49. “Iran? On Holiday? Really??”

As we sped southwards down the highway towards Yazd – me behind the wheel, Pink Floyd blaring from the stereo – I realised just how different from my expectations Iran was turning out to be…

I had found the tour through http://www.friendlyiran.com that catered especially for people travelling with children – short journeys and plenty of child-friendly activities as well as the must-do sights – and decided to take the plunge.

We don’t get a lot of news from Iran in the UK, and what we do get tends to be political – which is arguably never the best basis on which to form your opinions of a country itself.

So it proved to be with Iran, anyway. 

Despite having wanted to visit for several years, I admit I had a few preconceived impressions of what it might be like; shortages due to sanctions, sparse and scrub countryside, strict religious observances (I admit that paranoia about my headscarf slipping off never fully went away), a wariness of British tourists, and several other things – mostly relating to social faux-pas (what if I forgot myself and went to shake a man’s hand?!). That’s not to say I thought it was going to be unsafe (in fact, I felt the opposite – otherwise Hugo and I would never have gone), or that it was going to be a dull and sanitised version of a country (impossible to do with a country that was basically the progenitor of modern civilisation, surely?!), but I just didn’t know what to expect…

Within about the first 15 minutes of arriving, I had pretty much all my worries blown out of the water in terms of how instantly welcome and comfortable we felt. Our guide, Mohsen, met us at the airport with a handshake (and a rose!); I got over my first social faux pas when I nearly walked into the men’s toilet and had to be re-directed by a group of gentlemen standing nearby; and as my headscarf slipped back and I started grasping at it in semi-panic, I was told not to worry at all, nobody was really interested – and a quick look around proved that to be the case. Not to say you should be blasé, but headscarves (and some are already worn pretty far back…) do slip, and they are just put back in position without fuss. It may seem like a silly worry to have, but I had kind of built up my own ideas of what a social faux pas might be. I discovered over the course of the trip that my ideas and Iran’s ideas on the matter were – unsurprisingly – quite different (for example, blowing your nose in a restaurant is a real no-no).

That was only the first time that my preconceptions were challenged, but it happened repeatedly over the next two weeks; the landscape we drove through, the people we met, experiences we had, food we ate, the beauty and art, the hospitality, and the culture… it all opened our eyes and entered our hearts…

Our tour (citizens of the UK, USA, and Canada have to book a tour to be granted a visa to Iran) started in the capital, Tehran, and took us south to Shiraz, via Kashan, Abyaneh, Esfahan, Naein, Yazd, Abarkooh, Persepolis and Pasargade. We travelled over 1000km through desert, snow-capped mountains, and lush countryside; past salt lakes, and moon-like landscapes, small villages far from anywhere, and huge metropolises.

We tried all manner of foods from fancy restaurants to street snacks, we were invited into people’s homes, we hitched rides through the alleyways on motorbikes and pick-ups, we took a LOT of photos, we marvelled at the art that was everywhere and in every form…

I expected to be surprised by Iran, I expected to be impressed, but I never expected to fall in love quite as much as I did.

I’m going to be writing a bit more about our time in Iran over the next few posts – it’s definitely a country that deserves more than one post!


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