Previous part: To Iran without a plan
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Noodle ice cream in Shiraz
In Shiraz, we were already expected by our first Iranian couchsurfer. We weren't able to contact him about our exact time of arrival, so he had to wait for us a little bit longer. You won't find WiFi on board although the VIP buses have WiFi logo. It is so because they are imported from Europe and they are used. We've visited the Bagh-e Eram Garden, the Hafez Tomb, the Shah Cheragh Mosque and the Karim Khan Citadel. Except for the mosque, we paid the entrance fee everywhere, which is at least for one zero higher for tourists. At the Shah Cheragh Mosque, as foreigners, we were provided by a free and obligatory guide. She was very nice and told us a lot about the place and allowed us to take photos with our big cameras. The Karim Khan Citadel, which formerly served as the seat of the ruler and later as a prison, wasn't worth the money. For us, it would be sufficient to see it just from the outside. We also tried the traditional frozen delicacy called faloodeh, which is frozen noodles with lemon syrup and rosewater. The taste didn't get us.
We finished the day somewhere on the outskirts of Shiraz in a hidden teahouse with a hookah, kebab, and tea, and then we moved to the south for about 80 kilometers to the Zanjiran village. Our couchsurfer has his house there. We spent the evening playing cards and talking about our lives and our religion. Simplified about why we are atheists and why they believe and what it means for their lives.
The following day we went back to Shiraz for lunch where I enjoyed lamb meat probably for the first time and also for the last time in a kebab form. Our idea to spend another night with another couchsurfer, so we get to know more people, wasn't so good. He lives in a small district in the suburbs of Shiraz, where our previous couchsurfer took us. The new one was like Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory. But not funny. First, he insisted that we should go on a city tour back to Shiraz, but we already saw the city and didn't want to go back again. Another option was to visit Persepolis, but our plan was to go there the next day. The last rescue option was to go to the "mountains" next to the city, and we greatly appreciate it. The problem was that in the end, our couchsurfer didn't welcome this idea and in the middle of the hill he said he is tired and wants to go home. We spent the rest of the day with him in his small room and tried to keep the conversation while checking his collection of coins and paper cups (in Iran they have at least nice design). Several times we were asked if we want to go to the shower (we didn't stink), and when we will finally take a shower. The situation was saved for a while thanks to a dinner – some rice with legumes which was very good and tasty, and I would eat it all if I didn't feel stupid for it.
On the last day in Shiraz, we originally wanted to visit the famous ruins of the ancient city of Persepolis and then head to Yazd. In the end, we weren't so much into it, and we would have to go back to Shiraz from Persepolis to catch the bus to Yazd according to our couchsurfer. We didn't want to spend our time by going there and back again and again, so we were just accompanied to the bus terminal in Shiraz. The farewell with the couchsurfer deserved a big high five, and before noon, we were on the bus to experience another endless journey through the Iranian desert to Yazd.
The desert city of Yazd
We arrived at the bus terminal in Yazd, located on the edge of the city, after dusk. Right after getting off the bus we were surrounded by taxi drivers offering us a ride. I immediately refused the first offer of one driver and suggested much lower and more realistic price. He accepted without any resistance. No fun with this guy. For accommodation we chose the Kooshk-e Now district near the main mosque (the name Jame Mosque means that it's the main mosque in the city, so it's not named after some James or jam; you will find mosques with this name in several cities), where the most tourists accommodate. The driver brought us to the Oasis hostel through old narrow streets, led us inside, and left back to his old car without asking for the money. Kačka has probably begun to enjoy the free ride, but I stopped him and paid the agreed price. Karma, right?
We found the Oasis hostel expensive, so we tried other hostels in the area and ended up at the Dalan-e behesht hotel, where they offer shared room in the basement for $10 per person. And men and women can be there together! Don't tell the ayatollah. Besides us, only two or three Asians were accommodated in that room. The price included unlimited access to tea and breakfast with a good selection. Just the internet connection sucked. For this, we had to ask at a reception for login information. And the connection with one specific credential was restricted to a specific (and very small) amount of data, so it did not last and we were at the reception again. And again. Later we found out how the system works, so sometimes we managed to use older credentials with the reseted data limit, sometimes we guessed another credentials.
The desert city of Yazd is the city I liked the most, especially our district. Narrow alleys with walls of mud were perfect for wandering to unknown and interesting places and windcatchers, known as badgir (serving for cooling the air inside a building instead of air conditioning), create a great atmosphere. Yazd was also the first place where we encountered tourists at every step, and we didn't feel like in country nobody wants to travel to. During the day we visited the main mosque, the Clock Tower, bazaar, Amir Chakhmaq Mosque and Square, and a tourist library where you can go on the roof for admission. Luckily we managed to get on the roof for free at the Irani Cafe next to the main mosque.
In the evening we took a taxi and went to watch the sunset to Zoroastrians' Towers of Silence. A taxi driver wanted to wait for us and to take us back because it would be difficult to grab a taxi there. Yeah, we know these tricks. As usual, we paid the tourist fee and found ourselves in front of two hills on which the Towers of Silence – the dakhmas – are built. Below the hills, there are several ancient Zoroastrians' buildings, an underground water tank, and their present cemetery. For the sunset, we chose the tower on the left and higher hill. These towers were used by Zoroastrians to bury dead bodies that were eaten by birds, leaving only bones. In Iran, however, this burying was banned at the beginning of the second half of the 20th century. The sun slowly drowned in a sandy cloud, and we went back. Well, the taxi driver was right, there was no free car, and we weren't able to leave with other tourists. So our first Iranian hitchhiking took place there. It took a while, but eventually we stopped a young student girl (what a surprise, we weren't picked up by a girl in Georgia or Armenia), and within a second a taxi stopped behind her. She was listening to Persian hip hop and didn't care about her falling hijab. She spoke English just a little bit so that we couldn't chat a lot, and drove us to the Amir Chakhmaq Square where the fountain is color lightened in the evening.
For the first time in a desert
We left Yazd the next morning and headed by bus to the small desert village Toodeshk. We were surprised by the police checkpoint before reaching the city Naein. Everybody had to leave the bus which was searched by dogs. Some young Iranian girl was unlucky because they had found something in her bag, but then she continued with us. The bus driver wasn't happy about it and gave her some lesson. I guess. We arrived at Toodeshk around noon, and while walking to our place I had to take a selfie with one local. In a moment I was sitting at our guesthouse, eating lunch together with other young foreigners.
The place we were accommodated in is called Tak Taku Guesthouse, and it was founded by Mohammad Jalali, mainly because of cyclists who often rode through this village. He had been meeting cyclist there already as a child and was giving them something good to eat. He claimed that today not so many cyclists pass this route, but it seems that tourists use his guesthouse frequently. We gathered there in more than ten people. Everything is like new in his guesthouse, and it was probably the best accommodation we've had in Iran. There are available trips to the Varzaneh desert, where you can also sleep in tents, or farther to the Salt Lake. We chose the sunset without sleeping in the dunes of the Varzaneh desert. Probably one of the most beautiful sunsets I've ever seen.
Isfahan – the city of bridges
In Toodeshk we spent only one night and the next day we continued to Isfahan, where we again arranged couchsurfing. Sometimes it's difficult without the internet, so even we got to his address, we weren't able to reach him through the old good doorbell. So we went to look for public wifi. Along the way, we wanted to visit the main mosque of Isfahan, but the tourist entrance stopped us. We were able to find the wifi at the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, also known as the Imam Square, which should be one of the largest squares in the world. After contacting our host, we found out that we originally chose the wrong door, because he was at home. It must also be noted that this was our first couchsurfing we paid for, which is against the rules and spirit of Couchsurfing. But we didn't get any other offer and didn't want to look for a hotel or guesthouse. But after more than a week we could finally wash our clothes! A valuable tip from our host was that the main mosque has free entrance during evening prayers, so we visited it that day again.
The second day we walked through a dry Zayande riverbed and admired bridges. On the banks, there are green parks and gardens, where you can hide from the sun, or to refill drinking water. Which is great about Iran – you can find drinking fountains at many places. The most impressive and most famous bridge is probably the Khajoo Bridge, which serves not only as a little "dam" but also as a place for picnics, reading of Hafez's poems, or just for chilling. Other interesting bridges are Joubi and Si-o-seh also known as the bridge of thirty-three spans. Next stop was again the Imam Square where we wanted to go to some teahouse and smoke hookah. We also wanted to stop by at the Chehel Sotoun Palace, but somehow we missed the right entrance and headed to a government building, so soldiers didn't let us in. Searching for a teahouse around the square was endless, and our Lonely Planet guide was outdated. On the square, we've visited the Ali Qapu Palace where after paying the entrance fee a miss offered us an audio guide and couldn't understand we don't want to pay for it another amount. Thanks to the tourist entrance fees we also skipped the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque.
We sadly said goodbye to a non-existent hookah and rather enjoyed free teas thanks to the religious feast of Ashura which accompanied us for the rest of our stay in Iran (I still don't understand what's the timetable because the Ashura lasts only for one day). And after returning to our couchsurfing host, we also got hookah because he was celebrating his birthday with friends. It was also our last evening in Isfahan and the next day we went to another desert town – Kashan.
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Next part: Desert, camels and salt lake at Kashan