Time for Tea – Tabriz, Iran

With our bus from Jolfa terminating at Tabriz’s norther terminal we’d cleared far enough away from the border towns that the taxi driver gives us a more than reasonable price straight up for the ride to the middle of town. Golestan Park is the best place to be dropped off as there are loads of hotels in the vicinity covering all budgets. Trotting up the stairs to the closest option, Sina Hotel, we about-face and strut right back out gob smacked at the IRR1,500,000 (USD$50) price.

Next to cool kids will be at it.

Streets of Tabriz

Florist

Streets of Tabriz

The Theatre

Streets of Tabriz

Leaving Sarah and the bags with a paper cup of coffee from a small stand in the park, Matt finds a place for the right price in Jahan Nama Hotel (see tips below). More than happy with the super clean private bathroom, the fully functioning shower head was luxury, Wi-Fi was good and there was plenty of space for yoga. The small fridge also meant putting together a fresh fruit and yoghurt breakfast in the morning would be that much easier.

What no Beer?

Welcome tea at Jahan Nama Hotel

Hotel Jahan Nama.

Jahan Nama Hotel

Hotel Jahan Nama.

Spacious rooms at Jahan Nama Hotel

Scrubbing ourselves up after a couple of showerless days, the keenness to immerse ourselves into the Iranian cuisine is overwhelming so lucky for us the recommended (though a little costly) Tabriz Modern Restaurant is just down the road, conveniently on the way to the main sights. A non-descript doorway leads to a subterranean space which is bizarrely decorated in a confusion of styles. Part cheap Greek restaurant, complete with a full wall sized photo of what looks like Santorini, and part modern kitsch, see the wall adorned with old phones and typewriters, the food is filling and delicious. With no idea at this stage what the names are both the lamb stew and beef, eggplant, lentil and bean mix go down a treat. Your main meal comes with soup, salad, rice and bread included in the price. If you’re starving come here and stuff yourself stupid.

Huge feed at a decent price at Tabriz Modern Restaurant

Huge feed at a decent price at Tabriz Modern Restaurant

Deserted Streets due to New Year

Deserted bazaar during Nowruz holiday

Juice sellers everywhere.

Juice bar

Back upstairs to obtain our first taste of the Iranian culture it doesn’t take long, as soon into our exploration of the Arg-e Ali-Shāh (Arg of Tabriz) we’re ambushed (no alcohol this time!).  Gathering that we must be an exotic species amongst the many Iranian tourists, pretty quickly we’re bombarded with requests for photos. Constantly. So much so that Sarah has now shelved plans for a face lift, as relentlessly holding a smile made her cheeks so sore she felt like she’d given herself a natural one.  Originally a 14th century mausoleum, it was never completed when the roof collapsed and in the 19th century the Russian’s turned it into a military compound. The city’s been named the Islamic Centre of Culture for 2018 which seems to have kicked off a load of new construction and restorations works and the Arg is on the hit list.

IMG_0227

The 14th century Arg of Tabriz

Street Art

Streets of Tabriz

Street art

Streets of Tabriz

The small park adjacent to the Blue Mosque is teeming with people all enjoying the shaded area and with it being Nowruz it’s particularly busy. A photo here, a photo there with more locals. We found that by venturing to the back of the park we could get a photo of the front of the Blue Mosque for free, saving the New Year inflated entry cost of IRR150,000.

The Blue Mosque

Slightly rundown entrance to the Blue Mosque

Can't walk 5 meters without posing for a photo

Another photo shoot on the streets of Tabriz

A giant carpet

Giant carpet sculpture

Town Hall.

Tabriz Town Hall and Museum

New Year (Nowruz) celebrations

One of the many individually painted eggs around town for Nowruz celebrations

Tabriz has a fascinating history and it’s believed it may even be the location of the Garden of Eden, though it’s had it’s share of earthquakes, invading armies and the like to ensure it’s grandeur never got too grand. Most of the sights are within walking distance of each other, from the Blue Mosque you can walk pass the 1917 Fire Tower, where somebody was on the look out for signs of fire 24 hours a day, and the stone Qari Bridge. A centuries old landmark the highly detailed bronze statues of Silk Road merchants and their camels crossing over the Quri Chay River would lead you to believe it’s an iconic Silk Road crossing, but we couldn’t find any information to back this up. It’s here that we experience our first taste of genuine Iranian friendliness.

Old Silk Road Bridge, Qari Bridge.

Qari Bridge

Minaret

Brick minaret

New Year (Nowruz) Celebrations

New Year decorations

Somehow a gentleman guessed we were tourists and pulled up in his car. As he approached us with a city map in his hand asking if we needed it or any help we thought

‘Here we go, the typical tourist tout’

But no, even though he spoke less than perfect English he managed to recommend some sights for us, ensured we felt safe, welcome and happy and even called a friend to translate anything we were saying that he couldn’t understand. Not long after he’d left we found ourselves stranded at an intersection as every car from two different directions slowed down, stared at us, smiled, waved and shouted

‘Welcome to Iran!’

out the window. This unfortunately meant trying to actually cross the street was impossible. Heading northwards, once we finally get the cars to stop and let us cross, we enter a small park on for views of the Maqbarat-O-Shoara, or Tomb of Poets. Over 400 poets are reportedly buried here and like many of the cities sights it’s undergoing massive renovations. 

Some of the most amazing doors anywhere in the world.

Streets of Tabriz

Poets Tower.

Tomb of Poets

Matt's little Pearl in an Oyster Shell.

Sarah getting used to her new mandatory fashion accessory

Beside the tower is the Imamzadeh Hamzah Mosque. Containing the tomb of Hamzah, son of one of the Twelve Imam’s of Shia Islam Sarah has her first experience with what comes to be known as ‘the bed sheet’ but is officially called a chador. The friendly young cleric inside leads us to entrances on opposite sides of the shrine which is bathed in a green glow with light streams reflecting off the intricately mirrored ceiling, a style known as Imamzadeh for which Iran is famous.

Here it’s the first of many times we are offered bottomless cups of tea and piles of sweet biscuits. Exchanging Instagram ID’s (the most used social media site between foreigners and locals) and photos in front of the 700 year old door we depart with a small plastic clock as a gift from the Mosque, one of many we would receive over the course of our experience in Iran.

Seyyed Hamze Mosque

In front of the 700 year old door at Imamzadeh Hamzah Mosque

Seyyed Hamze Mosque

Inside Imamzadeh Hamzah Mosque

Seyyed Hamze Mosque

Cleric in front of the 700 year old doors at Imamzadeh Hamzah Mosque

Seyyed Hamze Mosque

Inside Imamzadeh Hamzah Mosque

Seyyed Hamze Mosque

Spectacular mirror mosaics inside Imamzadeh Hamzah Mosque

Being in the state of East Azerbaijan the language and cuisine is different up here to other parts of Iran. The opposite direction down the road from the hotel to Tabriz Modern is a tiny Azeri restaurant where the lone chef pumps out cheap and tasty meals. Having absolutely no idea what each menu item consisted of the friendly chap was more than happy to take Matt into the back kitchen and show him the pots of brewing food.

Eating at our favourite Azeri Restaurant.

The one man kitchen at our favourite little Azeri restaurant

Eating at our favourite Azeri Restaurant.

Eating at our favourite little Azeri restaurant

Huh?

Streets signs in Farsi

Going for the plain old chicken skewer and rice with a green herb and bean stew based on the popular Persian dish ghormeh sabzi we are yet again amazed with the quality of the food even from a fast food joint.So much so that we returned the following night before the night train to Tabriz. We’d previously read that finding anything but kebabs and bread was nigh on impossible though this so far seemed completely unfounded.

Mosque.

Mosquex

We found ourselves in two minds about being in Iran during the Nowruz celebrations, the sights and streets were packed though others like the bazaars were all but closed down.  Suppose it’s good on the wallet. Still we headed to the historical old bazaar to check it out and on the way stopped for a cheap snack of boiled egg, potato, tomato and chilli wrapped in a pita style bread from a street vendor. And that’s when it happened, our first crowd mob. It started with a family photo, then another family photo, then we were handed a baby, then we were being pulled in every direction as people from all over rushed to join the throngs of people vying to have their picture taken with us.

Locals

Cheap street food of boiled egg, potato and some salad in a bread wrap

The Bazaar

Tabriz Bazaar

Locals

A couple of locals enjoying the street food

Finally making a break for it we rush into the peacefully vacant passageways of the old bazaar. Between the 12th and 18th centuries the Tabriz Bazaar Complex, the largest roofed bazaar in the world, was one of the most important on the Silk Road for trade between Asia and the rest of the world and it still has the vaulted brick ceilings, various connecting passages and huge old wooden doors which Marco Polo must have looked upon all those years ago. Apparently he raved about it and we could see why. Wandering through we come to an entrance way and sweeping aside the heavy draped curtain a square opens up with the Jame Mosque’s minarets towering at the opposite end.

The Bazaar

Tabriz Bazaar

The Bazaar

Tabriz Bazaar

The Bazaar

Tabriz Bazaar

Destered Bazaar due to Nowruz

Tabriz Bazaar almost deserted during Nowruz

The Bazaar

Tabriz Bazaar

The understated vaulted brick interior is serene as locals have come to relax in the alcoves along the windowed frontage. Some of them are even nice enough to offer us a bag of mixed nuts with a warming smile, handing us both huge handfuls when they see we haven’t taken enough. For those who haven’t a map there’s a tourist office immediately outside the gates and while the attendants English is not the best we are given a tour of the historical old building, moving down into the basement area with its small water pool and a table holding the typical offerings for Nowruz. Like the Chinese New Year 1395 is the year of the monkey (yes it’s 1395 in Iran) and the display contains the ‘Haft-Seen’ or ‘Seven S’s’, seven items traditionally presented all starting with the Persian letter S and including apples, dates, goldfish and coins (you can read more about it here). The manager wastes no time in having us sat down to a pot of tea as we become enchanted by the hospitality bestowed upon us. 

Jame Mosque

Jame Mosque inside the bazaar

Jame Mosque

Jame Mosque inside the bazaar

Friendly Tour office invited us in for tea during the new Year celebrations of Nowruz.

Beneath the Jame Mosque where we were taken on a brief tour, table contains typical Nowruz offering to celebrate year of the Monkey

Friendly Tour office invited us in for tea during the new Year celebrations of Nowruz.

Sipping tea beneath the Jame Mosque inside the bazaar

Free Nuts from some guys in the Jame Mosque.

Fruit and nuts given to us by some locals inside the Jame Mosque

Passing back through the bazaar and back onto the main street an older gentleman in traditional garb shoves a leaflet in our hands and rambles some incoherent Farsi to, or rather, at us. Looking at all the banners of advertisement and a little confused about where we are, we decide that having a peek inside the restored Nobar Baths might just be worthwhile. The baths have been in their current location for 140 years  and were built in the traditional style, operating as public baths until 1994.

‘Wow’

Passing down a hallway displaying timeworn hand painted tiles and though a boring lobby, a waiter ushers us into a traditional teahouse where we’re spellbound immediately. The small domed interior is smoky from the patrons lounging on day beds toking away on ḡalyān (hookah pipes) and a small eight pointed star shaped pool and fountain bubbles away in the centre. Spotting a place on the floor beside it with our names on it we kick back on the cushions and watch the Nowruz goldfish swim about in it, looking, as we do, like the only tourists for miles around.

Historic Baths Tearoom

Inside the old Nobar Bath’s

Historic Baths Tearoom

Inside the old Nobar Bath’s

Historic Baths Tearoom

Inside the old Nobar Bath’s

Not knowing what the deal was we naively order two coffees. In a teahouse. Eventually we decide to join the crowd and asking about the ḡalyān discover it comes as a ‘deal’ and we get a large pot of tea, a plate of baklava and a freshly packed pipe for about USD$10. The hookah has a long history throughout the world and is believed to have spread from India around 500 years ago. The peach flavoured tobacco and molasses smoke relaxes as it evokes a sense of exotic harems, silk merchants, Littlefinger’s Brothel and a bygone era.

Historic Baths Tearoom

Inside the old Nobar Bath’s

It’s our third day in Iran and the infectiousness is taking a grip on us but sadly our time in Tabriz is up. As our next destination is the capital of Tehran the economical decision to take the overnight sleeper train is a no brainer and we enter our 4-berth compartment unsure what the law is against removing your headscarf to sleep in public. In a bid to avoid strangling herself in her sleep it came off, as did the long sleeves.

Will we find the same reception in Tehran, knowing that capital cities tend to be a little faster paced and less personal? Stay tuned to find out and while you’re waiting head to our Flickr page to see more photos of stunning Tabriz.

 

The Bazaar

Tabriz Bazaar


 

Tips for Tabriz

  • In Tabriz taxis seem to operate at a general price of IRR10,000 per kilometre, so a taxi from the north bus terminal to Golestan Park (about 7km) should be about IRR70,000.
  • Jahan Nama Hotel is located on Emam Avenue (between Felesin and Shariati streets) and a twin room costs between IRR660k – 750k (USD$20-25). The staff are great and there’s a kitchen which they let us use to cook breakfast. There’s also a kettle perpetually on the boil.
  • Entry prices seem to be inflated for the New Year. You’re going to be surprised how much you can spend here during this period and you may have to pick and choose the sights you really want to see if you’re on a budget.
  • There’s many traditional houses and museums to visit in Tabriz though again due to Nowruz they we both busy and expensive. Tourists have to pay up to 7 times the amount of locals and when it’s up to IRR200,000 (USD$7) per site quickly adds up and can strain your budget to bursting point.
  • The Nobar Baths in the bazaar is well worth a visit. For a traditional experience joining the locals for tea, baklava and a ḡalyān to wile away a few hours in the teahouse can’t be beat.
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2 responses to “Time for Tea – Tabriz, Iran

  1. I got a bit emotional that people were slowing their cars down to say ‘Welcome to Iran’. That’s so friendly!

    Like

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