There were moments while travelling around Iran that I almost thought that this land could knock India off the number one spot as my favorite place on Earth. It had everything I love: amazing architecture, an ancient civilization, art, beautiful people, poetry but as I was walking along Isfahan’s most famous avenue Chahar Bagh one afternoon the displays in shop windows made me realise that if you just changed to advertising for something more European and changed the people you could practically be walking along Las Ramblas in Barcelona. The thing that edged Iran to second place was lack of street life that I seem to thrive on. There were no elephants walking down the street or transvestite dancers wishing people good luck or monkeys running across balconies and the thing I disliked most was the lack of music anywhere. Shops were eerily quiet, I just couldn’t get used to this.
There were many things that are so wonderful about Iran. It’s that time warp thing, this country lives mostly in the 1970s. I had a right giggle to myself one moment on a long distance coach peering out of the window I caught a glimpse of a man getting out of a car, he had big coiffured hair and was wearing the same suit John Travolta wore in Stayin’ Alive.
Have you ever walked along a street and saw someone so poetic? Well, in Iran you will, in all their melancholy. The people that stood out most for me were the silent men who push carts through the streets. Of all the people on all the streets it is these people who are for me the most Persian.
There were so many incredible things that I couldn’t list them all here. The laughing children playing infront of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, the little cage full of vibrant singing birds in the middle of a garage full of car parts and diesel fumes, the man wife and four children all on the back of a motorbike racing through the Tehrani streets without helmets, a homeless man in a park with his ragged mat praying in the direction of Mecca, the gentle faces of the martyrs painted on the walls of highrise buildings surrounded by white doves, the little boy running through the courtyard of the Jameh Mosque trying to catch pigeons, small pools of goldfish in courtyards tucked away in a maze of shops, the sad eyed little fortune teller who reminded me of Hans Christian Andersen’s Matchstick Girl, sunset reflected in the tiles on the dome of the Imam Mosque.
I first mentioned visiting Iran in 2009 although never thought it would be possible. I was put off by the idea of the process in aquiring a travel visa plus the thought of travelling with hard currency and not being able to use plastic in an emergency. Then there was the thought of as it is a country with negative travel advice maybe my medical insurance would not be covered there. Well, the standard international medical care I have covers Iran. There is alot to take into account when visiting this country and while it seems complicated once you get started its really straight forward. I managed to find a plane ticket from Amsterdam to Tehran for only Euro 180 return so for me Iran was basically handed to me on a silver platter.
Will I ever return to Iran? I would most definetly love to return to Iran, maybe next time to Khoraran or the Caspian Sea coast. I will never forget driving into Tehran that morning and seeing the first martyr paintings on the side of buildings and how alien, almost disturbing, and exciting it felt. Then as days passed slowly the country revealed itself as a land of kind strangers where almost everytime you buy something you are handed a little extra for free as a welcome to their country. Where else in the world would you find that?