June 29, 2013 Tehran, Tehran, Iran

The caspian coast

by Christian , published on August 24, 2013

distance: 915.48km
duration: 107h 2min

We had gotten up early, left Ghods Hotel(sic!) in Tabriz at 5:00am to get to the bus station.

I love cities at dawn - empty, peaceful and clean. Nobody around but a few early birds and street sweepers.

At the age of 17 i had experienced this kind of urban atmosphere for the first time in Paris, where my night train from Munich had arrived at 6:30am. To add to the feeling of perfect tranquility and having arrived in France, i bought a warm and buttery croissant from a street vendor. I was so excited that my nose started to bleed.

Having arrived early at Tabriz main bus station, we had planned to take our breakfast before the departure of the bus. We leisurely unpacked our bikes, but before we where quite finished, one of the guys escorting the bus appeared(At first i thought this guy was the driver of the bus).

I approached him with a friendly smile to show him our tickets(Which we had prearranged the day before with the help of Arash) and ask him if we could already load our bikes on the bus. To my surprise, he declined and tried to get rid of me by pushing away my hand which was holding the tickets. After lots of gesticulation and general agitation on both sides, i realized he was not at all happy with the mountain of luggage we had piled up next to our bicycles, taking away to much space in the luggage compartment of the bus.

I got quite upset, the guy was very harsh the way he spoke and gesticulated towards me. Also the day before we had discussed it with the ticket office and paid the exorbitant sum of 200.000 Rial(About 6$) extra for the additional baggage and the bikes. To me it was clear, that we had done everything right and this guy was just a mean bugger who didn't know his business.

Time started to press as well, so i called Arash(Our helpful local guide from the day before) to translate and clarify the situation. Luckily also the guy we had bought the tickets from arrived at the scene. With the help of Arash's mediation and the calmer ticket-guy(Who turned out to be the real bus-driver), we where allowed to get us and our bikes including the mountain of bags on the bus.

There was another violent scene when the mean bugger asked for more money(With clumsy body language and short temper on his side, we misunderstood his demand and declined. Fumingly, he threw money at us and stomped back to the front of the bus before i could clarify the situation) - after a vocal discussion and another call with Arash it turned out they had underestimated the amount of luggage we would bring and we had to pay extra(200.000 Rl) for the additional space we used. In total we ended up paying 600.000 Rial(About 17$) for the 300km ride from Tabriz to Astara, still not a bad deal. And the choleric guy got nicer after i picked up a screwdriver for him at a rest stop.

After Ardabil, most of the way going through dull brown and yellow plains, the road went down in hairpin bends to Astara(A descend from 2000m above sea down to the Caspian Sea at -12m). The heavily winding and bumpy road did not agree with a female passenger sitting in the front of our vehicle. The noise of her violently retching was too much for one of the youngsters in front of us. He was barely able to contain his laughter while he was putting his shirt over his head to protect against the smell of vomit, at the same time turning around to us seeking for approval.

All my sympathies where with her - having to wear a hot manteau and a veil surely didn't add comfort to the already awful situation. I was quite relieved too when we finally reached the low coastal area where the road straightened, as i also had felt quite sick due to the extensive swaying of our vehicle.

As expected, the caspian coast was quite a contrast to the arid north-western part of Iran we had went through. Very green and humid, rice fields seaming the road all the way down to Chalus, where we left the coast to go to Tehran.

Nice view from the toilet window

Off the main road to find a campsite.

The flagpole of my trailer is a popular resting place for dragonflies

While the vegetation was pleasant and we made fast progress on the mostly flat route without notable events, the traffic had increased tenfold compared to the relatively quiet roads we had travelled between Kapikoy/Razi border and Sofian. And the iranian driving style is notorious - very fast, no breaking or evasion if it's not emergent. After an especially severe segment where every passing car felt like a touch of Azrael, the angel of death, we stopped to cool down for a half hour. 

On the empty highway

But the worst part was waiting for us on the mountain road after Chalus. There's no embankment and the 2-lane road is quite narrow too. There was a neverending flow of cars on this road, many of them honking and passing by in close approximation. Luckily we where able to sneak ourselves on an unfinished segment of highway not open to general traffic by climbing over the traffic barrier.

Unfortunately the fun of going on the empty 6-lane highway only lasted for 20km, as that's how far they got with building the highway(Surely a project which is going to go on for at least another decade). After climbing over rocks which where piled at the end of the highway to block cars from entering, we found ourselves back on the narrow and winding 2-lane road, barely finding a gap to get back in the traffic.

Having survived till Marzanabad, it was clear that we would not risk another day on this road. As much as we had wished to go all the way to Tehran by bike, it was not worth risking our lives.

We found a empty field in a compound(We went through a open gate past some houses to the nearby hills). That's where the next surprise awaited us. At midnight - we where already sound asleep, 3 policemen appeared at our tent. They told us we where camping on police property(That's why there was a gate, they sign above would probably have told us of its purpose). They where worried for our security and wanted us to put down our camp and move to the safe police station, the dialog went like this:

"Very very dangerous"

"Uhm, how is this dangerous?"


"No, where is the danger? This is a safe place, we always camp like this."

"No no - very dangerous"

"Ok, ok. But what is dangerous - are there Tigers? Or Wolves? Or is it the mosquitos you are talking about?"

One of them actually snickers about my joke.


"No, no gun."


"Hu? You mean pepper spray? No, we have no pepper spray. But i have a knife, for cooking!"

"You have to go to police house"

"No, no way we're going to the police station. Look, we where sleeping when you came, there is no problem, please let us go back to sleep."

"Yes. Sorry sir. But not safe here!"

"Oh come on?! What not safe? Do you mean people? Murderers?!"

"Yes yes, murderers!"

On this went for a half hour. Finally i was able to get rid of them by standing my ground and promising i would call them in the morning to confirm we did survive the night without casualties and to not take pictures or videos of the place. Of course there was no reason at all to worry for our safety, it was a regular field near a village. We concluded they just had a paranoid fear of beeing held responsible if something happened.

The next day we hitchhiked with a young guy. I was seated on the bed of the Zamyad pickup truck and while it was getting pretty cold and wet the higher we got, the view down the extreme mountain road was spectacular.

At this point i was wearing most of my warm clothes including a woolen cap

We where dropped at the intersection where the road forks to Dizin respectively Karaj. The relatively quiet road to Dizin started with an easy grade, but when we reached the famous ski resort the next day, we stood in front of an intimitating slope which also marked the valley end. A road was creeping up with many hairpin bends - clearly the 600 meter climb to reach 3000m height. We knew we would go this high - but we had not anticipated climbing most of it within 5km! At the run down valley station of the cable car we talked with a iranian expat living in London. He noted it was too hard and therefore impossible to climb the road by bike and we should take the cable car instead.

Since we had lost the opportunity to go all the way by bike to Tehran, we would at least not give up on this one! It took us 5 hours though and the air was already thin enough to make us stop every 50m to catch up on oxygen. The impressive view of the winding road and the valley below us made up for the ordeal and with baby steps we eventually made it to the top. Proudly we high fived each other before we wolfed down the soup(Āsh) which was offered by locals on the pass.

It's cold at 3000m

It was getting dark when we reached the first village after the mountains, the addition of rain convinced us to find a hotel for the night. 

The final 50km to Tehran the next day went down without fuss.

Lot's of new buildings on the mountain road to Tehran

The problem is the hair

by Christian , published on August 21, 2013

distance: 310.63km
duration: 52h 50min

Iran proved to be the modern place i had imagined it to be. There where more old cars(Most notable the dirty but stylish Iran Khodro Paykan and the old-fashioned looking but very powerful Mercedes-Benz Khawar), but aside from that everything seemed up to european standards(Or close).

The most notable change right after the border where the trees. While there where only grassplains on the turkish side, plenty of trees had been planted in the narrow valley we where passing through after Razi border. Iranian families picknicked on the lush pastures in between them, waving us to join them for çay(Tea, still the staple drink after the border, but now often coming in the form of teabags).

From the border it was a long downhill through a spectacular rocky valley, which ended in a wide plain with mountains on the far horizon.

Muffins and cay for breakfast

Large and scenic railroad bridge near Khoy
Our first stop was the city of Khoy, where we where directed to the tourist hotel on the outskirt of the town. For 25$ a night and a taxi ride to the center for 0.30$(10000 Rial) it was not too bad, alltough we would have preferred not to be exiled like that(But there was no other option).

We where too tired to go back to town after we had occupied our rooms, so we had dinner at the hotel. That's where we where introduced to the sluggish style of waiting a table in Iran and our staple meal for the coming weeks: "Kebap"(Which is actually Shashlik, meat grilled on a stick) with rice(Sometimes with yellow saffron butter).

View from our hotel window

Dyed chicks sold on the street
When we entered the Bazar the next morning to change money and try to score a SIM-card for mobile internet, we where stopped by a Yasin and his friend. Unusual for us, they didn't pester us to buy something. Instead they had approached us because they where genuinely interested in talking with us and practizing their english.

After changing our dollars for the best possible rate(And the best of the whole trip, as Rouhani's election strengthened the Rial shortly after), we soon where seated at the kitchen table of Yazin's family for lunch.

We learned about the hypocritical situaton of laws in Iran, e.g. that it was not allowed to receive foreign tv stations, but nobody cared, as proofed by satellite dish outside of every house.

Of course we also talked about the topic of the veil - and Yazin explained that "the problem is the hair". As everybody knows, in Iran women have to cover their hair. More religious women adhere to cover their whole body with the Chador, but the more stylish Manteau is popular in urban regions(An not too snug overcoat that covers the body down to the butt).

After lunch we took some family photos - which we rather not publish on our website as we don't want to get them in trouble with the iranian police.

Most cyclist go to Tabriz via Marand, which is a heavily trafficed motorway. We decided to take yet another detour and went via Salmas and the northern shore of Lake Urmia(We didn't see any water, just a white line of salt far away at the horizon).

Lake Urmia's salty shore on the horizon
Tassoj, a village with kind people and green gardens
People in the Azerbaijan(West- and East) Provinces of Iran are incredibly helpful and generous, very similar to the Turkish(And they speak a turkish dialect). One morning, three different people independently from each other came to our tent to bring us çay, nuts and fruits. In fact so much, we couldn't consume all of it. The evening before we where treated to a cup of tea in the garden of a large family. Having gone through rather bleak, dry and hot environment throughout the day, it was quite a revelation when they openend the large doors to their garden. Very green and lush, it appeared to us like an oriental paradise from One Thousand and One Nights, ripe peaches, plums and cherries waiting to be picked from the trees, birds chirping in the trees, lots of flowers everywhere.
Invitation to a family garden
Free food and tea
We had a nice chat with this fellow cyclist
Crystal clear and ice cold water near Tabriz
Tabriz was ok, but in my memory it's already starting to mingle with my impressions of the small town of Khoy. What i'll definitely remember though is the angry young man we met when we visited the blue mosque(I'll call him Arash, but that's not his real name). Arash was not acutely angry, but angry in general at the government, the political, cultural and social oppression in Iran - and definitely at the "mushrooms" - that's how he calls the religious "scholars"(Mullahs) because of the white turban they traditionally wear - who produce lot's of hot air and religious BS in their so called "Azhari Islamic Universities".

During the 2009 protests Arash has lost 5 of his friends - some of them officially dead, some of them just "disappeared" and nobody ever heard from them again. He himself only got away because he had covered his face during the demonstrations.

Discussions with him where quite insightful and interesting, clearly a smart guy - but also torn between thoughts of leaving Iran and his pride of not wanting to run away and hide from the oppressors.

One thing that stuck with me was his opinion on why it's so hard to change things in Iran: He said that too many (uneducated) people in Iran are afraid of Allah  and Allah's will(As interpreted and told by the clergy). And as long as that doesn't change, the mullahs will stay in power.


Der IRAN, fremde Kultur

by Daniela , published on August 20, 2013

distance: 310.63km
duration: 52h 50min

Wir überquerten die Grenze an einem regnerischen, sehr stürmischen Tag. Ich hatte meine Regenhose, Regenjacke und die gehäckelte Wollmütze meiner Schwiegermutter auf. Da mir so kalt war, versuchte ich die iranische Grenze mit der Wollmütze zu überqueren. Die Frauen hinter mir richteten sich für die Beamten fromm die Kopftücher. Die Beamten arbeiteten sehr langsam, wahrscheinlich hat noch nie ein Österreicher diese Grenze überquert und schon gar nicht mit zwei Reisepässen. Beim Warten hatte ich ein komisches Gefühl, aber siehe da, schlussendlich bekamen wir trotz meiner Wollmütze einen Stempel in den Pass.

Uns ist ganz stark aufgefallen, dass in der Türkei keine Bäume gepflanzt werden. Wenn keine von Natur aus wachsen, dann gibt es auch keine. 

Klassischer LKW, Eigenbau Iran. Wir sind positiv ueberrascht worden wieviel Baeume es schon direkt nach der Grenze gibt.

Wir haben bei der ersten Moeglichkeit halt gemacht und uns Cay und leckeren Muffin gegoennt. Im Hintergrund sieht man die klassischen Pickups. Auch Eigenbau Iran und daher fuer jeden leistbar

Handgehackter Zucker. Ohne Zucker geht hier gar nichts. Den Zucker laesst man aber beim Caytrinken auf der Zunge zergehen.

Abwaerts, juhee

Die Fahrt nach Khoy ging hinaus aus einem sehr felsigen, engen Tal. Es ist ein interessantes Gefühl wenn man aus den Bergen in die Ebene fährt und die Landschaft immer weiter wird.

Angekommen in der ersten größeren Stadt sind wir schon ganz gespannt was es hier alles so Neues zu entdecken gibt. In Khoy gibt es leider nur ein Dreistern-Hotel und es liegt ausserhalb der Stadt, was uns nicht so erfreut. Nach längerem Preisverhandeln zahlen wir 25 Dollar für eine Nacht mit Frühstück. Das erste Abendessen im Iran bestand aus Hühnerspieß und gegrillten Tomaten. Was wir zu diesem Zeitpunkt nicht wussten, dass wir dieses Gericht von nun an fast zu jeder Mahlzeit bekommen werden.

Abendstimmung in Khoy

Bazar, soviel Ramsch

Am nächsten Tag erkunden wir die Stadt. Uns fällt sofort der schwarze Umhang auf, den hier 90% Prozent der Frauen tragen. Ich war der Meinung, dass der Iran diesbezüglich moderner sei und das die Frauen nur einen Schal am Kopf tragen würden. Wir wurden des Besseren belehrt. Nicht nur in Khoy, sondern im ganzen Iran wird hauptsächlich der schwarze Chador von den Frauen bevorzugt. Der Chador ist nicht Pflicht aber die Iranerinnen sind sehr religiös.

Dieser Mann zeichnet die Muster der Teppiche freihaendig auf ein Millimeterpapier.

Zwischen alldem Handwerk gibt es leider sehr viel Plastikgegenstände. Sogar beim Essen bekommt man Plastikteller und Plastikgläser, wobei die Gläser danach weggeworfen werden.

Grundsätzlich ist die Verschmutzung der Natur hier nicht so extrem wie in der Türkei, aber noch immer sind die Strassengräben auffällig dreckig. Die Städte sind meist sauberer, da auch mehr Mülltonnen und natürlich auch Strassenpersonal vorhanden ist. Im Iran hat sich allerdings die Anzahl an Plastikgegenständen stark erhöht. Man sitzt auf Plastikstühlen, man isst auf Plastiktellern mit Plastikgläsern und auf jedem Tisch gibt es natürlich eine "schöne" Plastiktischdecke. Ich kann mich gut an das klebrige Gefühl an meinen Unterarmen beim Essen erinnern. Auch viele Gegenstände, die bei uns aus Holz oder Metall, sind werden aus Plastik hergestellt. 


In Khoy gab es den ersten tollen Bazar, wir haben dort Teppiche geschmöckert und unseren Träumen freien Lauf gelassen. Als wir Geld wechseln wollten, hat uns ein 17-jähriger Junge angesprochen und wir bekamen sofort Hilfe angeboten. Nach dem Geldwechseln lud er uns auf einen Cay in das Geschäft seines Vaters ein. Ein kleiner Raum im Bazar, voll mit Schafwolle. Er kauft und verkauft Wolle. Da der Junge sehr gut Englisch sprach und er sich auch gerne mit uns unterhielt, wurden wir zum Mittagessen in ihr privates Haus eingeladen. Zu Hause wurde offen über die Probleme im Iran gesprochen. Natürlich darf man von diesen Gesprächen nichts nach draussen tragen. Die Familie ist sehr religiös und der Vater sucht für seinen Sohn die Frau aus. Mich hat diese konservative Einstellung erschrocken.

An diesem Tag in Koy war es sehr warm und der Junge ging später noch ins Schwimmbad. Natürlich gibt es kein gemeinsames Schwimmen mit den Frauen. Es gibt getrennte Zeiten für Mann und Frau.

Auf unserer weiteren Reise im Iran gab es so einige Momente, wo ich die Trennung von Mann und Frau nicht ganz glauben wollte:  Im Bus steigt die Frau hinten ein und sitzt hinten. Der Bus ist mittig mit einer Stange getrennt. In der U-Bahn gibt es einen eigenen Frauenwaggon "only women", beim Warten auf das Brot beim Bäcker gibt es eine eigene Frauenschlange.

Ich sehe nichts Positives darin, aber es wird mir immer wieder erklärt, dass sich die Frauen so wohler fühlen. Die Frauen können sich so, glaub halt ich, nicht weiter entwickeln. Sicher gibt es immer wieder Ausnahmen, vor allem in der Stadt, aber am Land...! Es ist doch wichtig sich selber kennenzulernen, zu wissen wie man aussieht. Wenn ich mich jeden Tag mit einem schwarzen Umhang sehen würde, hätte ich keine Freude an mir. Dann ist mir egal was ich darunter anziehe oder wie meine Haare aussehen.  

Auf der Fahrt nach Tabriz entdeckten wir das beste Essen und zwar "Abgusht". Man trinkt zuerst die Suppe und den Rest, meist Kartoffeln, Kichererbsen und Fleisch zermatscht man und isst es mit Brot. Dafür gibt es ein eigenes Metallgeschirr. Das Brot könnt ihr euch wie Papier mit Bläschen vorstellen, sehr dünn und geschmacklos. Die Einheimischen haben sich das Essen richtig in den Mund gestopft, wie man im Hinergrund sehen kann. Unser Lieblingsgetränk ist das Cola der iranische Eigenmarke "Zam Zam".  

Abfahrt vom Schlafplatz

Zelt aufgestellt und schon gabs Besuch. Ein Mann mit seiner Frau am Motorrad brachten uns Cay und Mandeln. Ich bin abends froh, wenn ich mein Kopftuch abnehmen kann - aber ich bemerkte in diesem Moment, dass ein Mann zu uns kommen wollte. Da ich das Kopftuch abnahm, drehte er sich um und blieb stehen. Ich gab das Tuch wieder auf meinen Kopf und dann erst kam er zu uns. Aus Respekt gegenüber der Frauen kommen Männer in solchen Situationen nicht näher.

Es gab bei der Ankunft in Tabriz eine ähnliche Situation:

Es ist mir schon viel zu heiß geworden und als wir in der Stadt ankamen war ich völlig fertig. Ich überlegte nicht lange und nahm mein Kopftuch runter und machte mir meinen Kopf komplett naß. Als ich fertig war, waren alle Männer, die sich schon wegen uns versammelt hatten, wieder weggegangen. Nachdem ich fertig war, kamen sie zurück, um mit Christian zu quatschen.

Wir radelten nach Tabriz, sodass wir nördlich vom Urmiasee entlang fuhren. An dieser Küste war nichts vom Wasser zu sehen - lediglich das übergebliebene Salz war am Horizont als weisser Streifen sichtbar.

Vom See selbst ist nicht mehr viel ueber ausser das Salz.


Spät in Tabriz angekommen suchten wir uns eines der günstigen Guesthouses zur Übernachtung aus. Wir wollen sparen war unsere Devise. Am nächsten Tag aber haben wir uns umentschieden und wir suchten uns ein Hotel. Wir hatten kein Auge zugemacht, da die Strasse vor Türe einfach zu laut dröhnte und der günstige Preis schlug sich geruchsmässig bei den Sanitäranlagen nieder. Sparen lohnt sich da also nicht.  

Haupteingang der blauen Moschee

Wir waren in der ersten größeren Stadt seit unserer Reise, endlich mal etwas Kulturelles. Wir besuchten am nächsten Tag die blaue Moschee. Ich fand sie sehr schön, nur leider wurde sehr wenig von ihr renoviert. Sie wird auch nicht mehr wie ursprünglich benutzt, mittlerweile ist sie eine Sehenswürdigkeit mit Eintritt.  

Arkande vor der blauen Moschee

Mosaike am Eingangsbereich

Vor der Moschee haben wir später die ersten Fahrradtouristen getroffen. Frank aus der Schweiz, Daniel aus England und Gabor aus Ungarn. Sie wurden begleitet von einem Einheimischen, mit dem wir den darauffolgenden Tag verbrachten. Dank ihm wurden unsere Probleme am Busbahnhof bezüglich der Radmitnahme geklärt. Ohne ihn hätte uns der Busfahrer einfach nicht mitgenommen. Es ist immer gut einen einheimischen Kontakt in der Tasche zu haben.

Geknuepfte Wandbilder sind sehr beliebt, dafuer gibts eine grosse Auswahl an Wolle

Die letzten alten Erinnerungen an England

Ich konnte mir in Tabriz einen neuen Radschlauch besorgen, denn wiedereinmal hatte ich am Rückrad einen Platten und nach dem fünften mal flicken wurde das Loch immer noch nicht dicht. Man sagt es sei anscheinend zu heiß, hmm... Mit dem neuen Schlauch ist mein Rückradproblem nun endlich gelöst.