Tehran & Namak Abrood
We started in the capital, Aida’s home town of Tehran. Once we finished all the family commitments I was keen to see more of the country. Organising these wasn’t easy if you didn’t speak Farsi. Luckily Aida is fluent so with the help of her mum we booked flights and buses as well as hotels as required. Now one of the problems we encountered is that even though we are legally married in the UK and in the eyes of most of the world. In the Islamic Republic of Iran we are not married as I have not converted to Islam. If you are not married then you cannot stay in the same hotel room. Obviously this would have doubled our costs so we managed to get a signature from a marriage registration place stating we are married for one year (short marriage called Sigheh in Islam). Not sure how much this cost but ended up being cheaper than getting two rooms.
As this was winter it was fairly cold but a jumper or coat with t-shirt was all that I wore most of the time. There are lots of things to do there but probably the best was a days skiing in Tochal, about an hour from Tehran. When people saw that I was skiing in Iran, most where quite shocked as they don’t see Iran as a ski destination, BBC and CNN certainly don’t show that side of the country! Tochal was quite cheap in comparison to European slopes however the cost was more for us as we had to hire all the equipment including clothing. Getting a taxi up to the mountain is fairly cheap although they do struggle with the steepness (they are not the newest of cars). Getting back is not as easy we were lucky that a ski instructor stopped and asked if we would like a lift into the city, which I’ve only ever experienced before in Australia. The piste is nothing special but when we were there it was fairly quiet so I got to experience all the slopes many times. If you want olympic quality slopes then you need to travel to Dizin but that is about 3 hours away so not easy to get to, but for a beginner like Aida, it was perfect.
Other places to visit in Tehran included Milad Tower (one of the biggest in the world), but only go up if a clear day. A trip to Golestan Palace (which is the only place you see lots of other tourists) and the Grand Baazar is good especially if you go and sample some lamb with rice (Baghali Polo); cutlets at the local resurants near the Baazar. Azadi Square is a great symbol of Tehran and makes a nice photo but will only take about 15 mins whilst there so don’t plan on making a day out of it. The most unique experience is certainly being in the front seat of a car or taxi. The driving leaves a lot to be desired as I’m pretty sure there is no highway code in the country. Saying that, most people seem to expect the unexpected and the craziness seems to be an everyday experience for the locals. You will also see lots of people hitchhiking and people just stop and if they are going your way then jump in and leave a tip when you get where you want to go. We did it once and although it was strange, it certainly never felt unsafe.
When in Tehran, try and arrange a trip up north to Namak Abrod on the Caspian Sea. The scenery on the way there (takes about 4/5 hours) is remarkable, especially when it is winter. Try and go during the week as most Tehran locals will head up for the weekend so it is hard to get accommodation. It looks like a quaint British seaside resort maybe Fleetwood rather than Blackpool. Even though fast food restaurants are not on evidence in most of Iran you will see KFC and Pizza Hut up here, not quite sure how this is allowed and never sampled either (the local food is too nice). We spent our time up north with Aida’s brother Arash and his wife Zahra. We went go-karting which was fun, especially lapping Aida at least 4 times and holding off Arash’s challenge to take the chequered flag as champion. Also there was Boris the sea lion but as there was only us wanting to go and watch we ended up getting a photo with him rather than the full show. The cable cars allow you to get a full view of the town although there isn’t much up at the top. On the way back, the cars seem to be in a rush to get back and many a time you are thinking that a crash is imminent. We were lucky that Arash drove, if he didn’t I’m sure there would have been no bus to take us there.