I’ve been looking forward to traveling to Iran ever since I made my first Persian friends at University more than 10 years ago. Persian hospitality was excellent even in Vancouver, so I could only imagine what it’d be like in Iran. Its also a place surrounded by mystical exoticism, a far-east land that few (mass) tourists go, but at the top of all real traveler’s list.
People inside and outside of Iran told me it’d be cheap. My first surprise after arriving in Tehran was that it’s not all that cheap (maybe because I had just been in Georgia), and getting out money is impossible, so the $400US I had had to last for 3 weeks. The metro in Tehran was clean and modern, but contains entire stations without subway maps (making it difficult to navigate for a first time user), and at rush hour, I witnessed two people get trampled in the mob-effect of people crushing in (or out) of the train in the 30 seconds the doors are open (but usually can’t close for another 10 or 20 seconds because all the bodies can’t quite squeeze in).
The first home I stayed at was on a street with old and new house numbers, so the address 16 9th street was actually 74 9th Ave, and impossible to know unless you read Farsi numbers. The spelling of translated Farsi words can sometimes get confusing. “E” and “I” are interchangeable, so you have to search for Imam and Emam and Isfahan and Esfahan on a map. “S” and “Z”, and “G” and “Q” are also used inconsistently, and I saw a lot of interesting ‘lost in translation’ phrases on street signs. I saw “3th Alley” and “41th Street”, and highway warning signs for “Use Law Gear” and a few km later “Use Low Geer”.
The weather was pleasant, warmer than an Icelandic summer, but if it got too warm I couldn’t enjoy the wind in my hair because I had to wear a hijab. Once a gust of wind blew my hijab off the back of my head, and some nearby taxi drivers gawked at me like I had dropped my pants. It’s just hair, and Iranian women have their hair sticking out the front and back of their scarves, but somehow dropping the scarf is ultra revealing. I also didn’t know I had to cover my hips, and thankfully one sweater I had covered my butt, but I quickly bought a longer black robe to better camoflauge.
Tehran had a lot of interesting tourist attractions, like the National Jewelry Museum, beautiful palaces, and an endless bazaar, and the city is backdropped by snow-topped mountains you can hike up thru a street of villages (don’t miss Darband street near Tajrish village!). Tehran is a huge city with millions of people, but parks, green spaces and trees are everywhere, so you don’t really mind the traffic as long as you can easily escape it. Strangely the parks are much busier at night, with couples discreetly holding hands or smoking cigarettes behind the blanket of dark. Tehran doesn’t get any good reviews from travelers, locals, or guide books, but I spent a week there happily visiting parks, strange museums, bazaars and shrines.
What not to miss in Tehran:
- the Nature Bridge park
- The National Jewelry museum (if you like sparkly things) or the carpet museum (if you want to see a bunch of 19th century hand woven carpets)
- The Tehran bazaar (Within the span of one hour, I saw 5 mosques, 4 nose jobs, 3 midgets, and enough carpets to cover all of Iceland, so its not only entertaining but also a lot to window shopping.
- Shahr-e-ray shrine (and bazaar)
- Darband Street and Tajrish village
And, if you only have time to visit one other place outside of Tehran, make it Yazd – locals there were the nicest people I met, although my host refused to walk with me in fear of getting in trouble, so I had to trail a few meters behind him. But wandering thru the bazaar and old city there was something like living a day in the movie Aladdin.