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Iran Trip Report: What I did over my Thanksgiving Vacation

Iran Trip Report: What I did over my Thanksgiving Vacation

Dec 6th, 2008, 05:13 PM
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Thanks for sharing. Your report is fun and the pictures are great too.
esm is online now  
Dec 7th, 2008, 02:32 PM
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Thanks for the comments everyone...I'll try to post a few more days of the report tomorrow.

maxwell is offline  
Dec 7th, 2008, 03:08 PM
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A great gallery to go along with the interesting and amusing report.
Leely2 is offline  
Dec 7th, 2008, 07:26 PM
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Day Six:

When I saw Abbas and Monsoor at breakfast the next morning, it was very apparent they were extremely nervous about approaching us. I immediately tried to lighten the mood and jumped right into my “it’s not you, it’s me” routine, and tried to explain everything from the way we are accustomed to traveling (independently with no set schedule), and how exhausted my both my mother and I are at home from working very long hours. I was very clear in that we no long could go from sunup till late at night every day – we’d need to pick the highlights, and save the rest for our next trip to Iran, as we wanted time to leisurely stroll around the bazaar, people watch, etc etc (although they understood the bit about the very long days, I could tell we weren’t connecting on the “leisure” part). We agreed to spend a few hours out in the morning, then a few more in the afternoon with them.

Yazd is an ancient desert city (one of the oldest on earth), and has Iran’s largest Zoroastrian community. The Zoroastrians are the oldest religious community in Iran, and were at one time the majority religion in Iran. Only about 5500 Zoroastrians remain in Yazd. The city is also famous for its ancient cooling system – the wind catchers (Badgirs), and the skyline is dotted with them.
Our first stop of the morning were the Zoroastrian towers of silence. Since Zoroastrians believed that dead bodies would contaminate the earth, the bodies were placed uncovered in towers, where vultures would pick the bones clean. We then headed over to a Zoroastrian fire temple, that houses a flame tended to five times a day and that has been burning since AD470. The fire in Zoroastrian temples is said to represent the omnipotent, invisible God. Our last stop of the morning was the water museum, which had an interesting exhibit on qanats (underground water channels), of which there are more than 50,000 in Iran.

When we finished for the morning, we set a time to meet back up with Abbas and Monsoor, but didn’t bother to tell them what we’d be doing in the interim. We spent a blissfully relaxing hour and a half wandering aimlessly around a bazaar area near our hotel. When we decided to head back for lunch, we suddenly spotted a completely frantic Monsoor, clearly beside himself with worry. He had been scouring the area searching for the renegade Americans that had escaped. I felt genuinely bad we had worried him so, but for the love of Allah, all we had wanted to do was spend some time looking around the bazaar on our own. Monsoor immediately ushered us off to lunch, where Abbas presented me with a giant head of cauliflower, which was a very sweet gesture. Over lunch, I tried to reiterate that we really wanted some down time, but I ended up eating lunch with my nose buried in a guide book. I just needed a break from the history lesson. I’m one of those people that appreciates the beauty of sitting in silence at times, and the lack of any was making me a tad grumpy at this point.

We headed back out that afternoon, for a few hours…that turned into an eight hour excursion. It was actually a really great afternoon: We toured Jameh Mosque (we weren’t there on a Friday, but on Fridays single women will climb to the top of the minarets and throw a key to a padlock to the courtyard – if man picks it up she will give him sweets), had tea at Malek-o-Tojgar, a very atmospheric traditional hotel in the old city; and then walked Yazd’s streets for a while, window shopping. (I had explained to Abbas several times that the reason we kept asking to do some things “off program” (e.g., window shop in the areas where the local folk shop), was because we felt like things like that give us a better feel for the city than just jumping from tourist site to tourist site, so he made a point to tell me (very nicely) this detour was to accommodate us.) We later headed over to a Zurkhneh “house of strength”. There are Zurkhaneh’s all over Iran, and the tradition dates back thousands of years. It involves a combination of sport, theater and religion. The website http://www.pahlavani.com/ tells more about this tradition. Although the gym has many members, about 10-15 stand around in a pit and perform a series of moves while a man plays the drums and recites poetry. I was a little confused at first, because I thought we were going to a regular gym for some reason so spent the hour fighting the urge to jump into the pit and correct their push-up and squat form. We couldn’t understand the “DJ” since it was in Farsi, but he apparently welcomed us in between each set. I later asked how the women work out – I instruct at an outdoor fitness bootcamp at home to make some extra cash, and running is a very big part of my life, so I can’t imagine not having the freedom to throw on my running shoes and go for a run without being all covered up.

When we left the house of strength, we headed back to a hotel where the manager had invited us for dinner. By the time we finished dinner, which stretched into several hours in length (I couldn’t seem to get Abbas to wrap things up…at one point I announced nicely that I really could barely keep my eyes open), it was about 11:30 pm, and of course we needed to be back on the road early in the morning. I put my foot down politely but firmly and said I absolutely had to check my work email in the morning, and we wouldn’t be leaving until 9am. We really were having a great time in Iran, but the exhaustion factor had set in for all of us.
maxwell is offline  
Jan 18th, 2009, 06:19 PM
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maxwell, thank you for this rare treat of an Iran trip report. I've known a few people who lived in Iran in the 70's and they had nothing but good things to say about Iran and it's people.
P_M is offline  
Jan 18th, 2009, 06:33 PM
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Hi again maxwell,

I just looked at your pics, they are FAB!! Thanks for sharing. I do hope someday our country and Iran will be on better terms.
P_M is offline  
Jan 19th, 2009, 12:43 PM
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Hi PM -- thanks - and I hope you get to go there some day - based on your other mid-east travels I'm sure you'd enjoy it!
I still need to finish the report...hopefully soon
maxwell is offline  
Jan 19th, 2009, 01:22 PM
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Really interested in the report and the pix - thanks! Yes, please finish....
thursdaysd is offline  
Jan 19th, 2009, 07:15 PM
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Rick Steves has a special coming up on his recent visit to Iran, See:

Garfield is offline  
Jan 26th, 2009, 10:56 AM
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Thanks Maxwell
It is so nice to know that you and your family had a good time.
i am an an Iranian with American citizenship.
I have seen most of Europe and Unites States but have not seen Iran As much as you have.
After reading your report, i have been very interested to travel and see more of Iran.
zakzakeri is offline  
Jan 26th, 2009, 07:51 PM
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Yes, please finish when you get the chance. It's been a great read and not too many Iran reports, as I'm sure you're aware.
Leely2 is offline  
Jan 27th, 2009, 08:57 PM
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I found my notes tonight while unpacking more moving boxes so end of report coming soon!

zakzakeri -- I hope you get to see more of Iran some day.
I receive another nice email today from someone we met along the way, and also a lovely unexpected handicraft gift in the mail last week from two people we met while there.
maxwell is offline  
Jan 28th, 2009, 05:03 PM
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Loved the photos and story Linda. I last visited Iran in 1976. Man has Yazd grown. It was a tiny little place now there are multistory buildings. Once the climate there changes I will be back! Do you understand now why we all gained tons of weight on the sweets, nuts, juices and ice cream!

lots of great memories especially the warm people.
Khali Mamnunam
ijkh is offline  
Feb 26th, 2009, 12:44 PM
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Day Seven

Today was our drive from Yazd to Esfahan. Were we to do it all over again, we would definitely fly from Yazd to Esfahan or drive straight there. En route, we visited a caravanserai (a “motel” constructed along trade routes in the 14th – 17th centuries), an old post office, and ice house in Meybod, and a few other random places. We had a long lunch in Na’in, the geographic center of Iran. Abbas told us over lunch that twenty percent of cars in Iran use compressed natural gas. Owners of cars in Iran are provided a debit card that allows them to purchase 30 gallons of gas per month at about 40 cents per gallon. After that they pay about $2 per gallon.

Throughout our trip, one of the things I heard most frequently from local folk complaining about western media’s depiction of Iran was that Persians are a bunch of backwards people living in a desert with camels running around, and that the only camels they had ever seen in Iran were there for the tourists. Sure enough, today we found the camels, and they were only there for tourist rides at an old caravanserai.

Esfahan was, by far, my favorite city on our trip. There’s an old saying that Esfahan is “half the world” – meaning that Esfahan contains fully half of the earth’s wonders. I could have spent days here leisurely wondering the city, however, since leisure was not a permitted concept on our Persian adventure, this was not to be. It was today that I started laying the groundwork for my family’s escape from organized tour life. Our trip was coming to an end and something had to be done, fast. Thus, with steely resolve, we told Monsoor and Abbas that although we would tour Esfahan with them the following day, we would need our last (half) day completely to ourselves. Although on the surface, they appeared to accept that they’d been charged with a family of mutinous Americans, I knew this was not the end of it, and I pictured them sitting up half the night drawing out a football like game plan on a dry ease board plotting a way to stop our escape.

We finally arrived in Esfahan in the early evening. We stayed at the Abbasi hotel, which has an absolutely beautiful courtyard and very ornate public areas and is a former caravanserai. (http://www.abbasihotel.com/) We assured Abbas we wouldn’t venture far for our dinner, and he and Monsoor said goodbye to us for the evening.

We wandered through some of the nearby shopping areas for a bit and then headed over to a teahouse in the Abbasi for Thanksgiving dinner. After mass confusion on our part as to how we ordered and much concern on my part as to whether I was getting ready to engage in another international meat incident (I’m still recovering from the mutton incident in Jordan), we finally got our mystery dishes and enjoyed sitting around people watching for a bit. The rooms at the Abbasi were bloody hot…the rooms just seemed to be getting progressively hotter on our trip. Now, we are not a family of high maintenance travelers, but even with the door to our balconies open, it was still uncomfortably hot. If you stay here, request a room over the courtyard as I would imagine this would be quieter with the balcony door open than if, like us, you are in an exterior room over a busy street and have to leave your balcony door open so as to not suffocate!
maxwell is offline  
Feb 28th, 2009, 10:45 AM
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Day Eight

Breakfast at the Abbasi was the best of our trip, although they were still serving Nescafe. The breakfast room was absolutely beautiful, however, we were sweltering in the breakfast room so ate as quickly as possible.

We stopped first at Jameh mosque, which is the largest mosque in Iran (over 20,000 sq meters). You can see a wide variety of Islamic design in the mosque – spanning 800 years. We next headed to Chehel Sotun Palace built by Shah Abbas II, which was very beautiful, however the most interesting part of this stop were the two American women we met (one of whom was the founder, one was a former State department official) that were with a group called Code Pink. The founder had actually met Ahmadinejad and they both were full of incredibly interesting stories about their time so far in Iran. Like us they had also been surprised at how open people in Iran had been when discussing politics.

We next headed over to Imam Square. I loved this square – it is the second largest after Tiananmen, and is filled with fountains and people relaxing, and has an architecturally beautiful perimeter filled with shops. We were planning to visit one of the mosques in the square – Imam Mosque – however it was closed to tourists that morning so we made plans to return on our own the following day. As soon as I heard it was closed, I immediately prepared for an ambush from Abbas. “Linda, I’ll need just two hours of your time in the morning to show you the mosque.” I looked at my mom and could tell she was wavering. I stood firm – “No, no Abbas, this is right near our hotel and we’ll walk back in the morning.” After some back and forth and a near desertion by certain family members, a slightly despondent looking Abbas retreated - temporarily.

After a visit to a 300 year old beautiful bathhouse (by this time everything we saw was prefaced by a “since we won’t be following the program tomorrow…”) we headed over for lunch at Restaurant Shahrzad. This place was fantastic. It’s very beautiful inside and is extremely popular with the local population. Abbas and Monsoor timed our arrival right before the crush of the lunch crowd – by the time we left there was a long line of people waiting to be seated. It was here I had the veggie version of fesenjun – an unappetizing looking but very tasty dish of pomegranate juice, walnuts, eggplant and cardamom, served over rice. (It is usually also served over chicken.) My mom had tah chin, which consists of a layer of rice, covered with chicken and then more rice. After it is cooked, you end up with some sort of crust on the bottom – she said it was great. The total price, including tip, for the three of us was US $16.

Over lunch, Abbas tried again, “Linda, there is a place I’d like to take you to lunch tomorrow – it has a salad bar so big you’ll want to swim in it!” This was getting old. I told my dad it was every man for himself at this point and they were welcomed to ride my coattails to freedom but I couldn’t stop for fallen soldiers.

After lunch we killed some time drinking tea, saw the shaking minarets, made a quick stop in the Armenian quarter and then headed back to our hotel. Abbas and Monsoor, looking defeated, made us promise to call them with any problems and assured us they’d be there within ten minutes. I felt bad as we said good bye – I knew they were just trying to do their job and wanted us to spend our last day with them…but I didn’t feel bad enough to give up our only free day.

After chilling out for a few hours (this was the first time the entire trip I had a chance to sit around in the middle of the day without being rushed off anywhere) my dad and I ventured out alone onto Esfahan’s lonely, desolate streets. Upon setting foot outside, we were immediately abducted. Just kidding. Although we did have the beejezus scared out of us, it was solely from dodging traffic while crossing the streets. The streets were teaming with people. We made a three or four mile loop over a few of Esfahan’s idyllic bridges over the Zayandeh River. The bridges were illuminated and it was absolutely beautiful and serene. Despite the chilly weather, many families were out picnicking and strolling around. In addition to the pedestrian bridges, there is a nice path and grassy area running along each side of the River. If it weren’t for the women in chadors and hijabs, you would never know you were in Iran. We stopped on one of the bridges and sat for awhile listening to two boys singing a beautiful, melancholy song. We were curious whether – as in most other parts of the world – they’d have a hat out or something for tips but they were singing just to sing.

After we returned to the hotel we found my mother had become extremely sick since we’d left. Of course, our first thought was concern for how she’d travel the following day back to Tehran, but our next thought was that we were going to get a “see this is what happens when I leave you alone!” from Abbas and Monsoor.
maxwell is offline  
Mar 13th, 2009, 01:14 PM
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maxwell, I have so enjoyed reading your report. Thanks so much for taking the time to post it. I loved, loved your pictures, too. Looking forward to reading more.
lucy_d is offline  
Mar 13th, 2009, 03:41 PM
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Thanks, maxwell! I just stumbled across your report today, and I'm really enjoying it. Your trip reports are some of my favorites!
MyDogKyle is offline  
Apr 11th, 2009, 09:12 PM
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very nice review and photoes maxwell . you are a good writer .
diamond05 is offline  
Apr 12th, 2009, 08:03 AM
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Very interesting and fun report. I would also love to see Iran and your photos really bring it to life!
moremiles is offline  
Apr 13th, 2009, 11:58 AM
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Thanks very much Lucy, MyDogKyle, Diamond and Moremiles...this reminds me I need to finish this report before I completely forget the remainder of it!
maxwell is offline  

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