Tehran in an Afternoon

The AirArabia Airbus A320 to Tehran was pretty full. Most passengers were Iranians taking advantage of the National Day holiday, but there was a fair number of Middle Easterners and Asians onboard – and maybe five Westerners tops. The visa-on-arrival process arriving in Tehran went smoothly. The visa application form this time was in a tiny A5 format, and there was only one line to write on for sponsor/hotel. The process seemed to have been simplified since last time I visited Iran. The visa was now €60 and the whole process took about 20 minutes.

Walking out through the main airport door was a chock to the system. It was 10C only, and it felt like this super-duper A/C on full blast being used outdoor.  Context: I left Sharjah in the UAE at a pleasant 30C.

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My friendly guide Hamed met me at the airport, and we decided to make the most of the few hours we had before the night train to Yazd. The first stop was Liberty Square with the stunning Liberty Tower (Borj-e Azadi), completed in 1971.

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It was freezing cold, but that didn’t stop me from taking lots and lots of photos.

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It doesn’t matter which angle you use, this tower looks amazing whichever way you look at it.

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If you only have time to see one thing in Tehran, this is it. I’m now adding the architect Hossein Amanat to my list of heroes.

From Liberty Square, you also have stunning views of the Alborz Mountains, with the 435-metre high Milad Tower clearly visible at a distance.

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All the black flags flying everywhere is also quite a dramatic sight. The Iranians fly black flags in respect of Imam Hussein during a 40-day period after Muharram 10th (3rd November this year).

Revolution Square was only a short metro ride from Liberty Square, and the ride was as crowded as the London Underground during peak hour. The art work displayed at the Revolution Square metro station was great.

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Revolution Square is, among other things, famous for its many bookshops. After walking past quite a few bookshops – some very inviting, but mainly selling coffee table books in Farsi – Hamed and I decided on the Chatr Bookshop & cafe. The bookshop had a very arty feel to it and it also had a good collection of music CDs. The vanilla hot chocolate in the cafe upstairs was perfect for this cold evening.

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After the bookshop, Hamed and I walked past the University of Tehran for a quick photo op. Next, arriving at the City Theatre, this large sign advertising The Death of a Salesman was visible from all directions. Great choice of play, in my opinion. And an opportunity to discuss the English expression culture vulture with Hamad. He says most of the plays at the City Theatre are foreign, and university students are keen theatre-goers. They do have culture vultures in Iran, Hamed admitted.

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Arriving at the square, this was the first time this trip someone came up to me and asked me where I was from – which in Iran means “Where are you from?” And not, “please come and visit my shop” as it does in all other countries in the world.

The most exciting thing about the next metro journey was the name of the destination – Shush. Who doesn’t want to go to Shush? The Metro passengers listening in to Hamed’s and my conversation started offering some advice after a while. Apparently, they thought the centre of Tehran was too polished and upmarket for a visitor like me. “Why don’t you show him some of the rougher neighbourhoods in southern suburbs of Tehran?” they suggested to Hamed. But we were on our way to Yazd, so that would have to be for another day.

The most exciting thing about the train station was the falafel sandwich I bought while waiting for the train. It was probably the best falafel sandwich I’ve eaten. Ever. And the cheapest. It cost $1.20.

The 8-hour train journey to Yazd left on time and I slept like a baby.

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