La Mănăstirea Brâncoveanu

După cum reiese din titlu, am fost în Pelerinaj la Arsenie Boca cu Patriarhia Română. Acum, știu, e firesc, să se ridice câteva întrebări.

Cum și de ce? Simplu, am simțit că e ceva ce mă ajută spiritual și mental, că am nevoie de liniște, că vreau să înțeleg unele lucruri și să le văd cu ochii mei și să le simt pe pielea mea.

Păi și cum te rogi? Mă rog pur și simplu, câteodată în română, câteodată în engleză, câteodată în arabă (limba Coranului). În mai am fost la o meditație în retragere în care rugăciunile erau în pali, o limbă străveche, dispărută, vorbită în vremea lui Buddha. Sunt sigură că Dumnezeu nu se supără. Rugăciunea este, până la urmă, numai  formă.

Cum e în pelerinaj? Eu am fost deja la toate mănăstirile importante din țară, fie în excursie, fie în regim propriu. E prima dată când merg în pelerinaj și am ales unul scurt, de două zile, pe weekend și cu nu foarte multe mănăstiri pe itinerar. Întâmplător, sau nu, a fost weekend-ul 8-9 septembrie când se sărbătorește Nașterea Maicii Domnului, respectiv Sfinții Ioachim și Ana, chiar părinții Maicii Domnului.

Am plecat dimineața din Dealul Patriarhiei, de la Unirii. Pe drum s-au spus rugăciunile dimineții și, surprinzător, le țineam minte de la ora de religie de acum 20 de ani. Rugăciuni pentru drum. Foarte frumos, mi-a adus aminte de rugăciunea de călătorie care era recitată pe toate zborurile spre toate destinațiile, la fiecare zbor, la compania la care am lucrat. O rugăciune nu strică niciodată.

 

Prima oprire la Mănăstirea Caraiman din Bușteni

La poalele Masivului Caraiman, pe care se află Crucea de pe Caraiman despre care am aflat că are o lățime de 14 m. Cu o zi înainte, la cursul de croitorie am aflat că în medie, o deschidere de mâini are 1,4 m.

Mănăstirea Caraiman se află la poalele Masivului Caraiman

Maica Domnului i s-a arătat în vis părintelui Gherontie Puiu, care a înălțat mănăstirea, indicându-I locul unde aceasta trebuie ridicată. Întâmplător sau nu, în timp ce scriu acest articol aflu că weekend-ul acesta voi fi…tot la Bușteni.

Mănăstirea Caraiman

Am luat tămâie (că mir nu au), magneți cu îngeri (că îi întâlnim în mai multe religii și pentru că recent mă fascinează) și un mic card cu Arborele Vieții cu Iisus și cei 12 Apostoli (care chiar mă fascinează și pe care-l urmăresc în diverse religii, culture și semnificații). Acum, eu văd multe lucruri în arborele acesta. Văd multă simbolistică, văd numerologie, văd paralele de tipul 12 Apostoli – 12 Imami (din Islam). Oricum, bun de purtat în portofel.

Lumina se reflectă superb pe pictura murală de la Mănăstirea Caraiman

Am stat la slujbă, am admirat pictura din mănăstire, dar și chiliile, unde se poate sărbători Crăciunul, am dat niște pomelnice, am admirat orătăniile și animăluțele mănăstirii. Un loc de liniște și pace interioară.

Crucea de pe Caraiman nu se vedea din cauza norilor. La un moment dat îi arăt prietenei mele că a apărut. O admirăm și în scurt timp dispare din nou printer norii albi. Semne.

Am o droaie de întrebări în sacul meu cu de ce?-uri, dar prietena mea îmi spune te rog eu, dacă ai ceva întrebări mai controversate, pune-le la întoarcere, să nu ne lase pe aici. Adica, în pelerinaj este loc și pentru glume, că e pentru oameni.

 

Izvorul Părintelui Arsenie Boca de la Sâmbăta de Sus

Este în apropiere de Mănăstirea Brâncoveanu, într-o poieniță, într-un loc deosebit de liniștit. Înainte să ne îndreptăm spre mănăstire, s-au rostit câteva rugăciuni de însoțitorul de grup, iar una, chiar a Părintelui Arsenie mi s-a părut foarte plină de înțelesuri și deosebit de frumoasă:

“Doamne Iisuse Hristoase, ajută-mă ca astăzi, toată ziua, să mă lepăd de mine însumi, că cine ştie din ce nimicuri mare vrajbă am să fac şi astfel, ţinând la mine, să Te pierd pe Tine.
Doamne Iisuse Hristoase, ajută-mi ca rugăciunea Preasfântului Tău nume să-mi lucreze în minte mai mult decât fulgerul pe cer, că nici umbra gândurilor rele să nu mă întunece, căci iată păcătuiesc în tot ceasul.
Doamne, Cela ce vii în taină între oameni, ai milă de noi, că umblăm împiedicându-ne prin întuneric. Patimile au pus tină pe ochii minţii, uitarea s-a întărit în noi ca un zid, împietrind în noi inimile noastre şi toate împreună au făcut temniţă în care Te ţinem bolnav, flămând şi fără haină, aşa risipind în deşert zilele noastre, umbriţi şi dosădiţi până la pământ.
Doamne, Cel ce vii între oameni în taină, ai mila de noi şi pune foc temniţei, aprinde dragostea în inimile noastre, arde spinii patimilor noastre şi fă lumină sufletelor noastre.
Doamne, Cela ce vii în taină între oameni, ai milă de noi, vino şi Te sălăşluieşte întru noi, împreună cu Tatăl şi cu Duhul Tău cel Sfânt. Căci Duhul Sfânt se roagă pentru noi cu suspine negrăite, când graiul şi mintea rămân neputincioase.
Doamne, Cel ce vii în taină, ai mila de noi, căci nu ne dăm seama cât suntem de nedesăvârşiţi şi cât eşti de aproape de sufletele noastre şi cât ne depărtăm noi prin păcatele noastre. Ci luminează lumina Ta peste noi, ca să vedem lumină prin ochii Tăi, să trăim în veci prin viaţa Ta. Lumina şi Bucuria noastră, slavă Ţie! Amin”

M-am așezat în iarbă pentru conectare cu Pământul și pentru reamintirea simplității vieții și a acelor momente când încă păstram inocența de copil. Am văzut gaze în covorul verde, dar și flori de câmp și brândușe mov.

 

Mănăstirea Brâncoveanu din Sâmbăta de Sus

E o bucurie să mă reîntorc la Mănăstirea din Sâmbăta de Sus, a doua mănăstire ridicată de Brâncoveanu, unde, în urmă cu mulți ani, am stat chiar și peste noapte. E o încântare să văd stiul brâncovenesc, unul dintre preferatele mele în arhitectura românească.

Aici am admirat biserica veche, stema familiei Brâncoveanu, boltele simetrice ce încadrează curtea, pictura pe nuanțe de turcoaz a bisericii noi, sculpturile în lemn și piatră, pictura ce reprezintă decapitarea brâncoveilor de la Constantinopole, am asistat la slujbă după răbdarea și interesului fiecăruia, am observat forma de octagon al locului de rugăciune din curtea interioară.

În biserica nouă se desfășoară nunți, iar eu cu prietena mea am mai fost la câteo slujbă, că știm de la Dragoș Argeșanu că se deschid cerurile și participarea la slujbă e asemănătoare unui duș energetic. Adică te curăță, carevasăzică.

Printre altele îi spun Iuliei că, pe cât de controversat o fi el, Argeșanu a trimis la și spre biserică mai mulți oameni decât mulți popi. Inclusiv pe noi. Am zis!

Martiriul Sfinților Brâncoveni

La iesire scrie Căutați mai întâi împărăția lui Dumnezeu. Dedesubt e steagul României, o țară eminamente ortodoxă, cu toate avantajele și dezavantajele la pachet.

 

Cazare în Hunedoara

Ne-am cazat la un hotel din centrul orașului Hunedoara, pe unde ne-am și plimbat seara. Un oraș mic, liniștit și frumușel.

 

Mormântul Părintelui Arsenie Boca și Mănăstirea Pislop

Drumul spre mănăstire e frumos și peisajul e pitoresc, pot spune reprezentativ pentru România. Pe ici, pe colo, turme de oi cu oieri ce ne faceau cu mâna. Îmi place mult când văd un zâmbet sincer și bucuria vieții simple. Norocul ne-a urmărit și nu am asteptat mai mult de 20 de minute pentru mormânt. E foartă multă liniște în locul acela și se simte. Pe drum am cumpărat crini pentru mormânt. Oameni de tot felul cu motivații diverse.

Înainte să vină rândul meu a venit o femeie în scaun cu rotile. Eu de rugat, nu mă rog pentru lucruri concrete, ci mai filosofice. Pe scurt, n-am cerut nimic. Dar am mulțumit de 100 de ori când am văzut ce binecuvântare e să ai picioare sănătoase, ochi care văd, mâncare în fiecare zi.

În apropiere mai este o peșteră destul de greu accesibilă, dar până la care ne-am aventurat. Apoi am stat pe-o piatră și-am ascultat slujba de duminică, ce s-a desfășurat afară, într-o filigorie de lemn. Am luat mir și tămâie, am aprins lumânări. Ca tot omu’. Poze n-am făcut.

 

Mănăstirea Cozia

A fost ridicată de Mircea cel Bătrân în 1388, în Călimănești, pe malul Oltului.

Mormântul domnitorului se află în mănăstire. Aici am fost de mult ori, dar niciodată n-am știut că se poate ieși prin cuhnie pe pontonul din spatele mănăstirii, chiar pe malul Oltului.

 

 

 

 

Pe drumul de întoarcere s-au mai rostit niște rugăciuni, s-au recitat poezii și s-au cântat cântece laice. Am aflat mai multe despre viata Părintelui Arsenie Boca dintr-o piesă de teatru pe care am ascultat-o.

Una peste alta, a fost un weekend reusit, liniștit, petrecut cu rost, în aer liber, cu rugăciune – nici prea multă, nici prea puțină. Nu e o activitate pentru fiecare zi, dar cu siguranță dacă nu necesară, foarte folositoare din când în când.

La Mănăstirea Cozia
My personal favorite.

The crown above was made by Van Cleef & Arpels in 1967 for Farah Pahlaviit is made of platinum, gold and around 1500 diamonds, 36 emeralds, 105 pearls, 34 rubies.

The coronation of Farah Pahlavi in 1967

 

The Treasury of the National Jewels is located in The Central Bank of Iran and is only opened to public for around two hours per day.

A testimony of the glorious past of Iran, of the ambitions of former rulers, but also the suffering of regular people who had to put their sweat into the insatiable thirst of wealth of the ones who were ruling them.

Platinum tiara. 294 diamonds and 7 emeralds.

The collection is truly impressive and, as a follower of the last royal family, I could recognize the pieces from different books and articles I had read on them, from covers of international magazines or from documentaries on the wealth of the Pahlavis.

Farah Pahlavi wearing the above described crown on the cover of Paris Match.

“I saw Farah Pahlavi wearing this on the cover of Paris Match” I would say in the basement of the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Crown used by the Qajar Dynasty for their coronations, known as Kiani Crown. Pahlavi did not like this crown and ordered one that is pictured below

Actually, I even noticed when the guide indicated a crown to have been worn by the Shah Mohammed Reza, when I knew exactly I had seen it on Farah Pahlavi’s head.

Darya-i-nur Diamond

Darya-i-nur Diamond means the Sea of Light and it is the largest pink diamond in the world.

The truth is that we don’t pay much attention to these details or we don’t really make the connections between the information we have or we receive. I’m not talking tourism only…it could be religion, faith, the creation of the world. It’s hard work to get out of those boxes we’ve been put in by the society, family etc. and where we’re hiding, get out of the loop and step up.

The place is crowded and it’s normal if you think it is only opened two hours a day, but most of the visitors are Iranians looking to see the creativity and skill of their co-national artisans.

This globe weights 34 kg out of which 3,6 kg is gemstones. To be more precise 51.366 of them.

The globe above made me smile because apparently, the reason why the countries are not well depicted is because the artisans were good at making jewelry not at geography. Fair enough! However, the seas and oceans are green, in emerald and land is shown in rubies. The Equator is shown with a line of diamonds and rubies and Iran is standing out in diamonds, same as South-East Asia, England and France.

Even the most renowned specialists in the field were not able to evaluate the value of the collection that is beyond imagination.

Crown used by Pahlavi Kings for their coronations inspired by Sassanid kings’ crowns. You can see this crown used in the picture above.

Exquisite, impressive, outrageous, incredibly beautiful, stunning!

I cannot find the word to describe the collection that impressed the monarch of the world.

Emerald box made of 92 matching emeralds.

At the 1971 celebration organized by Shah Mohammed Reza to celebrate 2500 years of empire in Iran at Persepolis, were over 60 monarchs and head of states were invited, rumor had it among them that they should not worry about the jewelry they should wear because Farah Pahlavi’s jewels would be more extravagant and, obviously, more valuable. And they were right.

A story

I watched a wonderful documentary on the celebration and a funny tale made me smile: one royalty was asked how the event happened. Apparently, the invitees were arriving, yet they could not be welcomed so fast, so there was a line at the entrance of the luxurious tent put up solely for this occasion. People were confused, because there is a protocol, some were head of government, others were monarchs with full powers, others were presidents, but they adapted and were chatting outside. The reporter asked how did the socialists get along with the capitalists and the member of the Greek royal family said: oh, they were getting along best of all.

Decorated buckler (small shield) used in the war with India. The precious stones were added later.

Hundreds of strings of pearls looking like silk, diamonds, platinum, emeralds, rubies. Sky was the limit for the ones who ruled Persia over time.

By the way, the name of Iran was adopted in 1935, when the other countries received a note stating that the country should be addressed from then onward on this name.

 

From the booklet in high quality sold for only $1,5 at the Museum

 

Do you like scarves?

The Fin Gardens, traditional Persian garden

The Fin Gardens (Bagh-e Fin in Farsi) in Kashan are historical Persian gardens, witnessing the rise and fall of empires, assassinations and celebrations.

Built by the Safavid Shah Abbas I and developed by Shah Abbas II, the gardens are a great place to spend time walking through the numerous cypress trees and long water canals.

Amir Kabir was a prominent political figure and Prime Minister of Persia under the Qajar Dynasty and is referred to as Iran’s first reformer, being at the same time a declared opponent of the religious movement Babism, whose leaders were executed at his orders. Like all reformists in history he was ultimately killed in Fin Garden, where he had been in exile.

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Two landmarks of Tehran and witnesses of the turbulent Iranian history: the Azadi Tower and the Milad Tower.
Preparing for Iran: world atlas, passport cover from US, camera, travel tags, Islamic motif Fartima’s hand shape earrings from Beirut, golden head jewelry from Muscat

Tehran is a wonderful city nesting under the heights of Elborz Mountains which are visible from many parts of the city that is one of the biggest in the whole region. When the weather is good and the skies are clear, between the buildings of Tehran, on top of wide boulevards rise huge cliffs clothed in thick layers of snow.

Two landmarks of Tehran and Iran that can bring you closer to the cliffs of the mountains are the Azadi Tower and the Milad Tower.

Two landmarks of Tehran and witnesses of the turbulent Iranian history: the Azadi Tower and the Milad Tower.

 

The Milad Tower

The construction of the Milad Tower (Borj-e Milad in Farsi) started in 1997, but was completed ten years later and it is a new symbol of the Iranian civilization, culture and art. The tower is the 6th tallest communication tower worldwide, after the Tokyo SkyTree in Japan, the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China, CN Tower in Canada, Ostankino Tower in Russia and the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai, China and was inaugurated in 2009.

Although the construction was recent, the project dated since the 70s and was part of a portfolio of the last Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, which was meant to modernize and develop the city.

The purpose of the tower is to improve and facilitate wireless communication, optimize the coverage of radio and TV signals and provide infrastructure for weather forecasting and traffic controlling.

The lobby of the tower has 6 floors where I lost myself as in a maze, through cafes, shops, restaurants elevators having a capacity of 9000 people per hour and staircases.

The impressive lobby of the Milad Tower. The water stream goes from one side of the other above the visitors heads in a wonderful show that captivates all.
The impressive lobby of the Milad Tower. The water stream goes from one side of the other above the visitors heads in a wonderful show that captivates all.

What is most impressive is the 12 floor Head Structure which is one of the biggest in the world and has a closed observation deck, a hall with wax figures of Iran’s history (the one approved according to the regime, obviously), artists, writers and scientists, a revolving restaurant and an open-air observation deck where the wind did not let me comply with the local permitted outfits.

Miniature of the Milad Tower
Miniature of the Milad Tower

I spent my time in the exhibition hall where I saw wonderful exhibits of old globes, maps and astrolabes, but by far the most interesting part is the Sky Dome, the upper most level, under the antenna of the tower, the cupola shaped glass made lid of the tower head. It had an octagonal shape and a permanent exhibition depicted through mythological figures, symbols and icons tells 9000 years of Persian history.

Inspired by the natural elements, earth, water, fire and air and fundamental concepts such as life, death, love, justice, fight and peace enchanted the ones who could see through the real message of the exhibition of modern art in deep blue and gold. As a tribute to the biggest names in geometry, mathematics and astrology that mainly came from the area, elements of these sciences were mixed with the religious elements of Islam in an exhibition that for any lover of art, symbolism, numerology, mysticism, it is not easily forgotten.

 

In the end, art does not have to be beautiful; it has to send a feeling. If it managed to do that, it succeeded its purpose.

So, I am not upset I lost all the pictures I took from the open air observation deck of Tehran from above. I am not upset – I will repeat until I will not be upset. I’ll use it as a pretext to go back. Soon!

 

The Azadi Tower

The Azadi Tower (Borj-e Azadi in Farsi) has a quite long history and it is linked to the former Shah of Iran. As a matter of fact, the tower built in 1971 on the occasion of the vast celebrations that took place in commemoration of the 2500 years since the foundation of the Imperial State of Iran and was initially called Shahyad Tower, meaning Shahs’ Memorial Tower. That was until the 1979 Islamic Revolution when the tower was renamed Azadi Tower or Freedom Tower. I did not see much freedom myself around the tower.

The Azadi Tower, whose architecture is inspired by the classical Persian eras. The Tower inspired many other "freedom" towers in the Arab world.
The Azadi Tower, whose architecture is inspired by the classical Persian eras. The Tower inspired many other “freedom” towers in the Arab world.

On the design of the tower the same architects that designed the Sydney Opera House were hired in a time when money was not an issue in a year, 1971, that some called the beginning of the end of the monarchy in Iran. This was mainly due to the extensive, lavish, extremely expensive celebrations that the Shah held in 1971 hoping to resurrect the patriotic feeling in the population by celebrating 2500 years since the time of Cyrus the Great, but which only manage to enrage the population at the limitless spending on the occasion. Obviously, on top of the rumors on the extreme spending of the Shah & co. Rumor had it that Shah’s lunch arrived daily on a flight from Paris.

The inauguration of the tower took place right after those celebrations and the Shah flew from Persepolis to Tehran for the occasion.

Getting back to the tower, it is worth mentioning the name of Hossein Amanat, the lead architect of the Azadi Tower whose belongings were confiscated and name was put on the death list in 1979. His links to the Baha’i faith seems to be the main cause of the measures as the religion is linked to Israel, a country that for sure is not on the friend’s list of Iran.

Also, the fact that Azadi Tower was the silent witness, the concrete observer of many historical events such as the 1979 Islamic Revolution or the brutal 2009 Iranian Green Movement aka the Persian Spring.

Nowadays, on February 10th of each year rallies take place to commemorate the 1979 Revolution.

I notice a resemblance with the Marthyrs’ Memorial that I saw in Algiers, which was built some 10 years later, but which actually was strongly influence by the Azadi Tower.

The Milad Tower is visible from one side of the Azadi Tower. The Azadi Square and the boulevards that link it to the rest of the city are filled with thousands of Iranian flags.

The Arch of the Azadi Tower, inspired by the Sassanid era
The Arch of the Azadi Tower, inspired by the Sassanid era

 

The complex has a library and a museum, too
The complex has a library and a museum, too

 

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Meaning The Door of the Mountain in Farsi, Daraband is an area in the North of Tehran, in Shemiran, at the base of the Tochal Mountain. The place is actually a trail, a hike up, filled with restaurants, cafes, shisha places, small shops selling dried fruits and sweets.

Sweets variety made of dried fruit, including lavashak in Damavand
Sweets variety made of dried fruit, including lavashak in Damavand

There were two things that impressed me about this elevated place, with super fresh air: the way the restaurants were built on the two sides of a narrow valley which is the trail, some having over ten floors and the incredible amount and diversity of flowers.

No scent can compete with these beautiful flowers
No scent can compete with these beautiful flowers

We had dinner at Baghe Behesht, one of the restaurants having hundreds of lights shining in the night and thousands of flowers that probably need an army of people to take care of them.

No scent can compete with these beautiful flowers
No scent can compete with these beautiful flowers

In order to get to the tables we climb some four floors. All floors are narrow and have view to the valley, which makes it pretty unique. We are joking that they can afford to have the place like this as alcohol is not sold.

Myself on the 7th floor of one restaurant in Damavand
Myself on the 7th floor of one restaurant in Damavand

Probably this way of building according to the high terrain is not unique to this place, as I remember in my crazily curvy ride to Dizin, through the mountains in the Karaj Province, that I saw don in the valleys, mini palaces like these. Actually, all of them look like palaces with towers and wide terraces.

Actually this area is the place for princes, queens, shahs and other royals. The Saad Abad Palace (Green Palace) and The Niavaran Palace are nearby. Of the Shemiran area Farah Pahlavi, the former Queen of Iran, until the 1979 Revolution, wrote in her book Memoirs:

 

“[…] the biggest happiness of my childhood was to run from Tehran to Shemiran during summers, on the ridges of the Alborz Mountains. […]

Now Shemiran is a rich and desired neighborhood in the North of Tehran; when I was a child, it was a charming small village, twelve kilometers from the center of the city at a height of 1800 meters. […]

There, vendors offered us sticks, baked corn, green nuts, all kinds of sweets and sugar products and, of course, ice cream, that we were allowed to eat at least once.[…]

 I loved to death the road that was curving through the giant plane trees and the yellow roses that our mothers used to pick to make jam.[…]

At Shemiran, the nights were charming. (oh, I can definitely agree on that)

Delicious trout at Baghe Behesht
Delicious trout at Baghe Behesht

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The Reza Great Bazaar in Tehran

The Tehran Bazaar is located in District 12 of Tehran at a less than 10 minute walk from The Golestan Place. Like any other bazaar, be it Istanbul, Muscat or Shiraz, this one makes it so simple to get lost through the hundreds of small alleys cramming towards and from all directions, filled with tens of types of nuts and dried fruits and spices.

Tea, dried herbs and dried fruit
Tea, dried herbs and dried fruit

People are extremely friendly in Iran all over the places where I’ve been and they are eager to talk to foreigners even if they don’t really speak their language, they are willing to help the best they can, show you around or just say Hello. Actually, I was really impressed in a crowded intersection of Tehran, that a man with his car window opened, who was looking at us for a while, at the moment I looked at him he said “Welcome to our country” with such a genuine and calm voice. How often do we do that when we meet foreigners in our countries?

Dried fruit, nuts, tea, spices in the food section of Reza Grand Bazaar
Dried fruit, nuts, tea, spices in the food section of Reza Grand Bazaar

The Reza Great Bazaar, as it is also called, or simply The Great Bazaar, is colorful and pulsing with energy of all the women rushing to buy what they need for the household, men trying to sell things, carrying merchandise from one place to another. Of course, there are also other bazaars in Tehran and maybe the second most popular is the Tajrish Bazaar, in the Tajrish area, which used to be a village, but got swollen by the city.

Fabrics presentation at the entrance of the Tehran Grand Bazaar
Fabrics presentation at the entrance of the Tehran Grand Bazaar

Carpets, fabrics, plastic items, teas, spices, meat all find their buyers here in this huge bazaar serving the 8 million people of Tehran, without including the other 7 million of the outer Tehran. Everybody sells something: scarfs – a must for all females in Iran, music instruments, small trinkets for kids, pajamas, from pistachios to furniture, from jewelry to pots, from rose water to cleaning products, everything first arrives here before being sold elsewhere in Tehran.

Vendors having birds guess your luck by picking a pink or yellow ticket from a box, police men trying to restore the order when the crowd gets out of control.

Moslem’s Restaurant

There are also cafes and restaurants, but no restaurant is as famous as Moslem’s Restaurant, located in the food section of the Bazaar.

Moslem's Restaurant, advertised in green and red neons
Moslem’s Restaurant, advertised in green and red neons

Moslem’s Restaurant serves very traditional place and is a successful business of almost 20 years. We were actually in the location to eat, but had no idea because the restaurant extended and opened a new salon. I knew how it was supposed to look so I asked the gentlemen to show me Moslem’s Restaurant, yet he was insisting that was it. Seeing how I’m not convinced, he kept saying “new salon” in Arabic (probably the same in Farsi) and he had to repeat a few good times until I finally understood.

The new salon of Moslem's Restaurant in Tehran
The new salon of Moslem’s Restaurant in Tehran

It’s understandable why they needed a new salon – the demand is so high. They serve over 5000 people every day.

Organized as a fast food, everything goes very fast, first you pay and then you take your seat, the waiter takes your receipt and the food will be served in less than 5 minutes.

The portions are huge, but I managed to eat one that was supposed to be for two persons.

Portion for two at the popular Moslem's Restaurant in Reza Grand Bazaar
Portion for two at the popular Moslem’s Restaurant in Reza Grand Bazaar

So what did I have? Lamb with rice. In Iran, though, lamb is cooked deliciously and the rice comes as a rice cake. It is called tahchin and it’s a yellow rice cake, crispy on the outside and softer on the inside, cooked with yoghurt and egg also and sprinkled with barberries (called zereshk) and saffron.

Hungry in the new salon of Moslem's Restaurant in Tehran
Hungry in the new salon of Moslem’s Restaurant in Tehran

 

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    Some places are so friendly, but most of people don’t know it. Like Iran. The airport is brand new and well furbished and I could see from the plane the fancy cafe where I drank a nice alcohol free mojito when I was solo female traveler to Iran during wintertime,…
    Tags: tehran, iran, people

Cool decoration at Baghe Saba
Cool decoration at Baghe Saba

The first thing I do when I find out I will visit a new place is research. A little bit of everything. Museums, landmarks, top restaurants, posh café, something specific, shows, anything goes.

So, I had a list of 5 upscale restaurants in Tehran including Divan (up North), Nayeb (established in 1964, also up North), Baghe Saba Traditional Tea House (Shariati Street), Moslem’s Restaurant (in Tehran Great Bazaar), Lidoma Dining & Jazz Lounge (private, good for caviar lovers).

Baghe Saba Traditional Tea House on Shariati Street, Tehran
Baghe Saba Traditional Tea House on Shariati Street, Tehran

Like many other cities, the North of Tehran is the place to be, is the place where above average people live, where houses cost 5 times the price of the ones in the South, where the international brands have their stores and where fine restaurants are located.

We took a cab for around 20 minutes and paid something around $2.5 for four and finally reached the famous Baghe Saba Traditional Tea House. The entrance is pretty narrow and hidden, but the place is actually two floors down. First floor down is the café, which is a little smaller and the restaurant is one floor down.

First thing we noticed is that nobody speaks English and they don’t have most of the items from the menu, but we were not there for the food itself, but for the experience. There are no tables at the area for larger groups/families, as the restaurant keeps the tradition of eating on the floor, on nicely decorated (guess) Persian Carpets or some of the areas have sort of coffee, low tables.

Decorations at Baghe Saba Traditional Tea House
Decorations at Baghe Saba Traditional Tea House

As per local tradition, we were brought welcome plates with different goodies such as dried dates, sweets, biscuits and crystallized sugar. Also, plates of green leaves including green onions, fresh mint, green basil and cheese. The greenish glass decanter holds no wine, obviously, but ayran (or laban), which is more watery and saltier than what I’m used with in the other neighboring countries.

Our dinner welcome goodies at Baghe Saba Restaurant
Our dinner welcome goodies at Baghe Saba Restaurant

The traditional tea house looks like a museum: the ceiling is sculpted in the muqarnas style, decorated with gold, blue and green borders, the chandeliers are in red and blue and each eating place looks like a spot for a king and queen, with decorations in precious wood, paintings on tiles, walls or canvas, tens of oriental patterns pillows of all sizes and shapes and we are sitting on authentic Persian carpets.

Walls of Baghe Saba Traditional Restaurant
Walls of Baghe Saba Traditional Restaurant

Meanwhile, we are invited for the opened buffet for the salad and appetizers, where we can choose for some 15 types of salads, both international and traditional and around 5 to 6 local hot dishes. I did some research on the food and I go to Persian restaurants (especially in Muscat and Doha, but also in Bucharest) every now and then, but I was not quite sure what everything was. As a general rule, the diversity is not great in Iran, but the food is delicious and the ingredients are fresh and nothing about GMF. Mostly, it is about kebabs and rice with saffron and barberry (traditional, sun dried red berries, similar to goji).

Kebab koobideh, grilled onions, rice with turmeric, a feast of senses
Kebab koobideh, grilled onions, rice with turmeric, a feast of senses

The décor is completed by the colorful locally made lamps, between the food items and the napkin boxes decorated in Khatam, the precious inlaying technique dating from Ancient times of Persia.

There are tables for two or three, made of wood with colorful tiles surface. Each centimeter of the place is inspired of the Persian Art, the Islamic traditions (there are religious quotes in Arabic, small fountains in some of the snugs), Iranian landmarks (mirror work inspired from different royal palaces).

Reading the menu in Farsi
Reading the menu in Farsi

The band starts to playing traditional songs around 8 or 9 PM, only to complete the surreal and going back in time feeling of the place. This type of cafes, were frequented by men only, who would gather to talk about great ideas, recite poetry and drink tea, obviously.

Our table
Our table

Iran is a country I’ve always wanted to visit. I don’t know exactly why yet, but I supposed it has something to do with my heritage and something that stretches on more lifetimes and spans to multiple continents, cultures and realms. I guess by know you know some things about me, so, welcome to my world and the marvels of what has been the greatest empire in the world, nowadays Iran.

It is actually my second time to Iran for visiting purposes and many times with my job, but I did not get the chance to visit on those occasions.

The first time I visited Iran I went skiing in Dizin, but that’s subject to another post. You probably imagine I’m a great skier since I went all the way to Iran to ski, but actually I went to the fabulously high and beautiful Iranian mountains to learn how to ski. At the time the options were Faraya in Lebanon or Dizin in Iran and since I had visited Lebanon some 5 times before (read here and here), I went for the less explored Iran.

Let’s get started!

Iran: A Modern History

 

Day 1: Arrival to Tehran via Istanbul

Welcome to Tehran Sign in Farsi and English
Welcome to Tehran Sign in Farsi and English

Day 2: Visiting Tehran

The Azadi Tower in Tehran, built in in 1971 in commemoration of the 2,500th year of the foundation of the Imperial State of Iran
The Azadi Tower in Tehran, built in in 1971 in commemoration of the 2,500th year of the foundation of the Imperial State of Iran

Day 3: Tehran to Kashan

Colorful Windows at Tabatabei House in Kashan
Colorful Windows at Tabatabei House in Kashan

Persian Art and Architecture

Day 4: Abyaneh to Isfahan

Abyaneh, whose population is 301 and preserves Iranian traditions at all costs
Abyaneh, whose population is 301 and preserves Iranian traditions at all costs

Day 5: Visiting Isfahan 

At Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, considered to be the most beautiful mosque in the world
At Lotfollah Mosque in Isfahan, considered to be the most beautiful mosque in the world

Persian Art and Architecture

Day 6: Isfahan to Yazd via Naein

Islamic Art in Jameh Mosque Yazd in blue and turquoise
Islamic Art in Jameh Mosque Yazd in blue and turquoise

Persian Art and Architecture

Day 7: Yazd to Pasargad via Abarkuh

The Tree of Abarkuh or the Cypress of Abarkuh is considered to be over 4000 years old
The Tree of Abarkuh or the Cypress of Abarkuh is considered to be over 4000 years old

Day 8: Persepolis

Persepolis, double bull’s head

Days 9 and 10: Shiraz

Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque also called The Pink Mosque cupola
Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque also called The Pink Mosque cupola

I will be writing distinct articles for each of the impressive cities and landmarks I’ve seen in Iran, but for now, here’s the map that will help you see my itinerary of almost 1500 km from capital Tehran down South to Shiraz, my favorite city in Iran.

Click on the right down of the map the “minus” sign in order to see where Iran is situated on the map, its’ neighbors or the “plus” sign to see details of the map for each city.

 

Read here the first part of the story:

Venetian Fantasy (I) 

IMG_4587March 31st 2016, Venice, Italy, on some canal, crossing some bridge, so happy

So, here I am on this tongue of land sustaining the train I’m in that’s taking me to the city of waters, of art, of love, of culture, of canals, of sweets, of masks…

In my Vietnamese traditional black pants – bought from Zara Romania, made in Vietnam, Japanese print sneakers – made in Romania, green Ralph Lauren shirt from US, bought on my way to Niagara Falls more than 7 years ago, cream leather jacket from Times Square, made in South America, green Chinese leather purse bought from Madrid, with an elephant from Khao San Road, Bangkok, hanging from one of the handles and an Islamic print colorful scarf from Istanbul, coming from Doha, here in Venice…

It’s such a crazy world!

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Probably by now you know I’m into art and especially modern art, so I gave away the countless classical art museums for the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Collezione Peggy Guggenheim).

Who was Peggy G.? Art addict, art collector, art dealer, art supporter – all art. Extremely rich, a New York City socialite in the golden years. Niece of Solomon R. Guggenheim, founder of the museum with the same name in Upper East Side. Where? New York City, of course. Pretty, free spirit, elegant, bohemian. Ashkenazi Jewish – if it matters. Inherited tens of millions of dollars when she was 21, but was one of the poorest of her family. Her father sunk with Titanic. Worked in bookstore, moved to Paris and was in the art and writer entourages. Friend of Constantin Brancusi and Marcel Duchamp. Married and divorced with Max Ernst. At little over 50, after the WWII she settled in Venice, about which she said:

“To live in Venice or even to visit it means that you fall in love with the city itself. There is nothing left over in your heart for anyone else”

…and she was coming from uptown glitzy lifestyle of New York City and Paris. Read more about here or try her book Ma vie et mes folies.  

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The Collection used to be here home and it is simply amazing. Cubism, surrealism and abstract expressionism right by the canals, by the gondolas, with a terrace on two levels right by the water.

Here you can admire Angel of the Citadel, a real size sculpture depicting a man on horseback, both having erections.

Peggy Guggenheim (left) described Angel of the Citadel in her memoir, Confessions of an Art Addict: “It was a statue of a horse and rider, the latter with his arms spread out in ecstasy, and to emphasize this, Marino added a phallus in full erection. But when he had it cast in bronze for me he had the phallus made separately, so that it could be screwed in and out at leisure.” – Source

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If you’re not into mainstream, The Collection is the place to be, it has two sections and a lovely café, with black and white pictures of Peggy.

Entrance fee in 15E, but it’s totally worth it. At least, this is how I choose to spend my money. To enhance my spirit and my brain. I remember when I arrived in New York in the summer of 2009, I was there already fourth time, but never got to see Guggenheim Museum. At the door, the girls said they prefer to spend $16 on something else, like a shirt. No comment!

Art makes me alive, makes me go deep into my thoughts, become creative, take my so, so closed spirit to unseen heights, makes me write, draw, dance, pray, go nuts.

In what used to be a dining room, in a corner enhancing its perfection, lays Maiastra, Constantin Brancusi, the Romanian genius sculptor’s masterpiece. I shed a tear, because that’s what art supposed to do, make you feel. Don’t ask me for what exactly, but I did. Art must make you cry, laugh out loud, scram, shiver, otherwise it has no purpose.

Probably every time I will step in a museum – and I do it quite regularly – I will remember Beatrice B., my Arts teacher in high school. She put the seeds of my love for art. Of course it was always there, but she made me know with her truly unique teacher vocation. She said you must recognize the style when you see a piece of art and showed us countless projections showing us classical art, fauvism, pointillism, Art Nouveau, Dadaism…

Probably that’s all I’m left with from high school, together with the one year spent in Amboy, Illinois, USA. So, what defines me from a young age? What do I vibrate with, where my heart is? Art and travel, exploration, new, far-away places, unknown, unpredictability and spontaneity, fearlessness, colors and brushes, pop art, all together. And I chose something as dull and inflexible as law. Oh well…Queen of Contrasts.

How do you get to The Collection? By losing yourself so many time, that you forget what’s your destination by being charmed and falling in love with each alley and mirroring water, arcade window, astonishing façade, history confession, spumiglie, gondolier that shouts something funny in Italian…

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“Here’s a general rule to abide by in Venice: If you don’t get lost, you’re not doing it right. Even visitors with a GPS-like sense of direction will likely be bested by the meandering streets of the city. There’s no better way to explore the lovely maze than in a haze of mild confusion.” – Katherine LaGrave

What can you see at The Collection? Kandinsky, Severini, Picasso, Miro, Duchamp, of course Brancusi, Malevich, Nannucci’s “Changing Place, Changing Time, Changing Thoughts, Changing Future” – which I’ve seen this summer in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (MoMA – where? New York City, of course. It’s interesting to see how you’ve changed in such a short while, where you were initially, to which horizons you moved and where you are now. Where you want to be…) all on the Venetian background. A gondola is passing bay in the background of this amazing Kandinsky and there’s one accordion player onboard and the music plays within me.

On a marble bench outside it says: “Savor kindness because cruelty is always possible later”.

In Café dei Frari I buy some wonderful sandwiches and the ladies are talking that Elton John was in Venice.

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Lion or slave shaped door knobs on narrow alleys, cafes where you can serve the best wine or fresh orange juice – everything to go if you’re in a rush to see the city, la dolce vita, art galleries selling from few euros to sums that might close the bank, Venetia Studium shop leaving you with your mouths wide opened at the beauty of the velvet and silks, furnishings, lamps, furniture and clothing accessories and also at the prices – just to form an idea, one small round pillow covered in gold velvet, like the ones in 1001 stories or let’s say Venetian Palaces is around 200E; check it out yourself , the Paul&Shark sponsored gondolas , the so-many coat of arms, the boutique hotels by the Grand Canal, the Aperol Spritzer at the tables, the St Mark’s lions, boat and gondolas parking places, delimitated by thick vertical poles, charming mail boxes, Mediterranean vegetation, small piazzas, paint your own mask workshops, art galleries and bookstores…

 

The bookstore with the best selection displayed I saw it in Venice on topics from the Imperial Russia to Isis Islam and everything in between, but all of maximal and current interest. Hats off!

Oh, and until 7th of August, there’s an Helmut Newton exhibition I’d love to see.

Dolci tipici di Venezia, Trattoria Dona Onesta  (but why so serious?), fantasy shoes with Alice in Wonderland as a heel, crazy outfits.

In this labyrinth I identify myself with a white horse, a confused white horse.

It’s time to fly back to Doha, without promising myself I’ll come back and see it over and over again…my way. Don’t be a tourist, be a traveller! Do bring your kids here. They’ll love it. You’ll love it, too.

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Read here the second part of the story:

Venice Fantasy – Just Art and Feeling

The two days I spent in Venice were all about fantasy, my own fantasy. I walked around with a mask although the Carnival is over, I went by myself to fancy restaurants, drank Aperol Spritz (Spritzer, the orange one) to-go, talked to some very interesting people, got – as usual – my fair share of free stuff, took my very first gondola ride through the canals thinking of the Sarah Dunnant’s In the Company of the Courtesan which I left on the night stand when I moved from my second floor room to the Middle East.

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March 29th, preparing for Venice

Some people you spend days with and then forget they exist. But all of a sudden they reappear in your life and fill it with joy.

How I get rid of crew – I tell them I’m going to the museum.

Plan for Venice sightseeing done! It’s 7 PM and I’m ready to shut down – I did wake up at 4 AM after all. And tomorrow I’ll get up a little earlier than 3 AM. Flight attendant life!

 

March 31st, 4 PM

I have prepared almost the whole month for this trip – selecting my outfit that I’m so proud of, looking for things to do. March was a tough month for me with long flights and short layovers – Berlin, Hangzhou, Perth, Manchester – so this long Venice was like a breath of fresh air at the end of the month.

It’s almost spring and I chose to wear kilted black boots, a sky blue sweater, black pants and the colorful Berber motifs long blazer which I bought from Beirut, the blanket size blue cotton scarf and the green purse with the happy elephant hanging from the handle. I’m all set and I picked the outfit especially for Venice.

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On the train from Qarto d’Altino (East Venice) to Venezia St. Lucia. At some point there’s only water on both sides of the rail and the land is only as wide to support the train. It reminds me of Sylt, an high end island in North Germany where I went for a detox program a few years ago. To arrive to the island – one hour ride by train, even for the cars – we had the same view. In that trip was the very first time when I started writing about what I was experiencing.

One of the most touching moments of my traveler life was when I stepped outside the station in Venice. I was simply shocked of the beauty of the place in front of my eyes. By know I have seen so many places, but few compare with Venice. The canal right in front of the station, and beautiful palaces with arched windows and gondolas with gondoliers wearing blue and white stripes and hats with navy blue ribbon.

I don’t know what my purpose in life is, but I want to live one month in Venice. Besides that month in Buenos Aires and few others in South-East Asia. Yes, I want to travel all my life.

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First of all, I booked a gondola ride (30E) from the booth in front of the station and bought a map (3E – yes, nothing’s for free in Venice). Since I was supposed to meet with the gondoliers in Campo S. Luca, I started walking by the Grand Canal on the same side of the station.

The city is simply thrilling, with or without the prosecco and to-go Aperol Spritz that I had. I hopped here and there, having huge slices of pizza, or classy tagliata di manzo con rucola e parmigiano, but never gave up the prosecco.

The paths/streets are narrow and odd, a true real life labyrinth. Sometimes you could think they all look the same or get lost. Besides, don’t rely too much on Google Maps as the signal is quite low because of the tall buildings and narrow streets. It’s also tricky and makes your brain work more than normal, because getting to a parallel street might mean you need to walk 5 other streets otherwise you either reach a dead end or the canals and you cannot walk right by the water.

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Lucky as always, today it’s a beautiful day, the last of March and I’m walking and walking with my Lebanese robe, stunned at the beauty of the city, munching on a Pescatore al Pistacchio – so beautifully matching the robe and my green purse, admiring the sweets displayed in the windows, the colorful pasta for sale, the navy hats, the flowers in front of each door and window, the street indicators, the gondoliers talking on the phone or shouting at each other, talking with each other as they row, pushing the gondola from the wall with their leg against the walls, the so Italian clothes hanging on a rope, the Borsalino hats, the round windows by the canals, the flying Lion of Venice, the pigeons, the lofty gondolas in gold and black or gold and red, the tourists, the boats distributing supplies from toilet paper to rare wines to the restaurants by the canal, the wooden poles keeping the gondolas parked perpendicular to the buildings, the columns, the arches, the decorations, the colors, the Italian spirit and the vibes, the elaborate masks, the art, the mystery of the city, the Murano glass shops. Water and beauty!

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After I reached the meeting point for the gondola ride, I did not use the map or asked people around. Because Venice is a place where you need to get lost. Besides, I love to get lost, to see what I attract. So this time it was:

  • Bacaro Jazz bar, a normal bar unless the whole ceiling would not be covered by bras of all colors, shapes and sizes. Here, I stepped in wearing my mask and robe, asking if I could take some pictures and ended up being there for almost two hours, either talking to the bartender (who prepared a complimentary amazing Spritzer for me, adding a garnish with cucumber, olives and cherry tomatoes) or talking to myself while listening to Frank Sinatra’s Don’t Take Your Love From Me and When Your Love Has Gone
  • I’m wondering how the other solo female travelers are, cause I know I’m weird.
  • Jewish neighborhood where some pubs were still opened at midnight, they offer Kosher ice cream and Kosher pizza and where I met one Arabic restaurant owner and a Moldavian bartender
  • A Somali smoking in the garden of the restaurant where I had dinner asking me some naughty things;
  • A senior and very Italian restaurant – Trattoria da Bepi – owner by Guglie Bridge being over friendly, but pleasant and fun. A street entertainer singing Oci Ciornie and me singing long the lyrics. Met with him a few hours later, towards them morning in the train station where here recognized me after my…mask;
  • The amazing cocktails at Frulala made with spirits and fresh fruit juice, tasting absolutely amazing. How did I not think about this before?
  • One whole restaurant – Trattoria Alla Palazzina – staring at me have dinner with my robe and mask on in my own fantasy.

Of course, I did not miss the Piazza San Marco, the stunning Basilica di San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale, the Campanile Tower and the sunset by the Canal. I did not visit the interior of any of the above, but it’s on my list. Because I chose to spend my second day in a modern art environment and where better to go than the Peggy Guggenheim Collection – an oasis of calm and art, the former home of the American socialite in Venice.

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And you know what? I make my own rules when I travel. If I want to see a museum or palace I see it, but if I don’t who says I need to kill myself looking at something I know I won’t like? On the other hand, if I want to look at one painting two hours, that’s what I will do. Simple as that, make your own rules. I make my own! Why? Because it makes me happy!

When I reached Piazza San Marco, I thought it’s the most beautiful place on Earth, really. The narrow streets are so charming, that I cannot know how to see more, how to express my joy. As a child I absolutely loved secret paths, mysterious labyrinth so I think this is a good place for kids.

By now I’m wearing the gold mask I bought (prices between 2,5E and a few thousands of E, depending on your budget). I walk boldly and mind my own business, alone. I am fascinating for men over…a certain age. Young men will never understand me.

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One thing that caught my attention was the people asking me why I wear the mask, they looked strange at me, one said I have horns. How judgmental is this human race if, even in Venice, people judge you because you wear…a mask. In Venice?

Someone is playing Andrea Bocelli’s Con Te Partiro at the accordion and another day is over on the canals of Venice.