My original plan was to take an overnight train from Van to Tabriz. However, Turkish Railways thwarted me at every turn in my attempts to buy a ticket. First it was too early to buy a ticket for that train, then I was told that I would have to go to another city to buy it. Travel agents didn't know about that train. Then by the time I found a travel agent that was willing and able to help, it was too late - the train was fully booked.
I left Van about 11:00 in the morning Thursday morning in a minibus. The bus was headed, through the mountains and snow, to Yüksekova, close to the Iranian border. There, I and the two other people going to the border got into a smaller car and went to Esendere. The border crossing there seems pretty quiet. At the end of the road there is a gate and inside the gate is the Turkish checkpoint. The rundown building that houses the Turkish checkpoint straddles the border and also contains the Iranian checkpoint. After exiting Turkey, I walked down a corridor to the Iranian checkpoint. There were a few Iranians and Turks there and they went through easily. When the guards saw my passport they redirected me to a room so that they could talk to me first.
|Stop in the mountains in Turkey on the way to the border|
The passport says "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland" on it, and they fixated on the Ireland part. They were asking me if I was from Ireland and I believe they thought it was an Irish passport. This was not the first time that has happened. So they asked me my nationality a couple of times, and asked where I live. I was relieved that they did not raise an eyebrow when I said that I live in Washington, DC, USA. They asked me the same questions a few times, maybe to see if they would get different answers. After about an hour of this they fingerprinted me and had me fill out a form, basically giving them the information that we had already talked about. Then they welcomed me to Iran. They were very friendly about it the whole time and I think one reason that they talked to me for so long was their curiosity. I asked them where I could change money. They told me that there is a bank outside of the building.
After leaving the building, the moneychangers were all over me. I just headed to a building called "Welcome Center" or something like that, assuming that the bank would be inside. I found the bank, and there were employees there, but they were not doing foreign exchange (I'm not sure what they actually were doing if not that). I guess it was because it was Thursday afternoon, and Friday in Iran is like Sunday in the west. Anyway a friendly unofficial moneychanger changed 10 euros for me. The guy at the bank told me how much a taxi should cost and wrote down for me, in Farsi, the instructions for the taxi driver to go to the Orumiyeh bus station (where there are buses to Tabriz). The 10 euros that I changed was enough to get a taxi to the Orumiyeh, a bus from Orumiyeh to Tabriz, a taxi to the hotel, and dinner in the hotel.
The bus goes over a salt lake and then through a bunch of mud flats before getting to Tabriz.
Friday morning in Tabriz was really dead. Most business were closed; some opened up later in the day. In the market, I only saw a few fruit and vegetable vendors.
|Park next to my hotel in Tabriz|
|Near the market in Tabriz|
|Mosque just outside market in Tabriz|
|One of the vendors open Friday morning in the market|
|Not sure what this building is|
|Outside the Tabriz Blue Mosque|
|Entrance to the Tabriz Blue Mosque. It's not a working mosque. It's a museum.|
|Inside the mosque museum.|
|A pedestrianized street with stores|
|A new mosque, about halfway between the market and my hotel|
|Next to that new mosque|
|People selling / shopping for trinkets in the park.|
Since Saturday is a normal work day in Iran I went out to get some pictures of the market in Tabriz before heading to the bus station to get to Tehran. It was early, so people were still opening up.
|A vendor in the market, Saturday morning|
|Somebody working on the fringe of a carpet.|
|Carpet shop in the market|
|In the carpet part of the market|
There is a travel company in Tehran that sells train tickets. You can book trains online through them, and then go to their office in Tehran and pay in cash. So I booked train tickets for all the rest of my trip in Iran (except for Tabriz - Tehran). I am going to pick up the tickets today, if I can get this company's address.