Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Kashan, end of this trip's cycling

We reached Kashan after 3 days of desert cycling. A pick-up truck took us 50 k north of Esfahan, from there we cycled 80 k to Natanz. Very quiet road, no traffic, no villages, no gas stations. nothing. 4 k before we reached this town Eveline got a stroke of the heat (and dehydration). She was dizzy, had no clear view nor energy and couldn't go on. I stopped a pick-up truck and they took her to the town and the local hotel. I raced after them and found her back in the street in front of the hotel, recovered. No further consequences were felt and we soon forgot the whole incident.
The hotel was one of the worst ever, imagine that we spent there a whole afternoon with nothing to do in the hot room on not very clean beds, waiting for the heat to go.
We left at first light in the morning for Abyaneh. It's a pittuoresque mountain village at 2300 alt. We reached it at noon and fortunately there is a very nice hotel. The village was nice, but as we have experienced more often, the photos in the brochures are more promising than reality appears to offer. Though, after so many travels, I might be a bit blasé by now.
The next day ride to Kashan was relatively easy. 80 kms downhill. Nothing along the road again, real desert, sometimes very colourful. The only thing we passed was the Iranian nuclear facility, the topic of so many conflicts between Iran, it's neighbours and the US. In a wide circle around it there were guns placed with their barrels directed into the skies. Waiting for Nethanyahu's bombers? We passed and photographed without anyone paying us any attention though.

In Kashan we checked in in a traditional hotel, that is an historic compound of a building with courtyards with adjoining rooms. Very nice atmosphere. We had decided to stop our cycling here, as the road to Tehran is not fit for cycling; empty, hot, too long distances between towns
We spent 2 days there, visited more traditional houses, arranged a tour by car for the next 6 days and packed the bikes in bubble wrap.

The first day of the tour we drove into desert passing real sand dunes, scores of wandering camels, an enormous salt lake and spent the night under the starry sky inside a caravanserai in the middle of absolutely bare nowhere, A very special experience. We got back to Kashan to pick up the bikes and continued north to Qom, a very holy city, dropped the bicycles in the baggage depot of the international airport and stopped in Qazvin. From there we visited Alamut, an ancient fortress on a steep rock far in the mountains of north Iran, and slept in Zanjan. We were driving hundreds of kilometers per day, crossing several mountain passes of over 2300 alt each day. The country is really mountainous here in the north, with the highest summit at 5630 altitude. 

After a night in Masouleh, another mountain village clinging to the slope we found ourselves in Ramsar, on the Caspian sea. Back where we were a month ago. A nice evening on the shoreline there and now, after a spectecular ride through the mountain range we are in Selma and Masoud's B&B in Tehran. A homely place and we are part of the family.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Esfahan, the most beautiful city of Iran

As far as we can judge this is a true statement. Contrary to other places where we have been this city has many tree-lined and thus shaded avenues, which makes strolling around a lot more agreeable. Then there are many sites to be seen, such as the main square, palaces, mosques, parks, musea, even of contemporary art, and the latter we consider very special in this religion-dominated and traditional country.

There's also a river running through the city, hundreds of meters wide and now completely dry. To the citizens' regret, as they told us, just a couple of days ago they dammed the river upstream in order to secure the water supply in these dry times. The river is crossed by several bridges, among which some very old and beautiful ones, especially the one with the 38 arches.

As we have not many days of cycling ahead of us we stayed here for 5 days, spending our time with leasure visits to the sites and reading.
Ramazan (z instead of d) makes it a bit more complicated. Only in the big hotels you can have food and drinks during the day, the rest is closed. But, as a matter of fact, we are surprised that there are so few cafés and restaurants here, you have to search for them with a candle. Strange in such a touristic place.

Then a general remark about the traffic: Though we have never found ourselves in danger yet, the way the Iranians drive their cars is next to lunatic. There seem to be not many traffic rules to adhere to. They just cut you short, block your path, park in the middle of the streets, open car doors or drive away without checking their mirrors, make u-turns on busy streets, ignore red lights and so on. For us Iranian traffic is the worst that we ever experienced. They themselves don't bother and they simply remain the most friendly people on earth that we ever experienced.

No hotel and not wanting to camp

After leaving Persepolis we had hoped and expected to find accommodation in Saadat Shar, but there was none. So we continued and were told to find a place to sleep 20 k further at Pasargad, another archeological site. Wrong.
Though we now use to start our cycling at six in the morning, at eleven temps are over 30˚C and there's only bare desert land. We are not fond of camping in the wild, but in this landscape, with rocks, sand, thistles and no trees or water, we don't consider it at all.

Then we got a lift on the blue pick-up truck of Hamid. Hamid is a sailor and is on a 6 months leave. During his leave he tends the cows of the family. After a 50 km drive we found that the next hotel was closed because of Khomeini's birthday and so Hamid took us all the way back to his family's house in Qaderabad. A simple farmer's family with the basic facilities that such country families have here. Very kind people who all wanted to greet us and speak to us (hardly possible).
The next morning Hamid, who had slept with the cows, brought us back again to the main road (60 km) and on we rode. 
To Abadeh, where we had a very nice hotel. From there we lifted again for some 50 kms, so that we ourselves could ride another 80 km to Shahreza, our last stop before Esfahan.
In Shahreza we were invited to private homes three times, but we refused these kind offers, or better requests, since we wanted to be on our own. Being in the house of strangers, no matter how kind they are, not being able to have a normal conversation with them and not knowing what will happen next and when is rather tiring. So after some trial and error we found this caravanserai hotel next to an enormous and very famous (in Iran that is) shrine. The hotel was a former caravanserai, which means that it was the place where long ago the caravans of camels and horses of the traders used to stop for the night, for commerce, for refreshing etc. A square inner courtyard surrounded by storage rooms, that are now the hotel rooms. Very historic and very agreeable.

In the mean time we had contacted Majid, a WS-host in Esfahan, who helped us find an appartment for our own in the centre of the city, where we have stayed now for a number of days.

From coast to desert

Two days after reaching the Caspian sea we arrived in Bahram's garden cottage. He's a Warmshowers host in the seaside town of Bander Anzali. A very nice and busy guy. For insiders, a bit of a Gomba type :-). We spent two days in his cottage. He took us to a very sympathetic and well organised private orphanage that he supports, where we had a wonderful meal and where he hosted another cyclist, Cyrille from Grenoble.
And he arranged tickets for a VIP-bus from Rasht to Shiraz for us and for which he involved another WS-host, Pedram, who bought our tickets for us and delivered them to us at the terminal. We deciced not to cycle southward to Shiraz, our final southernmost destination, and then take a bus back to Tehran. Because of climate-reasons we considered it wiser to do it the other way round.
So, after 50 km ride to Rasht and a surprisingly comfortable 17-hour and 1200 km bus journey (only 25 businessclass seats on board) with a good sleep we arrived in Shiraz at 06.00 the next morning. And yes indeed, Reza, our new WS-host came to meet us there (another service by Bahram). First thing we did was repair a flat tire, which had miraculously occured a puncture in the bus's cargo hold. Then another 20 km ride to Reza's house (Shiraz is a wide spread city) where we were welcomed by his brother and mother. We lived there for two days on the carpetted floor and were very well taken care of.

Shiraz has some beautiful sites, though the world famous gardens didn't impress us as much as we had expected. Furthermore Shiraz is surrounded by very dry mountains and already very hot in these last spring weeks.
Next destination was Persepolis, the capital of the antique Persian empire, built in the sixth century BC by king Darius and destroyed by Alexander the Great nearly 200 years later. An impressive archeological site and a beautiful bungalow hotel for us nearby.