This first post is about Tehran, where we spent one week in two different visits to get the visas for China, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and this way being able to continue the trip over Central Asia and into China. So, let's get started!
Right before getting to the border, the first thing women in the bus did was covering their heads with a scarf. Women must follow the hijab (only face, hands and feet can be visible) in Iran and nobody is exempted from that. The border crossing was quite straightforward, with only a little bit of waiting for the bus. In Iranian territory, the landscape changed completely: from mountains to a totally flat area, which made the trip a bit more convenient and easier to get some sleep. One stop on the road to have the first taste of Iranian food (kebab and some bread), back on the bus and some more sleep.
Around 7 in the morning we were woken up: Tehran, Tehran!! Already? Yes, the trip was faster than expected and after 21 hours we were in Tehran bus station half asleep. We went for some tea (discovered a really good thing they put into tea which later we found out it was a saffron stick) and we took the metro to try to find a place to sleep. In the metro first thing that shocks is the separation men-women, as women have a reserved place at the front and at the back of the train.
Some sleep and then we went to try to change money, as in Iran you cannot use your credit cards due to the blockage of the USA. Afterwards, a visit to the bazar to prove it was closed and back to the hotel to have some sleep as the following morning we wanted to sightsee a bit of Tehran.
But actually not everything is bad in Tehran, and there are things that make you forget about all traffic, noise and stuff, and these are the people. The first contacts with people were really surprising: one man didn't allow me to pay for a sandwich, people on the metro asking nicely where were we from and so on, and especially one young guy coming to sit next to me in the metro and asked me to help him with his English homework for the school and later oferring me to call him if I needed anything or if I had any problem or whatever. I thought it was just this guy behaving like this, but later you find out 99% of people in Iran are extremely nice with foreigners, and unlike in some other countries, they never expect any money or anything from you. If Iran was supposed to be like Tehran, we won't like the country, but at least we will love its people!
Anyway, we planned to go to the Bazaar, a huge one in the center of Tehran and it was actually quite interesting. You can find almost anything there, but the most interesting sight was the first shrine we saw in Iran. Shrines look like a mosque from the outside, normally with a beautiful blue-tiled dome, but when you get inside what you see is really impressive: the walls are totally covered by small mirrors, which make the place with totally special light. Besides, there is a tomb of some Imam or whoever inside, which people kiss and throw money inside. This was the first shrine we saw in Iran and definetely one of the most beautiful ones.
After the visit to the bazar we walked to the metro and went to Tajrish Square, where there's another bazar and another, bigger shrine. Walking through Tehran you notice a lot of black flags everywhere, and that's because we were in the month of Muharram, a month remembering the death of one of the Imams and it is supposed to be a mourning month. After Tajrish, back to the center, a visit to another shrine (this time by night and it was beautifully lit) and back to the hostel.
Early in the morning and after dealing with Tehran metro, we made it to the embassy just to find out that, as usual with all these Central Asian embassies, the consul was not there and we couldn't apply for the visa. Again! But we were told we needed a letter from our embassy and a printed version of the application form, so the rest of the day was devoted to go to the Spanish embassy and to an Internet café. But first we checked the Chinese embassy nearby the Uzbek one to surprisingly find out that the visa procedure was easy and cheap, so we decided to apply for it, too.
All day was spent dealing with red-tape, and the following one was looking to be the same. And so it was. We applied for the Chinese visa, later we went to the Uzbek emnbassy and after waiting 3 hours we could finally apply. The visas would take at least 8 days to be ready, so we could finally leave Tehran and come back in one week to collect the Chinese and Uzbek visas and apply for the Turkmen one.
And like this we left Tehran, if only for one week. The only small problem was that the Chinese embassy kept the passport, so we would be travelling around the country with just a copy of the passport and a copy of the Iranian visa, as by no means we were going to wait one week in that crazy city!
We went to the bus station and took the first bus heading south to Kashan, a city close to the desert with supposedly nice traditional houses, nice ancient baths and a laid back atmosphere.
Don't forget to check our Tehran Guide! Pictures coming soon!