SYNOPSIS: What a day we had:  Persepolis and a few other sites, posing for photos, a stupid driver, two hours with the Iranian Security Forces, contemptuous looks, a shoe shine and a creepy guy.  Christmas songs at Persepolis and the police – your friends and helpers.

Where to start?  So much happened today.  This was the big day to go to Persepolis known to the locals as Takht-e-Jamshid.  Up at 5 AM, out the door at 6 to beat the traffic and the crowds; we did it.  Our driver, Amir, was a pompous young man.  Already, when making arrangements with him on the phone he got me frustrated because instead of answering a question like “how much do you charge per hour?” He would answer “no problem”.   Then he showed up at the hotel last night unannounced and we still did not communicate.  He spoke English quite well, but had nearly zero comprehension skills.  He could not make sense out of a simple question like “should we wake you up?” “No problem” was not helpful.  Perhaps, I should mention that he was late.  We should have followed our inner voices and been on guard when Amir dropped us off and as a meeting point suggested “the coffee shop”.  That was all we had to go by when we parted.

We had gotten there in good time only to find out that a long cue already had formed at the ticket office and of course, hundreds of people had camped out right at the grounds around Persepolis.  Soon a second, but shorter line formed.  I could not figure out why nobody moved from the long line over.  But Nicola got the system:  One line, the long one we were standing in, was only for men!  We moved to the shorter line.  We were not the first visitors, but definitely among the first 100.  Not bad given the 200,000 who would follow us today.

We entered through the magnificent Gate of all Nations but hurried on to the famous staircase of the throne hall.  The sun had risen over the mountains shining on to the site.  But it was already too late for the few minutes of perfect shots for the famous staircase with the visiting dignitaries from the 23 vassal states from the Achaemenein.  Persepolis was the heart of this empire which at the time was the largest the world had ever known.  It is significant to note that the vassals are shown as dignitaries and not as captives. Lucky for mankind, much survived the devastating fire from Alexander’s time.   Since the site was buried under rubble and sand, the preservation of the reliefs is magnificent.  To protect it from exposure and curious visitors’ fingers, it is kept under an awning.  As soon as the sun rises beyond a certain point, shadows fall onto the carvings marring every photographic image of them.  It did not help that we changed the clock by one hour just four days ago.  That hour was crucial.  I was disappointed that we were too late, but that’s life…  There is always Google…

We still had some room to walk when we started.  By the time we left, four hours later, Persepolis felt like the bazaar in Esfahan.  You got shoved around, pushed along, and there was hardly a square foot to be had to yourself.  Mind you, Persepolis, since ancient times was associated with the Iranian New Year.   It is believed that the famous staircase depicts the dignitaries who presented gifts to the ruler during the Noruz festival.  This is where everyone goes this time of the year!  We even met some people whom I had already met in Esfahan who recognized us.  It is a small world.

Speaking of meeting people:  We had a near constant stream of “Hallo”, “Where are you from?” today and patiently posed for numerous pictures, answering the same question over and over.  Behind our backs, there were countless snap photos.  I don’t mind those.  I do them myself.  The constant questioning was tiresome, but we did our best.    A few incidents stick out though:  I sat on a ledge off the beaten path minding my business, when an old woman plunked down next to me, put her elbow onto my shoulder and called a whole clan over to be photographed with me!  No introduction, no nothing.  All of a sudden I had an elbow on my shoulder!  That was something.  At another place a man practically ran up to me holding a little baby.  I thought he had an emergency.  He shoved the baby into my face gesturing with his camera that he wanted my picture taken with his baby!  Those of you who know me may recall that I don’t like babies!  There I stood with a stranger’s baby in my arms faster than I knew what to do.  Nicola who loves babies was nowhere to be seen.  I must have looked sufficiently unhappy since a woman, perhaps the mother of that baby, came to rescue me.  I thanked her profusely and walked away.  How bizarre!  But all of this attention was good natured and we endured.

You can look up all the history of Persepolis on line, so I will spare you more details.  We had one of the best views by climbing up to the tombs of Artaxerxes II and III carved into the surrounding cliffs.   From there you can overlook this magnificent site.   We had been so spoiled all along being the only people even at UNESCO world monuments, that today was a real challenge which for me, spoiled the experience a bit.  On the other hand, it gave this visit also a very special flair:  This is what Persepolis is during Noruz!  We can say that much – we were the only foreigners.  We looked high and low for some other “real” tourists.  Of course, everyone there was a tourist, but an Iranian tourist.  I even resorted to the pestering “Where are you from?” question myself asking a woman who I was sure was not an Iranian – wrong!  She was from Teheran.   This would explain some of the attention we drew.

As we strolled along, early on music began to play over some loudspeakers.  That was disgusting, loud and disturbing.  We both were reminded of China – they play this tinny music everywhere.  Nicola expected it to turn into the theme music of the recent Alexander film, but it did not.  I thought it felt more like Christmas at an American Mall.  No wonder – one of the instrumental pieces indeed was an adaptation of the Noel melody.  What on earth?! This was awful, but the music, like nothing, else gave this visit its final touch.  What an experience!

After four hours in the full sun, we were ready to call it a day and headed out to “the coffee shop” to meet Amir to continue our trip.  But there were three coffee shops we could identify and a hotel with a coffee shop in addition to it.  We tried to remember in which direction Amir had gestured when we made the arrangement and settled down.  But right away something did not add up and so we started to take some action:  My first task was to go and find the car…  Can you imagine a parking lot with 1000 cars and I am supposed to find a car which I did not park?  I don’t even know the brand of my own car!  I certainly did not know Amir’s car.  But I had collected visual clues in the morning:  It was white, short, had writing on both sides of the back, had a hatchback, and it had a red stripe and three letters on the passenger door.  With those clues at hand I wandered the aisles.  And won’t you believe it – I found a car with all the marks and left a note on it.  My backpack was in it; that is if I had the right car…

We then split up and walked the other coffee shops, relaxed a bit, stood in line for the bathroom – just imagine 200,000 people with facilities made for a fraction of that…  No sight of Amir.  Nicola then made a brilliant move involving the tourist information.  More than two hours had passed.  She had Amir announced over the loudspeakers!  In the meantime, I found a helpful soul – one of those “Hello, how are you?” guys whom I asked to put his curiosity to good use and to make a few phone calls on our behalf.  He did, but unfortunately, he confused our Fars Hotel with the much better known Pars Hotel and all the information we got from him was more misleading than helpful.  When he asked me how old I was I decided it was time to part with his services.

By now we had caused so much commotion that the non-English speaking staff at the Tourism office involved some security guys.  We thought they were some sort of Tourism Police, but it turned out they were a lot more than that.  Most likely the plain clothes security big shots – they definitely gave orders to the armed guards who at one point turned up asking to be helpful as well.  They filmed us!  Good grief – now our faces will be stored in the Iranian secret police vaults.  And they went to work at full force – they asked me to find the car again, traced the license plate and found out it was not registered to Amir.  They traced Amir and found out that his real name was Mahid!  Now they were going at it!  All the time though, they were the most helpful, most concerned, most attentive three guys we could imagine at our side.  They even brought us ice cream!  They were really worried about our impressions and kept assuring us that their biggest hope was that we would not walk away with a bad experience from Persepolis.

Once they found Amir, and they found him – they really gave him a hell of a time.  He had been sitting at a different coffee shop and claimed to have been looking for us as well.  That he was at a different site was obvious.   But he was not the type of a guy who would overwork himself looking for us…  We, in the end, had chosen the wrong coffee shop.  So much was clear.  But we had worked out butts off for 2 hours and the police added another 1.5 hours to that to find him…  The end was good, all was good.  At least for us it was.  I am not so sure if this whole ordeal will not have further consequences for Amir.  I hope not.  We bailed him out and assured the officers that all was well, we were happy, grateful, and obviously not in any danger, nor had we been cheated by a crook.

Amir was rather shaken up by this.  I only remember how we felt about the police in East Germany.  We sarcastically called them our “friends and helpers” when all we wanted was to stay as far away as possible and out of their radar.  I really, really hope that Amir, or Mahid, or whatever his name is, will be OK.  We continued our journey to two nearby ancient relief sites: Naqsh-e-Rajab and Naqsh-a-Rostam.    They were more impressive than Bisotun and the reliefs I saw in Kermanshah, combined.  The late afternoon sun made them glow.  Timing could not have been better.  Everything happens for a reason…

By now we were exhausted, dusty, and tired.  Back in Shiraz, we walked the last kilometer as it looked like traffic was locking up again.  I should not have spoken so soon about the Shirazians:  There is no new tone here (Day 68).  In fact, in just 15 minutes we got a full range of nasty remarks, rudeness, and more contemptuous looks than in a long while.  It was massive.  I shrug it off, but Nicola observed some of this from a distance in more detail as most of it was directed toward me.  Of all things – I had my shoes shined.  You should have seen the dust on them from Persepolis!  But, either Madams don’t get their shoes shined around here or it was again my baggy red pants that caused the disapproval.  The shoe shiner had to shush a few teenagers away; an old crone would not stop sneering at me behind my back, and a really creepy, skinny young man with dyed hair and makeup kept following me asking for “love”!  We would send him away and he would circle back.  I finally found the right weapon for him – whenever he would come near us, I raised my camera.  He immediately cringed back and disappeared, only to show up again a few minutes later.  But my camera in hand, he finally disappeared for good.  I wish I had captured him.  But my camera cap was on…

What a day!

Good night.