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Just back from 18 days in Iran ... here are some photos

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Just back from 18 days in Iran ... here are some photos

Old Nov 5th, 2008, 04:15 PM
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Just back from 18 days in Iran ... here are some photos

My daughter and I had an amazingly wonderful time in Iran. Tehran, Esphahan, Shiraz, Yazd, Nai'in, Abyaneh, Alamut Valley, Tabriz, and lots of other places in between. A day at Persepolis was one highlight among many, as was another day spent with nomads in their winter homes. Everywhere we went we met warm and welcoming people, eager to speak with us and to hear our opinions of their country. We openly introduced ourselves as Americans and always encountered friendliness and kindness, often lightened by humor about the politicians in our respective countries.

Here are some of my photos: http://jmstudio.fotopic.net/c1606257.html

I don't have a trip report as such, but will try to pull together some of the details if anyone is interested.
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Old Nov 5th, 2008, 07:07 PM
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did you have a guide? How did you get around? How was the tourist infrastructure? How did you meet the nomads?

Sounds fascinating!! Glad you had a great time!
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Old Nov 5th, 2008, 07:58 PM
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I have not had a chance to go through your photos yet, but wanted to say thank you for posting! I leave in about 2 weeks so was curious how it went - glad you had great trip.
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Old Nov 5th, 2008, 08:29 PM
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What a lovely surprise to see your photos of a place few of us get to visit. Will look forward to reading your trip report! www.pbase.com/pattyroth
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Old Nov 5th, 2008, 08:43 PM
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These are stunning photos! I work on Wednesday's with a girl from Iran, at lunch today she was telling me a bit of the history of her country.

What a beautiful country it seems to be, I would love to see it someday.
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 06:16 AM
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Julia - I see in one of the pictures your daughter isn't wearing a head scarf -- I'm just curious - were there no men around? (I was under the impression I'd have to be all "scarfed up" the entire time I'm there.)

Also, we don't have much time in Tehran at all (Really, just one day) - I know I want to go to the bazaar - were there other things in Tehran that you would say not to miss?
Thanks!
Linda
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 09:04 AM
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Thank you all for your comments! In reply:

Momliz- yes, we did have a guide, actually two. The first we had while travelling with a small group. His name is Sassan, he is a ruggedly handsome youngish-60-something, former colonel in the Iranian Air Force during the Iran-Iraq war, university lecturer and seemingly minor celebrity throughout Iran - everywhere we went, everyone, even the random people on the street, seemed to know him and greet him effusively, like a long-lost best friend. Here's Sassan: http://jmstudio.fotopic.net/p54727220.html And another: http://jmstudio.fotopic.net/p54726020.html Sassan had attended university in North Carolina as a young man, studied for a doctorate at Edinburgh and travelled widely. His English was excellent, if amusing at times, and his energy was boundless.

Our second guide, while daughter and I travelled alone north of Tehran, was named Reza. He had attended university in Oklahoma, been a pilot in the war and was invited to sit in the cockpit visiting with the pilots during our flight from Tabriz back to Tehran. Daughter and I were served treats and treated like minor celebrities ourselves because we were travelling with Reza.

The tourist infrastructure is good but somewhat limited. Everywhere we went there were one or a few 4- or 5-star hotels; not what we would expect at home from a 5-star, but perfectly comfortable, clean, with attentive and friendly staff, plentiful toiletries and other 'amenities', clean towels and sheets, etc. Most hotels had internet available for a small charge, some even had wi-fi in the public areas.

Walking into our room at the hotel in Yazd was moment of perfect delight, as light flooded through the stained glass windows, painting the room in color. http://jmstudio.fotopic.net/p54727240.html

Public toilets are widely available in public buildings and restaurants. Most are the eastern squat variety, though there was often one western stool toilet at the end of the row in each restroom. Toilet paper is rarely provided, except in the hotels. My small bag was always stuffed with bits of tissue, napkins, anything I could collect for use during the day.

Distances between cities in Iran are great. We flew from Tehran to Esphahan, from Esphahan to Shiraz, from Tabriz to Tehran. Iran Air was punctual, efficient and seemed to be well-run.

Maxwell- There were a few times when we were invited to remove our headscarves. We were told 'this is a private home' or 'this is a private place and we don't require women to wear hejab here.' At all other times, except while in our hotel rooms, we were mindful to keep our heads covered. We were expected to cover up even when answering the door for room service, more pillows, etc. There were a few times when Sassan murmured to one or another of us, 'please mind your scarf,' as it slipped just a bit too far back. Some scarves were definitely easier than others to deal with. Sara and I came to prefer the long, rectangular variety made of light woven fabric, cotton rather than silk, which didn't slip so easily. It was quite warm while we were there, often into the 80s during the day. You may find it cooler and may not mind the heavier headscarves. You're expected to keep your neck covered, with tops buttoned up. You can drape your scarf to cover up skin exposed with a v-neck top.

Tehran is crazy, overwhelming at first: the chaotic traffic, the smog, the crush of people, but it is also fascinating and there are wonderful restaurants and good museums. I would recommend the National Museum if you have time for only one. The Bazaar in Tehran is intimidating, more so than bazaars in Morocco, Turkey, other cities in Iran. In many places people are shoulder-to-shoulder and it's difficult to move through. Here's a photo: http://jmstudio.fotopic.net/p54726040.html

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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 10:18 AM
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Julia - thanks for this! I will probably have a few more questions for you after I have time to gather my thoughts this weekend.

I've really enjoyed your pictures and can't wait to see it all in person in a few weeks.
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 11:49 AM
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beautiful images/fascinating start to what obviously was a wonderful trip. thanks!
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Old Nov 6th, 2008, 02:14 PM
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Julia this is very exciting. Beautiful photos, too.

AS a US citizen, was it difficult to get a visa? How did you go about arranging the trip, the guides, etc.

Would it be at all possible to estimate the cost of a trip such as you took, or maybe a price-per day range...

What flights did you take? Who assembled the group that you traveled with in the beginning--a local tour operator?

Thanks--I would also love to read a report of your trip..with details, please, about the food.
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Old Nov 7th, 2008, 01:48 AM
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Absolutely stunning photos, especially of the people and the architecture. Thank you so much, and please post as many details as you can. This is not a place I would have thought about visiting but your photos have intrigued me.
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Old Nov 7th, 2008, 05:29 AM
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Julia, your photos are amazing -- it really looks like a spectacularly beautiful country (a lot of the architecture reminds me of some of the cities along the Silk Road).

Michael
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Old Nov 7th, 2008, 07:05 AM
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FYI, we sent a reporter to Iran for a travel article. Here's her story, in today's USA TODAY:

http://www.usatoday.com/travel/desti...-welcome_N.htm
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Old Nov 7th, 2008, 07:34 AM
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zinders, thanks for posting the link to an interesting article -- your author seems very astute, your readers much less so, if that can be gauged by the content of the responses.
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Old Nov 7th, 2008, 09:54 AM
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Thanks again for the kind comments! And Zinders, thanks for the link to the story in USA Today. There appears to be more and more interest in Iran lately. Since Sara and I booked our trip last winter, we have seen articles about travel in Iran appearing with increasing frequency - from Rick Steves to the NY Times to the London Telegraph and now USA Today, and likely more we aren't aware of.

While in Iran our paths crossed more than once with other tour parties, Swiss, French, German, Chinese, and a group from the British Museum. We were all following similar routes through Tehran, Esphahan, Shiraz, Persepolis, Yazd, etc. We didn't encounter any other Westerners in Abyaneh or north of Tehran, however - may have been just a bit too far off the beaten path there.

To answer questions: ekscrunchy, the process of getting a visa as a US citizen is a little cumbersome because there isn't an Iranian embassy or consulate in the US. It involved making application through a travel company to the Embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in London, sending the completed application form along with photocopies of the main page of our passports and two passport-size photos - women must wear a headscarf for the photos. This is all sent to Tehran by the London Embassy and in due time the visa is issued. Once the visa was issued, we sent our passports to the travel company in London. They took them to the Iranian consulate to be stamped and then returned them to us by registered mail. We were told from the outset not to apply if there were entrance stamps in our passports for Israel.

The cost of the trip was very reasonable, compared to travel we've done in Europe and southern Africa. The cost of the tour portion averaged about £100 per day, which included all meals, accommodations, transportation including flights from Tehran to Esphahan and Esphahan to Shiraz, all entrance fees and our wonderful guide, Mr. Sassan, as well as several excellent drivers. The days on our own, just Sara and myself, averaged £175 per day, including nice new car, driver, guide, all meals, accommodations, entrance fees, flight from Tabriz to Tehran, last night accommodation in Tehran and transportation to Tehran airport the next morning. Outside of these pre-paid costs, we spent very little money. There was some shopping, of course, and a few evenings when we chose to eat on our own, twice skipping out to find Iranian pizza, which was surprisingly good. And in Esphahan I hired a taxi for the morning to take me to the bridges and wait for me as I spent time walking along the riverbank near each one taking photographs. That cost about $10 for 3 hours.

I used miles for free flights for Sara and upgrades for myself. We flew Business/Club all the way, Seattle to London to Istanbul on British Airways, then to Tehran on Turkish. Returned Tehran to London on BMI, then London to Seattle on BA. We spent one night in London on the way over and two nights in London on the way home (stayed near Oxford St to take advantage of the autumn sales.)

Most of our arrangements were made through Magic Carpet Travel in Britain - www.magiccarpettravel.co.uk - who were excellent and easy to work with. The small group shifted and changed during the trip as people joined us and departed on varying schedules, but everyone was congenial and interesting, as well as being great fun. The oldest was 84, a man from Scotland, and Sara was the youngest at 33. There was a couple from New Zealand, a woman from Greece, another woman from Colombia, a professor from Oxford, two architects from London and assorted others.

Must leave for work now - will post more later.

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Old Nov 10th, 2008, 10:03 AM
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I thought I would add a few more details for anyone thinking about Iran as a future destination. First, our itinerary:

- Day 1 - Tehran

- Days 2,3,4 - Fly to Esphahan, visit sights around the city, including Imam Square, the Imam and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosques and Ali-Qapu Palace; Chehel Sotun (Forty Columns) and Hasht Behesht (Eighth Heaven) Palaces; Jolfa (Armenian) quarter of the city and Vank Cathedral and Museum; Shaking Minarets; evening visit to a Zoorkhaneh (House of Strength); Bazaar; Si-o-Se and Kahju bridges; and spend some time just walking the beautiful shaded streets, talking with people and browsing the shops.

- Days 5,6,7 - Fly to Shiraz. In Shiraz visit Narenjestan Palace; Shah Cheraq (King of Light) Mosque; Eram Gardens; tomb of Hafez. Morning visit to Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque (morning best to catch light pouring through the stained glass and painting the columns and carpets). All day excursion to Firuz Abad, for visit to the fire temple and Palace of Artaxeres; afternoon and lunch with Qashqa'i nomads in their winter quarters. All day excursion to Persepolis & Naqsh-e Rostam tombs.

- Day 8 - Overland drive to Yazd, stopping at Pasargadae and villages on the way, including Abaqu.

- Day 9 - All day in Yazd, with visits to the Towers of Silence and Fire Temple; Jameh Mosque; Water Museum; fabric and carpet workshops. Spend lots of time wandering the narrow streets, stopping in shops, visiting Bazaar.

- Day 10 - Drive to Abyaneh, with stops in Na'in, Ardestan, Natanz and villages en route. Walk through Abyaneh at dusk, stopping at shops.

- Day 11 - Morning drive to Kashan. Visit Sialk Archeological site; Fin Garden; Agha-Bozorg Mosqu; Boroujerdi HistoricTl House. Afternoon drive to tehran.

- Day 12 - All day in Tehran, with more sightseeing, museums, lunch at traditional teahouse, Crown Jewels, etc.

- Day 13 - All day driving into remote Valleys of the Assassins, climb to Alamut castle; lunch in a clearing below. Back to Qazvin for overnight. Visit Qazvin shops and Bazaar.

- Days 14,15,16,17 - Continue north, visiting historic Soltaniyeh brick mosque; tomb towers; overnights Zanjan, Kandovan, Tabriz, with more museums, bazaars, cave hotel, troglodyte cave houses in Kandovan. Late afternoon flight on Day 17 from Tabriz back to Tehran.

- Day 18 - Fly Tehran to London.

Most of the places I've mentioned are in the images I've posted at http://jmstudio.fotopic.net/c1606257.html, and the photos are organized in the order of the visits, so you can follow our trip through Iran in photos if you wish.

I still want to post about the food and some personal comments and impressions, but time to be off to work for now, so that will have to wait...

Julie
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Old Nov 10th, 2008, 12:25 PM
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Love your photos and report.
Like other here, the more the better.
Thanks for posting
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Old Nov 17th, 2008, 04:23 AM
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Julia -
Quick question re attire - I have my light weight trench coat that goes down past my mid thigh that I'll wear every day w/the scarf. My question is that I am just, as I write this, throwing a few pairs of jeans into my suitcase - those are the only pants I am planning to take. were there places you went were Jeans aren't appropriate? and they aren't baggy jeans, but since I am covered down to practically my knee I don't think it matters since I'm all covered up.
Thanks,
Linda
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Old Nov 17th, 2008, 05:29 AM
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Hi julia1,
Welcome back---I had a chance to look through your photos this morning--they are amazing.

I especially liked this one:
http://tinyurl.com/6lmexc

Thanks for sharing. I might have missed it--but I was curious how you came about choosing Iran. Has it always been a place you wanted to visit?
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Old Nov 17th, 2008, 11:06 AM
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Linda-- Jeans are no problem. My daughter wore them everyday, and almost everywhere. I wore them some of the time, but often wore stretchy 'yoga-style' pants too. We each brought a skirt - Sara never wore hers, and I only wore mine once. For your info, there were same-day laundry services available in almost all of the hotels we used.

Katie-- Thanks for your nice comments about my photos. I too really like the one you mention. Iran has been on my radar for many years. When my daughter mentioned she was interested too, we just decided to go for it. And it didn't disappoint - it was more amazing than we expected, and our expectations were pretty high. Persepolis was astonishing, it packs a real emotional punch, partly because of its setting, high on its plateau overlooking the barren, wind-swept plain with mountains just visible through the heat-haze, also because its state of preservation is very good, and very sensitively done. I've been all over Greece and Turkey and southern Europe visiting ancient sites and can't think of one, except perhaps the stadium at Aphrodisias, that had the same impact. Truly unforgettable.

But it's the people and the culture that beckon me to return. And I will, someday.
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