Likes & Dislikes

Opinions

“I will start by declaring, in the strongest terms, that Iran is not a dangerous country for tourists! Public safety is probably better than in most large European cities, and there are no other serious safety concerns. The most dangerous thing in Iran is crossing a busy road in Teheran, but even that is a technique which everyone quickly picks up.

The Iranian regime is very strict with its own citizens in many aspects of daily life, but they leave tourists alone and don’t bother them. So long as you’re the sort of tourist who respects the local culture and the basic laws of everyday life, and doesn’t conspicuously try to stir up political controversy, you won’t have any problems.

Iran is, moreover, an extremely interesting, exciting, diverse country, and visiting it is a real experience. Anyone who decides against it as a destination, simply on the grounds of security concerns, is making a big mistake. We never met a single foreign traveler who regretted coming to Iran, or was leaving disappointed. Almost everyone spoke of their experiences with the greatest enthusiasm. This absolutely doesn’t mean that a traveler in Iran shouldn’t expect some difficulties and inconveniences along the way, but with sufficient prior knowledge even these can be minimized.

There can’t be many countries in the world where the local people are so naturally, disinterestedly, and honestly friendly towards foreign tourists. Young people are always happy to get to know foreigners, since they’re anxious to improve their English. Given the relative political and economic isolation of the country, they’re very curious about the outside world, and about what foreigners think of their country. They’re also unbelievably hospitable – especially middle-aged and elderly people – even if linguistic difficulties hamper communication. It is a fascinating and affecting experience to get to know good-hearted and sympathetic people who are so proud of their Persian ancestry.

It is also a major advantage that the serious devaluation of the local currency means that anyone travelling there with US dollars or Euros will find that almost everything is extremely cheap! Flying there is expensive, but once you arrive, almost everything can be had for a good price. There are no real problems with transport, accommodation, food or hygiene.”

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“For want of anything better to do, families and groups of friends congregate in city squares and especially parks, and in the evening we saw many people picnicking in on the grassy lawns of city parks. They bring along big rugs, a thermos and plenty of provisions, and enjoy a pleasant, wholesome evening. They saw that we were foreign tourists and smiled at us. We often felt we’d have been very welcome to join them. On the street you never hear music being played, but in a shop I discovered a CD by a local musician, and when I heard it I was sorry his music didn’t fill the whole street.

On the subject of streets: you never see couples walking hand-in-hand. Okay, I’ve travelled the world, and I know that in many places people express romantic love in public in different ways. A local acquaintance told us that students and other young people hold wild house parties, where their desire for explicit erotica is very much in evidence – especially because they want to rebel against all the prohibitions that hem them in.” (Marion, 2016)

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“What I experienced in Iran was something I’ve never found anywhere else over the course of my travels. Perhaps it’s an expression the country’s past – that mixing of faiths and ethnicities, and the consequences of living through history. During the centuries of the Silk Road, there was a constant stream of people coming and going through the country – foreigners, representatives of other cultures, merchants and travelers. This is the sort of flow which keeps life and society vibrant and flexible. It is the circulatory system of a country, and the Iranians long ago realized that hospitality was a catalyst for trade. Caravans of merchants were happy to come, and the locals were happy to see them.
Helpfulness, good will and a friendly curiosity towards travelers from distant lands – this remains present in the everyday conduct of today’s Iranians to an unbelievable and startling extent.” (2017)


Iran - new generation - new positioning of the scarf - k-t.g. photo

Practicals

Transport

“In Iran, even adults are treated like children, and are constantly being told what they can and cannot do. This even began to annoy us, so you can imagine the frustration it causes in locals. This is most visible when it comes to the traffic situation, where everyone briefly acts as though they can do whatever they please.

The rules of the road are, it seems, there to be broken, and nobody pays them the slightest attention. Right in front of a police officer they’ll perform driving maneuvers for which, in another country, they’d lose their license on the spot. I’ll give an example, since that will show more clearly what I’m talking about: Three, four or even five people on a single motorbike. Daddy drives, while in front of him, between the handlebars sits his four-year-old child. Mom sits at the very back, with a baby in her arms, while their seven-year old daughter sits in between them. She’s grown-up enough now that nobody needs to hold her. They set off on a red light – after all, nothing seems to be coming – and drive on the wrong side of the road, because it’s quicker. Nobody indicates. One lane fits at least two cars, and drivers routinely fit in three. To Westerners, this level of traffic chaos is simply inconceivable, but for them it somehow seems to work, because we hardly saw a single fender-bender.

At first glance, driving out onto an Iranian roundabout looks like a suicide mission, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised: drivers here seem much more attentive and responsive than their Turkish counterparts. They slow down, let you out, and don’t honk you to smithereens with the horn.

All the same, they drive crazy fast and don’t have the slightest idea about stopping distance, while some of the cars on the road are in such clapped out condition it’s a wonder they don’t fall apart.

In Iran, every car owner has a gasoline card. Whenever you fill up, the first 50 liters cost 700 toman per liter, or about $0.17 (that’s not a misprint) while anything above 50 liters costs 1000 toman, or about $0.24 a liter. As you can imagine, almost everyone has at least one car. The roads are jammed with 30-40-year-old trucks belching out fumes, and the air pollution on the edge of towns (and in the center of Tehran) is so dense you could drown in it. I’ve never experienced anything similar, not even in Istanbul, though it’s not exactly empty of traffic either.

In Tehran this is compounded by the fact that the city lies at the foot of a mountain, and this prevents the smog from dispersing. Amid the endless cars there are at least as many mopeds and motorbikes racing about – 125-150ccm Hondas seem to be popular, as are some local brands, and models from the Far East. I’d say that maybe half the motorcyclists we saw had helmets, but that’s probably a generous overstatement. Or in fact, no, that’s not quite true – almost all of them had helmets, but they were generally worn on the arm, or else fixed somewhere else on the bike so it could be put on when needed, at a traffic stop or police checkpoint, for instance.

We heard that ten thousand people die in Iran each year in motorbike accidents, which unfortunately is all too easy to believe. Many of the bikes are also in a dangerous condition themselves, with broken front/rear lights, indicators dangling from cables, squeaky wheels and much, much more.” (2015)

Shopping

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Tehran - art dealer - s.v. photo

Iran - handicraft - s.v. photo

Fun

“I was lucky enough to be invited to a house party, where there was a range of black-market alcohol, and where Iranian women dressed in miniskirts and shorts instead of robes and headdresses, and smoked and drank. Shocking stuff. 😊 Of course, this is all illegal in Iran, so at the back of everyone’s mind was the worry that the police might at any moment kick the door down. The fact is, though, all the Iranians I met were extremely friendly and helpful.

If you’re staying with your partner at a hotel, the management are entitled to ask for proof of marriage, so it’s worth bringing some form of certificate with you. A man and a women are not permitted to sleep in the same room unless they are married. Still, there are loopholes to this rule – our Iranian acquaintances told us all about them.” (2018)

Iran - message to the U.S.A. - stripes end to become bombs - k-t.g. photo

Background

Iran - national flag - salute - پرچم ملی ایران

Destination in brief

Iran in brief

The Islamic Republic of Iran is a Western Asian country. Its neighbors are Iraq, Turkey (west), Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan (north), Afghanistan, Pakistan (east). Iran has a coast on the Caspian Sea (north), the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman (south). 

Size: 1,648,195 km² (636,372 mi²)   

Population: 83,4 million (2020) - so the country’s population density is low (except for the Teheran area) 

Iranians are not Arabs, and most do not speak Arabic.

Official languages: Persian (Farsi), but it is not the mother tongue of half of the population – many people speak Azerbaijani or Kurdish 

Capital city: Teheran (9,1 million)

Official currency: Iranian rial (IRR)

Average net monthly salary: 450 USD (2019)

Most frequent surname: Mohammadi 

Optimal time for a tourist visit: from the middle of April till the beginning of June and from the end of September till the beginning of November

Must-see tourist attractions: Teheran, Shiraz, Persepolis, Yazd, Isfahan

The first Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great (6th century BC) was the world's first superpower. A large country located right on the Silk Roads, Persia/Iran has an ancient and culturally rich history that is still very visible and of which the locals are rightfully very proud.

Iran is absolutely not a dangerous tourist destination. Locals are exceptionally friendly to foreign travelers. Visitors do not feel anything about the political tension between Iran and the West. We do not advise visitors, however, to wear a US army uniform. (January 2020) 

Female tourists must always wear a long coat/tunic (covering the body shape till about mid thigh) over their regular clothes and are required to cover their heads with a scarf. 

Iranian and foreign women are only required to cover 80% of their hair so this leaves a lot of room for fashion and style. While in the countryside most women wear the head-to-toe covering black chador, this is not true in the cities. Many women in Iranian cities are amazingly stylish and Iran is a great place to buy gorgeous headscarves (which you can try to wear like them while you are there and use as simple scarves back home).

Men should wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. 

Alcohol is banned in Iran. YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are blocked in Iran. Netflix is also blocked. Instagram (as of January 2020), however, is not blocked.

Iran has the highest rate of nose surgery in the world per capita. According to most estimates, Iranians get four times the amount of nose jobs that Americans do. You do in fact see in Iran’s big cities a surprising amount of upper-class women with Band-Aids on their noses.

Toilets in Iran are mostly squat toilets. Except in hotels, water is used instead of toilet paper. That is a thrilling challenge that may improve your self-confidence.  

History

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Yazd - Tamer, a 4000 years old town' ruins near Yazd - v.j. photo

People

“It’s almost embarrassing to admit how often we caught ourselves becoming suspicious. Why is this person being so friendly? What’s the hidden motive behind it? Our Western logic always suggests some material objective. In the vast majority of cases, however (of course our sample could hardly be called representative) there was no ulterior motive whatsoever.
The fact is, the Iranians we met were simply extremely friendly and helpful. This Persian mentality was so alien to our rigid, matter of fact, Western individualist mindset that we found it very difficult to get used to. After this initial culture shock, however, an entirely new image of Iran slowly began to take shape: an exotic country, full of kind, friendly people, where despite their great poverty there is a deep and genuine love of life.” (2019)

Iran - Yazd - schools girls - v.j. photo

Iran - Shiraz - man waiting in the barbershop - s.z. photo

Iran - Shiraz - lady in the mosque - v.j. photo

Iran - Hormozgan - Bandar-E'Abbas - a bandari woman wearing burqa, a traditional mask - v.j. photo

Tourist etiquette

“Some mosques, usually major centers of pilgrimage, are off-limits to tourists, or perhaps can only be entered at certain times and in certain, limited areas, in the company of a local guide. If at any point you are unsure about whether you can enter or not, there’s no need to worry – friendly locals will always be more than happy to help you. It’s important to always bear in mind that Iran is a deeply religious country, and religiosity and hospitality are, to them, two sides of the same coin! If they express curiosity about out own faith and religious beliefs, it is a function of their own local culture, and not simple nosiness.”

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“Photography is generally permitted. Unlike the Sunnis, the Shiite Iranians generally see nothing amiss in taking a photograph of a holy place, and indeed frequently do it themselves with their mobile phones. Encouraged by this easygoing attitude, I took a picture of the palace of justice while walking in the administrative district of Teheran – after all, I’m a lawyer. Soon, however, I was chased down by the building’s porter, together with a police officer. Not only did they want to check my photographs, but there was serious talk of confiscating my phone. In the end I agreed to show them all my photographs, which did not include a photograph of the palace of justice, since my camera is dual function, and I’d actually taken a video of the building. That’s how at sea they were when it came to technology. What really surprised me, though, was the fact that a few minutes later I was in the gardens of the Gulistan Palace, one of the city’s main tourist attractions, and from there I could photograph the palace of justice without anyone raising an eyebrow. The fact is, I was only a few meters as the crow flies from the place where I’d first provoked the porter’s ire – just the other side of a metal fence.”

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“Iran is a spectacular country, and anyone who can should pay it a visit. It isn’t expensive, isn’t pushy, doesn’t show off, and everyone who visits is practically guaranteed a wealth of new experiences. We totally fell in love with this gorgeous country and its inhabitants. The fact that women have to wear a headscarf, and everyone has to wear ankle-length pants, is just a necessary inconvenience. My boyfriend put it in a way that really helped me frame the issue in my mind: he said you have to accept it, and do things the way locals do, even if you feel you could do them just as well in shorts. The fact is, our freedom makes their lack of freedom all the harder to bear, and we shouldn’t rub their noses in it by emphasizing all the things we’re free to do, but rather live while we’re there within the same restrictions as them, as thus express our solidarity.
If you get the chance, don’t miss out on Iran.”

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“Tourists should be sure to strictly and rigorously adhere to Iran’s dress codes, since there are no exceptions for foreigners in this regard. This is particularly true for women, who must wear a hijab (headscarf) everywhere and always, except the hotel room. Furthermore, women must not wear a top which exposes the midriff at any point, while skirts should certainly cover the thighs and, better yet, fall below the knee. If you don’t have clothing like this at home then it can easily be obtained from a clothing store on the first day, but the headscarf must be worn immediately upon arrival in the country – you won’t be permitted past the passport control without one.

Given the heat, female outerwear should be of as light a fabric as possible, and of a light, single color. It’s probably best to avoid bright white, but beige and light brown would be fine, as are light green and lilac. The scarf should be of a darker shade, of a simple material but patterned – this is an area where local women show particular flair. Under an outer top (jacket) long pants can be worn, and even jeans, but to avoid drawing attention to themselves, foreign women should probably avoid sandals and stick to closed shoes, of any color, which cover the ankles. White sneakers, for instance, are no problem.

If you’re on private property, then the dress code depends on the situation. It a hotel or guest house it is generally worth trying to blend in as much as possible, so for instance if the other women are keeping their headscarves on, it is probably advisable to follow suit.

Men are expected to wear ankle-length pants, and while a short-sleeved shirt is permitted, long sleeves are generally preferred. Tourists wearing sandals won’t get in trouble, but socks and shoes are more socially acceptable. Men should avoid standing out through their sartorial choices, so don’t wear a short or t-shirt emblazoned with some recognizable symbol related to, for instance, America. Clothing choices are, as this list shows, freer for men, but at the same time they should dress conservatively when visiting religious sites. A moustache or beard is no problem – it’ s in fashion there too.”


Iran - the violator - h.m. photo

Attractions

Persepolis

Iran - Persepolis - v.j. photo

Persepolis -i.t. photo

Persepolis - e.g. photo

Persepolis - k-t. g. photo.

Persepolis - k-t.g. photo

Shiraz

Shiraz - Vakil mosque - v.j. photo

Shiraz - mosque - v.j. photo

Shiraz - A tower of Arg-e-Karim Khan citadel - v.j. photo

Shiraz - a mosque entrance - k-t. g. photo

Tehran

Iran - Tehran - view from the Milad Tower - s.v. photo

Yazd

Yazd - Jame mosque - k-t. g. photo

Yazd - Jame mosque in night lights - v.j. photo

Yazd - Jame mosque - k-t. g. photo

Yazd - Jame mosque - k-t. g. photo

Yazd - girls - v.j. photo

Isfahan

Isfahan - The Shah mosque - v.j. photo

Isfahan - Shah mosque - v.j. photo

Tabriz

Iran - Tabriz city - dwellings of Troglodyte - s.v. photo

Mashhad

Iran - Mashhad - Imam Reza Holy Shrine - s.v. photo

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