At our request from last night, we asked the tour guide that we have a much later start, given how tired we were. So 9 hours of sleep passed by – the sort of sleep you would have under anaesthetic. Waking up to a fresher brighter Tabriz, we made our way down for breakfast, met by Jager Battalion who were waiting in reception for their tour to continue to Tehran. Breakfast at Hotel Sahand had shifted paradigms again to something resembling lunch – cucumbers and tomatoes, cottage cheeses, carrot and sweetcorn jams, a flat bread resembling a cross between a pancake and a flat bread. Cay was now Cayai (Chai-ee), orange and cherry juices had been replaced with a very sweet orange squash. Fried eggs were kept warmed in a chafing dish close by. We were getting pretty accustomed (see bored out of minds) with cucumbers and tomatoes to start the day off.
We met our new tour guide today; the email sent in a fuzzy fit of tiredness and anger had resulted in a quick replacement with Reza – an older man who greeted us warmly and looked forward to taking us around Tabriz and the remainder of the tour. His personality was far more positive and he appeared in first impressions to be very approachable. We were optimistic today would be far better than the people-herding experiences of the border.
Our first stop was the Arg Citadel, a palace-come-mosque-come-ruin that was directly opposite our hotel. The very uniform brick design and structure predated classic “red-brick” buildings in the UK by some 400 years. Next up was the former town hall for Tabriz – now a museum displaying local history for public services such as fire-fighting and famous local professions – shoe making and Persian carpets. Gifts received by the Tabriz Municipality were also on display from bordering cities and countries. We moved on to take a break from the heat in the Blue Mosque, taking in the mosaics that adorned the walls and ceilings, and the architecture designs with inner and outer halls. We had arrived just before the high-noon prayer, and found Reza was happy to represent a more open side to Iranian culture. He escorted a Taiwanese lady across the Mosque so that a few men and a cleric could start praying. The cleric took exception to the way Reza greeted her as equal – a point Reza defended in representing a polite and open culture. We were left to tour the mosque by ourselves while the duo talked out their different opinions – it was refreshing to see the religious site through our own eyes.
The Azerbaijan Museum was next – a cultural tie between Iran and its northerly neighbour. Various artefacts were on display including hand tools, pottery, jewellery and coins/stamps, dating from pre-history, through to the Islamic and pre-modern eras. We stopped in for lunch at the Bath House restaurant – its name literally taken from it being a former bath-house, now a dining area and coffee house with traditional carpeted, and table/chair seating. Much to Rhys’ delght, salad was off the menu, and we were served with beans wrapped in vine leaves, a meatball with a berry filling and a mixed vegetable soup. In conversation, we brought up the British style of tea making – adding milk and dipping biscuits – Reza laughed hysterically, completely confused as to why you’d ever drink tea like this.
Meeting Reza’s best friend’s son – a budding student hoping to become a doctor – on the way across Tabriz, we continued to our final stop of the day, via purchasing Rhys a mouth guard and buying a new hammer, where the tent mallet had fallen so short in Dogubayazit. The Constitution House was the centre of the Iranian Constitution Revolution in the early 20th Century, culminating in major overhauls in Iranian political systems and lifestyles. All the key figure heads of this revolution were given large scale busts, and various portraits through the house, incuding an American school teacher – who in the revolution, protected his class as best he could but was gunned down. A ceremonial carpet was made and sent to his mother who unfortunately did not receive it.
We ended our day with Reza on very good terms, happy that our new tour guide was a good fit to the team. He let us take the road back to the hotel by ourselves, and we took the time to see Tabrizian life with our own perspective. People openly welcomed us in the street, either looking with curiousity or with smiles and a handshake. The was a feeling of pseudo-pioneering in the air – it wasn’t that we are the first English people to visit Iran, and the histories between our countries had been long and in some cases very difficult. The feeling was perhaps one of bravery; despite all the tensions and rough relations, despite all the news and public option we had received, we were still – here – in Iran, and staying for nearly 2 weeks. We rested well, with an early night to make sure we had an early start for the road to Tehran.