My home away from home

Tehran Travel Blog

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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.
Add to this the fact that the City sprawls for more than 30 kilometres in all directions and you soon understand that travelling the length of the City map is an afternoons work!

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.
He proudly showed us a certificate of recommendation that he had in his business portfolio, and talked of his dreams to move to America. The taxi dropped us off and Hossein was adamant that he would pay for the trip, but i really didn't think this was right, so we gave him two thirds of the fare, which he finally accepted. He left us with his cell number and an offer of Dinner if we had the spare time, which was very kind of him.

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.
Once settled, Karim's Dad served us some lunch and i was pleased to find out that they didn't observe Ramadan fasting laws within the house.

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.
The Green Palace was most notable for its mirrors, which were quite dazzling.

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.
I made sure by offering to pay for the taxi many times, but he wouldn't have any of it, as we were guests in his country. Iranians really are that nice, when they aren't buying you something, they are coming up to you in the street and saying 'Welcome to Iran'.

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.
I think there would be an amazing atmosphere when these places were busy with people chattering over food and a qalyan (water pipe). Passing the 2000m (6600ft) point, the path soon petered out into a trail and the only people we came across were the occasional farmer with his donkeys. It began to drizzle on and off, but we decided to push on up the mountain. It was incredibly peaceful and when the sun made a very brief appearance, the views were splendid.

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 � the tv room � 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.
. I'm always more nervous about meeting people that I've planned to meet, rather than those i just bump into randomly, i have no idea why that is! As usual, i shouldn't have been so concerned, as Ali proved to be a very friendly guy. Julia and Aino came along with us and Ali very generously took us all to the local sports club, which had a nice bowling alley. We played two games and i was gob smacked to win them both, as I'm usually terrible at bowling. I scored my best ever score of nearly 130 and also got over 100 in the other game, which maybe isn't that much, but for me it really was!

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.
To wash it down, we went in search of a coffee shop, but got stuck in horrendous traffic and settled for a small store that whipped up some tasty fruit shakes. It had been a really nice evening and Ali invited us around to his house for Dinner the following evening, which we gladly accepted.

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.
The displays were well spread out, with English labelling and included some fascinating exhibits, such as a carved staircase from Persepolis and the 'Salt Man', a head that was preserved for nearly two millennium, because it was buried in salt. Several ancient tablets containing texts from countries such as Egypt and Greece highlighted the reach of the Persian Empire during its most glorious years, when the mythical Babylon served as the Capital.

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.
After a little while we came to a Holy Shrine, where we took a brief look at the impressively ornate interior and then continued on to the Imam Khomeini Mosque, which only men were allowed to enter. Nima and i took look inside, but i felt a little less comfortable here, as the attendants seemed to keep a close eye on you.

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.
Saying that Iran is an 'alcohol free' country, its amazing how much booze we had come across � and therefore drunk! Ali's wife cooked up a lovely meal for us, which included a tasty lasagna, rice with beans and meat, and salad. The food and conversation were both excellent, as were the musical performances from Ali and his friend, who treated us to some renditions on the guitar, sitar and drums. A little later in the evening Karim came around to join us and then Ali ran us home around 01.30. It was a rare treat to be invited to a Dinner party, and one which we thoroughly enjoyed. I stayed up for a little night cap when we got home and finally fell into bed at 05.00!

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.
The rest of the day was spent with Karim and Julia, sat on the couch watching movies. Julia as usual had a huge bag of sunflower seeds to munch on, whilst i had become addicted to salt and vinegar crisps. Iran is one of the few countries in the World to manufacture this flavour, so i was trying to make up for lost time over the last couple of years, by stuffing my face with as many packs as possible! In the evening Karim ordered a take away of Chelo Kebab, which is an Iranian specialty, consisting of tasty chunks of meat on a bed of rice, accompanied with fried tomato, very tasty!

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.
We went to Golestan Palace first, but left disappointed, as it had closed three hours early due to Ramadan, so only got to see the National Jewels Museum. The Museum houses the World's largest uncut diamond called the 'Darya-ye Nur' (Sea of Light), which is a pink diamond that weighs 182 carats. Also on display is a 'Globe of Jewels', which contains 51,366 precious stones and weighs 34 kilograms. Other jaw dropping sparkling objects include several Royal crowns and a Peacock Throne.

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 � 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.
It was Khomeini who was the key figure in turning Iran into 'The Islamic Republic of Iran', isolating the country from the rest of the World and starting the War with Iraq. We wandered around the outside of the building but didn't bother to venture in, as we were more excited to see that a hamburger shop was open! It had been a pain in the bum to find food in the daytime during Ramadan, so this was a rare treat and it seemed like all the Iranians were getting in on the act too! From speaking with plenty of locals, i get the opinion that very few of the people believe in fasting, let alone adhere to it!

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.
I could never have imagined that I would feel so at home in Iran of all places, but i truly do! We spent the evening watching another array of DVD's and Adrien and his couchsurfing host and sister once again payed us a visit.

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.
An evening of movies followed and i really enjoyed watching a film called 'Kite Runner', based for the best part in Afghanistan.

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.
I was very sad to be leaving, but at the same time excited by what the rest of Iran would have in store for us. Had we stayed in a hotel, we would probably only have lingered for a day or two, but instead we remained for 11 days. The crazy thing is, i already miss the place, and would love to go back! Tehran, my home away from home :)

jenniferhibbard says:
Another great read...what a wonderful experience you had in Tehran!
Posted on: Jun 12, 2012
Deats says:
Small world, huh. Didn't know she drew comics...
Posted on: Dec 27, 2011
yunitn says:
oh yes, just recognised her...I've met her in Tbilisi and have just read her comics about Kurdistan which I got from my friend who met her in Moscow comic festival...funny
Posted on: Dec 27, 2011
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photo by: Vlindeke