Nach Westen

(English) Going East: Backpacking Iran

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„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.

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Welcome to Iran! And yes, that flag is pretty big. Apparently the biggest in the region…

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!

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Azadi tower. Fun fact: This is actually not a symbol of the islamic revolution but was built by the last Shah.

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?!

Taxi ride sharing turns out to be big fun! That thing in the background is Milad Tower, actually one of the worlds largest communication towers.

Taxi ride sharing turns out to be big fun! That thing in the background is Milad Tower, actually one of the worlds largest communication towers.

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 🙂

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Did I mention? Traffic is everywhere!

Did I mention? Traffic is everywhere!

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 😉

Tehran at night

Tehran at night

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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!

Random encounter in Tehran

Random encounter in Tehran

For sure, the Shah knew how to life in style in the middle of the city...

For sure, the Shah knew how to life in style in the middle of the city…

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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.

Well, yes, that's also Tehran: Smog!

Well, yes, that’s also Tehran: 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 🙂 ).

Philipp enjoying Iranian breakfast in Esfahan

Philipp enjoying Iranian breakfast in Esfahan

The bridges of Esfahan are just incredibly beautiful. Especially if you couchsurfing host takes you there at night to listen to locals singing in the arches.

The bridges of Esfahan are just incredibly beautiful. Especially if you couchsurfing host takes you there at night to listen to locals singing in the arches.

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Those are the moments we travel for!

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Esfahan is sometimes called one of the most beautiful cities in the worlds. Certainly a place you shouldn’t miss

Shopping @ Iranian style

Shopping @ Iranian style

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The Shah (King) Mosque in Esfahan. While we stand in awe in front of some cathedrals here in Europe, it’s pretty much the same with some of there amazing places of worship

While restaurants don't really seem to be a big deal in Iran, their home made cusine is just amazing!

While restaurants don’t really seem to be a big deal in Iran, their home made cusine is just amazing!

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!

Going further south: Shiraz calling

Going further south. While it gets to around 40° C outside, it’s actually quite bearable. After all, the Iranian main land sits on an altitude of about 1500m – with mountains easily raising above 3000m!

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.

Pasargadae

Pasargadae

The really seemed to like feet and...

The really seemed to like feet and… well…

When you want your tomb to last a few extra years, you go big!

When you want your tomb to last a few extra years, you go big!

Or even bigger!

Or even bigger!

Persepolis

Persepolis

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A bit headless but still impressive

Did I mention? Iranians are not really different from anyone else: The love their selfies! Especially when they come with a stick :/

Did I mention? Iranians are not really different from anyone else: The love their selfies! Especially when they come with a stick :/

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Shiraz. We heard that view point is great a night. So why to climb up there in the middle of the day? Oh yeah, right, 40 degree - in the shades...

Shiraz. We heard that view point is great a night. So why not climb up there in the middle of the day? Oh yeah, right, 40 degree – in the shades…

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Another bunch of guys we just made happy 🙂

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Securty the Iranian way

Security the Iranian way. You barely see any police in the street and still we never felt unsave anywhere. And no, not because of extensive CCTV coverage either (I doubt that even half of the few cameras we saw actually work).

While we were a bit sceptical in regards of their bread we quickly got to love that stuff! And especially the way you get it: "oven fresh" in like "so hot you cool it yourself outside the bakery on the street"

While we were a bit sceptical in regards of their bread we quickly got to love that stuff! And especially the way you get it: „oven fresh“ in like „so hot you cool it yourself outside the bakery on the street“

A Bansky? Probably not but Iranians seem to love to paint the houses!

A Bansky!? Probably not but Iranians seem to love to paint the houses!

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!

Another perfect host in Qazvin

Another perfect host in Qazvin

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!

Caravanserai Qazvin

Caravanserai Qazvin

Birthday party!

Birthday party!

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Persian architecture is just incredible!

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…

In the Allamut Valley

In the Alamut Valley

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In the Alps those pass roads would be a big deal!

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Take a closer look ;-)

Take a closer look 😉

Alamut castle

Alamut castle

Big climb...

Big climb…

... big views!

… big views!

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Rural Iran

 

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Sometimes life just suprises you around every corner...

Sometimes life just suprises you around every corner…

... for example when you meet three divers in the middle of the mountains! :O

… for example when you meet three actual scuba divers in the middle of the mountains! :O

Our french-learning driver guide. While he did not really speak French (yet), what he was able to say sound absolutley native! :D

Our french-learning driver guide. While he did not really speak French (yet), what he was able to say sounded absolutley native! 😀

Another castle, built hundreds of years ago

Another castle, built hundreds of years ago

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Mountains just make me happy!

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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!

Mount Damavant - 5600 m and every bit a beautful sight from the city

Mount Damavant – 5600 m and every bit a beautiful sight from Tehran

 

Last but not least, I have to share this picture:

German technology goes a long way! Even if it is just German confirmation - big deal for them :D

German technology goes a long way! And getting a German TÜV confirmation? Big deal for them 😀

6 Kommentare zu “(English) Going East: Backpacking Iran

  1. Pingback: A practical guide to backpacking Iran – Nach Westen – going west

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