“Wait, what? I mean, Iran?? What on earth makes you want to go there??”
Probably more or less everybody we told about our trip to the middle east gave the same response. Which is, by the way, also often the first question any Iranian will ask you 😉 So, while the trip to Iran was not really going west, I figured it worth to revive my blog to tell the incredible stories we brought back from a country, that is either unknown or prejudiced by most of us.
We, that’s my room mate Philipp and myself. He has also seen his fair share of the world and a couple of months back, we both felt that need again to go out there. So, quite spontaneously, we booked two flights to Iran! To be honest, neither of us had a very precise idea what would be waiting for us. Just that we both heard that it’s supposed to be a beautiful country with really friendly people. So, while we quickly bought a guide book, we didn’t actually plan much in advance. You could also say: We didn’t plan anything… We booked a hotel room in Tehran a few days before we headed out and found a couch surfing host that might be able to host us for a few more nights there. We just figured ‘hey, it’s gonna work out some way or another’. After all, it was only for 11 days.
“Still, the middle east?? Terrorists, nukes, fanatic islamists?! That can’t be save!”
To answer that question just right here: We barely felt more safe anywhere while travelling! And, oh dear, it did work out!
Via Istanbul we flew to Tehran and arrived in the middle of the night, got our visa right at the airport and took a taxi to our hotel – and went straight to bed. The next morning we realized that we were apparently somewhere in the middle of city – one of about 15 million people!
We decided to try to find our couchsurfing host and take it from there. Was our taxi ride last night quite smooth, we now instantly realized that something was very much different here: Traffic as we were used to it, you know, with at least basic rules and stuff, does simply not exist in Tehran. While basic tasks like crossing a street or taking a taxi ride, look like suicide at first, we watched other people and were somewhat amazed that apparently nobody got acutally hurt?!
So we figured: Well, we just got to do it… Standing in the middle of an (officially) 6-lane road with bikes, car, mules and busses speeding around you was quite the experience in the beginning but got pretty much routine after a few days. Sharing a taxi with 3 other people, not quite sure where it will actually go to, feels a bit unsafe a first but really gets fun once you get the hang of it – and once you realize that a 20 minute ride will cost you about 1 Euro 🙂
So, we actually made it to our hosts place and – it was a blast! He turned out to be an actualy YouTube celebrity with an awesome flat in northern Tehran 😀 Not only did he show us around and gave us awesome tips where to go (and when!). The first evening at his place quite suddenly turned into a global couchsurfing party with about 12 people from all over the globe. And we also realized that all the rules in regards to what is prohibited in Iran are quite often… let’s say bended 😉
Wandering around Tehran, we instantly experienced the super friendly curiosity of the people when it comes to foreigerns. All the time we were greeted by locals – no matter if they spoke English or just wanted to take a selfie with us. (By the end of our trip we probably made it to a couple of dozen Iranian Instagram accounts) Everybody wants to know where you are from and what brings you to Iran. And while you often hear that you should refrain from political discussions, basically any conversation will get to those topics pretty fast. Which was perfectly fine by us since that way we got so much insight of what normal people are actually thinking – which could not be further away from any radical or anti-western opinions!
After spending two full days in the capital and it visiting at least some of the most known sites, we headed south. Following the more or less typical tourist track, we boarded a “VIP” bus to Esfahan. We heard before that there are busses and VIP busses. As we were to find out later, there are also VIP busses and VIP busses… Anyway, travelling by bus is certainly: cheap. You might have to cope with Iranian soap operas in full volume but for 5 Euros for a six hour bus ride, you can’t really complain.
Only when we arrived in Esfahan we realized that – luckily – Tehran is not the norm of Iranian cities but more the exception. In places like Esfahan you can actually walk through large parts of the city and see the sky without any smog.
Our inital idea of “we just go there and walk into any hotel” turned out to be a bit too optimistic. Tourism in Iran is actually booming for the last two years and there are simply not enough hotels or guesthouses – which made it into the Lonely Planets. But we quickly encountered that the great hospitality of Iranians is an awesome reality! In the end we spent only three nights in hotels (one of which was booked by one of our couch surfing hosts since no one there spoke a word of English – which in turn was the reason that they had a room for us and only paid about 7 Euro per person 🙂 ).
So after two nights in Esfahan we again followed the main route down to Shiraz. First of all Shiraz has it’s own great places. But the main reason for most people to go there is to see ancient Persian culture. Ancient as in 2,500 years old!
While of course quite a lot of the former glory (and stones) are long gone, places like Persepolis and Pasargadae don’t fail to amaze! You are literally standing on rocks that were moved there thousands of years ago.
So after exploring the mid-southern part of Iran, we decided we wanted to see a bit of the diverse landscapes everybody kept telling us about. So we skipped Yazd (another famous city and stop for many tourists). Instead we opted for the night bus back to Tehran. While we were pretty sure that a 12-hour bus ride would be anything but comfortable we figured it would beat spening a whole waking day looking at the same views we had when we came. But, big suprise: This time we had a very-VIP sleeper bus! Only one soap opera and after that nearly eight hours of sleep! Wow!
We had picked the Alamut valley north-west of Tehran and easily found another couchsurfing host in the city of Qazvin. Just another 2-hour/2-Euro bus ride and suddenly the landscape already changed from brown to actual green!
He showed us around the amazing Caravanserai – which was not even mentioned in any guide book! – took us to an Iranian art exhibition and since it actually was his birthday, was super cool to take us along with his friends! We couldn’t feel any more happy that night!
While Qazvin was a nice city itself, our reason to go there was still a bit further north. And dear, we were not disappointed! The Elburz can easily compete with any other more known mountain range – without the crowds! Again via connections on couchsurfing we got ourselves a private driver for a day and went to see places that we would have never connected to Iran! You know, middle east, desert, dry, hot…
Well, after that our days in an incredible country were already over 🙁 I realize that even though this post got pretty long, I am hardly able to properly describe all our experiences. We were both totally blown away by the hospitality and kindness of the people of Iran! We got to see places that were so far away from anything we would have imagined to find. There were days when we hardly saw any other foreigner and yet never felt unwelcome or weird.
So while I could go on for hours talking about those few days, I guess one thing I want to say is: Go there yourself! It is yet(!) all but crowded and due to the high inflation rate pretty cheap to travel! Face your prejudices and go in for a big surprise!
Last but not least, I have to share this picture: