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 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.