To write a sequel to the previous experience would be the easiest way to share my second trip to Iran and that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
I’m thinking to present it differently thou, as already from the last days of the previous journal, I won’t divide it day by day. It will be a story of a journey from Tehran to Shiraz and back and just title the whole thing: I MADE MYSELF FEEL LIKE AT HOME
^^^ what a stereotype looks like, there just for tourists
This second trip started with quite some assumptions, many things changed, but few important ones stayed the same: I was going with Sourena, I was still very curious and I was sure I had forgotten to bring something. We flew flying with Iranair, they welcomed us with a short reading of the Quran, a piece of gaz (sweet sweet thing) and newspapers with the most simple layout. There was an interesting crowd made of eyebrows, gold and smiley faces. Of course, as soon as it was too late, I realized that I had forgotten to bring the we-are-a-married-couple-rings, but Sourena promptly ensured me that anyway this time, if anybody asked, we were ”colleagues”.
It became clear pretty soon that this trip was more than an holiday, much more of a family visit, a bonding experience and my first time in Iran with an Iranian safety name “Bita”, that means “unique”. Given by Sourena’s grandmother, it felt like a honor and put just a bit of pressure on my shoulders.
I MADE MYSELF FEEL LIKE AT HOME
among the 14milion people of Tehran
The magical thing of travelling to Tehran is that all the main airlines from the west schedule their flights to arrive at the Imam Khomeini Airport in the evening, when the city is slowing down and artificially light up in the darkness. The taxi ride to the city is quiet and leaves you the only option of going to sleep.
We arrived on a Thursday evening and the cutest thing was that Chista (Sourena’s nice) was waiting for us asleep like the other time I came to Tehran with him.
We woke up in the West of Tehran and decided to use our fresh start to distribute the collection of nicely wrapped souvenirs from Europe. Suddenly it became clear that everything was going to be about extended family, food, Tehran by car and on foot, middle class, marble and western influence. By the end of the first day, I had already made 2 promises (one to Sourena’s grandmother and one to his uncle), collected 3 delicious recipes and made plans with Sourena’s cousins and friends (with and without Sourena being involved). Yes, in Tehran bonding goes that fast. And this time it went even faster cause WEDDING MOOD WAS ON!
I knew one of the highlights of this trip to Iran would have been the wedding of Kooshiar and Farnaz (Sourena’s cousin and his gorgeous architect), but I didn’t expect the WHOLE family would be so excited to make me feel involved. While discussing the growing trend of coffee in Iran (oh thank God!) we made hair&make up plans, I investigated more about Iranian style weddings and unexpectedly got a spoiler about the wedding dress of the bride (I had no idea that could be common knowledge before the ceremony!!). Even more curious about the wedding, we left for Shiraz feeling like it was a weekend trip in a daily life in Tehran.
Sightseeing hint: Tabiat Bridge, a great place for ice coffee and a cool example of link between contrasts. It connects two parks, one very natural and wild, the other much more designed and paved and it crosses the main highway that cuts through the city.
I MADE MYSELF FEEL LIKE AT HOME
15 hours South
Iran is the land of extremes and there is always a path linking them, the journey along that path can be quite overwhelming. This time there was a train for us to embrace the geographical contrast between North and South: a 15 hours ride from Tehran to Shiraz, it was definitely worth it.
We decided to explore the South of Iran long time ago and since then the plan changed more that I use to like, but it was just perfect, the process and the final result. We had a reservation for a first class train leaving Tehran at 17:00 and Sourena, Hooman and I were ready for a bit of a disappointment. We made fun of it for the first 30 minutes and quickly after that we started enjoying it: the simplicity of the trip, of us and the group of people surrounding the privacy of our compartment. The second hour started with the desert and a movie. At the third hour we decided to play cards and from then on it went pretty fast through dinner, prayer break and extra tea time.
We woke up in Shiraz in the sunrise breeze, met Negar (Hooman’s sister and a new friends) and our Shirazi guide and had an “Italian cappuccino”.
While struggling to find a place for the night, the day went very fast. We did some must-do-sightseeing, we explored the beauty of the Bazaar, tasted the famous kalam-polo at Soofi restaurant, experienced the great vibe of the tomb of Hafez (I know it sounds weird, but it is indeed a very mystical place), we enjoyed the perfect spring evening on the roof top of Niayesh Hotel and I’m just going to mention very briefly that one of us got poisoned by dirty water. Shit happens.
3/4 of the group kept discovering the city: gardens, mosques, the stunning fortress; everything that is in a good guide book, beautiful places that unfortunately exist as lonely island of beauty in a city that doesn’t care much about them (ops, sorry). And when I thought my feedback about this trip was final we went to Persepolis, my Iranian guides were even doubting if to go or not, seriously?! I can’t put in words how amazing this place is, we were there for the sunset on a day with very few sun and a gloomy soul, it was perfect.
The dark sky was in synchro with the disgrace of this ancient city. Much more than expected remains and there were sadly few tourists for a site like that. It’s obvious that Iranians are not proud of the history of Persepolis and promote the site in a very soft way. They shouldn’t, it’s magnificent.
With the heart full of beauty and strength we went back to Shiraz. I don’t know if because I was overwhelmed by Persepolis or because we started entering the beauty behind the touristic attractions, but suddenly Shiraz turned into a much more interesting city. On the way to dinner, we decided to stop at a liquor store. After 10 seconds of confusion and slight sense of holy-cow-we-are-doing-something-obviously-illegal I realized that liquor store for Iranians are places where to buy vinegary vegetables, sour fruits and fruit/herbal extracts to make liquors (a.k.a. soft drinks).
Loaded with olives, lavoshak and tamarin we arrived at Bagh-e Raaz, a restaurant off the guides with an amazing garden, experimental cuisine, in a chic atmosphere with popular prices and western toilets. A great deal. And don’t think I’m joking pointing out the toilets, you have no idea how slim the supply/demand of western working toilets is in Iran. So, happy with how the day was going, we decided to have something sweet at the Haft Kahn (oh wow, that’s contemporary architecture!!).
Because I liked this idea of tasting western food and the translation, for once, of western taste into eastern, I chose for a carrot cake. Unfortunately it was exactly the same I would have had in Rotterdam, luckily I love carrot cake.
To end the night we went for a quick walk at the Quran Gate and a car ride in the sleeping city, it was beautiful and it felt so comfortable and familiar that I fell half asleep in the car like on the way home after a dinner with relatives.
We had an extra day in Shiraz and because we knew it would end with another 15 hours of train we decided to keep it easy: breakfast, vague shopping and by chance Vakil Mosque, inexplicably one of my favorite mosque so far (maybe because the boys had a serious talk on how to turn it into a disco).
We were ready to go and stare at the desert for a while.
I MADE MYSELF FEEL LIKE AT HOME
back to the daily life of Tehran
Once in Tehran it felt even more like we were back to daily life after a weekend trip: preparing food (or better to say learning the family recipes) and eating were the main activities over all.
With a friend of Sourena who happens to be an artist we discovered a small part of Tehran art scene and unexpectedly I could have a second slice of carrot cake.
Finally convinced by the western influence in Iranian cuisine, I agreed to try the famous (well I had heard a lot about it) Iranian pizza with a famous friend of Sourena (he is actually famous in Iran as an actor). We changed group of friends in a parking lot and headed to a pizza place where it’s possible to customize your order.
Well, that was fun! I don’t have any memory of how the pizza was, but the image of how many ingredients they put on a single pizza is always going to stay with me, as much as the great company of an Iranian beauty who was thrilled to be able to practice some Italian with me. How random is to agree to have pizza and get speak Italian in Iran?!
Doggie bag at hand, we went back home during a champions league night: Barcellona vs someone else. It wouldn’t have been anything special if not for the fact that Mehdi has a tv screen in his car and he is at the same time a very passionate Barcellona fan and a fast driver. It went on the edge of terrifying when Barcellona scored, but well that’s how you make memories, right? Anyway we got home safe and ready for some rest before the Oil&Gas International Fair of Tehran or more importantly the first time I got to see what Sourena’s work (one of them) looks like.
I have to say that it was quite interesting to be there, more for the concept behind it and for the people watching experience than for anything else. For a short, short while I even felt like I could be a business woman but then realized that I was probably just super tired so I dragged Sourena to one of my favorite place of the first visit to Tehran, the cinema museum, and we had a late lunch at its lovely cafe’.
On the way back to the west of the city, stocked in the traffic, we realized that could not be our daily life: hours spent in the car, sharing taxi with strangers, the sound of horns would just drive us crazy in a short while. To keep us busy we played the game “let’s see where we are on google maps” and started setting ourselves in the wedding mood for the day after. We did some last minute shopping at American style malls, if I remember well I had a third carrot cake slice, manicure at home while the boys were watching football (why champions league happens two night in a row?!) and then a good night of sleep after such a full and tiring day.
The friday started at full speed with Niusha picking me up to go for our hair&makeup appointments. I knew that everything in Iran is about private vs public face, but an hair salon can be quite extreme, as well as the hairstylists themselves. Beside everything (the loud disco music, the giggles for my few Iranian words and my green eyes, tea and tons of make up) they “easternized” me enough but not to much that I really thought I looked beautiful. After a quick lunch, photo shoot where Niusha and I dragged our men and difficult logistics organization; off we went to the location just outside Tehran, with the cars loaded with bottles and flowers.
The music in the car helped to set the right mood and when we arrived it really felt like everybody (something that would sum up to 360 people) was ready to give up hijabs and have some serious fun. After a brief ceremony lots of people went directly to the dance floor and, only then, they told me that the food would come after the dancing part. Confusion and obvious mess apart, I really enjoyed it: refilling glasses, looking at dresses, noses and happy faces of people meeting me for the first time was already enough, the happy bride and groom did the rest.
As Cinderella, at midnight everything was over and I suddenly realized I had a lot of stuff in my hair and that I would just sleep on it.
The last day in Iran had arrived and, as scary as it sounded at first, also the moment to explore the city without Sourena. He was busy with work and we didn’t see the reason why I couldn’t enjoy Tehran without him (and without network on my phone), plus there was no way I would go again through the crowd of money makers. Once I passed the shy (read as “I want my mom!’) phase, it turned out to be GREAT.
Negar and I had the perfect day out: city center, lunch, a tour of the jewelry museum, coffee break and a lot of chitchats while moving around the most active part of the city. We literally passed in the middle of the currency exchange district, we stopped at the former US embassy to bond with contemporary Iranian history and enjoyed comparing life experiences.
In short, if it’s down to emotions, friendship and fun it’s pretty obvious there are no differences between places.