Iran: Esfahan and Shiraz

It was ten years ago today that I touched down in Tehran after a jaunt around Iran and fired off the next of my emails from the trip of a lifetime. Here, edited only ever-so-slightly for public viewing, is that email in which I described my adventures in Esfahan and Shiraz.

Zayandeh River, Esfahan

Zayandeh River, Esfahan

The thing that has struck me the most about travelling in Iran is how easy everything is here. A lot of people speak English and transport seems to be fairly well geared towards travellers. What else has surprised me is how European (particularly non-Arab) it feels – we all know that Iranians (Persians) aren’t Arabs, but the full extent of the cultural difference can’t be fully appreciated until you are actually here. I also feel very at home here; apart from some surprised looks which I get in some poorer parts of the cities, I don’t feel that ‘foreign’.

Bagh-e Tarikhi-ye Fin (Tarikhi-ye Fin Garden), Kashan

Bagh-e Tarikhi-ye Fin (Tarikhi-ye Fin Garden), Kashan

At last post I had just woken up in my hotel in Esfahan. Esfahan is a beautiful city, with tree-lined boulevards and a river, surrounded by mountains. It actually reminded me a lot of Canberra in that way, only not as clinical. It’s a great city for walking around in, getting lost in the bazaar, and smoking qalyun (water pipe) over chai by the river. I spent my first day wandering the vast Imam Square, and around the old city. On my second day I rented a car and with a driver from the Amir Kabir Hotel to take me to Kashan, a university town north of Esfahan where I met several local girls wanting to swap email addresses! That afternoon my driver put on a picnic lunch at Abyaneh, a very picturesque town built into the side of a mountain. This is one interesting point about Iran; often the places that look really boring in pictures are breathtaking in real life; even the desert scenery is incredible. My final day in Esfahan was spent at Manar Jomban, the ‘shaking minarets’, so called because if you try to lean heavily against one minaret, its twin (just metres away) vibrates.

Abyaneh, Iran

Abyaneh, Iran

At Abyaneh, Iran

At Abyaneh, Iran

My next destination on this whistlestop highlights tour of Iran was Shiraz. the southern capital of Persian culture. If Esfahan was like Canberra, then Shiraz is like Adelaide – deserted wasteland punctuated by surprisingly lush gardens and lovely, genteel architecture. I spent time walking through the divine botanic gardens and visiting the tombs of several dead Persian poets. Similarly dead is Shiraz after dark; if New York is the city that never sleeps, then Shiraz probably makes up for it. I also headed out for a day trip to Persepolis; once the centre of the Persian empire. The ruins apparently rival those of the Acropolis in Athens. While I was in Shiraz there was a mourning day for the death of Shia Islam’s Imam Ali a.s, an occasion for local students to peacefully protest the occupation of Palestine.

Sa'adi's tomb, Shiraz

Sa’adi’s tomb, Shiraz

Sa'adi's tomb, Shiraz

Sa’adi’s tomb, Shiraz

Other observations; Shirazis seem to be in love with pizza without tomato paste, Celine Dion, internet cafes and motorbikes. I also discovered a local pastry that tastes suspiciously like Krisky Kremes, and a street in one of the poorer quarters which smelled like Starbucks sausage rolls. Road rules in Shiraz aren’t as closely observed as in Esfahan; basically everyone tries to stay on the right, unless they need to drive elsewhere! For someone with no care for resale value (like myself), it’s a really liberating experience – a defensive driver would probably need therapy. Also of note is the perception that many Iranians seem to have of Australians; “Mark Bosnich!” was the standard response!

Bagh-e Eram, Shiraz Botanic Gardens

Bagh-e Eram, Shiraz Botanic Gardens

With Javed and Mehdi at Shiraz Airport

With Javed and Mehdi at Shiraz Airport

Finally, while I was in Shiraz I made friends with two local students, who very kindly came to the airport to see me off at 7am. I’ve since lost contact with Mehdi and Javed… I wish I knew how to contact them today. I wonder where they are…

Until next time, khoda hafez!


I surprise myself with what I used to write about; I like to think that how my writing has evolved over the years is indicative of my developing skills. My next destination was Tehran, then Istanbul, Turkey, but I’ve since lost the email that I sent from there. I have also recently written about Istanbul here and here. Instead, I’ll use the ten year anniversary of my arrival in Turkey to publish a special “Istanbul in 24 hours” piece – stay tuned!

For more detailed information about Esfahan, check out my piece entitled Esfahan; Half the World.


Have you been to Iran? What were you expecting it to be like? Did it match your expectations?

Comments (16)

  • Jawad razvi Reply

    No doubt your evolution as a writer can be noticed but it still is a very nicely written personal experience. .that also gives a picture of Iran which is I guess lesser known tourist destination.

    November 7, 2014 at 5:35 pm
  • Andrew Reply

    10 years ago? I was in Iran in April 2004! it was and is my favourite of all travel experiences!

    November 8, 2014 at 9:12 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Iran rocks!!!! Thanks for reading 🙂

      November 9, 2014 at 1:10 pm
  • Catherine Reply

    Iran sounds amazing; it’s not a place you here many travel bloggers talking about these days, but it looks very interesting!

    Looking forward to your ‘Istanbul in 24 hours’ piece, as I’ll actually be there myself in a couple of months!

    November 10, 2014 at 7:21 am
    • Tim Blight Reply

      It IS simply amazing!! Thanks for stopping by, and I hope the Istanbul article is of help for your planning! And there should be more Iran posts coming up in the next few months too 🙂

      November 10, 2014 at 8:53 pm
  • Katie Reply

    Haha – Celine Dion! I wouldn’t have thought it was that easy to travel around Iran, and was surprised at how beautiful it looks. You don’t hear too much about traveling around there, so I’m looking forward to your next post! 🙂

    November 11, 2014 at 5:24 am
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Don’t worry, there will be so much more coming from Iran in the next few months – I spent a long time there, and I’m digging out all of my old emails 🙂 Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      November 11, 2014 at 10:23 am
  • Elena Reply

    A bunch of my friends’ return from Iran a month ago and just couldn’t have enough of their stories! Mainly about how amazingly hospitable the locals are (even they speak hardly any English) and how beautiful Persepolisand Shiraz are! And now you tell there’s this amazing pastry in Shiraz…

    I’m sold 😀

    November 12, 2014 at 2:48 am
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Hehehehe there was so much tasty and sinful (and often unidentifiable) pastries in Iran! I wish I knew what they were! Thanks for reading 🙂

      November 12, 2014 at 12:19 pm
  • Paper Boat Sailor Reply

    Very thoughtful writing indeed. Makes me wonder what kind of travel literature you prefer–I’m reminded a little of Pico Iyer by your gonzo piece.
    I’ve longed to go to Esfahan. Your observations really break away from so many overdone stereotypes about this beautiful and complex country.

    November 12, 2014 at 4:27 am
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Awwww thank you – that’s a very impressive comparison – I’m chuffed!!! There is so much more about Iran coming up on the site in the coming months – stay tuned!

      November 12, 2014 at 12:20 pm
  • Agness Reply

    Although I’ve never been here, I feel like packing my bags and going there right away. It’s so wonderful and this landscape’s absolutely stunning. Would you fancy going back there soon?

    November 13, 2014 at 6:36 am
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Absolutely! Iran is gorgeous, and I feel so comfortable there… I still love it! I hope you can make it there one day Agness 🙂

      November 13, 2014 at 10:15 pm
  • Anna @ shenANNAgans Reply

    It’s cool to meet the you from back a decade. 🙂 I have not been to Iran, not sure that I am in a hurry to get there either, but I like I can experience a part of the world via you. Thanks Tim.

    November 17, 2014 at 3:12 pm
    • Tim Blight Reply

      Hehehehe the me from a decade ago was quite different!! Glad could help unfold another corner of the world 🙂 Thanks Anna!

      November 20, 2014 at 9:20 pm

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