The idio­syn­cra­sies of Iran

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - JANE FREE­BURY

As I look around on the flight to Tehran, none of the other fe­male pas­sen­gers is wear­ing a head­scarf. Not yet, any­how, and not un­til we land.

And Argo, the movie about US Em­bassy hostages es­cap­ing post-rev­o­lu­tion­ary Iran, seems a rather sur­pris­ing in-flight en­ter­tain­ment op­tion as we make a low-key en­try into the Is­lamic Repub­lic.

So day one and here goes. I drape a scarf over my hair. There will be two weeks of this im­po­si­tion, but with the prospect of an­cient palaces, a car­a­vanserai on the fa­bled Silk Road, the heady ex­pe­ri­ences of Per­sian bazaars, and ro­man­tic Shi­raz and Is­fa­han all ahead of me, it will surely be well worth it.

Our over­land tour with Pere­grine Ad­ven­tures will wend through cen­tral Iran, be­gin­ning in Shi­raz, a lovely, laid-back city where it’s not hard to find ice cream, cakes and cof­fee that are sec­ond to none, though not of course any of the fa­mous wine that orig­i­nated here.

Shi­raz is Iran’s cul­tural cap­i­tal, a cen­tre of phi­los­o­phy and learn­ing down the cen­turies. Per­sia’s most fa­mous poet, Hafez, who lived in the city in the 14th cen­tury, is buried here and our lo­cal guide reads us some of his verse.

Cel­e­brat­ing love, spir­i­tu­al­ity, long­ing, and the lack of re­straint af­forded by wine, it forms the ba­sis of many say­ings used to­day. Our guide says you can find Hafez’s book of verse along­side the Ko­ran in al­most ev­ery Per­sian home. The claim seems a bit far-fetched, but later I re­alise it’s not as I ex­pe­ri­ence first-hand the cul­ture of these thought­ful and en­gag­ing peo­ple.

On our walk across Shi­raz we en­joy an ex­cel­lent espresso but the young barista won’t let us pay. A cou­ple of days later in the Za­gros Moun­tains on a walk past an or­chard, we pause un­cer­tainly as a young man runs to­wards us. He thrusts three big, rosy ap­ples at us and they are crunchy, juicy and de­li­cious.

On two oc­ca­sions, we dine at lo­cal homes, in­clud­ing with a mid­dle-class fam­ily in Kashan. These are friendly, re­laxed oc­ca­sions at which we sit on the floor around a vast spread of home-cooked food, with de­li­cious egg­plant dips, chicken stews in wal­nut and pome­gran­ate juice. Though, for me it is the im­promptu mo­ments that stand out. It’s im­pos­si­ble not to feel wel­come in Iran.

Ira­ni­ans throng to their parks and gar­dens and we also

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