My home away from home
Tehran Travel Blog› entry 389 of 658 › view all entries
People i met here, who contributed to and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Karim, Behzad, Ali, Hossein, Mohammed, Nima, Mati (Iran), Aino (Finland), Adrien (France), Dominic (Poland)
Leaving the train from Mashhad, the very friendly carriage attendant gave us some more free cold water to take on our journey. This kind of gesture really summed up how we were been treated in Iran, with extreme kindness and generosity. Having fought our way through the crowds outside the station, we finally made it to the bus stop and began asking for a bus that headed North to Valiasr Square, located in the centre of town. From here we planned on changing to another bus, that would take us to Tajrish Square in the very North of the City, where our couchsurfing host Karim lived.
Julia boarded the bus at the back with the rest of the women, whilst i entered in the middle and sat at the front with the men. It seems an odd system, but one that benefits the ladies as they always get a seat and plenty of room, whilst the mens section is crowded, sweaty and often standing room only. By the time that the bus pulled away, it was already midday and i was pleased to take a refreshing drink of cold water, having carried our bags around for the last twenty minutes. It only dawned on me later that i shouldn't have been drinking in public, as it was Ramadan, whoops!
Tehran is not your normal City, to put it plainly, its HUGE! With a population exceeding 15,000,000 and an incomplete metro system, this makes getting around by bus a complete nightmare.
Having sat for over 90 minutes in nose to tail traffic jams, Valiasr Square was eventually reached, where we disembarked and went in search of our next bus. After looking around, a policeman pointed us in the right direction and we stood at the stop waiting for a bus to pass by. A friendly local guy called Hossein approached us and offered us his help, to make sure we got on the correct bus. Frustratingly every bus that stopped was jammed to the rafters and we couldn't squeeze our way on board, so in the end he flagged a taxi for us and jumped in too.
The journey up to the district of Shemiran took another 30 minutes and we spent this time chatting to Hossein, who was a chef in a five star Hotel in the centre of town.
It was the third time that we had used couchsurfing on the trip and Julia and I stood outside the house, nervously deciding who should ring the bell. It wasn't worth the worry, as we were greeted by two smiling faces, those of Karim and his father Behzad. We were given a tour of their wonderful house and gardens, which included a swimming pool, before been shown to our private bedroom and bathroom.
As the best part of the day had already passed us by, we decided to spend the rest of it at the house, relaxing and getting to know our host. Karim has a massive collection of DVD's and it wasn't long before we were sat comfortably on the sofa with a plethora of snacks and munchies, watching what would be the first of many films.
In the evening we got to meet Aino, a Finnish couchsurfer who was also staying in the house, and Behzad cooked us all Dinner, before we washed it down with a few glasses of Grants Whiskey. It was fascinating to listen to some of the stories which they shared with us, including Karim's bike trip from Iran across Europe and Behzad's connections with the last Shah of Iran, which had led to his imprisonment at the outbreak of the revolution.
On Monday Julia and I decided to check out some interesting sights in the North of the City and began by visiting the Sa'd Abad Museum Complex. To reach our destination, we were helped by several friendly locals and finally walked to the gate by a teenage boy. The complex had formerly been the Royal summer residence and houses around a dozen different buildings that have all been converted into Museums. The most impressive of these are the White Palace and Green Palace, and classic automobiles shuttle people between the two, or it makes for a pleasant 15 minute walk. The White Palace has two bronze boots at the entrance, remnants of a bigger statue of Reza Shah that had stood there pre-revolution. Inside, the rooms are lavishly furnished and most of it has been preserved in its original state.
Having left Sa'd Abad Museum Complex, we walked back to Tajrish Square and went in search of a bus or shared taxi that could take us to Niyavaran Palace Museum. Catching the right bus in Iran is a real headache, as Farsi not only has different lettering to English, but also different numbers. Thankfully the friendliness of the people can be relied upon to always help you out. On this occasion an Aerospace student called Mohammed was our rescuer, as he jumped into a taxi with us and took us to where we wanted to go! Not only did he go out of his way, but he also insisted on paying for the taxi.
Iran has a strange system called 'taroof', where people will refuse an offer of money three times, so you should always offer to pay more than once.
Sadly the Niyavaran Palace Museum had closed early due to Ramadan, but the curator told us to return the following day and he'd be happy to personally show us around, which was very nice of him. Mohammed nevertheless walked us around the surrounding gardens that were open and then took us to a nearby park. Having been our guide for an hour or two, he gave his sister a call and told her to come and pick us up. He drove us all the way back home before saying farewell and heading off home himself. What i really love about this country and its people is the fact that not only does the subject of them asking for money never come up, but you never feel that it will, they are so genuine and friendly it just blows me away.
In the evening Karim's Dad drove Julia, Aino and myself around the City for some time, before we headed home to meet another couchsurfer who was due to arrive. This time it was a Polish guy called Dominic, who had been living in Bangkok for nearly the last decade. We gathered in the television room and were treated to burgers, fried chicken, pizzas and salad from the take away over the road, which was great.
On Tuesday my main objective was to change some Dollars into Iranian Rials, and Karim kindly came and helped me do this. Aino and Dominic had gone into town, so Julia, Karim and myself decided to go into the nearby Alborz Mountains. We took a taxi to the base of the foothills and set off into the region called Darband. The path wound up past coffee houses and restaurants, which were all sadly empty due to Ramadan.
On the way back down the mountain, the restaurants and coffee shops had turned on their lights, as dusk had arrived and this made the area very attractive. As the call for prayer rang out from the minarets, this symbolised the end of fasting for the day and we took the opportunity to buy some delicious freshly cooked warm bread and then a scrumptious giant four scoop cone of ice cream.
When we got home, we were visited by two couchsurfers from Tehran and a French guy called Adrien, who they were hosting. We sat around and chatted until Dinner time, and Behzad had once again cooked us a feast of shrimps, rice and salad. Feeling full and tired from the walking, we retreated to our favourite part of the house â�� the tv room â�� and sat watching DVD's until the early hours.
Originally we had planned to go into downtown on Wednesday, but we woke up a little late, so decided to laze around and watch movies all day. It was really my secret game plan to get plenty of rest, so as i would have lots of energy in the evening, for when we met up with travbuddy Ali (alber2000) to go bowling!
I had been in contact with Ali for a little while and he had offered to meet us when we came to Iran, so it was something i had been anticipating.
With the bowling finished, Ali took us for a walk around the sporting complex, which was very nice and once the sun had finally gone down, this was our chance to find a restaurant to go and have Dinner in! We went and picked Karim up from home and he took us out to a very good Chinese restaurant.
Thursday was another busy day in our action packed schedule, as we had organised a meeting with Nima, a guy from couchsurfing. Our meeting point was Imam Khomeini Square, and as we were still not familiar with the bus system, we took the easy option of taking a taxi to meet him. Greetings exchanged, the three of us made a plan of action for the day, which would take us around some of the most interesting places in downtown Iran.
First port of call was the nearby National Museum of Iran and whilst I'm not normally a Museum fan, i really enjoyed this one.
On our way to the mammoth Tehran bazaar, we met Mati, another couchsurfer and close friend of Nima's. It took both of their navigational skills to weave our way through the small covered alleys, which stretch for a staggering 10km, and where tradesman sell just about every conceivable product.
At this point Mati bade farewell to us and Nima, Julia and I caught the Metro to Taleqani, where the US Den of Espionage is located. Today the former US Embassy is home to the feared Sepah Militia, so we only paid a quick visit, to take a few photos of the murals on the outer walls, as we didn't want to run the risk of been arrested for photographing a building associated with National security! I thought the paintings and quotes were fantastic, in a crazed kind of way, and a couple of my favourites included the Statue of Liberty with a skull face, a gun painted with the US flag and the White House with the Israeli flag flying from it.
Nearby was a pleasant little Art House, where we went to view an exhibition dedicated to God. Every painting either spelled out Allah or a variant of it and if we hadn't had Nima with us, i think we would have just thought it was a modern art show. After visiting here, Nima accompanied us by Metro to the area of town from where we could catch a bus back home. It had been a very nice day out and another positive experience within the City.
When we got home, Adrien and his couchsurfing host were there, so we sat in the tv room chatting, until Ali came and picked us up for Dinner around 19.00. By 20.00, a German guy called Peter and two other Iranian couples had turned up and the nine of us sat around chatting, eating some appetizers and having a few drinks.
The following day i was feeling quite rough and didn't crawl out of bed until 15.00! Karim's Dad had left us some food on the dining table, as he kindly did every morning, so we had some lunch and this made me feel better.
Saturday was scheduled to be another active day of sightseeing, as both Golestan Palace and the National Jewels Museum were both open. The two of them are only open on the same day a few times a week, and as they are located near to each other, we thought we could make the most of it by visiting both on the same day.
During the late afternoon we caught the Metro into the Southern suburbs to visit Behesht-E Zahra, a large cemetery complex that is the final resting place to over 200,000 Iranians, who died during the Iran â�� Iraq War. Located right next to this is the Holy Shrine of Imam Khomeini, who is the most important figure within Iran's modern History.
On Sunday we hung out with Karim at the house and sat by the swimming pool for an hour or so, enjoying the fine weather. In over two years of travel, Tehran surprisingly felt like the closest to home I'd been.
Dominic returned to Karim's house on Monday and whilst he had been off seeing some more of Iran, we had remained in Tehran all the time, which felt a little peculiar. For him a lot had happened, whilst for us time seemed to have passed by far slower. In the evening Julia and I went out and ate an incredibly good Kebab and 4 scoops of ice cream and when we got home, Karim's Dad had once again prepared us Dinner. Since been in Iran i have eaten more food than i have done in ages and i wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth, so gobbled down some chicken and chips.
For a couple of days Julia and I had gone to bed with our minds made up that we would wake up and head to Kashan, but once again we just couldn't face leaving the warm hospitality that Karim and his father had shown us. Sitting eating breakfast, it was decided that we could spare one more day to hang out with Karim and take a holiday from the holiday! Karim loaded up a computer game for me which was a rare treat, as i don't remember the last time i have played one! After, we watched Alexander, which in a roundabout way told sections of Persian History and Behzad cooked another delicious final farewell Dinner for us.
On Wednesday morning we packed our bags, ate some breakfast and reluctantly headed out of the door. We walked up to Valiasr Square and Julia got her first 'Hello baby' comment since arriving in Iran. From here we caught the bus to the first Metro station, from where we could transfer to the bus terminal. Whilst waiting on the metro station platform, a young man approached us and asked if we could talk for some time. We chatted about this and that and then got separated when we stood on the jam packed train. When we got off, he got off too and told us he wanted to help us. He walked us to the terminal, helped us buy tickets and made sure we got on the right bus. He then said goodbye and went back in the direction of the Metro. I'm positive he had got off the train at the wrong station, just to help us out, what a nice guy!
The stop in Tehran had been memorable, for the people as much as the City.