Twenty and Nine Iranian Nights

Having mostly covered people, attitudes, economy and social impacts in my first post about traveling Iran, I felt like I still have more to share about the country. The following will hopefully widen the overall picture of Iran by scratching the surface of culture related topics and my overall observations. And hey, let’s face it – sequels are always worse, but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy them. Mine in this case will at least be an absolute bombardment of the last favourite photos I have.

I already knew that due to the size and rumoured diversity of Iran, the 30 day visa on arrival won’t be enough for much. At the same time of the year, you can even decide whether you want to go downhill skiing in North or enjoy the heat in Southern islands. For me it was neither. Considering the recent events and my own ignorance, I felt like I’d rather stick to the main cities; Esfahan, Shiraz, Yazd and Tehran, where the most famous cultural sites and more open-minded people are usually found from.

Bombs away!
Islam intensifies.
The most impressive of all – Shah Mosque in Esfahan
Palaces in Tehran
Pillars of Persepolis.
Necropolis with no other people in miles radius.
And another ancient pile of rocks, purpose of which is still unknown.

Taking a peek in these few cities was enough to understand what the spoken diversity really meant. After a while, I learned how certain areas were always famous for their own special products and foods. Despite relatively short distances, in every city it seemed like handicrafts, fabrics, food, general mindset and all were obviously different, which only tells me how much there is to discover. Same goes for the people, since you can never know what kind of a person you’ll run into. First I realized that not everything is what it seems like in Iran. And once I started adapting and thought I knew how things are, there were always some new surprises on the way. Allah knows for how long that loop would really go on.

You’ll probably need a minimum three months to even see glances of what all the regions have to offer, so quiet acceptance and a (very) little planning was evident for me with the schedule. Some five or six days in all the cities among with day trips to smaller towns seemed like a decent plan. It is also possible to extend the tourist visa with some paperwork in Tehran but I knew that I’d have to leave that for my next trip.

Vank Cathedral in Esfahan.
The Pink Mosque in Shiraz.
Ruins of an Armenian church in a small mountainside village.
The coolest place ever to hang out for the youth. Smell of smoke was still present.
I got obsessed about the idea of getting to join the night time picnics with locals in here.
Some of the finest handicrafts I saw.
The owner of this Shirazian cafe was more than fond of poetry.

One thing that I mostly enjoyed on my trip was the amazing food. No matter which savory dish or dessert I got, there were notes of saffron, rosewater, cinnamon, orange or cardamom to be found. Then there’s the herbs, fresh nuts, the mind blowing “honey dates”, yogurt and, oh boy, the variety of kebabs. I must have tried everything from saffron chicken to different lamb and beef kebabs.

Having tried some nastier and let’s say.. more exotic foods on my earlier trips, I figured out I also have to go for the infamous Iranian lamb head dish. Be my guest and do some research if you want, but the face mush and different body parts on the plate don’t look appealing at all. For the while that I could empty my mind from imagining what I was eating, the experience actually was way better than expected. Excluding the weird and fatty hoof/leg and the soft, intestine like brains.

Anyway, big part of the cuisine revolves around sour and sweet flavours, and everything comes with bread and/or a ton of rice. The terms: “snack” and “being only a little hungry” seem to translate quite poorly in Farsi, since there are nothing but massive portions served in restaurants. And if you are visiting a family as guest, be sure that they will knock down the whole damn fridge on the table. Iranians are proud of their cuisine, and this will hopefully make you understand why.

Lamb neck kebab in Roohi restaurant
The baked saffron chicken rice cake “Tahdig”. Probably my favourite thing.
Last night’s kebab feast in Tehran.
Pomegranate juice marinated olives and such.
Yup. Dried fruits.
Rose buds, borage and other flowers and herbs that you may want to throw in your pot of tea.
Tea and traditional sweets from cities of Shiraz and Qom.
Aaaaaannnndd the lamb head dish that I needed to embrace myself for three weeks.

My personal favourite from the cities was perhaps the ancient city of Yazd. To be honest, in the beginning I didn’t even like the place, nor did I feel overly welcome with the anti-America demonstration happening. After a couple of days of wandering around, the whole place started to grow on me as I found really good restaurants, cafes, parts of the bazaar and certain streets where I ended up doing a routine walk. The atmosphere and my walks really seemed to be the most enjoyable part. Every day I found myself in the streets of old town where I was following how the smiths forged copper and how people lived their normal lives in historical setting. The mud-brick houses and the desert city vibes easily reminded me of the tales from “One Thousand and One Nights”.

Jameh Mosque.
Entrance to the bazaar.
Man and his office.
A more quiet corner of the ancient bazaar.
View over the city and mountains from the Zoroastrian Tower of Silence.

It took me a while to realize that even though I was always impressed with the new attractions and landmarks, none of the cities blew me away instantly. It always took me a couple of days to get done with the biggest attractions, and only afterwards did I start falling in love with the new whereabouts. Almost all the other tourists that I met, kept on rushing to new destinations after two or three days and or the main spots were seen. The attractions sure are stunning and there’s just a lot to see in the country. But for me the true enjoyment and the most positive feelings were always found when the streets started to seem familiar and I got a better understanding of the people. I always had the feeling that others must miss the best moments when they left in a hurry only when I started to enjoy myself the most. The same prioritization of time probably goes for all traveling, but Iran was the place for me to truly understand the importance of it.