unpleasant propaganda of the religious conservative government, for example this poster campaign for Hijab (covering up for women).
Below is another distressing poster on the street in one of the bigger cities (probably hard to see on this picture are the two rings on the hands: one shows the American and one the Israelian flag)
„A woman without Hijab is like a chair with three legs“ – this was another sentence written on a poster in a hotel. Although trying hard to keep a neutral distance, reading such words felt quite offensive. Luckily this campaign also felt out of place in the modern Iranian reality and from our impression most people also disapproved of it. Generally it was remarkable how many people on the street openly said that they do not like the government and especially the strong power of the religious leaders over the president.
So, we liked to think of this poster campaign as yet another desperate and maybe in the end even contraproductive move of the conservative religious leaders.
But now back to the really important stuff: camping options ;-). These were often quite limited in Iran due to the high population density in some areas. In this case below we were thus watching out for too friendly farmers who might see us camping on their field… and invite us to their home 😉
First time to see the Caspian Sea! This was a little disappointing though. So we better took a nap to dream about how nice it could be without the waste, cars on the beach and concrete buildings.
The 13th of the new year is the last day of the No Rouz holiday. On this day everyone goes out to have a picnic (staying at home is thought to bring bad luck to the family). This trip to the nature is accompanied by a funny habit. After we wondered for a while about the weird, flat, green things on the street and the grass on the roof of the cars it didn’t take long until one of the drivers gave us his grass block and happily explained to us the following ritual: the grass block, one of the 7 S on the table (the attentive reader will recognize it from the picture above 😉 ), is put on the roof of the car. It is left there to eventually fall down on the street during the day. Throwing it away like this is yet another symbolic mark for the beginning of the new year. Of course we were happy to join the fun!
In order to see Tehran and Isfahan in the center of the country we left our bikes in Fereydun at the coast and took a bus through the mountains.
Another omnipresent part of the government campaigns along many roads: gloryfing pictures of so-called martyrs (often victims of the Iran-Irak war) together with the supreme leaders.
And then on the next corner, as so typical for Iran, the contrasting fancy cafe with a little bit of Berlin-feeling in Tehran!!
We surely loved this one too!!
Visit to Shah Mohammad Reza’s former palace in Tehran. It is now opened up to the public to see how the Pahlavi royal family lived a luxurious life until the Revolution in 1979.
And then onwards to Isfahan, definitely one of our most favorite places in Iran!
Isfahan truly feels like ‚half the world‘ as the persian proverb says. It’s a lush green city with water fountains, tree-lined avenues, old bazars, colorful Palaces, grand mosques and not to forget the largest square of its kind on earth. On this UNESCO World Heritage site one may allow us a nice cheesy picture 😛
Through Masood, a nice guy we had met on his motorbike on the road a couple of weeks before, we were lucky to get to know Yahya, Baharé and her sister Camelia who took the time to show us around their city for two days!
Great bizzare tea house in an old cellar
Great fancy tea garden of the famous Hotel Abbasi
And then, to make it a perfect day, we were invited by their parents for a delicious dinner at home. Once more: MERSI MERSI!!
Through some other people we had met in a hostel before we were once more lucky to meet Ali, a young and motivated photographer specialiced in eco and geo-tourism who took us to his favorit spots around Isfahan.
A big salt lake surely is a great playground for camera-lovers
And yet another perfect ending for a day: a beautiful sunset in the warm, silent desert
After the little trip to the interior of the country we were then back on our bicycles, which we left in Fereydun at the home of Moeen, another nice guy whom we had met riding his bicycle (a rarity in Iran, so we immediately trusted him to take good care of ours while we were away). When returning to Fereydun we were hanging out a bit more with him and his friend Paniz and her joyful family … it surely never gets boring with the enthousiastic and hospitable Iranians 😉
After a long good-bye procedure we are then finally back on the road
Unfortunately not our most favorite road. In fact, we would not recommend the road along the Caspian Coast towards Azerbaijan to any cyclist! If you can, take the inland road via Tabriz or Ardabil. The scenery along the Caspian Coast is quite depressing: a lot of waste along the street, ugly fancy new buildings, unfinished construction sites and there is almost no access to the beach/sea because it’s all private fenced property. Along this way we could hardly even see the sea.
This road really was nerve-strechting. BUT, along this road we then also met the most rememberable people of our trip so far. It was one day late in the evening, already dark and we had not yet found a camping place/hotel when we met Yussuf aka. Vincente del Bosque, how we would call him for obvious reasons. He’s a smart funny 50+ guy, retired poet, who did not speak any English. He invited us to stay the night at his house next to the beach, where in the end we spent 3 great days hanging out with him and his (luckily French-speaking) cousin Javad. These two guys and their family were the most sincere and warmhearted people you can imaging and we just felt at home and in the right place from the first moment! Vincente & Javad thanks for all the good spirits and laughs – we’re still thinking of you when it’s half past eight 😉
Little trip to the nearby mountains
Watching fishermen catching the last fish for this year’s season
The moment for the final goodbye: seems we were all a bit confused and reluctant. But in the end we managed to leave in good cheer and with high hopes for a reunion sometime in the future….
The landscape and roads for the last passage from Bandar Anzali towards the border with Azerbaijan were then also a lot nicer…
… with some biking ON the beach!
…hotel on the beach and waking up to the sound of waves!
…camping and breakfast on the beach (ok, this was only possible because we asked if we can camp inside the area of a Caviar farm)
Enjoying some good food, drinks and Shisha in Bandar Anzali with Amir. From here it’s not far to the Azeri border…
… and leaving Iran after one month was a strange feeling but it’s a country where we want to come back to for sure. The wonderful Iranian people and culture definitly make up for all its political downsides!