Ancient ruins and shisha in Shiraz

I had initially planned to just spend 3 days in Shiraz, to see the city and visit Persepolis, but ended up staying for 6 days as K decided to join me after 2 days in. It seems to be a recurring pattern – staying much longer in the final city of my trips because of the friends I’ve made along the way. The bus ride from Isfahan was pleasant but uneventful, and when I reached, I met up with a bunch of couchsurfers who were uni students. We went to play volleyball at a park where they discovered to their amusement how bad my ball sense worse. I managed to hit the ball, sure, but it never went in the direction I wanted it to go. I even managed to get it stuck up in a tree and into a water fountain which wasn’t near where anyone of us.

Later that night, I went to another host, a family staying just outside of the city center. Throughout my trip in Iran, one of the best moments are entering a family’s home after a day out. It’s always so comfortably clean and I get well fed, and I really feel at home. I guess this is Iranian hospitality at its best.

The next day, I woke up early and walked with the muezzin calls in the background to the city center. I first hit an open air market, where it was crazy crowded and vendors were selling fresh fish next to brightly coloured vegetables
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After weaving through a series of small alleys, I reached the Nasir Al Molk mosque. Famed for its colourful stain glass, it was really beautiful in the morning, with the sun light casting colourful shadows on the Iranian carpets in the mosque. I sat there for almost an hour, just chilling and thinking about absolutely nothing.
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Just around the corner was another huge mosque, where for the first time, volunteer guides were there to bring visitors around and explain to them a little about muslim culture. My guide was a very friendly woman who worked part time while studying in university. There was a huge tomb covered in silver in the middle of one of the rooms, and people were walk around it touching the silver and praying, in the name of good luck.
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The main bazaar in Shiraz, the Vakil bazaar, was almost like a maze. There were all sorts of spices, carpets and traditional paintings there. Not wanting to go to all the tombs as each charged a hefty 5eur each, I decided to go to yet another mosque, the Vakil mosque. These mosques were literally escape spots for me – free water, shade and a place to sit at for a while. And usually, with beautiful architecture too. Actually, water coolers were everywhere on the streets in Iran, but particularly so in Shiraz, which was really a godsend in the 40 degree heat. That night, I headed back to my host’s home where we had a homely family dinner of potato pancakes with beef.
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K told me that he was arriving later in the afternoon the following day, so I decided to go to the Karim Khan citadel for a bit. It was massive, and I loved how one of its pillars was slightly tilted with a few tiles missing, probably from earlier attacks. I sat under a tree and people watched a bit, when an old woman dressed in rags came down and sat beside me. I think she was homeless and hadn’t taken a bath in a while. But she offered me some biscuits from her bag, which looked exactly like the free ones I got from the snacks on the bus. This truly made me feel quite warm, as she was probably really poor but offering to share everything she had with me. We exchanged our snacks, and she gave me a toothless smile. Kindness transcends language. Shortly after, a family came up to me and invited me to join their picnic. We made sandwiches out of flat bread, tomatoes and chillies cut on the spot with a blunt kitchen knife and some sliced meat. It really is difficult to find cultures that embrace strangers like this.
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Later, feeling very full from both the food and hospitality, I decided to walk to the city gates, where there was a small hill to climb. It was about 1pm in the afternoon, crazily hot, and I was the only one mad enough to hike up the hill. The views were good though, and at the top, there was a tombstone with some Persian inscriptions on it. I think Shiraz is a place where many famous characters of the past chose to be buried in. The way up was littered with trash, and I guess it was a popular spot at night for couples and friends to chill at.
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After what seemed like an eternity, K arrived and I couldn’t get my hands off him. I moved into a hostel with him, and we chilled there for a bit, before joining a few other guys at the hostel for dinner. There was A, a film director from Poland, N, a Mauritius guy who lived in Paris and was traveling the world, and another German guy. It was quite fun going around with a bunch of people and getting to know them, and I realized how when traveling alone, you tend to move around much faster. The hostel owner had suggested a supposedly cheap and good place to eat at, and beautiful as it was, it was way out of our budgets. We snuck a few photos of the exterior, illuminated by colourful lights, and settled for some falafel and burgers.
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We had planned to go to Persepolis together the next day, but the guys were just too lazy to move in the heat, so after demolishing the free breakfast at the hostel, we just chilled at the common area, only walking out for food. Despite just traveling for just 2 weeks this time, it was quite nice to do nothing for a day. The following day, we finally mustered up the energy to walk 4km to where the cabs heading towards Persepolis were waiting at, and N, being the self designated bargaining king among us, managed to get a driver at half of his starting price. The cab driver was playing bad Iranian music at deafening volumes, K was bouncing up and down to it and we were off to a good start. Persepolis felt like it was in the middle of a desert, and my phone actually switched off by itself because of the 50 degrees heat. At that point of time I really wished I were a guy so I didn’t have to be fully covered up. The ruins were a little underwhelming though. I guess they were not really restored well, which is strange as the entrance fees were quite hefty. Nonetheless, using a bit of imagination, you could see how centuries ago, it would have been a really grand palace. We walked up to a view point and got a great view of the whole place, before heading back.
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As it was going to our last night together, the guys planned on going to one of the best restaurants in city. It was 8km out of the city, according to google maps, so we decided to squeeze into a cab. Our cab driver, a very dubious one as his “cab” looked more like any car on the road to me, insisted that he knew where we were going, but we took almost 1.5 hours before we reached the restaurant. Well, in his defense, it was in the middle of a forested area far from the city. Definitely more than 8km. The food was great though, we were famished by the time we reached it, and ordered kebabs after kebabs, followed by shisha. The shisha was really cheap, so we had two bongs for our group. Good quality tobacco in a secluded location, fun company, this was probably one of the best moments in Iran for me.
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It was a befitting end to my time in Iran. Saying goodbye to K was hard, and we kissed rather passionately in the common area in the hostel. At the corner of my eye, I saw the owner looking rather appalled, but I didn’t care. For me, Iran would be perfect if there wasn’t discriminatory pricing for foreigners. It doesn’t’ make sense to me, if it is trying to attract more tourists. But then again, it isn’t the only country in the world to do this. I’d definitely come back again, as there’s so much more of the country I’ve yet to see, and I just can’t get enough of the beautiful roofs in the mosques.
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