As I mentioned in my first post, I quite embarrassingly imagined Iran to be a lively circus of interesting people and captivating scenery. Even after weeks of research and reading everything I could get my hands on, I expected to see street performers, women draped in beautifully decorative scarves and multitudes of green spaces overseen by artists showcasing their works. I expected food, lots of food. Food carts and wonderful smells at every turn.
While there certainly is a lot of food, Iran is not much like I imagined. There are several areas in Tehran for example, that are livelier than your average street in the suburbs, but for the most part Iranians exude a very cool, laid back vibe. The traffic is horrible but besides that, no one is ever much in a hurry, for anything.
There are no street performers, in fact women are forbidden to sing in public. Most girls wear black and although there are green spaces around, the extreme pollution blanketing the city has dulled the colour of the trees from the usual green you might expect, to a strange shade of khaki. It’s worth keeping in mind that we arrived here in late October, when summer was already on its way out. I imagine there is much more greenery and colour to be seen in the warmer months.
I also refused to believe that Iran could be as conservative as it is. It’s perhaps not as conservative as I’ve read on other blogs, but to date, I’ve seen a lot more women in chadors than I ever expected. The word ‘chador’ in Persian, means ‘tent’. A chador is literally a big wearable tent, usually black, that you see women at mosque’s draped in. In Iran, and mostly outside of the major cities, some women wear them on a daily basis. On the other hand, there are more and more girls challenging the status quo. It’s not unusual these days to find women wearing brightly coloured outfits, showing off the latest in western fashion.
First impressions aside, after two months of trying to find our way in this sprawling city, I have some positive findings to report.
All the things I love about living in Tehran…
My local Bazaar
It was love at first sight when I first stepped into Tajrish Bazaar. One of the oldest and arguably best stocked bazaars in all of Tehran, it is everything a proper bazaar should be. I spend most of my time in the food and spices section, but there’s also an extensive selection of clothing, jewellery, shoes and anything your heart desires. The produce here is second to none and you can find everything ranging from pickled garlic, to fresh coconuts, and avocados from who knows where. It is a foodies dream
Every blank wall is an artistic opportunity
I believe this used to be a thing more than it is nowadays, but you can still find amazing murals in the most unexpected of places all over Tehran. Most of them depict heroes or martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war but there are also many eye-catchingly whimsical scenes on show too.
There is no place too obscure for a picnic
The side of a freeway, the nature strip, the museum gardens, it’s all fair game. Iranians love a good picnic and they are not ones to let a bit of traffic or noise pollution get in their way.
The beauty is in the details
Always look closely. Iranian art is delicate and the most beautiful things come to life only upon close inspection. A good example is the ruins at Persepolis. The incredible details and cravings are a testament to Persian art and culture.
You will never go thirsty
No you won’t. The tap water is drinkable all over Iran, but for those sceptics like myself (I’ve lived too long drinking nothing but bottled water), there is a drinking fountain almost everywhere you go. You will find at least one in every park, bazaar, museum and train station. If only every country was so generous with their water.
Women can get comfortable on the train
After getting over my brief moment of outrage at the segregation of women yet again, I sat on the train and enjoyed a very comfortable ride in the ‘women’s only’ section. You have to acknowledge the value of this set up when you look over and see all the men cramped up in the other sections (which, for the record, women are also welcome).
The world’s longest shopping mall
I’m usually not a fan of public transport, but the metro system in Iran is truly fascinating. According to my Iranian friend, there is a running joke that the ‘Iranian metro is the world’s longest shopping mall’. During a standard 30 minute ride across town, you can almost get all your shopping done. There are touters offering everything from socks and scarves, underwear and even beauty products. For those not buying, it’s just as entertaining to watch.
People are nuts about nuts
I love nuts, and Iran has arguably the best selection in the world. There are numerous nut shops, and mega stores the size of supermarkets, where you can find the most delicious roasted pistachios, cashews, a range of almonds and every other dried fruit and nut you can possibly imagine. The best part, is tasting is completely free and even encouraged.
Kale is not just a superfood
You will find it in almost every garden bed around the city. Maybe that makes it even more of a superfood?
Food, good food
Iranian food is very good. Just as the beauty is in the details when it comes to art, in Persian cooking, the deliciousness is in the spices and the hours taken to prepare every dish. Most dishes require a multitude of herbs and yet still somehow manage to come across as simple, everyday fare. Iranians also have a way with eggplants – anything containing eggplants is absolutely mouth-watering.
The friendliest people this side of the planet, no strings attached
Never before, in any other country, have we been approached by so many strangers just wanting to shake our hand, and welcome us to Iran. Besides the occasional taxi driver trying to sell a ride, no one ever asks for money, all they’re interested in is a genuine conversation and our thoughts about their country. Iranians are wonderful people and superb hosts.
Snapp is the Iranian version of Uber. This app makes getting around Tehran super easy (and cheap!), especially for those who don’t live near a metro line or speak a word of Persian. With Snapp, you simply punch in your origin, your destination and sit back and wait for your driver to arrive. It even tells you the cost of the journey in advance.
Unfortunately you can’t download Snapp from the app store, so the only way to get it on your phone is to download it direct from snapp.ir. You then have to adjust the settings on your phone to ‘authorize’ the app. This will load it on your phone, but it won’t update automatically, so you’ll have to repeat the process for any new versions that are released.
There are of course some things that I don’t like so much about living in Tehran. but these are few…
Tehran is the second most populated city in the Middle East. More people tends to equal more traffic, and Tehran is no exception. Along with the horrible traffic jams, there are days when the pollution is unbearable, especially during the winter months.
Unfortunately, our base in Tehran is a simple serviced apartment. Although they say the kitchen is ‘fully equipped’, it isn’t quite the kitchen of my dreams. Read more about how we managed to make it work here.
Finally it is true that alcohol is not (readily) available in Iran. But this doesn’t justify a negative review. As nice as it would be to wind down every other night with a glass of red, or a cocktail or two, it’s really not a necessity. We don’t miss it (too much).
Have you been to Iran? Share your experience in the comments below!