Tehran is the capital city of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a city of 16 million people. It is a metropolis like any other city around the world, noisy, busy and harried. It is fair to say that we did not gel with Tehran and will just have to back to see if we can learn to love it.
The overnight train journey from Yadz ended with the sunrise over the capital of Iran, Tehran. We arrived to find a mass of taxi drivers at the door of the station, all lining up at a small kerbside stall to get a ticket from the announcer for the next job. We created some confusion by presenting the announcer with an address for the See You in Iran Hostel written in English and although our Farsi had improved over the 2 weeks we had been in the country, we were pretty limited to polite requests, hello and goodbye.
We learnt quite a lot about the Iranian people during our short time in the country and we have to say they will do anything to help you out and find a solution to your problem, in this case passing our instructions around and discussing it as a group until it was decided to ring the hostel and YAY success, an address in Farsi and a driver allocated to us. Thankfully it was Friday, the weekly day of religious observance and non work day. So the notorious traffic was calm, in fact the streets were virtually deserted, no mean feet in a city with a population of 16 million.
After a couple of stops to check directions with people on the street we arrived at SYI and were greeted by young, very trendy, I hesitate to say hipster locals with perfect English who led us into a cafe overlooking a still under construction courtyard.
It was a delight and such a contrast with the other cities we had travelled through to be welcomed with music- Western and Iranian, tea, breakfast and people of all ages sharing the space. We sat and enjoyed the sun streaming in the windows whilst we waited for our room.
We stayed a couple of blocks from the former US Embassy which is famous for the anti-USA murals along it’s walls which are a whole lot more impressive in photos than in person. We were amused to note that they have set up the “anti arrogance exhibition” in the grounds of the former embassy, things might be thawing politically between the two countries but there is clearly a long way to go. Feeling a bit watched due to the amount of CCTV obvious on the buildings surrounding the former Embassy, we decided it was best to explore other parts of the city and set off on our usual exercise routine, walking to wherever.
We met a lovely couple on the street who were keen to know if we were “Briton as you have glowing skin and eyes” and spent half an hour discussing Australia, Portugal where they planned to travel and sites to see in Tehran. They even offered to drive us around, which we politely declined. It turned out she, a PhD student in Agricultural Science and he, a civil engineer, had followed us down the street to talk with us, again demonstrating how much the people want to share their world and ours.
You can’t ignore the politics that surrounds Iran, it permeates everything before and after you arrive. The clearest thing we have learnt is that no matter where you are in the world, everyone is the same. Everyone wants to get on with their lives in the best way they can and like us there are people everywhere who want to share and possess the world.
As we were staying in the arty, liberal part of town we found ourselves having dinner at the Home Italian Cafe, which is run by the Iranian Artists Forum and located in the park surrounding the theatre, it had pretty average pasta but fantastic, photo worthy cappuccino- finally!
Our final day in Iran had arrived quite quickly and after a quick breakfast of date frittata we set off to cruise around the Grand Bazaar, Tehran.
After visiting the smaller bazaars in Shiraz and Isfahan we think we are experienced enough in the ways of the markets to say that the Grand Bazaar in Tehran was a bit of a disappointment. It is much larger and yet did not seem to have as much of interest, it lacked the creativity, colour and friendliness of the others. In fact those cities felt on the whole friendlier and more open to tourists. On our walk to the Bazaar, Cath had been confronted by a man in the street who yelled in her face and was clearly not very happy with something about her, it was the first and only time she had felt threatened in the country.
We spent our last night in Iran searching for the perfect kebab and found a pretty good one not far from our accommodation before packing up our suitcases ready for our early flight to Istanbul.
We struggled to see the beauty of Tehran and perhaps we didn’t have the time or money to do so. Whether you agree or disagree with the way the world has interacted with Iran over recent years you can not deny that the evidence of economic sanctions is everywhere; formally beautiful buildings are in disrepair, the streets are polluted and it appears there is a malaise about the city. We hope with increasing tourism and access to the world things can improve for Tehran and maybe we just have to go back and discover another side to the city.
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