Today we had a free day in Tehran and different people were up for different activities. Andrew, Patricia and Emilie hired a cab to go on a day trip to the Caspian Sea, the largest sea on earth. They started at 6am and it took them four hours each way. They especially enjoyed the winding roads up and down the mountains, walking along the shore of the sea and a theme park which Andrew named “Iranian World”. Alistair, my fellow traveler from Scotland, was up for some serious walking and he covered a fair amount of kilometers on the cities ground, also walking towards the mountains. Isabella has spent a couple of dollars on a very detailed map of the city to go on a self-guided walk visiting a number of sights. I wasn’t up for more serious sightseeing and just wanted to soak-up the cities atmosphere. Therefore, I joined Jason to visit the Golestan Palace and to stroll around the streets.
We got a hand-drawn map from the receptionist of our hotel to make our way to the palace. When we started to walk we ran into Isabella and the three of us joined efforts to find the palace. We did pretty well and with the help of two maps and asking five different people we managed to find the way.
Walking to the palace was an experience in itself. The traffic in Iran and especially in Tehran is simply crazy. Drivers seem to stick to no traffic rules and just drive wherever there seems to be a space to drive. This includes the sidewalks which aren’t just used by pedestrians but also motor-cyclists so you continuously need to watch-out you not getting hit by a motorbike. Crossing the street is also a life threatening activity. Cars simply won’t stop even when there is a pedestrian crossing or a red traffic light. Honestly, all traffic signs seem to be considered decoration only and nobody takes them serious in any way.
When we arrived at the palace we found out it’s actually not just one big palace but a number of smaller palaces and museums. We weren’t in the mood to visit every single building in the complex which would have taken hours and so we just had a look into maybe five of them. They were all very shiny using lots of mirrors, marble and gold. Especially mirrors were used very extensively and some rooms were completely covered in them. I would go completely mad if I needed to spend a full day in such a shiny room full of mirrors with the need to look at me at all times.
Since we didn’t know the exact way back to the hotel Jason and I just strolled around in the streets soaking-up the atmosphere of the city. We walked through a number of streets which all were dedicated to the sale of specific goods. There was a street for everything such as a street for electrical components, a street for women’s shoes and even a whole street full of shops selling sexy underwear. Now I know what Iranian women wear underneath their long coats…
The only street we couldn’t find was a restaurant street and so it took us some time to find a place for lunch. We ended-up in a tiny restaurant selling street food. They had chicken kebab for sale of which we had some together with bread and salad. When we wanted to check-out the owner of the shop charged us double the amount we usually have to pay for this type of meal. I don’t mind paying money for good food but I don’t like to be ripped-off. So I started a big discussion with the restaurant owner also involving another guest who was a local which was charged significantly less for his meal. Jason was a bit impatient to have a discussion with the owner and so we ended-up paying whatever he requested from us.
Since we didn’t know the way back to the hotel and were just strolling around in the streets we got kind of lost. Luckily I had taken a picture of Isabella’s map with the location of the hotel on it and was showing it to a couple of locals trying to find out directions. Interestingly most people weren’t able to read English characters but Farsi only. However, somehow we managed to get directions and after walking for a while we magically ended up on the big street leading to our hotel.
We finished our self-guided walk with some relaxing time in a Shisha bar. As most popular locations in Iran the Shisha bar was situated at the basement of a building. The major reason is basements have no windows and are less easy to access than locations at the ground floor of the building. Therefore, couples can date here in a more relaxed environment without the fear of being caught by the police which is also watching religious matters such as people comply to the Muslim dress code or don’t hold hands in public. Here in the basement bar we spotted quite a number of couples enjoying a milkshake and a Shisha while holding hands.
In the hotel I ran into our local guide Mehdi. He had more or less taken a day off to spend some time with one of his female friends in the city. They were also strolling around the streets but got stopped by the police because they were walking together too closely. Luckily Mehdi could somehow convince the police he and his female friend are engaged and also managed to avoid their parents got called by the police to confirm it.
While relaxing in my hotel room I spotted an arrow on the ceiling of the room. This arrow is very convenient for Muslims spending the night away from home. It’s pointing them in the direction of Mecca to which they need to address their prayers.
In the evening we went to the same restaurant as last night. I had chicken which was delicious but just too much so I shared it with three other people. There was also the same folk band playing the same sad songs as last night, what a depressing job. After dinner we chilled-out at the coffee-shop associated with the restaurant. This time they allowed our driver Sam to play the piano which he’s very passionate about. It was the first time we actually heard him playing and were blown away by it. Sam plays purely out of memory without the use of notes. He started off with some classical pieces to not chase away the other guests and then slowly moved to Jazz type of music. Sam played so good that even the folk musicians in the restaurant next door stopped playing and came over to the coffee-shop to listen to his play.