Posted by: Sheridan Flynn | March 31, 2008

Iran (The rest)

The journey from Tabriz towards Tehran reveals some incredible scenery. We travel along a sturdy road through a stunning mountain pass. Groves of now bare apple trees are dwarfed by smooth snow covered hills. A chocolate coloured river flowing with steady stream of melting winter ice seems to follow us as we motor along it’s stony banks. On the other side a bright white midday sun shines on light brown clay, which is covering patches of rust coloured rock. Everywhere there are huge mountain peaks jutting into the pure blue sky. Few shadows are cast. Textures are sharp. Colours are blinding. There is contrast in everything. Solid mud huts, strong brick homes that are the same colour as the earth pass by as we enter a more urban area. I have absolutely no idea where we are. All that I know is that we are heading for the town of Soltenayeh where we are due to have lunch.

All forty-three of us sit in a large dining hall and with great surprise our food appears in no more than a few minutes. What’s more suppressing is that it’s pretty good. Chicken kebabs, paper like flat bread, some kind of barley soup, followed by a bottle of Iranian cola called Zim Zam. Soltenayeh comes and goes. A charming little town, which was built on the production and exportation of copper wire. The further east we travel it becomes clearer that there are parts of Iran that are seriously underdeveloped. Most of the truck and haulage vehicles are 30-year-old hand-me-downs from Soviet Russia. In many areas there are more garages than houses. Presumably to maintain the hundreds of thousands of aging vehicles which occupy the Iranian roads. Agricultural machinery looks ancient, and slow. Almost all of the construction sites look like the workmen have downed tools and left long ago. In some small towns you could be forgiven for thinking you were back sometime in the late 1970′s. Progress here is painfully slow. In many ways it looks like a nation cracking under it’s own weight. Frozen in time at the birth of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

We enter Tehran late in the afternoon. As our luck would have it, we hit rush hour traffic. Again as always, we slowly make our way towards the hotel. A quick glimpse from my bedroom window reveals a sea of dust coloured buildings reaching into the far off distance. Down on the ground the city comes alive. I walk less than a hundred meters down a busy main street road and already I have a small audience of people asking me questions on everything from English literature to Golf. I can tell these people aren’t merely practicing their English on me. They’re extremely friendly, and genuinely interested in my culture and way of life. I walk about a mile down the road in a bit of a daze. There’s so much to see here and I’m painfully aware that the bus departs first thing next morning. I try my best to take it all in. I pass by dozens of shops selling all kinds of multi-coloured fabric, young women wearing Dolce and Gabana jeans and Puma runners underneath their black dresses. Their decorated scarves are as far back as can be. Ice cream parlours, camera shops, men’s tailors, the likes of which you’d see in any European city.

The next morning we’re up at the crack of dawn. Our tour leader Vali has a days worth of sightseeing crammed into three hours. We start with a mosque, then the Ministry of Forgiven affairs, followed by a walk through a graveyard of the Iranian veterans of the Iran Iraq war, then a visit to the tomb of the leader of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomaini. It’s reported that one million people lost their lives during this conflict. Some say the figure is a lot higher. Graves are lined in all directions. They stretch as far as the eye can see. Most gravestones have vivid pictures of the young men that lay there. Some have glass caskets holding small personal belongings. Their families still visit and tend to the plots regularly. I stood next to a middle-aged woman who kneeled at her son’s resting place as she washed the white stone. Imam Khomaini’s resting place was quite different. A truly massive building boasting seven minarets soaring 90 meters into the sky, god knows how many thousands of meters of heated marble flooring, green velvet to beat the band. Almost twenty years later and this super structure still isn’t finished. As boarded the bus I couldn’t help thinking how these two sites were inextricably linked.

I left Iran heading towards Pakistan I couldn’t help wondering what kind of country Iran would be if it didn’t have so many sanctions imposed on it. Not just economic sanctions by the UN and America but also humanitarian sanctions imposed by it’s own leaders both religious and governmental. A country abundantly rich with vast natural resources where the youth perpetually struggle to find descent work. A nation blessed with an unrivalled culture and beauty hidden away from the rest of the world.

Posted by: Sheridan Flynn | March 25, 2008

Tabriz (Iran)

Tabriz

  

Tabriz is the first major city we hit as we make our way east across Iran. Located 250km from the Turkish border it was once an integral part of the silk route and today is considered to be a gateway city to Europe.

It’s dark by the time we enter Tabriz. As always, when we arrive at major cities the bus crawls at a snail’s pace through the dense urban traffic. Slowly we travel along in a sea of strange looking vehicles. Swarms of small square cream coloured cars that have a cold war East German look about them buzz in and around us. Large bulky pea green Mercedes trucks, with smooth round edges, the likes of which you’d only see in an old 1970′s B-movie take up most of the road. Our progress is painfully slow. But that doesn’t matter. The fact is, were in Iran.

Straight away I’m amazed at how developed this place is. A quick glance outside my window reveals flashing neon signs, rows of shops selling laptops, cigarettes, carpets, and suits. Billboard advertisements displaying nice, happy, vacuous smiling faces. Just the same as back home. It’s late in the evening and there’s a real sense of energy in the air. After dumping my luggage in the hotel lobby myself and a few others go out in search of some food. Out in the street eastern music and the aroma of slow cooked food pours out from the various restaurants. The pavements are busy with people. Women dressed from head to toe in black gather together and chatter with smiling eyes. Well dressed men in tidy looking suits weave their way in and out of traffic. Everywhere there are street traders selling all sorts of stuff. Mostly cheap looking tobacco products. Crossing the road for us westerners is almost like a form of  suicide. With no apparent rhyme or reason cars, motorbikes, and trucks appear from every angle. The locals effortlessly and gracefully make it from one side to another without hindrance or death.

A few hundred meters down the road a brightly lit fluorescent coloured eatery catches my eye. Instinctively I take a sharp ninety degree turn and find myself sitting in a pizzeria. I sit down, look around, and realize this is exactly the kinda place I do not want to eat in. A fast food joint you might find in any English or Irish town. I curse myself for driving 7000 kilometers and ordering a pizza. A moment later I’m joined by some of my co-travellers. Their intrepid nature has also failed them. They have [like me] succumb to their western instincts. We all laugh about it. As we chat, eat, and relax we are being eyed y some locals. A group of young Iranian women, in total black dress, possibly sisters, are scrutinizing us. They shyly peak from behind their head scarfs to catch a quick glimpse of us then immediately retreat as soon as they catch one of our eye’s. After a few minutes the least shy girl of the bunch asks us where were from. Her English is slow and slightly broken but improves greatly as the conversation develops. She acts as an interpreter for the others, fields more questions and translates the answers. It felt like these people have heard of westerners but have never seen any.

Later on that evening I sit in the hotel lobby, drinking tea, thinking to myself how friendly these people are. Already Iran had made an impression on me. Exhausted yet excited I went to bed. I could hardly imagine what the next week was going to be like.

Posted by: Sheridan Flynn | March 16, 2008

Iran (so far)

Like many people around the world I considered Iran to be a inhospitable, dry, steeped in Islam, and full of rocks. For as far back as I can remember (the early 80s) when ever Iran was mentioned in the media it was usually in relation to a war, economic sanctions, religious revolution or some kind of diplomatic disaster. While Iran was never on my to-do list I was instantly intrigued when I heard it was part of the Ozbus trip. Aside from all the negative press, the fact remained that I knew very little about this mysterious country. I had even read the lonely planet guide, scrutinised wikipedia, and I still knew nothing.

 

As I sat in the bus at the border, only a few metres away from Iranian soil I realised that I had very few expectations of Iran and practially no knowledge of Persian culture. I did however, have a strange mix of fear and excitement in my stomach. The kind of feeling you get before you go on a horrifying fairground ride. Beyond the electronic a massive billboard of two very serious looking dudes gazed back at me. Imam Khomaini the supreme leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution and Imam Khameniei the current supreme leader. Neither looked particularly friendly. Bellow them a sign in gold writing read “Wel come to the Islamic Republic of Iran”. I wondered to myself weather the spelling error was an act of defiance or a genuine mistake.

 

Through a couple of hours of form filling, a few metres of red tape, general banter between the passengers, and some people watching, we slowly lurched forward into Iran. We disembarked the bus and entered a dark, crowded, smokey, holding area. Old men in grey suits, young children clinging to their mothers, dapper guys in denim with slick hair, and dark eyed women dressed from head to toe in black all watched us as we walked across the floor. Sketchey geezers hovered around us holding huge wads of blue Iranian bank notes looking to exchange some euros.

 

We boarded the bus again and journeyed a couple of kilometers before we stopped for lunch. I looked back over my shoulder and observed the mountain range we had passed while in Turkey. It was only about fifteen minutes away but felt like we had stepped back in time. Old men dressed in earth coloured clothing gathered outside brick built shanty like shop fronts. Their skin tanned and weathered by nature. Again they stare at us. The whites of their eyes darting back and fourth as they pierce through our western veneer. Strangely enough I really don’t feel threatened. As I look closely at their faces they’re friendly, inquisitive, and welcoming.

 

Posted by: Sheridan Flynn | March 8, 2008

Turkey

Well as I’m sure most of you know, we’ve already been through Turkey. In fact we left Turkey almost a week ago. So apologies for not updating my blog. To be honest I’ve been far too busy enjoying myself to put pen to paper. Also the ten day, 5000 kilometre journey across the breath of Europe really knocked me out. By the time we reached Istanbul all I wanted to do was chill, have a Turkish bath and eat a few kebabs.

Istanbul (by the way) was amazing. The day we arrived there we were met by crazy rush hour traffic. Some of the locals stared at us in disbelief as Rocket (our driver) invigilated the bus in and out of tiny cobble stoned side streets, around tight corners, and up the narrowest of car laden alley ways. The engine groaned as guys in white vans beeped their horns and frustrated drivers behind us sat impatiently gripping their steering wheels. Slowly we pressed on through the city past, cafes, mosques, and carpet shops. Finally we pulled up outside our hostel. As soon as I could, I disembarked, dumped my bags, sat down and ordered some tea. The call to prayer started belting out of the nearby blue mosque. In the distance I could hear another call. Maybe in compitition with the first one. These strange sounds seemed to intertwine, bounce, and echo off of every stone wall, street and roof in the city. As the sun lay low glistening in the blue sky it produced an amazing effect. I realised I had finally arrived in the east.

I could very easily write a comprehensive, detailed, formal account of the time I spent in Turkey. But (you) the reader would probably become extremely bored and never visit this site again. But I will suggest that you take a look at some of these which photos I took during my ten day visit. They explain far better than I ever could.

 

For your convienve I have listed a top 10 highlights of Turkey.

 

Istanbul – It’s just bloody great place.

Turkish Baths – You’ll never again feel so clean.

Turkish People – Overall very friendly, interesting and nice.

Food– Kebab heaven (not the Abrakebabra type).

Wet Shaves – Closer than Gillette Mach 3 and probably cheaper.

Gallipoli – Stunningly beautiful and unforgettable.

 

 

Ballooning over the snow capped Capadoccian mountain range - No explanation needed.

 

 

Scenery– Sit back and let it unfold. Definitely nicer than Longford or Hackney.

 

 

Weather – Snow and blistering sunshine in the same day.

 

 

Turkey – The fact that it’s not Spain, Portugal or Greece.

 

 

Posted by: Sheridan Flynn | February 29, 2008

Romania and Bulgaria

Our final night in Romania was spent in an area called Snagof. Never heard of it? Neither have I. Buried deep in a snowy forest, situated right by a frozen lake we made our through the rural dirt tracks to our hostel. Beyond the dense trees lay some small boats which were moored on the shore. Further down I could see what seemed to be holiday camps which were closed for the winter. The scene reminded me of an early Wes Craven film. Clearly us Ozbussers were the only tourists in town. The hostel was surreal. It was like a world war two refugee camp run by stray dogs. There were a couple of ex-KGB look-alikes randomly patrolling the grounds and I could hear wolfs in the distance. I was half expecting to see zombies or Anne Frank. Or both! Having said that… It was warm, clean, friendly and (if nothing else) an interesting experience.The following morning we hit the road early and headed towards Bucharest. Yet more Romanian landscape. Bare and seemingly infertile. Vast expanses of ploughed dirt. I can’t help to think how these people have suffered throughout the years. For me, the real beauty of this country is its people. Cautious, warm, hospitable, and very very straight forward. I can only imagine what kinds of changes Romania will be going through in the near future. However, I hope with their recent inclusion into the EU, life for the average Romanian will greatly improve. By late morning were sailing past no-mans land, and into the Bulgarian countryside. As soon as we cross over the Danube (which represents the divide) life instantly changes. Suddenly I feel a few degrees warmer. Out of nowhere, packs of multi-coloured tower blocks spring out from the ground. A soft winds blow rows of washing which hang from the balconies. Rusting satellite dishes and weather beaten air-con units hang out of the sun faded tiles and brickwork. Blinds are fully open letting in the daylight into people’s homes. This country seems happy and alive.Winter has been around for a long time but you can tell spring is on its way. Freshly ploughed fields unearth a chocolaty brown soil. Patches of melting white snow take refuge in the shade. Vibrant green foliage appears on smooth grassy hills. Buildings with cracked plaster reveal terracotta coloured stone. Big old ladies wrapped from head to toe in black, red, and green fabric tend to their gardens. The sun is intense and saturates everything in its glow. We head into the mountains and into the clouds. For a few minutes, were in a picture postcard landscape of shadows and silhouettes and in no time, we ascend into a maze of windy little roads. I bounce uncontrollably in the back of the bus trying desperately to write this post. My pen shoots all over the page. My handwriting looks like really bad shorthand. After a while I give up turn on my iPod and watch what seems to be an amazing film roll by my window.  

Posted by: Sheridan Flynn | February 25, 2008

Romania

We arrive at the Romanian border sometime after 2 o’ clock. I lay there comfortably slumped in my seat, relaxed, eyes closed, listening to Pink Floyd on my iPod. The bus comes to a halt and I sense the movement of people boarding. Two Romanian border guards make their way down the isle. Dark eyed men dressed in blue. The routinely check everyone’s passports. I open mine on the picture page and hand it over. Expressionless and without emotion, I am (for a split second) scrutinized. The guard hands me my passport with an air of disappointment. I thank him and wonder if he ever had a personality.

Borders and checkpoints are (of course) man made. Imaginary lines drawn up by politicians, economists, legislators, and military men. Crossing from Hungry to Romania dramatically illustrates the divide between old Europe and new Europe. This part of the world seems to be substantially colder, economically less developed, and in terms of infrastructure, far more weathered and bulkier than the west. Massive industrial plants slowly pump out grey smoke; roads are overloaded with square communist era cars, and large women in multi-coloured dresses tending to their gardens.

We pass south from Brasov to Bucharest through the vast and expansive Romanian countryside. We travel on a sturdy road built right through a mountain pass. On either side we are flanked by massive forests of pine trees. These trees have seen it all, communism, imperialism, dictatorships and now us. Tourists from the west. Change is slowly impacting on this part of Romania. A huge disused factory lies by a rushing river. Like a once powerful animal it’s now dead and lifeless. Slowly deteriorating into the earth. Old square buses stand on bricks, its body gutted for spare parts. Power lines and industrial piping that stretch across mountains and rivers provide heat, services, and energy to its people. To me, this seems like a tough place to live. A long way from the moderate Irish climate. The Romanians seem to be completely unperturbed by these conditions and effortlessly get on with their daily lives.

Posted by: Sheridan Flynn | February 18, 2008

7 countries in 7 days

The past week has been one of the most intense weeks of my life. I’ve wanted to write a few more posts but simply haven’t had the time. Seven countries in seven days. So many new faces, confusing languages, and strange places. I find it hard to take it all in. Goulash in Budapest, opera in Vienna, Snitchel in Germany, break-dancing in Prague, and a kebab in London. In Austria I was asked if I wanted sugar with my coffee. I answered “Si, oui, yeah… I mean Ja”. Only three different languages before I got it right. At a Romanian ATM I withdrew a million of their currency. The ATM took ages to count the money, and for the first time in my life I couldn’t close my wallet. Last Wednesday I woke up in a hostel wondering which country I was in. The weather outside suggested it was Ukraine but the strange currency in my pocket reminded me I was in the Czech Republic.

To be honest I’m having a ball. My fellow travellers all seem to be extremely friendly. The only thing better than arriving at a new city is breaking my arse laughing with the others on the bus, while recounting some random event which happened the night before. The drivers Kim and Rocket are as cool as… And Colin our tour leader is a super nice bloke.

Yesterday we left Budapest at 9AM. Travelling through the Hungarian countryside heading east towards Romania, we pass through flat even landscapes. Rural life replaces the big iconic cities as the familiarity of modern Europe leaves us. Low lying green green fields, small tin roofed out houses, and narrow meandering roads lead us to the Romanian border. Life here takes on a completely different feel. This part of Europe seems substantially colder, economically less developed, and in terms of infrastructure; far more weathered, bulkier, and less refined. The people here are open, friendly, and very straight forward. And that’s the part I like the most. I love the fact that’s it’s so much more different then western Europe. This is why I came on this trip.

Click here to see where we’ve been so far. Tomorrow we head for Bucharest, then onto Bulgaria, and by Thursday we’ll be in Istanbul.

Ciao!

Posted by: Sheridan Flynn | February 13, 2008

Dublin to London

So we finally made it out of Ireland. Strangely, ferry crossing from Dublin port to Hollyhead was not the highlight of the trip so far. Dublin to London the old fashioned way. It kinda reminded me of the bad old days of the 1980′s when air fares were too expensive and half of the country immigrated to the UK, took the 9 hour ferry / bus journey, and weren’t seen for years. Pints of lager, packets of crisps, blokes in soccer jerseys, fruit machines, grannies and kids all over the place. Not much has changed.

As soon as we pulled I could feel the journey had begun. Galway and Dublin were a distant memory. Now we were rolling through the lush hills and valleys of Wales. Two hours into the trip and engine had started to overheat badly. We had to pull in. Fortunately we were right outside a Little Chef. Two coffees and a BLT later we were back on the road again but in no time, the engine temperature was back in the red. The Ozbus tour leaders decided to abandon the bus in favour of a big red Virgin train. We hopped on at Chester. Two hours later the lights suddenly went out and the train slowly grinded to a halt. Pitch black we gathered out belongings, disembarked, jumped in a cab and finally made it to the London hostel.

I promised myself that I’d sample the local cuisine in each city. So me and a few lads headed out for a kebab in Hammersmith. Quality!

Ferry to Hollyhead

Ferry to Hollyhead

Posted by: Sheridan Flynn | February 8, 2008

Day 001 – Dublin to Galway to Dublin

Day one was kinda strange. I awoke this morning at 04:30 in a Galway city hostel to the sound of some local revelers singing James Blunt’s “Beautiful”. Waking up that early didn’t bother me, but hearing a really awful song being sung terribly badly didn’t fill me full of joy. The day could only get better and thankfully it did…

At 10:00 I and my fellow ozbussers made our way down to Eyre Square, only to be greeted by a flurry of reporters, photographers, journalists, and some big geezer in a massive gold chain. This turned out to be the Mayor of Galway who himself was a bus driver. The irony was not lost on the reporters who asked the same bus related questions over and over. I got bored and started making up random answers, stating that Hollyhead and Dover where going to be my favorite parts of the trip. An hour later we pulled out of Galway city and headed for the perpetual traffic jab that is Dublin.

Kim (the Ozbus driver) did an amazing job of navigating the narrow Dublin streets and safley getting us to the next destination; the Guinness brewery. As we pulled up to St’ James’s gate we were met by another gaggle of media people, who were lead by a PR guy who was the spitting image of the baddie in Superman 4. A phone was thrown to me and I was ordered by Nuclear Man to talk to the guy at the other end. I had a great chat with this person though the conversation ended abruptly when I stated that it was going to be a “fucking great trip”. I think I might have been on live radio.

A few hours later as we checked into the hostel I was struck by a another sense of irony. I’m a tourist in my own city. I feel like I should buy a tweed jumper, buy an Enya CD, or travel around the city in an open top bus wondering when the rain will stop. To be honest I’m not going to do any of those things. I’m doing what most tourists are doing right now and that’s sitting in a Internet cafe drinking coffee.

Tomorrow morning we set off for London to where we pick up the remaining 35 passengers. If everything goes to plan we’ll be in Belgium by Monday (I think). On Tuesday evening I’ll be speaking to George Hook on Newstalk 106, so be sure to listen in. S

Galway Day 001

Posted by: Sheridan Flynn | January 27, 2008

3 Things I’ll Miss & 3 Things I Won’t Miss

What I’ll miss…

*Not including obvious things like, girlfriend, family, or friends.

coffee.jpg
Coffee: Usually about four a day.


bed.jpg
Bed: I think it’s about my most favorite place on earth.

imac.jpg
iMac: This thing does most of my thinking for me. I’ll certainly miss the other half of my brain.

What I won’t miss…

ahern-harney.jpg
Irish politicians: They just suck.

grey_sky.jpg
Grey skies: Those very common dull Irish winters that never end.

breakfast-roll.jpg
“Convenience” Food:: There’s better food on offer in the joy.

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