13 days in Incredible Iran
We have wanted to travel to Iran for a few years now but we were always turned off by the hard work involved in getting the tourist visa. This all changed when Iran announced that the visa could now be got on arrival at the airport. This made it so much easier for us so next step was to book the flights. We booked our flight with Qatar Airways from Barcelona via Doha to Tehran and the same on the way back. The cost for the return flight was 350e each. We didn’t have a clear plan of what we would see and do while in Iran. We just knew that we would move south. We booked our first night accommodation in Tehran with the new hostel: See you in Iran. Here is the website: http://seeyouiniran.org/. This is also the name of the facebook group that was created by them and is very useful. https://www.facebook.com/SeeYouinIran/.
Day 1. Arrival in Tehran – Getting Insurrance and Visa
We had an early start from Barcelona. All was fine except we had to run to make the connecting flight from Doha to Tehran. Luckily we made it. Once ready to land in Tehran, I could see other women starting to put on their head scarves. It felt a bit strange doing this in the beginning but by the end of the trip I didn’t mind at all. We arrived to a cold Tehran, 2 degrees outside. Once at the arrivals, we went about getting our insurance. Foreigners are supposed to have insurance. You can arrange it before you arrive or like we did buy it there. We paid 30eur for both. Euros were accepted. The next step was filling out a form for the visa and paying 75eur each. We then waited around 30 minutes and all was ready. We had our visa’s for Iran! We went to pick up our bags and then to change money. There is a money exchange in the airport on the second floor. Once we had some Iranian rials we were ready to get to our hostel. Make sure you take time out to understand the difference between rials and tomans. Even though the Iranian rial is the official currency, alot of Iranians use the term ‘tomans’. An easy way to remember is that 10 rial is equal to 1 toman.
We took a taxi from the airport to get to our hostel. It turned out there was a crazy fog and it was impossible for the driver to see anything. The fog along with getting petrol, stopping at a garage to fix something wrong with the car and not knowing the address in farsi of where our hostel was, meant the journey lasted around 2 hours. Finally, at midnight we arrived at the hostel. Navid, the owner was there to meet us and show us our room. Price for See you in Iran hostel (Private room): 27eur per night
Day 2. Exploring Tehran – Golestan Palace – Baazar – Azadi Tower
We woke up pretty early, helped by the bright light coming in through the window. Other than that the room was very nice with a super big heater. However, there was no water, as there was a problem with the pipes, so no shower. We had breakfast in the hostel, consisting of tomatoes, cream cheese and cucumber with some bread and tea. We hung out at the hostel for a bit meeting local people who were all helping out at the hostel getting it ready. We didn’t really have a plan so one of Navid’s friends suggested we go with him to a café. Before we left we went for a walk near the hostel. The former US embassy was within walking distance so we walked by there checking out the park, (Honarmandan Park) and some murals on the wall.
One of the many murals on the wall outside the former US Embassy
Probably the most photographed mural there!
Once we returned to the hostel we went with some friends of Navid to the area where the national museum of Iran is located. We walked around there, there seemed to be a lot going on, dancers, musicians playing and a lot of stalls selling drinks etc. We didn’t go inside the National Museum, instead we walked to the famous Golestan palace, a UNESCO World Hertitage Site. It’s one of the oldest historic monuments in the city of Tehran full of gardens and palaces. There is an entrance fee but somehow we avoided this without really realizing. We walked around there checking out the different buildings.
Checking out Golestan palace
Plenty of music on the streets
Just a short walk away from Golestan Palace is the Grand Baazar. It’s found in the Arg square and is not open on Fridays. So, we couldn’t explore the baazar but there were some shops open around it. We ate inside one of the local places.
We then decided to check out the Azadi Tower, one of the symbols of Tehran which marks the west entrance into the city. While waiting for the metro a man started to talk with us. He was very helpful and decided to join us on the metro to Azadi Tower. Once there he showed us where the bus station was as we told him that we would go to Isfahan next. Little things like joining us on the metro and helping us out I think would never really happen in Europe. We would probably think the person wanted money or something. Here, everyone seems to want to help and is interested in your background and what you think of Iran. After about a 10 minute walk, the Azadi Tower was in front of us. It was late in the evening so it was all lit up and looked impressive. There seemed to be some construction happening and it was late in the evening so I am not sure if the museum which is found under the tower was open. We took some pictures and made our way back to the hostel.
On the way back home, we stopped inside Honarmandan Park. There is a restaurant inside called the Iranians Artists Forum. This is a vegetarian place and we enjoyed it. Back at hostel there was live music happening. Water was working once more so we had a shower and to bed early.
Day 3. Exploring Tehran and Arriving to Isfahan
Our plan today was to meet one of Edgars contacts who is from Iran and living in Tehran, go to Darband and take a bus to Isfahan. We got up later around 10, ate breakfast and left. There was nobody at the hostel so we left our bags there. We had seen the previous day in the garden in front of the former US embassy that there would be an exhibition of various propaganda posters on display. We checked out these posters and then had a tour of the museum where the former US embassy used to be. This was free also. We had a local guide explain and show us around the former embassy. On display was some of the equipment that the Americans had and tried to destroy after the seizure of the embassy in November 1979. There was coding rooms, massive paper shredders, a place where fake passports were made. It seemed all very hi-tech considering it was in the 1970s. The doors to the coding rooms were super thick with eye detectors. There were many computers as well. Similar to what the movie Argo portrays some student followers of the Imam published documents seized in the embassy (reconstructing tiny shredded pieces of paper!) in a series of books called ´Documents from the US Espionage Den´. The outside walls also have some anti-American murals which are interesting.
The book that was reconstructed from tiny pieces of shredded paper
We then took the metro to meet Edgars friend, passing by the defence museum. Interesting to see tanks outside on display. We found the place where Edgar was to meet his friend, the social cafe. I stayed and ate breakfast while Edgar went to change money and buy a sim card (500,000 rial- Iran cell). By the time Edgar returned his friend had arrived. We spent some hours there and later returned to the hostel by metro. We paid Navid for our stay (54 euro) and booked a taxi to go to the bus terminal at plaça Argentina (125,000rial), using the app called snapp. No time for Darband, but next time for sure along with Tochal mountain!
Once at the terminal we booked tour bus tickets to go to Isfahan with the company Seiro Safar. For both of us it was 660,000 rials to Isfahan. We left at 6pm and 7 hrs later arrived. It was a pleasant journey including drink and food given by the bus company. Once off the bus it was a bit crazy. We were surrounded by taxi men. One said Amir Kabir, the name of the place we were staying, so we chose him (10,000 toman). He didn’t want to take it in the beginning, our first Taarof experience. We quickly went to bed, and it was freezing.
Day 4: Exploring Isfahan
Sunday, Xmas day in Isfahan, although it felt just like any other day. We ate breakfast in the hostel, changed our room as the other one was freezing and walked to Imam square. There are many entrances, we entered through Qeysarie Gate. The baazar is huge, full of anything and everything. The square outside called Naqsh -e Jahan square is really pretty. We made our way to the Sheikh Lotfollah mosque. Really impressive architecture and the blue colour is amazing. We didn’t go inside to this mosque but to another closeby called Imam mosque (Price: 2,000 rial). Inside was massive with hardly any people. The whole area is very beautiful. There are horses, and the mosques are really impressive. We had lunch nearby, which consisted of rice and beans for me and a kebab for Edgar and walked down by river, to the bridge Si I seh Pol. We passed many other bridges along the way, but the bridge of Si i seh pol is most impressive. One of the streets we walked seemed to be dedicated to martyrs lost in the war with pictures and their names on display in the centre of the road. Below are some pictures of Isfahan. Click on the pic to see the caption.
One of the entrances to the baazar
Locals selling carpet
Outside Sheikh lotfollah mosque
Sheikh lotfollah mosque
View from the other side
Si I Seh Pol
Day 5: Arrival in Yazd
We checked out of our hostel in Isfahan (1 million rial per night, Around 23 EUR) and went to buy fruit for the journey. Wasn’t so easy so of course a man helped us, actually walked us to a fruit shop and back. People are not in a rush and genuinely want to help. Amazing. We booked our bus to Yazd through our hostel. (VIP, Cost 560,000 rial). To get to Kevir terminal we took bus 91, costing 1000 toman each (10,000 rial). The bus was pretty fancy having reclining seats and we were given some chocolate bars. We chatted with guy most of the way. It was interesting as he explained a lot of different things about Iran like women, jewlerry, perfume, nose jobs, tattoo eyebrows..etc. and how the man has to have land and a house for woman. The man also has to serve 2 years in the military service. Once that is done, they can travel or if they don’t want to join the military they can get a low payed salary instead of joining the army. He explained that Yazd is a rich city, full of business men. Table cloths are famous there along with sweets. Door knobs circle for woman, and have a long shape for the for man. The sound from each one is different so it lets the person know if its a male or female a the door. We arrived around 5pm to Yazd and didn’t experience much hassle at the terminal. We arranged a taxi for 11,000 tomans and took the taxi mans recommended hotel. It was actually an old mud house called dalan e bahesht. We really liked Yazd from first moment. We ate in an Iranian cafe and walked to Jame mosque and to other one called Amir Chakmagh.
On the road to Yazd
Local Iranian car-Arrow
One of the many lit up mosques at night
Day 6: Maybod, Chak Chak and Kharanagh and desert
We booked a trip with Iranian tour and travel agency, beside the Jameh mosque. The trip was to go and visit nearby places: Maybod, Chak Chak and Kharanagh. First stop was Meybod, pigeon house (meybod kaboutar khaneh tower).We had to pay a small entrance fee to get in. This tower includes more than 4000 nests for attracting and keeping birds. Birds poop is collected and used as fertiliser for grape trees. On outside there’s a white layer on top to stop snakes getting in. We also visited a caravanasarai. Here Edgar tried to make some carpet. A lot of hard work goes into making a rug.
Nearby is an ice building. We paid to go in also. It is called: Meybod yakhchal
and is an enormous mud and brick Icehouse. Ice used to be made during the cold winter months, stored and used during hot seasons. You can see how big and deep it is from the picture above.
Next stop was Chak Chak (meaning drip, drop). We drove through amazing landscape along the way stopping off to have tea and cake on the side of the road. Chak Chak is a really important place for Zoroastrians, the most sacred of the mountain shrines. It is a pilgrimage point for all Zoroastrians around the world, most of which are now found in India. The drip, drop are supposed to be the tears of grief that the mountain sheds in remembrance of Nikbanou (daugher of Persian ruler). There is a payment to access the temple at the top (5000).
Chak chak village
Last stop Kharanagh…Mud brick 1000 years old. Amazing views.
We arrived back to Yazd in the evening and Iman, our driver recommended a local place to eat called: khane-dohad traditional restaurant. It was the best we had on the entire trip. Edgar had some traditional dish. Then we met the Catalans Judith and David, who picked us up in taxi and we all went to the Zoroastrian tower of silence (dakhmeh), built in 1487. It cost 80,000 rial to enter. We walked up to the top where you can see the well where the remains of bodies used to be thrown after it had been eaten by vultures. This procedure is not practiced anymore inIran, only in some parts of India. We then continued onto the Zoroastrian fire temple. The flame has been burning since AD740. (80,000 rial to enter) also. Not sure if I would recommend the fire temple.
Back at the main square near to Amir Chakmagh, I asked woman where we could find Zoorkhaneh. She pointed us in the right direction and we found it. The Zoorkhaneh that we visited was called the Saheb Azzaman, near to the Amir Chakmagh complex. Visiting the Zoorkhaneh was amazing. It is a gymnasium in which a traditional Iranian sport is practised. It’s like a combination of martial arts and strength building with a man playing music and singing in a special room higher up than the athletes. He’s the one that leads them by banging drums and singing. Its open to the public and there is a small fee to pay to enter (50,000 rial each). Shoes need to be taken off aswell. Overall, an entertaining experience.
Day 7: Dune Bashing in Yazd
Last day in Yazd. We got up early as we had an interview with a school in China. Edgar got hair cut, we walked to Yazd art house, had some cold drinks. We had no plans so we decided to take a trip to the desert for 3pm. We ate lunch in silk road hostel. I had shuli soup. ..not too bad. The desert that we visited was pretty close to Yazd, called Banar. It was super windy there but interesting as there were little lakes.. but apparently the water was from industry. We did some dune bashing there, hadn’t done that since Qatar, watched the sun set and returned back to the hostel. The dune bashing cost 1 million rial. Next task was to get to Kerman for the next day so we went to buy bus tickets for Kerman, which cost 210,000 rial each. Later we went back to have dinner in the place we had lunch day before called khane-dohad traditional restaurant. Edgar had the dizli dish and me eggplant. Returned to hostel, trying to organize trip to Kalouts.
Day 8: Kerman to Kalouts
Caught the bus going to Kerman at 8.45. We had arranged to meet the driver Ali at 1.30pm. but when we got on the bus ..it wasn’t VIP, it was a normal one, so the driver returned some money but it took forever and we didn’t arrive until 2.30. We wanted to see the sunset in Kalouts but now we wouldn’t make it. Ali picked us up and we drove straight to Kalouts. The drive was amazing, big mountain range in front. We stopped in a nearby desert to see the sunset and he showed us a plant called Gus, which locals use to collect sugar. Later we went straight to Kalouts into the desert where we had tea and a campfire. Some friends of Ali sang. Met Shiva also, another guide for Kalouts. We then drove to the village where we would eat and sleep. Room was local room mattress on floor. Bed early.
Day 9: Kalouts and arriving to Shiraz
Left around 5.15am in a 4 x 4 with driver Majid and guide Ali to go into Kalouts to see the sun rise. Amazing. After that we drove a bit more inside and ate breakfast, typical tomato, cucumber, cream cheese, bread and tea. Majid drove us more into Kalouts. Landscape was incredible. We walked up a few sand formations which had great views. After that we drove to whats known as ‘camel hills’ as the the formations looked like camels back. Once out of Kalouts we stopped at house, had tea and off we went with Ali who brought us to water reservoir, to a caravanserai also, stopped and explained how wells were made and finally Cyprus tree. Once we had seen the main sights we continued the drive to Kerman. Ali brought us to bus station to buy our tickets. Bus 410,00 each rial to go to Shiraz night bus at 10.30pm and left us at a restaurant. He picked us up later on and brought us to his brothers photo exhibition about water. Then brought us to a teahouse. What a great guy Ali. The teahouse was amazing, live music. We were like celebrities there as many wanted photos with us. Around 9pm we left, got a taxi to the bus terminal. Said goodbye to Judith and David. Cost of Kalouts trip was 70e each.
Day 10: Shiraz and Persepolis
We arrived to Shiraz very early morning. Took a taxi for 8000 to the centre to a hotel which he knew called Shiraz Talar hotel, on Ferdosi st. Hamid driver had no real English but got us a good room in nice hotel. We decided that we would go to Persepolis with him that afternoon. So at 1, we arranged to meet at our hotel. 65,000 toman he charged and he waited until 3.30. It cost 20,000 toman to enter Persepolis. Hamid dropped us off at a kebab place and later collected us and brought us back to the hotel. Even though it was hard to communicate, we arranged to have dinner the next day with him at 8. In the evening we walked to Karim Khan citadel.
Day 11: Shiraz
Sunday, Jan 1st. 2017.Up early to see Nasir-al-Molk Mosque (pink mosque)150,000 rial to enter. Important to go early to avoid the crowd and to see the morning light come through the stained glass lighting up the room. Once we had seen this we returned to the hotel area and found a travel agent so that we could book a flight to Tehran. We decided to go on Tuesday with Iran air. (2million rial for both). We then visited Shah-e-Cheragh Shrine. Amazing. Free entry with guide and they give you a chador. Its massive inside, has a mosque, library, etc. We then checked out the baazars Vakil Baazar. Bought some magnets and bracelets. Had lunch on the way. Talked to some locals. They know Bobby sands and even have a street in Tehran named after him. Had tea in a strange place, looked inside Vakil Bath and had coffee in that square, expensive. Didn’t go inside the Vakil Mosque, instead we walked to go see Tomb of Hafez tomb but the road was blocked. In the evening we got picked up by the driver Hamid and his friend Meru Sa, a cyclist. Turns out he knows the other cyclist I know from Iran. He was the translator for the night. We had dinner and chatted. We left around 12. Planned to meet next day at 10 to go somewhere.
Day 12: Shiraz
Decided to walk to Eram Garden. Didn’t go in. Tried to go into university couldn’t get in. So, we got taxi to Tomb of Hafez. 200,000 rial to enter to the tomb of hafez. hmm. .nice place to hang out and relax, not sure if its worth the money really. We stayed a while and walked to the centre and had lunch.
Day 13: Fly to Tehran
Last day in Shiraz. Went go to Ghelat, nearby country place around 10.30. Walked around up there and had a tea. Hamid brought us but then wanted to charge double when the Catalans came with us. In the end, all sorted and we got a taxi to airport. End of our journey in Iran. 😦
Day 14: Fly to Barcelona via Doha.
Iran was amazing, full of interesting sights and friendly people. Will go back and explore a different part next time.