The flight from Turkmenistan was not planned, but happened in record time.
Two months in Central Asian countries had given me so much, but Iran’s call was now out of control.
Thirty-three days, a birthday, a stolen phone, nights in trains and in deserts, minarets, teas, bazaars, spices and non-alcoholic beers; and then traditions, cultures, religions, citadels, gardens, parks, landscapes, flavors and stories of a land with a million-year history.
But most of all, the warm hospitality and the smiles of a unique … and simply unforgettable people.
17 and 18 October, Mashhad ◀ Days 385 – 386 🇮🇷 ▶
After the discomfort experienced in less than 24 hours in Turkmenistan, Iran started with a boom.
And what a boom guys!
I was told about the wonderful hospitality of the Iranian people, but I never expected such a level.
Just walk on the street asking for direction and a guy on a scooter will pick you up; ask someone where you can find a place to eat and you will escorted and offered a dinner; visit a holy place and you’ll receive a private two-hours-tour by some English speaking volunteer professors.
Iranians, to make it short, are so far absolutely incredible.
And then Mashhad, the city where I arrived immediately after the border.
The holy city of Mashhad: the second most populous city in the country (8 million) and a pilgrimage destination for millions of Muslims every year, with the tomb of Imam Reza (the eighth in succession to the Prophet) and the gigantic complex of sacred Mosques and Squares all around it.
Impressive, nothing else to say.
For how it is conceived, but above all for the sensations and feelings it raises.
I admit it, I’m not a great believer, but I can’t even say that I’m completely disconnected from religion. Which one, however, I do not know.
I say I’m Christian to myself, but only because I was born in Italy. If I was born in Delhi, or in Tokyo, or in Lhasa, or actually in Mashhad, it wouldn’t probably be the same thing.
“So tell me now, do you really believe in Imam Reza?”, asked me today Hamid, a nice young boy on a pilgrimage from Isfahan whom I spent the afternoon with, among minarets, golden domes, thousands of people gathered in prayer and tales of miracles of the Holy Man.
“I do not know, Hamid. Really.”, I answered him, almost apologizing. “I believe there are good men and bad men. I believe he was definitely a very good man, who has given joy and hope to many people and still does it, but I can’t assure I believe in miracles or that you’ll find redemption if you bind yourself to his tomb. I like to believe it, let’s just say that. For the rest, I cut myself off and try to live at my best the time I am allowed to. Other things, I do not know. I guess I wouldn’t be able to understand them either.”
A puzzled smile came over his face shortly before we hugged in fraternal greetings, wishing each other good luck.
The question, however, still lies above me.
After spending two days in a place where religion is deeply lived in every single part of body and mind, I feel amazed, confused, and frustrated.
Like in front of a painting whereof importance I can’t get, or a game whereof rules I can’t understand, or a wonderful movie, but spoken in an incomprehensible language and without subtitles unscripted.
Can I really believe in Imam Reza?
Can I really believe in his miracles?
Or to those of Jesus?
Or that there is a Heaven?
I like to believe it, let’s just say that.
I mean, I would probably be very disappointed if I’ll find out that there is no other life after this, or a reincarnation, or whatever. As if I had to leave the film at the end of the first half, just before the beginning of the second one.
Maybe it will be like that, maybe not.
Sometimes I wonder about the questions I will ask myself when the time comes.
“Come on, really that was all?”
“Ah, no, there is a light! What is going to happen now? ”
“What am I turning into?”
“No no, I am still myself! Then will there be a way to hear again grandpa’s stories up there? Or to drink a beer with my friends? Or to play with my nephews? ”
“And what would be my age? How will my mother and my father see me? Like the man I’m now or like the newborn baby they cried onto many years ago? ”
“But above all … why am I still thinking?”
If I start it then I’ll never stop, that’s why I prefer to cut myself out.
It would be nice to see him up there, though, one day, the Imam Reza.
Along with all the others, and at the beginning of the second part.
Hoping only that, at some point during the projection, some kind of voice-over will come out to explain the whole story.
And, most of all, to tell the ending.
19 October, towards Kerman ◀ Day 387 🇮🇷 ▶
I will never stop loving travelling by train. Especially when I’m in a new country, where at the beginning I don’t understand anything, I wave between uncertain directions, wander for a little in the middle of fascinating stations and then I find the track, the train, the wagon, the right berth, put my the bicycle over my head and a brand new world opens in front of me.
20 hours run fastly if you have a place to lay down, traveling companions who become friends and offer you food, a good book, a big desire to sleep and maybe even some incredible Persian sunsets.
20 October, Kerman ◀ Day 388 🇮🇷 ▶
I must admit: still I didn’t understand anything.
I’ve been in Iran for 4 days now, but I really understood just a little, or maybe nothing.
After Mashhad’s deep religiosity, a long train journey and half a day in Kerman, I can only say that the variety of this country is incredible, embarrassing, at times overwhelming.
Is not an easy country at all, and there is too much to do, too much to see, too much to live; today, for a moment, I was almost taken down.
So I tried not to think too much, not to study the possibilities and let it flow as it will come in the next few days.
Then, after riding my bicycle through the secrets of Kerman, after passing roads, parks and bazaars, a man named Hossein took me by the hand.
“Where are you from?”
The questions stopped there.
“Come here, my friend. Sit down. Please help yourself with what we got and stay here with us as long as you like. This is my family. Now, even yours. ”
The evening lights then wrapped the day.
And, thanks to Mr. Hossein, tomorrow is not so scary anymore.
21 October, around Kerman ◀ Day 389 🇮🇷 ▶
You are in Iran. You came from the northeast border. You have 30 days and an immense country – in terms of extensions, history and possibilities – to visit. After two days in the holy city of Mashhad, you decide to move on. You open the maps and choose a random city in the south. A 20-hours-train journey takes you there.
So you arrive in Kerman. You know very little about Iran, almost nothing about southern Iran and absolutely nothing about Kerman. It looks pretty and you decide to stay there for two days, ignoring completely what to do. You immediately clash with the natural difficulties of the region and the exorbitant cost of guided tours. You spend the first day in the streets, parks and bazaars, letting to the Iranians you the best memories.
Then the second day comes, and the options with it:
1) Spend it like the first one;
2) Try cycling to the mountains around Kerman, and make sure that the Dasht-e Lut desert really reaches the 70° you have been told (NASA measurements assure it to be the hottest place on Earth);
3) Look for some local transport and get to one of the towns around Kerman, where you’ll get randomly lost for a while;
4) Enter a hotel to change a few dollars, find that it is a meeting point for several travellers (the first day you didn’t even meet one) and 2 of them with the same questions you have, come across a silent, thoughtful and gentle (as well as absurdly cheap) taxi driver and so start a journey towards sumptuous gardens, epic citadels, colourful sandy mountains, asphalted tongues surrounded by deserts, rocky dunes with magical shapes and crazy sunsets that turn you into nothing, before the stars of an obscure night remind you that a new, incredible chapter of your Iranian book has just come to an end.
Which of the 4 options do you think I had?
The pictures are many, I know. But, believe me, even three times the number wouldn’t be enough.
All this, in a simple day in Kerman. Iran.
23 October, Yazd ◀ Day 391 🇮🇷 ▶
Then you get to Yazd.
And from the hostel terrace you see this…
24 October, Yazd ◀ Day 392 🇮🇷 ▶
Some few more images from a Persian jewel called Yazd.
And the last ones, being 33.
26 October, Mehriz ◀ Day 394 🇮🇷 ▶
After spending my birthday in Yazd’s enchantment, today I chose to open my 34 by pedaling on my bicycle.
Towards the south. Towards a town named Mehriz.
About fifty sandy kilometers to meet with Ali, who had offered me hospitality when I was still in Mashhad (power of the internet).
Iranian hospitality has once again proved incredible; as if I had been reunited with an old friend, waiting to re-embrace me after years of military exile.
It’s simply impossible not to love this country.
PS: I do not usually wear purple-glittering sandals. I was just welcomed at Ali’s house and his wife gave me the first available pair of slippers not to let me stay barefoot. Things go straight in Iran.
27 October, Mehriz ◀ Day 395 🇮🇷 ▶
What happens when you’re in Iran, it’s Friday, and you wake up in a cyclist’s home?
It happens that the alarm rings at 6 o’clock, you take one of your guest’s mountain bikes, wait for a bunch of friends, pedal towards some Persian mountains, sweat for more than two hours under a cruel sun and then reach someone’s house where some other friends already have lit a fire, stretched the carpets and boiled the tea.
Then somebody starts cooking, somebody pulls out baskets of fruit, bread, cheese, sugar and candy, somebody prepares the shisha and somebody starts singing or dancing, recalled by the beat of the hands of the whole group.
Easy. No frills and no troubles.
Just the simple desire to be together and have fun, sharing those little things you can share anytime you can.
Because Friday in Iran – as in all Islamic countries – is like ours Sunday, and I have no doubt anymore that this is the most generous and smiling country I have ever met in my entire life.
28 October, Kashan ◀ Day 396 🇮🇷 ▶
Faces from Iran. (No, it’s not really a nice country)
29 October, Kashan ◀ Day 397 🇮🇷 ▶
Here Kashan, Iran.
Nothing new to tell.
Over and out.
31 October, Kashan ◀ Day 399 🇮🇷 ▶
Sorry if I didn’t write yesterday.
I went a bit too far, and at the end the night surprised me.
I was looking for the end of Iran, but I couldn’t find it. Instead, just a never ending beauty.
1 November, Isfahan ◀ Day 400 🇮🇷 ▶
If Samarkand meant happiness and satisfaction, Isfahan goes astonishment and magnificence.
Today, All Saints’ Day 2017, I set foot (and wheels) in what is perhaps the most representative site of all Iran. No doubts, one of the most incredible I’ve ever met on my way.
And tomorrow … 400 🌏
2 November, Isfahan ◀ Day 401 🇮🇷 ▶
I had imagined I would celebrate it in a different way, the day number 401 of my journey. Instead, a stupid and fatal lack of attention and a mighty Iranian thief wanted otherwise.
Yes, because after being with me in Greece and a good part of the world, after getting lost and found in Serbia and Mongolia, after surviving two water accidents in Vietnam and Thailand, my trusted little smartphone, last night, decided to separate its road from mine.
Spending the whole day in solving all of those problems related to a phone theft, especially when you are in a foreign country, was not exactly what I wanted.
But that’s it.
Iran gives, Iran takes away.
And then gives back again.
This is in fact a picture with the person who, asking for nothing in return, has been accompanying and helping me throughout the day to overcome some very hard troubles I wouldn’t have been able to face alone, and allowed me to keep intact the image of a country which – once again – left me speechless.
For a phone can be lost, found or bought again… but a real, genuine friendship remains a very rare gift to meet in life.
So thank you, Mohsen.
And thank you, once again, Iran.
3 November, Isfahan ◀ Day 402 🇮🇷 ▶
For Iranians do not really know what it’s like spending their free day outdoors and in simple harmony.
And even less what the meaning of picnic is.
PS: I just wanted to read a book in the park today, but then …
4 November, Isfahan ◀ Day 403 🇮🇷 ▶
Three days in Isfahan doing virtually nothing.
The first one, wandering around with a Spanish friend met at the hostel, postponing it all afterwards (and then getting phone-robbed in the evening). The second one, solving the problems coming from the theft. The third one, fattening amidst picnics and invitations from Iranian families.
Days are running fast and those left on my visa are no longer many, so today I chose to move to the south. To Shiraz, another major city in the country.
A little sad actually, for having enjoyed too little of Isfahan’s gems.
But with the clear intention of coming back, one day not too far away in time.
5 November, Shiraz ◀ Day 404 🇮🇷 ▶
“How beautiful Shiraz is, not a place in the world is equal!” wrote Hafez, Persian poet and mystic, centuries ago.
I can not say otherwise, though one day is still too little to reconfirm her beauty.
Certainly in Shiraz there is something that in the other Iranian cities so far I didn’t find, which actually I really missed since the days in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Something that has allowed me to practice my favorite city hobby: a simple mountain, which I was able to climb easily to admire the city from above, enjoy a beer (oh, no, sorry, I’m in Iran), waiting for the lights to go out and a new, surprising, curtains fall.
6 November, Shiraz ◀ Day 405 🇮🇷 ▶
So maybe Hafez was right …
7 November, Shiraz ◀ Day 406 🇮🇷 ▶
“Vieri, do you know where you are going to be in November?”
“No idea, uncle! it’s in four months! Why?”
“Well, me and auntie are joining a tour to Iran and we thought it would be nice to meet you there … what do you say?”
“Then I say I’ll be in Iran!”
One of the toughest parts of solo traveling is to stay away from the people you love.
For me it is certainly the most difficult one, and the reason why I am going – although very slowly – back home.
But this is also how a simple embrace becomes an unforgettable surprise, and one of the most beautiful travel memories of this long and bizarre wandering around the world.
8 November, Shiraz (Persepolis)◀ Day 407 🇮🇷 ▶
Setting off to discover the palaces of Darius, Artaxerxes, Cirus the Great, and the treasures of the capital of the Persian Empire – one of the richest and most impressive empires ever seen on earth – given to the flames by Alexander the Great during his fierce conquest of the world … and instead ending up finding your own uncle 😎😍
9 November, Shiraz ◀ Day 408 🇮🇷 ▶
First to the East, then to the West and finally to the South.
Three weeks in Iran starting from Mashhad and getting to Shiraz.
Now is time to leave this other Persian gem and begin the road to the North.
Towards Tehran, then the Caucasus.
And winter ❄
11 November, Tehran ◀ Day 410 🇮🇷 ▶
Tehran, for those – like me – not great fans of metropolises and urban environment in general, could easily seem like the beginning of the Apocalypse.
Yet, I do not know how, there is something fascinating about it. To find out what is that about will not be easy, but I’ll give it a try.
At least for one day 😅
12 November, Tehran ◀ Day 411 🇮🇷 ▶
Tehran is chaos, Tehran is gray, Tehran is gas, Tehran is smog, Tehran is traffic, Tehran is whistles, Tehran is noises, Tehran is a hundred-head monster where 15 million individuals live a hectic life and build a never-ending puzzle which twists and turns continually.
Tehran, briefly, is not a beautiful place.
For me, at least.
But … but there is magic somehow.
And a very special type of magic indeed.
13 November, Tehran ◀ Day 412 🇮🇷 ▶
Three days in Tehran and living them in a small warm family, surrounded by that kind of care and sweetness only a mother, a friend and a sister could give.
This is for me the true magic of Tehran, and of the whole of Iran.
The real one.
14 November, Tabriz ◀ Day 413 🇮🇷 ▶
30 days in Iran today, and here I came to what probably will be for me the last stop – this time, at least – in this amazing country.
Tabriz, Northwest of Iran.
A city not far from the Caucasus mountains, from the borders with Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan as well as the Kurdistan region, wounded hardly two days ago by a disastrous earthquake.
A city outside the most classic tours of Iran; perhaps because it is far distant from its most famous sisters (located in the Center – South of the country), or perhaps because it is incredibly – and unforgivably – underestimated.
15 November, Tabriz (Kandovan) ◀ Day 414 🇮🇷 ▶
It couldn’t end but like this, with Iran.
After giving me continuous surprises, during 30 days, with mosques in Mashhad, deserts of Kerman, silent streets and amazing views in Yazd, friends in Mehriz, uniqueness in Kashan, squares and bridges in Isfahan, colours, antiquities and family hugs in Shiraz, secrets and sweetness in Tehran, and with bazaars and delicacies in Tabriz … today, during my very last day in this special land, Iran won me completely.
Like crystallized, in front of a place whose existence is difficult even to imagine. And whose beauty really left me speechless.