mercoledì 28 novembre 2012

Tired of kebabs

My experience of Iran has a negative point too: (street) food! Yes, it is true that we ate deliciously at home. But many times, while travelling alone, we went to restaurants where food was no big deal. The choice was poor, except for the usual two or three types of kebab meats. Or maybe kebab is just what we could get due to our language difficulties.
We were also told that Iranians do not eat in restaurants often. They still cook at home a lot. This could explain why the quality of the restaurants is not excellent.


Life is awful for locals, if they do not comply with the rules of the dictatorship. But, as a tourist, I never felt threatened or in danger. I felt safe even walking in empty neighborhoods at night. Moreover, we never saw a lot of policemen or soldiers in the streets (which does not mean that they are not there; also, we did not reach the border areas with Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan). I expected the situation to be more (visibly) tense.

martedì 27 novembre 2012

Classic tour

Of course, the previous post applies as long as you follow the classic tour, which usually includes Teheran, Shiraz, Yazd, Isfahan and a few more places.

Easy trip

A big surprise: the life of a tourist in Iran is easy. Prices are cheap, people are friendly and often speak a bit of English, the culture is similar to ours (apart from the current regime), trasportation is good, hotels are numerous, exchange with other tourists is continuous.

lunedì 26 novembre 2012

Lonely Planet rules

One guide for one country: Lonely Planet has monopoly on Iran; there is hardly any other guide published, which means that you are likely to sleep in the same hotels and eat in the same restaurants as the other tourists do. In countries such as Iran, Lonely Planet has a tremendous power: being among the recommended choices can make the fortune of a hotel or a restaurant.

New international friends

One particular thing about being a tourist in Iran is that it is very easy to become friends with the other travellers! It happened many times to meet the same people in different cities, both intentionally or by chance: the ideal occasion to exchange information about what to do and where to go and maybe enjoy a stretch of the trip together. This happens because tours you can follow in Iran are limited, for practical (difficulty to reach the farthest corners) and security reasons. But there is also another point... the Lonely Planet guide!

Mad travellers

Most tourists planned to go back to their home countries after visiting Iran, as we did. But we met some "mad" travellers too. The ones making a low budget tour of the world, reaching Australia or China through Afghanistan and Pakistan. These are real trips!

Typologies of travellers

We never met organized tours. Instead we met several independent tourists like us. European ones: Italians (a lot!), French, Spanish, Germans. Plus a Colombian one and one from New Zealand. As many women as men. Mostly young, but not only.

venerdì 23 novembre 2012

Naqsh-e Rostam

Some kilometers from Persepolis, Naqsh-e Rostam is another archeological site whose main attractions are some huge graves dug in the middle of a rock face (there is no way to reach them). They were built to host ancient kings. Several war scene (depicting Roman warriors too!) and life court carvings add beauty to the site.


Not far away from Shiraz, Persepolis lies on a small hill in the desert. Persepolis is one of the old capitals of Iran (but it seems to me that every Iranian city was capital of some kingdoms at some time). Persepolis was abandoned many centuries ago and then forgotten. Only recently archeologists have started to excavate.
The ruins are really imposing and spectacular. Huge columns and marvelous friezes depicting old populations, the kings and their court and mythological animals constellate all the site. Also, due to the lonely beauty of the surrounding landscape, Persepolis is one of the most fascinating places I saw in Iran. It is like going back to a different time in history.
A little piece of advice: do not visit the ruins in summer while the sun is high (as I did). You risk melting.

giovedì 22 novembre 2012

The grave of Hafez

Hafez (1300) is the national Iranian poet. He was from Shiraz. His mausoleum is visited by thousands of people every day.


From Kisch we took a plane to Shiraz. Shiraz is one of the main cities in Iran. In general it is not very beautiful, but has some nice mosques. A characteristic feature of mosques is that they usually have internal courtyards where it is possible to rest for a while. Shiraz is also well known for its secluded and pleasant gardens: I can witness that they are the ideal place to lie under the shade and forget the chaos of the outside world. :)

mercoledì 21 novembre 2012

We are not terrorists

One day in Kisch we were invited to attend the evening prayer at the mosque (of course spaces for males and females were separated). After the prayer, since it was Ramazan period, we stayed there with the locals to eat the first meal (bread, green salad, cheese, olives, cucumber and dates) of the day. I was sitting next to a student of the local technical university. We started talking; after a bit he said to me "I am happy that you understand that we are not terrorists".Yes, I do understand, even though some of our leaders in the West want us to think so.

Cheerful veils

A veil for women is compulsory in Iran. I expected to see a lot of black burqas, the ones that convey sadness. Instead, most women, above all in Teheran, wear colourful and cheerful veils which keep some centimeters of hair free.
At home women do not usually wear the veil. Only some of the older people we met in private houses wore it in our presence, because we were strangers.


In Kisch we saw some women wearing a strange colourful mask covering their nose (in addition to the compulsory veil). The mask is a tradition from the Bandari culture. Bandari is the name of a population living in the south of Iran. The effect of the mask is both fascinating and (a bit) scary. Here is a picture (taken from the web, of course:):

lunedì 19 novembre 2012

Why Kisch?

When I tell Iranian people that I was in Kisch they are surprised, because the island is not a common tourist place for Western independent travellers. The reason we went is that the brother of Farahmand and his family live there. We stayed with them for a few days: they were extremely kind to us and they showed us around the island. Moreover, the wife cooked deliciously! :)

Let's go to the beach!

In Kisch the beaches work in a funny way. There are only two small authorized bathing beaches on the whole island: one for men and one for women! Separated by some kilometers of coast, just to be sure nothing happens. Apart from some kids or young men at night, you do not see people swimming along the rest of the coast, even though sandy beaches and clean waters are everywhere.

domenica 18 novembre 2012

I love air conditioning

Because of the temperature, air conditioning is vital to survive. The day we went shopping, we were the only ones walking instead of using a car. And it was not a sensible thing to do.

Swimming? Maybe not

There is not much to see on the island. Anyway, the sea and the beaches are beautiful. The only problem is that swimming is not a popular activity, which could seem absurd. But it clearly became absurd to me when I became aware of the summer average temperature in Kisch: more than 40 degrees, night and day; with a humidity rate of 100%. As soon as I stepped out of the airport, I started dreaming of running and plunging into the sea. But I still did not know how things worked!

Iran? No, Kisch island

After Teheran we went to the Kisch island by plane. Kisch island is a tiny flat island in the Persian gulf, which is quite special. On one hand because it is a free trade area; on the other because authoritarian control over Iranian citizens' social behaviours is less strict than anywhere else.
The island provides rich tourists and businessmen with modern and luxurious facilities. Hotels, restaurants, banks and financial services, shopping malls. You can do water sports and ride horses and camels along the beach. Easy joke: Kisch island is quite kitch.

venerdì 16 novembre 2012

What do you think of Iran?

Unknown people in the streets are very friendly as well. All along the trip it happened to meet a lot of people who approached us to ask where we came from and what we were doing in Iran. They seemed very proud of their country and its history and beauties. At the same time, they were very happy to meet foreigners and wanted to know our opinions about Iran. Above all, they wanted to show us that Iran is different from what western media say. In a nutshell, that they are not terrorists.

giovedì 15 novembre 2012

Sim card

The first day in Teheran we entered into a (random) shop to ask where we could buy an Iranian sim card. The owner offered us a tea, then sent someone to buy the sim and finally he charged (a lot of) credit in the sim. After an hour of pleasant chatting, waiting for the registration procedures to end, we were done. How much did we pay? Nothing. Everything was a gift. This is Iran.

I have never been in a country where...

I have never been in a country where locals are so kind and welcoming to (Italian) foreigners. And this is a very good reason to start planning a trip to Iran.

martedì 13 novembre 2012

Phone calls

Here is an example of what I meant in the previous post. One of your friends in Teheran is a journalist. Every time he receives a call from an unknown number he fears that it is the secret service telling him that he did or said something wrong.

lunedì 12 novembre 2012


There is one thing that surprised me a lot. How everyday life seems normal under such a ferocious regime. Let me explain. The friends we met in Iran have a job and spend time with family and friends. Nothing different from my routine (even though most of the people of my age I met were already married and some had children).
At the same time they constantly live on the edge of danger. Being, in a more or less evident way, opponents to the regime, their lives risk being spoiled at any moment. Maybe because they wrote something wrong, for those who are journalists, or maybe because they simply participated in a demonstration.
It is something you do not realize as a tourist. You have to speak to the (good) people.


I spent about 450 euros in 3 weeks. It is true that accomodation sometimes was free (when we were hosted or when we travelled at night). Anyway, it is incredible how prices are cheap, compared to our standards. Hotels, food, road and air transport, everything. The most expensive purchase? The internal flights, and they costed no more than few dozens of euros.
At the time the exchange rate was approximately 1 euro = 25000 local currency. Which means that my wallet was always too small to contain all the banknotes I was given, no matter how little money I changed.
The exchange rate has continued to worsen (for Iranians) since I came back. Inflation is very high, and the price of most basic goods (such as bread and chicken) has increased a lot. The economic crisis is harshly affecting a large part of the population, and that is the reason of the protest demonstrations that took place in Iran in october. Even our middle class friends in Teheran, who have decent jobs and houses, felt that inflation was making them noticeably poorer.

giovedì 8 novembre 2012


Rice is very important in the Iranian cuisine too. We were usually served two types of rice, together: the white one and the yellow one (the second one in minor quantity). The yellow rice is flavoured with saffron, and it is more expensive than the other. Although I do not recall a big difference in taste between them.

mercoledì 7 novembre 2012

Bread... with stones!

Iranians eat a lot of bread. Once in Teheran Sadegh and Pari took us to a traditional bakery. Which had a very special feature (at least to me): they cooked bread in a oven over a bed of small stones!

martedì 6 novembre 2012

The best kebab of the trip

Kebab is the national dish: it is everywhere, and in some situations prevented me from starving.
I ate the best one in Teheran, in a restaurant where both Forough and Sadraa and Sadegh and Pari took us. So I ate it twice!
The fact that the place was popular was clear from the long line at the entrance. Inside, the furniture was simple and cheap, with tables very close to each other in order to occupy all the two floor spaces. The general atmosphere was friendly and messy. What about cleanliness? Let's skip the subject. :)
The best part was the food and the price.
Concerning the food, the kebabs were prepared and cooked in front of the clients. The meat was delicious, as was the bread and all the vegetables and dressings served with the kebab. I mean tomatoes, onions, peppers, green salad with aromatic herbs, rice and yoghurt!
And what about the price? As gratifying as the food. I miss that!

lunedì 5 novembre 2012

Unfinished mosque

Next to Forough and Sadraa's house thare is a huge (very huge) construction site: they are building the new Imam Khomeini mosque. We were told that the works have been going on for many years, and the project is costing much more money than expected. Our friends commented that this money could be used for more socially useful activities . I tried to reassure them by saying that I could make a list of foolish public works projects that are being carried out in Italy right now.

Chicken with plums

Farahmand's mother cooked the best chicken with plums ever. I had rarely eaten such a perfect combination of tastes.

venerdì 2 novembre 2012

Dinner at the parents' house

One night in Teheran we were invited by Farahmand's parents to their place, together with Forough and Sadraa. Of course, the food was really delicious. The mother had prepared yummy dishes: soups, salads, meat with vegetables, rice (white and yellow), and much more!
Apart from the food, it probably was the most moving moment of the trip. We brought Farahmand's greetings to his parents and his sister, whom he was not being allowed to see for many years, and we told them about their son's and brother's life in Torino. At one point everyone was crying.
The regime can persecute people fighting for freedom, torturing them in prison or sending them away. But they can not prevent freedom ideas from spreading, and people from talking (and becoming aware). And that dinner was a proof of that. Thanks to the dramatic and courageous choice of Farahmand.

Fruit in the bazar

The small bazar we went to in Teheran was a very fascinating experience. Why? Because we were with Forough and Sadraa who made me taste the food on the stalls that I could not recognize! Fruit in particular, which I loved. Als also because the place was small and crowded, and being there was like breathing real local life.