duration: 60h 34min
Leaving our trusted bikes in the basement garage of our hosts in Tehran, we got on a VIP bus to Esfahan, where we wanted to do some Regular-Joe sightseeing. A "VIP bus" in Iran costs a bit more than a "regular" bus, but it's still very cheap and quite worth it - there are only 3 rows of seats and a lot of legroom. A blessing for someone as tall as me!
On the bus we met Doireann, a irish student of political economy(Hope i got that right), specialized in the middle east and on a month-long travel through Iran to learn the language and about the country. We found her to be very likeable and eventually spend all our time with her in Esfahan. Right after our arrival in Esfahan, we where picked up by her couchsurfing-host to visit a (secret) CS-gathering of Iranians in a private garden in the outskirts of Esfahan.
This meeting of about 30 people was quite a risky undertaking for Iran. If the police would have found about it, the men and women attending would most probably have gotten in serious trouble. The topic of the meeting was about couchsurfing per se and the ins and outs for new participants, and it took 2 hours, so we where quite bored by the end.
We hadn't arranged a place to stay in Esfahan, so we happily agreed when a young couple invited us to stay in their home. Since we got along so well with Doireann, she stayed at their place as well instead of her original host(He was single and she didn't feel entirely comfortable, so we politely as possible got her out of her informal agreement with him).
Doireann was very knowledgeable on the history, culture and politics of the middle east and speaking fluent Arabic, she was a great sightseeing-company.
Esfahan was a stark contrast to the other parts of Iran we had seen thus far - with more signage and infrastructure for foreigners, it was clearly adapted to tourism. And the city and it's sights are very beautiful. I'm usually not very keen on visiting places for the sake of having seen them and ticking them of a checklist, but Esfahan's buildings and places are really worth it. We even managed to get on the roof of the Lotfollah Mosque thanks to a small monetary "gift" to the guard. That said, here are some of the highlights:
One night, our hosts took us for a joyride to the "jungle", a part of Esfahan that used to be swamps and forest, but most of it is a development area these days. Still the youth of Esfahan goes there for "Dor Dor"*, which is a car full of boys and a car full of girls going next to each other to exchange banter and perchance phone-numbers. A curious way to hook up in a region where the relationship between genders is tightly regulated.
*probably spelled wrong
There's still some of the real "jungle" left at the outskirts of Esfahan, a few acres of orchards and wetlands, crossed by an unlit, winding road along the river. While we where speeding through the dark woods at an unreasonable velocity, Reza announced "I have a little surprise for you" - that said, he turned off the lights of the car.
Like teenagers, we squeaked in surprise, fear and joy! It only lasted for a few seconds, but when he repeated the stunt a little later, it had the same effect. There's quite an exciting rush at going through the dark without knowing what is in front of you. Guess we missed out during our adolescence! Here's the GPS-track of our nightly motorized adventure: http://poab.org/track/infomarker/412957
After 3 days in Esfahan, we said our farewell to Doireann, who headed to Shiraz, while we had decided to save Persepolis for another time and travel to the desert city of Yazd instead.
We stayed at Hotel Dad, with 40$ for a room above our usual budget, but beeing a 5-star-hotel we decided to indulge in the luxurity. After all it was a kind of holiday from our cycling travel and the hotel was truly remarkable - great food and the building itself was a former caravanserei. And it was off-season, so we had the upper hand when we bargained the price.
The old town of Yazd is built of clay, which makes for nice strolls through the narrow alleys. Especially in the evenings, when the temperature is more bearable and the brown walls are bathed in golden sunlight. Yazd is also famous for it's windcatchers, which are spread all over the old town.
Back to Tehran we took the train, a very modern and fast carriage built by Siemens, which brought us back to the capital in just 5 hours.