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ABOUT THIS BLOG

In the summer of 2009, Nicolas Rapp decided to take a break from his Art Director job at The Associated Press to attempt a one-year overland travel around the world in a 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser. He was back in New York in February 2011 after traveling 15 months and 37,000 miles.

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  • Traveling through ancient Iran to Tehran

    Posted on August 13th, 2010 Nicolas 37 comments
    Persepolis entrance gate.

    Persepolis entrance gate.

    An hour after I leave Shiraz, I arrive on the Persepolis site. It is late in the day, so I just camp for a small fee on the parking lot, in front of the police station. It is quite windy, and I have to use ropes to secure the tent fabric tight so I don’t have the flapping noise all night long. In the morning I fold the tent and walk to the site. It is early when I penetrate the gates of Persepolis, and there are not much people.

    The impressive site under the early – and already hot - sun.

    The impressive site under the early – and already hot - sun.

    Persepolis is the symbol of the Achemenid Empire which started in the 7th century BC. It is the most famous masterpiece of the Near Eastern civilizations. The ancient city was lost for hundreds of years, covered by sand, and only in the 30’s excavations have started. As usual in Iran, the site and its museum are very cheap to visit, at US$ 0.50. In fact what is expensive in Iran is the lodging; otherwise it is the perfect destination for the budget traveler.

    Artaxerxes II tomb on the hill dominating the site.

    Artaxerxes II tomb on the hill dominating the site.

    I spend a little bit more than two hours strolling through the site and go back to the truck for the long drive to Esfahan.

    The road to Esfahan.

    The road to Esfahan.

    Esfahan, one of the most beautiful cities in the Eastern world, is the country third largest populated place. It is more complicated to navigate than Shiraz where I went everywhere by foot.

    More carpets in Esfahan.

    More carpets in Esfahan.

    In fact, I decide to spend two nights there, in another touristic complex (US$10) with a vague soviet feel. I leave the car at the campsite and explore the city by bus. Transportation is cheap here also, and you never pay more than few cents to take the bus or, in Tehran, the subway.

    Entering Hakim Mosque in the Esfahan city center.

    Entering Hakim Mosque in the Esfahan city center.

    I first visit the Hakim Mosque, the oldest in the city, as I follow the Lonely Planet walking tour, one of my favorite features in the guide.

    Ablution room. Also nice to cool down a bit after walking in the city.

    Ablution room. Also nice to cool down a bit after walking in the city.

    Then I enter the Bazar-e Bozorg where vendors sell carpet, household items, spice, jewelry and fake brand-name clothing. It is a thousand-year old labyrinth with mosques, banks, gardens and many alleys.

    The Bazar-e Bozorg in Esfahan.

    The Bazar-e Bozorg in Esfahan.

    One of them leads me to the Jameh Mosque dating from the 11th century. The central ablution fountain in the courtyard was designed to imitate the Kaaba in Mecca.

    The Jameh Mosque at the center of the bazaar.

    The Jameh Mosque at the center of the bazaar.

    In this case, I guess I should donate…

    In this case, I guess I should donate…

    I continue to walk through the alleys. Such covered markets are great as you are protected from the heat of the day by the arcades. Around noon I venture out for a quick visit to the bird market where friendly vendors show me some species and we compare the names of the bird in Farsi and English languages.

    The bird market.

    The bird market.

    I also visit the Mausoleum of Harun Vilayet which features impressive mosaics of Khomeini and Khamenei.

    Mausoleum of Harun Vilayet, an important pilgrimage site.

    Mausoleum of Harun Vilayet, an important pilgrimage site.

    Back in the bazaar, I try to find a place to eat. Most of the eating options in Iran are kababs. Those are served with rice, bread and tomatoes. Cooked over charcoal, this food is relatively healthy.

    Back in the bazaar.

    Back in the bazaar.

    Everybody here drink “dugh” which is sour milk and yogurt mixed with water. It is very refreshing and kind of similar with the drinking yogurt you can find in the U.S., without sugar.

    The Sofreh_Khaneh Sonnati restaurant.

    The Sofreh_Khaneh Sonnati restaurant.

    I stop for lunch in a traditional restaurant close to the Imam Square, where parties sit on day bed and can try Iran specialties.

    The Imam Mosque.

    The Imam Mosque.

    Afterward I go visit the Imam Mosque and its two turquoise minarets, another fine example of the astonishing mosques you find in Iran. It is also on Imam Square, the second largest square in the world. By then I begin to be tired but find the energy to visit the Al Qapu Palace from which I can get a good view of the square.

    Imam Square, Esfahan.

    Imam Square, Esfahan.

    Before going back to the campsite after this heavy day of walking, I go get a glimpse at the Si-o-Seh bridge crossing the Zayandeh River. There’s a teahouse at the end of the bridge where people relax and hide from the sun.

    The Si-o-Seh bridge.

    The Si-o-Seh bridge.

    Making friends in the Iranian military.

    Making friends in the Iranian military.

    I go back “home” to take some well deserved rest. I continue to watch the “long way round” television series, and get more excited about crossing Siberia. I decide that I will go straight to the Russian Embassy when I arrive in Tehran and see if it is possible to get a visa quickly.
    After one more day of driving, I enter the crazy traffic of Tehran. At nightfall, I accept that it is no place to camp, and find the Khayyam hotel, a bit too expensive to my taste (US$18), but with a parking lot, which is rare in the city. It will be my base for few days as I will be working on paperwork and visiting the city. The Ramadan begins the following day, and it will be more convenient to be at the hotel, since you can’t drink, eat or smoke in the street during the day. I think the most difficult is to not be able to drink water, especially when you have to run everywhere under a fierce sun to get things done.

    Mural on the wall of the old American embassy.

    Mural on the wall of the old American embassy.

    It is an impossible city to navigate and a challenge to find places. The first day I go to the Russian Embassy to find it close. I spend hours trying to locate the Kazakhstan Embassy and decide to go the following day. I get some work done on my car as the hotel is located in an area where I can find a lot of things usually difficult to get. I lubricate my chassis in the hope it will eradicate a thumping noise I get each time I stop the car. Check and top transfer case oil and change sparking plugs. The following day I am back on the visas quest. The Russians have bad news for me. It would take more than two weeks to get the visa. Plus one week for Kazakhstan and five days for Turkmenistan. My Iranian visa is not long enough, and anyway I need to keep moving.

    The glass and ceramics museum in Tehran.

    The glass and ceramics museum in Tehran.

    I have to find another way. Finally at the end of the afternoon, I find out there may be a container boat leaving Bandar Abbas for Mumbai, India at the end of next week. I have to check back with Maersk, the maritime company on Sunday. That would means I would backtrack 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to the port I arrived at, and stuff the truck in a container. If there is no cabin available in the boat – which is likely – I will take the ferry back to Dubai and fly to Mumbai. The cost of shipping – all included – should be around US$800. The ferry will cost me another $100 and the flight $150. Sailing time for the container boat is four days. Now I am kind of sad to not cross Siberia. But this is the deal. I have to keep moving east.