Tabriz…continued

At the bazaar a carpet and antique-style metal product seller said hello as we walked passed. If I was in Turkey, Egypt or another touristy country I would have ignored him and carried on walking. As it was Iran we went along along with him to his shop, drank tea and conversed in English and Turkish. He contacted a money-changer as we wanted to change some USD into rials. We then went to the carpet-seller’s other shop in the bazaar. However, the rate the changer gave when he visited the shop, 8,500 rials, was less than the 8,650 he promised on the phone to the carpet-seller. Out of principle, we rejected the transaction.

In the afternoon we walked to the museum and Blue Mosque area. In front of the museum, waiting for it to re-open, were a group of 50 or so female students of various ages, all in chadors. When we walked nearby they swarmed around Karin first and later, myself. The students asked all the usual questions: Where are you from? How old are you, etcetera. I mainly chatted to their male teacher. When he asked if she (Karin) was my wife I said no, we were just friends. In hindsight, Karin and I agreed, for cultural sensitivity we should have said we were husband and wife. Unmarried and unrelated males and females virtually never travel together in Iran. It was fun outside the museum. Unfortunatly, we only thought about taking photos as the museum opened and the girls left us to go inside.

Karin and I bypassed the museum to walk across the park to the Blue Mosque. This mosque, built in 1492, was damaged many times by earthquakes over the centuries and is in an almost continual state of repair. The tiles on the walls and roof were interesting but I am sure it will be nothing compared to the splendour of mosques in Shiraz, Esfahan and Tehran.

The park was inviting and we relaxed for a while in the shade as ducks, a few chickens and a turkey nibbled at the nearby lawn.

The museum consisted of 3 levels. The ground and 1st level contained the usual coins, pottery and other antiquities. The lower level, with its modern sculptures, was personally more interesting. The 12 or 13 large sculptures displayed various human emotions and concepts from over-population to racism. Some of the sculptures were very graphic. The sculpture titled “Political Prisoners” was particularly vivid, showing prisoners in various forms of torture. The subject of this sculpture is fairly ironic for Iran I thought.

After a rest at the hotel at 7pm we met Nasser outside the tourist informaton. We caught a bus to a richer area of Tabriz. As the bus was ‘express’ it cost required 2 tickets at 600 rials each. The bus did indeed speed around the city. Karin entered and sat in the back with the other women while Nasser and I were in the front. There was no barrier between the the two sections as I had thought there may have been prior to the trip. When conversing with Karin one of the ladies told Karin she was too fat. All the foreign women she had witnessed on TV were skinnier. Karin thought this was very funny.

We bought our tickets for the Friday 5pm bus to Esfahan (55,000 each) at a travel agency. With the suggestion from Nasser, I asked the beautiful travel agency worker some questions in English. Everyone wants to learn English here. Nasser said native English speakers could earn USD 12 an hour giving English classes at one of the main English schools.

The area had a pedestrian street where everybody walked to see and be seen. Thursday night here (and in many muslim countries) is the equivalent to Saturday night in Turkey or Australia as Friday is the holy day holiday. There were less people walking as Iran was playing Jordan in a soccer game and many people would be watching the game on TV.

The local fashionable icecream cafe was ‘Padina’. There I ate ‘4 kernels’ and Karin, honey icecream. The ‘4 kernels’ contained chopped almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts and pistachios on top of the icecream. Needless to say it was delicious! Nasser’s nephew, Yashar joined us at the cafe.

The “Coffee Net” was the next destination. Internet cafes are called “Coffee Nets” here.

A shared taxi (2000 rials each) back to bazaar area and then the short walk to the hotel rounded the day off.

27/8/2004

This morning we again met Nasser near the tourist information. He was carrying a type of pide for our breakfast in the El-gholi park on the outskirts of Tabriz. We met 3 Polish women at their hotel and the 6 of us then squeezed into a taxi for the ride to the park. The park is large. In the centre is a pond with a restaurant nearby. Prior to the Islamic revolution in 1979 the restaurant was a disco serving the obligatory alcoholic beverages.

The park is levelled and we climbed up several flights of the stairs to get to the top. On the way Nasser pretended he was a foreigner and told a group of 3 young Iranian women they were beautiful. The policeman nearby did not apreciate it and had a word to him. Apparently the local ladies enjoy it if people, particularly foreigners, tell them they have beautiful eyes. No, I haven’t been game enough yet to try it yet!

The park contained groups of young men smoking narghile and playing basketball, families socialising and having picnics and groups of young women walking around.

For breakfast Yashar joined us and we ate the bread with white cheese accompanied by tea. Afterwards I brought out some cezerye and Turkish delight I bought in Mersin.

A walk and a bus later we wrrived back in the centre of Tabriz to this “Coffee Net” where I am now.

A few notes:

-Every street seems to have a donation box for people to donate to. The causes are for poor people, people with kidney stones or requiring kidney transplants, and for the victims of the Bam earthquake.

-Some streets also have a 4 bins of different colours together in the street. I believe they are for different recyclables.

-An Iranian weightlifter has won Iran’s first ever Olympic gold in Athens. I’m sure the footage of him winning will probably be shown again and again over the month. I would like to be in the welcome-home crowd when he returns to Iran.

-People are so generous and friendly! This cannot be emphasised enough.

-From first impressions, Iranian society is more stable, formal and organised with a greater number of rules than Turkey. There are hardly any beggers and people generally seem more dignified.

-Karin finished at the Internet cafe before me but when she went out on the street by herself, cars stopped when she wanted to cross and the local men stared at her. Iranian society is not yet perfect.

The next update will be from Esfahan

Salam From Tabriz!

WOW! IRAN WOW!

Yesterday I met Karin at the Dogubeyazit bus station and we caught a dolmus to the border. The border crossing was smooth. I enjoyed finally getting another stamp in the passport!

At the border we moved our clocks forward 1+1/2 hours and changed USD 40 at the low rate of 7,500 Rials (750

Tomen). Iran, like Adelaide, is on the half-hour. Karin and I jumped into the back of a covered ute for the short journey to the first village. Mount Ararat and its shorter twin peak were clearly visible from the Iranian side. At the village we got into a shared taxi to Maku. Well, we were planning to stop in Maku and catch a bus to Tabriz. However, the driver and onther passenger were friendly and the rate for the remaining 250 km was only 75,000 rials each (about USD 9) so we stayed in the car.

The scenery was largely arid although there were areas of green mainly in the vicinity of mountains, oh which we passed several. Many Turkish trucks were also on the road to Tabriz. The Arabic alphabet Farsi writng was one of the obvious differences with Turkey.

As mentioned above, the driver and passenger were friendly. We shared some tea in the car and the passenger prepared slices of salted cucmber. We communicated in Turkish. The driver, passenger along with several million people in the north of Iran are ethnic Azeris who speak a Turkish dialect.

The day was hot with the sun shining through on my side and I was very tired by the end of the journey I had started in Mersin almost 30 hours previous. In Tabriz Karin and I changed to another taxi. This driver drove us around the busy central streets of Iran’s 2nd largest city. Of the 3 of us, nobody in the car had a firm idea exactly where to stop and we turned around once or twice before eventually stopping outside the Hotel Mashad, one of the hotels mentioned in the French-language Lonely Planet guide Karin had.

The room was average, the price at 45,000 rials, cheap, and we were tired so it was good enough. After dumping our bags we walked outside into the late afternoon receding light. The streets were alive with pants and shirt-wearing men and black chador and scarf-wearing women. As she had done so since just before crossing the border, Karin was wearing a scarf. All women are required to wear a scarf in Iran.

There were several varieties and shapes of fruit and vegetables we hadn’t seen before. These included an ugly heirloom peach that tasted delicious. We also drank fresh banana, mulberry, melon and carrot juices and purchased roasted sunflower seeds and fat Iranian pistachios. The pistachios here are larger and have a different (but stiil fantastic) taste when compared to the Turkish ones.

Other observations from the Tabriz streets last night included the lack of music played and the female clothes models with half their head cut off. This allowed the models to be displayed wearing scarves!

We headed back to the hotel and chatted and ate pistachios and sunflower seeds for a few hours before falling asleep. The conversations were interesting as they concerned such things that were forbidden in Iran. If they weren’t forbidden we wouldn’t have been talking about them as we would have been in a pub having a beer!

26/08/2004

This morning after eventually getting out of the hotel we drank some more fresh juices and walked to the tourist information. There, there were a few other foreigners along with a very helpful guide called Nasser Khan.

After gaining a greater useful information we walked the very short distance to the Bazaar. Tabriz’s bazaar is one of the best in Iran. For lunch we went upstairs near the beginning of the bazaar to a tiny restaurant with barely enough seats for 7 or 8 people. There we ate the local specialty: abusht (typical spelling may be different). This consisted of a metal tin filled with a stew of lamb meat, fat (2 big chunks), chickpeas, tomato and potato. Flat bread, similar to Turkish pide, raw onion and green chillies accompany the meal.

Abusht part 1: tear the bread into pieces and place it in the empty bowl. Then use a ‘stopper’ to hold the solid foods whilst draining the broth into the same bowl as with bread. The soaked bread is then eaten.

Abusht part 2: Use the ‘stopper’ to mash the solids in the tin. Eat the mash with bread.

It was only afterwards we dicovered the remaining solids were to be mashed. Both of us did not eat the fat. The meal with an orange soft-drink cost 10,000 rials each. I’m sure the locals pay less.

After the meal we continued into the bazaar and looked around the shops and marvelled at the arched ceilings. The gold jewellery in the bazaar was even tackier than Turkish jewellery!

To Be Continued….

The far end of the world: Dogubeyazit

I am currently in Dogubeyazit, a frontier town in far eastern Turkey. I visited here once previously in December 2002. Needless to say, the temperature is far hotter now than then. Dogubeyazit is the setting for two of my highlights of Turkey: Mount Ararat and Ishakpasa Palace. However, this time I’m here to visit Iran. I am now waiting for Karin’s bus from Istanbul to arrive so we can take a Dolmus (minibus) to the Iranian border before crossing by foot.

Yesterday morning I defrosted the fridge-freezer, finalised my packing, turned the eletricity off, went to the office to say goodbye and complete one or two tasks before Ahmet dropped me off at the bus station. There I caught the 12:00 pm Agri Ararat (translated: Ararat Ararat 😉 bus to Dogubeyazit. On the way we seemed to stop everywhere. If not the main towns (Adana, Gaziantep, Sanliurfa, Diyabakir, Agri, etcetera), then in between for meal and tea breaks. We were at Gaziantep bus station for one hour!

Some of the highlights of the 20+1/2 hour journey:

-Gaziantep bus station: several young men were leaving for their military service. As is custom in Turkey, the men were dancing with their family and friends to the accompanying drum and pipe music. I heard up to 3 separate celebrations at the same time. It was a riot of music, people and colour.

-The bus stopped for a meal break the other side of the Euphrates River next to the town of Birecik. The Euphrates (one of the rivers of Babylon) was flowing well and created an okay reflection of the Birecik Fort in the water.

-I saw Lake Van, the largest lake in Turkey for the first time. Unfortunately I only witnessed it in the middle of the night when it was barely visible.

-In the east the local farmers were harvesting hay and seasoning pads of animal manure to provide fuel in the harsh winter. The sun light began showing at 5am and some farmers were already out and about.

My next post should be from Tabriz, Iran!

Perceptions of Iran

The reactions of people when I tell them I am going to Iran are very interesting. Many of the reactions can be summed up in the following comment I received via email from a ‘westerner’:

Isn’t there a lot of political dispute over there right now making it unsafe for visitors? What is there in Iran that makes you want to visit? I guess my image of most of those countries is a lot of desert and fighting…sorry if this sounds naive.

It is not surprising to hear these comments from people who live a long way from Iran and whose views have largely been shaped by sensationalist snippets every few weeks on the news. The funny thing is, almost all Turkish people I have spoken to share similar views. This is despite the fact that Turkey and Iran are in the same part of the world and actually share borders!

All the locals want to why I am going to Iran and not Europe, Australia or another country. They have absolutely no intention to visit Iran and effectively see Iran as a backwards country. I believe this reflects Turkey’s movement of the last 80 years towards Europe. Most people in Turkey look towards and learn more about the west at the expense of the east. I would say even many of the Islamists do not want Turkey to share the same laws and practices as Iran. Then again, I am sure a reasonable proportion do.

Congratulations Jeff!

In week 5 of the American game show, “Studio 7”, Jeff won USD 77,000!

He is now in the running to win $777,000 on the series-ending show.

I met Jeff when he was an AIESEC Adana trainee a few years ago.

Jeff studied Arabic language during his political science undergraduate programme. He started before the planes crashed into the World Train Centre. After this event, there were many bandwagoners who started studying Arabic and Jeff’s classes increased significantly in size.

After completing his political science degree Jeff worked for the Washington Institute before going to grad school where he is now.

Pizza ‘Joe Style’

Last night I was going to prepare my pizza at home. I brought the dough from the ‘firin’ (oven – baker) and went back home to roll it and add the toppings before taking the readied pizza back to the firin to cook. Instead, Orhan, his Mother, Father and sister rocked up and we went to their place in their friend’s Mazda. On the way we bought a few more pizza ingredients.

At their place I showed them how to make the pizza. Orhan’s Mum oiled a pan and rolled the dough out flat. I then spread the tomato paste on the base, followed by grated cheese (was close to mozzarella). Sliced mushrooms, pineapple (canned), red and green capsicum, onion, tomato, sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage) and finally, more cheese on the top. Previously I had added chilli flakes, dried basil and thyme to some of the toppings and these spices added a good touch.

After some time in the oven, the first pizza was ready. 3 large pizzas were made all up and this was more than enough to feed the 5 of us. They were delicious, although some finetuning could be done next time to make them even better. Perhaps the base was too thin and the topping too thick. The house did not have resting tray to allow the base to air and harden. The pizzas were somewhat sloppy.

All but Zumrut, the young (about 11 years old) daughter, loved the pizzas. Zumrut picked apart the pizza and seemed to reject every second ingredient, even though a special pizza half without pineapple or mushroom was made for her.

The amazing thing is the family had not eaten pineapple before!

Last night was also the first time I have eaten my style of pizza in Turkey. The pizzas in Turkey are generally bland. Some Turks actually add mayonnaise and Ketchup to the cooked pizza!