Charming Tehran, Farewell Iran!

We didn’t know quite what to expect from Tehran. People told us the city is polluted, chaotic and the Lonely Planet even has a separate section on the mad traffic in Iran and Tehran in particular. Iranian drivers are supposed to be in a league of their own. Maybe it’s because we lived for years in China’s biggest city, but we found Tehran not polluted at all. Maybe we were just lucky… And the traffic wasn’t that bad at all, especially when compared to China, where really ANYTHING goes…

No, we actually liked Tehran a lot. A lot of green spots, a very lively grand bazaar and quite some nice buildings. We were staying at a friend’s apartment in the northern part of the city, which is the more affluent part of town. Mirian’s parents lived for years at this exact spot, before they had to flee the country during the revolution 1979, so for her it was a very special occasion to see this place. We spent our days in Tehran well. The highlight was without a doubt visiting the bazaar. It’s such a great experience watching thousands of people meandering in the atmospheric maze of alleys that make up the bazaar, while smelling a thousands smells, and looking at a millions things happening at the same time.

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Since we will be relocating to Holland, our house there needs some decoration, so it was obvious we couldn’t leave Iran without a nice carpet. The supply and choice though is so immense that it’s almost impossible to strike a good deal. We were lucky to have our longtime Iranian friend with us to help us buy the carpet. We bought a light colored Na’in carpet, with some silk in it. It’s a beautiful piece that looks different depending on the side your looking at it. It cost a small fortune, but we are happy to be the owners now of a really nice Iranian carpet.

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Apart from the carpet we also bought some good saffron and an Iranian rice cooker. It differs from the Chines one in that it produces a kind of rice cake with a beautiful crust. If anyone would like to try the famous Iranian rice-cake Mirian makes, please come by in the future!

After the shopping spree, Mirian and I relaxed a bit in one of the beautiful parks and had the best pasta we ever ate in a small but beautiful Italian restaurant, where they make every pasta entirely with fresh ingredients. Delicious! It is located in little area with a lot of coffee bars, where we had a nice after dinner coffee in a super friendly place. And that’s the thing we love so much about Iran. People are so friendly and helpful here. The hospitality in Iran IS indeed something special.

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Like the first morning we spent in Teheran, when we needed to get our visa for Azerbaijan (which we never got)… We met up with the diplomatic police in front of the Consulate of Azerbaijan where we were supposed to get our visa if we would explain our situation; that we wanted to drive through their country from Iran to Georgia. But although the day before this was promised to us, on this morning no one seemed to know about it. We waited and waited, called again and again, but the Azerbaijani Consulate personnel were not in the least way willing to help us nor to keep their promise. Fortunately the Iranian guys in front of the Consulate were great entertainment. We learned a new motto; ‘No problem, This is Iran!!’ while they took out their English-Farsi dictionary and used us to practice the most ridiculous words in English. They were constantly joking and introduced each other to us as the brother and/or nephews of Bin Laden etc. It was great – No problem, This is Iran! They even arranged a free ride back for us after we gave it up with Azerbaijan.

And yet, everyday we watch the bus go by, with women sitting in the back. Men in front. Beautiful women covered up… mandatory. Different times for swimming in the hotels. Men in the evening, women in the morning. Iran is very hard to grab. It makes you love it, but at the same time makes you wonder why a whole country of intelligent people are letting these medieval practices happen. Apparently the mullah’s are still firmly in control. It is clear that Iran is more ‘liberal’ than it was thirty years ago and we can only hope that once the day arrives that the international sanctions will be lifted, liberalization wil accelerate and women will be treated in the same way as men. It will also make travel a lot easier then, since it is currently impossible to use your international credit cards, or bank cards for example.

But until the sanctions are lifted, the streets will be filled with mostly Iranian cars. Saipa Saba and Samand, built by Iran Khodro, are the most common ones and they seem to be sold in only one colour: white. The French have good marketshare as well (have they licensed their car manufacturing to the Iranians?) since Peugeot and Renaults are everywhere and I even saw some Maserati’s. But also in different sectors Tehran is internationalizing fast. We saw stores from H&M, Mont Blanc, Cartier, etc. and beautiful new apartment buildings.

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But we also encountered an underground nuclear research facility guarded by anti air missiles and a mural on the former US Embassy in Tehran saying “Down with the USA!”.

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We left Iran today and are now in Turkey. The border crossing went smooth, although we were ‘helped’ by a slick Iranian guide on the Iranian side, who guided us through all the necessary steps pretty fast, but then asked for a lot of money for his unasked help. We gave him a couple of euro’s, but he clearly was expecting a tenfold of that, which of course we didn’t gave him. His behavior though did nothing to change our impression of Iran. We love the people, and its beautiful cities. It’s a fascinating country, that’s extremely hard to understand.

I guess we need to go back one day to try to learn more.

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