Shiraz: A city you should stay loner
We had a great time in Shiraz. The City is around 1.5 million people but definitely doesn’t feel like it. The city is mostly small enough to walk around. While it is a full of crazy traffic, there are tree-lined avenues and the place is full of beautiful gardens. I had heard Iranians were friendly and curious about foreigners, but that is an understatement, everywhere we went people were saying hello and asking us if we liked Iran. We were basically famous with having to stop and have photos with different people all the time.
The beautiful city of Shiraz is where I flew into to be gin my Iran adventure. As I mentioned I had meet Alice there who was staying in Shiraz with me for 4 nights. Our hostel was beautiful set around a courtyard with pools and tree’s.
Once we were asking about a building to a guy from our hotel when he was walking with us, he couldn’t explain in English so an older man on the street who overheard rung his English speaking daughter so she could translate for us. Its little things like that make Iran such an cool country. And its not in a sleazy way, guys always call out to you but its different than Egypt, or India. Surprisingly women, (despite the clothing restrictions) seem to have a far better role in society than the rest of the Middle East where you don’t often get to speak to many women because the men only speak English. Women make up 65% of tertiary education, but still unfortunately only 13% of the workforce. While I knew Iran would be different from what you read in the newspapers I have been overwhelmed by how different. While wandering around one of Shiraz’s beautiful gardens, with families having picnics, and music playing softly, to think people warned me about Iran being dangerous is laughable. Alice is really involved with couch surfing so through that we meet up with some fantastic Iranians who really made our time much better. Meeting up with Mena, a 25 year old restoration student (soon to be teacher) was one of the highlights of our trip. She brought me and Alice some local ice cream, the most famous is spaghetti ice cream with lime sauce, and also carrot ice cream- yes carrot, vanilla cream freeze with carrot juice.
Afterwards we wandered around the streets and down to this amazing garden with old restored buildings. It was beautiful. Mena was great, funny, friendly and a great insight into Iran and what most people think. She, like just about everyone is sick of the government and sick of politics. Its just really interesting to see how much people do not support the government here. All they want is for freedom and a government who cares about the people., one of the other guys we meet said he doesn’t care any more about politics and he can’t be bothered getting involved because they have tried to change things but it is so difficult. The government here tries to isolate Iran, with internet filters, and tv/newspaper restrictions, but everyone gets around it. They all still use facebook, skype, watch BBC. They have parties and wear what they want. It’s so interesting and sad at the same time. And though I knew Iran wouldn’t be this closed off conservative society its really surprising how much. We meet Mena’s mum and went and got takeaway pizza from ‘Iran Wich’ then back to her place to eat it. Sitting around with Mena talking about boys eating pizza, I felt we could have been anywhere in the world.
Inside people’s homes, you don’t need to cover up, and I don’t think many people would wear headscarves if it wasn’t required. Nobody wears burquas in Iran, in a sense it feels less conservative than somewhere like Cairo where just about everyone wears headscarves anyway and lots of women are in burquas. Some people push the boundaries with big hair, very small headscarves, tight jeans and tight tops. However most people just wear jeans, a hip length fitted coat and a headscarf. Me and Alice went to one mosque/holy shrine where we had to hire a chador (a long black cloak, that goes around your head and body- not covering your face though, you need to hold it closed at the front, many women wear this). Ours were flowery sheets, didn’t help in the fitting in part, black would have been a bit less conspicuous. So some religious sites require different levels of the hijab and apparently sometimes during protests they crack down hard forcing all women in long black chadors. We also meet up with 2 guys from CS, both English literature majors, English teachers and trying to immigrate, one to Canada the other to NZ. One of them took us to see the tomb of Hafez.
Shiraz was once famous for wine, which is now banned. But still known for culture, gardens and poetry, specifically Hafez- Iran’s favourite ‘folk-hero’ poet. His tomb is in these gardens and people go to the tomb, make a wish then open his book of poetry to a random page to see what Hafez is saying about their wish. Our page opened at a poem about living in the moment and ‘carpe diem’, something that probably relates well to both me and Alice who are both future thinkers.
The guys took us for lunch then to a fancy hotel for coffee. While meeting up with local people is great it is funny to see what some people think tourists want. While me and Alice would prefer to sit on the street and drink coffee these guys assumed we want to go to a very fancy (and very expensive) hotel to do so. Anyway, they were great and really interesting discussions about Iran, the west, literature (both much more well read than me and Alice combined).
Shiraz is the closest city to Persepolis, the ancient city of Darius which was burned down by Alexander the great. I have some memories from 7th form classics, its generally pretty important. Unfortunately most of it is destroyed and not in good a condition as some other ancient cities I have seen. But still, we had a guide who explained everything to us and just imagining what is would have been like was pretty good.
The place is packed with Iranian tourists, and a handful on western ones. We also stopped by the necropolis, which are tombs carves into the hillside, they reminded me a bit of Petra in Jordan. Very amazing to think how they would have physically carved them in. in our group was Yesna, our lovely guide, Leslie, the most well travelled American I’ve meet and an Iranian lady who lives in the UK with her 12 year old daughter. Very nice bunch of people and interesting talking about our journey in Iran.
So Shiraz, was great, apart from some serious problems with money and transferring money to a travel agent and it disappearing and paying him again, and over paying etc etc…never ending problems which at the moment is looking like around $300 has gone. But apart from a stressful evening trying to get in touch with bank, everything in Shiraz was good, fun, interesting. After 4 nights I was heading on and Alice was going to fly back to Dubai to try get to London, a bit tricky with all the UK airports being closed because of this Icelandic volcano. I was on a bus heading east for the city of Yazd.