In Shiraz, I stayed at the Golsham Hostel, which the lovely Esfahan Tourist Office had booked for me, and I cannot recommend it more highly! For 400,000 rial (or 12USD) a night, I had a bed in the dorm of an absolutely gorgeous traditional Iranian home area. It was down an alley, which felt sketchy initially, but when I walked in, it was to an open square, walled in by other buildings and with a simple canopy over top to keep out the rain. There was a water fountain in the center, and lounging areas all around the sides in addition to tables. Everyone looked over to smile at me briefly, and I was welcomed very warmly by Parviz, the manager of the hostel.
Honestly, other than having reliable WiFi, the best part of the hostel was meeting other travellers. I hadn’t realized it, but after three nights with a hotel room to myself, I was really missing having conversations without needing to use simple sentences. I met two awesome Italian girls there, and less than half an hour after I’d arrived, we went out for dinner.
Right around the corner from the hostel, there was a soup man–a small stall in the street with several very large pots brewing goodness knows what. We bought three dishes to share for 70,000 rial–a yogurty mushroomy brew and a chickpeaish yellowish something. Both had a very thick, almost stew-like texture, and were unusual but pretty good. The third dish was something or other with a lot of rosewater that was very sweet.
Next to the soup man, I found my favourite shop in Iran–the breadman. For 10,000 rial, we got a huge slice of hot, fresh, stretchy, doughy, crispy, absolutely delicious nun. When I went back later, I had to wait in line, but enjoyed watching a man on the other side spread the dough and put it through a machine to be cooked.
We then went to explore Mausoleum of Shah-e Cheragh, which involved donning a chador, and more to my annoyance, taking off and putting on our shoes multiple times–by that point, my heels had nasty cracks that were painful when the pressure on them switched.
Entrance was free, though they searched us more thoroughly than any airport has ever searched me and made us turn on our phones to prove they were phones. They decided to give us a tour guide who was a sweetheart and spoke very good English.
This was probably one of my favourite places in all of Iran because it was such a community. There were small children running all over the lovely carpets under tall, tall ceilings, just like I had always wanted to do when I was a small child in Catholic churches. These children ran right around people bowing and praying very intently, who were in direct contrast to the people next to them sleeping in the middle of the mosque. Then, there were the families and couples out socializing, laughing and talking merrily. And though I tend to think of places of worship as more solemn, I found this sense of community to be overwhelmingly gorgeous. No matter what they were doing or who they were, they belonged and were happy–and of course, they were excited to share their place with us foreigners, and I lost track of the number of times our guide translated someone telling us they were excited to see us.
I wish it was polite for me to take notes as I promptly forgot everything I learned on our tour, but one thing that stuck out to me was an idea that I hadn’t heard before–that one of the prophets (I’m horrible and I forgot which one) would come again to earth alongside Jesus Christ and thus the Christians and the Muslims and the Jews would reunite and there would be world peace. I didn’t ask what would happen to the atheists and polytheists because I was tearing up over how sincerely she believed this would happen and how pure this wish was. Man, Iranians are so darn nice–that kind of sincerity just isn’t something I often run across.
My only issue with the mosque was that outside in the yard there were cockroaches underfoot with practically every step. But that at least explains why they have you take your shoes off before you go inside! The mosque is also open 24/7, so if you’re really on a budget, you could always try sneaking in and sleeping there.