Bandar Abbas, Iran - Maiden Call for Crystal Cruises
IRAN! Just the word raises eyebrows (to many...concern) in any circle of discussion world-wide and has been the center of political discussion for the last few years. A visit to this country definitely requires a complete and total open mind for one to draw his or her own conclusions.
A mental (and physical) preparation for our visit was a prerequisite to any chance for enjoyment during our day in Iran. Crystal Cruises did a fantastic job in preparing everyone who was going ashore.
So off we go this morning down the gangway and our first glimpse of Iran was the welcoming by small children offering candy to all Crystal guests. The tour guides were all very excited to see us! This was a big day for the Iranians in Bandar Abbas, our port city, and our Crystal Adventure destinations of Shiraz, Persepolis, and Isfahan. Having a cruise ship in Iran with approximately 500 people and mostly Americans aboard is a big deal. Iran is wanting tourism to flourish and they want Americans.
Our Iranian guide aboard our coach transfer to the airport was an American of Iranian descent. He was back in Iran temporarily teaching English and freelancing in the guide business.
We boarded our 757 Iran Air flight to Shiraz with all ladies dressed in the traditional head scarfs to show respect the Iran's dress code customs. Judy and our World Cruise Hostess, Stacey Huston, were all prepared for the big adventure! Upon arrival Shiraz, we continued on a one hour event less and rather dull coach ride to the archeological site of Persepolis. Once at Persepolis, however, it certainly wasn't dull.
With its earliest remains dating from about 515 BC, this ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire is truly a wonder declared as a UNESCO site. The importance of Persepolis with its obvious glory and unmatched splendor is evident today although foreign invasions including a devastating destruction by Alexander the Great took so much of this magnificent city to rubble. Our guide meticulously work his way through the ancient history of Persepolis and unfortunately lost many in our group who were not the archeologists of the hour. "When do we get to have lunch" was spreading like wildfire and after an hour and a half of Persepolis in the heat of the day, we finally retreated to the nearby hotel for lunch and a rest.
Back to Shiraz, the city of poets, a highlight was our stop in the gardens and at the tomb of the great Persian poet, Hafez. Hafez received his acclaim as one who could recite the Koran from memory and from the heart - word for word. His tomb is sacred and we watch many Iranians approach the tomb and gently touch it. A beautiful young Iranian woman was reading from the book of Hafez and his teachings. Our guide took the book from her and explained this book and what she was doing - simply reading this book, the Divani of Hafez, in meditation.
Not far from the Hafez tomb was the holy complex of Shah Cheraq and the dazzling interior walls covered with cut glass and multi-hued tiles. A touching scene was a little girl helping her Father cleaning the tomb.
Before returning to the Shiraz Airport, we stopped at the Vakil Bazaar which, in many ways, was the highlight of our visit to Iran. We now had an opportunity to be with the Iranian people and enjoy observing their lifestyle. From little boys selling carpets under Father's watchful eye, to discussions on the art of buying spices, we so much enjoyed this interaction with our hosts.
It was soon back to the Airport for our flight to Bandar Abbas and en route, an encounter with the flight attendant and introduction of Coco and getting "World Peace" written in Arabic to put in Coco's backpack. There was a problem - he didn't know how to write "World Peace" in Arabic. The best he could do was "Friendly Love of Neighbors" We settled for his interpretation. And we settled for our own interpretation of our visit to Iran:
1) The overall restrictive customs and the long list of forbidden activities does not paint a welcoming picture to foreign visitors. If Iran wants tourism, they can not expect tourists to abide by their strict laws and customs that defy all other cultures. In addition, the fear of "doing something wrong" is very stressful on the average tourist.
2) We found the Iranian people, especially the young adults, to be extremely friendly and very welcoming to all of us. We very much enjoyed our discussions and our encounters with all Iranians. In general, but on the surface, the Iranians seem to be very happy. We were not there long enough to get a true picture.
3) Overall, the country is extremely poor with most commercial buildings, houses, streets, and shops in desperate need of repair. For a nation that is suppose to be wealthy with oil production, there was certainly no evidence of wealth anywhere.
4) Asking our Voyager Club members about their experiences in Iran and their interpretations, we had very mixed reviews. We had some with overwhelming excitement about the chance to see what they saw and eager to return for more. Then we had some (most of these people only visited Bandar Abbas) who could not wait to leave with no interest in returning,
In summation, we feel that a visit to Iran must be well prepared in advance and, most important from our observations, examine your main purpose for visiting Iran. If you want to see archeological sites and learn more about ancient history, then Persepolis is a must on your itinerary. If you are interested in visiting with the people, then pull up a chair in a coffee house and blend in with the locals. if you want to see architecture and gardens, it's all there for you to get lost in the splendor of Isfahan and Shiraz. In our books, a visit to Iran now is a must for the traveler.