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All Aboard the Persia Express: Discovering Iran and Turkey by Train

Program Number: 21874RJ
Start and End Dates:
5/25/2015 - 6/12/2015;
Duration: 18 nights
Location: Iran/Turkey
Price starting at: $10,396.00 - Price may vary based on date, departure city
Program Type: Train Treks Activity Level: t (see description)
Meals: 45; 15 Breakfasts, 15 Lunches, 15 Dinners    
Meal Options: Vegetarian    

Visit great empires of the past and experience vibrant natural beauty on this adventure traveling more than 1,500 miles by rail. Discover Istanbul’s heady mix of influences and board a luxury private train for the journey to Tehran


• Aboard a private train, learn from top-notch experts and absorb the beauty of snowcapped mountains, river gorges and vast deserts.
• Explore Cappadocia’s otherworldly fairy chimneys, underground cities and rock-carved churches decorated with Byzantine frescoes.
• Uncover the treasures of Persia: lavish palaces, exquisitely decorated mosques and the ancient city of Persepolis.

Activity Particulars

Extensive walking on certain field trips; some hilly, uneven terrain and stairs without railings. Walking between train cars requires a great deal of mobility and balance.

The U.S. Department of State warns U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of travel to Iran and the need to follow local laws and respect local customs. Dual national Iranian-American citizens may encounter difficulty in departing Iran. Road Scholar follows all State Department guidelines and will closely monitor events in Iran leading up to the program.

Itinerary Summary

Arrival Istanbul (Turkey), 1 night; on train, 1 night; Cappadocia, 1 night; on train, 2 nights; Van, 1 night; on train, 2 nights; Esfahan, 2 nights; Shiraz, 1 night; on train, 1 night; Tehran, 1 night; departure.

Overnight flight from the U.S.
1 night
Arrival Istanbul (Turkey)
1 night

In Istanbul, a grand metropolis straddling two continents, step inside the Hagia Sophia and venture below the city to discover ancient underground cisterns. Learn about the Ottoman Empire at the seat of its sultans, Topkapi Palace. Enjoy a boat excursion on the Bosphorus Strait.

On train
1 night
1 night
On train
2 nights
1 night

Board the train and settle in to your comfortable compartment. Journey over the dramatic Taurus Mountains and along part of the historic Baghdad Railway. Explore Cappadocia’s otherworldly landscape of fairy chimneys, underground cities and rock-carved churches decorated with Byzantine frescoes. Venture to Mount Nemrut to find the larger-than-life statues of lions, eagles and gods built by King Antiochus. Take a boat to the Armenian Cathedral on a picturesque island in Lake Van.

On train 2 nights
Esfahan (Iran) 2 nights
Shiraz 1 night

Roll through the desert to Yazd, center of the Zoroastrian religion. Learn about this ancient faith at the fire temples and towers of silence. In Esfahan explore Imam Square, a sprawling plaza surrounded by palaces and mosques. In Soltaniyeh, marvel at the blue-domed mausoleum of the powerful khan Oljeitu. Journey to two great sites built by the kings of ancient Persia: Pasargadae and Persepolis, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Continue to Shiraz, known as the “city of roses” and birthplace of the mystic poet Hafez.

On train 1 night
Tehran 1 night

Continue your journey East and enjoy the breathtaking landscapes of natural beauty and ancient villages. In Tehran, view the Central Bank of Iran’s magnificent gem collection including the Naderi Throne, decorated with 26,733 jewels. This is one of the most important gem collections in the world.

Cozy sleeping compartments with bunk beds. In Category 3, two people per compartment using lower and upper bunks; in Category 2, one person per compartment lower bunk. Shared baths, one per train car. Category 1,bedroom for two with en-suite bathroom and shower, a washbasin, TV, DVD-player, closet, and saloon-bar in the car. Istanbul: Four-star hotel. Esfahan: Splendid hotel in 18th-century Persian caravanserai. Van: Lakeside hotel. Tehran, Shiraz, Cappadocia: Comfortable hotels.
Meals and Lodgings
   Barcelo Eresin Topkapi
  Istanbul, Turkey 3 nights
   Laleh Hotel
  Tehran, Iran 2 nights
   Tehran-Istanbul Train
  Tehran, Iran 1 night
   Chamran Hotel
  Shiraz, Iran 1 night
   Tehran-Istanbul Train
  Shiraz, Iran 1 night
   Abbasi Hotel
  Isfahan, Iran 1 night
   Tehran-Istanbul Train
  Yazd, Iran
Mausoleum Oljeitu, Iran
2 nights
   Merit Sahmaran
  Van, Turkey 1 night
   Tehran-Istanbul Train
  Tehran, Iran
2 nights
   Yunak Evleri
  Urgup, Turkey 1 night
   Tehran-Istanbul Train
  Train 1 night
   Wyndham Istanbul Old City
  Istanbul, Turkey 1 night
 Barcelo Eresin Topkapi
Type: Four-Star Hotel
  Description: The Barcelo Eresin Topkapi is an elegant hotel in the Old Town, in Istanbul’s European quarter. The historic centre, the Gran Baazar and the Sütlüce conference centre are only 10 min by tram which stops right in front of the hotel. This hotel features spacious, light-filled rooms, a fantastic health and wellness centre (1,000 m²): the U-Spa, a conference centre with 12 meeting rooms and free Wi-Fi connection in all the rooms and common areas. There is also a fabulous choice of culinary offerings menus in the Picasso Restaurant. The hotel also boasts its own Hammam (Turkish bath) to help you discover the traditions of this fascinating country.
  Ship Information: n/a
  Contact info: Turgut Özal 186
Istanbul,  34104 Turkey
phone: +800Barcelo
  Room amenities: •Air conditioning •Minibar •Desk •Satellite TV •Safe •Wi-Fi internet connection (free) •Telephone in the room and bathroom •Fully equipped bathroom •Bathtub •Hairdryer •Magnifying mirror •Laundry service •24 hour room service •Slippers
  Facility amenities: Service · Banqueting rooms with capacity for 750 people · Bureau de change · Cyber Corner · Doctor (upon request) · International newspapers · Left-luggage service · Gift shop · Car Hire · Fax service · Safety deposit boxes · Laundry service · Salon · Excursions · Crèche (on request) · Maps · Free parking · Shop · Facilities for people with reduced mobility Health and beauty · Gym with fitness trainer · Jacuzzi · 2 saunas · Turkish bath (hammam) · Steam room · Massage service · Wellness centre · U-Spa · Heated indoor swimming pool The use of a swimming cap is compulsory. · Children's pool
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights prior: TBD Please contact Road Scholar Travel Services for details
  Check in time: 3:00 PM

 Laleh Hotel
Type: Hotel
  Description: A beautiful hotel situated in the center of the city.Laleh International Hotel has 380 rooms and suites with the best equipment, 24 hours room service, luxurious restaurants serving French, Far Eastern and Persian cuisine.
  Contact info: Address: Dr. H. Fatemi Ave.
Tehran,   Iran
phone: (+98-21) 88965021-9
  Room amenities: Rooms are equipped with all the necessary amenities.
  Facility amenities: Swimming Pool & Sauna Barber Leather Shop Boutique (Hacoupian) Handicraft Shop Photo Shop Carpet Exhibition Travel Agency Tejarat Bank Taxi Service Jewelry Book Shop
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes

 Tehran-Istanbul Train
Type: Train
  Description: The Persian Express is roughly ten years old and is equipped with modern sleeping cars and equipment. The train consists of one generator car, one staff car, four to six sleeping cars, and two restaurant cars featuring enough seats for service in one seating for all passengers on board. There are ten bedrooms per car and one shower per car. Please note showers have no railings. All cabins are equipped with air conditioning. Every morning the cabin attendant will prepare the bed during dinning for the night and during breakfast he will put it back up in a seat position.
  Contact info: Istanbul,   Turkey
phone: +NA
  Room amenities: Category 1: Solo use train cabin with lower berth bed (couple and traveling companion will be placed in side by side cabins). 10 cabins per train cart with one toilet and one shower per cart and no more than 12 people per cart. Category 2: Double use train cabins with upper and lower berth beds. 10 cabins per train cart with one toilet and one shower per cart and up to 20 people per cart.
  Facility amenities: Meals and drinks are served in the dining car of the train, and passengers can enjoy drinks all day long. Please note the train doesn't serve alcohol on board while the train is in Iran in compliance with the local policies. Alcoholic drinks are available once the train crosses the border to Turkey. Please note there is no laundry service on board the train, so please pack accordingly. Phone service is very limited on board the train as the train travels through remote areas in North Western Iran and Eastern Turkey. There is no internet service on board the train. Bottled water will be provided on board the train for drinking and brushing teeth. The electrical current on the train is 220 V while in the US it’s 110 V; therefore you will need a converter to use devices that don’t have a converter built in. Most devices like laptops, cell phone …etc have converters built in the charger, so no need to buy one if that’s all you are intending to bring. We do recommend however that you turn your cell phone off during the train ride as there will be no service or Wi-Fi on board. You will need to bring your adapter to charge your devices on board. Plugs in Turkey are the same as European plugs with round prongs that fit into recessed wall sockets.
  Smoking allowed: No

 Chamran Hotel
Type: Hotel
  Description: Chamran Grand Hotel is located in the most beautiful part of Shiraz and surrounded by the Ghasrodasht's gardens. Chamran Grand Hotel has 250 rooms with great views.
  Contact info: Chamran Grand Hotel, Chamran Blvd
Shiraz,   Iran
phone: +98 (711) 6271218
  Room amenities: Wireless internet and Satellite TV Channels.
  Facility amenities: Restaurants,coffeshop, gym, business center, wireless internet and Satellite TV Channels
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes

 Abbasi Hotel
Type: Hotel
  Contact info: Esfahan St. Amadegah, international hostel Abbasi
Isfahan,   Iran
phone: +031-32226010-19
  Room amenities: All amenities found in a modern hotel.
  Facility amenities: All amenities found in a modern hotel.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes

 Merit Sahmaran
Type: Hotel
  Description: Merit Sahmaran Hotel Spa & Thalasso Luxury is located by the shores of Lake Van, in Edremit region. The hotel, which has a unique architecture, serves with high diversity in order to be appreciated by its guests . The rooms are luxuriously furnished, and the hotel has pool and beautiful gardens.
  Contact info: Yeniköy Mevkii Sahil Cad. 12. Km No: 60 Edremit / VAN
Van,   Turkey
phone: +904323123060
  Room amenities: Heating System and Ventilator in all rooms. Telephone open for international calls. Safe for rent LCD TV (Satellite) Fire Detector Minibar Hair Dryer Bath Tube Wireless internet 220 V
  Facility amenities: The hotel has three a la carte restaurants, three bars, two meeting rooms of various size as well as summer and winter discos. It also has a SPA. The hotel has a sandy beach by Lake Van. Internet and a work out room is also available.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes

 Yunak Evleri
Type: Hotel
  Description: In Cappadocia’s magical landscape of fairy chimneys, in the ancient village of Urgup, is a unique hotel carved into a mountain cliff, the Yunak Evleri. This hotel includes 7 cave houses, 40 rooms dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries and a 19th century Greek Mansion. Yunak Evleri is an inspiring hotel – an ideal base for exploring Cappadocia’s elaborate underground cities, hidden cavernous churches and enchanting rock terrain.
  Contact info: Yunak Mahallesi 50400
Urgup,   Turkey
phone: + 90 384 341 69 20
  Room amenities: Phone Mini Bar Safe Box Hair dryer Writing desk Central Heating Kettle, Tea & Coffee LCD TV I-Pod / I-Pad dock Non-allergic beddings
  Facility amenities: Yunak Evleri is a combination of 7 cave houses with a total of 40 private cave rooms dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries and crowned with a 19th century Greek Mansion. The name of the neighbourhood "YUNAK" comes from the old days when women used to do all their washing and of course, socialising by the fountain located at the village square. Being by the fountain and at the Yunak was the center of daily life. A labyrinth of narrow passageways and curved stone stairways lead to unique rooms tastefully decorated in warm traditional style. These exceptional cave houses are renovated and decorated with care and in their own distinct style with strictly respecting the local character. The decor is elegant and personalized with beautiful hand-crafted furnishings and antiques. All rooms have private patios overlooking the Turkish Mesa. With 39 rooms, Yunak Evleri is small enough to be intimate, yet large enough to offer you privacy. At the foot of the cliff stands the hotel’s main lobby. Housed in a 19th century Greek mansion, the main building exudes a kind of sophisticated charm. Within the stone building, cozy meeting rooms provide a soothing atmosphere for lounging in the evening. Alongside a room with computer and wireless Internet connection, the music room has a wide variety of CDs you can borrow and the TV room is decked out in plush Turkish cushions with a view of the surrounding cliffs. There is a DVD room on the second floor decorated with local handmade pottery accessories, candles, and a lovely furnace. Evenings are characterized by sunset gatherings on soft upholstered Turkish pillows warmed by an outdoor fireplace. Candlelight dining is offered on the adjacent rooftop terrace. We serve local homemade foods for dinner and an open-buffet breakfast. Yunak Evleri opened its doors to its guests in 2000 and since then has hosted around 200,000 travellers from all regions of the world.
  Smoking allowed: No
  Elevators available: Yes

 Wyndham Istanbul Old City
Type: Five-Star Hotel
  Description: Crowne Plaza Istanbul is a deluxe five star city hotel situated at the heart of the historical peninsula. With its outstanding location, our hotel is just in walking distance to Grand Bazaar, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia , Topkapý Palace.The modern tramway passes in front of the hotel . Taksim Square, shopping areas - Nisantasi, Osmanbey, the most luxury and quality shops- are 10 minutes and 20 minutes away from Ataturk Int. Airport and CNR Exhibition Center by taxi.
Istanbul,  34134 Turkey
phone: +902124449333
  Room amenities: All 265 well appointed guests rooms with 20 club rooms and 16 suites equipped with high speed wireless internet access, complimentary tea and coffee set up and individually controlled air conditioning.
  Facility amenities: Istanbul Crowne Plaza offers two restaurants serving international cuisine, Abre bar with varierty of drinks-snacks and Cafe Sa ‘cez, which is designed like a modern street, 24 hours room service. In addition, it offers an extensive health club and fitness facilities after a long business day, which include massage therapies, Turkish bath, sauna and indoor swimming pool.
  Smoking allowed: Yes
  Elevators available: Yes
  Additional nights after: TBA Please contact the program provider for details.
  Check out time: 12:00 PM

Travel Details
  Start of Program:
This program starts in Istanbul on Day 2 at the hotel in Istanbul. You will be staying at Barcelo Eresin Topkapi that night.
  End of Program:
This program ends with the group transfer to Istanbul airport on Day 19. You will be staying at Wyndham Istanbul Old City the night before.
  Required documents:
The Participant Information Form is required. A valid passport and visa required for both Turkey and Iran.
  Parking availability:
Parking is not an option.
Transportation (For Independent Travelers)
To Start of Program
  Location:  Istanbul
  Transportation to site: A group transfer from the airport to the hotel will be arranged for participants booking their air through Road Scholar and who are arriving on the group arrival date.
  From End of Program
  Location: Istanbul
  Transportation from site: A group transfer from the hotel to the airport will be arranged for participants booking their air through Road Scholar and who are departing on the group departure date.
    (Additional transportation information same as above)
The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Daily Schedule

Day 1: Departure from USA
(Monday, May 25)

Note: PROGRAM NOTE: It is important to remember that travel in Iran by westerners is relatively new. Hotel standards are not the same as in Western countries. Participants need to be ready for amenities and standards that are different from what you would expect in Europe or the US. While everything will be clean, sanitary and safe, rooms may look a little run down and service may will be different.

 Depart From: Departure from the US.

Day 2: Arrival in Istanbul
(Tuesday, May 26)

Note: Check-in at the hotel no earlier than 2 PM.

 Afternoon: Arrival in Istanbul and transfers to the hotel.
 Evening: Program Orientation: Check in at your hotel and take the afternoon to unpack and relax. In the early evening you will meet with your group for introductions, a review of the program itinerary and site orientation.
Accommodations: Barcelo Eresin Topkapi

Day 3: Topkapi Palace
(Wednesday, May 27)

Note: There will be a good amount of walking today.

 Breakfast: at the hotel.
 Morning: Start the day with a lecture at the hotel by a local expert and learn about the Ottomans - The peak of the Turco-Islamic civilization. Later on go on a field trip to discover Topkapi Palace, once the seat of the Ottoman Sultans for 400 years and a great testimony to the power and wealth of the Ottoman Empire. You will also be able to visit the amazing Treasury and the intriguing Harem and catch a glimpse of daily life behind closed doors.
 Lunch: at a local restaurant.
 Afternoon: Explore one of Istanbul's most famous sites; the Blue Mosque.
 Dinner: at a local restaurant.
Accommodations: Barcelo Eresin Topkapi
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 4: Hagia Sophia
(Thursday, May 28)

Note: Moderate amount of walking

 Breakfast: At the hotel
 Morning: This morning you will start your day with a field trip to the breathtaking Church of Hagia Sophia. You will learn about the architecture of this unique 1,500 year old building and awe at its size and glamour.
 Lunch: At a local restaurant.
 Afternoon: Free Time: Discover the Grand Bazaar on your own or explore with your Study Leader.
 Dinner: at the hotel.
Accommodations: Barcelo Eresin Topkapi
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 5: Fly to Iran
(Friday, May 29)
 Breakfast: At the hotel.
 Morning: This morning you will fly from Istanbul to Tehran.
 Lunch: During flight
 Afternoon: Arrival in Tehran and transfer to a local hotel. Take the rest of the afternoon to rest.
Accommodations: Laleh Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch

Day 6: Sa’d Abad Museum Complex and Glassware and Ceramic Museum of Iran
(Saturday, May 30)

Note: There is a moderate amount of walking today, and going up some stairs without railings.

 Breakfast: At the hotel
 Morning: Exploring the Sa'd Abad Complex. The Sa’d Abad Museum Complex was a royal summer home. It is set on 104 hectares of spectacular mountainside parkland,tThe site’s 18 buildings house museums dedicated to diverse collections such as the royal dishware, royal automobiles and miniature paintings. The visit takes about 2- 3 hours and involves walking over 2 miles.
 Lunch: At a local restaurant
 Afternoon: Exploring the Ceramic and Glassware Museum: The museum is housed in a beautiful Qajar-era building. The museuma is small but perfectly formed. Originally built as a private residence for a prominent Persian family, it was later converted into the Egyptian embassy and was again converted in 1976 into a museum. The buildings architecture is as beautiful as it's collectection.
 Dinner: At the hotel.
Accommodations: Laleh Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 7: Golestan Palace and Naderi Thorn gem collection.
(Sunday, May 31)

Note: Moderate walking.

 Breakfast: At the hotel
 Morning: In the Iranian capital, visit Golestan Palace, an exciting monument of the glories and excesses of the Qajar rulers. One of the most important gem collections in the world is on your agenda after lunch. The precious stones are estimated at up to 182 carats! A very special and magnificent exhibit in the extensive collection is the Naderi Thorn, which is decorated with 26,733 gems. In the Archaeological Museum you take a journey through history – here again the impressions gained on your journey are of historical proportions. During the afternoon you board your private train and begin your incredible rail journey. Relax in your comfortable compartment before dinner is served in the dining car. How about starting off the evening with a glass of chilled juice in a relaxed atmosphere? Then round it off in the dining car while your train journeys towards the ancient sights of Persia.
 Lunch: At a local restaurant.
 Afternoon: Full day touring: Gulistan Museum Complex including the Jewelery museum and the Archeology museum.
 Dinner: Onboard the train.
 Evening: Enjoy a leisurely evening
Accommodations: Tehran-Istanbul Train
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 8: UNESCO World Heritage Sites Pasargadae and Persepolis
(Monday, June 1)
 Breakfast: Onboard the train.
 Morning: At the site of his victories, the Persian King, Cyrus the Great, built his capital city of Pasargadae. I am Cyrus the King, an Achaemenian, it says on the inscriptions on pillars and reliefs of the audience hall of the Residence. Your local tour guide will show you all of the attractions on this sprawling archaeological site, including the Cyrus grave. By bus, you reach your next sightseeing spot in about an hour. The kingdom of Darius the First reached from Egypt to Pakistan, and he founded the capital of Para; the Greeks named it Persepolis. Your guide will take you on a discovery tour of the 1,500’ x 985’ palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Step up the two stairs to the “portal of all countries”, which will give you an idea of the size of the Achaemenid Empire. The Assyrian models of hybrids and bull figures had a defensive and protective function. Discover the Apadana Palace, where King Darius received his visitors, and the Naqsh-e Rostam necropolis of the Achaemenids. A short bus ride brings you to Shiraz, where you spend your night in a first class hotel.
 Lunch: At a local restaurant.
 Afternoon: Attend a presentation by a local expert. Presentation: The History of Persia by a local expert in the Tea Garden.
 Dinner: At the hotel.
Accommodations: Chamran Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 9: Shiraz – City of Hafiz the Poet
(Tuesday, June 2)
 Breakfast: At the hotel.
 Morning: With the verses of Hafiz and the scent of roses following, explore the city of the Persian paradise gardens (UNESCO World Heritage Site). Thriving in the mild climate are not only flowers and fruit gardens, but the Persian poetry also struck roots here. Experience the hustle and bustle of the Old Town bazaar and discover the Nasir-al-Molk Mosque, where the winter prayer hall is one of the most beautiful of its kind.
 Lunch: At the hotel.
 Afternoon: Bud-shaped domed structures are typical for Shiraz – a visit to the Shah Cheragh monument and mosque will show you one of the best examples of this style, before you board your special train to travel to Isfahan overnight.
 Dinner: Onboard the train.
 Evening: Poetry Reading at the Hafiz Mausoleum
Accommodations: Tehran-Istanbul Train
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 10: Explore Isfahan
(Wednesday, June 3)
 Breakfast: Onboard the train.
 Morning: Take time to explore this wonderful city! Image of the World is what the locals like to call the Imam Square. With 1,675’ x 525’, it is not only the second largest square in the world, but also one of the most beautiful places in the world. The marble columns bear witness that this UNESCO World Heritage Site’s former purpose was a venue for the game of polo. You cross the threshold to visit the Ali-qapu Palace and a veranda where you can enjoy an excellent view of the Imam Square. Once a private mosque for the Safavid royal families, the Lotfullah Mosque today opens its doors for you. You also visit the Jameh Mosque and the Armenian Quarters. A day full of exciting experiences ends with the dinner in the lovely courtyard of a former caravansary.
 Lunch: At a local restaurant.
 Afternoon: Visit Ali Qapu Palace, Lotfullah Mosque and Imam Mosque. This afternoon we also enjoy the first reading of one of the tales of 1001 Arabian Nights at one of the sites in Esfahan.
 Dinner: Dinner at a local restaurant.
Accommodations: Abbasi Hotel
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 11: Yazd – City of the fire-worshipers
(Thursday, June 4)
 Breakfast: At the hotel.
 Morning: Walk the Zayandehrud River and get to know the city’s two famous bridges, a favourite meeting place for the locals of Isfahan, before you say good bye to Isfahan and board the train to the desert city of Yazd, while you are taking your lunch in the dining car.
 Lunch: Onboard the train.
 Afternoon: This afternoon explore Yazd. Wind towers and domes dominate the city founded by Alexander the Great. Here you visit the Zoroastrian fire temples and towers of silence, where the dead were once buried after the Zarathustra rite. Also built on the site of a former fire temple, Jame Mosque, the architecturally most significant mosque of the city, is also part of your program. The Yazd Water Museum will introduce you to the desert city’s water supply by the Qanat system and give you an idea of the green and water-refreshed life of a well-to-do family’s home. A day full of exciting experiences ends with the dinner in an oriental style restaurant featuring local food at its best.
 Afternoon: Before dinner enjoy Enjoy a Zurkhaneh Performance. Zurkhaneh litterally means ‘house of strength’ in Farsi (Persian). It is a ancient sport in Iran, perhaps best described as a traditional style of body building or martial art. It is usually performed inside a covered structure.
 Dinner: At a local restaurant.
Accommodations: Tehran-Istanbul Train
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 12: UNESCO World Heritage site of the Mausoleum Oljeitu
(Friday, June 5)
 Breakfast: Onboard the train.
 Morning: Start your day with a presentation by your study leader. Zoroastrianism in Iran. Terminate your sightseeing in Iran with a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Mausoleum Oljeitu. The mausoleum is considered the most spectacular domed building in medieval Persia! During his lifetime Oljeitus, the patron of the Shiites, started the construction of his tomb with a dome height and diameter dimensions close to the size of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
 Lunch: At a local restaurant.
 Afternoon: Visit the subterranean dome and colums of Zanjan. Later on attend a presentation by your study leader: Presentation: History of Islam in Iran - Shiism.
 Dinner: Dinner onboard the train.
Accommodations: Tehran-Istanbul Train
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 13: Cross the border to Turkey and explore the city of Van.
(Saturday, June 6)
 Breakfast: Onboard the train.
 Morning: Enjoy the scenery from your compartment as you cross the Iranian-Turkish border.
 Lunch: Lunch at a local restaurant.
 Afternoon: Discover the most charming and most liberal city in Eastern Anatolia! It draws its energy from the high proportion of students, as you will notice on a stroll along the main shopping street. One great highlight is your visit to the castle hill of Van. Seljuks and Ottomans expanded the castle to its present extent. Even the rock grave chambers by the ancient Uartu rulers are on your agenda. Manufacturing carpets is one of the professions this area is well known for. A guided tour of an EU-sponsored carpet manufacturing site will introduce you to this traditional technique.
 Dinner: Dinner at the hotel.
Accommodations: Merit Sahmaran
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 14: From Lake Van to the gorges of wild Kurdistan
(Sunday, June 7)
 Morning: Discover the island of Akdamar and enjoy the third reading of one of the tales of 1001 arabian nights on Akdamar island.
 Lunch: At a local restaurant.
 Afternoon: Enjoy a scenic train ride at slow pace to the West. A landscape of impressive beauty awaits you on your ride today as you travel the gorges of the Euphrates River. Later on, enjoy a presentation by your study leader: Kurdish conflict and story of Kurds .
 Dinner: Onboard the train.
Accommodations: Tehran-Istanbul Train
Meals Included: Lunch, Dinner

Day 15: Nemrut Mountain
(Monday, June 8)
 Breakfast: Onboard the train.
 Morning: Your day starts with a bus trip to the larger-than-life stone figures of Greek and Persian gods of the kingdom of Antiochus. With numerous scenic and cultural impressions of this UNESCO World Heritage site, you continue your special train journey. Enjoy a presentation by your study leader: Ataturk, a legendary founder of the Modern Turkey.
 Lunch: En route.
 Afternoon: Continue your train journey heading west.
 Dinner: Onboard the train.
Accommodations: Tehran-Istanbul Train
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 16: From the Taurus Mountains to the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia
(Tuesday, June 9)
 Breakfast: Onboard the train.
 Morning: While you have breakfast, you approach the Cilician gate and follow a stretch of the legendary Baghdad Railway, built by German engineers. In the middle of the scenery of the Taurus Mountains, you stop and take a tour of German pioneer trails of the late 19th century. A visit takes you to the town of Belemdik with its architecture in Central European style.
 Lunch: Onboard the train.
 Afternoon: While your special train is rolling towards Cappadocia, lunch is served. In Incesu you board your tour bus for a panoramic drive through the impressive landscapes of Cappadocia. It's the most scenic point in the region featuring the enchanting fairy chimneys – a fitting name for these striking rock formations. Your visits include Uchisar castle, from which you enjoy a fantastic view.
 Dinner: At the hotel.
Accommodations: Yunak Evleri
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 17: Cappadocia’s underground churches and cities
(Wednesday, June 10)

Note: Please note: there is an early morning free time option offered by the train operator: Ballon ride over Cappadocia. This is not part of the Road Scholar program and must be arranged directly with the train operator. Details on how to contact the operator will be included in the mailing as free time option

 Breakfast: Onboard the train.
 Morning: Start your day with the Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. From the 9th century onward, the soft rock has eroded, making it feasible to carve some 30 churches into these rocks, decorated with elaborate Byzantine frescoes.
 Lunch: At a local restaurant.
 Afternoon: A visit takes you to one of Cappadocia’s underground cities, carved into the rock up to 8 floors below ground. With the magnificent backdrop of the snow-capped volcano of Mount Erciyes you say farewell to Cappadocia and head forward to Istanbul by train.
 Dinner: Onboard the train.
Accommodations: Tehran-Istanbul Train
Meals Included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

Day 18: Istanbul – Pearl on the Bosporus
(Thursday, June 11)
 Breakfast: Onboard the train.
 Morning: The train arrives in Istanbul this morning. Enjoy a lecture about the evolution of Turkish culinary culture from Central Asian steppes to Anatolia; Formation of the Ottoman Palace cuisine since 15th to the 18th centuries; influence of Medieval Arab-Persian and Byzantine cuisine on the Ottoman cuisine since Mediveal era; Modernization of the Ottoman Empire & modernization of culinary habits in Istanbul in the 19th century; Food culture in Republican Turkey; Rise of Local Cuisines in today’s Turkey. The local restaurant we visit is a Garden of Lost Cultures and Forgotten Tastes, the Chef will take you on a journey built on passion, keen desire, research and love through the world of food. His cooking is rich in "dishes from a broad geographical space, spanning from Mesopotamia to the Ottomans, from the Balkans to the Caucasus and from Asia to the Arabian Peninsula."
 Lunch: Lunch on own.
 Afternoon: Take the afternoon to relax and prepare for your flight home the following day.
 Dinner: Farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Accommodations: Wyndham Istanbul Old City
Meals Included: Breakfast, Dinner

Day 19: Flights home
(Friday, June 12)
 Morning: Transfer to the airport in the early morning for flights home.
Important information about your itinerary: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy and completeness of the information featured on this website. Itineraries are based on our best information at this time. Circumstances beyond our control may require us to adjust itineraries or other details. We regret any inconvenience this may cause and appreciate your understanding. Information will be sent to you from your Program Provider approximately three weeks prior to the program start date. The prices listed for commercial services and facilities that are not included in the program cost, such as airport shuttles or extra nights lodging, are subject to change without notice. Since Road Scholar cannot guarantee the accuracy of these prices, we strongly suggest contacting the companies directly for the most up-to-date information.

Suggested Reading List

1453, The Holy War For Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West

Author: Roger Crowley

Description: In this well-paced history, Crowley recounts the dramatic events leading up to and surrounding the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks.

A Persian Requiem

Author: Simin Daneshvar

Description: Set in Shiraz in the last years of World War II, Danishvar's clasic novel follows the fortunes of an upper class Shiraz family through the eyes of Zari, a wife and mother who helplessly observes her husband's uncompromising and ultimately tragic resistance to the British occupation of southern Iran during WWII.

A Traveller's History of Turkey

Author: Richard Stoneman

Description: An accessible, well-written overview of Turkish history from the Paleolithic to the present.

Birds Without Wings

Author: Louis De Bernieres

Description: De Bernieres offers sweeping historical scope, memorable characters, drama and many new vocabulary words in this stupendous novel set in Anatolia during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Cave Monasteries of Byzantine Cappadocia

Author: Lyn Rodley

Description: A professor of Byzantine Studies, Lyn Rodley puts the rock-cut monasteries, hermitages and complexes of Cappadocia into historical context in this scholarly account, first published in 1985.

Culture Smart! Iran

Author: Stuart Williams

Description: A concise, well-illustrated and practical guide to local customs, etiquette and culture.

Culture Smart! Turkey

Author: Charlotte McPherson

Description: History, religion, daily life, food, health and safety are all covered in this pocket guide to Turkish customs, etiquette and culture.

Istanbul, Memories and the City

Author: Orhan Pamuk

Description: Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk writes with dazzling grace of the city of his birth, a magical place of crumbling mansions and Ottoman riches.

Jasmine and Stars, Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran

Author: Fatemeh Keshavarz

Description: Blending in firsthand glimpses of her own life -- from childhood memories in 1960s Shiraz to her present life as a professor in the U.S. -- Keshavarz paints a portrait of Iran depicting both cultural depth and intellectual complexity.

Moon Istanbul & the Turkish Coast: Including Cappadocia

Author: Jessica Tamturk

Description: A practical guide in the Moon series, packed not only with travel necessities (hotels, restaurants, sights), but also with a good overview of history and destinations throughout Istanbul and the Turkish Coast.

Odyssey Guide Iran

Author: Helen Loveday

Description: Strong on Iran's many archaeological sites, this illustrated, authoritative guide includes chapters on Islamic art and architecture, history and religion.

Road Through Kurdistan

Author: A. M. Hamilton

Description: Hamiton's original account of building the spectacular road from northern Iraq across the mountains of Kurdistan to the Persian plateau.

Saved by Beauty, Adventures of an American Romantic in Iran

Author: Roger Housden

Description: From the bustle of modern Tehran to the paradise gardens of Shiraz and mosques and palaces of Isfahan, Housden captures the spirit of the people he meets across Iran.

The Ayatollah Begs to Differ

Author: Hooman Majd

Description: An American journalist (who translated for Ahmadinejad at the UN), grandson of an eminent ayatollah and the son of an Iranian diplomat, Majd introduces Persian culture and modern Iran with insight and depth.

The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay

Author: Hooman Majd

Description: The account of an Iranian-American writer who dares to take his family on a year-long sojourn to Tehran. An interesting cultural portrait and guide to Iranian culture that traces the family's domestic adventures along with the political drama of a terrible year for the Iranian government.

The Persians, Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern Iran

Author: Homa Katouzian

Description: A broad history of Iran incorporating its significant cultural and literary traditions.

The Poems of Hafez

Author: Reza Ordoubadian (Translator), Hafiz

Description: The writings of 14th century mystical poet of Shiraz permeate day-to-day cultural life in Iran.

Turkey, A Short History

Author: Norman Stone

Description: Stone looks especially to the relation of Turkey to its neighbors and place in the wider world in this fast-paced, opinionated history.

Turkish Reflections, A Biography of a Place

Author: Mary Lee Settle

Description: Settle's captivating travelogue is a richly detailed portrait of contemporary Turkey, its people, monasteries, myths, archaeological treasures and living traditions. Exemplary.

Understanding Iran

Author: William R. Polk

Description: A keen observer and great scholar of the region, William Polk (Understanding Iraq) brings insight to this effortlessly informative guide to the history, culture, politics and future of Iran.

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