Ashgabat to Istanbul via Iran with Dragoman - 2016 (part 1)

Dragoman Trip Notes

2nd October 2016 - Ashgabat

Before the tour even starts I'm knackered and I've had a bit of a set back although it is hopefully temporary. First up the journey. 4:30pm flight to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines, 3 1/2 hours. A 3 hour wait in the airport and then another 3 1/2 hours to Ashgabat. Nearly 7am when I leave Ashgabat airport and we have a tour kick-off meeting at 10am before a full day city tour.

Anyway, the set-back. I'm in Ashgabat safe and well. The same cannot be said for my luggage which I hope is still in Istanbul. If it isn't then I'm well and truly buggered. If it is in Istanbul it'll arrive on the early flight tomorrow morning and apart from having to wash my boxers overnight, no damage done. So fingers crossed.

Today we had an organised city tour which started off at the Sunday Market. This used to be a huge market which appeared in the desert once a week but as with everything in Turkmenistan it has had lots of money thrown at it and is now a huge collect of buildings selling everything and anything. First up camels.

Otherwise the market would've been fine at the end of a trip hovering up a few presents but at the start not a lot for me except people watching. Turkmenistani people vary from looking racially Asian to practically white European. But most interesting is the clothing. More than half the women are in colourful full length dresses that look like they are traditional dress. Looks amazing.

Next up the mausoleum of the ruling family of Turkmenistan and the biggest single dome mosque in Central Asia. Turkmenistan having the biggest this or that seemed to be a theme of the tour. I assume the countries are playing a big game of dictator (although they are not officially) one-upmanship.

The mausoleum was well done and I though a fitting memorial for anyone. The mosque was big and ornate. I assume we will have a lot more of these in Iran and they will have a lot more history behind them than this one which was built only a few years ago. To top that it is only a 'monumental mosque' and is only used twice a year to commemorate the deaths of the ruling family members.

From then on it was marble, marble and more marble. Apartments, government ministries and monuments to anything and everything. The city was flattened in 1948 and rebuilt by the Russians but since independence the president has used to oil and gas money to try to build a city to rival Dubai. It is obvious the president likes a bit of marble.

The ministries were built in the shape of the thing they represent. An open book for the Ministry of Education was my favorite.

Above the biggest ferris wheel in Central Asia and then there is the monuments. Independence Monument, Peace Monument, Neutrality Monument, it went on and on.

On top of this were huge black sculptures everywhere if historical figures. This city really has been built to impress people; I'm just not quite sure who.

3rd October 2016 - Ashgabat

First up today a trip to the the Iranian Consulate in Ashgabat to arrange our Iranian Visas. Brits, Americans and Canadians have to go up and have their finger prints taken and pay a huge visa fee (especially the Brits). They will hold onto our passports overnight and hopefully we'll be sorted in the morning. Thankfully this didn't take too long and we were back the hotel by 11am. And back to good news, more back-pack has arrived in Ashgabat. The not good news I need to go to the airport with my passport to get it so another night washing my undies for the morning.

Spent the rest of the day with a few others walking around the city, basically six hours touring the parks and a few shops of Ashgabat. It was a lovely relaxing (but tiring) day getting to know a few of the group.

The parks were beautifully manicures with loads of fountains and big black statues of historical figures and many were action shots; playing chess, reading, teaching, firing an arrow. It sure beats the statues in London.

Above is the guy we have to thank for everything the ever loving president.

In the evening a pork fillet washed down with a couple of pints of Berk (Turkmenistani beer), last chance we'll get for either of those in a while.

4th October 2016 - Shirvan

Today was the day the whole trip could crash and burn ... but it didn't. A late start as we had to wait for our passports to get back from the Iranian Embassy. They came back and I have an Iranian Visa so first hurdle overcome. Next my bag. The rest of the group headed off in the truck to a shopping centre for lunch and I jumped in a taxi to the airport. (Taxis by the way are not real taxis but many locals cruise around picking people up and we're told it's safe.) Taxis are very cheap and petrol is only a token price as are many staples in this oil and gas rich country.

Anyway I get to the airport, which is of course shaped like a hawk, and after a little bit of asking around I have my bag and a taxi to meet up with the group. It all went very smoothly and most importantly I now have my sandals to wear. The airport is huge and like everything in Ashgabat is built to cater for thousands of people, but it was deserted apart from a few staff. I heard they only get around 7,000 visitors a year. This really is a city waiting for the people to arrive.

After munch we head off for the border. Getting out of bureaucratic Turkmenistan took quite some time. Apparently we hadn't gone to the border crossing listed in the route that was filed. The fact this crossing wasn't open when filed cut no mustard. After lots of coming and going and phone calls the guy who looked like a general said we could go through if we paid a 300 manat fine (£68), I wonder where that money went.

The Iranian side took a bit of time but they were organised and seemed pleased to see us. They apologised that it took an hour or so and we were on our way. No search of the truck, no search of the bags. From there a few hours of crossing barren countryside and over some big hills to Shirvan.

5th October 2016 - Damghan

A long drive today to get us away from the Turkmenistan border and across a fairly barren area to the city of Damghan. So today is great time to introduce Helena our truck and Sinead and Lindsay our crew. Yes we have an all female crew to cross Iran; this has already raised a few eye-brows. We also have our tourist guide on board Omid and like in Burma we have a man from the ministry driving in front of us. It's his car in the photo.

Today we made a truck lunch which is were we buy from a market and make our own lunch buffet. In the past we've done it in truck stops or car parks for beauty spots but today we just pulled over to the side of the road in a town and set-up on the pavement. When you have a man from the ministry and are honoured guests it seems you can do this sort of thing. After a while the police did stop but they seemed happy enough and left us to carry on.

As I said the area was pretty barren, in fact the picture above is one of the more interesting ones. But it made for a good day to sit at the back of the truck MP3 player on and let the world pass by without a care in the world.

In the evening we stopped off in a town where we looked at a couple of very old mosques. The locals were very surprised to see us and told Omid that they had never had tourists visit before. It really shows we are in an area way off the average tourist trail. The tower of from the Jaheh Mosque in ??? reportedly from around 700AD. We then drove on to Damghan where we are staying. At the hotel the manager wanted a photo of the group, they obviously don't get many tourists either.

Iran obviously is a dry country in more than one way but in the hotels we have found alternatives. Yesterday non-alcoholic pineapple beer and today a choice of peach or tropical fruit 'non-alcoholic carbonated malt beverage'.

6th October 2016 - Khoor

First up today a proper tour of Damgahn. More mosques and historic buildings. It's good that we are starting in the less touristy parts of Iran as we are seeing real working buildings made of brick, tiles and mud and straw plaster. I think this beats the heavily gilded and bejeweled buildings I expect we'll see later.

From Damgahn it's another 400km to Khoor today's destination. I thought yesterday was barren landscape today it was basically dessert. Our lunch stop couldn't contrast more with yesterday. A lay-by on a long straight road through the dessert,, but we still managed to pull a crowd. A number of lorries stopped to take a look at the mad tourists making lunch in the baking sun with only the truck for shade. Today's temperature 36 degrees, but it doesn't feel too hot as it is a dry heat, practically no humidity at all.

All the way through the desert were these warning signs for camels and we did see a herd close to the road and a few more groups later in the distance.

After arriving at Khoor we headed out to some salt flats, in the dark. It would've been nice to see them in day light but viewing them in the car headlights underneath the stars was a great second best.

7th October 2016 - Yazd

Morning spent on the road again, but now we are towards the heart of Iran. For the next two days we will be in Yazd, which has a claim to be the oldest inhabited city in the world so it has seen a few dynasties come and go. But before any of the history it's time to talk food. I read before I arrived that Persian food is great but hard to find and most food you'll find is fast food, burgers, pizzas and sheesh kebab. If Persians want traditional food they go home to Mum as hers is always best. But we have had some great food so far. The main reason for this is that the hotels we've stayed in have laid it on for us and today's doesn't let us down. A buffet of a minty, yoghurty soup, rice, a chick pea dish, camel and chips (whenever you travel hosts always feel they have to add chips for the tourists), dips and sauces and some lovely fresh bread.

We spent the afternoon having a bit of a laze, the first chance we've had since the trip started and then when the sun had got lower and the temperature had dropped we headed out to see some sights. We headed out to the Towers of Silence. These are where the Zoroastrians took their dead. The bodies would be laid out on top of the hills for the vultures to eat off the flesh and then they would bury the bones. Zoroastrianism is one of the world's oldest monotheistic religions. It was founded by the Prophet Zoroaster in ancient Iran approximately 3500 years ago. They are still many Zoroastrians in Iran and the Towers up until the 1960s. We arrived as the sun was going down and it looked great.

At the moment the Iranians are celebrating the Mourning of Muharram. The event marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala when Imam Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, was killed by the forces of the second Umayyad caliph Yazid I at Karbala. So there are lots of religious sorts banging their hands against their chests and their heads as only the middle easterns can. Or as Wikipedia describes it "Male and female participants congregate in public for ceremonial chest beating (matam) as a display of their devotion to Imam Husayn and in remembrance of his suffering."

Wikipedia - Mourning of Muharram

For the duration of the remembrance, it is customary for mosques to provide free meals (nazar) on certain nights of the month to all people. These meals are viewed as being special and holy, as they have been consecrated in the name of Imam Husayn, and thus partaking of them is considered an act of communion with Allah, Imam Husayn, and humanity.

We parked the truck up in the middle of some festivities which caused a but of a stir and had a wonder around. We got ourselves invited into one of the buildings, they sat us down and brought us tea, coffee and an apple. We got talking to the guy next to us and it turned out we were in the Iraqi meeting hall. Westerners in Iran backing the Iraqis, what could go wrong? Before I came on this trip I had read that the Iranians were the most hospitable in the world and what we've seen so far bears that out. When we drive by we gets stares followed by waved hands, people say hello to us, whenever anything doesn't go to plan they apologised profusely and we are offered tea by strangers.

Brits and Yanks cannot enter Iran unless they are on an official tour we cannot come here and travel around on our own. But I think are going to get quite a bit of freedom whilst on the tour. I mean unless they stop and check the passport of every tourist they see how can they tell if we are Brits, Canadians or Australians. I think basically as long as we book into the hotel with our guide we're good. So after the tea and apple with the Iraqis I headed off for a wander. I found the main square in front of the mosque. There was a preacher, black robes, proper beard set-up in the square with a congregation in front of him, men at the front women at the back of course. But otherwise people were milling around, shops were selling the same sort of things you'd find in Europe. Iran really doesn't feel much different to being at home especially some parts of London! I got myself a coke zero, sat and people watched for a while.

8th October 2016 - Yazd

A full day in Yazd, no truck just time to wander, see the sights and get a real feel for Iran. First up the Great Friday Mosque of Yazd which has the tallest traditional style minerets in Asia.

Before I go on it's time to talk clothing in Iran and more importantly how much of it we have to wear whilst we're here. I'm on holiday and I have to wear long trousers! It's so inconvinient I can't believe men are treated this way; oh and women have to cover there heads at all time and wear loose fitting clothes that hides their body shape. Sometimes when we go into a mosque the women have to wear a bedsheet on top as well; wouldn't want the weak willed me distracted would we.

Anyway onwards and into the mosque. More lovely tiles with geometric patterns and more calligraphy verses from the Koran. The buildings are beautiful and on a grand scale, colourful carpets on the floor and detailed cut-outs in the roof to let in light in beautiful patterns.

Next up was the water museum which showed the ingenius ways in which the Persians have obtained, channeled and cooled water down the ages. The exhibits were OK but the building and the courtyard were beautiful.

The old town of Yazd is like something from a film set. Mud brick buildings with grass and mud plaster. Winding back alleys with the odd motor bike coming down them. Beautiful doors and colourful tiles. Best of all are the large wind towers (badgirs) which dot the area. These are used to draw air down cooling the area or the water tank below.

After a siesta we headed out for another wander looking in the shops on the way. The main craft here (for tourists) seems to be pottery and enamel. There are some great pieces but how do I get it home in one piece? So I just ended up buying a painted tile which should travel OK. We stopped off at a Yazd wrestling club where they were doing their traditional warm-up routines. This mainly entailed swinging clubs over their shoulder and back again, waving heavy chains above their heads and bench pressing heavy wooden shields. It was fun for a while but I'd like to have seen them wrestle.

From there more walking and time for another main square picture this time including the fountains. For tea we have a falafel roll which was tasty and some Italian ice cream which was lovely. I went for traditional saffron flavour and an orange flavour both were great. We also shared some pistachio buns and sultana buns and bought Iranian sweets to take home as gifts.

Today is one of the main days of the Iman Hussien mourning thing. We went along to a huge hall in which commemorations were going on. This was a hall especially welcoming tourists and we got the balcony seats. Down below women at the back sitting, a religious bloke up the front chanting and lots of guys in the middle smacking their chests and their heads with great force. They were supposed to be remembering the suffering Iman Hussien went through. We got given some a booklet on 'proper' Islam and how friendly and peaceful it is and one on Iman Hussien. A nice souvenir even if it is a load of ...

9th October 2016 - Zein-o-din, Yazd

First up today the Dolat Abad Garden in Yazd. These are presidential gardens (or were) built on top of a qanat (well/water system). The main building was used for VIP guests in the past and is still beautifully decorated. The wind tower on top of the building is the highest in the world at 34m.

Above is the ceiling of the central area.

On each side were beautiful coloured glass windows which spread patterns across the floors.

The gardens were a nicely laid out and it was nice to see a bit of green, I'm sure it would've looked even better if the fountains were running. The main plants in the gardens were pomegranate tress and they were laden with fruit.

Next up the Zoroastrian Fire Temple which is the holiest place for their religion. Persians were Zoroastrian for about 2000 years before the coming of Islam. We're told there are now about 1 million left in the world and about two thirds of those are in Iran and mainly in Yazd. The fire burning in the temple has supposedly been burning for two thousand years although not always here.

The symbol is a holy thing of the Zoroastrians. The wings and the layers feathers and the gold ring and stuff all have meanings that were explained to us but that sort of symbolism goes in one ear and out the other so just enjoy the fact it looks pretty!

The picture below shows what can happen when you drink too much non-alcoholic pomegranate malt beverage.

This guy was a worker on a building site on his lunch break and he walked over and gestured that he'd like to have his photo taken with me. I cannot say it enough times the Iranian people have been great. Waving, saying hello, taking our photos and talking to us if they can. We've been treated like minor celebrities. From now on we are going to the bigger tourist sites so I guess this will settle down a bit but I don't think I've been anywhere so genuinely friendly where they are not looking for anything from other except for us to enjoy our time here.

Tonight we are staying in the restored Zein-o-Din Caravanserai. The Caravanserai were staging posts along the silk road and when trade was at its peak 999 were built as meeting points, trading points and as places for people and their animals to stay.

Inside there are bunks and some VIP rooms and in the centre a beautiful courtyard. There's a shower and toilet block, kitchen and dining room. Again we are treated to another Persian buffet; today's star attraction is a huge plate of lumps of chicken which went down so well. We haven't have that much meat on the trip so far. Most meals have have a little or no meat but tasty vegetarian dishes, rice and bread.

10th October 2016 - Persepolis, Shiraz

A seven hour dash to Persepolis today after we found out that it is closed for the next two days due to the Iman Hussein thing. It turns out this is the second biggest festival of the year after those around Ramadan. The festivities will go on all week so although this means some things will be closed we are getting to see one hell of a party; if you can have a party that is basically a week's mourning for a guy who died 1500 years ago. I we do it for Easter, but we have replaced the self-flagellation with eating chocolate.

Anyway, Persepolis. Huge ruins from around 500BC. Columns, carved reliefs, arches and walk-ways. It was built just for New Year celebrations. At the time the Persian Empire was at its height and delegates from 33 regions would come to Persepolis pay respects to its leader.

As with other sites like this it is amazing if you think how much work went into it and can imagine how grand it must've looked but there is only so much looking at ruins that I can do. So we climbed up to the muasaleum that over looks the site took a few more photos and I was done.

In the evening we went out for a walk around Shiraz. The festivities were in full swing but I'll get to that in a minute. First up the Tomb of Hafez. Hafez is Iran's most famous poet for about 1000 years go. From what I gather he took the Koran and interpreted it into verse. Apparently if an Iranian only owns two books it will be the Koran and Hafez's book of verse.

The tomb area was beautiful and a peaceful respite from the large city that is Shiraz and the festivities going on which always seem to be accompanied by a huge sound system.

Shiraz is a big city, hotels, shops neon signs, it could be any city anywhere in the world. Anyone who thinks of Iran as a closed, controlled society should come here where things look very cosmopolitan. Even the women here are wearing more tight fitting clothes and their scarfs only cover some of their hair rather than all of it. We walked past a street vendor selling Shirazi bread so I had to stop. Fresh bread with sesame seeds, lovely.

In Shiraz tonight many roads were closed and there are processions through the town; a sort of carnival. Each section is composed of a brightly lit float at the front and a big sound system. Guys with big bass drums and loads of guys hitting themselves over the shoulders with a chainy whippy thing. It's basically a handle with a hundred or so small chains attached which they slap themselves over the shoulder with in time to the beat and the lead guy with the microphone's chants.

These precessions were going on for hours and continued after we left and drew large crowds of largely women (the men are in the precession). We are free to mingle amongst the precession and take photos and video no problem in fact the locals are doing the same.

Once again everyone here is so friendly and welcoming. Waving to us and saying hello or salem. At the bread place we tried some of the bread but they would not let us pay for it. I got talking to some people and they were as interested in us as we were in them. At one point I got talking to a guy from Afghanistan (now living in Shiraz) who wanted to introduce me to his daughters! Cue some very embarrassed smiles and blushes and that was just me.

11th October 2016 - Shiraz

Iman Hussein week day 5 and there are no signs of the festivities slowing down. This morning there were more floats, more sound systems, more drums and more beating the back with chains. We headed to The Holy Shrine of Ahmed Ebn-e Mousa Al Karem and Shah-e Cheragh. I think this place is the reason that Shiraz is the third holiest city in Iran. So first up the girls have to put on a bed sheet as their existing modest dress isn't modest enough.

We are shown around by a guy who tries to explain to us the significance of the place and the ceremony going on, but we struggle to hear a thing as another group chanting and whipping go by. I reckon their god must be fairly deaf as they seem to think they have a shout to get him to hear them.

In the main square a bloke is giving a sermon or what ever they call it, loudly and there is flag waving and more banging of fists against the chest.

They start them young over here, this little guy was almost swing himself off his feet.

The photo above just shows part of the main square in the complex; the place was huge. The shot above was in another huge square within the the same complex. We're told the whole place is full during Ramadan and will be pretty full later today. What is amazing is that even though these ceremonies are going on they are again happy for us to walk around and take photos, in many cases encouraging us to do so as in the case of the parents of the boy above.

As Omid (our guide throughout Iran) had told us most things are closed in Shiraz today. A few shops are open but not many and no museums or the like. He apologised but I'd rather be here now there during any other week. It is amazing to see. Below is the fortress in the middle of Shiraz, as with many other buildings in Iran some amazing brickwork. Otherwise we wandered around I had some great fruit juices, others had the local ice cream which is a bit weird; it looks like frozen spaghetti cut up into small pieces and it has a slightly candy flossy texture. It is very sweet and I think mainly made up of sugar.

Guardian story which illustrates how big a deal Ashura is.

From the story - Ashura, which occurs on the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram, marks the death of the prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein ibn Ali, at the battle of Karbala, which is in present-day Iraq, in AD680. It is a significant occasion for Shia Muslims across the world, who wear black during the whole month and participate in street ceremonies that involve mourning, beating their chests and slapping their heads.

In the evening we went to Omid's mum's place for dinner. Eighteen of us invited over and it was great. Omid, his mum and brother were great hosts, we had some traditional Shirazi food with bread and some great lemon juice. We looked through their photo albums and talked about so many things. Omid's brother is an English teacher and it was fascinating talking to him about language, people, different countries and the similarities and differences between them. On the whole trip Omid has been great, very open and generous with his time and his family were equally generous. If you met them in London you would think they had lived there for many years rather than in Iran under what many people think wrongly is an oppressive regime. At the top Iran does have some issues (as do many other countries) but day-to-day people seem to have a great deal of freedom and enjoy what that freedom brings. Women drive, couples live together before marriage, people have access to western music and films and can use the internet to have pen-pals all over the world. Omid had has travelled to the neighbouring countries like Georgia, Azerbijhan and Armenia and further afield to UAE and Malaysia. Irains are not an overly oppressed people.

12th October 2016 - Esfahan

A long driving day today across a barren landscape which looked like a set for Star Wars. On the way we stopped off for a few photos at some tombs. I these were the guys who built Persepolis; Darius, Cyrus ...

Late afternoon we got to Esfahan and stopped off at a huge dry river with a beautiful bridge. I must find out how full this gets when they do have rain. It turns out that most years it flows with water but hasn't for the last two years.

In the evening we headed out for more drums bangs, preachers shouting and people wearing black chest slapping. We went to the main square; Omid told us it is the second largest traditional square in the world and sure enough it is huge. A guy invited a couple of us into the mosque to see the ceremony. We walked in through the entrance and past some pictures of army guys with guns (martyrs), took our shoes off and ended up in a large dark room with the preacher at the end doing a sort of call and answer chant. Quite a surreal experience.

After ten minutes or so we headed back outside and walked around the square. Places like this look great at night.

We were told before arriving that Esfahan is a far more conservative city and here we (Brits and Yanks) will need to stick closer to Omid. The pictures below show one of the stalls handing out free tea. But when they asked where we were from and I said England they smiled and apologised for the sign. Basically it seems some guys at the top preach this stuff and put up the banners, but anyone given the chance would love to visit the UK or the US.

 

On the way back to the hotel we came across another parade; this time a little different. Less slapping themselves on the back and more brass band (although not playing a very cheery tune) and women a girls carrying candles. Dennis got given a candle and then many in the parade came over to relight theirs from his.

13th October 2016 - Esfahan

Walking tour of Esfahan today starting off at Chehelsotoon Gardens and the 40 Pillar Palace. Another lovely green garden in Iran. Inside the palace walls were covered in frescos of Safavids rulers their feasts and their battles with the Ottomans.

But the highlight was visit to the tea house where they sold tea, coffee and ice carrot. So out of curiosity it had to be the ice carrot. Turns out that it is a couple of scoops of saffron ice cream in a cup and then filled up with fresh carrot juice. It may not sound like a good combination but it worked.

 

Next up Naghshe Jahan Square where we were last night. Much emptier today and the 'Down with the UK' sign had been taken down but it was still a hive of activity. In the middle of each side are the Iman Mosque (below), the Sheik Lotfollah Mosque which is unusual as it has no minarets and the Ali qapu Palace. We walked around the mosque which was full of the usual tiles, mirrors and geometric patterns only bigger and grander.

Below is a panoramic photo take from the Ali qapu Palace with the Sheik Lotfollah Mosque directly in front and the Iman Mosque to the right. This photo shows just how big the square is.

Around the edge of the square runs an covered bazaar, hundreds of shops selling the traditional crafts; the main ones were enameled plates, camel bone items and of course carpets. I ended up spending more in half an hour than in the previous two weeks.

As my feet haven't quite taken a big enough pounding yet we headed out again in the evening. You may laugh but travelling is hard work; many long hours bumping around in the back of the truck interspersed with full days walking around seeing the sights. Add in the altitude (about 1600m) which may not be like Bolivia but is enough to have an effect and the dryness of the air, let's just say you don't know what I'm going through to bring you this blog. Tonight we headed down to the Great Mosque of Esfaran; the biggest mosque in Iran. As with the Iman Mosque it is surrounded by a bazaar. Some of the girls wanted to stop off at a perfume shop and it turned out to be a great call. Kathy wanted to replicate a perfume she already had and the women in the shop quickly deciphered what made it up and pulled bottles from the shelves. To make the perfume she took a base then added some from each of the distinct scents to get the desired end result. It reminded me of an episode of The Apprentice a few years ago except she really knew what she was doing.

The Great Mosque is pretty great. Big, elaborately decorated and tonight lit in the Iran colours. Many locals were milling about and drinking tea, playing on their phones and doing some praying. After a look around, I wandered back through the bazaar and called it an early night.

14th October 2016 - Esfahan

From Lonely Planet "Esharan is Iran's number one tourist destination for good reason. Its profusion of tree lined boulevards, Persian gardens and important Islamic buildings gives it a visual appeal unmatched by any other Iranian city, and the many artisans working here underpin its reputation as a living museum of traditional culture. Walking through the historic bazaar, over the picturesque bridges and across the Unesco-listed central square are sure to be highlights of your holiday."

First up today was the Persian bathes museum, with my aches and sore cracked feet I wish it was still up and running; I think a soak and a massage could be what I need to put me right. Anyway the museum was good with lovely well preserved rooms full of stone columns, tiled walls and marble floors. Must've been quite a place when it was in full swing.

When driving into most towns there are pictures of young men on posters and billboards; these are Iran's 'martyrs' from the Iran-Iraq war which lasted most of the 80s. These pictures fit in with the one not so good thing about Iran; its whole culture seems to be based around sorrow, mourning and general miserableness. I can now understand why when bad things happen you see pictures of them wailing and hitting themselves, they seem brought up to it and so many of the really religious sorts wouldn't be happy if they weren't miserable. It is easy to see how the leaders can convince them that everyone is out to get them. It is a real pity and most younger urban people we meet seem so positive and want to see the world in a good light.

Next up the Armenian Quarter. Armenians have been found in Persia since the 17th century and a small population still remain. In Esharan there are around 5000 Christain Armenians and we visited their beautiful St Joseph's Church. The outside is unimpressive but the inside is richly decorated in a mixture of styles. Islamic tiles mixed with Christian imagery.

Next up the Armenian museum full of artifacts and paintings covering the last 400 hundred years. There is also a large part which covers the Armenian holocaust in 1915, when the Turks backed by the Germans annexed Armenia killing everyone they came across. Over a million Armenians died.

The picture below is of the shaking minarets. The building and surroundings were lovely and we waited around for 40 minutes for the swaying. A guy climbed to the top of one and rocked it (not nearly as much as I expected) and the other swayed a little too. All in all a bit underwhelming.

On the way back to the main square we made a stop at another of Esharan's bridges. Another impressive two level bridge spanning a wide dry river.

By the time we got to the main square it was well past lunchtime and so definitely kebab time. I doubled up getting a beef and a chicken kebab. Like most things over here the beef kebab was under spiced but the chicken with peppers was perfectly cooked. I just wish they did sauces with their kebabs in Iran. Some chilli sauce and garlic mayo would have this this good meal to a great one.

After lunch there was time for a bit more shopping in the bazaar and a final photo of the impressive main square before heading back to the hotel. Despite being told Esharan is much more strict and that we shouldn't walk around on our own we were again left at the square to walk back on our own. Iran really has two sides. A guy asked where we were from and then how we find the Iranian people we told him that all we had felt was warmth and hospitality. He said yes the people of Iran are great but he apologized for his government.

Ashgabat to Istanbul via Iran - 2016 (part 2)