Thank you for your support, loyalty and amazing comments that kept us company through more than a year of backpacking. We’ll save you the mushy speech — I kind of already did that — but if you’re keen to follow along on our next journey as we conquer San Diego, find jobs, discover delicious food, beautiful hikes and Southern Californian culture, then be sure to check out my new blog, my SoCal*d life.
My last stop in Iran was Esfahan, often referred to as ‘Esfahan nesf-e jahan’ (Esfahan is half the world), is the number one tourist destination in Iran thanks to its beautiful Persian gardens, huge bazaars, massive UNESCO-listed central square and numerous artisanal handicrafts. In Esfahan, you’re constantly surrounded by the arts — painting, pottery, calligraphy, metalworking and architecture. My favorite thing to do every time I’ve visited here is to watch artisans make their beautiful handicrafts, things like the famous Persian carpets, engraved metal plates and enamel working. Needless to say, if you’re a tourist in Iran, Esfahan is the place for souvenirs.
But for me, Esfahan isn’t just about cool crafts; it’s also where my parents are from and where many of my relatives still live. At this point in my trip, I met up with my mom, who up until this time had been holding down the fort in Esfahan while I backpacked through Iran. One of my sisters also made the trip out from New York, so it was a nice change of pace to end my many days of solo travels with some family and familiar faces. We shopped, lounged around in my parents’ condo and ate, which was maybe the best part of it all. As good as the food had been throughout the entire 15-month-trip, nothing compares to mom’s homecooked meals.
Mud-brick houses and narrow, ancient streets make up the beautiful, sand-colored city that is Yazd. And within these winding lanes is a city rich in history, one that’s frequented by foreigners and locals alike. Yazd is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world and is home to the largest population of Zoroastrians, people who follow Iran’s indigenous religion, which was in place prior to the arrival of Islam. Plus, where else in the world can you see a fire that’s been burning for 1,500 years? (Hint: It’s found in Yazd and is called the Ateshkadeh, or fire temple.) I’d never get tired of wandering and getting lost in those streets — the architecture, the people, the smells of home-cooked food coming from the old homes. When it comes to Yazd, pictures definitely speak louder than words. Take a look.
**We’re currently enjoying the end of 2012 with my family in Oklahoma before we move to San Diego in January. Here, I get back to my last few posts about my six-week backpacking trip through Iran.**
One of my major goals in blogging about Iran is to show our readers the real Iran — the one not depicted in the news and the one so few are familiar with. I mean, would you have ever guessed early traces of wine came from Shiraz? And that Iran is home to a poetic, laid-back city like Shiraz? Well, my open love letter to Shiraz continues now. Here, I share with you the nine places — ones with history, culture and stunning nature — that everyone should know.
Since real time blogging is near impossible during travels, I’m going to go ahead and interrupt Eaman’s lovely stream of Iran posts to give you an update on what’s next for us because newsflash: Eaman got back last Thursday! And bigger newflash: We’re moving to California in the new year! Yep, our vague notion back in 2011 of moving to San Diego has become a reality. And we’re road-tripping all the way there from the East Coast!
First let’s start with what’s been going on. As you know, I’ve been home for six weeks, during which time I’ve reacquainted myself with my parents’ comfy leather sofa, read, watched TV, frequented Target, got all my doctors appointments in check and caught up with the friends and family I missed so dearly. (Lucky for me I was even here when one of my closest friends got engaged.)
Last Thursday, I headed to JFK airport to welcome Eaman home and during our last few days in Manhattan, we indulged at all our favorite restaurants (Shake Shack, ChikaLicious, L’asso and Habana oh my!), held our stomachs in food-coma agony, saw our friends, danced a Saturday night away, Sunday brunch-ed and said goodbye to that great, great city. In 2011, I ran away from New York; in 2012, I walked away with some sadness. No place like New York, that’s for sure.
Wine, poetry, music, art galleries and parties — the makings of great cities like New York, Paris, Rome, Buenos Aires…and Shiraz, Iran? Yes, Iran’s most progressive, liberal city is host to all these things and more. (Some of the world’s earliest traces of vino were found in Iran, and Shiraz was the wine capital of Iran before the government outlawed alcohol nearly 30 years ago.) Thanks to the people I met, the culture they shared with me and the ancient sights that I saw, my intended four-day visit in the central Iranian city turned into a nine-day extravaganza. And actually, one post isn’t enough to cover everything I did. Here, I’ll focus on the friends who gave me great company — much needed since this was when I began to hit a bit of a wall — the parties they took me to and the food that filled my belly.
I’ve mentioned in passing how hospitable of a country Iran is, and if you don’t believe me, just check out the Lonely Planet Iran, which lists “Meet the People” as #1 on its list of top 16 experiences. Travelers are always stunned when they realize how little money they spend while traveling through Iran; it’s because locals constantly invite them to tea, meals and even into their homes to sleep. Of course the point isn’t to score free food and accommodation; the point is that Iranians can be so welcoming that they’ll invite you into their inner circles to make you feel at home and show you the real Iran.
Shiraz was no exception. I once again Couchsurfed — for two nights with this family who prepared a lavish meal for me…Read more »
Zanjan, known for its fantastic bazaar, knife-grinders and tea houses was the next stop on my journey through Iran. Zanjan was the first place I crashed at someone’s home in Iran — found through Couchsurfing — and got to sample some homecooking. From Zanjan, I visited nearby Oljeitu Mausoleum built for a sultan 600 years ago. In case you’re keeping track, at 80 feet in diameter and 160 feet high it’s the world’s tallest brick dome.
My hosts in Zanjan cooked Indian food for me one night since I had just traveled in India and they had lived there for many years.
People told me not to bother seeing Rasht, the largest city in the Caspian Sea region. They said there weren’t many historical sights and beautiful landscapes within the city of Rasht. I was told to use the city as a staging point to visit Masuleh Village and the rest of the Caspian Sea region and nothing more. But what we sometimes forget is that travel isn’t always about sights. And for this reason, I’m so glad I ignored their warnings and spent some time in Rasht anyway. It was there that I made profound friendships and experienced unbelievable hospitality. So while I don’t have a lot to say about the city itself, this segment of the trip was a wonderful reminder that sometimes it’s all about the people we meet and the conversations we have and not the places we see. (Although, I should say Masuleh Village was a pretty amazing place as you’ll see below.)