Tabriz - honey capital of Iran

Trip Start Jun 15, 2009
Trip End Sep 09, 2009

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Flag of Iran  ,
Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Tabriz was much bigger than I'd imagined – a fairly low level sprawling city. It took the taxi quite a long time to navigate through the busy streets, which were heavily gridlocked with traffic. We had become very lax about booking hotels as during our time travelling we'd never really had any problem with vacancies, so for this reason we were very surprised when we pulled up at our hotel only to find it was full. Fortunately, there was another hotel 100 metres down the road, however to our disbelief this was full too! We noticed that all the guests were locals – we still hadn't spotted another tourist in Iran.

It was hot, I needed the bathroom and our packs were heavy, so after a quick re-group in the hotel lobby James decided to recheck the first hotel while I waited with the bags. Within 5 minutes he was back stating he'd secured a room. The Iranian check out time tends to be 2pm and we found that if you asked before this time people generally said no rooms (even if some might become available later). The price of hotels seemed to have gone up a 3rd of what the guide book quoted. This wasn't surprising as the rate of inflation in Iran is running at up to 25%. We returned to the hotel and confirmed once more that we were man and wife in our broken Farsi. They handed over the key somewhat suspiciously, perhaps I needed a bigger fake diamond!

We spent the afternoon wandering through the twisting alleyways of the Tabriz bazaar. The ancient multidomed roofs. The bazaar was a working bazaar, so had everything you could possibly want from a practical perspective, including a large carpet section. We passed the spice shops with overflowing baskets of fragrant pink rose petals, used for rose water – a very popular fragrance used in everything from perfume to ice cream. Honey also appeared to be a local Tabriz specialty, with jars of glistening liquid honey lined up against the wall like wall paper and large containers of waxy honey comb sitting astutely at the doorway. As always we were asked where we were from, what we thought of Iran and anytime we looked vaguely lost someone would step in and ask if they could help us. The interaction was always pleasant and the Iranians nothing but friendly and welcoming.

One extremely helpful, friendly Iranian we met in Tabriz was a man named Nasser Khan from the Tabriz tourist office. We climbed the stairs to his office overlooking the square surrounding the bazaar. We exchanged pleasantries and were soon sitting on the couch with tea in hand discussing our next few days in Iran. Nasser was Iranian but had spent many years in Europe, so had a bit of a German/Iranian/English accent. His advice was excellent and by the time we left we'd made a plan that took us to visit the historical city of Kandovan, on an overnight bus to Rasht and a visit to the stepped village of Masuleh.

Before we left Nasser asked why I wore black clothes and a black hijab. I explained that when I arrived I wore white and that I got so stared at that I thought there must be some religious significance if you wore any other colour than black. In Urumeyeh and here in Tabriz almost all the women wore black, except their hijabs, which sometimes had some colour on them. To be honest I said, I just want to fit in. He went on to claim that the woman here all wear very bright colours, they don't just wear black – "just look out the window" he said. James and I squinted out the window desperately trying to find one woman not wearing black. “see there's one” Nasser went on. Our eyes scoured the sea of black and yes there was perhaps one or two green or dark blue coats but I would hardly say that the women in this city liked bright colours. Perhaps he saw what he wanted to see, and following our little chat at least I knew I could wear my whites without offending anyone. I went on to wear them numerous times in the more liberal/tourist cities such as Tehran and Esfahan (and particularly as it got hotter further south).

That evening we ate at an Iranian restaurant, which had a funny mishmash of decor, resulting in a unintentionally kitsch look and feel. There were only a few tables occupied, it was 8pm – considered very early for Iranian dinner time. Most meals are automatically served with a starter of barley soup and a small side salad, then you go on and order your other dishes. I seem to get stuck on starters, as there is usually little else, other than bread and rice, that I can eat being a veg. Following James' bout of food poisoning, he too was sticking to the non meat dishes. I think the waiter must have thought we were on some kind of strange Iranian version of Jenny Craig.

Our second day in Tabriz was fairly leisurely. We headed to the Blue Mosque around mid morning - it was warm but not the stifling temperatures we'd imagine Iran to be in July. As we approached the Mosque, we were greeted by a middle aged man who rolled out the usual tourist greeting “where are you from?” I noticed the men generally addressed James and I kind of hang in the wing like a bit of a handbag. However it doesn't last long as I'm usually jumping in by the second question, which generally follows with “what do you think about Iran?” This particular man was a teacher from another province who was traveling with his brother in law (standing next to him) and their wives (sitting discretely on a park bench). We give the usual spiel that we think Iranian people are wonderful (which from our experience they are) and that it is a difficult time in politics, which unfortunately tars Iran's reputation on the international stage. I also managed to slot in that in the UK and New Zealand men and women are treated equally and greatly emphasised how important this is (my one opportunity for my womans rights speech!). The teacher proceeded to ask us if we were brother and sister (a recurring theme that has happened throughout our travels in Iran), claiming we look very alike. Then he followed with the other default questions: are you married, do you have children (followed by why not) and what is your job. However this guy didn't stop there, continuing with how much to you earn? At this point James and I looked at each other – this question is so forbidden in the West (particularly from a complete stranger) that we were sincerely a bit dumbfounded at this guys candidacy in the question. We managed to divert and give him the figure of the salary of a UK teacher equivalent to him. He seemed kind of satisfied with this, even through the gap was enormous. We came to learn that Iranians feel extremely comfortable asking very personal questions within minutes of meeting people. For us, this is something that takes a bit of adjustment.

The Blue Mosque is was cool and tranquil inside, with beautiful mosaic tiles lining the walls. However, much of the blue in the Blue Mosque seems to have disappeared over the years??? After leaving the mosque we stopped in at wonderful nut shop called Luxe Nuts and stocked up on a delicious array of smoked and salted nuts and dried fruit. Mmmm the Iranians do this well! After this we stopped in at the Tourist Office, where our friend Mr Nasser directed us to a great yogurt and honey shop that James had been talking about all morning. The place is a fabulous hole in the wall, with large square tin cans lined up through the center of the shop floor like traffic cones. Inside they were half filled with milk that was being made into yogurt. A few larger containers were strategically placed around the little shop, undergoing fermentation. Small, very basic, wooden tables and chairs were pressed against the walls, some occupied by patrons clutching bowls of virginal white yogurt topped with liquid gold honey. James and I ordered the only thing on the menu, yogurt and honey and were not disappointed. The yogurt was so creamy and refreshing and the honey tasted like it's straight out of the bee hive. Not satisfied with one, James ordered a second bowl, and from that moment Tabriz yogurt and honey had set the precedent for the yogurt and honey rating across the rest of Iran (and we ate A LOT of yogurt and honey, I promise you!).
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