Iran Diary #2: TehranPosted: March 1, 2019
My plane landed in Tehran at the ungodly hour of 3 AM. I got picked up by a taxi and taken to my hostel, Seven Hostel (I also pre-booked the taxi with them). It’s a tiny building on an unassuming street, surrounded by shops selling auto parts, but it is within walking distance of most of the attractions in Tehran, which is why I picked it.
Tehran is usually the first destination for travelers and it is the biggest city in Iran in Iran, yet most of them never stay for longer than two days. I soon found out why: it has no character. The attractions are nice, but I can’t tell you what Tehran is like as a whole. It has no clear “downtown” or central area; the architecture is a depressing concrete jungle, and the traffic is, frankly, menacing. Thankfully, I’m used to the wild traffic of Vietnam so it wasn’t so bad for me, but still, it was a bit of a challenge crossing the road for the first time.
After a nap and a quick breakfast, I headed out to Golestan Palace. In a way, it reflects Tehran – each building is gorgeous, but the grounds are rather uninspired, just a square park surrounded by 1970’s-style office buildings. Not the setting I imagined for an 18th-century royal complex.
There are many buildings, and you have to buy individual tickets for each, on top of a general admission ticket, which I think is bullshit, but that’s how it is. Following the receptionist’s suggestion, I bought tickets to three buildings – the Reception Hall, the Marble Throne, and the Hall of Brilliance.
My irritation with the admission prices was forgotten as soon as I stepped inside. Here are the finest examples of Persian craftsmanship, rooms after rooms of the most exquisite mirror tiles and colorful porcelain mosaics. The lack of tourists (I only saw one Chinese tour group and a handful of Iranians) was nice too.
Another plus: there are many stray cats around and they’re all very friendly!
Afterward, I wandered to the Grand Bazaar. This being Friday, it was closed, but there were still shops opened on the street, so I bought some lunch and went to a nearby park to escape the crowd of shoppers. In the afternoon, I went to the National Museum, but at this point, I was deranged from lack of sleep (I hadn’t had any proper sleep in about 20 hours). All I remember is dragging myself back to the hostel and collapsing into bed. Tehran would have to wait.
I returned for one more day at the end of my trip, and this time, with the sun shining and the sky cleared, Tehran was decidedly improved. Not nicer, exactly, but brighter and neater.
My first order of business was to go to the Grand Bazaar for some shopping. Unfortunately, the Persian New Year is coming up, so it seemed everybody was out shopping. It was so crowded that I couldn’t really take photos.
I ended up doing my shopping at a street market near my hostel (it is right next to the Imam Khomeini metro station), which was much cheaper. The market also has food trucks and ice cream stands, making it a great place to hang out.
Next, I went to see some sights outside the city – Azadi Tower and Tabiat Bridge. These have two things to recommend them – one, they’re free, and two, they’re quiet. Also, you have to take the subway, which is an experience in itself. It’s very cheap (only 10.000 rials/ticket) and easy (the signs are both in Farsi and English), and there is the fun of watching hawkers selling all sorts of things from socks and scarves to make-ups and phone accessories on the train. There’s no other subway like it in the world, I guarantee it!
Azadi Tower is impressive, but it doesn’t require a lot of time. Tabiat Bridge, on the other hand, is a really nice outing. After getting out of the Shahid Haghani subway station, you walk through the Museum of Revolution and Holy Defense with its display of tanks and planes, up a tree-filled park, and end up at a lovely bridge overlooking the city and the snowy peaks in the distance. If I didn’t have packing to do, I would’ve stayed until sunset.
In the end, Tehran wasn’t a total bust like I’d originally thought. It may not have been my favorite place in Iran, but it has its beauty if you know where to look.