Well getting out of Tehran was pretty easy. The 6:30 start meant there wasnt too much traffic. Once away from the centre I found a signpost to Qom, but it was heading for the expressway. There were major roads and flyovers everywhere so I just followed the signs. Every now and then I asked the way and also checked that the road was ok to cycle on and I was always told it was. Eventually I arrived at the expressway with toll booths, police and a sign saying no cyclists. I asked the police the way to Qom and they just pointed through the toll, so off I went and didnt even have to pay. It made getting out of the city easy and added to that there were no trucks allowed on the road so it was quieter and less poluted and I had the hard shoulder to myself. My intention then was to get off once away from Tehran, but when I saw the other road, single carriageway and full of lorries I stuck to the expressway all the way to Qom, 140k of it that went surprisingly quickly. The scenery was very different to before Tehran as it was now just desert, no villages, farming or people. The road passed very close to a large salt lake and that was just about the only highlight. The driving standards were much better on the expressway and I only saw 2 cars reversing on it. There were no end of police and speed checks and to start with I expected to be stopped but they just waved to me. Once in Qom I easily found the hotels I had arranged to meet Andre and Judith at, but finding them was more of a problem. I arrived at 13:30 and by 16:00 they still hadnt turned up, so I went off to visit the holy shrine. Its a massive place and really impressive (photo) with lots of different areas for prayer, all very different from each other and fanastically decorated, the best for me being the blue tiles. Qom is very conservative, probably due to the shrine, and every female is covered from head to foot in black. There was still no sign of A & J so I sent them an email setting a meeting place for the morning and went off for dinner.
This morning I packed and went to the end of the alley where there are about 5 hotel in 50 metres. Without going into any I asked on the street if they had seen 2 German cyclists and I was told the hotel and the room number, news travels fast here! So at last I found them, but they assumed I had arrived late and would not have seen the shrine so they had booked in for 2 nights and waited for me to do the sightseeing, so an hour later I booked myself back into the room I had stayed in last night. The first job today was for A & J to change money, but none of the banks would change money but we eventually found an exchange shop, so they are both millionaires again. Back at the hotel they showed there windfall to a delighted Rupert (photo). We then went to visit the shrine and things were just a little different to yesterday as they wouldnt let us in. I think it was because Judith wasnt covered from head to toe in black and Andre with his long blonde hair stood out somewhat. At the 4th entrance we tried somebody made a telephone call and we were shown to the International Affairs office where we were given water, a form to fill in and given a brief history of the place, then we were escorted around the outside but not allowed inside, it all felt a bit strange. We were told we could take photos inside the office but not in the shrine but as we were escorted our guide kept pointing and said `one photo`. Later in the afternoon we visited a mosque and were told we couldnt go in or take photos. After it was dark Judith returned to the hotel and Andre wanted to see inside the shrine, so we thought it best to split up, go the different entrances and meet inside. We both got in, but the place is so big that we never saw each other, so I assumed Andre had been stopped again. It is fantastic inside and well worth the effort, but there is something special on tonight as it is very busy, carpets are laid outside and streets are closed.
So tomorrow we really are off and hope to arrive in Esfahan in 3 days. The plan is to stop there 5 days or so, for a `holiday` as Andre calls it.
Its good to hear from you again Nick and well done on doing JOGLE especially doing it the hard way. I can understand you being envious of me, even I am envious of me as this is like doing Lands End - John O`Groats but without the disappointment of having to stop. I am sure you will be planning you next trip soon so if you fancy a ride in SE Asia early next year you can always join me, though you sound a bit anti-social when you are on your bike. Thats odd as you normally cant stop talking!