Welcome back friends!
You may remember that we crossed the border in southern Armenia to Iran. After our intensive last night there, it was kind of strange crossing the border-bridge to Nordooz while you are still a little drunk and speak with border officials from a country in which alcohol is strictly forbidden and punished in a… let´s say extraordinary way. From now on Alina had to wear a Hijab and a Manto, which was challenging in the following climate unfortunately… After all immigration processes we found out that we are in the middle of nowhere. Hitch hiking was an option but since we didn´t see any traffic for several minutes and were both not in the best condition we agreed to take a taxi for 500.000 Rial (approx. 12€) which we found quite reasonable for 60km to the next town (Jolfa).
While Iranian Rial are the official currency “Tuman” is a kind of phantasy currency, used in everyday life (10.000 Rial = 1000 Tuman = ~0,25€). You should better get used to Tuman although it´s gonna be really confusing in the beginning because you will always exchange money in Rial but “Tuman” is just more common.
The landscape along the Aras river was very impressive. Not only the green riverbanks in combination with desert and snow capped mountains but also the fences, walls, military bases and the abandoned train line on the Armenian as well as on the Azerbaijani side of the river just created an extraordinary setting.
After we found out that there is no bus terminal in Jolfa we asked the driver to bring us further to Hadishahr where we booked a bus ticket to Teheran, since our Couchsurfing host in Tabriz declined and we just felt like going further. For our surprise it started raining and didn´t stop for the day. Tea and a couch was offered to us in the office where we booked the bus ticket and after some food and a nice chat with the guy working there we went out to town to buy a simcard since we had around 10 hours to wait for the bus. While walking around we couldn´t believe how helpful people were, even if we could not communicate in most cases. First we were taken by a car to the center without even asking for it and when we felt like buying apples the shop owner gave them to us as a present.
But the kindness and hospitable people of Iran just started. When we waited in front of a house for the rain to get less, a friendly man appeared (later we found out his name is Abbas), making clear we should come to the house just behind us and drink some tea. It turned out it is his sisters appartement, who really enjoyed our company and was really eager improving her english skills. We then were invited to their farm and spend the whole day together. In the evening they showed us a local shrine and then wanted to show us a famous christian church but it turned out that we will not have enough time until our bus will leave to Tehran. For our new friends it was no problem to change the ticket to the next day and to give us a whole house just for the two of us for the night (it was actually the house of Abbas mother, who was visiting family out of town at the time). We even visited the church the next day which we found quite funny after avoiding so many famous churches in the purely christian countries we´ve been before. We met so many people and had so much different food in these two days that it’s just too much to share it with you in detail. But it might already give you an idea about the hospitality and kindness of the people in this beautiful country.
Of course it did not stop there as well. Even if we planned to do couchsurfing in Tehran, a really nice man in the same bus, our friend called Hadi, offered us to stay in his appartement after he invited us for breakfast… unbelievable… The buses by the way are the best way to travel around at any time for very good prices and even overnight for long distances is not to bad if you take a VIP-Bus. They offer a lot of space and water, some cookies and sometimes even hot tea or coffee is included. Trains should also be a very nice way to travel, but should book in advance and since we moved quite spontaniously it didn´t come to that.
In Iran busdrivers can always eat free in the restaurants on the way, otherwise they would stop somewhere else. They also have a sleeping cabin, most probably due to the really long distances they have to go in a country nearly 5 times the size of Germany.
Tehran is huge but still nice, quite clean and organized regarding it´s unbelievable size. We were there just the three days before the presidential election which made it quite busy and sometimes all the police and army forces in the city even had calm down the tensions between people on the road.
The Metro is definitely the easiest and best way to go around. Busses are a little more challenging since you need to find out about the network but is also good and both can be paid with the metro card, you can buy basically everywhere you need it. Taxis are quite reasonable as well, especially if you share it with 4 people. What you should also consider is the iranian pendant to “Uber” – “Snap”, which seems to work really good in Tehran and Esfahan while coverage is getting better.
The Bazar and Golestan Palace are two attractions we can really recommend – but be careful not to get lost in the Bazar. And if you need some shadow or silence you can go to the Shahr park really near, offering not only trees but a collection of birds – and even rabbits and turtles.
At the night Bam Tehran is a good spot to see the sunset and especially the city at night, although it can be a little busy and confusing realizing the place is turning to an amusement park all surrounded by the iranian version of american fast food like “Burgerland” or “Kentuky house” – and all this in a country where concerts are forbidden and women are not supposed to sing. But how you will read, this was not the only contradictory experience we made.
Tehran also introduced us deeper in this completely unexpected culture somewhere between a conservative islamic society and an open, quite high developed modern society. For us and the people we met the border between those two societies was the house door. All the rules and restrictions you had and sometimes really felt outside were kind of switched off as soon as you entered somebodies home.
We were in Tehran just the three days before the presidential election, which made it quite busy and sometimes all the police and army forces in the city even had to intervene and calm down the tensions between people on the road. Since the outcome of elections was not really predictable and tensions were already there we decided to go to Kashan on the election day – a town 3 h ours south of Tehran, famous for it´s rosewater and desert.