Tehran was, like for most travelers, the first destination of my Iran journey. Many travelers get away from Tehran as soon as possible to visit more beautiful cities like Isfahan. A pity, if you ask me. Tehran is not the most beautiful city of Iran but has many things to offer. Furthermore, Tehran is one of Iran’s most modern cities and world’s largest cities with more than 8 million inhabitants. Let me take you for a walk to show you why should Tehran.
I arrived on the 10th of August the early morning in Tehran after spending three weeks in Turkey. It was my second solo travel. While I searched for the metro stop, I felt overwhelmed and insecure at the same time. Overwhelmed by all the new things in front of my eyes, and insecure because of the people who kept staring at me. And the headscarf, who did not want to stay in shape, didn’t make it any better. “Welcome in Iran” said the man who sold his books on the streets.
Stay in a Hostel in Tehran
In the early morning, the taxi arrived at the hostel. I was incredibly tired and the hostel staff appointed me a bed where I could rest. At the time of my visit, that was the only hostel in Tehran: Seven Hostels. It was a small cozy hostel with only two dormitories, one for men and one for women. The breakfast and tea all day was included for a price of 15$ a day. The staff existed out of three young guys who were sitting behind the desk underneath a photo of Khomeini whole day.
At a certain moment, the hostel was almost packed with Dutch people. It almost felt like those campsites in France where you will not encounter any France person only Dutch. During the evenings, we sat together and drank alcohol-free beers which were not tasting too bad.
Enjoy a cup of tea in a (gay) park
During the first evening in Tehran, I went out together with some of these country members to Daneshjoo Park. A park is a good opportunity to have conversations with locals while drinking tea. You do not have to do anything when you want to have a conversation with an Iranian. Just dress like an obvious foreigner and they will come.
Dressing like an obvious foreigner we did well because in no time people invited their self on our bench, and bought us tea. At a certain point, we started to feel that there is something odd about Daneshjoo Park. The moment we realize was when a man came to us and said: “It is very dangerous here”. Turned out, that from all the parks in Tehran we chose to go to THE gay park. It was an unusual experience watching Iranian man walking around with makeup, handbag, and a typical ‘gay walk’. We came in touch with a bit weird old man who invited us to his home. His home was even weirder. A house full of dolls in every corner. He even had a rocking chair for his dolls.
Getting Around by metro
The next day after an interesting evening, I decided to discover the rest of Tehran by metro. With the metro map squeezed between my hand, I felt like a real tourist. The metro map was very useful in Tehran because almost every tourist spot of interest is next to a metro stop. It almost felt like the metro was invented especially for tourists.
I gave the grumpy woman at the counter a billet of 100.000 IRR and she handed over my metro ticket and change. A one-way metro ticket is very cheap, costs around 0,40 $. The metros are each day packed with plenty of people who are traveling between home and work. Nevertheless, a good first Tehran experience. I stepped into the ‘Women only’ compartment. Women are luckier during busy times since their compartments are less crowded. The metro went to my first destination: the former US embassy.
A visit to the former US embassy
1971 is an important year for the history of Iran. It was the start of the Islamic revolution which turned the country in the controversial Islamic Republic as we know now. The leader of the revolution was Iman Khomeini. Many citizens of Iran were not happy with the American influence who, for example, caused a military coup in 1953. On the 4th of November 1979, militant students stormed and seized the US embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.
I found it to be impressive to stand next to the walls of the former US embassy. The walls around the building are covered with anti American paintings and texts. ‘Down with the USA’, a painting of Khomeini, the liberty statue painted with a dead skull, and guns filled with the colors of the American flag.
I saw that the gates around the building were open and I entered the property. Unlucky, the guard stopped me. I could only see a sad forgotten liberty statue in front of the building’s entrance. Some travelers managed to visit the building but it is unclear when it is possible.
After visiting a park located close to the former embassy where someone offered me a bag of weed, I walked back to the metro for the next destination in Tehran.
Discover Golestan Palace
Since 1778, Tehran was the capital of the Persian Empire. The country used to be a monarchy with Shas (kings) ruling over their country from beautiful palaces. The last Shah was Mohammed Reza, who eventually was chased away by his own country to the United States in 1971. Golestan Palace is built by Tahmasp Shah who ruled the empire from 1524 till 1576. After his death, Golestan Palace was restored for multiple times and still in use by the last Shah Mohammed Reza.
The palace was not hard to find when I got out the metro. I just followed the tourists. Golestan Palace is one of the most visited places in Tehran and a tourist overpriced attraction. You have to pay 150.000 IRR to visit the garden, and you have to buy separate tickets for separate rooms. If you want to see everything you spend more than 500.000 IRR. I bought one ticket for the garden and one ticket for the mirror hall.
It was a beautiful and serene garden which welcomed me. I walked to the other side to admire the famous throne where people tried to make selfies with. I walked along the mosaic decorated walls and touched with my fingers hundreds of years of history. It is a nice place to escape from the craziness and business of Tehran. The mirror room was by the way not worth a ticket.
After taking some peaceful breaths, I walked to a close by falafel vendor where I awkwardly tried to make myself understandable in English that I want to order something.
Get lost in the Grand Bazaar
I satisfied myself with a well-prepared falafel sandwich and walked afterward through Tehran’s big bazaar close by. Not only is this Grand Bazaar the largest bazaar of Tehran but it is also one of the largest in the world! While it sounds like a tourist spot, I did not encounter with any other tourist. I walked through the crowd of people and stopped every now and then to admire the products for sale. Colorful spices, beautiful big carpets, many clothes, copper kitchen ware and of course: gold. Enough things to please the eyes. It was a crazy and busy place with people shouting about prices, homeless begging and women trying to get through the crowd with their many bags.
I did not found sellers to be annoying, unlike I experienced at other touristy bazaars in for example Istanbul. Only once a carpet seller came to me to ask if I want to buy a carpet. When I told him “no”, he said: “okay bye” and walked away.
Here our walk in Tehran ends. We introduced ourselves to the country’s history, and at the same time mingled ourselves between locals at the grand bazaar and the gay park. More great stories are lying ahead which will be discovered soon in another post. Keep in touch.