Tehran is one of the world’s great cities and a metropolis of 12 million people. A peculiar motivation for coming here was to experience some of the world’s craziest traffic (thanks Uran for the tip). More about that later…
For some time we waited inside the Tehran train station. 5 am was too early to go and look for a hotel room. Besides, train stations are a great place to observe society, particularly in a country like Iran where the train stations we saw (only Yazd and Tehran) were new and not sleazy.
Upon leaving the train station we were directed to the official taxi booth. For Mashhad Hotel the fare was 25 rials, expensive when compared to other cities in Iran but this is Tehran. The taxi driver ended up taking us to the Hotel Mashhad, the wrong place. He then insisted on an extra 10 rials to drive us to Amir Kabir Avenue, the vicinity of the Mashhad Hotel. He didn’t know where the Mashhad Hotel was and ended up pointing us in the wrong direction for Amir Kabir after saying he could not drive further because it was a one-way street. When he asked for extra payment I should have asked for and written down his details. He then probably would have lifted his game!
In the early morning I could already notice Tehran’s pollution. Tehran also has bus-only lanes. These lanes are most likely to promote public transport and combat the pollution and traffic of private vehicles.
The Mashhad Guesthouse (also called Mashhad Hotel) cost 50,000 rials per night for a double room. Karin and I dropped our bags in the room and went for a walk to Khomeini Square. At a café we drank pre-packaged juices and bought alcohol-free Efes Pilsen beers imported from Turkey. I haven’t seen the alcohol-free version in Turkey and imagine it is possibly an export only product. We also purchased a copy of each of the 3 English daily newspapers: Tehran Times, Iran Daily and Iran News.
We walked in a random direction and ended up in the embassy district. On one side of the street were the German and Turkish Embassies. On the other side, with concrete barriers surrounding it, was the British Embassy. The UK and Iranian governments have not experienced the best relationship over the past year. The embassy was attacked a few times and the heavy security presence is a reflection of this. One of the embassy buildings visible from the outside displayed windows with holes from bullets and or explosives.
Back at Khomeini Square we caught the metro west to Azadi. A woman was kind enough to help us with any questions we had. The first 2 or 3 carriages on every metro train are reserved for women although I once saw a man in one of these carriages. Karin stayed with me in the men’s though, like some other women. One ticket on the metro is 650 rials. Tehran’s system is modern and the carriages were built in China.
A short, shared taxi ride (1,000 Rials) and we were at the Azadi Tower. This is possibly the most prominent landmark in Tehran. The Azadi Tower was built in 1971 to celebrate 2,500 years of Persian civilisation. The tower is 45 metres tall and provides welcome shade from the summer sun. It is situated on a roundabout, moonlighting as a park with lawn and trees. A policeman/man in uniform took great delight to blowing his whistle to get people off the lawn. A family was moved twice after they tried to picnic under the shade of two different trees. In the distance to the west several air force jets took off, one after another. Before and after these flights, commercial passenger jets took to the sky. Tehran’s main airport is west of Azadi.
After some confusion and with the help of a boy (who received some Turkish delight for his efforts) we found the Azadi bus terminal. Buses to the north and west depart from Azadi, a large terminal, even by Turkish standards. We were looking for a bus to the Caspian Sea for a day trip between Tehran and Tabriz. Karin particularly wanted to visit this part of Iran. As there were no convenient buses for our schedule, we bought tickets direct to Tabriz. Karin was tempted to go direct to Istanbul to meet her special ‘Turkish delight’.
One very interesting thing I observed at Azadi bus terminal was a young girl, aged 7 or 8 I guess, wearing a headscarf AND a shoulder less dress. The irony!
The bus terminal (I always write ‘terminal’ because it is called this in Farsi, only with a French accent) also contained the first supermarket we had seen in Iran. Although it wasn’t a big supermarket, it was a supermarket nevertheless.
A ride in an unmarked taxi to a metro station (not Azadi, but one stop east) and a metro journey later, we were back at Khomeini Square. Near the square I bought fresh mangos! After a lunch of tuna, jambon (not made from pork) and salad sandwiches sleep was calling.
In the afternoon a second taxi brought (the first one demanded too much money) us to the sight of the old American Embassy. This was one of my reasons to visit Tehran. The outside wall of the form embassy block is decorated with anti-American propaganda. Of course I don’t support the propaganda but I had heard of its notoriety and I didn’t want to miss it. We continued snapping away taking photos until Karin spotted a soldier looking at us unpleasantly from above. The cameras were put back in their bags and we decided we had seen enough of the embassy, happy to have not had our film/digital media taken. I will include a picture or two of the propaganda when I post some photos of the trip.
I will add the next Tehran update soon