IRAN, Tour of Azarbaijan
June 10, 2012

Iran, for my third time!  How lucky do I feel!  No, no unsafe, or scared but LUCKY!  Irans a trip, for sure, but I always get so excited about heading over again.  This year, we ran out of luck in that the Tour of Tehran was canned, so, we only went for one race, the Tour of Azarbaijan.  Lesson learnt – for less than two weeks (I was there ten days) you can get a visa on arrival for half of what we paid at the embassy, and the guys that did that breezed through.  So, although we got interrogated at KL airport (and that was strange to, 6 of us checking in, and 2 of us had to wait to speak to some official dude who was representing Iran.  What did he want to know? How much money we had.. and ‘Oh!! You already have visas? No problem’… um yeah, that’s what weve been saying all along for the past 10 minutes?)  anyway, apparently because of nuclear tension (do they make weapons or don’t they) then Iran has been cracking down on visitors.  ‘Especially’ Australians – well! I said as I flashed my passport in this dudes face, that’s ok then, cos Im a kiwi! Hehe So,2  of us had to run to passport control, through security and then down to the gate, with minutes to spare!  Don’t like that sort of pre-travel stress!

We were flying with Air Asia again, have to admit, theres nothing wrong with the airbuses they use for long haul, seats aren’t too crammed, the meal was ok.. however, within seconds of getting on the plane there was ‘Iranian confusion’ – and older guy infront of me was annoyed that there were bags in the overhead locker above him and what about if his wife wanted to put her bag up there and then use it during the flight – the result, about 5 guys all in on this problem.. the result? Old guy sat down again, hed let it slide.  I moved from behind him to an empty seat opposite him – I got a lot of smiles from him and his wife, during the flight.

Arrived in Iran, head scarves on and time to disembark.  Flew through customs, got our bags ok and thought id had two of my besties come to the airport to meet me – and I managed to quickly get a sim card, we were hurried on to our next stop, the bus station. No surprises there, we were going to be put on an overnight bus bound for Tabriz.  One surprise – we got to the bus, got onboard and then were ‘told’ we had bought one too many people from what we booked, what?!?! Problem solved, the jump seat next to the driver!

I have to admit, I don’t like that drive, cos its so long, but a herbal sleeper helped and I saw the sunrise through the window, which was a nice touch of scene setting for arrival into Tabriz.

We had to change from our big bus, at the bus depot on the outskirts of Tabriz, to a smaller, local bus – complete with dirty interior, ripped seats and a driver that smoked in the bus… but it wasn’t for long.  The hotel was another big race hotel, with the standard huge, gilded lobby.  Actually the rooms were pretty good to, and bed was welcomed, until I got the phone call telling me I was needed for the technical meeting.. WHAT?! Im not the manager this year!!! So, I was woken up so got up.  Met our French manager Yves, and his trusty side-kick, our French mechanic Angels.  Off to the meeting we went.  I flagged the mangers meeting later in the day, I was so ready for sleep it was beyond belief – after the opening ceremony, which is never a quick affair.

We met our team interpreter at lunch time, Golamreza, whose English was amazing and he proved to be such a great guy to have on the team.

And the rest of the week was a blur of stages!! I was in the van, not the managers car, so I didn’t see much of the action – except for day one, when the vans ended up stuck behind the race, and then cat and moused their way along the roads, behind the convoy, but at one point we WERE the convoy – time to listen, slow down and get back behind the race!! That stage they had a rescue helo following the race, its by far the biggest, most impressive looking rescue helicopter Ive ever seen! Amazing!

Mid way through the tour was National Womens day – a day to celebrate monthers , women, girls, sisters etc.  There was 3 of us ladies on the tour this year – myself, the manager of the team from Paraguay and a lady from Taiwan who owns the helmet company that was a sponsor of the event.  We were all presented, in a small, private ceremony, with a box of local chocolates and a handmade bag.  Wicked! Thanks! J

Azarbaijan is windy, and this tour there was little resplite. Some days it was amzing what the winds got up to.  Wowsers!  Makes the notorious Tour of Southland look like a sea breeze.

The Laleh Hotel in Sarein, I remember from the year before (and maybe in 08 as well?) and I received the warmest welcome ever! They definitely remember me from last year.

Stage 5 finished at ‘Sahand’ which was basically a 3000m summit finish, at a ski field! And we us soigeurs arrived, it was snowing!  No ones prepared for that in a summer race – we were huddled inside the ski lodge drinking tea and chatting.  A wait of about 3 hours till the riders started trickling in.  Trickle in they did, some collapsed at the finish line (the climb was around 30km), but for others, they made it look easy, however, those of us at the finish line stepped in and helped each rider after they crossed the line by pushing them up the road to their cars.  Its where I ‘did a calf’, I still don’t even know what I did, exactly, but I had gone up to the line for my rider, and as I went to walk him up the road, something ‘pinged’ in my leg and I couldn’t walk on it!! It was also my introduction to kinesiotape (thanks race doc!) which blew me away!!  Big  fan now!

So, for the last stage, I was at the hotel.  Along with OCBC from Singapore, they were all out of the race, so, we set off to explore the Tabriz bazaar – the biggest, and oldest from the Silk Route, apparently.  I have been before, but its still amazing to see!  And it was a nice way to spend a morning.

So the racing.. yeah, well, like I say, I didn’t see a lot of it! Dukhla Praha were mega strong, of course Azad and TPT from Iran were strong, my guys rode well… some good racing!! One stage, they were sitting on 26km an hour, because of the wind!  I told you it was windy!

This year, much to my astonishment, we were not put on a bus the night the race finished, for that arduous drive to Tehran! Yes, we got to sleep in the hotel!! We were leaving at 8am the next day, but that was more like 9.30 am local time.. J and it took 12 hours to get to Tehran.  Apparently the driver wasn’t even sure where he was taking us?  But, it was to the airport, to deliver our Frenchies and the OCBC team.  And it was as we dropped them off, that I got a phone call from a friend in Iran saying that we did NOT have a booking at Azadi Sports Complex, for accommodation… L  anyway, thanks to some quick thinking and a few phone calls, we got beds at a hotel not far from Azadi, that was the race hotel for Tour of Tehran the year before, SCORE! (thanks Alireza and Ali).  And so began my two nights in Tehran.  Welcome nights sleep that first night, and then a day with Alireza the next day, choice! Actually, we didn’t do a hell of a lot! Coffee, money exchange and then lunch! That evening, I was picked up by another friend, Zara, and we drove back to her house.. yay! A was finally going to get a night in an Iranian house!  The drive back was interesting, never, ever, EVER underestimate the traffic you may encounter in Tehran.  The place is massive, its beyond belief!  Part of the trip took us down a ‘strip’ of road that is renown for being a ‘pick up’ spot!! Seriously! And it was so entertaining, we did two laps!! You drive with your windows down and the offers come a-flying.  Especially with me, the foreigner, in the car, who doesn’t wear a regular hijab (I have my own system of head-scarfing).  I haven’t laughed so much in so long!

It was a late late night.  What a beautiful family – mother and three 20 something daughters.  We had an Iranian feast for dinner, at around midnight, and it was nearer 2am when we all went to bed.

The next day was a late start, but we did go out for lunch, which was beautiful – and in a restaurant that I went to last year with a different friend! Talk about feeling like a local!

Which brings me to a couple of things about Iran.  Yes, I have to cover up.  For me, I make my own system though, which means a scarf tied over my head, as opposed to under the chin and t shirt with thai fisherman pants, but I drape a pashmina over my shoulders.  Works so well for me!  But yes, causes a bit of a stir – especially this year, apparently a pair of my pants was too short and I was disrespecting security.. umm ok.

And he food, WOW is all I can say about Iranian food. They really have it good! And it shows, in the distinct LACK of obesity, which I really noticed.  They have their complex carbs, but theyre not staples in the diet, and theres plenty of meat (lamb and chicken) and good fats – butter, cream (the cream is just divine), oils.. im sure they even have less processed foods available than some other places Ive been to. And Iran is all about home cooking, mother cooks (generally).  Iv always found some of their cuisine a bit ‘samey’ before, but not this time. This time I was almost counting down the times to eat LAMB!! J

And that took me close to the time I needed to get a taxi to the airport.  I went back to the hotel to meet the other guys from the team who were leaving with me.  That was an uneventful trip to the airport, followed by an uneventful check-in and an uneventful departure!!

Rock on Iran, see you next year – in’shallah!!

IRAN, Tour of Azarbiajan
June 10, 2012

Iran, for my third time!  How lucky do I feel!  No, no unsafe, or scared but LUCKY!  Irans a trip, for sure, but I always get so excited about heading over again.  This year, we ran out of luck in that the Tour of Tehran was canned, so, we only went for one race, the Tour of Azarbaijan.  Lesson learnt – for less than two weeks (I was there ten days) you can get a visa on arrival for half of what we paid at the embassy, and the guys that did that breezed through.  So, although we got interrogated at KL airport (and that was strange to, 6 of us checking in, and 2 of us had to wait to speak to some official dude who was representing Iran.  What did he want to know? How much money we had.. and ‘Oh!! You already have visas? No problem’… um yeah, that’s what weve been saying all along for the past 10 minutes?)  anyway, apparently because of nuclear tension (do they make weapons or don’t they) then Iran has been cracking down on visitors.  ‘Especially’ Australians – well! I said as I flashed my passport in this dudes face, that’s ok then, cos Im a kiwi! Hehe So,2  of us had to run to passport control, through security and then down to the gate, with minutes to spare!  Don’t like that sort of pre-travel stress!

We were flying with Air Asia again, have to admit, theres nothing wrong with the airbuses they use for long haul, seats aren’t too crammed, the meal was ok.. however, within seconds of getting on the plane there was ‘Iranian confusion’ – and older guy infront of me was annoyed that there were bags in the overhead locker above him and what about if his wife wanted to put her bag up there and then use it during the flight – the result, about 5 guys all in on this problem.. the result? Old guy sat down again, hed let it slide.  I moved from behind him to an empty seat opposite him – I got a lot of smiles from him and his wife, during the flight.

 

Arrived in Iran, head scarves on and time to disembark.  Flew through customs, got our bags ok and thought id had two of my besties come to the airport to meet me – and I managed to quickly get a sim card, we were hurried on to our next stop, the bus station. No surprises there, we were going to be put on an overnight bus bound for Tabriz.  One surprise – we got to the bus, got onboard and then were ‘told’ we had bought one too many people from what we booked, what?!?! Problem solved, the jump seat next to the driver!

I have to admit, I don’t like that drive, cos its so long, but a herbal sleeper helped and I saw the sunrise through the window, which was a nice touch of scene setting for arrival into Tabriz.

We had to change from our big bus, at the bus depot on the outskirts of Tabriz, to a smaller, local bus – complete with dirty interior, ripped seats and a driver that smoked in the bus… but it wasn’t for long.  The hotel was another big race hotel, with the standard huge, gilded lobby.  Actually the rooms were pretty good to, and bed was welcomed, until I got the phone call telling me I was needed for the technical meeting.. WHAT?! Im not the manager this year!!! So, I was woken up so got up.  Met our French manager Yves, and his trusty side-kick, our French mechanic Angels.  Off to the meeting we went.  I flagged the mangers meeting later in the day, I was so ready for sleep it was beyond belief – after the opening ceremony, which is never a quick affair.

We met our team interpreter at lunch time, Golamreza, whose English was amazing and he proved to be such a great guy to have on the team. 

 

And the rest of the week was a blur of stages!! I was in the van, not the managers car, so I didn’t see much of the action – except for day one, when the vans ended up stuck behind the race, and then cat and moused their way along the roads, behind the convoy, but at one point we WERE the convoy – time to listen, slow down and get back behind the race!! That stage they had a rescue helo following the race, its by far the biggest, most impressive looking rescue helicopter Ive ever seen! Amazing!

 

Mid way through the tour was National Womens day – a day to celebrate monthers , women, girls, sisters etc.  There was 3 of us ladies on the tour this year – myself, the manager of the team from Paraguay and a lady from Taiwan who owns the helmet company that was a sponsor of the event.  We were all presented, in a small, private ceremony, with a box of local chocolates and a handmade bag.  Wicked! Thanks! J

 

Azarbaijan is windy, and this tour there was little resplite. Some days it was amzing what the winds got up to.  Wowsers!  Makes the notorious Tour of Southland look like a sea breeze. 

The Laleh Hotel in Sarein, I remember from the year before (and maybe in 08 as well?) and I received the warmest welcome ever! They definitely remember me from last year. 

 

Stage 5 finished at ‘Sahand’ which was basically a 3000m summit finish, at a ski field! And we us soigeurs arrived, it was snowing!  No ones prepared for that in a summer race – we were huddled inside the ski lodge drinking tea and chatting.  A wait of about 3 hours till the riders started trickling in.  Trickle in they did, some collapsed at the finish line (the climb was around 30km), but for others, they made it look easy, however, those of us at the finish line stepped in and helped each rider after they crossed the line by pushing them up the road to their cars.  Its where I ‘did a calf’, I still don’t even know what I did, exactly, but I had gone up to the line for my rider, and as I went to walk him up the road, something ‘pinged’ in my leg and I couldn’t walk on it!! It was also my introduction to kinesiotape (thanks race doc!) which blew me away!!  Big  fan now!

 

So, for the last stage, I was at the hotel.  Along with OCBC from Singapore, they were all out of the race, so, we set off to explore the Tabriz bazaar – the biggest, and oldest from the Silk Route, apparently.  I have been before, but its still amazing to see!  And it was a nice way to spend a morning.

 

So the racing.. yeah, well, like I say, I didn’t see a lot of it! Dukhla Praha were mega strong, of course Azad and TPT from Iran were strong, my guys rode well… some good racing!! One stage, they were sitting on 26km an hour, because of the wind!  I told you it was windy!

 

This year, much to my astonishment, we were not put on a bus the night the race finished, for that arduous drive to Tehran! Yes, we got to sleep in the hotel!! We were leaving at 8am the next day, but that was more like 9.30 am local time.. J and it took 12 hours to get to Tehran.  Apparently the driver wasn’t even sure where he was taking us?  But, it was to the airport, to deliver our Frenchies and the OCBC team.  And it was as we dropped them off, that I got a phone call from a friend in Iran saying that we did NOT have a booking at Azadi Sports Complex, for accommodation… L  anyway, thanks to some quick thinking and a few phone calls, we got beds at a hotel not far from Azadi, that was the race hotel for Tour of Tehran the year before, SCORE! (thanks Alireza and Ali).  And so began my two nights in Tehran.  Welcome nights sleep that first night, and then a day with Alireza the next day, choice! Actually, we didn’t do a hell of a lot! Coffee, money exchange and then lunch! That evening, I was picked up by another friend, Zara, and we drove back to her house.. yay! A was finally going to get a night in an Iranian house!  The drive back was interesting, never, ever, EVER underestimate the traffic you may encounter in Tehran.  The place is massive, its beyond belief!  Part of the trip took us down a ‘strip’ of road that is renown for being a ‘pick up’ spot!! Seriously! And it was so entertaining, we did two laps!! You drive with your windows down and the offers come a-flying.  Especially with me, the foreigner, in the car, who doesn’t wear a regular hijab (I have my own system of head-scarfing).  I haven’t laughed so much in so long! 

 

It was a late late night.  What a beautiful family – mother and three 20 something daughters.  We had an Iranian feast for dinner, at around midnight, and it was nearer 2am when we all went to bed. 

The next day was a late start, but we did go out for lunch, which was beautiful – and in a restaurant that I went to last year with a different friend! Talk about feeling like a local!

 

Which brings me to a couple of things about Iran.  Yes, I have to cover up.  For me, I make my own system though, which means a scarf tied over my head, as opposed to under the chin and t shirt with thai fisherman pants, but I drape a pashmina over my shoulders.  Works so well for me!  But yes, causes a bit of a stir – especially this year, apparently a pair of my pants was too short and I was disrespecting security.. umm ok. 

And he food, WOW is all I can say about Iranian food. They really have it good! And it shows, in the distinct LACK of obesity, which I really noticed.  They have their complex carbs, but theyre not staples in the diet, and theres plenty of meat (lamb and chicken) and good fats – butter, cream (the cream is just divine), oils.. im sure they even have less processed foods available than some other places Ive been to. And Iran is all about home cooking, mother cooks (generally).  Iv always found some of their cuisine a bit ‘samey’ before, but not this time. This time I was almost counting down the times to eat LAMB!! J 

 

And that took me close to the time I needed to get a taxi to the airport.  I went back to the hotel to meet the other guys from the team who were leaving with me.  That was an uneventful trip to the airport, followed by an uneventful check-in and an uneventful departure!!

 

Rock on Iran, see you next year – in’shallah!!

TOUR OF AZARBAIJAN, IRAN 11-16 May 2012
May 21, 2012

Im freshly back in KL after a 3rd time to the Tour of Azar in Iran.  I love going there!! NO, I never feel unsafe, NO theyre not unfriendly people, NO we didn’t see any signs of unrest, NO no signs of hating the west… seriously, it’s a trip! Iranians are some of the nicest folk Ive ever met!  Really! Collectively – theyre so warm, friendly, interested and theres a MASS of Iranians that speak English.  The start list this year was:

Tabriz Petrochemical – IRAN

Syria National – SYRIA

ASC Dukla Praha – CZECH REPUBLIC

Konya Torku – TURKEY

OCBC – SINGAPORE

Start – PARAGUAY

Bavaria Regional – GERMANY

Urumia Medical Uni – IRAN

Astana Track Team – KAZAKHSTAN

Team Plan B – AUSTRALIA (who I was soigneur with)

Andalucia – SPAIN

Azad University – IRAN

ISD Lampre – UKRAINE

MES Kerman – IRAN

Specialized – GERMANY

Uzbekistan Suren – UZBEKISTAN

Holland Regional – HOLLAND

Ardebil – IRAN

Briaspor – TURKEY

Flying to Tehran from KL is great – cheap (airasia.com), frequent and only 7.5 hours.  We arrived at 10pm local, and this year, we were taken pretty much straight away, to the bus depot (thank god I had friends who met us – me and the six riders, as their car was needed to take two of us to the bus depot) – and that was it, left at midnite, bound for Tabriz in Irans northern ‘Azarbaijan’.

We were at Sharyar Hotel this year – and I pretty much headed straight to bed – via catching up with some familiar faces.  As I expected, I got a phone call about 2 hours into my sleep telling me I needed to be at the licence control… umm NO im not manager this year!  However, I was awake, so I got up and got the licences.  Went downstairs and met our manager and mechanic – Yves and Angels, frenchies and absolutely top guys! I did go to licence control (and got reimbursed from TPT for the power bars I took them – for those rumour-mongering that I wouldn’t get repaid…)  I flagged the managers meeting for more rest.. met our interpreter – Golamreza. A dude and with really really good English!

Stage 1 Tabriz to Urumiyeh, 141km.  stages started at 10am.  And, were accompanied by the ever-present Azar trait.. WIND!  I remember this road from other years, especially the bridge we crossed.  This year, I was in the team van, as opposed to the team car, so out the back of the race. The plan was, (as per usual) the vans would go ahead of the race, but, we didn’t leave so early before the start and got so stuck in traffic, that was not  going to happen.   I remember Urumiyeh as well – the city of Kurds!  Same hotel as last year, same view from my room of the bazaar over the road.. I like this hotel!  After dinner, Reza went for a walk with us into the town. The bazaar wasn’t open ,but the streets provided enough entertainment – between me and my different dress / hijab styles and blonde aussie boys, we were definitely worth staring at! Bought some walnuts!

Stage 2, Urumiyeh – Shabestar (then transfer to Tabriz back to same hotel) 174km

I woke up paying the price of the long travel time getting to Iran and then Tabriz – a migraine L  loaded up on pain killers and decided to have something to eat.  Bread, cream and honey.  For someone that doesn’t usually eat bread, Iranian bread was dam fine!! And it made me feel a lot better!  I spent the stage lying down in the back of the van trying to sleep.  Unfortunately, it was a few hours of waiting at the finish line before the transfer to the hotel.. ugh!  Early night, no massages given, just crashed out and slept right through to a new day..

Stage 3 – Tabriz – Miyaneh, 155km

Felt heaps better today, yay!! And the finish was close to the hotel.. actually, it wasn’t a hotel, it was a branch of Azad University!  And the accomm was pretty sweet – a 3 room in an apartment!  Bit of a fuss when I turned up – about 5 men took on the duty of getting one of the rooms into a one bed, so that I wasn’t sharing with males.  (also gave me room to do massages in my room).  Didn’t  go to dinner tonight, wasn’t hungry, chilled out instead..

Stage 4, Garachaman – Ardebil, 194.7, (transfer after to Sarein)

Not too much to see on the drive, but I did get flashbacks of the road nearer the hotel! Parts of the course that was a team time trial last year.  I liked this hotel, ‘Laleh’ and got a bit of a heroes welcome cos they remember me!  Time to chill for a bit before the boys arrived.   Unfortunately, I sent the driver and interpreter off to drive back to the finish (25km) and they never got there on time, stuck in traffic.. oh well, got it sorted.  Lunch and dinner were nice, and after dinner lots of race people were chilling out on the lobby furniture, wifi-ing, drinking tea…

Stage 5, Sarein – Sahand (3000m) 188km

Left on this stage with no realisation just what the 30km hill climb entailed! Bit of a murky, misty foggy day, and as we started the hill climb, there were parts where we thought we were on the wrong road – narrow, rough, dirty road.. but no, it was the way.  Nearer the top of the climb, it was snowing!! And at the summit, was a ski field and ski lodge – warm tea and toilets for us swannies and van drivers to use and hang out in, for around 3 hours.  For the finish, we all went back to the finish line. The snow had stopped but the wind was freezing!  I did think about putting my compression socks on (best thing for when youre wearing birkenstoks and thai fisherman pants!) but I didn’t.  the finish was exciting, Andalucia, easily.. but later riders were coming in absolutely buckled!! There were ‘helpers’ (interpreters, swannies etc) helping riders when they got to the line –someone would go either side and push the riders up to their team vans. When my first  guy came in, I stepped up to help and as I went to start fast walking him up the hill something in my right calf gave out and that was it, I couldn’t walk anywhere!! It felt like a huge electric shock!  So, I hopped up the hill with the help of one of the interpreters.  The race doctor saw me – ice gel and bandage and a promise to see me later at the hotel.  I think it was a micro tear of calf muscle, and it was my first introduction to ‘kinesio tape’ which blew me away! Il never pooh poo it again!!! We were back in Tabriz for the night..

Stage 6, Tabriz – Tabriz, 75km.

So, I didn’t go to this stage – I opted for a trip into town with the OCBC guys (even though I was limping).  It was fun going out – the bazaar in Tabriz. The oldest and most famous from the silk route – and though Ive seen it before it was great to go again.  And unlike other years, this year, we were not put on a bus straight after the tour to do an overnight trip to Tehran, SCORE!

Next day, we got the bus for Tehran.  There was our team, Singapore and some journos.  We were leaving at 8am, just after 9am we were pulling out from the hotel.  12 hours later, we were at the airport dropping off everyone except the riders from my team and me.  And then I got a phone call from a friend – we were not booked into Azadi stadium.. ARGGH! However, some phone calling and we  got accommodation at ‘Bostan Hotel’ which is near Azadi and was one of the race hotels for tour of Tehran last year.

So it ended up I had one full day in Iran and then most of the second day.  Got to spend time with two very special friends.. happy! Only wish id stayed longer in Iran and that the Tour of Tehran had been on.

The flight home was almost empty, SCORE!  Took a herbal sleeper though and got some sleep..

Thanks Iran, you rock, and next year, I have a plan to get me looking more like a local. I will win the hijab battle!!

OH! AND I CANT sign off without mentioning Iranian food… i miss it already.  Cream, full fat yogurt, olives, nuts, chicken and LAMB!!! i miss the lamb, its all i want when im there! There is a distinct lack of obesity in Iran – compared with the West, and I reckon its the quality protein and saturate fats, for sure!  Half the amount of processed crap compared to say Malaysia.  Interesting..  AND Iranian pharmacies.. wow, theyre amazing. if you want it, i think you can buy it, whatever ‘it’ may be. For me, Diclofinac suppositories (for migraines) up to 100mg, and less than $2 for two boxes (ten suppositories) – sure as heck beats a doctors appointment, a prescription and only 50mg dosages in New Zealand!