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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Saturday, October 04, 2003 06:51:17

Central Asia 2003: 7 - Rasht to Tehran, Iran

Friday, October 3, 2003

Last night's dinner was at a game type restaurant, decorated with stuffed birds and animals of all types. My choice was trout, which was excellent. Napkins are often absent on the table here, but in all restaurants I've seen there is a box of the local equivalent to Kleenex tissues on the table to use as napkins.

As always, there was a plentiful supply of the local flat bread. We have watched it being made. It starts as a ball, which is patted then flung around something like pizza dough. It is then slapped onto the vertical clay wall of an open oven where it sticks until cooked. The cost is next to nothing to purchase it. Most food is inexpensive - the huge meals we have been eating have all been within the guide's budget of $4 per head for dinner.

This morning we were away a little before 9 for the drive to Tehran. The early part was through mountains and canyons, but then the country levelled out into flat plains. As we got closer to Tehran the smog thickened, even though today would be the equivalent to Sunday. The weekend here is Thursday and Friday. The roads were great, with wider and wider freeways as we approached the city.

Vehicles on the road are almost all made in Iran. Kia, Puegeot and Nissan all have joint venture companies making cars here, and Renault is constructing a plant. Saipa trucks are Iranian, and there are a number of cars built by what used to be Hillman, but the plant has been taken over by Iran. It has been illegal to import cars into the country, although a change in the law is being considered, but duty will be 150% of the vehicle cost.

The guide got a call while we were en route with some good news - the Armenian tour company has my computer plug and will have it here by air on Monday. Ali, the guide, will receive it and give it to me when we return from the south of the country next week. He will be accompanying us to Mashhad on the same plane.

When checking into the hotel in Rasht I noticed that our Iranian visas expire five days before we leave the country. Ali has a day off tomorrow, so will accompany me to the government offices where an extension can be applied for - I've served notice that I'll be skipping the Tehran city tour in order to get this necessary job done.

We rolled into Tehran at about 12:30, having made very good time - something which didn't do a lot for Marilynn's relaxation. The Laleh Hotel, which used to be Inter-Continental, is very nice - the best accommodation we've had in Iran. The cities we have been in are not tourist destinations, so the facilities are geared towards Iranian travellers. After checking in we went to the coffee shop to have a hamburger fix. Hamburgers are available all over the place - obviously they are very popular here. One restaurant we passed is called Mc Hamburgers!

This is our first full free afternoon in a long while. There is a large city park beside the hotel, so we strolled there for a couple of hours, got laundry caught up and I'm using the business centre computer to catch up. I noticed several internet cafes while we were walking as well - here they are called "coffee net". Obviously the information that internet is restricted in Iran was not true. People here are very openly critical of the government as well, another thing that really surprised me.

Saturday, October 4, 2003

We had dinner last night with three of the four women and our guide, another Ali, with whom we will be travelling for the next few days. The last lady is due to arrive at 2 AM. Ali has had to pick up one at this time of the morning for three nights in a row!

This morning Marilynn headed off on the city tour to see several museums, and I hooked up with the first guide Ali. He hired a local taxi for three hours. It is interesting that it is cheaper to hire a taxi and driver than to use the computer in the hotel! Three hours of taxi time cost $11.

The first stop was the immigration department about the visa. It had moved since Ali was last there, but we eventually found the place. After going through the routine of passport copies and form filling, we were informed that the visa did not have to be renewed. While it says start date of Sept 7 and end date of Oct 7 on the visa, the department employee said it is 30 days from the date of the entry stamp. Ali asked if he was sure, and he said yes. I guess we will see - this could prove interesting!

The next step was to see if I could buy a plug in for my computer, as there are some very confused communications going back and forth and I'm not sure I'll be seeing the one from Armenia. Ali took me to an amazing shopping centre, four stories high, containing over a hundred stores all of which sell computers, computer parts or accessories. There was no Sony connector available, and I declined the offer to modify an IBM connector. I'll go back to hoping the one from Armenia will make it here!

After a pizza for lunch we went to the Shah's summer palace complex, located on 130 hectares on the outskirts of Tehran. This is a wealthy area, with lots of expensive, deluxe condos under construction. The palace in which the last shah lived in the summer has been kept very much as it was, right down to the dining room where the last official dinner guest was Jimmy Carter.

There is a shuttle bus on the grounds, which we took to an older and very beautiful palace higher on the property. This was one of the original palaces built on these grounds, and was incredibly ornate. Two of the large, high rooms were done entirely in different sized and shaped mirrors, giving a very glittery effect. The king's bedroom was also done in the same mirrored effect. The large bed in the room was only for decoration - the king preferred to sleep on the carpeted floor at the foot of the bed! The high quality Persian carpets covering the room have to be worth a fortune - they are up to 200 square meters in size.

I mentioned that the driving here is very aggressive, with accidents quite common. Our taxi drive failed to notice the line of traffic ahead of us had stopped, and after a great squealing of brakes he piled into the car ahead of him. A great discussion ensued, which at one point seemed to involve the idea of trading rear bumpers, as the cars were the same make and model. This was all happening in the fast lane of a road with four lanes in each direction. Eventually they came to some sort of arrangement without the benefit of the police, and as both cars were drivable away we went.

Everywhere we have been in Iran there has been lots of construction, both residential and commercial. In both Tabriz and here in Tehran I have seen developments of a dozen or more 25 story apartment blocks going up at the same time. The economy definitely does not seem to be suffering!

Tomorrow we fly to Shiraz for a couple of nights.