Tehran, Iran: Anyone for a nose job?

Trip Start Jul 28, 2013
Trip End Feb 06, 2014

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Flag of Iran  , Tehran,
Friday, October 11, 2013

I usually wouldn't be that keen on being awake at 7am but after a most unpleasant overnight train journey I was more than ready to leave. On boarding the train last night we thought we might be lucky enough to have a six person cabin all to ourselves, which we did for the first hour, but weren't so lucky thereafter.

We were first joined by a lady and wee girl probably around 4 yrs old. All was fine until she decided she either didn't like the look of me or hairy faced Samuel and burst into tears. She continued being completely unconsolable until the people next door offered them a space in their cabin and so it was, with the assistance of the conductor, that they reshuffled their belongings and moved cabins. Nice to meet you too.

Being probably what is considered an easy Westerner the time to ourselves was short lived as soon we were joined by four men. The ticket inspector asked if Sam was "relaxed" which I can only assume translated to "are you happy for your wife to sleep with four random men" to which he replied "of course, no problem". So that is how we slept, Sam and I on the top bunks each with two men on further bunks below. Not wanting to seem disrespectful I remained in my socks, jeans, long shirt and headscarf throughout the night. Needless to say in the heat of a closed cabin I didn't sleep much but did manage to finish my book around 2:30am and eventually gave up on music around 4am. It was for that reason, and quite possibly the gag worthy aromas that met me after rising from some form of shut eye, that I was more than happy to disembark when we pulled into Tehran at 7am.

Tehran itself proved to be a hustle and bustle of activity with streets split into sections. Our hotel was located within the car parts area. Another couple of streets further down would sell only electricals and so on. The hotel was ok and allowed us to check in after a half hour wait so that was good.

As it turned out Tehran wasn't an overly enjoyable experience for me. I don't know if it was the lack of sleep that set me off on a bad foot or the city itself. I just didn't enjoy it. Which was a shame as it meant Sam was forced to walk around with a grumpy cow the whole time.

The bazaar was huge but lacked the magical undertones possessed by the one in Tabriz. The Golestan Palace was nice and a welcomed refuge from the heat so we wandered around there for a bit. The Lonely Planet mentioned a restaurant located in the middle of a park so we sought that out only to discover it was being renovated so had to settle with a bag of crisps for lunch. In retrospect we didn't pick the best day to arrive as everything is closed on Thursday afternoon and all day Friday for Iran's weekend. Funny because our main reason for arriving on a Friday was to lodge our Turkmenistan VISA before the weekend. Oops. At least we found that out before trekking out to the Embassy. They were also closed on Saturday for some special celebration so our first day to lodge was Sunday. Great.

One thing I did find interesting, actually two things, were the Azadi Tower and the US Den of Espionage, which just sounds cool. The Azadi Tower is 50m high and sits in the middle of a traffic congested roundabout. It was built to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the first Persian empire and remains a focal point for demonstrations. There are sections of lush grass stretching out from the tower but beware of the policeman who will blow his whistle should you set foot on it.

The US Den of Espionage was once the US Embassy which housed CIA operatives who helped to overthrow the government in 1953. They continued to support and influence the government for the next 25 years until in 1979 a group of students, fearful of another coup, stormed the Embassy and held 52 diplomats hostage for 444 days. Since then the US have ceased to have an Embassy in Iran. They do however have an "interest section" within the Embassy of Switzerland which is probably the first time the US have chosen a neutral option. The wall surrounding the former Embassy has a selection of anti America murals which were commissioned by the Iran Government. Down with USA, a skull in the Statue of Liberty, red and white striped guns. There is a museum inside but it's only opened for 10 days a year from 1-10 February so we unfortunately weren't able to go in.

In search of some good coffee we caught a cab to Gandhi Shopping Centre. I had an image in my head of a thriving multi story shopping centre sure to put a smile on my face but after driving around in circles this vision slowly faded. Surely if the taxi driver had no idea where it was it couldn't be that big. After a few thumps on the steering wheel out of frustration we climbed out only to discover a small two level courtyard of shops and cafes. Disappointing on the lack of shopping but pleased with the above standard cup of coffee we had in a French Cafe.

Walking through the streets you can't help but notice the amount of people with plaster tape on their nose or occasionally chin. Turns out Iran is a haven for plastic surgery. If only I had know sooner I would have extended my VISA.

We didn't get up to anything in the evenings. I moped around most the time complaining about the crap food, lack of beer and being terribly hot and uncomfortable. How people walk around in the middle of summer covered from top to tail I've no idea. The first thing I do when I cross the border into Turkmenistan is take off this darn headscarf!


Hotel: Firouzeh Hotel US$25 pn, private bathroom incl. breakfast
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