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For a cheap hotel the downstairs cafe was a real brekkie bonus, and it was here I saw the boy use an abacus to do his books, another Asian quirk and the first I had seen except once in Georgia. But then Georgia was notably backward and it was only to be expected there! Another first was the sight of men drinking tea with a sugar lump gripped between their teeth, not an unknown concept to me but a bit daft. Why not just dissolve it? The answer? Cos they didnt give you a spoon to stir it with! Needless to say, if they were lucky they grew old enough to lose their front teeth. I pretty quickly grew tired of burning my fingers then remembered I had brought a teaspoon from home for just such occasions, courtesy of McDonalds no less. The small glasses they served it in were still stupidly too hot to handle though. It was on a par with the other local trick of trying to eat a half chicken with nothing but a table spoon, that one really took the biscuit.

Out on a day trip by bus, I had expected the sex segregation to be more rigid, men up front and women at the back, but it seemed the only rule was not to sit next to an unrelated female. It was very casual. Most buses were emblazoned with a slogan and my first one was "Fire Bird", hopefully not an omen to be realised, then in a quirky Scottish bent the second said "See You Satan" in Latin calligraphic script. It was certainly a variation on the convention of turning the front of buses into holy shrines! I went via the town of Osku where I struggled to find onward transport, sometimes the only taxi seat available was next to a woman which was a complicating factor to the vagaries of hitching. Upon seeking the help of a local, the boy tried to help me by writing down some directions before I showed him from the rest of my notebook that I didnt understand one letter of his Persian script. Doh! Yup, I knew the feeling. A minibus eventually turned up and from Osku the road entered snowy mountains, passing a frozen reservoir en route to my goal, Kandovan. I had come here to see this fascinating little rural village which is distinctive in that the locals still live in cave dwellings, hewed from eroded pyramids of volcanic ash deposited by an ancient eruption.

Dropped in Kandovan's main street, a bit of a flattery since it didnt really have any, I was instantly transported to what could only be likened to a set out of a Star Wars film. Curiously shaped houses with tiny doors and tinier windows of odd shapes were ranged in a topsy turvy procession on the hillside, some connected to each other by built in steps or walking over others' roofs, even up ladders or gantry walkways. From the couple of tiny shops there was not even so much as a cup of tea to be had. A man led a donkey down the one steep path on a rope surrounded by goats and clucking chickens, dodging freshly washed goat wool scattered on rooftops to dry and heaps of animal fodder. I then had an experience to defy all explanation.

I had already seen that happily there was only one other group of tourists around, from where they came I could not immediately fathom. At first I thought I heard English but then I wasnt so sure. Forced into the same area by the confines of the village, they spoke to me finally in Persian to which of course I replied in my finest Farsi that I didnt understand. The woman then queried in English where I was from and of course Scotland was the answer. It had been hard to tell due to the prescribed hijab, but so were they it transpired. Already sensing one of those rare moments, she wanted to know where I was from first before revealing their origins, and Dunfermline got the biggest gasp since Jim Leishman lifted the cup. They were from Limekilns! But more than that, it was absolutely surreal for me to then go one better by explaining that I was their postman! They were the Bazazi's, the Anglo-Iranian couple who owned the Italian restaurant in Limekilns, actually I knew their name but had just assumed it to be Italian. It took a while to sink in before I finally realised that I knew their address, I had been to their door many times of course! In a day full of surprises, 13 South Loanhead really took the biscuit. Celia, and Reza of Iranian descent who had gone to Scotland to study marine engineering and stayed, had come to visit family and were on an outing with brother Javad and his daughter Golnaz (meaning beautiful flower). Of course we couldnt just leave it at that and so most fortuitously for me the problem of transport back to Tabriz was solved, Javad's very nice new shiny Iranian manufactured car did the trick. That wasnt before we stopped off at a cheerfully twee roadside restaurant however, full of shady trees and tropical birds, where I had the good fortune of trying the national dish Abgusht for the first time. You needed someone to show you how to eat it and of course this was the perfect opportunity. Essentially a stew served in a metal pot known as a Dizi, an alternative name for the dish, you poured out the liquid and ate it first as a soup, then after removing the ubiquitous blob of fat you pulverised the remnants into a paste with a masher and scooped it up with bread. Meat, chickpeas and assorted veg, complimented by 10 year old garlic soaked in vinegar, it was the scrummiest thing I had tasted in months.

Dropping me back in town I made the most of the rest of the day by first searching out one of Tabriz's most revered sights. The Arg-e Tabriz is a huge ceremonial gate once used as a mosque and fortification, built in a red brick which belies its 13th century pedigree. A little rough around the edges having endured many earthquakes, it sat partially supported by scaffolding as was the nearby brightly tiled Blue Mosque. But then as some tour guide I once overheard had quipped to their disappointed ensemble, there wouldnt be any sights left to see otherwise! I excelled myself by then cramming in the conveniently long houred Tabriz Museum, renowned to be one of the finest in the country. First off, a point of note were the unique and unusual handbag shaped objects carved from stone which quite appropriately were considered to be symbolic treasury purses celebrating the wealth of long gone kings. They were enriched with carvings of beasts, one curiously resembling a brace of Loch Ness Monsters! Another notable was a sword bearing the inscription "From Simash Shipak, King of the World". Perhaps the museums most famed display however is an ancient local grave find dubbed "The Lovers". Male and female skeletons in the foetus position faced each other, 3000 years old. True to form the museum staff decided to close earlier than the displayed time but no matter, I had seen the important stuff. Downstairs I just had time for a rush around an excellent collection of very large contemporary sculptures with thought provoking themes such as Famine, Poverty and War. Scary stuff.

I finished the day off with a long late trail in search of dinner, with an inexplicable lack of restaurants but loads of fruit juice joints on offer, not what you really look for though when its minus 2. In the end I hit upon a lone deserted kebab place where the bloke was keen to speak passable German, that was good enough for me.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Iran

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