After almost one month spent in the wonderful Iran, we came up with the following list of “most striking aspects” for us as European travellers.
The list is halfway between objective facts and pure impressions arisen by our Western point of view.
It might however be of great help for people wanting to approach this stunning country
Buses in Iran are very cheap (a few Euros for hundreds of Kilometres), modern and well working. Although we could not find a global online portal to find and compare prices and timetables, we did not face problems in finding connections between the main cities.
There are plentiful companies (more or less all the same with the word “Safar” in their names) and a rich variety of options, both for hours and bus types, meaning you can find daily or night buses as well as standard (Mahmooly in Farsi language) or VIP services.
Since big cities are located a few hours between each other, you should consider the night buses to save time and accommodation costs (the last night bus usually departs between 9.30 pm and 1 am).
Mahmooly buses have 4 seats rows with less space and limited seat inclination. No food is provided there (just buy something before leaving). However, they can cost even 30-40 % less than the VIPs, which come with 3 seats rows, larger space and some snack and beverage offered. Sometimes, though, only the VIP option is given.
When approaching the Bus terminal you will be “assaulted” by ticket sellers from many companies trying to immediately catch you
Just politely deny and go inside the terminal building to ask for prices and hours at each company’s desk. More or less, however, the fares tend to equal one another. Only a couple of times we succeeded in lowering a bit the fee. On a general basis, buses depart on time, with some little delays to try to enrol as many people as possible.
For long stretches, they stop a few times (every 2-3 hours) for eating (half an hour), toilet (10 minutes) and other needs. Before departure or at some stops on the way, you will also probably see some food sellers getting in the bus to offer their products (quite cheap normally).
In the bus, you are commonly requested to keep your shoes on, forcedly get off the bus when it halts for breaks and “bear” the freezing air conditioning inside (no way to turn it off !)
Moreover, most of buses have no directionable light for reading. No plugs or Wi-Fi either. Honestly, we also found uneasy to sleep due to the constant stops during the way. As for the seat number, it is normally possible to take any free place, unless you find a fussy passenger requesting it (which is fairly rare). Going from South to North Iran, you may incur in frequent checks by the Iranian Police. In Teheran, most of the buses stop either at Azadi or Jonub bus station, from where you can catch a handy metro to any part of the city.
Contrary to buses, they have a main national portal where you can check hours and prices or even reserve your ticket.
Trains are however more expensive and less common than buses; and only cover some important routes (Tabriz – Teheran – Mashhad for example)
Cheap, 2nd class tickets get sold out quite fast and only 1st class ones can be normally purchased last minute (check the website for constant updates).
We only took the train once from Teheran to Mashaad and reserved online a few hours before departure time. We had to buy the 1st class ticket (around 600.000 Rials) costing about 40 % more than the regular 2nd class one. You then need to go to the train station (in Teheran it is well connected with the metro line – Rahahan stop, open until 11 pm) to ask the passenger helpdesk to print out your ticket (10.000 Rials more for the service). Our ticket included a place in a 4 seats/beds compartment, a basic food box (snacks) and a bottle of water.
To be honest, at the beginning we felt a bit uncomfortable, as we had to share the cabin with two more people not speaking any word of English. Besides, there was almost no space to put our bulky backpacks. Finally, all the problems were resolved by our preoccupied “cabin-mates” asking the train controller to be displaced to another compartment, due to the embarrassing presence of a woman in the cubicle.
As for the rest, the advantages of trains are the beds for reposefully sleeping; the bathroom inside and the slightly faster performance compared with buses (2 hours less for Teheran – Mashhad route).
For a backpacker catching a taxi is almost a sin
However, in the remote villages (Alamut Valley for example), Teheran and other main cities you are quite forced to do so, mainly to approach and leave terminals or reach embassies and consulates scattered around the city.
Therefore, be prepared to stressful negotiations with taxi drivers
In Iran, taxi drivers hardly speak English, don’t use GPSs and have a very limited knowledge of the urban toponymy. Even a street located 10 minutes away might represent a great challenge for them. They normally stop and ask for info to passers-by, who often do not know either. For us, the salvation was a GPS we always carried with us during these “missions”.
We could’t help recording this video, with a friendly taxi driver (without any idea of how to reach our destination in Teheran) “supported” by Daniele as a co-pilot . Don’t miss the song, as it is the top trend in Iran ! ; )
The advantage is that at least there is no taximeter, so you can bargain the price, which is better to do in advance before starting the ride, to avoid further problems later (show them the notes you would like to pay for the ride)
Generally speaking, official (yellow or green) taxis have a public fare for specific distances, you can hardly lower. Unofficial taxis (regular cars with no taxi signs) are instead cheaper and more open to negotiation, although less competent in terms of streets knowledge. We had better experience with official, registered taxis indeed.
Potentially in Iran each car might be a taxi. So you won’t have any problem to find a cab in any place.
In terms of fares, you have two main services: private taxi (dar baste in Farsi language), where you pay for all the seats inside; or shared taxi (savari or na dar baste) where you just pay for your seat
Unluckily, finding a shared taxi is not always easy, because destinations do not match or you cannot make yourself understood. You can always try to say to the taxi driver “Na dar baste“, so that he will maybe collect other passengers and your fee will get lower.
We have also heard that only female taxis are available, sometimes driven by women. In Teheran taxis are by far more expensive than the rest of the countries.
Prices range from 100.000 Rials for a shared taxi to 300.000 Rials for a private one, for long distances
Metro is the real salvation for Iran. Cheap, green and fast, it represents the only solution to contamination and traffic problems in big cities. Unfortunately it is currently available only in Teheran (5 lines still not completed) and Mashhad (just one line).
In Teheran it is very handy and allows you reach the main points of interest in few minutes.The drawback is that for main lines at rush hours the wagons are dramatically jammed
We faced some discomfort when we arrived to Teheran with our bulky backpacks at 8 am.
For women it is a bit better, as they have a dedicated wagon (first and last one) only for them, even though sometimes men try to shrewdly sneak in (metro attendants often are powerless or careless for this). In Teheran metro goes as far as both the railway station (Rahahan) and even the airport. Handy also for Azadi and Jonub bus terminals.
If you stay more days, think about buying a metro card with some credit inside, which is cheaper (than single tickets) and faster (no need to go and purchase single tickets every time). They sell it at the “credit ticket” box office inside each station. Metro panels and signs are efficiently translated in English. In Mashhad, metro is just at its first steps. Only one line is currently in place. Despite Google Maps indications, there is NO metro station near the railway station yet. This and other stations are being built and might still take months or years to be completed.
5. ON FOOT (IN THE CITIES):
Inner distances in Teheran, Tabriz, Esfahan, Mashhad, Shiraz and all the main Iranian cities are fairly demanding. Although you can theoretically walk there, this is generally awkward and time-consuming.
Pedestrian traffic lights and crosswalks are quite rare and not respected by local drivers
So be prepared to run and zigzag around darting cars and stuffy air. You will have to observe and imitate locals to “learn” how to cross the busiest streets. The sultry contamination, the austere dress code (long clothes) and the high temperatures are not helping either, especially in summer after May. In Teheran, finally, you sometimes have to cross urban highways, not always endowed with upper walking bridges.
In any case, given the intricacy of the urban streets, it is always better to carry a GPS, as locals will not understand English quite much. Street names are helpfully translated in English though. Another good point is that in nearly all the main cities you can find drinking fountains scattered everywhere to refill your bottle.
Although we personally never tried, the chaotic traffic strongly discourages this type of transport in the cities. Nevertheless, we spotted a bike sharing station in Teheran, totally unexpected : ) Outside the urban net, we noticed very few intrepid cyclists : )
It was quite a dilemma for us! In spite of what we had read on the web and heard from some locals, we could not truly determine whether this is common or not in the country.
Language problems, disguised taxis, locals trying to make a profit, all hinder the brave attempt.
In the end, you are never sure the driver will ask or not for money after dropping you. Potentially, in more rural areas this might be easier. For example, in Alamut Valley, we succeeded in getting two lifts without being asked money in return. Other times, when we beforehand stated we had no money, the driver refused the lift and scooted away!
8. PRIVATE CAR:
Driving in Iranian main cities is quite crazy and not recommended unless you feel very confident. Besides you need an International driving licence. Quite a few times we ended up being passengers of friends’ cars.
We realized how Iranians do love to spend time in cars and are used to the bustling streets in their cities
Despite the hellish chaos, actually most drivers lawfully respect the Highway Code (seat belts fastened, speed limit, turn signals, etc.). Traffic in Teheran never ends!
9. NO INTERNATIONAL ATMs IN IRAN:
Although International sanctions have been partially removed, the bank “embargo” still goes on.
Bring all the cash you need for your stay in Iran!
Try to diversify it between local currency (Rials) and US Dollars, useful at the border and for Visas (e.g. Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan). Be mindful that according to the Iranian law, you can import maximum 5 000 000 Rials (around 120 €) in the country. So the rest must be in US Dollars or Euros ideally.
10. CURRENCY EXCHANGE RULES:
In Iran you have two exchange systems, Official and Unofficial.
The former is used only for bank and raw materials purposes. The latter is the one applied to everyday’s life. The difference between the two is quite hefty, even 15 %. For example, in 2016, Euro equalled to 34.000 Rials in the official system and approx. 39.000 in the unofficial one.
When changing Rials, always wait until you reach the Iranian soil, as foreign banks might apply the less convenient rate. You can find money exchange shops at land borders, airports and in the main cities (normally in specific streets).
Regular Iranian banks do NOT exchange money instead. Before leaving the country, make sure you get rid of all the Rials, as they won’t be accepted anywhere else!
11. TOMANS AND RIALS:
The official Iranian currency is Rial, used by Banks and public institutions. However, in the everyday use, you will hear almost no one giving you prices in Rials.
They always mean Toman, which is 1/10 of the Rial. So if they ask you 3000 Tomans, they are expecting 30.000 Rials. Sometimes you have to even infer from the context. If you are buying a fruit juice and you are only asked “3”, you have to assume the price is 3000 Tomans, that is 30.000 Rials. If you are buying a scarf at the bazaar and they ask for “3”, in this case you should guess the real price is 30.000 Tomans, that is 300.000 Rials. You will get used little by little.
12. NOTES AND COINS:
In Iran the highest banknote is 500.000 Rials (around 12 €) and the lowest 5.000 Rials (around 0.12 €). Coins range from 1000 Rials (0.024 €) to 5000 Rials (around 0.12 €).
You can find two types of 500.000 Rials banknote, old and new one, both currently accepted. All notes have the Islamic revolution leader Khomeini’s face stamped on them!
C) “ISLAMIC” DRESS CODE:
13. DRESS CODE FOR MEN:
Normally men have no many restrictions to face. The most questionable point concerns the short trousers.
Although apparently not banned by law or religion, short trousers are practically avoided by locals. They seem not to be part of their native culture.
Personally, when we tried to wear them, we got never stopped or challenged, apart at the entrance to the Shiraz’s Shāh Chérāgh (the holy shrine). Even in all the Mosques we could access without any problem. It is maybe true that tourists are given a bit more freedom.
Most of the year (apart from the cold season), men do generally wear dark, light trousers (not European jeans) and sober shirts. T-shirts are worn just by youngsters. Ties are generally not used.
In the South, due to higher temperatures, people tend to wear fresher suits or even gowns together with headgear to be protected from the scorching sun. We were actually amazed by the fact that with all the long clothes people were not sweating at all! : )
14. DRESS CODE FOR WOMEN:
Women are unfortunately subjected to a stricter control than men, at least in the public sphere (in a private house the dress code is practically not used among the young adults or modern families)
As a matter of fact, they must always cover their head in public places (including the car) with a scarf (hijab or shayla normally) or any other headgear. In addition, they cannot show any part of their skin except hands or feet. However, rules for head coverage are nowadays getting looser and looser: many young girls, especially in Teheran, already put the veil only on the rear part of the head, keeping half of the hair visible.
We honestly never received any complaint for our “modern” dress code
In general – and more with tourists – the Iranian society is becoming opener and opener with these issues, above all among the youth and in large cities, where casual and colourful garments are very common as well as fashion accessories (earrings, bracelets, necklaces, etc.) and dyed hair. So don’t fret too much about it.
It is true, nevertheless, that among senior citizens or in more remote areas or during particular periods (e.g. Ramadan), habits may slightly or strongly differ. For example, in Mashhad (holy city in the East), women do tend to wear more sober clothes, including the more puritans chadors.
As a whole, as a foreigner, you just need to put on a loose scarf or hijab on half of your head (rear part) and some long clothes covering you arms and legs (even a long skirt to the ankles is ok). Like this nobody will tell you anything!
Stricter norms were applied to us in the holy shrines in Shiraz (Shāh Chérāgh) and Mashhad, with compulsory (but lent by administration at the entrance) chador; or at the bowling, where a longer, “backside protector” gown is provided to women.
As a side note, we were impressed by some women wearing gloves, apparently not for religious but for hygienic purposes.
D) NEW FASHION MARKS:
15. NO BEARD AND LONG HAIR FOR MEN:
Hair seems not to be an appreciated trait in men’s appearance : )
16. BIG “WOMEN-STYLE” WALLET FOR MEN:
We saw quite many young men with “womanly” wallets sometimes directly kept in hand. Typical accessory in big cities mainly.
17. NOSE OPERATIONS:
Typically recognizable by a plaster and/or a soft bandage, nose operations are becoming more and more popular among younger generations (both men and women), especially in big cities.
18. MAKE-UP AND HAIR DYE FOR WOMEN:
Again, a distinctive sign of rebellious change among young people in urban areas.
19. WOMEN VISOR AGAINST THE SUN:
Another impressive breach in the Iranian conservative society.
20. POOR LEVEL OF ENGLISH:
Unfortunately, opposite to what we thought, English is quite an unknown language in Iran, regardless the area, speaker’s age or profession. Even in the capital Teheran we faced hard time to get ourselves understood by the “men on the street”.
21. THUMB UP:
Contrarily to Western societies, Iranian expresses confirmation or gratitude with a hand pressed on the chest (heart height), accompanied by a little head bow.
For them, instead, the thumb up means something like “Fuck you”. Nowadays, however, younger generations are more and more used to International codes. Besides, tourists are always “pardoned” this mistake. You are unlikely to cause any offence.
F) LANGUAGE, NUMBERS & CALENDAR:
In Iran people speak Farsi, quite different from Arabic, but written from right to left. Forget about learning it quite soon : )
Numbers instead are much easier and very helpful to be learnt. Here you have a quick reference.
Try to memorize them to be able to read street numbers, prices, phones, plates, expiry dates and much more !
This way we knew that museum prices for Iranians were 5 to 7 times lower than for tourists : )
The Persian calendar is the precise result of religious and astronomic theories. As a matter of fact, the year “0” coincides with Muhammad’s Hegira (621 AD); whereas the year starts at the midnight closest to the vernal equinox (around the 21st March in Gregorian calendar) as determined by meticulous lunar calculations for the Iran Standard Time meridian (52.5°E or GMT+3.5h). This year (2016) is then 1395 for Iranians.
Today 10/07 is instead 20 Tira (Persian month for our “April”). Given the complex, ever-changing situation, just check any online converter to know the exact date : )
G) SEASON TO GO:
25. WHEN TO GO TO IRAN:
Many factors impact this decision. On the one hand, it is cheaper (better initial fares and negotiation margins) and easier (no many people in the accommodations) to go during Ramadan (variable dates according to the lunar calendar) and in summer; on the other hand, those months correspond with sultry temperatures (deadly in the South after May) and reduction of open establishments for food and shopping. Better then to find a compromise in between : )
If you wish to visit the South and all the Persian Gulf Islands (Hormuz, Qeshm, Kish, etc.), you should go there no later than April
26. BOOKING.COM & HOSTELWORLD:
Forget about them in Iran! Like all US-based companies, they are currently not operating in Iran. Perhaps in the future things will change!
27. FINDING ACCOMMODATION:
For us the only and best way was either using our Lonely Planet guide or sometimes wandering about the city centre streets. In any case, the motto is “Just show up” : )
Incredibly, couchsurfing works very well in Iran. We tried a few times in Qeshm and Mashhad with successful outcome. This is another surprising aspect of the unlimited Persian hospitality!
29. COUPLE SLEEPING TOGETHER:
As a tourist, you won’t be asked many questions about (we never were indeed).
In case you are, just answer you are married, just for social convenience.
I) RAMADAN & RELIGIOUS REPERCUSSION FOR TOURISTS:
Neglectfully, we were not much aware of it before entering Iran : ) The beginning and ending dates of Ramadan vary each year according to the complex lunar calendar. Check them in advance before leaving. In 2016, for example it was 5 June – 5 July.
Theoretically, you are not supposed to eat, drink, smoke, etc. from sunrise to sunset. Practically, a very little percentage of local people do really respect that
You can observe them breaking the rule a bit everywhere, even blatantly in public. The feeling is we are going towards the gradual emancipation: although restaurants and many shops are closed during Ramadan hours, you can easily find food and other supplies from small shops and/or minor eateries, which sometimes allow you to consume your meal behind the dark walls or windows (they even stick some newspapers on the windows).
There is some discomfort when looking for restaurants though. International accommodations do fill the gap instead : )
As a tourist, however, you are practically “lifted” from this obligation. And you will be hardly reproached on the street. So don’t worry too much!
The number of real, genuine followers of the official Islamic belief is getting lower and lower, especially among young adults in large cities. Yes, mosques are still populated by devoted prayers. Nonetheless, they are slowly becoming a socio-cultural place for rest and gatherings. After talking with some Iranian friends, we understood that the prolonged, forced imposition has induced many Iranians to leave any religious lifestyle, especially under the current, “semi-liberal” government. Hence, don’t feel ashamed to bring the topic up with locals. They are quite open-minded in that.
Officially banned everywhere, but “findable” in some private houses, especially in the South near the Persian Gulf : ) Smuggled alcohol sometimes appears even during private parties or weddings.
Iran’s peerless pride, they are open to foreigners without any problem. Most of the times, however, you are requested to pay to enter.
No specific rules apply beside the regular dress code (i.e. women must dress chador in holy shrines) and behaviour. Sometimes men and women enter from different doors, though.
34. HOLY SHRINES:
We visited two popular holy pilgrimage centres in Iran, in Shiraz and Mashhad. Wonderfully impressing. There, tourists can enter for free (quite incredibly : ) and receive special welcome and treatment from a volunteer showing the temple around with a dedicated, “Islamically neutral” explanation. In Mashhad, nevertheless, they do not let enter the proper “Holy Shrine” with Imam Reza’s relics.
35. PRAYING ROOMS:
In plenty of public places (train stations, metro stations, restaurants, rest stops on the road, etc.) you will certainly notice these curious spaces.
36. RING & PRAYER BEADS (subhah):
Colourful, “mystic” rings and pseudo “rosary-beads” (subhah) are mostly used by men for praying purposes.
Small piece of soil or clay, often a clay tablet, used during prayers to symbolize earth. You can see them in the Mosques or other holy sites.
J) INTERNET, SOCIAL NETWORKS AND ONLINE CENSORSHIP:
38. ACCESS AND FASTNESS:
Very difficult to find Internet in public places (apart from some big accommodations and restaurants). In general, however, the service is very slow.
39. FACEBOOK, TWITTER, YOUTUBE & OTHER SOCIAL NETWORKS:
Not working in Iran! In case you wish to use them there, download and install Tor or Ultrasurf before entering the country. For Android mobile devices only, we could however download the app Psiphon after our arrival.
K) MOBILE PHONE:
40. TELEGRAM vs WHATSUP:
Given the higher privacy protection, among Iranians Telegram is the most popular IM app, followed by Viber. Whatsup is only at the 3rd place. Many people, however, do have all the three apps installed in their devices.
41. GETTING AN IRANIAN SIM CARD:
For us it was really useful. We went to an IranCell retail shop and in 10 minutes got the sim card. The price is 120. 000 Rials with 20 000 Rials of balance included. Since calls and SMS are also very cheap, you probably won’t need any further top-up. In order to get the sim card, though, you are requested to leave your finger prints : )
L) DRINKABLE WATER:
42. TAP WATER:
Believe it or not, Iranian tap water is completely drinkable and sometimes even tastier than the European, especially above 1.500 meters height. As a matter of fact, most of the territory lies on an elevated plateau above 1.000 m and surrounded by high peaks.
In Teheran, Tabriz and other large cities you can drink tap water without any problem. Only in the South, when approaching the Persian Gulf, you should not take it
43. DRINKING FOUNTAINS:
Typically in a distinctive style, they are scattered all around cities and villages. They all provide fresh, drinkable water at no cost for you. That means you can save some money in bottles. In doubt, just go nearby or inside a mosque to find one : )
M) PALACES, MOSQUES & MUSEUMS TICKETS:
44. FOREIGNERS OVERCHARGED:
Unfortunately, we sadly realized that foreigners receive a very different treatment when paying entrances to museums, mosques, palaces and relevant buildings.
Generally, they are charged between five and seven times more than locals
The laconic answer we once got was “You have money”. Even for audio guides (never included in the entrance fee) prices may differ in a similar proportion.
45. NO DISCOUNTS:
No discounts are available for students, elders or any special class of visitors. We could NOT find “combined” or “city pass” tickets either.
46. GOVERNMENT TICKETS:
Curiously, all the tickets keep the same standard format, without any mention to the institution name. Tickets are thus set by the government and only vary according to the entrance value.
N) SAFETY IN IRAN:
47. ONE OF THE SAFEST COUNTRIES IN THE WORLD:
In spite of the general, ignorant belief abroad, Iran is really a safe place.
The strict Islamic laws, the absence of alcohol and drugs and above all the innate kindness of Iranians, determine this no-risk situation
Therefore, you can comfortably stroll in any part of the country (apart from some border areas in the South), at any time of the day, without any apprehension. We don’t think this is always possible in Europe : )
48. NEVER STOPPED BY THE POLICE:
In almost one month spent in Iran, we got never questioned by the police when walking around.
O) IRANIAN HOSPITALITY:
49. EVEN TOO KIND:
During our long stay, we met truly generous people trying to help us at their best. Without knowing us at all, sometimes locals were offering us city tours, short lifts, ritual tea, free meals and accommodation. When asking for info in the street, despite the language issues, we were always returned smiling understanding and diligent support.
We believe this “ecumenical” orientation is partially the consequence of the “original sin” Iranians want to wash out from their International reputation, after long, repressive dictatorships. We also believe, though, that this unlimited openness is intrinsically rooted in the people’s genuine hearts.
System of formal politeness widespread in the Iranian society.
In short, most Iranians repeatedly refuse gifts or payment for their help or services
Not applied to taxis and other “official” working sectors, it is instead very common among normal people, when trying for example to pay for meals, buy food, contribute for petrol or offer entrance tickets. In our case, this experience was even overwhelming : ) Completely not imaginable in Europe!
51. “HELLO, WHERE ARE YOU FROM?”:
When people see you in the street, with backpack or not, they often politely approach you and ask this question. Again, this is the unexpected result of good-natured curiosity, innate kindness and “original sin” cleaning (see point 49 above).
52.“WELCOME TO IRAN”: The following, common step.
53. HOMESTAY & HOME RESTAURANTS:
In many remote areas (islands, mountains and countryside) there are no official accommodations or eateries. The only way to stay there is asking around (gestures language). Normally, people will spontaneously offer their houses or know where to point you to. Sometimes this is for free, sometimes not. You will have to “show the money” and see what happens : ) However, this is a great way to stay with local dwellers and relish their ancient, unfaltering traditions.
54. BARS, DISCOS, CONCERT HALLS, ETC. :
Forget about them, they simply don’t exist in Iran. The best you can find in the city is some late cafes or restaurants open until 23 h, max 24. On the road, outside cities, you have many eateries scattered around and open until even later.
Foreigners normally find some basic entertainment (TV, books, music, etc.) in guesthouses, hostels or hotels. Good to freshly get up early the following morning ! : )
55. GIVE IT A GO !:
In Iran negotiation is quite common and neutrally regarded. For us it was a useful way to cut expenditures especially with taxi drivers, bazaar sellers and bus tickets “promoters”. The saving may even reach 30 – 40 %.
R) FOOD & DRINKS HABITS:
56. NO KNIFE:
In Iran you will be rarely provided with this “tool”. Iranians do normally eat with spoon and a “supporting” fork. You will get used quite soon though.
57. LOW VARIATION:
Iranian cuisine is widely dominated by bread, rice and kebabs
Due to language barriers, impact of Ramadan and poor diversification in restaurants and eateries, it turned out really difficult for us to quit this loop. We could try distinct kebab tastes, but not much further (luckily a couple of times we managed to order fried trout).
58. DIZI & KALEH PACHEH:
Outside the above-mentioned loop, we found nonetheless very savoury dishes, like Dizi (meat and chickpea stew with broth) and Kaleh pacheh (sheep cheek with broth) which are slowly tasted in the similar, ritual way.
You have to tear some pieces of bread and pour the broth over them. After eating the “soup”, you pour all the rest into the bowl and traditionally mash it into a paste with the pestle provided.
Iranian salads are a bit different from Europeans. In restaurants you are usually served the Shiraz salad, a basic mix of onion, tomato and cucumber. In smaller traditional eateries main dishes are generally accompanied by raw onion (Iranians love it!) and a typical salad made of aromatic herbs, like parsley, rosemary or others, together with radishes. You can also find this peculiar blend in supermarkets, already prepared in handy boxes.
60. PICKLES: Very typical in Iranian houses and restaurants.
Another emblematic pride of the country. Not that cheap, but deliciously tasting, especially the ones enriched in savoury saffron.
62. CAMEL MEAT: Fairly traditional in Yazd.
63. DOLMEH: Meat, rice and spices wrapped in grape leaves. Delicious!
Quite the “national” beverage. A mix of yogurt, water and lemon. Very healthy and refreshing!
65. ALOE-VERA: New, trendy beverage for health purposes!
66. TEA (ÇAY):
Not only a cherished beverage, but a proper symbol of the country lifestyle.
Tea is placidly sipped several times a day, at home, in tea houses or in picnic areas (where is prepared with “camp stoves”)
It is definitely a firm social pillar to celebrate any kind of meeting. Iranian tea normally stems from a brown blend of herbs served in tea pots or even samovars, without lemon or sugar. It is then poured into small, characteristic glasses deprived of handles (so you almost get burnt!). No European kettles or tea bags involved : )
Tea herbs are cast into the boiling water (or boiling water is cast over the herbs in more advanced tea pots) to then be partially filtered by the pot itself. As for the sugar, Iranians do not solve it directly in the tea, but prefer to chew the white cubes in their mouth while sipping the tea. Another popular method consists of a stick covered with crystal sugar, which you can stir the tea with. Among some consumers, it is customary to drink tea in saucers to let it “breathe” and cool down.
You cannot say to have truly visited Iran if you didn’t try tea with a local!
S) AIR CONDITIONING:
67. AIR ADDICTED:
This is how Iranians are in all spheres of their public and private life! Agreed, in Iran temperatures are hardly tolerable in some months and some areas. However, even in mild season or at night Iranians cannot give up this essential resource.
Buses, taxis and public vehicles are often like fridges. Shops and shopping malls freezers.
68. PEOPLE QUEUING UP:
Opposite to the ineffable Iranian hospitality, this malpractice is rooted a bit everywhere, unfortunately.
It seems that people cannot stand in line and wait for their turn. Instead, you are always overtaken by someone coming from behind, even when you are speaking with the person attending you.
The curious phenomenon is mainly observable at bus and train stations, shops, markets, public offices, etc.
Totally cultural. Thereby, be prepared to fiercely defend your position!
69. SHAKING HANDS WITH WOMEN:
It seems that some older and more conservative Iranian may still see a problem in shaking hands with women, even foreigners. Don’t feel offended if it happens to you as well!
70. GREETING SIGNS:
Among young adults and friends, it is quite typical to kiss each other on the cheek (twice or three times), even between the same sex. Otherwise a standard handshake is more than enough. In doubt, go with it!
71. TAKING THE SHOES OFF: Remember it when entering any house or holy place!
72. LADIES FIRST ! :
In the metro or public transportation, men do normally and politely leave women to seat first.
73. LIMITATIONS FOR WOMEN:
Among other things, women are currently not allowed to go a football match or sing alone in a public concert stage.
U) SPORTS AND HOBBIES:
74. VOLLEYBALL & BADMINTON:
Although football is still the most popular sport among Iranians, these two disciplines are currently getting very close to it. Due to the recent successes of the national team, volleyball has acquired a new status in the Iranian habits. Not as common as the former, the latter is largely practiced in gardens, parks and picnic areas.
75. BASTANI & ZURKHANEH:
If you go to Yazd, don’t miss the peculiar gym based in Amir Chakhmaq Sq. (indeed in a small alley on its north side), open for tourists. There you will notice a very traditional discipline called Bastani, in which fitness, social and religious purposes mix up in an authentically unique sport.
Following the rhapsodic rhythm of a singing leader, practitioners have to use different curious instruments to train their bodies and show their virility.
76. PICNIC AND SHOPPING MALLS:
The real “national” sports in Iran : ) Families and friends love to gather in shadowy and sheltered spots to enjoy refreshing moments while drinking çay, eating and amiably talking.
V) CITY SIGTHS:
77. BIG NATIONAL FLAGS:
Especially in Teheran, you will easily notice how national identity is represented everywhere!
78. SOLDIERS AND MILITARY BASES:
Given the fact that in Iran men are compelled to serve for 2 years in the army, you will see plenty of soldiers around. Military bases are also an ever-present element in the urban landscape.
79. CHARITY BOXES:
They look like blue letter boxes with a slot for money. Very common in big and small cities, they are placed at few hundred meters of distance one another.
80. KHOMEINI / KHAMENEI PICTURES:
The first and current supreme ayatollah after Islamic Revolution (1979) are “stuck” on countless billboards and panels around the entire country. You will get very familiar with them : )
81. SELLERS IN METRO:
Metro wagons in Teheran resemble a bazaar sometimes! People sell everything there: from socks to backpacks; from city maps to toys. Quite an underworld : )
82. TEHERAN SIZE:
Apparently there is a noteworthy gap between the city size in the day (approx. 18 millions) and at night (about 30 millions).
As a matter of fact, at night it may almost double due to people working in the outskirts coming back from their jobs.
83. ANTI-POLLUTION MASKS:
Due to the unbearable pollution in large cities, some citizens are forced to take extreme measures.
84. AD STICKERS BOMBING:
In Teheran and other main cities, advertisers use this “seamless” method to draw dwellers’ attraction : )
85. IRANIAN CARS:
Iranian cars are quite in line with Western levels, above all in Teheran. Nevertheless, local brands like Saipa are the real market leaders. Among foreign cars, Peugeot 206 and several Asian brands (Nissan, Kia, Hyundai, etc.) are the most popular.
86. STEERING LOCK:
Old but efficient way to secure the car integrity in large cities. Still a must in Iran!
87. TISSUES IN PORTABLE BOXES:
Another recurrent feature in Iranian cars is the unmissable tissue box on the front or rear part of the vehicle. Very hygienic habit!
88. ONLY SQUATS: In Iran almost nowhere you will find throne toilets.
89. NO TOILET PAPER, JUST HOSE:
Use your imagination here : ) Especially for women, this could be an issue. Try to get used or remember to always carry a paper roll with you.
90. FREE PUBLIC TOILETS:
Luckily (at least a good point finally : ), almost all the public toilets in cities and on the road are free of charge, with some rare exceptions.
91. TECHNOLOGY AT EUROPEAN PRICES:
Due to import tolls and taxes, IT goods (cameras, PCs, phones, etc.) may turn out quite expensive in Iran, roughly at the same level (even sometime more expensive) as in Europe.
Z) ETHNIC MINORITIES
In spite there is an independent republic of Azerbaijan, actually the majority of Azerbaijanis currently live in Iran, contributing for about 25 % of the total population. They mainly reside in the North of the country (Tabriz area above all) and are well integrated in the society. They are also called “Turks” because of their “Turkic” dialect. As a side note, the current supreme leader Ali Khamenei comes from an Azari family.
93. IRANIAN NOMADS:
Estimated in around a million, they are mostly Turkic Qashqa’i and Bakhtiyari, Kurds, Lors and Baluchis.
You can visit them with a guide from Shiraz or Esfahan.
♦ BEST VIEWS :
Frequently included in the classic day trip around Yazd (ask your hotel for this), it is famous to host Iran’s paramount Zoroastrian pilgrimage site, the fire temple, where supposedly princess Nikbanuh found the water when escaping from the invading Arabs (637 AD).
95. DARBAND, TOCHAL AND ALBORZ MOUNTAINS:
It is fairly impressive how quickly you can pass from the bustling, chaotic Teheran to the nearby upper districts where the air is fresh and clean, the atmosphere playfully relaxed and ski even possible!
Located at around 30 minutes drive from Esfahan, it is a peerless desert village with less than one hundred dwellers. We went with local people there, but you can ask a taxi to drive you as well. Totally worth a visit!
Underground aqueducts still built for irrigation and drinking aims. They vividly represent the skilful Iranian engineering art, which you can easily appreciate in Yazd Water Museum.
Another notable invention from the past still usefully applied in our times. Badgirs are windtowers conveying refreshing air drifts to rooms and water reservoirs below. The utmost example of them is displayed in Yazd, inside and around the Old City.
99. ICEHOUSE IN MEYBOD:
Close to Yazd, Meybod is a very ancient settlement where you can find this Safavid-era building used in the past to store ice.
100. BIGGEST COVERED BAZAR IN THE WORLD: in Tabriz, spectacular!
101. POMPOUS REMNANTS OF SAFAVID, QAJAR AND PAHLAVI DYNASTIES:
In Teheran, don’t miss the beaming splendour of the Treasury of National Jewels (Safavid and Qajar Dynasty), Golestan Palace (Qajar) and Sa’d Abad Museum Complex (Pahlavi), last examples of the past, lavish Persian grandeur.
In summary, Iran is a fascinating land completely safe and friendly.
Besides being extremely helpful, Iranians are genuinely open and truly passionate on foreigners and tourists. Try to talk, eat and spend some time with them to realize how boundless are their politeness and generosity. Although you will be faced with cultural (dress code, banned alcohol, no night life, etc.) and language barriers, you will nonetheless fully appreciate the spirited closeness of the local people, especially in remote areas.
Take at least two weeks to visit the colourful Mosques and Shrines in Tabriz, Teheran, Esfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad, Yazd and surroundings. Experience the lonely quietness of the North (e.g. Alamut Valley), the busy environment of the cities, the warm desert in the central territories and the “liberal” atmosphere in the Persian Gulf (Hormuz, Qeshm and Kish).
In short, enjoy the best of Iran ! As we did !