Tehran 3 (at last)

Finally, the next update from my Iran trip, the trip that now seems a piece of ancient history.

Sunday 5 September 2004

For breakfast we ate fresh mangoes and ugly, flat peaches (the kind we had previously eaten in Tabriz. The 2 mangoes were the first mangoes I had eaten since the 1st half of 2003 in Australia. They were not the best mangoes but they were far better than the zero mangoes I had eaten in Turkey!

Tehran University was our next destination and a taxi-ride later we were there. Across the road from the university were many bookshops, a few of which we entered and looked around. Although the summer holidays had not finished, there were still many students in the vicinity.

Karin and I tried to enter the university but we were not allowed in without a permit so the security guard asked the closest student to take us around the corner where we could obtain our permits. This kind student, who spoke no English, went with us until we eventually found the correct office located across from the main campus. He was rewarded with some cezerye I carried in my bag specifically to give to a kind person. At the office Karin gave her ID for the university official to photocopy and the woman asked us if we were journalists. A ‘no’ was a good enough answer to satisfy her and we received a piece of paper with Farsi writing – the permit. Officials in another office were satisfied with this permit and were free to enter the university.

At Tehran University’s side entrance we gave the paper to the security guard and then proceeded on to the campus. Architecturally, the campus was not striking. However, it was not the architecture that drew me there. Tehran University was the seen of many of Iran’s political and social struggles. With very few people on campus I could only imagine the riots and protests that have taken place in the past. We walked past the large covered square. Every Friday thousand of men pray their midday prayers on the rolled-out carpet. This prayer gathering would be a sight not to miss on my next visit to Tehran.

We relaxed on a bench and read a few of the local English language newspapers purchased earlier in the day. Another brief walk and our Tehran University experience was almost complete. I write almost, because we exited via the main entrance. Painted on the ground at the main entrance were Israeli and US flags with most of the colour gone from years of Iranian soles treading on them. I recall seeing footage of the flags on Australian TV several years ago. As the security guard was at the and gate and the flags were faded, we did not bother taking photos.

For the taxi to Imam Khomeini Square the driver wanted 20,000 rials but I gave 15,000 as it was really a 10,000 rial trip. The taxi vehicle was a modern car – our only taxi ride in a new car for the whole trip – all the rest were . On the way we passed a church, also modern-looking.

Our intention at Imam Khomeini Square was to visit the National Museum. We walked around and around but could not see a sign for the museum anywhere. We were about to enter a park the vicinity of the museum but were still unsure when a man wanted to have a chat. He claimed he had obtained an Australian visa in Damascus. The man also pointed us in another direction to the museum. Around we walked again.

On the way, I chatted to a diplomat’s chauffeur. Several almost identical Mercedes Benz sedans and the odd equally luxurious 4 wheel drive, each with flags indicating different countries were parked. Italy, Slovenia and Finland were amongst the countries represnted but, unsurprisingly, I didn’t see any US or Israeli flags. The chauffeur’s car had the flag of Cyprus, including the whole island, although only the bottom 2/3 is controlled by that country. Of course he spoke English and he explained the way to the museum. Near the museum is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry is located in a beautiful building but it is not a place to take photos.

The second time at the small park we ignored the weirdo who had provided the previous, incorrect advice and made our way to the National Museum. I really believe the museum should be signposted better.

The museum cost 6,000 rials. Previously, foreigners paid 60,000. The museum was small when compared with the Museum of Anatolian Civilisations in Ankara and particularly, the massive Egyptian Museum in Cairo. However, every piece on exhibit was of great quality. Lots of items on display were from the historic sights of Persepolis and Susa. I recommend people see the museum after Persepolis to improve the museum experience.

The National Museum ticket gave free entry to the Islamic Museum. The decorative arts in this museum were very interesting but Karin and I were too tired and hungry to look over all the exhibits set on levels 1 and 2 seriously.

We managed to hold our hunger until we reached ‘Tomato’ restaurant, located close to the British Embassy. I chose ‘Bacon and Mushroom’ pizza. Iranian substitute bacon does not quite taste the same as real bacon! For Iran, the price was pricey: 2 medium pizzas, 1 pineapple drink, 1 coke, 1 cappucino and 1 delicious French coffee came to 72,000 rials (about USD 8.50).

The music in the background was either German or 70’s/80’s metal music. A curtain could be moved in front of the window to protect couples from the pry of the street. One man and woman did utilise this when we were there. The customers were young and liberal.

We walked back around the British Embassy to the Pars Internet Cafe. The patronage consisted of locals, Nigerians and other foreigners. Nigerians were also staying at the hostel. I don’t know what they were doing in Tehran but from their vibe and the way they looked and spoke to Karin I don’t think they were here for positive reasons. Having said that, I bet they also suffered from racism here. We didn’t see Nigerians anywhere else in Iran. The computers had malware on them and it was not a good Internet cafe.

On the way to the hostel I changed another USD 100 (for 87,000 rials), our 3rd $100 changed in 3 days – fast compared to the rest of the trip. Back at the hostel we packed our bags and paid 100,000 for 2 night. We didn’t actually stay 2 nights but we arrived 7 am the first day and left 8 pm the next. We presented the workers with some Turkish delight and one of them, the one who sleeps at reception, went with us outside to hail a tax that would take us to Azadi bus station, western Tehran, for 20,000 rial, the normal rate. We were to catch a bus back to Tabriz.

The taxi ride(s) to Azadi was a classic experience. Traffic was at its horrible best – slow, but the cars, motor bikes and other vehicles still jostled for position and tried to gain every single millimetre they could. I mentioned the “(s)” after “ride” because the first taxi ran out of “benzine”. The way the driver tried to restart the car several times made me think he had ran out of diesel.

We had waited long enough and the bus departure time of 9.30 pm was fast approaching so I stepped out, gave the drive 15,000 and hailed another taxi (actually, any car that stopped – both taxis didn’t have “taxi” written on them). We made the terminal on time and walked to the bus company’s desk to be directed to the correct bus. Azadi bus station is a large and chaotic station even by Turkish standards. I enjoyed the chaotic (the word just fits perfectly so I have to use it twice) journey to the terminal even though we didn’t know where we were when the first taxi conked out and there was a chance we could have missed the bus. The journey personified the essence of Tehran.

Monday 6 September 2004

After midnight the bus stopped for longer than 30 minutes for a toilet and prayer stop. I guess we had to wait until the last person finished praying, no matter what the scheduled departure time was. I slept very well on the bus the Tabriz despite the lack of leg room and seat reclination (we were in the back row). Conversely, Karin did not sleep much at all.

Tabriz

At about 6 am Karin woke me up as the bus had stopped outside the Tabriz bus terminal. We got off and then Karin remembered the bag of posters left on the overhead shelf above our seats. She ran off after the bus at the speed of light to successfully retrieve the bag.

The local taxi driver insisted on 20,000 for the trip into the city. This was the same journey only in reverse that a taxi driver had previously asked for only 5,000. On a park bench near the bazaar we sat, wondering which hotel to go to. We wanted a more comfortable place than the previous Tabriz hotel. We ended up at the Park Hotel, a hotel that looked good in its day, assuming one was referring to the 1970’s or 1980’s.

For 80,000 rial our large room contained ensuite shower and toilet, fridge, TV and the only double bed (or pair of single beds together) we saw in Iran. There were even inbuilt lamps for each side of the bed and a heart-shaped mirror! The toilet was broken, there was no hot water, the TV reception cable was broken, half the lights didn’t work, we didn’t bother plugging in the fridge, the drinking glass stuck to the plate and the hotel was under renovation but we didn’t care as the bed and pillows were comfortable.

‘Tabriz: the 2nd time’ will be my next Iran update