The idiosyncrasies of Iran
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