The Wheels on the Bus...

This is a big country! We spent most of it on the bus, driving from Ahwaz to Shiraz. There's no direct flight, meaning air travel would take close to ten hours. Instead, we opted for the drive, a mere twelve hours (including a few stops and magnificent scenery).

Lunch was a delicious and curious affair. Since travelers are allowed to eat during Ramadan, truck stops are one of the few places which serve food openly (tourist sites and hotels are among the others). Among the male-only trucker crowd, we stood out a bit. We were like a pack of Japanese tourists in a diner in small-town Alabama - a bit exotic and the source of some amusement.
Our one tourist stop on the road was in a place known by the name of Shapur. The name comes from one of the Sassanid kings in the 3rd century; his palace, as well as the river that runs by it, bear the name, too. The story of this place goes that when Shapur defeated the Romans, he took their generals captive. Valerian was held here, where he and his Roman soldiers became the builders of the palaces and Zoroastrian water temple. The place has a distinct Roman touch, with ten foot thick stone walls that still stand (the cement was that good).
Nearby, right along the Shapur River, sit a series of bas reliefs cut into the stone. They commemorate a variety of Sassanid historic events, including the defeat of Valerian, several other battles, and a coronation. Those taking the road into Shapur, or coming down the river, would see these images as they entered. In a sense, these are the ancient equivalent of the Khomeini posters that decorate the countryside, reminding folks who it is that's in charge (oddly enough, it is the photos of the two Ayatollahs that predominate around Iran; I've only noticed Ahmadinejad's image on one billboard; it's as though his importance has been overestimated in the West).
As we drove through the countryside, we saw nomads out in the fields harvesting. The women are colorfully dressed and stand out against the browns and greens of nature's pallet. One particularly striking sight out the window were the Gates of Persia, a narrow passageway between two mountains. Alexander the Great once passed through here; now it stands watch over a major Iranian highway. We were lucky to catch it at sunset.
We finally arrived in Shiraz after dark. Since our two experiences of Iranian cities have been Tehran (huge and polluted) and Ahwaz (not really much to say), Shiraz is a breath of fresh air. It's the city of poets and art, and there is an energy here that is simply different and alive. Elizabeth and I took a brief walk around the hotel to stretch our bus legs, and we look forward to seeing the city in the daytime.