Sole Sister

Cruising in the single lane


Persepolis – a true world treasure


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Relief depicting the symbolic coming of spring at Norwuz  with the sun (lion) feasting on the moon (bull). Norwuz, the beginning of the Persian calendar’s new year, marked the Equinox and had Zoroastrian connections. 

Persepolis’ status as a historical wonder was acclaimed in 1979 by UNESCO’s recognition of it as a World Heritage Site, one of three acknowledged in Iran in that year.  Since then the home of the Aryans has  chalked up 14 more World Heritage listings and a number of others are under consideration.

Persepolis, or city of the Persians, is about 50 km from storied Shiraz, capital of Fars Province. It is believed the site was chosen by one of history’s greatest figures, the fabled Cyrus the Great, as the Archaemenid Empire capital in the sixth century BC, but that Darius 1, the third king in that empire, another ruler known as “Great”, oversaw most of the significant construction.  Development continued until yet another “Great”, Alexander, arrived on the scene from Greece in 334 BC putting paid to the Persian Empire.

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Apadana Hall relief depicting Median and Persian soldiers. Each soldiers’ clothing and style is subtly different denoting their subject nation. 

As if the scale and setting of Persepolis weren’t remarkable enough the extent of engineering and artistic skill and craftsmanship is awe inspiring.  Most spectacular are the many hundreds of metres of exquisite wall reliefs depicting ceremonial aspects of life such as envoys from across the Empire bearing gifts for the ruler, their attire and offerings identifying their origins, and representations of religious symbolism. In more recent times, early last century,  visiting “sculptors” have unfortunately added their bit. Latter-day strict security may make such vandalism more difficult.

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 German speaking graffiti artist’s work.

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But a British soldier and an errant diplomat got in earlier. 

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 Persepolis’ grand setting on a plain backed by spectacular mountains.  

The designers and engineers of the Archaemenid Empire obviously didn’t have to work within the limitations of today’s mantra of  “on time and on budget”.


Get rial

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The first hurdle the visitor to Iran has to surmount is understanding the currency. The nub of the conundrum is that two currency designations are used simultaneously, each with a different value: rials and tomans. The rial is made up of 100 dinars, but these are so worthless that they aren’t used. Ten rials make a toman. An Aussie dollar is about 2900 tomans, or 29,000 rials, so we’re talking big numbers. It’s easy to be a millionaire.

The confusion is compounded by goods carrying prices mostly marked in rials. But merchants usually quote in tomans. To further befuddle the hapless visitor some notes carry the rial value on one side and the toman value on the other. But the toman value will be written in the tens value, rather than the thousands. So, for example, 500,000 rials – around AUD $17 – is on the note as 500,000 on one side but 50 on the other. But it’s really 50,000. And the merchant will quote 50, meaning 50,000 tomans, not rials, although that may be how it’s written on the price tag.

There’s more. A lot of notes carry just the rial value so you have to quickly calculate their toman value if you pull one out of your wallet. You’re never sure if you’re spending a lot, or a little, although it’s mostly a little, comparatively.


Got it? It took a long time for most of our group to get it too.

All of a sudden our colourful little Aussie notes seem so – logical!


Crossing over

Anyone who has crossed the road in Vietnam knows what being scared is. Pedestrian crossings, especially in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, mean nothing. I thought crossing the road couldn’t get any scarier but that was before I visited Iran. Crossing the road in Iran is not for chickens, especially in traffic-choked Tehran.

In Vietnam the traffic consisted of mostly motor cycles. In Iran a total lack of respect for pedestrian crossings combines with a vehicular onslaught of cars, buses, taxis and motorcycles, the latter weaving in and out of traffic and sometimes onto pavements. Courage and resolution are needed.



Identify a gap…

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…and don’t stop

On advice from our guide we always crossed as a group – safety in numbers. The rule is: spot an opportunity, step resolutely forward and NEVER stop. Hesitate and all is lost. Hestiation confuses the drivers who are used to missing pedestrians by hair-breadth margins.

Our guide explained that in Iran drivers factor in your forward progress across a road and gauge their trajectory accordingly. It may seem like they are about to plough you down but as long as you don’t stop they will invariably miss you by the narrowest of margins. When going solo the best policy is to be a complete coward and cross with as large a group of local people as possible.

Good luck!

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Fearless local. 


Weather warning

Ten of thousands of Brisbaneites showed solidarity with their fellow world citizens today by joining the local People’s Climate March as part of the international day of climate action to coincide with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s Emergency UN Climate Summit in New York.

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The march was one of around 2500 in 160 countries, including around Australia, and was organised by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and Getup. Following speeches at Queen’s Park in which the challenges posed by the coal industry to the environment, especially the Great Barrier Reef, were highlighted the assembled masses from toddlers to nannas and grandpas bundled off down George, Adelaide and Edward Streets chanting latter-day versions of familiar protest slogans.

It was just like being back in the ‘60s and ‘70s!


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Iran squats like a sleek cat slotted into a slice of the Middle East surrounded by Iraq, Turkey, Armenia , Azerbaijan, and the Stans of Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Over millennia many of these modern-day countries have been part of wider Iran, or Persia. At its zenith the Persian Empire stretched west to the present Greece, south to Egypt, east as far as India, and included Armenia and Turkmenistan.

 IMG_4920 edPersepolis griffin, IranAir’s symbol. 

My pull to explore Iran traces back to high school ancient history classes and a teacher who fitted the classic “inspirational” mould. I may not have become an archaeologist but Middle Eastern destinations and their antiquities have long been a drawcard and Iran is a treasure trove. Add to that its current pivotal role in the muddled politics of the Middle East and a fascinating destination is guaranteed, despite having to wear a headscarf and forgo a cold sav blanc.

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Classic Iranian mosque with its rich ceramic tile work. 

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Classic Persian rug at Shiraz dealer. 

My just-spent two weeks in Iran exceeded expectations and dispelled assumptions. Iran is much more than its western image of mullahs, religious fervour, anti-American fanatics and black-cloaked women. Despite international sanctions, which impact noticeably, Iranians appear proud Persians who celebrate their rich heritage and take satisfaction in their self-sufficiency. The tourist is made to feel genuinely welcome with constant requests for group photographs and to practice English, and good-hearted cross-examinations about what  you think of Iran.

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Making friends. 

Despite Western pre-conceptions Iran puts forward a mostly modern face, one not nearly so overtly Islamic as imagined. Although covering the hair is mandatory for women, the degree of cover appears optional, with many young women really pushing the envelope with scarves way back revealing lots of hair. The black, all-encompassing chador seems non-compulsory with many women, especially the young, choosing colourful coats, or long shirts and scarves. Calls to prayer were not regularly heard, unlike in some other Islamic countries. And the tolerance for the imagery and places of worship of other religions surprised me. Christian scenes such as the Last Supper could be seen in carpets and paintings, souvenir items in bazaars included Buddha likenesses and Zoroastrian temples and representations were commonplace. We even visited tombs of  the legendary  Jewish Esther and and Mordechai in Hamadan.

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Zoroastrian fire temple, Yazd; inscription at Ether and Mordechai tomb, Hamadan. 

In the current climate it’s easy to forget what Iran and their ancestors bequeathed to civilisation. It’s substantial. To name some: the introduction of metals, pottery, glass, weaving, agriculture, and dairy products; early monotheism including Zoroastrianism; science, the foundations of modern medicine, writing, weights, money and measurements, banking; and artistic gifts like carpets, ceramic tiles, paintings, poetry and garden design.   On top of that Cyrus the Great, ruler of the Persian Archaemenid Empire from 559–530 BC among many other accomplishments freed the Jews from Babylon and rebuilt their temple in Jerusalem.

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Persepolis wall frieze. 

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Old wind towers in Yazd which helped early residents survive 50-plus summer temperatures. 

Scarves are a best seller in the bazaar. 

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Pomegranates and Iran go together.  

Stand-outs of a visit to Iran include fresh tomatoes and cucumbers to die for, fresh dates that taste like caramel, newly picked pistachios, walnuts, saffron rice, the creamiest of feta cheeses, pomegranates; hand-knotted carpet shops in renowned centres like Shiraz; brilliantly-tiled mosques and bazaars in Esfahan’s Naghsh-e-jahan Square; rich antiquities;  the wonders of Persepolis; spectacular mountains; sparse deserts; hidden green valleys; tree-lined streets; friendly people; the most confusing currency in the world; the scariest pedestrian experiences. And much, much more.

And no, you can’t get a shiraz in Shiraz!

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3500-plus-metre mountains in Kermanshah; desert greenery, Pasagardae. 

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Close encounters of the vehicular kind. 

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Daily staples..fresh dates, cucumber and tomatoes with creamy feta.