The road down to Tabriz was fantastic. Excellently maintained and smooth, the complete opposite of our experience of Turkey. With the going easy and the fuel ludicrously cheap we made it to Tabriz just in time for rush hour.
A nice man in an old Mercedes stopped and offered to let us follow him into town. Unfortunately we lost him in the chaos when he made a turn I was not sure of. It later transpired he was trying to take us to ElGoli where there was camping and (more expensive) hotels. I felt a little bad about that one.
One of the interesting things about Iran is that the locals are only allowed max 200cc bikes by law. However, that did not stop a couple of plucky young lads blowing past us on the ring-road on a ZZR1100 with no plates (or helmets etc for that matter). I thought about it for a moment then realised the police have absolutely nothing to catch them with. pretty cool though i also wondered if the bike belonged to someone who was still looking for it.
The traffic was chaotic to say the least, especially at the roundabouts which reminded me of the figure 8 demolition derby at Nutts Corner. Added to this people driving and walking seemed entranced by our shiny machines and stopped to stare, sometimes directly in front of us in the lane. So mesmerised by us were they that they did not seem to realise they were about to be run over.
We stopped the bikes beside the main bazaar where they continued to attract more attention. Tired hot and stressed we went on foot to find a hotel. This made Helen very self conscious as she got a lot of stares in her bike gear, even with the headscarf.
Eventually we found a hotel with a side street to park the bikes. We negotiated back alleys to avoid the one way system and got back there ok and the bikes got safely tucked up. We wanted to leave early in the morning to avoid a repeat of the traffic. Another friendly man who spoke good English led us to a nice restaurant to eat and tried to pay the bill. I declined the required 3 times required by their custom and ended up paying about 3.5usd for half a roast chicken and some bread. I was still not convinced we paid the full bill somehow.
In the morning we decided to stay another day and see some of the city since we had already been through the traffic anyway.
A student at the university happened upon us and showed us were to get a lovely breakfast of bread honey and cream. He mentioned he had never been abroad because he did not have a passport. He said that you have to do 2 years military service to get one and it seemed a waste of time. I guess it is for someone at uni studying a respectable profession. I guessed that this is one way they tackle the brain drain the country has while getting something back. I also wondered if some people avoid the requirement by knowing the right people.
After a stressful morning looking for more suitable clothes for Helen (black is the new black) we happened upon Saheed while buying some water in a shop. Again he insisted on paying and then spent some time with us to show us towards the Blue Mosque. Kept as a museum now, it was destroyed by an earthquake and lay in ruin for many years before being rebuilt. The inside and outside of the building were once covered in blue mosaic tiles and it originally took the artists 25 years to painstakingly decorate. It was an oasis of quiet in a busy city.
Saheed then found us a car passing by and took us to El Goli gardens which had a large square pond, more like a lake with an ornate building in the middle, used today as a restaurant. It was a beautiful tranquil place with all the normal walking and chatting from the grown ups while the kids were let loose in pedalos. Even in the midst of this big city we felt safe. Our new friend got us back to the hotel with no drama and no hidden charges which was altogether refreshing and humbling at the same time.
The following morning we did leave early and the traffic was a lot more manageable. I wondered if the advice of the guidebooks not to drive at night should be turned on its head in the city. It seemed to me the best time to arrive in the middle of it was when everyone else is asleep.