From Ancient to Brand New Capital

Ashgabat (Turkmenistan), 26.05.2013

This again is a two in one post, since there is not much going on currently.
The first day started early and we drove 1h from Mary to the site of ancient Merv to see it before the sun gets too hot. This place consists of excavations in hills on a flat plain that cover up several cities of different ages. Since the buildings were made of mud bricks there is very little left after Mongol raids, earthquakes and bad weather for centuries. But it is still impressive to see how people lived here around 2000 years ago. It also connects to places we’ve seen before, like Persepolis, and many that will follow. Our guide explained us the background and details of the place very well. Continue reading “From Ancient to Brand New Capital”

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Waiting

Dasoguz (Turkmenistan), 31.05.2013

Two days we spent now waiting in this city where there is nothing to see, nothing to do, and nowhere to go. The first day, after sleeping for over 12 h, we got a bag of laundry washed, cleaned the car, read maps, guides and apps for info on the next countries, slept more, bought water and drinks. We also tried to find some Internet, but the state run Internet cafe with strange terminals didn’t inspire enough confidence for us to log into our mail and other accounts, using passwords that could be hacked etc. Continue reading “Waiting”

A Desert of Fire and Monuments

Dasoguz (Turkmenistan), 27.05.2013

To escape the craziness of this absurd and unfree country, from Ashgabat we drove north towards the Uzbek border. The road was better until Derwaza, the destination of yesterday’s afternoon, but I did a mistake reading the map and calculated the trip 100km too short. Also, the paranoia in this country and the third person with us all the time creates a lot of tension. In the desert the daylight lasted until 21:00, shortly before we arrived, and we drove silently for hours through dunes, flat steppe, met occasional camel herds and few cars and trucks on the road. The light from 19:00 to 21:00 was truly spectacular as the sun slowly disappeared and the night took over. A very special sight that only deserts and steppes can offer. Continue reading “A Desert of Fire and Monuments”

Stuck Between Borders

Dasoguz (Turkmenistan), 28.05.2013

As you can see, we write this post from the same place as the day before. The border crossing didn’t work. We left the hotel early and arrived at the border at exactly 09:00. We were the first car to be let through, the Turkmen officers were friendly, and we knew we would have to get all our stuff out of the car. We unpacked, got 36 items through the X-ray scanner and then the car was thoroughly checked by the friendly young customs agents. Continue reading “Stuck Between Borders”

Next Unfree Country – “Unwelcome” to Turkmenistan

Mary (Turkmenistan), 24.05.2013

We are debating if lack of religious or political freedom is worse and somehow cannot agree. We had a week of Iran, with restrictions particularly for Helena as a woman, but also in general sensed an oppressing atmosphere. Part of that is surely our take of a situation that the locals manage much more easily then we do. At least apparently. Now we are in Turkmenistan, and we did read a bit about the country before we got here, that there is a particular regime with a lot of controls and preoccupations. But none of us has ever lived in such an environment, and it feels bad, from the first moment that we entered the country. Continue reading “Next Unfree Country – “Unwelcome” to Turkmenistan”

Desert Day

Garmeh (Iran), 22.05.2013

Although Persepolis is not in a desert, the day started with 28 degrees before sunrise. The hotel staff blasted Persian dance music at full volume from the speakers of their tent and the breakfast was practically non existent, so we had a good motivation to leave immediately and at 08:30 we hit the road to cross the desert towards the border with Turkmenistan. Yesterday night we had checked the km to drive and found that a) we were facing two intensive driving days and b) at half distance there is absolutely nothing, no village, nada. Reading our LP guide we found that approx 100 km further north there are two villages with places to stay, but it means a 200 km detour. The weather was not good, plenty of dust, bad visibility, heat. After 190 km we left the main road to the north and drove east. Here the desert starts, the real desert. There was nothing all around us. Barely a hill, a little mountain every half hour. No trees, a few dry plants, just a sea of brown and white and grey. Since the sky did not open up, we saw only a few hundred meters at a time. The road went on like this for hours. The temperature kept rising.

At lunchtime we arrived at Yazd, one of the oldest inhabited places on earth apparently. We changed money, ate some grilled chicken with bread and pepsi, and wanted to see the old town. But at 39 degrees we changed our mind and left. It was brutally hot, we could barely breathe, and there was not the slightest wind. Leaving Yazd we drove for almost an hour through inhabited areas, roundabout after roundabout. And in between for quite a while we passed the pictures, in poster size, of the Basij “martyrs”, child face after child face. Little later we fuelled up, also the two extra tanks we have with us, and the road went through the desert again, for hours. Again vast spaces of the same colours as in the morning. A couple of mountain ranges crossed our way.

We had decided to spend the night in what LP describes as an oasis village of mud houses. Indeed we passed several oasis’ in the middle of the desert. Like in the movies these sudden spots of green, palms, trees and mud houses appeared and disappeared again as we drove on to find “ours”.

10,5 hours after leaving Persepolis we reached Garmeh. A man on a motorbike showed us the way to the guesthouse. It was in a renovated mud building a bit hidden inside the village. There were other western guests and in the house no hejab was required, the girls enjoyed the freedom and freshness of taking off the veil. A light air blew through the living room where we were greeted with a cold and sweet drink. Time to relax, let this intensive day fade out. After an hour of chilling, writing, reading we ate a delicious, home cooked Persian dinner: pilaf, stew, baked potatoes, salad of tomatoes and cucumber, yogurt. After a hot tea and a shower it was time to go to sleep, since tomorrow we have a lot of km ahead of us.
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Trip data (Day/Total)

– Km driven: 744/14.868

– Hrs on the road: approx 10,5h/-

– Diesel l/100km: 7,5/9,2 (75l of diesel for 260.000 Rials / 7,93 USD)

Esfahan vs Persepolis 0:1

Persepolis (Iran), 21.05.2013
Since we are not able to post every day as we used to until we entered Iran, the laziness is taking over and today you’ll get 2 days in 1 post. Also because yesterday was a rather disappointing day (although today we compensated).
We left Tehran late in the morning since we had to wait for some laundry to be delivered and it came only at 10:00. This delayed the packing of the car, checkout and departure. We tried to find a laundry service to wash the bag full of things that have accumulated, but there is no such place in Tehran according to several sources and we had to leave the most needed things to the hotel. The result were 59 USD for a couple of T-shirts, 5 trousers and some underwear – the most expensive washing operation of our lives 😉
The motorway out of the city was easy to find and led us south quickly. We stopped at a service station to east something, but since the choice was proper restaurant vs mini market we opted for the latter, since we wanted to see the beauties of Esfahan and many places close at 17:00. When we finally arrived, the hotel we had chosen revealed to be a rather run down place (all the good rooms were taken apparently) and th parking was full. When we came back to the car we found somebody had written something on the dirty rear window, but we didn’t understand what it was. Given the shady welcome in the hotel we became a bit suspicious. We left the car in front of the hotel, our stuff in the room and went to see city centre. The first destination was the Imam square, with its palace, two mosques and the bazaar gate and one of the biggest of its kind. It is indeed huge, and the decorations on the gates very beautiful. But it is not well kept and the building between the four gates is quite shabby seen from the square (we had a chance to see them “behind the scenes” and the building is completely run down). We have an aversion to touristy places, since we don’t like the rip off, the scams, the cheesy pitches of the local cheats. “Hello Sir, where are you from?” follows you all the time. (Some years ago, on a Bazaar in Marrakesh, a friend replied “from China”, that helped keep these guys at a distance with a laugh). A woman told us she is from Syria and has 7 children. An elderly man started explaining us the beauties of the main mosque and then asked for Euro coins, his son had a collection. Another guy invited us to see his carpets and practice his english. You never know if there is an honest intention to it. Sadly, experience in many countries has always proven this to be sales pitches, in 100% of the cases, therefore we try to cut these conversations short.
Anyway, the next stop was the bazaar, a whole area rather then a single building. In this one you find a mix of souvenirs, tourist items and items for the daily use. We must say that the building in Istanbul is far more beautiful, although the decoration of the entrance gate is marvellous. And the bazaar in Marrakesh is far more exotic. So also this place did not meet expectations. On the way back to the hotel two police men strolled down a street along us. Also they asked “where are you from?” and “where is your hotel?”. We answered the first question and stayed vague on the second. They told us to be careful with our passports and visas. At this point our suspicion became even more intense. We didn’t feel good in Esfahan. We went back to the hotel, tried to park the car in the garage but the ceilings were too low so we had to lave it on the street. Also this didn’t help to make us feel safer. As a distraction we went to what supposedly was the best restaurant in town: Shahrzad. The food was indeed very tasty: Fesenjun (chicken stew in pomegranate-walnut-eggplant sauce), a kebab of marinated meat (that strangely came with french fries), and some Gaz (similar to italian torrone) at the end. An ice cream on the way back to the hotel closed the day.
This morning we tried to escape town as quick as possible, but got lost on the way out and changed money and bought some food at a sort of supermarket. We drove for 5 hours straight through a very arid landscape with a lot of beautiful rock formations. Some of these mountains according to our LP guide are one of the largest known gas fields, although we didn’t really see anything related. It was hot, 30 degrees celsius, and sunny, and we didn’t stop but ate while driving. At 16:00 we finally arrived at Persepolis.
A massive alley leads several hundred meters straight to the site. We parked the car on a parking place made for hundreds of cars but almost deserted. Then came an entrance area with café, shops, ticket office etc that was almost deserted, half the booths were not in use and falling to pieces. Entrance was free, since apparently it is “culture week”. And then came one of the most impressive sites we have seen so far on this journey. The capital of ancient Persia, the biggest empire before Alexander the Great conquered and destroyed it, is a huge complex, partially build on a massive wall and partially caved into a nearby hill. You enter through two symmetrical, undecorated ramps with stairs and then go through the “Gate of all Nations”. The site features the remains of various palaces, a treasury, halls, squares and other buildings. You better read the details on Wikipedia. What impresses here is not just the sheer gigantic layout. What strikes most is the detailed decoration that has survived to our days on so many buildings. You see all kinds of reliefs depicting the many kings of different nations that paid tribute to the Persian kings. The figures are so vivid, so precise, so beautiful that you can spend hours analysing them. On a few places the stone is polished to it’s original, mostly black colour. What a beauty! They say that in one building in particular the walls were so polished that you could see reflections on the stone, they called it the Hall of Mirrors. It is a shame that the place is not better kept and made accessible to more people.
We got into a conversation with an elderly gentleman. He first asked us what we thought of the place. Since we never know who the people are that we talk to on the street, and we know that the country we are visiting is unfree and has a control mechanism for foreigners, we stay vague, give no opinions, don’t say anything negative. But then he got tears in his eyes and told us that he had been in Persepolis many years ago and that the place was falling apart, many installations were in decay. We were moved by what he told us and shared the desperation.
The day closes in a hotel on the site of Persepolis that was built in the 1950’s under the Shah, and you can see that this must have been a very elegant place. It feels very European, very French. From the floors, chairs and lights in the corridors, to the interior of the rooms, the high-ceiling dining hall and the two gardens on both sides of the hotel. But it is completely run down, not kept at all, falling apart. We write this post in a tent they built in the garden, the only serviced place for food and drink. It is cheap, with plastic sheets on the tables, flies and mosquitos all around, and a fake oriental ambiance. The staff couldn’t care less about the “guests”, and the food is bad. We can only imagine how chic it must have been to dine here, overlooking the veranda and garden. Maybe one day there will be the conditions to enjoy this place again.

Trip data (Day/Total) 20.05.2013
– Km driven: 524/13.696
– Hrs on the road: approx 5h/-
– Diesel l/100km: 8,5/9,3

Trip data (Day/Total) 21.05.2013
– Km driven: 429/14.125
– Hrs on the road: approx 5h/-
– Diesel l/100km: 7,6/9,2 (55l of diesel for 200.000 Rials / 6,10 USD)

Tehran

Tehran (Iran), 19.05.2013

This journey we’re doing is not a vacation and not a tourist trip. We did not set off to see cities, monuments and beaches but to drive through distant places and discover countries along the road. Tehran is the second milestone city after Istanbul, but we will not be able to discover the city properly. This would take several days if not more, and after little time in a city we feel the need to move on. Continue reading “Tehran”

Through the Alborz Mountains

Tehran (Iran), 18.05.2013

The day started in our super luxurious roadside hotel in Zanjan to the tune of Iranian traffic on the main road in front our room. 4 devices showed 3 different times, so we had no clue how late it was, but wanted to get out of town asap. After the meagre breakfast we left for the motorway, and then 21 km later for the panoramic countryside road up into the mountains. The descent into the valley that later on converts into a lake was even more beautiful (videos to be uploaded once we have the adequate connection), with the opposite mountain range appearing in front of us once we crossed the pass and descended to Rudbar. From there a quick ride on the newly constructed motorway led us into Qazvin, where we got lost at lunchtime. We stopped at a big traffic square and ate some fatty kebabs at a small and pretty dirty restaurant. Before leaving we tried to ask for directions, a friendly young man that spoke only Farsi first drew the directions on a piece of paper, explaining them in detail in Farsi (that we don’t understand) and then told us to get into our car and follow him. So we did, and in no time we were on the road up into the next mountain range, towards Alamut and the valley of the Castles of the Assassins. Continue reading “Through the Alborz Mountains”