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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Monday, October 06, 2003 21:43:44

Central Asia 2003: 8 - Shiraz, Iran

Monday, October 6, 2003

Yesterday morning we were out of the hotel and on the road by 9 AM. After touring a couple of museums and getting more money changed, something which is still a major project, we went to the palaces I'd visited the day before. I didn't go through them again, but was glad that Marilynn had a chance to see them.

This was the first touring for me with our four female travelling companions. I was in the middle of the bus, and was surrounded by the conflicting scent of five perfumes. It is going to be an interesting next few days! All are from the Chicago area except one from Texas, but only two knew each other previously. They are a very varied group for sure â€" one even out talks Marilynn, to her dismay.

After fighting through the brutal Tehran traffic we made it to the airport, where, after a bit of an argument the guide managed to get me a bulkhead seat with legroom on the Boeing 727-200. Iran has not purchased any US made aircraft since the time of the Shah, so the plane must be pre-1979, but it was very well maintained. The almost two hour flight was on time and smooth.

We were met by a very comfortable, brand new mini-bus and driven to the Homa Hotel. The hotel was a Sheraton in the time of the Shah, and although it is showing wear and tear from lack of maintenance is still very nice. After time to clean up it was off to a great restaurant for dinner.

Shiraz is a beautiful city of around two million people located in the province of Pars. This was the capital of Iran 300 years ago, and the centre of various empires long before that. The country was called Parsia after this area, anglicised to Persia. There is a university here with a student population of well over 50,000, and like most Iranian universities, there are more female students than male. The city, like Tehran, shows how younger women are pushing for more and more freedom of dress. The scarves are smaller and the form fitting coverings rise to knee height. Slacks or jeans are normally worn under the outer garment. Nowhere in the country have women's faces been covered.

Besides shopping, the conversation of our fellow passengers has been on where to get a drink, but that does not seem possible for a tourist. I'd expected the big hotels to have a bar, but no such luck. We have been told repeatedly that Iranians do drink at home, usually home made wine or schnapps, and that at house parties women don't wear scarves or cloaks, but one would definitely have to know a bootlegger to buy anything alcoholic. Credit cards are not accepted, even in the biggest hotels, although I'm told that the upscale rug merchants will sometimes take them. I think they'll take just about anything to sell a rug!

This computer in the "coffee net" is driving me nuts. Although it will type in English, the home or end keys send it back into Farsi and the arrow keys move the cursor in the opposite direction to which they point. The backspace moves the cursor forward. Farsi is written from right to left, and books here read from the back forward. Computers work the same way. It seems twice a paragraph it reverts to Farsi just to keep me on my toes!

This morning we drove to Persepolis, the temple and palace complex built as the capital of the Persian Achemenian Empire in 518 BC. Although it was sacked and burned by Alexander the Great in around 330 it is still very impressive. The tall columns and remaining parts of the palace give an idea of what was once there. Quite a bit of restoration work is underway. We passed a lot of military bases on the half hour drive each way, although there has been little military presence anywhere else.

The stop after that was at a bazaar, much to the delight of my female companions. Marilynn was in her glory, but after a stroll through the building I opted for the comfort of the bus. The bazaar is very old, a permanent structure with a maze of passageways. Some of the tile work on the ceilings was very beautiful, as was a central courtyard with a reflecting pool. It was the time for eating and prayer when we were there, so only about half the stalls were open. Ali rounded the shoppers up and brought them back to the hotel about 3 with a promise of a 4 PM return when more places will be open. This was great for me, as I've jumped ship and am writing this instead!

When Marilynn returned she was not very happy with her shopping companions. I guess they have divided into a couple of camps who don't like each other. The mouthy one keeps interrupting the guide and carrying on in a manner that gives a lot of tourists a bad name. I think it is a good thing we are together for only a few more days â€" open warfare seems a distinct possibility! I'm staying right out of it.

Dinner was at another great restaurant. Restaurant meal selections are very limited in Iran. Apparently when Iranians go to a restaurant to eat, they want kebabs, so that is all that is on the menu. There have been great salad bars and soup, and always the choice of lamb, beef, chicken or ground meat kebabs â€" but nothing else.

On our return to the hotel Marilynn headed off with some of the women for the before bed smoke. There is an outside restaurant at the hotel which is full of large hookahs where the guys sit around and smoke through the enormous water pipes. I've not seen any women using them, but suspect this is the general area they all head off to.

While in the market today I received a welcome phone call on the guide's cell phone from the owner of the company hosting our Iran tour. The cord and accessories to my computer have arrived in Tehran. This is a big surprise to me, as I'd not been able to find a way to get it here. DHL, which is operating in Iran, has no office in Armenia. Fedex which has offices in both are not sending anything to Iran due to the trade embargo. Apparently the owner of the tour company in Armenia found someone who lived in Tehran and was flying back on Monday to bring it with him.

Before coming here I had heard about a conflict between the President of Iran and the clergy, the President being of a more liberal mind. That turns out not to be so â€" there is no conflict because the President has no power, he is largely ceremonial. The clergy control everything here, including the courts and military. Nothing is done without the signature of the top members of the clergy, and the leader of the country is appointed for life but his predecessor. The comparison with the hereditary monarchy which they replaced has not been lost on the people.

The clergy are a very tightly knit group throughout the country and in many cases have settled comfortably into the former palaces and mansions of the Shah and his close supporters. When these confiscated properties come up for sale by the state, the sale is conducted by a "transparent" government corporation, which holds an auction. The thing is that only the clergy are permitted to bid at the auction, so are able to pick us some very good deals on properties, upon which they then construct high rise apartments and other developments.

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Today Marilynn turns 60, and it looks like the horror of celebrating a dry 60th birthday is going to be a reality. Today we are doing a city tour of Shiraz, and then tonight we will fly to Estafahan. Due to our late arrival in Estafahan a large, later lunch is planned instead of dinner, so this will be Marilynn's birthday lunch.