In 1392 Erik and Shara flew across the ocean blue … oh, darn, we missed such a clever voyage by one year; in fact it is the year 1393 according to the Iranian calendar when we arrive in Iran. But as their new year begins at spring equinox, it has only just turned 1393. In addition to the utterly different calendar system, they have an unusual time offset from us as well, being past GMT by 3.5 hours … I hadn’t actually realized that any time zones went by half-hour increments off GMT.
We flew into Tehran through Moscow, and I can see how someone could actually live in the Moscow airport. We only walked from one terminal to another and hung out in terminal F, but this was an interesting and lengthy jaunt. I’ve never seen so many shops … you basically have to walk through a never-ending shopping arcade to get to the gates which are interspersed throughout the shops. Rows and rows and rows of sunglasses, a hundred times more duty-free liquor than you could shake a stick at, nesting dolls, Faberge eggs by the dozens opening up to reveal all manner of little things – castles, flowers, dancing couples, and pictures of the last Tzar, Nicholas II, and his family – high fashion clothing, perfumes, and the occasional small restaurant or bar. And it’s all virtually deserted. The walkway connecting terminals is like a 6-lane freeway on pedestrian scale, but virtually empty; the paths through the shops feel almost like alleyways, and the poor clerks and shop assistants must be bored beyond stiff … pretty women dressed all professionally with high-heeled shoes stand idly outside the store or busy themselves rearranging the lipsticks on a shelf. Feels a bit like the Hotel California. Compared to the dumpy and cramped little terminal we flew out of at JFK, this is The Ritz. Foreigners often have such high expectations of American facilities; surely any Russian flying out of Moscow to that JFK terminal (T1) must laugh a little derisively.
While sitting at a pub in the airport, I made note of some selections from the menu: “cheesecakes of cheese pancakes with sauce chocolate,” “pork skewers with potatoes on a rural,” and buckwheat porridge with onions.
We definitely got the red carpet treatment, well maybe not exactly red … as Americans entering Iran in the Tehran airport. Though we were one of the first people off the plane we were the very last people to leave the airport … after taking a long look at our passports, then extra paperwork needed to be filled out by immigration officers, then we were escorted in the “the little room” to have all of our fingerprints recorded. But everyone was very friendly about it … it’s just the requirements for us.
Reza is our awesome guide with excellent English and extensive knowledge, and easy-going. He will be with us the entire trip. I was quite nervous ahead of time how we might get along with someone for 16 days. But it’s going to be no problem at all as far I can foresee.
Tehran is not much to see as a city, very drab buildings shrouded in pollution. Some days the pollution is so bad that children are kept home from going to school. But the few old palaces and the mausoleum we did visit were beyond opulent. I’ve visited many palaces in Europe that I had always thought were opulent but really this was quite extraordinary. There are rooms with the ceilings and walls made of mirrors … cracked and placed into intricate designs. When you walk into these rooms and stairways it is though you are walking in a room of diamonds. Literally sparkling like diamonds – remarkable and even magical if you forget the country’s money was used for this ridiculous opulence rather than for feeding and caring for the people. Unfortunately you can’t take pictures inside these rooms. Though if you used a flash in one I think you’d be overwhelmed by the effects reflecting off the mirrors.
Here are some examples of outside spaces and peeking inside a door into one of these mirrored stairways at Golestan Palace.
Some other images from the Golestan Palace. The mother and daughter on the stairs had rented costumes to pose for photos; I asked them if they would mind if I also took their picture and they said OK. They looked so sweet in their period costumes.
Reza keeps saying Iran is a land of contrasts. One of these is the coexistence of incredibly ancient civilization history with very recent nobility history. So one of these palaces was that of the ruling dynasty until the revolution in 1979. Typically in Europe the palaces you tour of former nobility haven’t been inhabited by families actually living there for hundreds of years. Whereas this was abandoned only a few decades ago. One of the bedrooms of the last shah had daggers of mirrors hanging down in the shape of a star. The carpets were woven each completely unique and some as large as 140 square meters, the designs in the carpets reflecting/copying the design on the ceiling. One family business, all they did was make carpets for the royalty. Too much to write in the time constraints of a small post, but here are some pics from those palace grounds.
A couple things to note in these pics ... First is to notice how they used stained glass to color the mirrored pieces. The light coming through the colored windows reflects off the mirrored bits making them look like colored glass. So pretty. The second pic is just to document the first of I-don't-even-know-how-many photos I took of myself reflected in mirrors. I could make a whole gallery of pics of me with a camera to my face in a mirror ... for one thing, they're fun to take, and for another, you actually can't help it most of the time ... so many mirrors everywhere there's nowhere to hide yourself while taking the shot.
Having to wear a head scarf at all times, as every woman in Iran is required to do including foreigners, is, frankly, annoying. I like a cultural experience, but this is one I could do without. It’s hot and always falling off – clearly there is a technique the Iranian women employ but I don’t know what it is yet. I dread the hotter weather that is predicted. I am always conscious of whether it has fallen down.
We visited a mausoleum where Reza asked a random lady to escort me through, because women and men have to visit separate sides of the mausoleum, so Reza could not guide me. I had to wear a chador, which in this case was just a large piece of fabric the lady showed me how to properly drape over myself. She told me that as a first time visitor, if I made a wish inside, it would come true. But I was too preoccupied with trying to keep my chador together to remember to make a wish. My impromptu guide asked the shoe-check lady if I could take a photo … normally you can’t. First photo is mine, but second one Erik got inside the men’s side before he realized he wasn’t supposed to take photos. After we left the mausoleum and returned our chadors, the lady asked Reza where I was from. When he told her America, she said, "Oh, we are enemies!" At first I was horrified until I realized she was laughing and she was just kidding. She, like nearly everyone, recognizes the difference between individual American citizens and our government.
We walked through one of the traditional bazaars. The largest one in Tehran. We changed some of our US dollars with a money changer walking around the courtyard outside the bazaar. Reza said they give the best exchange rates, and that they are also like stock market traders. The crowd in the photo below is basically like a Wall Street where people are trading in gold and some other things. Very old school, eh!
Some obligatory photos from the bazaar.
Do you know what the green things are in the above photo? I certainly didn't ... they're almonds! I didn't know they started out green. Silly me.
Tehran traffic is hilarious in that it’s total chaos. Clearly, having only two lanes for each traffic direction in the city is a complete waste of pavement. The dotted lines might as well be the graffiti of hooligans for all the respect they receive. One way streets also mean nothing, particularly to motorcyclists, who not only lane split but drive between the bumpers of cars perpendicular to traffic while going the wrong way on the streets. And pedestrians are even wackier than any others I’ve seen. No rhyme or reason whatsoever to where and/or when they choose to cross.