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The Big Year Out - Shiraz Photos


View Food from our Journey & The Big Year Out & Things we wish we had done & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Visas & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.

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Posted by TheJohnsons 01:43 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Esfahan to Shiraz


View Food from our Journey & The Big Year Out & Things we wish we had done & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Visas & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.

We booked our VIP Bus through the Hotel Totia where we were staying. We collected the tickets from the bus terminal just before departure. We gave ourselves half an hour to be at the terminal before the 7.30a.m. departure. As a treat we went on a VIP bu and paid 250,000rial for two. An ordinary bus would be about half this price. The bus terminal has a cafe and various shops selling snacks and drinks, a bit overpriced compared with prices in town.

Bus was very roomy with armchair seats and the usual cakey snacks were served en route.

The bus stops after 3.5 hours for wee break, facilities at the stop were very basic squats.

Staff from the bus company were top drawer!

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Posted by TheJohnsons 01:43 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Uzbek Visa


View Food from our Journey & Silk Route and South East Asia 2012/13 & The Big Year Out & Things we wish we had done & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Visas & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.

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At last, we have our Uzbekistan Visa. We rang the Embassy again this morning to see if they had received our authorisation and were told "yes". So taxi off to Uzbek embassy which we shared with a fellow Italian traveller and saved half the taxi fare. We arrived at around11.15a.m.Thanks to the horrible traffic all through the expressway, due to the metro extension work. We were greeted by some other Iranians also waiting for their visas. We buzzed the intercom and explained who we were and they told us to wait an hour. So we waited & waited, it seems that once you inform them of your arrival, they call through the telecom speaker your surname in order for you to gain access to the Visa consulate section for processing. We waited until around 1.45p.m and buzzed again, the consul let us in and 15mins later and $186 lighter for two visas, we were out of there.

We were aware that there are a lot of Iranian "fixers" who do the Visa runs,(carrying as many as 15-25 passport)recommend getting their as early as soon as you can, we were a bit trusting of advice to ring first and traffic made us very late, which also gave us a long wait! can relax, as we have our Turkmen, and Uzbek Visa, the journey can really begin.

Next Challenge Chinese Visa inUzbekistan, watch this space!

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Posted by TheJohnsons 01:42 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Iran Visa


View Food from our Journey & Silk Route and South East Asia 2012/13 & The Big Year Out & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Visas & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.

large_1842667_1335204239832.jpgSo, our first Visa for collection was the Iranian visa. We applied for authorisation from Iranianvisa.com, it took three weeks from application. We went to the Iranian Embassy in Istanbul [travel-blogs/100510/Istanbul-travel-guide-608771] on Tuesday Morning just after 9.00a.m. and filled in the application form as directed by the really helpful consul. We paid 150euro each at the bank, the consul gave us the account number. The bank is directly across the street from the Embassy, so was easy to get to. We took the reciept and completed application form, one passport photo (head covered as we are women)and passport back to consul and we were asked to come back on Friday to come back and pick up Visas. This all took about forty minutes from start to finish. Friday we turned up just before 9.00a.m. and five minutes later we walked out with visas in passport, success

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Posted by TheJohnsons 01:41 Archived in Turkey Comments (0)

The Big Year Out - Ak Baital Pass Photos


View The Big Year Out & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement on TheJohnsons's travel map.

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Posted by TheJohnsons 01:40 Archived in Tajikistan Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Iran

An over view


View Food from our Journey & The Big Year Out & Things we wish we had done & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Visas & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.

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Iran

What can I say….

The welcome and hospitality of the people is immense. As two women travellers we never felt in danger. People were always greeting you with the ubiquitous three questions; “How are you?” “Where are you from?” and “What do you think of Iran/Iranian people?” Some with better English will ask “where are you going?” and “where is your favourite place inIran?” In particular the public transport staff were always keen to make sure we were on the right bus /train and that we got off in the right place once we reached our destination (i.e. Terminals). They always made sure we had refreshments and knew when to get off for toilet breaks (buses) and always helped us with our baggage. A special mention goes to the staff atTehranwho were overwhelmingly helpful when we purchased our bus tickets, even showing us personally to the bus and into our seats. Another highlight was on the bus from Kashan [Kashan-travel-guide-1321057] toEsfahan, where the driver and other staff shared their morning tea with us and asked us to sit in the front seats so we had more space. This helpfulness extended to the train staff as well. The train driver from Kerman [Kerman-travel-guide-1309150] to Yazd came and introduced himself to us (Jafra was his name) at the train station terminal whilst we were waiting, and spoke excellent English, he was so pleased that we had come to visit Iran, and again made sure that we were comfortable in our seats before setting off to drive the train to Yazd! Every time the train stopped, he came to find us and explained the delay and finally when we got toYazdhe explained to the local taxi driver where we wanted to go (though the driver still got it wrong, but that’s another story)! Iranians have a healthy curiosity about visitors, but it is never intrusive - what is wrong with that?

Yes some small Shops will hike the price of cold cans of drinks up when they see you, but when you go again they ask the right price, and let’s face it; it is not exactly expensive in the first place.

As western women we found that a reasonable tolerance was given to our dress. We did try at all times to respect the dress code required of women in Iran, we always wore our headscarves at all times, which is a pain, more so when you are trying to go to the toilet, or we found most cumbersome when eating a meal. I bought a further scarf inShirazwhich was super thin and lightweight and cost a mere £1.70, and felt like I wasn’t wearing a scarf at all. Even better than wearing our heavier ones we had bought inTurkey. We did get along with wearing long sleeved long shirts/blouses and our long lightweight coats, which we had purchased for this trip, remained for the whole in the bags- to be posted home when we got the chance.Esfahanwas very liberal, I think because they do get so many more foreign tourists than other towns, and shirts that remained long sleeved but just past the bottom were acceptable.
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When we visited the shrine of the King of Light inShiraz, we did have to wear a chador, which was given to us on arrival. I had to put my Camera in a secure cloakroom, and after removing battery and sd card I duly handed over. We were as two women welcomed into the shrine (we were surprised) and allowed into the holy areas that house stunning mirror interior decoration throughout, along with welcome air con. The women showed us where to put our shoes and where the shrine was and welcomed us. As I commented to my Angela, if you “get with the programme, you get the benefits”. It may not be comfortable and it may challenge you moral values as a woman, but if you want to seeIranas a woman, you will have to comply a bit. The benefits outweigh the discomfort.
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On the whole we were treated with the utmost respect as foreign travellers and the Iranian people were so pleased to see us. Did I mention the Iranians are the kings of picnics, well they are! Where they have parks or open plazas Iranians gather with and without their families to have picnics, they bring everything, even the burner stove to heat up their tea! You will see them all carrying large bags and blankets, and cool box with some yummy Iranian foods in, don’t be surprised or afraid if you are asked to join them as you pass for a cup of tea, they just want to be friendly.
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Btw my camera was returned safely back to me, as always we have found so far here, crime did not seem a big thing, on the whole Iranian people are pretty honest too. Sometimes again a teahouse would hike an extra 40p onto the bill,(touristy places recommended by LP) but to be honest we did not bother arguing as again experience and impression were more important to us than penny pinching to that degree.

Even in Kerman, when we secured a driver through our fabulous hotel, Akhaven, he treated us like royalty. On both visits to Rayen and Mahan, (in one day) and the Kaluts near Shabad, the following day he always made sure we had ice cold water dispensed from a tap on the back windowsill, and even served us tea and very sweet Iranian biscuits. Carried our pack breakfast out to us at the Kaluts, where we sat and watched the sunrise and bought us ice cream at Mahan! He was an absolute gentleman. He in addition took us to an underground water vault in Shafi Abad, on the way back from the Kaluts, which was stunningly huge and echoey? 52 steps down and 52 steps up, and worth the visit. We did promise ourselves a “treat stay/hotel/experience” every 4-6 weeks depending on where and when we were. Kerman was our splurge off our normal tight but flexible Iranian budget. Bearing in mind we had over budgeted by half again before leaving the UK. Yes we paid a bit more for the hotel, but it was amazingly good value, and yes we paid for two car trips out, but they too when compared to UK were amazing value, approx £19, and £23 respectively. Where can you go in the UK and see such stunning natural stunning scenery and man made architecture for such a cheap price. On the whole most of the mosques and public mausoleum/parks museums and parks, or just plain parks cost us little. From as little as 20p! And worth every penny, even a couple that were under restoration.IMG_0101.JPG_MG_0036.JPGIMG_0096.JPGKang.JPG At all times Vali allowed for our lack or levels of fitness, and ability. He was so patient and informative. At no time did we feel rushed. We walked up the winding and stepped, narrow streets looking at the old style buildings that were still very much lived in. The village still has it’s own Hamam. We also visited by arrangement of Vali, a local lady who served us delicious dried fruit, amazing walnuts, and quenching herbal tea. All of course with an amazing view to boot. Living is Kang is a harsh, they are only just getting gas, and most houses do not have their own sanitation. The was not the usual ringing of mobile phones and inside the houses they were basic, lacking modern amenities. The only exception was the presence of satellite dishes so presumably people do have TV. Having said that, it is a very beautiful village, and a strong reliance on locally produce obtained through the hard work of the locals.

We also had some interesting and lively conversations with Vali, he loves to extend his knowledge of the English Language and many referrals to his voluminous dictionary from English to Iranian were made and we had a great deal of fun with him and his family and other fellow travellers who stayed with
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Posted by TheJohnsons 01:22 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Turkmenistan


View Food from our Journey & The Big Year Out & Things we wish we had done & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Visas & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.

large_1842667_13392605924002.jpgAhhhh I hear you say, you too can have your own pet viper visit you in camp in Dehkistan, this is his release safely the next morning, when i had better light to picture him with!Such beautiful colours, but very poisonousHere is our 14 day itinerary, we will be posting our thoughts and impressions of Turkmenistan shortly.

Program ref: Tour for Johnson update Period: June, 2012

14 days option:

Day 1 Arrive Howdan – Ashgabat [Ashgabat-travel-guide-1197979]

Arrive at the border. Formalities. Meet at the border last check point and transfer to htl. Free program. O/N. (*Between the Turkmen customs and last border check point 35 km, the state shuttle minibus service is available in this zone, charging around 11 USD per person).

Day 2 Ashgabat

Free program. O/N at htl.

Day 3 Ashgabat

Free program. O/N at htl.

Day 4 Ashgabat - Nissa

Visit the archeological site ‘Old Nisa’. Return in Ashgabat. Free program. O/N at htl.

Day 5 Ashgabat - Turkmenbashy Mosque - Geok Tepe - Kov Ata – Nokhur

Drive to Kopetdag mountains and Nohur valley. Leaving the asphalt road at Archman we ascend in mountains, drive to village Nohur (One of the Turkmen tribes). Enjoy with beauty of the mountains and meet the people. Visits on the way: Turkmenbashy mosque, Geok Tepe mosque, Kov Ata cave lake. Family stay in Nohur village.

Day 6 Nokhur - Parau Bibi

Return on the road and continue to Parau Bibi pilgrimage. Visit Parau Bibi mausoleum. O/N at the place.

Day 7 Parau Bibi – Dekhistan

Drive to Dehistan historical site. Discover the Messerian plain & the remains of cathedral mosque, minarets, madrassah of Dehistan, mausoleum- mosque of Shir Kebir. Camping at site or at local home.

  • to choice: visit mud volcano ‘Boyadag’.

Day 8 Dekhistan - Balkanabat - fly to Ashgabat (FLT available on TUE, WED, FRI)

Return in Balkanabat. Arrive at airport & have flight to Ashgabat. Arrive in Ashgabat. Check in htl. O/N

Day 9 Drive Ashgabat - Mary [Mary-travel-guide-1198122] (as per your itinerary)

Drive to Mary. Visit on the way: Anau fortress and mosque ruins, Abiverd historical site. Arrive at Hanhovuz. Taste fish at chaykhana (from local lake). Continue to Mary, arrive and check in htl. O/N

Day 10 Mary - Merv [Merv-travel-guide-1310692] (as per your itinerary)

Drive to Merv historical site. Visit the remains of cities Alexandria and Antiochia Margiana, Sultan Kala (also named Marv al- Shahijan “city of kings”), Sultan Ahmad Sanjar mausoleum, Yusuf Hamadany shrine, Mohammed ibn Zeid mausoleum, Gyz Kala castles ‘Keshk’). After lunch drive to Talkhatan Baba pilgrimage place, visit XI century Namazga mosque and Ahun Baba madrasah remains. Return in Mary. O/N at htl.

Day 11 Mary- Gonur- Mary

Drive to Gonur (Gonur or Gonur depe site discovered to be the most impressive and called by the head of Russian archeological expedition, Mr. Sarianidi, as the capital or “imperial city” of Bronze Age state (which probably has thousands of sites around in desert, still covered by sands). The people of Gonur had lead sedentary life in oasis richly watered by Murgab river (after many centuries Murgab river changed its course and now can be seen in present day Mary), practicing irrigation farming of wheat and barley. Artifacts of Gonur are sophisticated and ingenious consists of bronze tools, horse training tools, ceramics rich in forms and usage, lapis lazuli, carnelian, gold and silver jewelry, semiprecious stone objects, stone seals – now it can been seen in history museum in Mary and in the National museum of history in Ashgabat). Visit the archeological site. Return in Mary. O/N at htl.

Day 12 Fly Mary to Ashgabat and Drive to Darvaza [Darvaza-travel-guide-1341945] via Erbent

Flight to Ashgabat. Meet at airport and continue drive to Darvaza. Visit ‘Erbent’ village. Arrive at Darvaza, explore the old gas craters. Venture in the desert to see the big, spectacular gas crater ‘on fire’. Camping in the area.

(on THU, SAT, SUN Tolkuchka bazaar visit is available on the way)

Day 13 Drive Darvaza to Konye Urgench via Shasenem, arrive at Dashoguz

Return on the road and drive to Dashoguz. Visit Shasenem fortress in Karakum desert. Arrive at Kunya Urgench UNESCO site (Formerly situated on the Amu-Darya River, Old Urgench was one of the greatest cities on the Silk Road. Its foundation date is uncertain, but the extant ruins of the ‘Kyrk mullah’ fortress have been dated the Achaemenid period. The XII and early XIII centuries were the golden age of the city, as it surpassed in population and fame all other Central Asian cities, barring Bukhara. In 1221, Genghis Khan razed it to the ground in one of the bloodiest massacres in human history. The city was revived after Genghis's assault, but the sudden change of Amu-Darya's course to the north and the town's destruction again in the 1370s, this time by Tamerlane, forced the inhabitants to leave the site forever). Sightseeing& en route to Dashoguz. Check in htl. O/N

Day 14 Dashoguz- Izmukshir and Usma Makhmut and transfer to border Dashoguz

Visit Izmukshir historical site, Usma Makhmut Ata pilgrimage. After lunch, transfer to border. Formalities. End of program

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Posted by TheJohnsons 01:16 Archived in Turkmenistan Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Kashan


View Food from our Journey & The Big Year Out & Things we wish we had done & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Visas & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.

Kashan

Kashan is much smaller than Tehran; we arrived by bus about 3.00pm. We managed to get a taxi to near enough the Noghli home stay. As with some Iranian taxi drivers, they say they know the way, but are not really sure! Sometimes, they try and ask you for more money than was agreed. Taxis the world over seem to be like this.

Finally we arrive at Noghli, it appears that there are no rooms left, but they do manage to find us one twin for one night, and then we have to swap night two for a single room and one of us sleeps on the floor.IMG_0006.JPGIMG_0005.JPG

A Traditional home, the owner allows women not to have to wear their scarves all the time, a welcome relief. Local food is served (at extra cost), and very nicely put together in an arch underneath the first floor on a long table, in front of the courtyard.

Next day we walk to the ancient merchant houses and hammam, all very cheap to get into and easy to find once you’re on the main street. We spent most of the day walking round these, yes we do things slowly.IMG_0111.JPGIMG_0031.JPGIMG_0118.JPG

We also visited finn Gardens which are supposed to be the finest examples of Persian gardens. It was a bit like going to wisely on a bank holiday, it was heaving, so perhaps we didn't enjoy that one as much as we could have.IMG_0142.JPGIMG_0143.JPG

Basically that was it for Kashan, it really isn’t a big place and actually if you were of the mind you could do it passing through toEsfahan.

Posted by TheJohnsons 01:06 Archived in Iran Tagged sky architecture water desert mosque park culture temple religion fountain history traditional travel city building famous house garden heritage place old historical pool muslim medieval tourist cityscape fin wall east asia middle ancient tourism historic dome relax iran persia courtyard outdoor landmark decoration persian islam kashan iranian perspective islamic Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Impressions of Iran


View Food from our Journey & Silk Route and South East Asia 2012/13 & The Big Year Out & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Visas & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.

large_1842667_13392609989309.jpgIran

What can I say….

The welcome and hospitality of the people is immense. As two women travellers we never felt in danger. People were always greeting you with the ubiquitous three questions; “How are you?” “Where are you from?” and “What do you think of Iran/Iranian people?” Some with better English will ask “where are you going?” and “where is your favourite place inIran?” In particular the public transport staff were always keen to make sure we were on the right bus /train and that we got off in the right place once we reached our destination (i.e. Terminals). They always made sure we had refreshments and knew when to get off for toilet breaks (buses) and always helped us with our baggage.large_1842667_13392609991447.jpgHerbal tea, was just what we needed after the long climb up the narrow streets of KangA special mention goes to the staff at Tehran [Tehran-travel-guide-857632] who were overwhelmingly helpful when we purchased our bus tickets, even showing us personally to the bus and into our seats. Another highlight was on the bus from Kashan [Kashan-travel-guide-1321057] toEsfahan, where the driver and other staff shared their morning tea with us and asked us to sit in the front seats so we had more space. This helpfulness extended to the train staff as well. The train driver from Kerman [Kerman-travel-guide-1309150] to Yazd came and introduced himself to us (Jafra was his name) at the train station terminal whilst we were waiting, and spoke excellent English, he was so pleased that we had come to visit Iran, and again made sure that we were comfortable in our seats before setting off to drive the train to Yazd! Every time the train stopped, he came to find us and explained the delay and finally when we got toYazd he explained to the local taxi driver where we wanted to go (though the driver still got it wrong, but that’s another story)! Iranians have a healthy curiosity about visitors, but it is never intrusive - what is wrong with that?

Yes some small Shops will hike the price of cold cans of drinks up when they see you, but when you go again they ask the right price, and let’s face it; it is not exactly expensive in the first place.

As western women we found that a reasonable tolerance was given to our dress. We did try at all times to respect the dress code required of women in Iran, we always wore our headscarves at all times, which is a pain, more so when you are trying to go to the toilet, or we found most cumbersome when eating a meal. I bought a further scarf in Shiraz [Shiraz-travel-guide-1309152] which was super thin and lightweight and cost a mere £1.70, and felt like I wasn’t wearing a scarf at all. Even better than wearing our heavier ones we had bought inTurkey. We did get along with wearing long sleeved long shirts/blouses and our long lightweight coats, which we had purchased for this trip, remained for the whole in the bags- to be posted home when we got the chance.Esfahan was very liberal, I think because they get so many more foreign tourists than other towns, and shirts that remained long sleeved but just past the bottom were acceptable.

When we visited the shrine of the King of Light inShiraz, we did have to wear a chador, which was given to us on arrival. I had to put my Camera in a secure cloakroom, and after removing battery and sd card I duly handed over. We were as two women welcomed into the shrine (we were surprised) and allowed into the holy areas that house stunning mirror interior decoration throughout, along with welcome air con. The women showed us where to put our shoes and where the shrine was and welcomed us. As I commented to my Angela, if you “get with the programme, you get the benefits”. It may not be comfortable and it may challenge you moral values as a woman, but if you want to see Iran as a woman, you will have to comply a bit. The benefits outweigh the discomfort.

On the whole we were treated with the utmost respect as foreign travellers and the Iranian people were so pleased to see us. Did I mention the Iranians are the kings of picnics, well they are! Where they have parks or open plazas Iranians gather with and without their families to have picnics, they bring everything, even the burner stove to heat up their tea! You will see them all carrying large bags and blankets, and cool box with some yummy Iranian foods in, don’t be surprised or afraid if you are asked to join them as you pass for a cup of tea, they just want to be friendly.

Btw my camera was returned safely back to me, as always we have found so far here, crime did not seem a big thing, on the whole Iranian people are pretty honest too. Sometimes again a teahouse would hike an extra 40p onto the bill,(touristy places recommended by LP) but to be honest we did not bother arguing as again experience and impression were more important to us than penny pinching to that degree.

Even in Kerman, when we secured a driver through our fabulous hotel, Akhaven, he treated us like royalty. On both visits to Rayen and Mahan, (in one day) and the Kaluts near Shabad, the following day he always made sure we had ice cold water dispensed from a tap on the back windowsill, and even served us tea and very sweet Iranian biscuits. Carried our pack breakfast out to us at the Kaluts, where we sat and watched the sunrise and bought us ice cream at Mahan! He was an absolute gentleman. He in addition took us to an underground water vault in Shafi Abad, on the way back from the Kaluts, which was stunningly huge and echoey? 52 steps down and 52 steps up, and worth the visit. We did promise ourselves a “treat stay/hotel/experience” every 4-6 weeks depending on where and when we were.Kerman was our splurge off our normal tight but flexible Iranian budget. Bearing in mind we had over budgeted by half again before leaving the UK. Yes we paid a bit more for the hotel, but it was amazingly good value, and yes we paid for two car trips out, but they too when compared to UK were amazing value, approx £19, and £23 respectively. Where can you go in the UK and see such stunning natural stunning scenery and man made architecture for such a cheap price. On the whole most of the mosques and public mausoleum/parks museums and parks, or just plain parks cost us little. From as little as 20p! And worth every penny, even a couple that were under restoration.

We are just over halfway through this trip to Iran, (three weeks) and I have not regreted for one moment coming, and if I can afford to I would come again. We only managed to see a fraction of what we would have liked in four weeks. We could have extended but we have deadlines onTurkmenistanandUzbekistanto follow (not entirely our doing). I have sort of fallen in Love with Iran, its people and its places. I miss that attitude of the Iranians, that everyone is welcome and made to feel welcome, not a threat, something we need to remember and are loosing in theUK.

Vali in Mashad was a great guy, he is so knowledgeable and helpful and his wife Esma does actually cook the best food I have tasted anywhere inIran! Vali’s was our last port of call in Iran before crossing to Turkmenistan, so we shed some 4 kilos of luggage which we dispatched with Valis help through the local major post office, which are usually on the edge of town, but ths one was very close to Valsi Homestay. We were advised that our parcel would take 1-2.5mths. We took one of Valis excellent tours toHillsidevillageofKang. At all times Vali allowed for our lack or levels of fitness, and ability. He was so patient and informative. At no time did we feel rushed. We walked up the winding and stepped, narrow streets looking at the old style buildings that were still very much lived in. The village still has it’s own Hamam. We also visited by arrangement of Vali, a local lady who served us delicious dried fruit, amazing walnuts, and quenching herbal tea. All of course with an amazing view to boot. Living is Kang is a harsh, they are only just getting gas, and most houses do not have their own sanitation. The was not the usual ringing of mobile phones and inside the houses they were basic, lacking modern amenities. The only exception was the presence of satellite dishes so presumably people do have TV. Having said that, it is a very beautiful village, and a strong reliance on locally produce obtained through the hard work of the locals.

We also had some interesting and lively conversations with Vali, he loves to extend his knowledge of the English Language and many referrals to his voluminous dictionary from English to Iranian were made and we had a great deal of fun with him and his family and other fellow travellers who stayed with him.

1842667_13392609989309.jpg1842667_13392609991447.jpg

Posted by TheJohnsons 01:05 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

The Big Year Out-Trans Asia Express


View Food from our Journey & Silk Route and South East Asia 2012/13 & The Big Year Out & Photos of us & Photographic Equipement & Visas & Transport and bookings on TheJohnsons's travel map.

Trans Asia Express time!

We set of on our Trans Asia Express train toTehran, at10.00a.m.When we arrived by the luxury of Taxi! I alas did forget my watch at the hostel and had to instruct the driver to turn back so I could get it before returning to our journey to the railway station in downtownAnkara. Good thing we left ourselves plenty of time to get there. Watch secured we arrived atAnkarastation in enough time to buy ourselves a drink and some breakfast bread. Staffs at the station were polite and helpful, even though once again English was not a familiar language. Our train pulled in at 10.15 and left at10.26a.m._MG_0148.JPGwe got to our carriage and stowed our backpacks into the smallish compartment. Seats look and are roomy though, and once underway blankets, pillows, and sheets are brought round. Ticket inspector checked and marked off our outward bound tickets, and wished us a good journey. I had a cracking headache, probably from getting up way to early, so crashed on the extremely comfortable pull out beds. I got two hours sleep/rest and got up in a better place. The staff all appear very friendly and try their best to help us out. Tea (chai) is offered and brought to your cabin. We have yet to try out the buffet car, but a quick rekkie tells us prices look the same as any café inAnkara, and the variety as interesting. We sampled the delights of the buffet car and ordered (guess what?) chicken Kebab, and salad. Which was not to bad, we shared as both of us didn’t feel like much to eat(kinda kebabed out). Staff were very friendly and Angela had another last drink of effes, the local Turkish “Carlsburg”.

This train does do a lot of long stops, most of the night I woke because of the lack of movement, not the gentle rocking it does when underway. It rained a lot too as we seemed to higher into the hills.

Next Morning we both woke to find us again stopped, this one lasted around an hour as the train staff seemed to be eating breakfast at the local shack! Still raining, but the scenery starts to altogether change, more mountainous, and most of them covered with snow. _MG_0159.JPG_MG_0161.JPG_MG_0164.JPGAs we pull away from our breakfast stop we start to see more stunning scenery, the train follows a long and powerful river, with breathtaking views of the hills and we pass through numerous tunnels where the train track cannot hope to bend in time. I have taken some lovely pics, albeit through the train window/glass. Great cracks in the hills some of them revealing small and larger waterfalls. The other passengers (none of whom speak any common language to us) treat us kindly and try to communicate with the usual speaking in Turkish/Farsi and hand gesturing. Smiles always go a long way. The other thing I notice as I look at the landscape from the train is the sparsely populated country side. Few single storey crofter type cottages, looking like there are no roads in and no roads out to them, small numbers of cattle. A very hard life of small agriculture with fishing from the river spring to mind. This is definitely getting away from it all places also quite desperately poor by western standards. At last the sun has come out, and we have stunning sunshine, but still the temperature has not risen by much. We have now hit a large succession of tunnels; this is not so fun, so Blog writing I am.

We arrive at Takvan to get the ferry to Van, where we pick up the second half of the TransAsia. Express train toTehran. The ferry is included in the train price; very narrow steps up two flights lead you to the seating deck, which looks like a budget airline seating arrangement. We find ourselves a pair of seats and settle with our bags to watch what becomes a cockney style market stall at the snacks and drinks area, with one very “larger than life” character selling olive oil, chocolate spread, fruit flavoured chewing gum, and various treats which are apparently very expensive inIran. All being sold to the highest bidders. Fascinating to watch and I even indulged to get some flavoured chewing gum, which was 3tl for three packs. People on the ferry(Iranians) were very friendly and helpful, letting us know what was going on, and what all the announcements.

We wandered outside onto the middle deck to see the most stunning sunset overLake Van, IMG_0206.JPGIMG_0188.JPGa huge lake which looks more like a sea once underway. The ship doesn’t just carry passengers, it carries one of the train carriages we just got off from, loaded with peoples baggage, and two further shipping containers full of various goods unknown. All making for a very slow 5 hour trip across the lake, but I really didn’t think that was a problem as I really didn’t want to go any faster with all that on board.

We arrived around10.00p.m.at Van Iskalsi, and disembarked after around a forty minute wait as the train was late. We were herded into a large shed, where we waited for the ticket managers to check our train tickets and reallocate our seats as women and men are not allowed to share the same carriage, except families of course. During all through this the train arrived. A rather ancient looking stock, inside and out. We get lots of help from the train ticket supervisor finding our carriage as everything is now in Farsi, and no English numbers. We squeeze ourselves into our 4 berth compartment, and settle down when two more ladies come to join us, one older (in her 60’s+ and one about our age (45-49). We are greeted by them with smiles and the younger lady, Zoreh, speaks some English. It’s apparent that the older lady is not going to make it up into one of the very high couchette, so Zoreh goes off to find her a lower bunk elsewhere, stressing that she loves our company and that she loves chatting and helping us, which she does for the rest of the train trip.

We arrive at the Turkish border check out point at around3.00a.m.To have our passports stamped out ofTurkey. Again men and women in separate ques, with children and old people first. Back onto the train and we must have stopped in a siding about an hour later not to move until8.30a.m.the next morning. Where we are woken up to be told that Passport control was boarding to take our passports to stamp us intoIran. Hooray! Bearing in mind we still had to go through a customs check later at Tibriz. Passports were returned after breakfast with our stamps of entry on. Breakfast was not so good, what can only be described as flat bread that was more like chip paper, and a tiny pot of honey. He seemed to think we needed several folds of these large sheets. About 8 to be precise, we both didn’t manage to get through half a one each. Tea and a pot of hot water were provided.

Next big stop Tibriz, where customs board the train to check everyone’s baggage, it’s at this point we are grateful we carried our backpacks ourselves and didn’t tow them in the luggage carriage. As everyone who did had to go out with their luggage receipts and wait for their bags to be taken off. We were trying to work out if they were going to make us empty every bit of our bags, or do the cursory once over glance. Thankfully it was the latter and we cleared customs to be able to go and try out our new garb of lightweight long length shower coats and headscarves (which we had been observing since we had passed passport control). Tibriz station is very modern, and large, but very plain, just the obligatory ticket booths, one small kiosk, a bank, where Angela tried to discuss changing $100 but the guy behind the counter wouldn’t indicate what the exchange rate was and just kept asking her for the $100 bill. She walked out, rather than risk not getting a decent rate, and actually our train did accept Turkish lira, so as we had some left we new we wouldn’t be needing rials at this stage. There was also a small open book stall, and some smaller units, along with a prayer hall. Ladies toilets were downstairs, behind a discreet curtain, with several cubicles with squat toilets, but clean if not a little wet! I was a bit apprehensive as I had coat, scarves etc, but actually once in them you see they provide a rack and coat hook for all of your bit and bobs. Very civilised (I really didn’t know what to expect). After that back to the train where our lovely porter informed us it would leave by 2.00p.m.so we enjoyed the cool shade as it was quite warm when we arrived, and boarded about 1.45p.m. to start the rest of our journey. Sleep was first on our list. We both had lunch (provided by the staff on the train) and then sleep, we both needed it by then. We both finally got up about 6- ish and felt a bit more normal after the very long day and eventful night! Both thirsty we decided to drop down to the buffet car, and were knobbled by our new Iranian friends, who invited into their carriage for afternoon tea (well that’s what it turned out to be). Hot water and tea bags, biscuits (Iranian style) and lots of friendly chat saw us spending till 9.00p.m. with some very lovely people.

Posted by TheJohnsons 22:46 Archived in Iran Comments (0)

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