Location: Shiraz and Esfahan, Iran
from our email:
Firstly, two apologies. One, sorry for the group email and two, yes, I know we are just the slackest emailers that ever landed in the UK.
We sat down to write an email, to fill you in on the fabulous adventure we just had, when we realised we should probably do a quick run down on the year (as it's been that long since we last emailed!).
Last Xmas was a a short trip to Paris to let the freshly oiled floors dry, not that you really need an excuse to go to Paris for Xmas. We caught up with Tara and Julian (our Milford friends now living in
Bahrain) for a couple of days. It was a little chilly, but who doesn't enjoy Paris in any season.
March was the brief trip back to NZ to meet new nieces/nephews/ friends babies (boy you guys have been busy in the 2 years we had been away), and squeeze in some fabulous dinners with friends and family catching up over a few wines. (And yes, The French Cafe is better than Locanda Locatelli).
April was a weekend in Brussels - a cheeky weekend away to grab a
break from work stresses and to stock up on the Belgian beers.
Luckily there is no weight limit for your bag on the Eurostar :-)
Early summer around the house was focussed on the garden. We wanted to make a nice environment outside to sit and enjoy the sun when it rarely shone. And to get a vege patch going. We had a successful crop of a variety of fruit and veges. The surprise being the successful corn crop, and the 'don't need to eat anymore until next season' bountiful crop being the zuchinnis. When we demolished the old (falling down) shed to put up a new one, we discovered that we
didn't quite get rid of all the frogs, and we still have one or two.
(Who knew that they didn't actually need water to live!). They hop out of the vege patch every now and again when we water it. We figure that they are keeping the bugs down, but apparently they don't eat
snails, as we have them in abundance. And we didn't want pets in
May has two long weekends (Bank Holidays). We went to Budapest for the first and Seina for the last weekend in May.
The architecture in Budapest was as to be expected (very cool) the food and booze were fantastic (the surprise being the very very drinkable white wines). Mike and I walked a lot, and as usual were happy to catch the flight home, just to sit down for a bit :-)
Siena was just amazing. But then Mike and I just LOVE Italy. The people are fantastic, the language, the culture the food and of course, the Tuscan wine (Yum Yum). It has just the most adorable "little hill top town" feel to the place, even though it is actually quite large. We also stumbled across the main square when they
happened to be drawing the horses for the famous Siena horse race.
The square was packed and as the teams/horses were drawn different segments of the crowd were overjoyed to the extreme. Grown men and women were crying and congratulating each other. I can only imagine how passionate they get when the race actually happens! We loved every minute of Siena and hope to go back to Tuscany in the next year or two for a drive around the area.
The last Monday in August was another long Bank holiday weekend, so we popped over to Strasbourg. Ros thought it would be more German than it was (it was most definitely very French). Being French it had some fabulous local cheeses that we enjoyed in abundance (and some nice Rieslings to go with it ;-) Our hand luggage only plans were thwarted by the very dangerous and lethal dessert spoon I had in my bag. You can't reason with the customs people, so checking in luggage was an excuse to bring back a few Rieslings too.
From Strasbourg we caught a local bus to the Rhine and walked over to Germany and back again. The new suspension bridge was very cool and Mike had lots of fun playing tunes on the cables and gazing at the design.
In September we went for a weekend jolly to Ireland to see Dublin. A very busy city with lots of life. We were both amazed by how friendly the locals were (but then maybe that's just in comparison to the English?). We did the Guinness factory tour, and contrary to what we were told I (Ros) think that it tastes just the same there as anywhere else - thick syrup goop. No, I did not develop an appreciation for it. Mike thought it tasted different (more 'burnt'/'smokier'). Obviously my palate is not as 'refined'.
That brings us on to October.
We travelled to Bahrain to stay with Tara and Julian in their 'mansion'. "It never rains in Bahrain" Tara said. Well, twice it rained while we were there. We did manage to fit in a few hours beside the pool, as evidenced by my now peeling stomach (too much information?). We were treated to a few outings to some of the most relaxing drinking spots I've been to. Positively tropical in the middle of the desert. Like being in the Cook Islands, but with more oil billionaires and Ferraris. After lunch at the Banyan Tree, Julian managed to get us a tour through a Villa. OMG! It was the most luxurious place I have ever seen. Definitely a place to visit when we win lotto ;-) It was so nice to have a few days of downtime to de-stress from London.
Julian and Tara also took us on an insiders tour of Al Durrat (the USD $6billion version of the Dubai Palms currently being constructed). The scale of it blew us away - to create something so huge from nothing. Also an eye opener in terms of the complexity of building such a thing and getting it up and running as a functioning city. I always did like that Sim City game :-)
From Bahrain we popped over to Iran (only a one hour flight away).
Three and 1/2 days of WOW. It is very hard to describe, because every aspect of it was amazing. We stayed in Shiraz with family, so were spoiled with the Iranian hospitality that is so, so welcoming.
We were taking to the sights, Hafez's tomb, the Koran gate, The King of Lights Shrine (one of the holiest Shiite sights in Iran), Persepolis (one of the wonders of the ancient world) and aided in the bazars to buy a Persian carpet. Driving from place to place was an experience in itself! Manic - I have never seen driving like it!
"Close your eyes" was all I heard - every time I gasped as a car came so close!
After being given lessons on how to get through the airports - not
as straight forward as it seemed - we were on our own in Esfahan.
The jewel of Iran with it's blue tile mosques and massive bazar (market). We spent the day walking around the city, taking in the culture/sights/cuisine :-) and the vibe of Esfahan. Being without a 'local' we were quickly targeted by all manner of people. From the little kids and men to older people and the guards outside an Army building, that just wanted to say hello. Some just as they were passing you, right at the last minute, others on bikes as they rode past, or like the Army guard that smiled and waved and yelled it out. Quite often, if their English was up to it, they walked along side us and 'welcomed' us to Iran and hoped we enjoyed our trip, asked where we were from and told us a little about themselves. The people we met really seemed to just enjoy talking to you, even if just briefly. The funniest guy that we spoke to opened with standard line 'where are you from', and when we told him, not only did he know where it was, but he had a friend living in NZ - in Waimate in the South Island. A town with under 3000 people! And he went there from Esfahan, a city of 1.8 million!
The Imam mosque was very cool. Big and impressive, the detailed tiles and the complex itself were amazing.
Back in Shiraz, we went out to Persepolis. I've seen ruins in the Louvre and in the British museum from here, and done some reading
about it, so it was just amazing to go there and see it in person.
Mike and I both love walking around ancient sights, and this one was no exception.
The guide books all rave about Esfahan more than Shiraz. While Mike and I really enjoyed our time in Esfahan, we both enjoyed Shiraz more. That was without a doubt due to the wonderful hospitality we were shown, around town and taking tea in peoples homes. We both had high expectations for our trip from what we'd been told and read about travelling in Iran, but it still exceeded our expectations. We would definitely recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity to travel there, to do it! One of the best trips we've been on, and we'd both love to go back.
When we went back to Bahrain, we were asked a couple of times, did we feel safe in Iran. And I had to think about it, because when we were in Iran, it never occurred to me to consider my safety (except with the driving!). Mike and I are generally very cautious travellers that try to ensure we never get into dodgy situations. But it never occurred to me in Iran to feel the need to consider my safety, because I never once felt any inkling of being unsafe. The people were just so over the top friendly. The worst I experienced was the 'evil eye' from a lady in the Shrine. But that was because she doubted I was a Muslim. Kinda fair enough. Technically (according to Lonely Planet) non-Muslims are not supposed to go in there. But, with a few arm waves and the protest that there was no sign excluding us, Ali managed to get us in without the need for us to recite a few Muslium proverbs (as Mike and I would have had some difficulty with that request!).
Both in Bahrain and Iran, we were extended the best hospitality, which greatly contributed to making our holiday so fabulous, thank you so much to our hosts.
OK, I'll stop gushing now about how fabulous our holiday, so that you don't get sick of hearing the work fabulous....
Our photos are on our flickr site if you are interested to have a peak for yourself. http://www.flickr.com/photos/95599312@N00/
So, sorry for not emailing lately, but we really would like to hear how you are, and if you send us an email update, we'll promise to respond ;-)
So, I shall send this email now, as if I don't it will never happen (like many of the drafts of the past year). And the second half may not be as grammatically correct as the first half as my editor is fast asleep on the couch ;-)
Love to all,
Ros and Mike