Travelling in the Islamic Republic
An eyewitness report from
12-28th Oct 2000.
me straight to the links
of my friends, two girls and two boys, and I decided that Iran would be
and interesting destination for our next holiday. The target was to travel
with our rucksack and use public transportation to get around. Due to the
weather the trip was postponed to October instead of august. This gave
us a reduction of the temperature of 10-15 degrees Celsius, weather close
to at good Danish summer. We had all kind of not so positive pictures of
everyday life in Iran before we went, blended with horror stories about
the Custom clearance: But you can read more about that below.
Airline tickets, we
flew with Lufthansa to Frankfurt and then to Tehran and we flew with Austrian
Airlines via Vienna back to Copenhagen. I must say that I was a bit disappointed
with LH, sitting in the rear of the A340 there was almost one hour between
the food was served and beverage coming. Flying to Frankfurt can not be
recommended right now, since there's huge air congestion and your fight
will almost certainly be delayed. We almost lost our connecting flight
due to this.
On the itinerary it
was stated that you should reconfirm you tickets at least 72 hours before
departure. We couldn't do it since the Austrian Airlines phone number was
impossible to get. So if you are keen on reconfirming your tickets, contact
the Airline bureau in the airport when you arrive and get the right number.
We did not have to pay any extra airport tax upon departure.
As mentioned above,
we had our fears about this instance. But to tell the truth there wasn't
the slightest problem neither on arrival nor on departure. We have had
several discussions before we left for Tehran. Could I bring a sealed first
aid kit with syringes and needles, would this result in a complete body
search and taking the luggage apart into atoms in the search for drugs?
Since we brought a Video 8 camera, what about the broken seals of the cassettes,
maybe the recordings will be subject to thorough investigation? What about
the tourist book about Denmark I brought as a gift, there might be a small
picture of women flesh other than faces and fingers (Danish beaches, you
Since we just where
waved through with the question "Where are you from?" we did found out
if the items we carried with us could have been subject too investigation.
Well home again, then seen in the mirror I don't think there any reason
to worry, offcource you shouldn't bring material which are a direct provocation,
like pork meat, Salman Rushdie books and magazines with uncovered women.
before our departure we had several contacts in Iran, and some of them
even offered a place to sleep. We had accepted an offer from Leila; we
could rent an apartment in the Northern of Tehran for the first days. This
was a very good start for us; it was a great intermediate between our normal
levels of comfort and the standards in Iran. During our stay we visited
several families and homes and this is definitely the most memorial parts
of the trip. We had prepared ourselves a little of this overwhelming hospitality
by bringing different gifts from Denmark, so we could return a token of
appreciation. The gifts doesn't have to be from you home country, nice
things from the Bazaar can do it.
How are you -
do you speak English?
The hospitality starts
already on the street, where you will above mentioned so many times, that
you at a certain time of your travel decide you only speak Russian! But
before this time, just relax and answer their questions, all they what
is to use their small English vocabulary. Sometimes some smartass carpet
dealers bump into you and waste you time with Smalltalk that's only gonna
convince you to go and buy in his fathers carpet shop - you will learn
to spot those on 100 meters distance.
Does and don'ts
for men and women. It's not required that men wear jackets and matching
pants as certain embassies sugest. Men can wear any kind of cloths, just
that the pants are long and the top isn't a tanktop. If you will visit
mosques, wear long sleeves or a shirt. Women have to wear a scarf as a
minimum, covering their hair and their neck. But if they want to reduce
hostile touches to a minimum a more conservative dressed are needed. Agnete
and Laila choose a mantur instead of the more complicated chador; the mantur
is a long black coat.
there are warnings about Bam on different Foreign Office's homepages. Since
we didn't go there I can't say for certain how things are, but all everybody
we asked about this denied any possible problems in that region. If we
have had more time I would definitely have gone there. You should still
stay away from the Pakistan and Iraq borders.
Passport, some hotels
want's to keep your passport, we denied that and gave them a photocopy
instead. You can safely keep you passport at the hotel manager or in the
hotel save - nobody can demand to see your passport, not even police, just
keep some other identity paper on you an refer to the hotel you stay at.
We was stopped in roadblock without our passport, we gave them just the
name of the hotel and our names - no problems.
Money, bring American
dollars, your will get the best exchange rate for new 100$ bills, less
for old and smaller bills. The different are something like 10 or 20 rials
per dollar. In the period we visited the country the exchange rate was
800-815 tomans per dollar. A toman are 10 rials. You will get a big bundle
of 10.000 rials. If you change on the street, be careful in counting the
bills; there will most likely miss one or two notes.
train, even though everybody we knew laughed at us, when we said that we
wanted to take the night train to Esfahan from Tehran. But it wasn't offcource
not that bad an experience. The sleeping wagon was an Old Spanish one,
and the rooms were rather small. We have bought 6 beds, so we had the cabin
all for our selves. The price was all in all 11$. You will need a sleeping
heart or a quarter of a sleeping pill to get a good night, but then you
also wake up fresh in Esfahan. The madras's was a bit smelly, but there
was clean bed lined.
Buses, in Lonely planet
there are mentioned luxus buses and superdelux buses. When we asked for
the super version, the ticket man replied, this is not America… There are
only aircon and super on a few destinations. Getting tickets, was easy,
just go to the bus station, there are many private bus companies offering
different departure times. It's unfortunately impossible to evaluate the
quality of the buses before departure - but they seemed quit similar. We
took the following trips by bus: Esfahan - Yazd and Yazd - Shiraz. The
first trip was five hours and the last the unbearable length of seven hours.
Aeroplane, this is
cheap an offcource fast, we flew Shiraz - Tehran with Iran Air, this cost
140.000 Rials per person. It's good at nice aeroplanes, so not hassle there;
other companies may have Russian planes.. ups.
Taxis are everywhere,
most of them are unmarked, and are private persons earning some extra,
so just bargain about the price before you get in. The price varies a lot,
depending on you bargain skills, you can get a descent trip for 2-5000
Rials and airport trip normally costs 10-20kRials.
Places to stay
from the days where we stayed in private homes, we stayed at decent hotels.
There are a dual pricing system in Iran, foreigners will normally be charged
a price similar to hotels in southern Europe, which is very unsatisfying.
We meet a Danish man, born in Iran, he was staying at hotel Omar (five
stars) in Shiraz for 140.000 rials per night for a double room, will we
probably would have been charged 100$. But it's also this price difference
you shall use while bargaining, but if you can't get a good price, the
just pack you stuff an move towards the exit, then the price will drop..
Esfahan, Aria 20 $
per double room.
Yazd, Aria 12$ per
double room (on shower and toilet on the room).
Shiraz, Sasan 16$
per double room.
12 October We arrived
in Tehran and meet Leila. We were installed in her friend's apartment.
October Since we didn't get to bed before 03:30 we got a late start on
the day. We wanted to visit the Friday prayer at Tehran University. Leila
isn't a very religious girl, so she was not so happy about our request,
but wanted to follow the wishes of her guests. We must have looked like
tourist on a safari, that has waited a week to see a lion and finally get
one in visual contact. Five westerns dressed tourist, cameras sticking
out and a cowboy hat on top, in the middle of an ocean of black sheets.
Man they weren't happy about that, off course we where angrily told to
leave. How unprofessional of us. Right after this we went to a park in
the northern part of the city, which is made on the slope of a mountain.
There where a relaxed atmosphere, men and where walking hand in hand. Already
in this early phase of the trip we found out that the Persian was an outmost
friendly people. Walking around the park, we shook hands with several and
random people yelling, "I love you". This was the to very opposite experience
we got on 2 hours of our stay in Tehran. In the park we joined with a burger
house and by pointing to the other tables, we managed to order 5 cheeseburgers
and some orange stuff to drink. We returned to our apartment. When the
hunger was wakening us up, we went to the nearest restaurant. It soon became
clear that there was something different with this place. Not only did
the soup taste of sheep wool, the pieces of meat in the soup could be identified
either. But when the main disk arrived, everything became clear. It was
sheep brain and sheep tongue… Ups.
14 October It was Saturday
and we wanted to visit the Bazaar. On the way to the bazaar, we found out
that our chauffeur had lived in Sweden for almost 13 years. Soon we taxi
was full of Scandinavian languages. We will especial remember Claus's superb
swe-nish, we where crying of laughter. Mehdi became our regular driver.
Mehdi helped us with changing our dollars to a good rate. The problem was
more that we had to count 162 lousy 10.000 rials. And off course we where
missing on note. We split in a boy and a girl group. And on a three-hour
trip we went through kilometres of bazaar, crawling with people and busy
wagons. After that visit we went to the former American embassy. The Espionage
museum wasn't open, so we strolled down the street with all the anti American
slogans written on the wall. By coincident we discovered the martyr museum,
further down the street. This was a wonderful experience. There was off
cource all the official attitude of a regime museum and the stories told
were heartbreaking. But the guide was a very wise man. We got a thorough
tour and answers to all our questions. Laila came with our train tickets,
for our next destination. We where invited on a walk in the mountains.
On the way back we stopped and tried a bier with 0% alcohol. Well calling
it a bier would be going to far. It was a malt beverage and where close
to a waste of money.
October It was a rainy day, so it where obvious that we should visit some
museums. We where kind of slow starters, definitely because of the bad
weather. We decided to start with a grand tour in the Bookshop Street.
Mehdi took us there; actually he dropped the taxi driving and went with
us. We visited at least 10 bookshops and Claus did as usual buy a huge
stack of book's this time primarily about Islam, books that isn't available
in western countries. Mehdi found a good place to eat. And we went right
away to the National museum of Iran. There where many interesting item
on show, but there where only a few texts in English. The items where placed
out of context and to be honest, it was bloody boring. The Islam museum
was next door and we had tickets for that too. Contrary it was a much bigger
building, but not more interesting. The day this country get more seculized,
the to museums will change buildings!
At the evening we
left for the train station. Leila had in several not so positive terms
told us her view of the night train. But they weren't true. The train left
exact at 22:50 and the compartments where similar to European night trains.
I fact it was an Old Spanish train.
October At 8:00 we arrived in Esfahan, not completely "udsovet", but sharp
enough to catch a taxi to the Aria hotel. We could get two rooms, one for
the girls and one for the boys. After a small rest and a shower we went
to see the famous city. Esfahan is known for its wonderful mosques and
Emam Khomeini Square, which is one of the biggest in the world. The Square
are absolute magnificent. Too the south Masjed-e Emam's are shining in
the sun. In the inside of buildings on the square the bazaar are allocated.
A palace and a small mosque also and some quality to the square. Today
the girls had to find themselves a more traditional woman dress. We went
together with them. Our "English teacher" helped us finding an appropriate
mantur. Our "English teacher" showed us the most marvellous teahouse, in
the northern end of the square. With a seat on the roof, we enjoyed a water
pipe and tea. Gustav, Claus and I tried to send and email from a small
carpet shop. Claiming to be an Internet cafe! Only Claus, who had a hotmail
account, had success in sending. We rested our selves until 20 o'clock.
We went to Saleh restaurant, where we got chicken and some pizza, for a
total price of 60.000 rials. Under the Bridge Pol-é Si o Se, which
view we had enjoyed during our meal, had a great teahouse. This place was
only assessable from the riverbed!
17 October After breakfast,
we had a meeting to make an outline of the rest of our trip. We decide
to go for Yazd on Thursday by bus. Gustav and I were chosen to get us some
bus tickets. We had an older Esfahan tourist map. On that map the bus station
was in walking distance, but unfortunate that wasn't the truth anymore.
We took a cab. At the bus station there where many private companies offering
trips to Yazd, we just found the most appropriate departure time and took
that bus company. It was impossible to make any other judgement, souge
as quality of the bus etc. Back in the bazaar, we got our selves a nice
sandwich with a coke at the same joint as yesterday, 2500 Rials. While
we where waiting for the Mosque to open after prayer. Gustav and I went
to send another email at the "café". Masjed-e Emam was fantastic,
an unbelievable collection of mosaic pieces. We meet Steven from London,
and we took him with us to dinner a water pipe later that evening. In the
Mosque we did also establish contact with two architect students, Abi and
Reza. They invited us on a tour in the university the next day 2 o'clock.
Gustav and I went to the street from our hotel, to find a mailbox. For
the first time, we where approached by to Iranian girls. We asked if the
yellow thing where the right place to dump our letters. Even though they
had an unbelievable bad English they wanted to help us. They where very
pretty and we soon felt that we had the total attention of all male Iranian
guys on the street, it wasn't to comphstable, so we did soon abandon.
October We went to the Masjed-e Jäme in the northern part of Esfahan.
Personal I liked this mosque more than the Emam. It wasn't quiet so big,
but I thought it was a better architect and artist decorated it. We weren't
tired of the bazaar yet so we walked through it back to the Emam Square.
We bought tree water pipes on way. We had lunch on a western look alike
eating joint - Camel pizza bar. At 2 o'clock we meet Reza at the palace,
we where allowed access to the university bye showing one of our student
cards. It was an art university, there where approximately 700 students.
After at brief tour everybody came to talk with us. That lasted for more
than 2 hours and we couldn't almost get away. They gave Claus a picture
that he particular had fancied. After this Agnete, Laila and I went to
see the women's mosques. This was also a marvellous view, it was completely
closed, there was only a small window. Also here the mosaic's was fantastic.
Reza had invited us to the movies in the evening. We should see "the colour
of God" an Iranian movie, which had received prizes in Europe. The special
thing about this wasn't the movie it selves, it was more the loose attitude,
boys meeting girls, girls wearing lots of makeup. In the movie, boys and
girls could sit together in the dark a sparkling fantasy. The movie was
good, but it was all in Farsi - so a bit difficult at certain times. The
movie projector and the audio were so bad. But what the hell, boys touches
19. October this was
day that we are going to Yazd, it's a busride on 5 hours. We used the time
before noon in Esfahan. Claus and I were first out in the town looking
for a special horn. The special sound from the horn are impossible to describe
on text, but the horn was only mounted on the busses, so we needed a special
store. We didn't find it.
independent Iran travel description
& Jan's Travelspot
Kongelige danske ambassade i Teheran