Day 2 in Shiraz was going to be a lot less action packed. I went downstairs stylin’ in my new manteau and gorgeous silk scarf (Good God I am actually starting to care about what I look like covered up!) Anyway, after some breakfast, Bahman and I headed across the city to the Bagh-e Eram or the Garden of Eden. The gardens are the most famous botanical gardens in Shiraz and I would venture to say rival some of the most beautiful gardens in the world. The original gardens were first created over 900 years ago on the very same site we were visiting.
The focal point of the gardens is a Qajar era place and reflecting pool surrounded by lush flower gardens. There were date and cypress trees planted all around and little discreet flower gardens and footpaths everywhere. The gardens are maintained by Shiraz University and lovely and peaceful to stroll.
And as luck would have it, there were a number of school groups gathered in the gardens for class pictures and picnics. As we wandered around the gardens, packs of girls would follow us yelling Hallo, Hallo. They were adorable.
Anyway, Bahman and I wandered the grounds for a while and as we walked along the cypress lined pathway to leave the gardens, a group of young girls sitting on a blanket called out to me. Bahman kept walking, but I did a quick detour over to see the girls. One young girl spoke pretty good English. They motioned for me to sit down, and they immediately offered me popcorn and chips. The Iranian hospitality begins young.
Bahman finally figured out I had abandoned him, and he came looking for me. He found me sitting with the young girls laughing and chatting as I used my very limited Farsi. I asked him if he could help with the language barrier so while I sat and chatted with the girls Bahman acted as translator. I found out that the girls were 11 and were at the park for a school picnic. After a few more minutes, I could tell Bahman wanted to leave so as I was getting up, I asked the girls if they wanted their picture taken. What resulted is possibly my favorite travel picture ever. Please look at the beautiful faces of these young girls, notice the little one flashing the peace sign and tell me that there isn’t hope in this world!
With my morning and perhaps entire trip made following my visit with the little girls, we walked out of the gardens and past a newstand featuring a magazine with a front page picture of Obama and Romney face to face … great … can’t even escape it in Iran!
Next up was a trip across town to the Arg-e Karim Khan, which is the large fortress like structure built in the 18th century by the Karim Khan that was used as his royal court. The exterior looks like an ancient European fortress, but the interior is distinctly Persian with a large courtyard split by a long reflecting pond surrounded by citrus trees. The interior rooms were pretty nondescript and featured figures in period dress with an assortment of 19th and early 20th century photographs that were far more interesting than the rooms.
After we exited the main building we walked back through the gardens to the highlight of the Arg – the royal baths. The baths were down a set of stairs and featured a marble communal tub, beautiful limestone carvings on the walls, and narrow chambers with smaller tubs. It was quite the fancy bathhouse and clearly fit for a king!
Bahman and I left the Arg and walked across the massive courtyard outside the Arg. Bahman pointed out a horse and a camel on the opposite side of the courtyard where tourists can have their picture taken. Since Bahman already knew my Cairo camel story … I knew he was making a joke, but it was entirely too sad that the forlorn horse and camel were waiting for tourists who would likely never show.
Anyway, as we walked, Bahman related the history of the Masjed-e Vakil (Vakil Mosque) that was next up on our walking tour. The 18th century mosque was built by Karim Kahn (yep him again) and its courtyard was presently being renovated. However, we could wander the interior areas, which was fine by me.
We reached the mosque by walking through the Nomad’s Bazaar and down a narrow alleyway. We wandered the perimeter of the mosque’s courtyard before reaching the inner prayer hall and all I can say is WOW. The hall was supported by 48 intricately carved columns to match the ceiling and it was quite spectacular. After the requisite pictures we crossed the courtyard that was under construction and wandered back to our next destination – the Nomad’s Bazaar. Yep. Shopping would now begin in earnest!
Before we began our shopping tour Bahman told me he wanted to get me a drink. Now in Iran, that statement has a totally different meaning than I am used to. And I had no idea what kind of drink he wanted to get me. Anyway, we walked into a little ice cream shop and Bahman greeted the man like a long lost friend and spoke some Farsi to the man. (Bahman is a very well known man because he played basketball for Iran and because he has traveled the country as a guide for 20 years. Everywhere we go he knows somebody.) At this point Bahman finally told me he was ordering us the same flower drink I had at lunch the previous day. And, the fellow sold the flower extract that I wanted to take home with me. Double win!
After the delicious drink break we wandered through the myriad of spice stalls and fabric stalls before reaching the area known as the Nomad’s Bazaar, which is an area where local crafts are sold. Each region of Iran has a specialty and in Shiraz, the specialty is the inlaid wood designs. Bahman took me to a shop run by a man he knew (of course), and I proceeded to look at dozens of vases, boxes and frames. I finally selected a gorgeous copper vase that had inlaid wood with a beautiful green flower design. It was perfect. While we were in the shop, Bahman bought a pen that had been covered in inlaid wood. As we were leaving the store, Bahman gave the pen to me and told me that every time I write with the pen he wanted me to think of Iran. I was touched by his kindness. It was such a moving gift! I assured him that I would use the pen and would think of Iran and of him every time I put the pen to use.
We next moved on to a shop that sold jade jewelry, which is mined in the area, and lapis, which is imported from Afghanistan. The proprietor also sold original stamps commemorating the ’79 hostage taking. The stamps are quite rare and were very unique. I decided to make a purchase and the next thing I knew Bahman had bought a gorgeous inlaid wood frame from the store where we had just been and gave it to me for my stamp purchase. (As I have said before, the man loves to shop!)
I next looked at some beautiful bracelets and necklaces. The man running the shop was a really nice gentleman (quite frankly, I have not met anyone in Iran who isn’t nice) who explained the various qualities and grades of the jade and lapis. I found some pieces I liked, made some purchases and it was time to move on. We wandered around the bazaar for another half hour looking for an antique genie lamp, but came up empty. I did, however, manage to find a lovely loose turquoise I will have made into a necklace when I return home, but that was about it for the day.
Next stop was lunch. Bahman took me to a lovely little Persian restaurant. The lunch, featuring lamb, an eggplant stew, rice, flatbread and goat cheese was delicious. However, the highlight of the lunch was the most delectable cookies we had with our tea that Bahman told me were called “youkeh” (not sure of the spelling). The cookies were these rolled layers of wafer thin goodness (almost like parchment paper). You ate them by pulling off the layers. The cookies tasted vaguely like shortbread and had strong hints of vanilla. I took one taste and became obsessed with these cookies. As Bahman observed, the things we become obsessed with in life become obsessions because it is usually love at first sight … and with these cookies … oh my goodness it was love at first sight!
I tried very hard to resist the cookies slowly peeling back the layers on the first one as Bahman did the same and eating each layer as the buttery goodness filled my mouth. Then Bahman took a phone call and I took another cookie and followed the same pattern of peeling the layers and slowly eating each fold. There were two cookies left on the plate and as we continued to talk over our tea, I took another and then Bahman picked up the last one and put it on my plate. Ack! I had no willpower, but damn these little waffers of goodness were like some kind of drug. I could not stop myself. Once I finished off the last one, I immediately accused Bahman of messing with my wasteline. Hey, as far as I was concerned, Bahman was as complicit as I in this cookie caper for ordering this “crack” in the first place.
It was now time to walk it off. So we wandered back through the bazaar, past the Vakil mosque and through the streets back to the Ag and the waiting Hamid. He took us back to the hotel where I was able to put my feet up for a couple hours before we headed out at 4:30 for a visit to Sadi’s Tomb and the Bagh-e Jahan Nama.
The drive to Sadi’s Tomb was a short one. Now Sadi was another of Iran’s famous poets, and like Hafez, was born in Shiraz. Many of his writings are about roses and gardens and accordingly his tomb is surrounded by beautiful gardens filled with roses. We walked a long expansive walkway through the gardens to reach his tomb, which sat on a raised platform surrounded by an open colonnade. And as with the tomb of Hafez, this tomb also appeared to be a pilgrimage of sorts for the Iranians who surrounded the tomb with many of them touching it as they passed by.
The location also appeared to be a good “date” place. It is difficult to date in Iran because there is really nowhere for a boy and a girl to enjoy themselves (and I am not speaking of anything in violation of any morality laws), but many places like beaches and such are segregated (even buses are segregated). As a result, places like gardens and shopping malls become locations for dates where boys and girls can hang out together.
As we were about to leave, we ran into a German tourist and her guide. “Nadia”, and I had quite the talk about Iranians and the misunderstood country of Iran. She had only been in Iran for 3 days, but her experience was the same as mine – incredible people, beautiful scenery and historical sites, and wonderful food. We had quite the chat about our respective trips and world affairs in general (including the American election – Europe is backing Obama….)
Anyway, fifteen minutes later we finally said our good-byes. As Bahman and I strolled through the gardens I apologized for taking so long. He told me no apology was necessary because I wasn’t holding anyone up, however, with big groups he always tells a joke at the beginning of the trip that he uses if people are taking to long. It went something like this. Two women are sitting in a mosque talking during Friday prayers. They are repeatedly asked to stop talking and after one final warning the women are arrested. The women are sentenced to ten years in jail for blasphemy. At the end of ten years, the two women are sitting talking when the jailer comes to tell one woman she is free to go. The woman turns to the jailer and says “Just a minute, I need to finish telling her my story…..” This silly parable sent both me and Bahman into fits of laughter and resulted in stares from many of the chador cloaked ladies we passed. (Maybe this was another you had to be there moment.)
We finished our walk through the gardens and returned to the van. The sun was starting to set and the air was cooling down. Shiraz has been a lovely break from the heat of the other cities and regions I had visited to date.
Our last stop was Bagh-e Jahan Jama also known as the Crystal Ball Garden. The gardens date back to the 15th century and were recently restored. The design of the garden was very symmetrical with four paths around and four paths through four ponds – two large and two small. As with the other gardens we had walked, there were cypress and fruit trees everywhere and lots of roses. With the sun setting and birds chirping at the end of the day, it was peaceful and serene.
We left the gardens and headed back to the hotel. Bahman suggested we walk through the park near our hotel for the exercise since I was still giving him a hard time about all the cookies I ate at lunch. So we got out of the van and wandered the mile or so back to the hotel. As we walked through the park at dusk, the call to prayer began. It was one of those lovely “oh please don’t let this end” moments. The birds chirping everywhere, the scent of honeysuckle and roses hung in the air and yes that haunting call.
In the midst of all the loveliness, we came across the most unusual site …. a giant (and when I say giant, I mean gargantuan) rooster that appeared to be made out of wire and covered with plant materials. As we got closer you could see that the rooster had at one time been covered in flowers. We decided it must have had something to do with springtime or the Iranian New Year (March 21 by Western calenders). Anyway, it was the oddest site, and I just had to have pictures. There was just enough light for what turned out to be the wackiest picture of the trip so far.
So we reached the hotel and called it a day. I was exhausted and it was time to get ready for the big day tomorrow – Persepolis and the rock tombs of Naqsh-em Rostam, Iran’s version of the Valley of the Kings. Yippee … a day of climbing all over rocks and seeing ancient stuff. Can’t wait!