Tehran, 4th of October 2012
We arrived to Tehran on a Thursday afternoon. It was hot, dusty and crowded. And we were only at the bus station.
The best part of coming to Tehran was that we managed to find a couchsurfing host, and this was our first in Iran. We were really looking forward to this, but we had to wait for 1 day, as we arrived earlier than planned, hence we had to spend one night in a hotel. Before arriving to Tehran, I read almost everywhere that the city is hectic and busy, so my thoughts were that we’d better know where we are going, otherwise we can end up walking for hours before finding a decent and reasonable hotel. We picked a hotel which was highly recommended by Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor, and decided that for one night..we can bare anything.
In the bus station there are many people coming from everywhere, and with them bringing anything ..including sheep, live sheep, which were pulled out of the baggage compartment of the bus. But nevermind, we had to get out of there and reach the metro. Finally…METRO! And Metro in Tehran, is a blessing. I don’t care that is crowded, if it brings me from point A to point B fast and with no traffic jams, I am ready to squeeze in. Use it !
We managed to find our final destination, which was “Imam Khomeini Square”. You would be surprised, but almost every city has an “Imam Khomeini Square” or “Imam Khomeini Street”. These are usually the central squares or main boulevards. We reached the square in about 20 minutes, however when we got out from the Metro, I thought there must be a mistake. This couldn’t be the main square of Tehran. First of all..it is small, second it is dirty, full of motorbikes and there is nothing to wonder at. I thought…really? Is this it? Apparently the signs seemed to be telling us that…it was indeed Imam Khomeini Square.
Eventually we found our hotel, which was on a doggy street, full of shops repairing motorbikes and cars, the entire street, actually the entire area was just with shops selling spare parts for cars and motorbikes. Everybody looked filthy, messy, covered in oil as if living under cars. I was almost sure that this can’t be the “city center” of the Iranian capital. The hotel (Firouzeh hotel) however seemed ok, relatively clean, and staff was very friendly. It seemed that it was the only choice for travelers as it was full of tourists and even business travelers. We got our room in about 2 hours, and since we were hungry we asked the friendly man at the reception for a recommendation on a place to have a bite. And so we went to have our late lunch but I can’t mention the food, as really there is nothing to mention. As the neighborhood, so was the food.
The next day we moved to our host, who was living in a different part of Tehran more residential part. Lovely area, I thought. Big houses, compounds, and inside, the flats are really big. The living and dining areas are very spacious, and usually decorated with Iranian carpets. Charming! Our host was living with his family, and indeed Iranians are very welcoming. We spent some time with the family, but since we were hungry we left for the city, to have some food and maybe visit something. I have to say that unfortunately that day, we did not find a place to eat, as later we learnt that in Iran, the city is very well divided into separate districts. And each district is designed for a certain business. For example, the street with bookshops, and here there will be only bookshops, and NO restaurants, the street with banks…the same, only banks, the street with pharmacies.. and etc. Unfortunately we happened to find ourselves in such place, and couldn’t figure it out that even if we walk for 3 hours, we will not find food. We even took a taxi, that could not find a restaurant for us after 30 minutes drive. So we gave up. We settled on the first small kebab place we have seen, and we had it. Was terrible. But ..lesson learnt.
Our time ran out, and we had to return to our host for some evening time together. Once we got home, we were welcomed by our host and invited to his brother’s place for a small gathering with their friends. Apparently they had a “poetry evening”. Hmm… a ” poetry evening” ?! Well…I wanted to see this, as I had never had friends reciting poems during our gatherings. They usually eat and drink, and maybe discuss the world’s politics, if Alexey happens to be around :).
Our host told us, it is not far, but of course we will drive there. It was a 20 minutes drive…so this is the definition of “close” in Tehran. I had to understand that this is not Prague. And distances here are way different.
We arrived to a beautiful compound, with big fences and a security guard. When we entered the flat, I was a bit surprised that not even a single trace would tell me that I am in Iran. Girls and boys sitting together, drinking, laughing.. what hijab or covered shoulders…this is just for the outdoors, indoors…we live the way we want, they said.
The funny part was that …there was BEER. I mean alcoholic beer. Alexey was in heaven. Our host’s brother, apparently is brewing his own beer. What a genius :) Well done! There was also vodka, locally produced vodka by the Armenian community. They are allowed to produce their own alcohol, since they are Christians and in their religion alcohol is not banned. And so, the Armenians are VERY welcomed to live in Iran, and have many many friends :)
The boys got drunk, and I listened to their stories about Iran. Our hosts told us, they would probably like to move to Canada, as most of their friends already left. They love their country but truly hate their government. They don’t want to fight for change as they see it pointless. When I asked about religion, I was surprised that in their opinion majority of Iranians are not religious, and everything is just a facade. Due to this situations, they choose to live their lives indoors. Where they can be free, or at least when not too noisy. As every party is illegal, the police can arrest people for having a party.
I also asked, about the current political situations and the threats coming from Israel, what do Iranians think about, I was curious if people fear an upcoming war. My host looked with a sad smile and said: No, they don’t, maybe war is the only normality they know. They lived through war for such long time, that peace is maybe something unusual.
While walking in Tehran I have noticed many murals, and most of them are about Iran-Iraq war. There are quotes and pictures of martyrs, as they never want to forget that fighting in a war is an honorable thing. Probably they are always ready for another war. Or maybe the government wants to prepare them for another war.
The evening was great, the discussions went on and on about different topics – life, peace, war, politics, love and relationships. My heart and mind opened. This was a different Iran, than I knew before.
Our stay in Tehran was soon coming to an end, and we had a long list of interesting points to visit and yet nothing accomplished. The next two days we spent visiting some of the most interesting places from our list, but also trying to enjoy the city and maybe relax…for once.
So, apart from drinking illegal beer and running after taxis, we also did a bit of sight seeing. Our highlights would be:
The National Jewelry Museum, which is I must admit breathtaking. You can find the address and more on the National Jewelry Museum.
Golestan Palace which is again something worth visiting and spending some time just hanging around the nice garden. Read here about Golestan palace .
While we were once trying to exchange some money behind some dark corners with some very “experienced” traders in the black marketing of currency exchange, a nice old man approached us and sincerely advised us that maybe this is not exactly the best place for travelers (huh?? kidding ?? this is THE place to be, we thought) and if we would like he could show us the way to a beautiful park, where there are also some nice restaurants and many artists usually gather there. And this is how we get to visit one of the most interesting places in Tehran, which is an art gallery, surrounded by a lovely park and where also you can enjoy a nice meal and company.
Assar Art Gallery is the place where most of the artists are usually exhibiting their work or simply spend time to find out what’s new in the alternative world. Here is the location and more information about the place. Highly recommended!
One small advise. Don’t try to walk in Tehran, it is not a walk-able city. Use taxis or metro. We tried the good old walking but we didn’t really get far, or at least not to our destination, and we never found what we looked for.
For us Tehran was ending here, and our next destination was magical Yazd. Monday morning, 6 am – express train to Yazd, the city of the desert…