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Why Shiraz belongs on your Iran itinerary — Part one: Food, friends and parties

Posted by on December 5, 2012
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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…

Their son also took me to lunch at a traditional hotel.

…and seven days with a new friend whom I met indirectly through Couchsurfing. (While Couchsurfing in Hamadan, my host also hosted a Swiss traveler, who told me about this guy in Shiraz.) I was initially supposed to stay with him for two nights, but we got along so well that I actually canceled my bus twice to extend my stay. Thankfully, my friend was more than happy to have me. Over the course of the week, he shared some of his poetry with me, played the piano and guitar and took me to two mehmoonis, or parties. Yes, Iranians party! It was there that I met tons of other young locals, mostly musicians. We’d dance, smoke hookah, play music and eat, eat, eat.

They dressed me up like an old Iranian woman.

But it wouldn’t be backpacking if I weren’t sometimes left to my own devices to explore. So on another day, I took myself to Shiraz’s Bazar-e-Vakil, one of the best and most famous of the city’s many ancient markets. It houses more than 200 stores, which sell everything from carpets and clothes to spices and handicrafts.

This sweet shopkeeper asked me to print out a copy of this picture and bring it to him the next time I’m in Iran so he can hang it in his store.

Fruit shakes are wildly popular in Iran. Banana and milk shakes are found all over (below, center), but the carrot juice-ice cream concoction (second photo below), which I found just outside the bazar is particular to Shiraz. I wasn’t going to try it until my friend told me it was surprisingly tasty. He was right.

Next up, the ancient sites, modern art museums and Persian bathhouses that filled up the rest of my time in Shiraz.

 

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