Just like there is nothing that makes you sleep deeper than a warm sleeping bag in the freezing cold, there is nothing like a warm rising sun to wake you up. We slowly crept out of thoroughly tested beds to check if everyone was still alive. "Anybody dead?" One grunt, two grunts, three. Seemed like everyone had stayed nice 'n cozy. Our sleeping bags on the other hand were frozen solid. Literally. When we crawled out of them they stayed in the exact same shape they had been all night. High fives all around, and back on the road. This time the craftsmen city of Zanjan as our target. Stefke, pulled the head of the cavalry to the next town in no time. Here we met Behnam, an avid cycler and mountainier, we found through the warmshowers community. He introduced us to his uncle, whose luxurious residence would become our home for the next days. This house was full of beautiful travel trophies from all around Asia.
Behnam's father, uncle and Behnam himself all work in the family plumbing store. While he finished up work, we got installed, took a warm shower and had a bit of naptime on the colorful carpet.
We were awoken for chai and exchanged stories of our travels. Even Behnam's uncle had made a cycling tour through India. Conversation flowed easily and we quickly became friends. Being a sportsman and travellord himself, he knew what we needed next. Local food, and lots of it. He went to pick up his newly wed wife, Mojde, and off we were into the night. We learned that she, also, hikes and bikes. And likes Giraffes. First we made a stop at a friend's shop, who was having trouble with frozen plumbing. We received a warm welcome from everyone and warm seats next to the stove, coupled with some drinks that also warmed us up quite nicely. Next stop was a local food shop. A food shop stop. A favorite of Behnam and Mojde. Here we were introduced to Jaghur Baghur, the name itself even sounds tasty. Liver grilled in a pan with onions and peppers and a good squirt of grease. Just the thing we needed. Afterwards we headed over to meet some of their friends, to discuss our cultures while hubble bubbling the shisha and tasting some homemade grape juice. Compared to other non-European countries, the Iranian youth speaks english almost flawlessly, making it very enjoyable to socialize and learn about this increasingly interesting country.
Zanjan is most famous for its huge roofed bazaar, the longest in all of Iran. The next couple of days we wandered around this marketplace of never ending alleys, in search of treasures and craftsmen working their trade. There are blacksmiths forging/whetting the famous Zanjan knives, jewelers making fine silverwork, tailors knitting charoogh (traditional sandals) and many more. At first this place seems just a bunch of stalls in an endless maze, but once you've spent some hours exploring the market, you find that there are many quarters to it. The fruit market, clothes, jewels, carpets, knives, household, etc. etc. Behnam suggested to lead us around the bazaar to show us the difference between the authentic places and the Chinese crap, and guide us towards some of his favorite spots. He quickly regretted this once he realized our short attention spans. Him and Mojde spent most of their time herding us back together to make sure we wouldn't get lost in the crowd. Later they told us they weren't ready to have kids yet. Probably no corrolation, though.