Project Iran

  • Day 1:
-          We left Braşov, direction Bucharest. Following our traditional lunch at IKEA :P, we headed to the airport, checked-in our luggage [there was that first reassuring thought – ‘Are you applying for a visa upon arrival, Ms. Coman?’ the flight attendant asked; well, of course… whewww!], boarded, and off we flew to Istanbul [and I must add that our first Pegasus Airlines flight was a delight]. After a hectic change of flights, we savoured some muffins packed by my Mum and Dad and waited impatiently to finally board the flight to Iran.    
  • Day 2:
-          Upon landing in Tehran, we (and the few foreigners on board of our plane) headed straight to the Visa bureau. The gentlemen there were very talkative, funny, a bit mischievous yet light. All we needed and all there’s needed for the 60 privileged nations to get a visa upon arrival (valid for 15 days): EUR 60 and a valid passport. No bookings whatsoever. No worries whatsoever. Or possibly EUR 50 if you have that validation code (which you don’t actually need and for which you’ve probably paid a lot more than EUR 10). Afterwards, we exchanged money (and please, DO THIS even if you are prompted by many forums not to) and hired a taxi from the official taxi bureau of the airport [we paid IRR 5500000 upfront] and enjoyed the ride to Behhaqi Bus Terminal. Our driver helped us find the right bus company and we were glad to find a bus to Isfahan leaving early that morning [IRR 230000, VIP bus, 8-14].
-          My first impressions of Iran? Neat, lovely and helpful people, no dangers whatsoever. Our brief time waiting for the bus to leave allowed Marcel to have a few price samples. He returned with many surprises for me: ‘Wow, prices are really low here’. Plus, we’d have a small pack of goodies on every single of our bus rides, regular or VIP. Needless to say how eager I was at the start of every new ride.
-          The storm caught up on us in Isfahan, where we got another bus to Shiraz [IRR 220000, VIP bus, 15:30-22:30] and the glorious yellow we’d been surrounded by turned mustardish. Qur'an Gate had marked it: we were officially in the South. A quick check-in at Sasan Hotel [USD 34.50/double room, ensuite, breakfast included; taxi: bus terminal – hotel: IRR 100000] and a vegetarian meal later, we were in bed, defeated by the 900 km+ covered.        
  • Day 3:
Pasargad, Iran
-          Shortly after breakfast, our driver (arranged by the extremely kind Habib) arrived. We had booked a longer trip to four attractions (USD 30/person). We even reached – although I wished we had, but never dared to dream we would – Pasargad [admission fee: IRR 150000], then continued to Naqsh-e Rustam [admission fee: IRR 100000], Naqsh-e Rajab [admission fee: IRR 50000], and finally Persepolis [admission fee: IRR 150000; separate harem fee: IRR 100000].
-          We arrived to the hotel one hour later than expected, at 6pm, but decided to go out for a walk. We realised that our accommodation was in the middle of Shiraz Bazaar, so we threw in a bit of shopping and ended our evening gloriously with the discovery of havij bastani, a falafel that cost us IRR 20000 each, and some new Iranian friends. Plus, Marcel managed to adventurously book us two seats for the following day, on the bus to Kerman, a key factor in the development of our trip.
  • Day 4:
-          Breakfast and then taxi to the bus terminal [IRR 60000]. We got our tickets to Kerman [IRR 290000, VIP bus, 9-18], as the bus company’s personnel already knew who we were and eagerly waited to board us. That’s when we met the lovely Renaud, Guillaume, and Solène from France, travelling (courageously) through Iran with baby Arnaud. We spent our time talking about travels and decided to have dinner at 8:30pm at their hotel’s restaurant (they were staying at Akhavan Hotel).
-          We took a taxi [IRR 60000] to Jalal Guesthouse [USD 130/3 nights/double room, breakfast included], but the owner – Jalal – was not to be found; we learned later that he was moving. Luckily, our taxi driver courteously gave him a call and he showed up in a few minutes. He registered us, informed us that a trip to the desert would be USD 100/2 persons and that a trip to the desert with an overnight stay in Shahdad would be USD 170/2 persons. Very high prices for Iran, but we decided to think about it. After a very mysterious visit from a young guy, who seemed to know Jalal, we left to meet our friends for dinner by taxi [IRR 40000].
-          When we returned, we found a police car in front of our guesthouse, the gate wide open, Jalal with his family and two police officers inside and our backpacks GONE!! Whatever you do (although he promised, Jalal has still not paid for our things and it’s been more than 2 months since he should have - in the end, we did get EUR 500 roughly covering 25% of our stolen items' value...), DO NOT STAY AT THIS PLACE. You risk ruining your trip through Iran and your opinion on Iranians, which you shouldn’t because they’re extraordinary. And so is their country.        
  • Day 5:
-          Upon waking up, my first instinct was to cry my heart out. I remembered everything that had happened the night before. Instead, I decided to act brave, so I took a shower and had breakfast afterwards. Marcel did the same. Jalal was nowhere around, but his assistant, Ahmad, soon arrived to take us to the police station for statements and suspect recognition and then to another police station, for Marcel to draw the Identikit® picture of the suspect, the young guy having visited the guesthouse the previous evening.
-          We then left to buy some socks, underwear, clothes, plus some hygiene products we’d need, in Kerman Bazaar. This was followed by lunch [although I didn’t eat much, because I found some lamb meat in my vegetarian stew]. My attempt at lunch was however saved by havij bastani and by some Kolompe we munched on our way to the desert. All, I have to mention, courtesy of Jalal.
-          The hours spent in the desert were truly magical and we survived our first sandstorm. I confess that Lut is one of the most special sights you’ll find on Earth. And our dusty evening ended with pizzas at a place Ahmad loves; its name cutely translates as ‘Lovely Sun’.    
  • Day 6:
-          The day had come! After breakfast, Ahmad drove us to the square where aligned were the shared taxis to Bam. Swiftly we left [the price was IRR 220000 to Bam and IRR 370000 to Bam Citadel/2 persons]. The 2-hour ride was a very pleasant one, with a tourism student offering me roses, with our driver tempting us with biscuits, and with our last companion inviting us for date tasting in Bam.
-          I advise (although we were amongst the only visitors) all of you heading to Rayen to visit Bam instead. No cutting edges, I urge you. Bam is Bam, will always be Bam, and – most of all – it is alive, 11 years after the devastating earthquake. A mixed Italian-Japanese team is restoring it and they’re actually doing a great job [admission fee: IRR 150000].
-          Our visit to Bam Citadel was followed by some sweets (Kolompe and ice cream – I’ve had some of the best ice creams of my life in Iran, even amongst the pre-packaged ones) and I admit that this remote town, with people’s faces reminding me more of the neighbouring Pakistan and Afghanistan, gave us a hard time in finding a taxi to reach Rayen Citadel. We negotiated as best as we could and landed a deal we couldn’t refuse: IRR 500000. The driver grew very fond of us (of me, especially), offering me roses and picking wildflowers from the side of the road. He even accompanied us inside Rayen [admission fee: IRR 100000], where we met two lovely Iranian girls, and – after adding IRR 300000 to the initial fee – even drove us back to Kerman, sang to us, and hugged me. We paid IRR 50000 to head back to Jalal’s and then went out to eat in the same place as the previous evening because I wanted to buy Ahmad a pizza.    
  • Day 7:
-          Our morning talk/negotiation with Jalal ended almost abruptly as we had to catch our bus to Yazd, but he promised to transfer us EUR 600 for the things we’d been stolen within one month, through his brother in Germany.
-          Following a taxi ride to the bus terminal [IRR 40000], we soon found ourselves in the bus to Yazd [IRR 100000, regular bus, 11-18]. The ride seemed very long and was probably one of the hottest. I kept busy watching an Iranian movie and then the pistachio orchards stretching long before reaching a portion of the road known for sightings of the Asiatic cheetah. From Yazd bus terminal, we took a taxi [IRR 200000] to Fahraj, where we reached (after having some local rosewater cookies with the village kids) probably the best accommodation we've had in Iran and definitely one of the best in my life: Farvardinn [USD 35/double room, ensuite]. An oasis it was, as I explained it also to Masoud, its owner. We had tea, unwound, and were finally at ease after the edgy events of the past days: a desert inn all to ourselves that night, when, after an excellent vegetarian dinner prepared by Masoud himself, we welcomed the storm and quietly went to bed.
  • Day 8:
Kharanaq, Iran
-          We were about to experience one of the most beautiful days we had in Iran. Immediately after our delicious breakfast [IRR 50000/person], Mohammad, Masoud’s brother, came to pick us up. We had booked a trip [USD 50/2 persons] that included a ride to the 4000-year old village of Kharanaq, to the mysterious Zoroastrian temple of Chak-Chak [admission fee: IRR 30000], and to the town of Meybod, where we visited a beautiful carpet museum, the post-office museum [admission fee: IRR 50000], and the ice house. It was a day full of laughter and songs; at its end, we knew how to read and write numbers in Farsi and were still up and about in spite of the 37°C that had been conniving against us. Not to mention the short trip to Khadivak that Mohammad had thrown in.
-          For sunset, we had a desert trip planned [USD 20/2 persons] and it was there that we met Kate and Ben, both English, and had our first camel rides. First, though, I personally had one of the most touching moments of my life, meeting a 20-day-old camel cub that I absolutely fell in love with. I am still grateful to Mohammad for this grand moment and this is one of the reasons for which I did hug him dearly and I miss him a lot.  
  • Day 9:
-          Breakfast was followed by a short ride to Yazd with Kate and Ben [IRR 100000, our share] and by a stroll around the town centre, where we bumped into our French friends (what were the chances of that happening?!) and I (officially) had the best havij bastani of the entire trip. Close to 1pm, we stopped a taxi and rode to the bus terminal [IRR 80000]. We patiently waited for our bus to leave [IRR 120000, regular bus, 14:15-19] nibbling some snacks. The ride to Isfahan was quite long, delayed and interrupted by a drug control performed with trained dogs.
-          By the time the taxi [IRR 120000] took us to Hasht Behesht Apartment Hotel [USD 40/studio], highly recommended by Trip Advisor, we were both drained and starving. Luckily, the beautiful Naqsh-e Jahan Square was minutes away. Our marvelling was cut short by some very nice students taking interviews on Isfahan souvenirs; they helped me find falafel and Marcel also took a kebab on the go, which we topped with saffron ice cream. And then made our plans for the following day in terms of shopping (yup, we had a full day in Isfahan, ahead of us).  
  • Day 10:
-          As travellers also need breaks once in a while, we felt we could relax while shopping in Isfahan Bazaar. Relax, we did. And we found some really nice items to take home to our dear ones. We also visited - in my opinion – the most beautiful mosque, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque [admission fee: IRR 100000], where we met the only Romanians of our entire trip (and I felt really glad to hear my language spoken!]. Towards 4pm, we thought it would be a great idea to have late lunch, so we grabbed a pizza for me and a kebab for Marcel on the go, together with some bread, butter, cheese, eggs, carrot jam, and – of course! – water for the following morning’s breakfast. The heat may have been too much because I started to feel sick immediately after the meals we had in the mini-kitchen of our studio.
-          Consequently, the stroll to Khajoo Bridge proved to be an ordeal. Add to that the fact that there was no water [I remembered Mohammad’s words –‘The people from Isfahan are angry at us, people from Yazd, for taking their water away’] to fuel the romantic atmosphere and the evening cool… and all I could wish for were a pill and the cosiness of the bed.    
  • Day 11:
-          Feeling better and aiming at a last (or so I thought) meeting with our French friends, who were staying in the same hotel, Marcel and I prepared breakfast for us all, which was filled with laughter and joy, and then we headed to the square and visited Imam Mosque [admission fee: IRR 100000], which we’d not been able to see during the previous day.
-          We then took a taxi to the bus terminal [IRR 130000] and boarded a bus direction Kashan [IRR 70000, regular bus, 11:30-14:10]. Kashan was hot, extremely hot; consequently, after finding out that our route to Hamedan should definitely include Qom, we took a taxi [IRR 50000] and went straight to Ehsan House [USD 35/double room, breakfast included].  
-          As only breakfast and dinner were served at our accommodation and as our driver spoke excellent English and tempted us with the cool temperatures of Abyaneh Village, we said we’d go. However, as a common trick in Iran, we were sent another driver to take us to lunch and then drive us to Abyaneh [we couldn’t understand each other because this guy spoke no English whatsoever, so we kept discussing it with the initial driver, who promised us that he would be the one to take us to Abyaneh in the end, when he had no intention whatsoever to do that, and what bothered me was the fact that he continued to lie to us]. We ended up calling the whole thing off, paying the second driver IRR 100000 for the ride to Rose House, and after lunch, another IRR 40000 back to Ehsan House, by another taxi. You can read the whole story (with a happy conclusion) here, but please choose another driver than Abbas Homayooni when you go anywhere in and around Kashan.
  • Day 12:
-          The delicious and fresh breakfast in the already-intoxicating morning heat was followed by a search for a cable (our camera battery charger cable had been stolen in Kerman), which we finally found. We were back in the game, as we were able to continue and take pictures. We continued to the bus terminal [IRR 90000], where we boarded a bus to Qom and Marcel helped a very nice Iranian girl not to miss the bus [we received sweets in exchange :)] [IRR 50000, regular bus, 09:40-11:30].
-          When we reached Qom, we found out (to our surprise) that on Thursdays the buses to Hamedan only ran at 2pm and at 3pm. Way to late to be able to catch Ali Sadr Cave open! Hmmm… What to do? What to do? ‘Shall we try and get a cab?’ I shyly asked Marcel. ‘How much are you willing to pay?’ ‘Well, 2000000?’ We were helped by a very nice older gentleman to negotiate and translate and we settled for IRR 1200000; when we reached Hamedan (almost 4 hrs later), we added IRR 600000 and continued directly to the cave that was rumoured to be the most beautiful water cave in the world. It is! And with the highest price tag in the whole of Iran, I bet [IRR 450000/person; IRR 600000/person (VIP ticket)]. 
-          The deal with our very patient driver also included the ride to Arian Hotel, at which I had booked a room [IRR 1500000/double room, ensuite, breakfast included] by phone. Well, they had no records of this whatsoever. Plus, I was not very satisfied with the services provided by this establishment, but you can read the story here. We went to hang out in Hamedan and grab a bite. I did that at a very cosy, colourful, and clean pizzeria, actually serving small pieces of pizza baked together (the owner did ask me if we had anything similar in Romania or not). As the second half of Thursday is considered a holiday, the city was quite lively. Our companions at the pizzeria were an Iranian family, whose head paid for my dinner and kept inviting us over for drinks (:)) and a good night’s sleep, and other two very nice Iranian guys, who expressed their intention to take us by car to a historical village nearby or to at least help us find a restaurant for Marcel (he doesn’t like pizza). We felt bad to refuse them all, but we were so damn tired… after the 600 km travelled that day. The regular havij bastani followed for dessert and… at a not-so-fancy restaurant, hidden away from the high-street traffic, Marcel claimed to have found the best food he’d tasted in Iran – some lamb skewers of which he had a double portion. The guys at the restaurant (I was the only woman) offered to pay him the meal and even invited us to a small party. An offer we felt bad to again decline, but we were going to have an early start on Friday. Santa was coming bearing gifts, after all.
  • Day 13:
-          It felt like Christmas morning, I was so close to Palangan!! Finally, my dream was no longer going to be a dream. The manager of the hotel exchanged money for us, called a taxi, and off we went. To our surprise, we ended up at a roundabout [IRR 50000; where we were supposed to wait for the bus coming from Tehran… some were saying that it was due at 11am, others – at 12pm]. ‘Nah, this isn’t right. We’re losing precious time.’ I kept telling Marcel in-between the honks that were as regular as the hands of a clock. In the end, we found another taxi and asked the driver to take us to the bus terminal, explaining that we wanted to reach Sanandaj; he insisted that there was no bus heading there and took us to the shared taxi terminal instead [IRR 40000]. We were lucky to find Rahel and Omer there, two very nice Iraqi guys, who shared the taxi to Sanandaj [IRR 1500000/person; 2 hrs] with us and even bought orange juice and water for the entire car. :)
-          After a very smooth ride that let me indulge in the beauties, colours, heights, and drops of Kurdistan, I was starting to feel deeply in love with the region. As we reached Sanandaj bus terminal, we knew that plans should be made for the following day, as well as arrangements for our ride to Palangan. We were relieved to learn that there were quite many buses leaving to Tehran the following morning, so we went on to the taxi drivers and started to negotiate our trip to Palangan (with the help of a really nice young guy who was around). Hands were shaken for 2 hrs on the road x 2 and 2 hrs in the village; departure at 4pm [which would have given us the chance to see Palangan at sunset]; IRR 1100000, 100000 of which we paid as a deposit.
-          We had not booked any place to stay, but I remembered the name of Shadi Hotel, so we took a taxi [IRR 40000] and headed there, trying to meanwhile find a different price for our Palangan trip out. Unsuccessfully. We were offered a double room (old style), but very clean and comfy, 10% discount out of the initial IRR 2050000/double room, ensuite, breakfast included, and the opportunity to serve lunch (IRR 350000/person) in the hotel’s restaurant. Which we did and were thrilled with our decision.
-          The hour to head to the bus terminal followed fast. The hotel personnel called for a taxi and we drove to meet our taxi driver at 4pm, as agreed. The ride to Palangan was very impressive, with the mist and the green joining us in what seemed a ritual dance. We bought strawberries (IRR 100000) and I was very emotional throughout, with tears of joy running down my face. After some panoramas and shots of Palangan [‘Palang’ means ‘Tiger’ in Kurdish], we started our way down. It was Friday, a holiday in Iran, so… my dream of having Palangan all to myself faded abruptly. There were around 2000 locals there, smiling at us, happy to welcome us, take pictures with us, talk to us. It was one joyful and colourful early evening. Did the sun set? It did. Were the lights turned on? Well, no. Which is why we should and shall head back there someday. (Apart from the fact that it is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever reached.)         
  • Day 14:
-          Last full day in Iran. Last hours in Kurdistan. What did we do? We exchanged our last Euros and Dollars, bought some carrot jam for home, went back to the hotel, checked out, and headed straight to the bus terminal. By taxi (carrot jam included), it all cost IRR 200000. The personnel at the transport company remembered us alright and gladly sold us our tickets to get to Tehran [IRR 310000/person, VIP bus, 10:50 – 18:50].
-          Upon our arrival to Tehran, we were helped by Eisa to get a taxi (which he insisted to pay) in this mammoth of a city – which I inexplicably grew fond of – to a restaurant uptown (I can’t remember its name), where, in spite of the not-so-impressive service and food variety for vegetarians, we managed to have a great time. The guys at the restaurant arranged for a taxi to pick us up and take us to the airport [we ended up paying the classic IRR 5500000], where I had my last sips of havij bastani.  
  • Day 15:
-          Following a sleepless night (I had made a new friend on our flight from Tehran to Istanbul and we chatted until we landed), it was breakfast time in Istanbul! We headed there by bus [EUR 10/person/one way >> Taksim area].
-          The sesame pretzels I missed so much were waiting for us, together with a visit to a special and sweet place a great friend of mine had recommended in Beyoğlu: Saray Muhallebicisi. Menemen + lemonade + Kazandibi + Saray Muhallebisi + Profiterole may well have been the most inspired recipe to kick the day off.
-          We then decided to revisit Çemberlitaş Hamamı, to get some presents for our friends and family and – of course – buy my favourite towel, stolen in Kerman, back. We took a tram [TRY 3/token] and it was a great opportunity to feast our eyes on some of the greatest sights in Sultanahmet’s crowded alleys: the Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia… walked all the way to Galata Bridge, where Marcel had a quick snack, and then climbed to Taksim Square and hurried to get into a shuttle that would take us back to the airport.
-          One of the grandest voyages of my life would soon reach its end. The cool of Istanbul would soon be replaced by the sizzling heat of Bucharest and by the green road home. To Braşov.   

Persepolis, Iran
1) Fellow Romanians reading, try this simple transformation: 10000 IRR ~ 1 RON.
2) The opening times of the attractions are not fixed. For instance, a big poster at Persepolis stated ‘Opening times: 9am-5pm’; when we left the site, a bit after 5pm, there were people still going in. Plan your visit anytime between 9am and sunset (during high season) and you’ll be fine.

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