Overview
Costs
Food
Hotels
Money
Mobile phones
Internet
Weather
Health
VISA
Security
Recommended
Avoid
Getting around
Photos

Khuzestan (Shush, Tchoga Zanbil, Shushtar), Kish, Qeshm, Shiraz, Isfahan, Kashan, Qom


24.12: Munich -> Istanbul -> Tehran
25.12: Tehran -> Ahvaz
26.12: Ahvaz (tour to Shush, Shushtar, Tchoqa Zanbil)
27.12: Ahvaz -> Kish
28.12: Kish -> Qeshm via Bandar Charak
29.12: Qeshm
30.12: Qeshm island tour
31.12: Qeshm -> Hengam island tour -> Bandar Abbas -> Shiraz
1.1: Shiraz
2.1: Shiraz -> Persepolis -> Pasargadae -> Isfahan
3.1: Isfahan
4.1: Isfahan -> Kashan
5.1: Kashan -> Qom
6.1: Qom -> Istanbul -> Munich


UPDATE JANUARY 2016
- tickets which were 150 000 rials are 200.000 rial for foreign tourists..
- tickets which were 100.000 rials are 150.000 rials for foreign tourists.

Planning and overall impression

Winter is not exactly the best season to visit Iran, because the north and centre can be cold and only the south will have warm temperatures. The best times to visit the country are spring and autumn, but I only had this timeslot available (two weeks around Xmas and New year, school holidays here in Bavaria).Map of the trip to Iran

The idea was to get back to Iran and visit some of the places not seen yet. In addition, since I was travelling with a larger group (my wife, two daughters and my brother) I decided to revisit some important sites (Shiraz, Persepolis, Isfahan, Kashan) in order to give my family a more complete view of the country.

Whenever you travel with kids you have to adjust the trip to meet their requirements, meaning that things have to be arranged in such a way that the kids will be safe at all time, will get enough sleep and will be able to devote some time to things in which they are interested. This means in practice that you have to add some time for instance on beaches, in kids play centres, shopping malls and other places where kids can have fun.

Due to the cold season we limited the time in the north of Iran and focused on the south. The planning was challenging, because the idea was to travel across the Persian gulf coast area and then return to Tehran via Shiraz and Isfahan - a 3000km loop in two weeks. Originally I was planning to use four internal flights, which later became two as some flights turned out to be unavailable, and in the end were three because we discovered a flight from Bandar Abbas to Shiraz.

Pre-trip research and feedback from tour guides in Iran indicated that the Iran’s Persian gulf coast is only interesting in a couple of spots (mainly Kish and Qeshm), that Bandar Abbas should be skipped and that there is nothing of interest between Bandar Abbas and Shiraz

We ended up with an itinerary involving an arrival in Tehran with almost no time spent there, as Tehran is cold in winter and much less interesting than other sites in Iran. From Tehran we would fly to Ahvaz to visit the archaeological sites in the area, then would fly to Kish island.

Kish is not exactly the most interesting site in Iran, but it’s a Persian gulf island and a tourist hotspot, so it would be perfect for the kids and the wife and a good way to break the journey. In fact it turned out that it was a pity that we only spent two days/one night in Kish, as Kish is quite a pleasant place. We should have spent at least 3-4 days there, but just didn’t have enough time.

From Kish we would make it to Qeshm island and spend three days there, because Qeshm seemed to be quite interesting. And in fact Qeshm more than fulfilled our expectations, as there are plenty of things to see and do. Qeshm is little known outside of Iran and its tourist infrastructure is still underdeveloped. For this reason Qeshm is getting very few international tourists, even if its tourist attractions are world-class.

The further plan involved getting from Qeshm back to Tehran with stops in Shiraz, Persepolis, Pasargadae, Isfahan, Kashan and Qom. This part of the trip was very interesting from a historical/cultural perspective, but not so interesting for the kids as we basically rushed through these places in about five days and had no time for kids activities.

The planning of the trip started in September 2014. I prepared a first draft of the places to visit and approached some travel agencies in Iran. For the visas I used Touran Zamin (found them via the Thorntree forum) and they proved to be efficient and reliable. The trip was ultimately only finalised in December, because until the last minute it wasn’t sure if we would get the tickets for the flight from Tehran to Ahvaz.


Costs

Although the exchange rate of the IRR climbed from 15000 for one Euro in 2011 to 42000 for one Euro at the end of 2014, this wasn’t a cheap trip. On the one side many costs (hotels, minivans, guides etc.) are quoted in USD. Then prices for entry tickets to many historical sites have grown significantly since 2011. For instance, the price of the entry ticket to Persepolis was 5000 Rial in 2011 (=0.33 Euro) and 150000 Rial in 2014 (=3.57 Euro), a more than tenfold increase. Flights were quite inexpensive.
Due to the high inflation of the past years, there is a lot of price variation in Iran. In some places things are really expensive, in others astonishingly cheap.
Due to the embargo it was not possible to pay the Iranian tour operators we used for the bookings in advance. In two cases we made (partial) payments to bank accounts in Switzerland and Germany, but the bulk of the payment had to be done cash once in Iran.
Here essentially the Iranian travel operator is taking a risk, because the customer could not show up after all leaving the travel operator with unpaid bills. The travel operator has no other option than to trust the tourists and get paid in cash only in Iran. I heard of a case in which the leader of a tour group handed over something like 40000$ cash upon arrival in Tehran to the tour operator. My personal guess is that in most cases Iranian travel operators get paid for their work and that very few tourists in Iran cheat. I’ve also seen that tour operators in Iran sometimes rely on hotels to collect payments. How can the tour operator be sure that the hotel won’t pocket the money and claim they didn’t receive anything? I suspect that people in Iran overall are very honest and that a lot of business is based on mutual trust.


Food

We ate very often the big dish with a large portion of rice, grilled chicken or fish kebab and preserved vegetables. This was not bad, but we got bored after a while and only kept ordering it because there were so few alternatives. For some reason there was a lack of fresh vegetables, so that we had to explicitely order dishes of salad and tell the restaurant staff what to put inside. We also developed a habit of just having soup, bread and salad in the evenings (and even at lunch sometimes). Many restaurants offered these inexpensive salad buffets. The kids (and even Shirley and I) got addicted to the very flat Iranian bread, sort of thin sheets of soft bread, which we ate with the soup. Different food (and western food) was available in better restaurants.


Accommodation

We stayed in a number of mid-range and sometimes upper end places. The hotels were booked by the Pars travel agency from Shiraz and by Farzaneh, our guide for the second part of the trip. All hotels were booked in advance, because we were a larger group, often arriving late in the evening and had no time to waste looking for a hotel and with two kids could not run the risk of not finding accommodation.
The costs were not low and in fact the most expensive hotel cost 182 USD/night.


Money  / Exchange rate (August 2011)

1 Euro = 42000 Rial (41500-43000, depending on where the money was changed). We changed money in hotels and money changers. The best rate was on Kish island.
1 Euro ~ USD 1.20
For current exchange rates check the Universal Currency Converter.

We had to carry [large amounts of] cash with us, because due to the US embargo in Iran (western) credit cards, ATM cards and traveller cheques cannot be used.


Mobile phones and prepaid cards

We were thinking of getting local SIM cards upon arrival at the airport in Tehran, then in the rush and confusion didn’t get them there. We also could not get them at the domestic airport in Tehran and in Avhaz and only got them in a mall in Kish. No passport was required, but we lost one hour waiting for these SIM cards. We bought from Irancell for 300000 Rial each (7 Euro), with an Internet package on them but almost no airtime. So we bought some recharges. The cards were not activated, but should have been activated within 2-3 hours according to the sales guy. In practice two days passed before the cards were finally activated, so we bought some preactivated SIM cards in an Internet cafe in Kish in the meantime.
The Irancell network is 2G/3G: in the major cities there is a 3G network, outside it’s 2G only. Internet access is sometimes good, sometimes bad.


blocked site

Internet access

Compared to 2011 the Irancell network was finally fast enough to access the Internet. In many hotels there was WLAN, but many times this was unusable. Most of the time we had to rely on smartphones with the Irancell data packages to access the Internet or read emails. Many western news websites are blocked in Iran.




Weather

Quite fresh, even sometimes cold in the north of Iran. Spring-like temperatures in the south and along the Persian gulf coast. Not hot enough to swim in the sea in Kish. No rain, and on almost all days there were no clouds in the sky.


Health / Vaccinations

No vaccinations are needed for Iran and there are no health risks.


VISA / Entry requirements

Although there is the option to get the visa on arrival, we got all visas in advance. This involved getting visa approval numbers via a travel agency in Iran (we used Touran Zamin), and submitting these numbers, the passports, passport photos and an application to the Iranian consulate. After about one week the visas were ready.


Security

Despite all the turmoil in the region Iran is a very safe place. We carried large amounts of cash with us and expensive photographic gear, but experienced no problems. Overall Iranians are very honest and friendly.


Recommended things



Things to avoid



Getting aroundMinivan

The trip had to be scheduled around certain internal flights, to minimise long overland transfers and save time. Some flights were only available on certain days or hours, and it was necessary to plan the activities in order to use these flights.
Since due to the embargo Iran is pretty much cut off from international booking systems, i.e. you can’t book a hotel or flight in Iran using the standard portals, it was necessary to do the bookings via travel agencies in Iran. This required some intensive communication, discussion of various options etc. which you normally do efficiently with a web portal, but not when you are travelling in Iran.
The section of the trip from Shiraz back to Tehran was easy, because we had a minibus+driver and didn't have to worry about bookings. The minibus was a comfortable 10-seater, spacious enough for us, the guide, the driver and all luggage. The price was 3000000 IRR/day (=71 Euro) and included everything.



Travel agencies and guides who helped us on this trip




24.12: Munich -> Istanbul -> Tehran
Hotel Khayyam, Tehran. Basic, but functional hotel. The room has beds with hard mattrasses, a fridge, flat screen TV, some basic furniture (chair, table, cupboard without hangers). WLAN available but not working (i.e. we can't connect to the Internet).
Weather: around 4°C in the morning in Munich but sunny. Fresh and sunny in Istanbul. Cold in Tehran when we arrive at night.

We leave home shortly after 10am and reach the airport at 11:20am. The gate area today is full of travellers, which is not surprising since today is the first day of the Christmas school holidays here in Bavaria. We queue up and finally manage to check in shortly before 12pm.

We then rush to the McDonalds restaurant between terminal 1 and 2. There is also an Asian restaurant immediately next to the check-in area, but the prices are a bit steep, the portions smallish and the kids want to eat fast food anyway.

After a quick lunch we are at the passport and security check by 12:30pm. Huge queue of people. It takes over half an hour to get through. I can only imagine the mess that would happen if something didn't go as planned or if somebody made a joke. They would shut down the terminal for several hours.

Once we are through there is actually no waiting time, because Pegasus is already boarding people at gate 5. Again long queue of people at the gate. I'd guess that at least 80-90% of the passengers are either Turkish nationals or ethnic Turks.

It takes a while to reach the plane (no direct boarding via a bridge, a bus brings the passengers to the plane). We only get on the plane at 1:30pm, the planned departure time.

Despite all the activity the plane only has a short 20 minutes delay and in fact takes off at 1:50pm. The plane, a B737-800, is completely full of people. It seems they managed to sell almost every seat. The row spacing is a bit small.

Pegasus is a low-cost airline and all food or drinks on board has to be paid for. Prices are a bit steep (12 Euro for a meal for instance).

The plane lands in Istanbul more or less on time around 5pm local time. This time the access to the gate is via direct bridges (no bus needed). After some walking we reach the transit area access gate. It's only a handful people including us who go to the transit area (most people of the Munich-Istanbul flight go to Istanbul).

The boarding pass is checked (whether we have one), then there is a security check, and after that we are soon in the shops area. This terminal is quite different from the one we have used in the past when transiting through Istanbul with Turkish airlines. We are in an area with access to the gates and with some, but not too many duty free shops. I guess Pegasus uses a different terminal of the Istanbul airport.

There are some restaurants and on the upper floor there is a fast food area with McDonalds, Burger King, some Turkish fast food outlets and more restaurants.

I can't find an ATM, so I end up changing some cash into Turkish Lira (1 Euro = 2.75 buy/2.88 sell TL). Actually I wouldn't have to change money because all places here seem to accept payment by credit card, even for small amounts.

WLAN is available for a fee of 10 TL for 2 hours. There are also 24 hours packages, and apparently there is a way to use the Internet for free if you order some food or drink.

We head to this area and Shirley and the kids have some food. We stay in the restaurants area until shortly after 7pm, then walk down to the place where the transit passengers arrive and wait for my brother Albert, who should have arrived by now (he is on the Pegasus flight from Frankfurt to Istanbul).

We wait, wait and wait for a while but Albert is not arriving. At 7:30pm we stop waiting. Shirley and Natasha sit down on a chair and Natasha takes a rest. Alissia and I go to the fast food area on the upper floor and I order some döner meal.

Finally Albert shows up. Turns out that his flight was delayed. Dinner and chit-chat until late in the evening. We spend time in the restaurants, both on the upper and lower floors.

I end up spending more than 50 Euro on drinks and meals, which surprises me a bit. But on the other hand prices here seem to be on the same level as the airport in Munich (one freshly squeezed orange juice for 11 TL (= 4 Euro) for instance. A bit strange that prices for drinks and food are so high, given that average salaries in Turkey should be lower than in Germany.

By 11pm we are all in the gate 201, waiting to board the flight to Tehran. The gate is quite full. Boarding proceeds smoothly and we quickly are on the plane. Again the seat rows seem very narrow (they look even more narrow than the ones in the Munich-Istanbul flight). The plane this time is an Airbus A320 and is almost completely full.

The plane takes off almost on time at 11:40pm (just five minutes delay). Same setup as the previous flight (all drinks and meals have to be paid for).

 



25.12: Tehran -> Ahvaz
Hotel Pershia, Ahvaz. 86 USD for a small apartment with kitchen area, bathroom with shower, living room area with flat screen TV, nicely decorated, bedroom, furniture etc. With A/C and WLAN, although for some reason we can't manage to access the Internet or download emails. Many hotels have a flashy facade, a superflashy reception area and mediocre rooms, but this place is the opposite: from the outside it looks like a dirty old place, the reception is small and cramped behind a staircase, but the rooms are quite good.
Weather: sunny and surprisingly not cold in Tehran (only fresh)

The plane lands in Tehran at 3:40am local time, 25 minutes early. We are at the gate shortly before 4am, then proceed to the passport control. The IKA airport is a bit old, but functional. There is some queue at the passport check, but we manage to get through at 4:10am. By 4:20am we have the luggage, by 4:30am we are in the minivan to Tehran (driver picked us up).
 
It takes only half an hour to reach Tehran, but then it takes a long time to actually reach the hotel. We sleep around 6am.

Around 10am the entire family gets up. Outside the sky is cloudless blue, but with lots of haze. We stay some more time in bed, then check out at 12pm.

Down in the reception I pay the bill of the travel agency. minivan in tehranWe change some Euro into Rial (exchange rate is 42000). Then we arrange a car for the day. The driver will bring us first to a restaurant, then to the national museum, then to the airport. Cost is 600000 Rial (compare that to the 40 USD the travel agency was asking for).
 
It's 12:50pm when we leave the hotel in the minivan. The driver brings us to a restaurant in Tehran, which from the outside looks rather unspectacular and for a moment we even hesitate a bit to go inside. But once in, we see the dishes other people are eating. Huge plates full of rice and meat and vegatables, looking quite delicious.
 
Some difficulty communicating with the restaurant staff who only speak Farsi, but a friendly customer proficient in English comes and helps translating. The meals cost around 160000-200000 Rial.
 
In the restaurant Albert manages to get the password of the local WLAN network. The connection to the Internet works, but the cool thing is that the access to many newspaper sites is blocked. It's weird that Albert cannot access some newspaper sites with his Ipad which I can access with my Samsung Mega 6.3 phablet.bas-relief national museum tehrannational museum tehran
 
 At 2pm we are done with the restaurant and get back to the minivan. We now drive to the National Museum, which is on the opposite side of the street.
The entrance ticket for foreigners costs 150000 Rial (adults, kids don't pay). We have to deposit our bags in the store room. The museum contains some quite impressive artifacts dating back to up to the fifth millenium BC. But it's not that big. There is only the hall on the ground floor and the access to the higher levels in blocked.

So, shortly before 3pm, we are back in the minivan. Some discussionw with the driver, who seems to have SIM cards for us. These are from Irancell and I have no idea where he got them from. Does this guy sell SIM cards? I try two of his Irancell SIM cards in my phone but can't register in the Irancell network with them.

We reach the Mehrabad airport at 3:40pm. The travel agency informed us earlier that our flight is delayed until 5:30pm, so we have delayed our arrival.

Also the Mehrabad airport is a bit oldish and would need some modernisation. At the check-in the printouts of the e-tickets are sufficient, i.e. the guy doesn't care about our passports.

We have some food in a cafe, then at 4:45pm proceed to the gate. Separate security checks for men and women. We are at the gate shortly before 5pm.

The gate area looks relatively modern and welcoming. There are shops, duty free shops and some coffee shops, cafes and snack bars.

The gate for our flight is not assigned yet. Even after 5:30pm the gate isn't assignedtehran mehrabad airport yet. It appears that there is a delay in the flight schedule. The plane has not arrived yet.

While in the gate area I purchase an Irancell SIM card for 350000 Rial. The idea is that, while most likely I'll have no or limited Internet access, I want to be able to make phone calls (roaming being prohibitively expensive at 3€/minute).

After a long discussion (nobody in this place speaks English) it turns out that the SIM card has no airtime and to make phone calls I need to purchase a recharge, which however they don't sell. So I end up returning the card and get refunded.

The hours pass and the flight is still not ready. Every 10-15 minutes we check the situation. There is a crowd of angry travellers at the information counter shouting things in Farsi. I ask a bit around and am told that the plane is a 32 years old machine which developed a technical problem, and they are trying to solve it. It's a big plane (> 200 passengers) and Iranair has no other plane with which to replace it. The angry people in the crowd tell me that every hour they are told that the plane will take off in one hour. Nobody knows for sure when and if the plane will take off. As a guy puts it ironically, 'Welcome to Iran'.

At 8:30pm suddenly the plane starts boarding. I was already pondering how to reschedule the trip, if we would only have reached Ahvaz tomorrow.

So we walk down the gate, get on a bus and reach the plane. This plane is a dinosaur. It's an Airbus A300-B2K/B4, probably one of the first models of Airbus. 2-4-2 seat rows setup. Quite unusual interior, I've never seen anything like that. I joke with Albert that the parachute is under his seat. Let's hope this plane lands in Ahvaz without problems.

The reason for these old planes in Iran is essentially the US embargo. Boeing may not sell their planes because they are an American company and neither does Airbus, because their planes contain parts made in the USA.

Still, this may be a prehistoric plane, but it has one advantage. This old model didn't go through the crazy cost-optimisation cycles, and unlike the planes of Pegasus airlines where passengers are packed like sardines in a can, the seat rows here are very, very spacious even in the economy class.

It takes a long time until the plane switches on the engines. This only happens at 9am. Then some more time passes before the pilots dare to move the plane, and finally at 9:15pm the plane takes off. If God wants (insh-Allah) we'll make it to Ahvaz.

During the flight we are served a simple meal and the kids receive a toy. Quite a good service for such an inexpensive flight.

The plane lands at 10:15pm in Ahvaz. Then it takes a lot of time to retrieve the luggage. The driver is waiting for us here, despite the almost 5 hours delay. The travel agency calls and asks what we want to do tomorrow. We'll do Shush, Shushtar and Tchoga Zanbil. At 11pm we drive to the hotel.




26.12: Ahvaz (tour to Shush, Shushtar, Tchoqa Zanbil)
Hotel Pershia. The breakfast is quite basic (tea, toast bread, some dates).
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some clouds. Fresh in the morning, but not cold. Around noon it gets quite warm, especially in the sun.

AfterTourist guide in Avhaz a short night we get up at 7:15am, get ready and have breakfast. minivan ahvazOur guide, Mr Mojaddam (Razagh Mojaddam, r.mojaddam@gmail.com, phone: +98 91 66151107), is already waiting for us in the breakfast room. At 8:30am we start driving towards Shush. It's a good wide straight road, like a motorway, allowing to drive at high speed.

Later in the trip it becomes clear that there are plenty of these straight and wide roads in Iran, allowing driving at high speeds. This means that it is possible to get quickly from A to B in Iran.

Since Albert skipped the breakfast, we stop at a supermarket along the way and buy some food. What I buy is not cheap and I wonder if I'm charged tourist prices or if this is really the price level here.

Mr Mojaddam explains that the area around Ahvaz is heavily industrialised, with 50% of the Iranian oil production coming from here. Lots of Chinese companies involved in the oil production.

shushWe reach the archaeological area of Shush at 10am (entry ticket: 100000 Rial/adut). This a large compound with what remains of the ancient Elamite capital, a small museum and a French castle built about 100 years ago with the bricks found at the Shush site. The castle is actually the only structure left standing here, because of the ancient capital nothing is left, except for the foundations of the Darius palace.

We spend almost one hour in this place, then walk to the museum (entry ticket: another 100000 Rial/adult, a bit overpriced IMHO). The museum has a small collection of artifacts found in Shush. These date from various periods, the oldest being the 4th millenium BC.

tomb of danielAfter 15 minutes we walk out and go to the tomb of Daniel. This has an inner court full of people. As Mr Mojaddam explains, Daniel is popular with the Muslim people and that is why they come here. This is not a mosque. It's sort of a temple, as I'm being told.

We spend only a few minutes here, then walk back to the minivan, because Mr Mojaddam starts being a bit concerned about our timing.

At 11:40am we start driving towards Tchoga Zanbil, the ziqurrat,Chogha Zanbil ziqurrat and reach the place at 12:15pm. This is a UNESCO world heritage site, dating back to 1200 BC. The entry ticket costs 150000 Rial. The Ziqurrat is a stepped pyramid-like structure, currently consisting of two levels. Mr Mojaddam says in the past it had five levels.

We walk once around Tchoga Zanbil. There is not only the ziqurrat here, also many other structures, most of them temples. Apparently Tchoga Zanbil was at the centre of an ancient Elamite city.

There are not so many tourists here when we come, although actuallly this is the best season for visiting this place, because in the summer it's far too hot and I guess that also in the spring it can get unpleasantly hot.

Shortly after 1pm we are done with Tchoga Zanbil and start driving to Shushtar. We reach the restaurant where we will have lunch shortly before 2pm. This seems to be a place well-known with local people, as it's quite full. It contains a number of carpet platforms, on which you knee down and have lunch served on the platform.Mostowfi restaurant

We have again a similar type of meal as yesterday (big dish with rice and either fish or chicken and some preserved vegetables). The bill for the five of us is 740000 Rial. From the restaurant there is a nice view of the river plain below with the ruins of an arched bridge (perhaps dating back to the Sasanid period?).

We spend about an hour having lunch, then drive to the Shushtar watermill system. This is quite close to the restaurant and consists of a system of dams and water channels used to control water levels for irrigation purposes and to generate power for mills.Shushtar historical hydraulic system

The system is quite complex and sophisticated. It was built by Roman soldiers captured by the Sasanid army. The entrance costs another 150000 Rial per adult. The structures are mostly in the rock and are not so visible from the outside. It is possible to visit the place by walking into corridors built into/on the rock.

Around 4pm we get back to the minivan and drive back to the hotel. On the way we stop briefly at a dam, which is used to divert the waters of the river, then drive back to Ahvaz.

 We are back in the hotel around 6pm and rest for a while in the room. I finally manage to connect to the Internet and download the emails (turns out that you have to open a browser and use an ID and a password to login).Beef Stroganoff

All news websites are blocked, except for the German tagesschau.de, and the Iranian presstv.ir (imagine if they blocked also that).

In the evening we have a brief walk in the streets, which now are full of life. We buy some cookies and pastries in a bakery (very inexpensive, at 30000 Rial for a full box). Then we have a dinner in a restaurant and head back to the hotel.






27.12: Ahvaz -> KishFlamingo hotel
Flamingo hotel, Kish. 182 USD for a big elegant room with four beds, A/C, nice furniture, flat screen TV, phone, cupboard, bathroom with shower. Probably a four star place. WLAN available, but a bit slow. The breakfast is quite mediocre, considering what we are paying. Buffet-style, but mostly for Iranian tastes. No fresh fruits.
Weather: sunny, slightly fresh in the morning in Ahvaz. Warm and very sunny in Kish (we switch on the A/C in the room).

I wake up even before 6am, wake up Shirley and get ready. Shortly before 7am we have a breakfast (actually the breakfast is not set up yet, because it's so early, so we only have some tea). By 7:20am we are in the lobby and have checked out. The driver is not here yet.

At 7:30am, since the driver still hasn't arrived, we decide to take some taxis to the airport. We take two taxis to the airport (total price is 400000 Rial). Later Shirley tells me that she saw our driver arriving. Fine, but he came late and we could not wait for him and risk losing the flight.

Most cars in the streets are small and quite old. Most are of this Saba brand (local manufacturing, from the joint venture with Peugeot). The streets are somehow dirty.

We are at the airport shortly after 7:45am. There we quickly head to the check-in counter. Again the printouts of the tickets are sufficient, and they don't care about our passports. Then we proceed to the gate.

Separate secutity check for men and women. The security staff note down the details of my passport and the one of Albert (and don't care about the passports of Iranian nationals). Perhaps there is a reason why foreigners are treated specially, i.e. perhaps they want to note down which passengers are foreigners in case for instance if the plane gets lost, but then actually they should see that from the passenger lists.

They check my camera and the lenses, and do the same also for Albert. Same strict procedure as in the airport in Munich.

It's 8 something am when we reach the gates. After a very short wait they start boarding the plane. Short walk to the plane which is waiting outside.

The plane is an old MD82 and it appears that they bought it from the Italians, because they text on the seats is in Italian. The plane is quite full, only a few seats are empty. It takes off at 8:50am, with only a short five minutes delay. Again, because the plane is old, there is plenty of space in it, i.e. the seat rows are generously spaced.

On board we are served a meal, essentially some kind of breakfast with fruits, salad, bread, cheese and a drink.

The plane lands at 9:55am in Kish. By about 10:15am we have retrieved the luggage. The Kish airport is a bit small, but modern and flashy. Very tourist oriented.

We walk outside and fetch a taxi, actually two, to the hotel. It's a short drive, perhaps less than 10km to the hotel (100000 Rial per taxi). Once in the hotel we check in, and after some waiting time we get into the room shortly after 11am.

We settle down in the room. While Shirley and the kids take a rest, Albert and I take a taxi (50000 Rial) to the men's beach. They call it 'plage', borrowing a word from the French language (actually there are several words in Farsi which have been taken from the French language: merci, manteau, janvier etc.).

Here on Kish men and women have to use separate beaches for swimming. There are no family beaches from what we are told.

Shortly before 12pm we reach the men's beach. A bit unusual to go to a beach in Iran. Men beach on Kish islandThe ticket for the beach costs 100000 Rial. The beach has a complete infrastructure: changing rooms, showers, lockers etc. The seawater is clear and the beach is of the white coral sand type. Nice beach, but the water is shallow and you have to walk over coral rock to reach deeper water. So basically it's advisable to wear some rubber shoes when entering into the water.

On this beach there are only men and boys, no females. But surprisingly on the adjacent beach there are men and women, i.e. this seems to be a mixed beach. So apparently mixed beaches exist in Iran...

The seawater temperature is a bit low. I might get in with some trying, but Albert isn't in the mood. And there is some fresh wind blowing, so we just walk a bit into the water. But the sun is quite strong, despite the winter season. I didn't put on sun tan lotion, so can feel the sun burning on my skin.

Shopping mall in KishAround 1pm we are done with the beach and fetch a taxi back to the hotel. Along the way we spot many malls and trade centres. Lots of construction activity as well. Many new buldings are being built.

Back in the hotel I meet Shirley and the kids who have been sleeping a bit. After some more time we head down to the lobby and discuss with the staff what to do today. Turns out that the shopping malls are closed (they closed at 1pm) and only reopen at 5pm. The delfinarium is only open in the morning. Then they tell us that the boat to Bandar Charak only leaves at 8am. Supposedly they are some ruins of an ancient place worth visiting and if we walk down the road we reach the jetty and next to it there is a restaurant.Eastern beach and hall

At 2pm we leave the hotel and reach the jetty area at 2:20pm. This is a big long concrete pier with beaches on both sides and a seaside walk. Immediately next to it there is one restaurant, but only one. In other countries the entire promenade area would be plastered with cafes and restaurants, but here there is only one.

Iranian pizzaThis restaurant turns out to be a pretty good one serving a number of delicious and relatively inexpensive dishes (compared to prices in Germany). We have a late lunch in this place, then at 3:45pm take a taxi to the harbour. The idea is to buy the tickets for tomorrow to Bandar Charak.

The harbour of Kish is a pretty sophisticated and modern building, somehow similar to an airport with security checks, gates and shops. The problem is that here almost nobody speaks English. Very difficult to get information about ferries. Also, the place seems quite empty and deserted. We probably lose about 20 minutes talking to people, trying to find out what time there are boats tomorrow and how to buy tickets.

In the end they tell us that there are several boats and that we have to come back tomorrow to buy the tickets. A bit strange that it's impossible to buy boat tickets the day before.

So we walk out of the terminal and look for a taxi. We find taxis at the arrivals area of the terminal, then after some discussion end up in a taxi which will bring us first to an ancient place called Harireh, then to the Greek boat for sunset.
Ancient town of Harireh
Big tree in HarirehWe reach the Harireh place at 4:30pm. There are lots of people here, most of them probably Iranians, and some buildings in traditional style and a big tree. No idea what is so special about this tree. Perhaps it's the fact that there is such a big tree in a desert area.

The ruins on the other side belong to an 800 years old palatial house with an own water storage system.

After about 20 minutes in this place we drive to the Greek boat, arriving there shortly after 5pm. It's actually almost too late for the sunset as the sun sets within minutes. These are the rusty remains of a Greek ship which sank here years ago very close to the coast. Greek shipThis seems to be a tourist hotspot because it's full of people. It actually is not that impressive, but there is a lot of activity going on here.

We spend maybe 10 minutes at the Greek ship viewpoint, then get back to the taxi and ask the driver to bring us to a big and flashy mall. The taxi driver suggests a mall, which turns out to be the Kish Trade Centre. It takes 20 minutes to get there.

We get there at 5:40pm, and check it out a bit. It's kind of a modern mall with higher end goods and shops selling branded stuff. We first walk to a money changer and change Euro into Iranian Rials. Here the rate is good. You get 43000 Rial for one Euro.

After changing the money we look for a place selling SIM cards and after some search finally find one.

Long waiting time, followed by a very long discussion with a guy who barely speaks English. It's a discussion about packages and Internet and voice. We lose something like 40 minutes here.

Kish Trade Center shopping mallIn the end we buy three Irancell SIM cards for 300000 Rial each (about 7 Euro). The SIM cards don't work now, but we are told they will be activated in one or two hours. In reality even at midnight the SIM cards are still not activated.

Then we walk to a shop where to buy a recharge. Some weird discussion with the guy telling us prices in UAE dirham. We ask how much a phone call costs, but the GUY does not understand and initially even refuses to sell the card recharges to us. Only later we get the recharges (55000 Rial each).

But nobody seems to know how much a phone call costs, not even a local one. Really amazing. In any other country people selling SIM cards would know how much a phone call costs. Like this we do not even know how much balance there is on the SIM card.

After the SIM cards together with Albert I buy a headscarf for Shirley (and initially the salesgirls think the headscarves are for us...).

Then we walk to a hypermarket where we buy some stuff and eat some snacks. From there we take a taxi to the same restaurant where we had lunch and have dinner there.

After dinner we walk back to the hotel. Despite the early wake up the kids are hyperactive and easygoing.




28.12: Kish -> Qeshm via Bandar Charak
Hotel Behesht, Qeshm. 80 USD for a small apartment with kitchen/living room area, toilet, and two bedrooms. A/C, big fridge, table+chairs, no cupboard for clothes in the rooms; telephone in the rooms which is not working. This place is in serious need of revovation, as the rooms and facilities are quite old. When we arrive there are no towels, and when we ask for them we get small ones only. We'll only get real towels the next day. The room of Albert is in a sorry state (paper peeling off from the walls, broken door, smelly bathroom etc.). WLAN in the lobby, but quite slow. No WLAN in the rooms.
Weather: sunny, blus sky, warm. Spring-summer like temperatures.

We get up at 8:45am and head down for the breakfast. This is rather unimpressive, considering what we pay for the room.

After the breakfast I check with the lobby where there is an Irancell sales outlet and get the passports back. The idea is to get the SIM cards activated (they are still not activated).

While Shirley is with the kids in the room, at 11am I go with Albert to the nearby Venus mall where there should be an Irancell outlet according to the hotel.

We walk down the street and find the Venus mall opposite the bowling centre. This looks from outside like a somehow modern mall. Inside it's a bit less impressive, with few international branded goods. But in any case we didn't come here for shopping.

It takes a while to find the Irancell place. We ask several people (most can't speak English, but I have a piece of paper written in Farsi with the details, so I use that) and are sent from one place to the next. No real Irancell outlet in the whole mall, which is a bit strange.

What we find is sort of an Internet cafe, where the guy tells us that the cards are not activated yet, and we knew this already. But he sells preactivated Irancell SIM cards for 300000 Rial, so we buy two of these in order to be able to make phone calls. We also buy some recharges (55000 Rial) each.

Finally we find out how much a local call costs. It's around 1000 Rial per minute for a local call to Iran, and about 8000 Rial/minute for a call to Europe (= 19 Euro cents, very cheap compared to the roaming cost of 3 Euro/minute).

Then we take a taxi and rush to the harbour where we want to buy the tickets for the ferry to Bandar Charak. This turns out to be a pretty complicated thing, probably because Kish is a special area which can be visited without an Iranian visa. But to get from here to the mainland, you need to show that you have a valid visa or are an Iranian national.

We go through a mess of talking to people who can't speak English or speak very little English, Alcohol-free beerbeing sent from A to B, getting wrong information etc. In the end one guy directs us to a security guard, who asks us to provide photocopies of our passport and visa. A friendly shop owner lady somehow fluent in English, big fan of Germany, jumps in and helps a lot with translating.

Finally it turns out that the 3:30pm ferry is not so sure anymore. It might be rescheduled, but nobody knows yet. So we just get back to the hotel at 12:45pm. There we fetch Shirley and the kids and walk to the restaurant on the beach from yesterday. We have a lunch, then walk back to the hotel, retrieve the bags and take a taxi to the harbour.

Ferry to Bandar CharakWhen we arrive at the harbour at 2:30pm we are greeted by the helpful shopowner lady who tells us that the ferry is now scheduled for departure at 4pm. I call the travel agency who has arranged the driver in Bandar Charak and inform them about the departure time, so that they can inform the driver about our arrival time (driver speaks no English).
Ferry to Bandar Charak
The ferry starts boarding on time shortly before 4pm. It's  small ferry with perhaps 70-80 seats (passegers only allowed to stay inside).

The actual boat transfer proceeds smoothly. A movie about sort of a Iranian James Bond is shown.

Bandar Charak harbourWe arrive in Bandar Charak on time at 5:30pm. We are probably the only tourists on this ferry and in fact the route is a bit unusual for a tourist. I just arranged this overland transfer because a flight from Kish to Qeshm was not available according to the travel agency.

At the pier a bus picks up the passengers and brings them to the exit of the harbour area. There our driver is already waiting for us. He'll bring us to Bandar Pol, from where there is a ferry to Qeshm. Some discussion arises, as it appears that the driver hasn't been paid yet. A friendy Iranian engineer who speaks English helps. I call the travel agency and they reassure the driver that he will be paid tomorrow.

At 6:05pm we start driving towards Bandar Pol. For most of the trip the road consists of only two lanes and the driver must overtake every now and then some trucks.
bandar pol ferry
The trip to Bandar Pol takes longer than expected. We reach the harbour at almost 9pm. I had read or heard somewhere about a car ferry, but there is nothing like that in this place. According to the Lonely Planet, it would seem that the car ferry leaves from a different place in Bandar Pol.

The driver talks to some guys and after some time a motor boat arrives. Seems small initially, but when getting closer to it you can see that it's actually big enough to transport us and our luggage.

 So we get in, and after an adventurous five minutes in the sea we cross over to the island. It's low tide, meaning that the staircases at the pier are wet and slippery (the lower steps are full of algae. Qeshm harbour late nightWe bring up the luggage and look for a taxi. The place looks pretty empty and deserted.

After some searching, Shirley manages to get hold of two guys in army gear. These look like soldiers, but tell us they are from the police. The good thing is that they speak English.

After some discussion two drivers arrive. The police guys sets the price of the trip to 400000 Rial (less than 10 Euro), which seems quite cheap for a 60km trip.

So we leave and reach the hotel shortly after 10pm.




29.12: Qeshm
Hotel Behesht, Qeshm.
Weather: sunny, blue sky the whole day. Fresh wind blowing, strongish sun.

We get up at 9am and get ready. We spend quite some time discussing with the hotel staff the various issues of the rooms. Very difficult to discuss things when people only speak Farsi and you don't.

In the end Albert is moved to a different room (a two bedroom apartment). Our toilet is broken and I explain this to them with the smartphone using Google Translate.

There is a travel agency adjacent to the hotel. Vali Asr boulevardI check if there are flights to Shiraz, because the road trip to Shiraz takes 10 hours. There is no flight on the 31st (only the day before or on Friday), but there are daily flights from Bandar Abbas to Shiraz. On the 31st the flight leaves at midnight.

It's 11:10am when we finally move out of the hotel. We explore a bit the area. We are close to a big street with several shops and malls. All buildings are modern, there is no historic core here.
Qeshm restaurant
 At 11:20am Albert and I walk up a building because Albert has spotted a restaurant there. From the rooftop there is a nice view of the city. We sit down in the restaurant and order some food (grilled fish, chicken with rice). Shirley joins us with the kids at 11:30am.

The food we have seen so far in Iranian restaurants is most of the time similar and there is a lack of fresh vegetables or fruits.

I explain the flights option to the group, i.e. the one hour flight which would spare us a 10 hours road trip, but is very late. In the end since nobody is in the mood for another 10 hours car trip, we opt for the flight.

So we walk to the travel agency and tell them to book the flights (1259000 Rial/adult, 655000 Rial/child). The travel agency is staffed by five ladies and getting the tickets takes a very long time. Quite inefficient procedure.

While there I ask for tours in Qeshm. Long discussion, then we settle for a full day trip (tomorrow) covering all interesting sights in Qeshm island (Geopark, Harra forest etc.) for 3500000 Rial and another full day trip, this time a boat trip on Wednesday to Hengam island to spot among others dolphins for 2500000 Rial.

We finally finish the travel agency bookings after 1:30pm. Then there is more discussion with the hotel staff (by the way, they offer no laundry service) about the rooms.

It gets later and later. Albert is waiting for his new room which is not ready yet. Finally I manage to move the group out of the hotel at 2:20pm. There are only a few hours of sunlight left.

We take a taxi to the Geopark museum (one of the four places the travel agency told us to visit today). We discover that we could have just walked as the museum is about 300m from the hotel.

The Geopark museum contains some geology exhibits, some stuffed animals, some rock samples and not much more. The ticket costs 10000 Rial and this place is rather unimpressive.

We spend perhaps 10 minutes in this museum,zeytoon park then get out and fetch a taxi to the next place, the Zeytoon park. This a a few km away, along the coast.
zeytoon beach
 The Zeytoon park is a stretch of green area along the beach. There are some cafés next to it and you can access a beach, which is partly rocky and partly sandy. There are quite a few people on the beach this afternoon. We are in this area until about 4:30pm.


Then we walk to the City Centre mall, which is only a few hundred metres away. Opposite this mall qeshm city centre mallthere is a new mall under construction, which is not ready yet.

The City Centre mall is relatively flashy and modern, but inside there are not so many branded western goods. It's mostly local products or products from east Asia.

We explore a bit this mall. Alissia and Natasha spend some time in the children play area on the second floor.

At 6pm we take a taxi back to the hotel, but get out at the main street next to the hotel, because there are so many shops there. We'll spend the next hour shopping around a bit, then have a dinner at 7pm in the same restaurant where we had lunch. We're back in the hotel after 8pm.

Around 11pm suddenly the Irancell SIM cards are all activated.




30.12: Qeshm island tour
Hotel Beshesht, Qeshm. When we return from the trip, the room has not been cleaned. Shirley asks for toilet paper and gets [BILD].
Weather: sunny, but with lots of clouds (low clouds) in the sky.
4WD car on road
We get up at 8am and at 9am meet our tour guide and driver. He is a young guy, local Bandari, speaks English and the car is a Toyota Hilux pickup. When I say that this is too small for all of us and that we actually need a minivan, he replies that only this car can go on the rough roads we'll drive on today.

We leave at 9am and start driving along the southern coast of Qeshm. Rock formationsSince the road is quite good and with few curves, we can drive quite fast. It's mostly desert scenery, with not too much to see.

Around 10am we stop in a small village and buy some food and drinks. Later, around 10:30am, the road becomes very bad. Not paved anymore and full of stones. Every now and then some dromedaries along the road.Cyclists in the desert

At 10:50am we spot two cyclists who are apparently touring the island on bicycles. One man and a woman. 
Namakdan cave entrance
Very few tourists in this area, even if it's the peak holiday season. And even fewer foreign tourists (driver tells us he drove the last foreign tourists, a Spanish couple, a month ago).

 At 11:00am we reach the first place of the day, a salt mine. Salt caveThis is surrounded by mountains. We walk into it. Quite cool, as the walls are made of white salt. The mine extends for perhaps 100-200 metres into the mountain.Path to Geopark

At 11:50am we leave the cave and drive to the Geopark, arriving there at 1pm. The Geopark is an area with rock formations and gorges.

Chahkooh canyonFrom the parking you walk for about 10-15 minutes along a trail. The deeper you get into the mountain, the narrower gets the passage. Where the trail ends, in the Chahkooh canyon, you are surrounded on both sides by steep rocks, with special shapes. Also, here there are some wells. ShipyardApparently there is plenty of water under the ground.

We spend about an hour in this place, then at 2pm start driving towards the Harra mangrove forest. On the way we stop at a shipyard where they build wooden ships. These look like ancient dhows, but they are still used to transport goods between Qeshm and Dubai.Harra mangroves

Shortly after 2:30pm we arrive at the Harra mangrove forest. Actually we are at the end of a long road which like Restauranta pier extends into the wetlands area. On both sides mangrove trees are growing.

 We stop at a parking with a restaurant. From this restaurant there is a view of the mangroves. BirdsHere we stop for lunch (fried fish with rice, not bad).

Following the suggestion of the driver/tour guide we take a boat trip to the mangroves (half an hour for 600000, which later become 650000 Rial). The trip is very nice and interesting as we see the mangroves and some birds. But it's too short, as it lasts only 23 minutes instead of 30.

Windcatcher towers in LaftAt 4pm we drive to Laft in order to watch the sunset, arriving a bit after 4:30pm. Laft is a historical place, and 500 years ago it was the capital of the Qeshm island (before Qeshm city became it). In Laft there are the ruins of an ancient wall and many houses with windcatcher towers for climatisation. Staircase in LaftThere are also about 60 wells, from which water is pumped (in the past there were 365 wells).

We walk on the top of a small hill from which there is a view of the city and the harbour with the boats. From here you can also see the sunset and the sea.

We are in Laft until after the sunset, that is until after the sun drops below the haze and is no longer visible. Then, at 5pm we drive back to the hotel.

We reach the hotel at 6pm. In the evening Shirley and the kids go shopping, Albert and I have a dinner in the restaurant of the Marina hotel. More expensive than usual, but pretty good food.




31.12: Qeshm -> Hengam island tour -> Bandar Abbas -> Shiraz
Hotel Eram, Shiraz. $120 for a suite with two bedrooms. A bit old infrastructure, but nicely furnished. TV, phone, A/C and heater, WLAN in the room (but with access codes which expire after a few hours), bathroom with shower and hair dryer. Good restaurant in the hotel. Overall good service, centrally located in Shiraz. The only problem is that our room is hot like a sauna. For some reason the heating is out of control.
Weather: sunny blue sky in Qeshm. Today no clouds. Quite cold in Shiraz at night.Walking to the boats

We check out, leave the luggage in the hotel and at 9am start the trip to Hengam island. It takes 45 minutes to reach the harbour in Shibderaz. Shibderaz harbour pierHere are the boats which bring the tourists to Hengam island.

Lots of activity on this Wednesday morning. Many groups of Iranian tourists are waiting here to board a boat. After about 10 minutes, at 9:55am, it's our turn to get on the boat.

DolphinsSo the boat trip starts. The boat is a big boat without a sun cover. After a few minutes we see the first dolphins. There are plenty of them, and the boats with tourists follow them. We spend about 10 minutes watching the dolphins, then head to Hengam island.

 We reach Hengam island at 10:15am. AHengam island beachs Fahim explains, after the Islamic revolution the înhabitants of the island relocated to the emirates. Other people from Iran moved in.

We stop at a sandy beach on Hengam island. Here there is a settlement, Weaved round trayswhere locals sell souvenirs and snacks and other food. Pretty touristy setup, but very picturesque.

We spend some time here walking around, shopping a bit, eating some food and soaking up the atmosphere. Very colourful scenes, with Iranian women dressed in very colourful clothes interacting with each other.

The women on Hengam sell food consisting of bread (thin bread, paper like, but tasting well) with some kind fish-tomato spread on it. Apparently very good, from what I'm being told.

Shortly before 11am we leave the beach of Hengam. We stop at a rock from where we, together with other tourists on boats, feed the fish. Lots of colourful fish in the sea.Qeshm coast near Naaz at low tide

We're back in the harbour in Shibderaz at 11am and drive to the next place, the island of Naaz, arriving there at 11:25am. Right now it's low tide, so the cars can drive until the island on the sea bed.

The island (actually it's more of an islet)Naaz island at low tide is rocky and has some houses which are used by the fishermen. It's nothing special, but the views from here towards the main Qeshm island with the seabed are great. Several other cars with tourists come here.

We spend only 20 minutes here, then get back to the car. When I ask what the next place is, the driver is telling me we are driving back to Qeshm city and the tour is over. In other words, this is a three hours tour.

So I tell the driver that we agreed on a tour from 9am to 5pm with the travel agency and show him the invoice. Some discussion follows, he and I call the travel agency. The lady in the travel agency, Roya, promises twice to call me back but does not do so.

It's not clear who made the mistake here. Probably the driver is innocent and either the travel agency promised too much or the person who informed the driver didn't bother passing him the full details of the trip.
Plage beach
Anyway, after some phone calls, discussion etc. the driver agrees to extend the trip until 5pm.

Right now (it's 12:10pm) we are at the 'plage': a beach with some services, a club, a restaurant and some children playground. Very nice beach actually. It's a place to which you would come on a day like this for instance with the family and spend a few hours relaxing.

But as usual our schedule is a bit tight. While the driver goes into town (Qeshm is 11km from here) we have a lunch in the restaurant of the plage. Again we eat the same type of food (kebab, grilled fish with rice, soup etc.). It's as if all restaurants served the same food everywhere.
Khorbas caves
At 1:40pm we drive to the Khorbas caves. Cave with viewing holesThese are actually in walking distance from the plage. It's a set of caves in a rocky outcrop overlooking the area, connected by tunnels dug into the rock. In the past this was used as an early warning system, to warn locals about incoming pirate raids.

The entrance apparently is free. We buy some small souvenirs in a shop, then start exploring the cave system. It's actually quite interesting, and while we are here, plenty of (Iranian) visitors come. This place seems to be well known among Iranians.

At 2:40pm we drive to the next place, the Stars Valley.Stars valley This can be reached by a short drive along the coast to the south, followed by a turn inland. We arrive there at 2:55pm.
Ravine
This is a very interesting place, looks like a Star Wars scene. It's a set of canyons and narrow gorges, most likely dug by the water into the soft soil. Individual rock/mud pillars and narrow walls forming some kind of labyrinth. Very scenic area, lots of Iranian tourists. This is again a great place, probably unknown to the outside world.Film crew

While we are there some Iranian film crew is filming the scene of a movie. The current scene is of two guys on a motorbike with guns, passing by the body of a motorbiker lying dead on the ground and shouting something. Would be interesting to see this movie once it's ready.

At 3:45pm we drive back into town. Fahid (our driver) explains that he is finishing his studies and will do the military service next year (two years), then will marry his girlfriend.

We are back in the hotel at 4:30pm. There we take a rest and have some drinks.

At 5:20pm Albert, Alissia and I take a taxi to the harbour to secure the tickets for the ferry to Bandar Abbas, just in case there are problems similar to those on Kish. The taxi trip (40000 Rial) takes only a few minutes.

The harbour, or let's say the terminal for the ferries to Bandar Abbas, is a couple of km away from  the city centre. It's a modern building, easy to access and understand.

We immedately spot the counter where they are selling the tickets to Bandar Abbas (100000 Rial/person) and buy five tickets. Almost can't believe it's so easy. The guy (who unlike the people in Kish speaks some English) tells us there are ferries every half hour. The trip takes one hour according to him. No forms to fill out, no passport to show, no hassle as on Kish.

So we take a taxi back to the hotel. There we check with the travel agency (they are still open) until what time there are ferries. We were thinking of taking a ferry around 8pm, to avoid being too early in Bandar Abbas. Harbour terminalThe lady in the travel agency urges us to leave now with the next ferry, because there could be delays caused by rough seas (trip could last two hours instead of one) or the captain could wait one hour until the boat fills up etc.

So, after buying some food in the nearby store, we take a taxi around 6:20pm to the terminal. By 6:30pm we are in the waiting area for the ferries.

Ferry to Bandar AbbasAfter a few minutes the ferry starts boarding and at 6:40pm the ferry leaves the harbour of Qeshm. It's a small ferry with two levels. One lower level deck (closed) and an open upper deck (both with chairs/benches). We sit on the upper level. During the crossing to Bandar Abbas both the temperature and wind levels are comfortable. Neither is the wind too strong, nor is the temperature too low.

We reach Bandar Abbas at 7:40pm, exactly one hour after the departure. After leaving the ship we pass all bags to a porter who brings our stuff along the very long pier until the main street for 200000 Rial (a bit steep, but never mind).

Then the mess begins. Some people immediately show up and ask where we are going. Fine. Then I notice that along the street there is a row of white cars, all the same. The word taxi is not written on them, but it's safe to assume that these are standard taxis.

When I go there to check them further, one of the guys from the harbour area comes and talks to the taxi drivers. Not clear what he is saying but probably he is telling them that I am his customers and they should not serve me. Anyway, to make a long story short, after some heavy discussion we take two of the white taxis on the street to the airport for a fee of 150000 Rial. First time I'm in Iran that I experience such a heavy-handed discussion with nasty individuals.

It's about 8:30pm when we reach the airport in Bandar Abbas. Bandar Abbas airportThis is quite clean and modern and makes overall a good impression. However there is no restaurant in the departure area (only some cafes and fast food places) and there is no public WLAN network. I'm being told that we can only check in at 10pm.

So we wait. We have some drinks and food and I review the pictures of the day. Around 10:40pm we can finally check-in and some time later we can proceed to the gate.

Funny situation in which they ask Shirley to open her suitcase because they seem to have seen something. Seems they are looking for liquids (but then why not sort out my suitcase which contains all liquids (shampoos, shower gels etc.) of the family. They ask if Shirley is carrying some Nescafe in her suitcase. Later we joke that Shirley got caught trying to smuggle Nescafe in Bandar Abbas...

The Aseman flight is delayed and only takes off at 0:55am (almost an hour of delay). The plane is a Fokker 100 and looks very, very old. Inside it's almost full. I'm a bit surprised that such a late flight is so full with passengers.

The plane lands smoothly at 1:45am, i.e. with a 50 minutes delay in the Shiraz airport. Then everything proceeds quite fast: we retrieve the luggage in a matter of minutes and Ali, our driver, is already there waiting for us. It's almost 3am when we sleep however.



1.1: Shiraz
Hotel Eram, Shiraz.
Weather: during the day warm enough in the sun, cold in the shadows (you need a light jacket). Cold at night. Sunny blue sky, it hasn't been raining for months.

At 9:20am I'm woken up by the alarm clock. I rush to get ready, then get down into the lobby. There Farzaneh, our guide, is already waiting for us. While Shirley and the kids are still resting, Albert and I will do some sight seeing until noon, then will pick up Shirley and the kids for lunch.
Nasir Ol Molk mosque; stained glass windows in winter prayer hall
The first stop is the Nasir ol Molk mosque (the pink mosque), which we reach at 10:35am because there is some traffic in the streets of Shiraz today. This is the mosque with the cool hall with pillars and the stained glass windows. nasir ol molk farzaneh and albert

While I'm taking some pictures, Farzaneh explains the history of the mosque to Albert. Initially there are some people in the hall, after a while we have the entire hall available for us.

We're in the Nasir ol Molk mosque until 11:15am, then drive to the hotel to pick up Shirley who in the meantime is ready with the kids. Together we drive to the Vakil bazaar.Vakil bazaar

The Vakil bazaar is located adjacent to the omonymous mosque and contains a multitude of shops selling handicrafts, carpets, spices, clothes and other stuff. As usual it's full of activity with plenty of people shopping for goods.
Saray-e Mehr traditional restaurant
As we have all skipped breakfast this morning and are quite hungry, we go to a traditional restaurant, the Saray-e Mehr, for lunch. This has a pretty characteristic dining hall with plenty of decorations and paintings on the wall. We reach this place at 12:15pm and have lunch.

Vakil mosqueAt 1pm we are done with the lunch and spend the next half hour walking around in the bazaar. Albert gets lost in the maze of streets and it won't be until 1:40pm when he finally finds us.
Prayer hall
Together we visit the Vakil mosque. The interesting thing of this mosque is the hall with 48 columns, all carved out of one piece of stone.

After about 25 minutes we walk to the adjacent Vakil bath (100000 Rial ticket, relatively pricey). Here we see the interiors of a perfectly restored old hammam, which is now converted to a museum.

 At 2:20pm we drive to the next place, the Ali Ebne Hamzeh shrine. Here Farzaneh, Shirley and the girls have to put on a chador, Imamzadeh Hamzeh mausoleum dome vault with mirror glassbecause this is a special place. In the interior there is a hall with walls covered with a mosaic of mirrors. Very photogenic.

Shortly before 3pm we leave this place and drive to the Eram gardens, which are a botanical garden. Relatively steep entry fee of 150000 Rial. The gardens today are not as beautiful as they are in other seasons, because it's winter, many trees have no leaves and there are few flowers. Still, the place is full of people on this Iranian weekend.

At 4pm we drive back to the hotel and take a rest. Shapouri pavilion

 At 5pm Albert and I walk to the Shapouri pavilion, a beautiful building in neoclassical style with an adjacent park. The building contains a high-end cafe and restaurant.

The we walk along the Zand boulevard towards the citadel. There is plenty of activity on the streets now. Shops are open, cafes sell drinks and snacks, people walk on the streets.

We are back in the hotel around 6:30pm, then have a dinner at 7pm.



2.1: Shiraz -> Persepolis -> Pasargadae -> Isfahan
Hotel Kowsar, Isfahan. 2900000 Rial for a double room in a four star hotel. High class, the best hotel in which we have stayed so far in Iran. Room is nicely furnished, has everything. The hotel has two good restaurants.
Weather: sunny, blue sky and fresh in Shiraz when we leave. Fresh in the evening in Isfahan.

 We leave the hotel at 8:35am and start driving towards Isfahan. One hour later we reach the parking of the Persepolis sitePersepolis 100 columns palace (the former spring capital of the Persian empire). There we buy the tickets (price has gone up to 150000 Rial per adult) and proceed to the entrance.

Visitors are not allowed to bring backpacks into the site. This morning there are not too many people at the Persepolis site.

Naqsh-e-Rostam tombs and cliffAt 11:30am we meet at the cafeteria of Persepolis and shortly after that we drive to the next place, the Naqsh-e-Rostam necropolis. This site is 6km from Persepolis and consists of four tombs dug into the rock face and one building whose purpose is not clear (could be a fire tempe or a temporary tomb).

 At 12:20pm we are done with this site and drive to the restarant, the Laneh Tavoos restaurant. This is a restaurant serving traditional food and is targeted specifically for tourists. Today they have a buffet for 300000 Rial/person (children pay 200000 Rial). We are some of the first customers to arrive. After us some larger tour groups arrive.

At 1:45pm we start driving towards Pasargadae, the capital of Cyrus the Great (559–530 BC) and also the location of his tomb.

The road is a good two lane road, quite straight, with few curves, allowing fast driving (but the speed limit is 100-110 km/h).Pasargadae tomb of Cyrus

We reach Pasargadae at 2:45pm. This archaeological site of the Achaemenid period (entry ticket: 150000 Rial) lies at an altitude of over 1800m and in the late afternoon the light is quite special. There are a number of ruins of ancient palaces, spread over a large area in a plain. The most significant structure is the tomb of Cyrus.

Shortly before 4pm we have some tea which Ali, the driver, has prepared for us. Then, at 4pm, we start driving towards Isfahan.

While checking the bills, I notice that Samira of the Pars tour agency forgot to charge me for Road to Isfahanthe flights (Tehran-Ahvaz and Ahvaz-Kish). I send an SMS to Samira informing her about this. We agree that I will pay the amount to somebody of the Isfahan office of her tour agency tomorrow.

The road is quite easy (broad two lane motorway) and we proceed speedily towards Isfahan. In fact by 8pm we reach the hotel.

In the evening we have a dinner in the hotel, then have a short walk to an ice cream parlour.





3.1: Isfahan
Hotel Kowsar, Isfahan. Finally a fast enough Internet connection. The access codes they give out only last for three hours however (then you have to ask for a new one).
Weather: some thin clouds layer in Isfahan today. The sky opens up and closes again (high altitude clouds), otherwise sunny. More fresh than in the other cities (I have to wear a thin sweater below the jacket).Naqshejahan square Isfahan

We leave the hotel shortly after 9am and drive to the Naqsh-e Jahan square, which we reach at 9:30am. All of today's sightseeing will be in and around this square. Ceiling of inner hall Sheikh Lotf Allah mosqueThe winter morning sun gives this square a very special look today.

We visit the blue mosque (Sheikh Lotf Allah, ticket: 100000 Rial). This mosque has a very scenic, heavily decorated iwan and a beautifully decorated inner hall.

Next we visit the Shah mosque (ticket: 150000 Rial) at the long end of the square. This is a pretty large mosque with a huge inner court bordered by four iwans on each side, Jame mosqueand with a number of additional courts and halls.

At 11am we get out of this mosque. Ali Qapu palace - vault in the music roomWe then pay a visit to the Ali Qapu palace (ticket: 150000 Rial) on the long side opposite the blue mosque. This is only moderately interesting, except for the beautifully choreographed music room. The terrace from which usually there is a nice view of the Naqsh-e Jahan square today is not accessible, because it is undergoing renovation.

Chehel Sotoon palaceFrom the Ali Qapu palace we walk to the nearby Chehel Sotun palace (ticket: 100000 Rial). This consists of  large pavilion with 20 wooden columns adjacent to a pond. Inside there is a large room with wall paintings of scenes of the Iranian history.

At 12:10pm we are done with this palace and walk back to the Naqshejahan square. Then at 12:40pm we have lunch in the Partikan restaurant, a traditional restaurant next to the Naqshe Jahan square.

After lunch the guided sightseeing is basically over. We shop around a bit, and buy gaz and sohan, local specialities of Isfahan (sweets with honey and nuts). Lots of shops everywhere with beautiful handicrafts.

At 2:45pm we drive back to the hotel. There Shirley and the kids will spend the rest of the day. All three of them have some stomach problem and diarrhea. Must have been something they ate in the Partikan restaurant (all three ate from the buffet, while the other group members who didn't eat from the buffet don't have this problem).

Khaju bridgeShortly before 5pm Albert and I walk down to the river for some blue hour shots of the Khaju bridge. The river actually doesn't contain much water and the bridge is a dam in reality. At this time of the day the light and atmosphere is simply magical.

 Shortly before 6pm we walk back to the hotel, Abbasi hotelleave the tripod and other lenses in the room and get out again. This time we walk along the Chahar Bagh e Abbasi street towards the Abbasi hotel. This street is the main shopping street of Isfahan and is full of activity now.

We walk to the Abbasi hotel, a famous Isfahan hotel in caravanserai style with beautiful interiors, then back to the hotel, which we reach at 7pm.

At 7:30pm we have a dinner in the restaurant of the hotel.

At 8:30pm the guy from the Pars tour agency is supposed to come to collect the payment for the flights. He doesn't come and calls and asks me to leave the money at the cashier of the hotel. Very strange, but in the end I pay the amount to the cashier. Hopefully the money will reach the Pars tour agency.





4.1: Isfahan -> Kashan
Hotel Negarestan, Kashan. 2430000 Rial for a nice room, nicely furnished, with flat screen TV, fridge, phone, table+chair, smaller table+chair, attached bathroom with bathtub+shower. Breakfast included. Free and fast WLAN everywhere in the hotel, requiring no password. Everything is fine with this hotel, the only problem is that you are several km out of town (but close to the Fin gardens).
Weather: sunny, blue sky in Isfahan, warmer than yesterday. Overcast sky in Kashan, fresh.

We check out of the Kowsar hotel and start the second day of sightseeing in Isfahan.
Jame mosque
The first stop is the Jame mosque (ticket: 100000 Rial) which we reach at 10am. The minibus stops in an underground tunnel, then we walk up a staircase. We arrive in an area with older buildings, next to the bazaar which is surrounding the mosque.

The Jame mosque dates back to the 9th century and has been expanded for 10 centuries until the 19th century by the local rulers of the city. As such is contains architecture from various periods. Nowadays many parts are quite run down and are being or have been restored. The mosque is pretty large.
Armenian Vank cathedral
At 11am we walk out of the mosque, then spend some time in the bazaar area and at 11:20am drive to the Vank cathedral (ticket: 150000 Rial, tripods and flash not allowed inside the church building).

This is located in the Armenian quarter and is an Armenian Christian ZFC restaurantcathedral dating back to the 17th century. The church interior is decorated with beautiful and detailed frescoes of scenes from the Bible. In the peaceful inner court of the compound there is a museum.

At 12:20pm we walk out of the cathedral compound towards a KFC restaurant which the kids had spotted while we were walking to the Vank cathedral. It turns out that this is not a KFC, but a "ZFC". Otherwise it's more or less a copy of a KFC outlet (and they also sell pizza hut pizzas). There the kids order some chicken fast food. It takes a while to get served, because we are the first customers of the day. Finally at 12:50pm we have received the fast food and get back to the minibus. We then drive to the restaurant, arriving a 1pm.

This is a traditional restaurant with a large dining hall one level below the street, richly decorated with paintings, frescoes and decorations.

At 2:10pm we start driving towards Kashan. Road to isfahan to kashanInitially we are stuck in the heavy Isfahan traffic, but after a while we reach the motorway to Tehran.

After some more time, when we are far out of Isfahan, this motorway has three lanes + an emergency lane with a speed limit of 120km/h.

It's a pretty cool scenery. Desert-like plains, Tabatabei traditional houseevery now and then some rocky outcrops eroded over time, like in a wild west movie, endless open spaces, nice late afternoon sunlight.

We reach the Kashan outskirts where the hotel is located, then drive into town. At 4:45pm we park the car in the historical area near the Tabatabei traditional house. Some traditional houses are already closed, but the Tabatabei one is still open until 5pm. So we quickly pay a visit to the Tabatabei traditional house, then have a cup of tea near the minivan, do some souvenir shopping and finally drive to the hotel after dark. We spend the rest of the day in the hotel.




5.1: Kashan -> Qom
International hotel, Qom. 2880000 Rial for a triple room with TV, phone fridge, some furniture (table, chair, cupboard), A/C, heating, attached bathroom with shower. In our room the heating is out of control and the room is really hot. The hotel is conveniently located on the square adjacent to the shrine. Mediocre and overpriced (for Iran) restaurant in the hotel.
Weather: sunny, blue sky, fresh (not too cold) in Kashan. Same in Qom. After the sunset it gets pretty cold.

Amir Ahmad historical bathhouseWe leave the hotel at 10am and drive to the centre of Kashan, to the historical houses area, arriving at 10:20am. While the rest of the group are busy with the Boroujerdi historical house (ticket: 100000 Rial), I visit the Amir Ahmad historical bathhouse (ticket: 100000 Rial). This has some very nicely decorated interiors.

When I'm about to walk out, the caretaker stops me and tells me there is some nice view on the roof. Kashan view from Amir Ahmad bathhouseActually I'm a bit in a hurry, but fine, let's have a look. And indeed this morning the lighting is absolutely perfect for the small cupolas of the bathhouse. The caretaker even encourages me to walk to the highest point of the roof and explains me the surroundings.

So I spend some time on the rooftop. Later Albert tells me he saw me and took a picture of me. You can see a guy with a tripod on the highest point of a house taking pictures.

Shortly before 11am I'm back with the group. I fetch Albert and with him walk to the Abbasi historical house (ticket: 100000 Rial), where we take some more pictures.

We are rushing like hell, because the group is waiting for us and today we still have several places to visit. Strictly speaking you need a few hours to visit all historical houses in Kashan, but we have only an hour or so.

At 11:15am we rejoin the group and drive to the Fin gardens. The distance is not so big (about 7km), but there is some traffic, so it takes us 20 minutes to arrive.Fin gardens

The Fin garden (ticket: 150000 Rial) is a garden in a walled compound, maybe with a size of 100 x 200m. It dates back to the Shah Abbas I period and contains some water ponds and fountains and cypress trees. The water comes from an underground source. The gardens are very peaceful and relaxing, and more fresh than the surroundings.

After one hour at the Fin garden, at 12:15pm, we drive to a nearby restaurant for lunch. Between 12:30pm and 1:30pm we have a lunch, then start driving towards Qom.

We arrive in Qom at 3pm and initially drive to the holy shrine. This is the second most holy place in Iran after Mashhad. The shrine is near a huge square on which there is a mosque currently being restored. Most women here wear a black chador (head to feet cover).

While Shirley and the kids are taking a rest in the minivan, Albert and I try to visit the shrine. According to the guidebook, non-muslims may only access the shrine if accompanied by an accredited Muslim guide.

Farzaneh talks a bit to the guard at the men's gate. We are then allowed to get into the inner court. Lots of people on this Monday afternoon in the shrine. The inner court and the buildings are pretty scenic and photogenic.

While we are in the inner court a shrine guide approaches us and offers to show us around. After some discussion we follow this individual. He brings us to the other courts of the shrine, but not to the interior of the buildings. These are reserved to Muslims.

Qom shrineAt about 3:40pm we are done with the shrine and walk back to the minivan. This brings us in front of the hotel, where we check in. Then we pay Ali and Farzaneh for their services (Farzaneh has also prepaid the hotels in Isfahan,  Kashan and Qom) and split from them. Ali will bring Farzaneh to the airport where she will catch a flight back to Shiraz, while Ali will drive through the night back to Shiraz (1000km from IKA to Shiraz, 10 hours).

At 5:15pm we get all out of the hotel. Shirley is doing some shopping, while Albert and I have a look at the area and take some pictures.
Dried fruits shop
The buildings and malls here are quite old, as are the cars on the streets. It's as if the economy has been in slow motion for many years. A bit of German-democratic-republic-before-reunification feeling. Walking down the streets you get the impression that there hasn't been that much development in the past 10-20 years. At least not in this place.

At 7:30pm we have a dinner in the hotel. Since the food was not that good and Albert didn't eat that much, after dinner Albert and I go out again and buy some food. In one place they sell the cheapest freshly squeezed orange juice we have found so far in Iran (30000 Rial for one glass; elsewhere in Iran the juice costs 60-80000 Rial).

In kind of a bakery we buy some incredibly cheap pastry (sort of a fried krapfen/croissant filled with vanilla cream, selling for 7500 Rial/piece). Albert jokes that he could have had dinner for 15000 Rial instead of the 340000 Rial he payed in the hotel.

This is the current Iran: huge differences in prices. In one place the pricing level is close to the one in Germany, in another things cost a small fraction.

By 9pm we are back in the hotel and take a rest there.




6.1: Qom -> Istanbul -> Munich
Home, sweet home
Weather: cool but not too cold in Qom and Tehran airport when we leave. Light snowfall in the early morning in Istanbul airport. Sunny and cold in Munich.

At 1:35m we leave the hotel and drive by taxi (1400000 Rial for a minibus) to the Imam Khomeini Airport airport, arriving after 3am (they told us the trip would take one hour, but it took one hour and a half).

There we check in (quite cumbersome procedure; first you have to queue up for the baggage security scan, pretty long queue; then you have to find the check-in counter - but no electronic board shows you which is the right counter).

Then we look for a place where to change the remaining Rial into Euro. An airport staff lady tells us the money changer is in the gates area. Turns out that she has no clue, because there is no money changer there. Most likely the money changer is in the check-in area.

Our 4:55am Pegasus airlines flight takes off with about half an hour of delay. Almost all women on board are not wearing headscarves. Finally I can see some womanhood after two weeks of covered women. The hostess is even wearing a skirt and showing her legs. What a contrast with Qom, where women were covered from head to foot by black chadors.

This time the Pegasus plane, an Airbus A320-200, is a bit more spacious, i.e. there is more space in the seats.

The plane lands in Istanbul at 8am local time. We collect the boarding pass at the transfer counter. We didn't get one in Tehran, because we checked in online but could not print out the boarding pass. Albert, who instead didn't bother checking in online, got his second boarding pass already in Tehran.

At the money changer in Istanbul they don't take Iranian Rials (I still have 330000 Rials, about 8 Euro). Albert jokes that, with the current inflation levels, in a couple of years they won't be worth anything and that I can use them to wallpaper my home. In fact the Iranian Rial has devalued from 16000 to the Euro to 42000 to the Euro since 2011.

So we are at the Istanbul airport and have some breakfast while waiting for our flight to Munich. At 10:35am we start boarding the plane, at 11am the plane takes off.

The plane, a Boeing B737-800, is almost completely full. We reach Munich airport around 1pm and by 3pm, after some lunch and shopping at the airport, are back home.








Copyright 2015 Alfred Molon