This year we started work on the allotment in March, which is unusually early but I had never had so much time before and staying indoors during the lockdown with all its news would have been intolerable. I continued improving the shed, which I started last summer on our return from Iran but this time it was more therapeutic than anything else. I covered its old semi-rotten shell with a patchwork of short and long boards that I picked up from skips and in the street.

What is seen remains from the last season, e.g., the mustard leaves at the foreground – they continued to grow throughout the winter, which was mild. We still harvest Swiss chard (on the right). The garlic (on two small beds in the middle) was planted in November. Chiara has already weeded strawberries beds and the area around gooseberry shrubs, which we would have normally done in June.

The winter was incredibly rainy as well. Hence, I had to rebuild most of the raised beds. To date we haven’t planted much yet. It is still too cold. Yet, little red radishes (ravanelli) that were planted just a week ago are already growing under the mesh and even turnip tips (cime di rapa) under the blue net started to appear!

The radishes, turnip tips and garlic. Behind them is a potato bed. Last year I started planting potatoes in late April so that the plants begin to appear in mid May. By then sudden cold nights with sub zero temperatures and frost are normally gone. The potato bed is in the last row. That’s where our allotment ends. I cover some beds with a weed guard. One bed is ready for planting courgettes and the other has to be re-developed yet. I am going to plant beetroot and cucumbers there.

Chiara has just transplanted tiny parsley seedlings onto what is going to be a salad bed. Behind it is a tri-partite bed with carrots – they remain from the last season, basil (in the improvised green house in the middle) and the garlic, which was planed in November. Carrots are not very tasty in April. Nevertheless, Chiara prefers them to those available in shops. I planted basil seeds in pots indoors in early March. The seedlings developed rapidly even though all the varieties come from either Italy or the Middle East. The Iranian red basil decided to turn green in our climate!

Behind the tri-partite bed is our communal area. It used to be flooded every spring but this stopped after we dug two ponds on it. The smaller one to the right provides my allotment with an army of toads that eat slugs. Slugs are numerous, nasty and massive in the UK. They eat everything on their way. Besides, this tiny pond is now populated by two varieties of newts! These are protected species.

At the foreground is another potato bed. We have five of them this year. To the right are three narrow onion beds. Our onions are excellent on pizza that is made without mozzarella or other cheese. They taste much better than any type that is available in shops, those marked as organic included. In front of the shed is a rhubarb bed and next to it is the thyme one. The shed is like the leaning Tower of Pisa. There is no vertical distortion in the photo at all. Chiara fears that it will collapse but it's absolutely stable. I love leaning and twisted structures. When expanding the shed last summer I consciously reinforced this feature. Perhaps, I am still nostalgic about my work as an architect that I left behind in 1991.

That's a view from our neighbours' plot.

The small pond. It is full of water lilies now!


Back in Tehran, we tried to escape its traffic but it was found even in the narrowest streets around Bazar-e bozorg (the Great Bazaar)!


Qazvin exceeded my expectations. Its monumental mosques and historic houses are definitely worth a visit. Of particular interest is Imamzadeh-ye Hossein shrine that is set in a big fountained cortyard surrounded by coloured brick alcoves. It commerorates Hossein, son of Imam Reza. A colourful guard with a duster is from the shrine. At present the site is surrounded by an area where most residents are Afghani refugees. The shop dealing in Ashura metalwork items is a part of it. There is even a simple Sunni mosque in a basement. A family in a tent and an old lady sitting on a rug are pilgrims. We ordered a tool that used for breaking large cones of sugar but I prefer to use it as a miniature hoe on my London allotment. It is very handy! Masjed-e Jameh was equally amazing. Most of it is used as a museum now and a resting place (see a photo of three men sleeping on rugs below). Just as in Ardabil, the market is surrounded by numerous shops, in which artisans make things on the spot. There are lots of dovecotes and vendors selling pigeons. We were there during Eid-e Ghadir, which was celebrated with burning incense in the street, serving free orange drink and with shows in the centre, which reminded me my childhood in the USSR. We arrived late and missed a daff orchestra. Then two comedians enternained the public. Naturally, we understood next to nothing but the audience laughed. There are at least two bazaars in the city and a caravanserai with vaulted passages that house independent artists. We purchased a collage from the artist, whose photo in his shop is below. I regret that we did not purchase a model as well. Sadly enough we were busy counting notes and forgot to ask his name. His signature is a scissors-based logo. He used to be a taylor. Everybody we met in the city were unbelievably friendly and generous but this is not unique in Iran.


We went to Astara to compensate for the missed opportunity to photograph the Urmie lake beach that we visited in a hurry. Regretfully, our trip to the Astara beach was too short as well. It is a place that deserves at least a full day visit, which is not difficult to arrange from Ardabil. What we saw was amazing but two hours that we spent there was by far too short to understand how to photograph this.

There were several cabins like this in the beach. As a rule they came with a shisha pipe and tea.

The beach is split into several sections for no aparent reason because it is only the part where women are allowed to wear just swimming costumes that is actually separated, visually. Naturally, no cameras are allowed in that part.

This lady is a guard. Her role was to look after morals at the beach. She was exceptionally friendly.

Not only women but also some men and boys got in the water fully or partly dressed even though they clearly did not have to.

A Kurdish man in a traditional costume.

A Kurdish strongman. His shalvar trousers helped him to stay afloat when in the sea.

A family in a beach cabin.

Shihas and beach cabins.


When planning our visit to Iran I found that day time temperature in Ardabil in mid August can be as low as 21 degrees celcius. It was hard to believe but it turned to be true. One morning I needed a fleece that I wisely took just for the occasion. I understood that many Iranians travel up north to this cold area in summer (some of them go to the hot springs in Sareen nearby, though) just as we did it in the USSR but in the opposite direction. There are a couple of official tourist site to visit in town, e.g., the complex of Sheikh Safi-ad-din Ardabili that includes mosques, mausoleums and a history museum that are definitely worth a visit. There was an archeological site next to Masjid Jame(?) that was in the process of restoration in summer 2019. There are lots of other mosques that are less famous but exceptionally interesting, especially inside (see the footprint below). Yet, the best of the town for us turned to be the area around the indoor markets with its little shops, artisans producing of repairing all sort of things right on the spot, tea and shisha lounges and just people resting or smiling at the doorway. This became my main theme for the rest of the trip and it is something that makes all Iranian cities and towns that we visited so attractive. Iran is about people. They work hard, they produce things themselves and they are unbelievably friendly. Most photos of the atrisans at work as well as vendors are found in my earlier entry.


Shahr-e Yeri, which is also known as the 'city of the mouthless', is just off  the motorway linking Meshkin Shahr and Ardabil. It is around 60km from Ardabil.

The main part of the site is an open-air sanctury that consists of numerous standing stones with flat relief antropomorphic sculptures, most of which are just minimalist mouthless faces.  At present the sanctuary is covered with an unfinished arched roof that does not do much apart from casting shadows on the sculptures below. Reportedly, there are two other sancturies nearby that we did not visit and some traces of an Iron Age fortress. There is a megalitic 'archway' over the footpath leading to a cave that was used as a ritual bath. Allegedly, the sanctuary dates back to 1500 BCE but I came across a number of accounts that propose a much earlier date and associate it with the proto-Armenian Urartu kingdom. When in Ardabil we were told that many standing stones that were unearthed in the 20th century were lost during the extermely cold winter of 1986. At least three sculptures from the site are on display in the Ardabil Ethnographic Museum that forms part of the Sheikh Safi-ad-din Ardabili complex.