Trip Start Mar 21, 2009
Trip End Apr 29, 2009

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Flag of Iran  ,
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Well, I made it, but my arrival at the Tehran airport was very interesting.  They are definitely not used to seeing Americans and the immigration officer, a young kid, was hilarious.  He took a look at my passsport, looked up at me, smiled, and couldn't believe his good fortune.  He knew he had to follow a separate procedure for Americans but wasn't quite sure what it was, so he called his supervisor and there was a lengthy conversation in Farsi that I assume went something along the lines of "I've got an American here, do you know what we're supposed to do?" "I don't know, I thought you knew."  And so it went for about 45 minutes of being taken to see different officials before finally being fingerprinted - only because the US fingerprints them, say the Iranians - and then let through.  It was actually a very funny experience because it was clear that they wanted to let me in but just didn't know the protocol.  

Tehran has been pretty quiet since this is their big New Year holiday and everyone is either traveling or home with family and friends, so there aren't too many people out on the streets.   Kate, my friend from Seattle who is joining me for this portion of the trip, and I have been able to check out various museums and palaces and had the places to ourselves.    Our guide has also taken us to some traditional restaurants which have been delicious but I have a feeling that I won't be needing to eat lamb kabobs for a long time once we get back since that seems to be the special dish on every menu.  

Today we went to see Iran's national carpet museum and it was very impressive.  An unbelievable selection of beautiful carpets, some very old, and lots of explanation of how to recognize carpets from different regions.   It will be hard to resist not bringing something home to hang on the wall as a souvenier :)   It's been a challenge getting used to the dress code for women and it feels strange to have to wear a long-sleeved trench coat inside when we're at a restaurant, but those are the rules.   The coat and scarf stay on in public at all times.   Also we can't seem to figure out how the locals keep their head scarfs in place but a quick trip to a corner store resulted in bobby pins and clips which seem to be doing the job.   The funny thing is that even after just a few days, I feel like I'm flashing people when the scarf occasionally slips to the back of my head.   The Iranian women in Tehran are a pretty fashionable crowd and even with those constraints manage to pull off a very chic, hip look that Kate and I haven't quite mastered.  

We've had some very interesting conversations with our tour guide in Tehran who is very clearly drinking the kool-aid.   When he picked me up at the airport, I had planned to keep the conversation light and focus on the weather, places we were going to be seeing, etc.    Right away he launched into a conversation about how Iran is a peaceful country and only wants to build nuclear plants to generate power (uh, sure).   He told us how much their current president is loved - not so according to lots of other Iranian friends.  But the most comical was his insistence that they really do have a free country - it's just that they have chosen to accept a "different kind of freedom."   Whatever, easy for the guy in a short-sleeved shirt to say.   I decided to let it go in the spirit of staying out of trouble with our guide since I'm sure he's paid to spread the propaganda.  

Tomorrow we're up early to catch an 8:30am flight to Shiraz, which is about an hour flight south from Tehran and we'll be met by a different guide there.  Shiraz is a city known for arts and culture and home to some of Iran's famous poets.  We've been told that during the New Year a lot of locals visit places like Shiraz, so we're expecting it to be quite a different experience from Tehran and will have no shortage of opportunities to meet and talk to the locals.   Until next time!
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