The Pars International hotel in Shiraz has wireless internet. Don’t have a laptop? No problem! They will deliver a loaner to your room for a rate of 10,000 Rials, about a buck an hour! I have been walking non-stop since early this morning. Being able to prop my feet up while emailing from the room? Priceless! I celebrated my birthday in route to Shiraz. Though Facebook is blocked, I was still able to view my Happy Birthday wishes by way of email, which makes our world feel very small in a comforting sort of way.
I would not have otherwise picked a nine hour bus ride as a way to celebrate my birthday, though it turned out to be a very memorable experience. We stopped along the way for lunch near the tomb of Cyrus the Great. It was oppressively hot, and I was so drowsy after lunch that I almost got on the wrong bus. I felt like I was sleepwalking, shuffling very slow due to the baking sun through my black shroud-like garments. Finally, I stumbled onto the bus, the last one on, and as I hit the top step of the bus everyone shouted “SURPRISE!!!”They had decorated the bus with dozens of balloons, everyone had noisemakers, and there was a giant Happy Birthday sign hanging over my seat. I was given a party hat, a birthday card written in Farsi (opened left to right) and I even had presents; some local candy, Gaz, which is like a chewy divinity with pistachio nuts, and a Persian music CD. I was blown away! It was lots of fun and laughs, and a birthday I will never forget.
After spending the entire day on the bus, we finally arrived in Shiraz, dropped off our luggage, and headed off to find Sharzeh, a traditional Iranian restaurant reported to have live Persian music. They had a four-person band playing while the audience clapped and the women made that trilling sound with their tongues. They kept trying to get us tourists to do it, which produced some pretty pathetic sounds of pain. Lonely Planet compared this place to a “frog in a sock.” I didn’t know what that meant until I saw all the women just bursting to dance, but it is forbidden. Even raising their arms and curling the wrists is considered highly risqué. The meal was delicious, beginning with barley soup and a salad buffet. Shiraz is famous for their sour lemon juice, so everything has a tangy flavor. Main course selection was a beef and a minced lamb kabab with rice. The irony is, each table was set with wine glasses, yet with wine forbidden here, they were covered in a fine layer of dust like they had not been used since the Shah was run out of town. Harkin back to “the good old days of fine wine, women, and song” — sadly, this is as close as they are allowed to get in public.
The most memorable mosque in Shiraz was the highly ornate Imamzadeh-ye Ali Ebn-e Hamze, containing the tomb of Emir Ali, nephew of Shah Cheragh, built in the 19th century. We were required to don the chador again, but I got a floral print this time, not merely as much fun as the solid black one. The shrine was covered in every square inch with mirrored mosaics of every shape and design, none of them much over an inch in size. It glittered like diamonds from the floor to the top of the dome.
Ancient Persia was known for its poets, the most famous of which was Hafez, 1325 – 1390. Legend has it that every home contains two books; the Qu’ran and a book of Hafez poetry. His tomb is a major attraction as young people gather to read aloud from his works. The grounds of the tomb were awash with color from marigolds and bougainvillea vines.