We left Esfahan and had two 45 minute flights booked to get us, via Tehran Airport, to Tabriz. The journey turned out to be a catalogue of errors. The silly Iranian guide did not check that the flight from Esfahan was actually running on time. So instead of spending the morning relaxing in the hotel courtyard, we sat for around 6 hours in Esfahan Airport waiting for the aircraft. There was another similar holdup in Tehran Airport and we got to our Tabriz hotel some 17 hours after leaving our Esfahan hotel, having had a total of an hour and a half actually flying. That is life .

The boys were amazed that they were each entrusted with a 1 Million Iran note after Chris had collected the extras money for the day. They felt sure that they could buy a lot of banana boat rides or chocolate cakes with that amount of money. Such is the result of sanctions, the Iran's currency has gone into hyper devaluation

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A walk round Tabriz

With a population of 1.6 million, Tabriz is the biggest economic hub and the biggest metropolitan area in North West Iran. The population consists mostly of Iranian Azerbaijanis and the most spoken language in the city is Azeri Turkish. Tabriz is a major heavy industry hub for automobile, machine tools, refineries and petrochemical, textile, and cement production industries. The city is famous for its handicrafts including hand-woven rugs and jewellery. Local confectioneries, chocolates, dried nuts, and traditional food of Tabriz are recognized all around Iran as some of the best Iranian food. Tabriz is also an academic hub and a site for some of the most prestigious cultural institutes in the northwest of Iran.

The city has a long and turbulent history with its oldest civilization sites dating back to 1,500 BC. It contains many historical monuments representing the transition of Iranian architecture in its long historical timelines. Most of the preserved historical sites in the city belong to the Ilkhanid (of Mongol Empire), Safavid, and Qajar area; among them is the grand Bazaar of Tabriz which was inscribed as a World Heritage Site in 2010. Prior to the forced ceding of Iran's Caucasian territories to Imperial Russia following the two Russo-Persian Wars of the first half of the 19th century, Tabriz was the main city in the implementation of Iranian rule for its Caucasian territories due to its proximity. During almost the entire Qajar period (up to 1925), it functioned as the seat for the crown prince as well.

Tabriz has been a place of cultural exchange since antiquity. Its historic bazaar complex is one of the most important commercial centres on the Silk Road. Located in the centre of the city of Tabriz, the structure consists of several sub-bazaars, such as Amir Bazaar (for gold and jewellery), Mozzafarieh (a carpet bazaar, sorted by knot size and type), shoe bazaar, and many other ones for various goods such as household items. The most prosperous time of Tabriz and its bazaar was in the 16th century when the town became the capital city of the Safavid kingdom. The city lost its status as a capital in the 17th century, but its bazaar has remained important as a commercial and economic centre. The bazaar was inscribed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in July 2010.

It was true rabbit warren, and without a guide you would take days to find your way to the really interesting places. The carpet bazaar appeared to be the best of the places to visit - here was a wholesale, rather than retail, carpet market. We saw very few travellers in Tabriz, it really is not on the tourist map

Before dinner, we visited a very up market dried fruit shop, so that those of us (not me) with Iranian money left over, could buy something with it before leaving Iran. The restaurant for the evening,, of unknown name!, but where we sampled koftu, had a baker actually in the corner of the restaurant baking bread, delicious, on demand.

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Nobar Bath Restaurant

This is where we had lunch, which Chris enjoyed. The food is just average, not anything memorable, but not bad either. The reason to go here is that the restaurant is in a converted bath house, and therefore has a lot of atmosphere and history. There is also a cafe part, and it may well be a better bet than eating a meal here - you get the atmosphere that way without the average food . I felt our visit here was memorable for the atmosphere, and would recommend you visit here.

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A case of road rage

Nothing to do with us, but while stuck in a Tabriz traffic jam, this fight erupted alongside the bus. After a bit of pushing and shoving, the taxi driver extracted the tyre lever from the boot of his car, and chased after the other party with it. The other chap, quite sensibly, made off at high speed. At that point the traffic lights changed, and the little scenario disappeared into the rear view mirror.

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Kandovan and its cave houses

Kandovan is a village outside Tabriz with man made cave dwellings, some of which are still inhabited. The troglodyte homes, excavated inside volcanic rocks and tuffs similar to dwellings in the Turkish region of Cappadocia, are locally called "Karaan". Though it is fair to say that this does not have the grandeur of Cappadocia, and is somewhat scruffy. Most of the inhabitants live in normal houses, and I believe that the cave houses are holiday homes in the main

Karaans were cut into the Lahars (volcanic mudflow or debris flow) of Mount Sahand. The cone form of the houses is the result of lava flow consisting of porous round and angular pumice together with other volcanic particles that were positioned in a grey acidic matrix. After the eruption of Sahand these materials were naturally moved and formed the rocks of Kandovan. Around the village the thickness of this formation exceeds 100 m and with time due to water erosion the cone shaped cliffs were formed. At the 2006 census, the village population was 601, in 168 families

The village was probably founded in the late 13th or early 14th centuries, though these dwellings may date back as far as the 7th century. It is believed that the Kandovan caves were used as a place of refuge by people fleeing a Mongol invasion. These inhabitants are thought to have decided to stay on permanently, turning the area into a settled village which is still occupied. Today, some of these dwellings are still in use. In fact it is difficult to know how many of the caves are lived in permanently rather than just used as holiday homes. Our guide was evasive to my questions, and my feeling is that virtually none of the caves are people's normal houses. Most of the permanent villagers have moved into normal houses in the area instead. - a judicious angle with the camera makes it appear more troglodyte than it actually is.

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Tabriz El-Goli Pars Hotel

A below average hotel, claiming to be 5 star. The first thing that strikes you about the hotel is its isolated position on a hill in the middle of a very large public park. It is not within walking distance of anywhere

This was undoubtedly a good hotel 20 years ago, but now everything is a little run down. The reception area is dated. The glass elevators give you a view over a dirty lift shaft and roof (the manager would not seem to have used the elevator). The rooms are jaded, the windows are not cleaned. The breakfast is fairly standard for Iran, but lacks the class you would expect from a 5 star hotel. The staff pack up the food before the advertised time, to make sure nobody overstays their time!

Given this is rated on TripAdvisor as #1 in Tabriz, I assume that there is not a lot of choice in the city!

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Drive to the Turkish Border

It was 280km to the Turkish border. We could see Mount Ararat as we approached the crossing. Then it was time to say goodbye to our nice driver and cross into Turkey

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On to next town - Dogubeyit

Back to Overall Itinerary for Silk Road Trip 2016