I recently wrote a piece (soon to be published) for an online magazine about my last trip to Iran. In 2013 I went to see about a girl. I ended up going home without her but with the new found love for a country. I knew I was coming back and I´m happy to say it was at least as good this time around.
Things you need when visiting Iran: a good VPN app, your entire calculated spending in cash (dollars or rial), patience and the ability to live without alcohol throughout your stay. Oh, and unless you visit Tehran you will have to look hard for good coffee. The 3-in-1 instant coffee is pure poison (the three parts are milk, sugar and coffee).
This time around I was fortunate to stay with friends in the northern part of the city. Lucky so, since hotel prices in Tehran have risen sharply since my last visit, all due to the nuclear agreement. For instance, the hotel I paid USD40 per night back in 2013, was now USD110. And again, it takes a bit of calling or emailing hotels if you want to book since Iranian hotels are usually not possible to book via the international bookings sites. Or, you go really old school and just show up in the lobby and ask them if they have a room. This will probably work in the rest of the country but not in Tehran. Due to all the business people coming in, hotels are booked up far ahead.
Tehran is a big city (some 16 million in the greater area) but there is no better way to experience it than by walking. Walking a lot. Since the entire city is built on a slope, a good trick is to take the metro to the northern most metro station of Tajrish, take the numerous (eight, I think) escalators up to the street level and then start walking south (downhill). This is also the reason why the city is so easy to navigate in – if you´re walking uphill you are heading north, downhill and you´re heading south.
This time around I got stuck a few nights Tabiat pedestrian bridge (or Nature bridge) in the central parts of the city. Completed in 2014, the bridge designed by Leila Araghian has won many awards. Understandably so when you see it. My friend also brought me hiking in the Tochal hiking area just north of Tehran. We had a good laugh, my female friend and I, when the only police car we saw was the “hijab police”, making sure that women were properly covered when getting on a hike and a bit of fresh air. The hijabs disappeared more and more as we proceeded uphill…
Otherwise, I backtracked to a lot of places. Two of my favorite coffee places, the one in Iranshah Park, a.k.a. the Artists´ Park, and one in the Gandhi galleria only a short walk from Vanaq square. I had to go back and see the paintings on the walls and I also – more by chance – ran across the café where I saw my then girlfriend for the last time. Memories from another time.
I don´t know why I love the city as much as I do considering how many people live here and how crowded the metro and the buses are. Not even to mention the mental state of the traffic. It´s a kliché of course, but I don´t really know how to put it other than somehow the organism of Tehran has grown to be larger than life. And I, for one, love it.