Tabriz is rated pretty highly as a place to visit but to be honest I’m not sure what is so appealing about this city, when compared to other cities in Iran. The bar had of course been set so high after almost two months in the country, visiting cities like Esfahan, Shiraz, Yazd and Dezful which were all so fabulously interesting. Perhaps the cold weather and grey skies didn’t help either – there was a very dramatic drop in temperature for us, even snow on the day we were leaving! I don’t mean to offend Tabrizi locals -if there are fans of Tabriz reading this, please feel free to let me know in the comments what I missed or what you love about the place!
Although Tabriz itself didn’t leave a big impression on me, we had a wonderful time here!! This was thanks to amazingly warm hosts who showed us around and were great company! They lived in a small town outside of Tabriz – on the way to Kandovan. We had a nice time together eating some delicious meals, watching movies and visiting the swimming pool, along with the more touristy things I’ve written about below.
Going to the swimming pool was quite funny! I went at a girls only time and enjoyed swimming lengths at a new pool and also talking with our host and other ladies in the pool. Lots of them had nose plugs so the water wouldn’t go up their nose while swimming. I think I was the only one who didn’t have one! I showed them how to do roly-polys and handstands by blowing out through the nose the whole time. We had fun! After the swim we were in the sauna where there was a lot of giggling, a bit of dancing and where one of the women just began massaging my shoulders! They all seemed so friendly and kind. Once out I had a shower where I removed my swimsuit and then proceeded to walk the 6 metres to the change room. My friend looked in shock, no no she said- keep your suit on! There was only one other woman around so I didn’t know what the problem was. Swimming pool/ change room etiquette is so different in different countries!
We arrived in Tabriz by train from Tehran really early in the morning, so we slept a bit before heading off in the afternoon with our lovely hosts to the famed village Kandovan. It was a beautiful drive with views of snowy mountains and rural scenes.
Kandovan is Iran’s ‘Cappadocia’. We had originally planned to go to Cappadocia and explore other parts of Turkey after Iran but by this point in our trip we had decided to head to Armenia instead. So it was good we got to see this place, given Cappadocia was a no go.
Kandovan is an interesting settlement with ‘normal’ homes on the lower part of the hill and then many troglodyte homes carved out of interestingly formed eroded rock. The rock is volcanic and easy to shape yet strong enough to hold – these cave homes have been lived in for seven centuries. Thanks to water and time the rock has eroded into the cone shapes you can see today. Many of the approximately 170 families that live here today have electricity and some have running water in their cave homes.
We enjoyed our wander through the little market by the river then exploring up the hill through the little paths between cave homes. It felt a bit like we were intruding as villagers were outside preparing vegetables, things were boiling in big pots outdoors, children were doing errands carrying gas bottles up the hill and other people were sitting outside on carpet having lunch or chatting with friends. It was quite a unique little place with nice views of the snowy hills opposite.
On our way back from Kandovan we stopped in to see our host’s father hard at work in his garden. I’m not sure what Iranians call it but it seems similar to the Russian concept of Dacha and a combination of the Danish kolonihavehus and sommerhus, where people have land to grow food (in this case fruit trees as well as vegetables) and a house to relax in that is not their normal residence. This house was pretty big and they even had a pool here. We learned that it was used for big family gatherings, weddings, parties etc. It was early spring and snow was not long gone so not too much growing yet. Plenty of work to keep him busy though!
The next day our kind hosts took us to Tabriz and the UNESCO listed Tabriz bazaar was our first destination.
The covered bazaar is around 7 square km with 24 caravanserais and 22 domed halls. We just saw a small part of the bazaar. Its construction began more than a thousand years ago but most of the brick vaulting is 15th century. There were lots of carpets for sale and various carpeted objects, gold, jewelery and all the usual market goods.
After the bazaar we drove to Shahgoli Park to walk around the manmade lake. There was a biting wind so it was really cold – I bet on a sunny day it would be beautiful here! Still we enjoyed the walk and had yummy icecreams afterward in the warmth of the car.
That evening we were invited to our hosts’ relatives place for dinner. I had a few things that needed mending and one of the girls in the family was a wizz on the sewing machine and so she fixed them for me. So kind! We enjoyed a lovely meal and nice conversations. Antony was called upon by one of the men to give some business/ investing advice so did so with the help of one of the girls who translated everything back and forward. Nice to meet yet another really nice family and experience more Iranian hospitality! A fine end to our short but sweet stay here.