Had a wee freakout watching the desert south of Tehran rolling out under the plane. This was followed by the… ‘firmest’ landed I’ve ever experienced and the general choas in the airport that Iranian people seem to live by (literally running from queue to queue as they got relatively shorter - I and few other confused looking foreigners were the last through as a result). The guys at custom’s were all smiles though and provided no obstacle to my getting out of the airport. Once I had my luggage and saw the guy with a sign I was feeling much better. My first sight after that was 4 armed (with submachine guns) security guards protecting a guy with a briefcase heading into a bank - protection for the money I was told. This didn’t bother me much as it was fairly normal growing up.
Tehran is a massive, hazy, sprawly place with a population of about 15 million people, and it seems that every one of them drives a car. At the same time. Badly. The driving is an issue, similar in concept to the line ‘movements’, and the airport parking lot was the first hint of this, with cars wherever they pleased (ignored lines, double parked). By issue I mean it’s intensely terrifying. All lanes, road markings and speed limits are optional and aggression reigns supreme. Crossing the street is difficult
Rules of the road are as follows:
- When in doubt, approach intersections at high speed
- You have right of way. Always.
- Lane markings, where they exist, are purely for decoration
- Using a mobile phone on a motorbike, sans helmet, is totally an awesome idea
- Just do whatever you want - everyone else is
Half (literally) of all cars are Peugeots with another 25% being made up of Saipa Sabas (Iranian) another 20% IKCO Samand (also Iranian), 4% the blue Zamyan pickup trucks (which are always ridiculously overloaded, homicidal or both) and the remaining 1% everything else. I may have made those numbers up, but they are truly not far off what I saw. Almost cars there are made in Iran - either entirely (for Saipa, IKCO, Zamyan etc) or assembled (Peugeot, Renault) and there is a 100% tax on Chinese made cars.
But all that said - it works pretty well - considering the sheer volume of cars, I only saw two dings on my way to the hotel and everyone is very alert to what is going on about them (unlike in a certain pacific island nation with ~4million people in it).
First activity was wandering around Golestan Palace, at which point it became obvious that in recent history in Iran, bling was in - mirrors and gold everywhere. It’s all a bunch of ex-Palaces and now museums, all made at different times by different important people with gaudy taste.
After that we wandered to the main Bazaar. It is is big and fun and I got stared at a little/lot. It was very hot and I drank an ice mango juice and it was delicious. On the map you can see a whole network of tunnel like roofs - this is the bazaar (yes, it’s really, really huge). You can buy everything there. Everything.
Finally ended up the top of Milad Tower for views of the city in the late afternoon light. It’s an ugly(er) and taller version of the Sky Tower.
Did two passes of the ex-US embassy in the car, failing not to look (and feel) extremely touristy. Unfortunately walking everywhere is impossible because of the scale of things and my limited time.
Headed up to northern Tehran, to the foothills of the mountains, and had a wander around. This area is more popular at night with younger folk, from around 10pm. The whole area gets covered in snow in winter and is on average a few degrees cooler than the rest of the city, so is where the rich people live. The views were excellent and the haze and sprawl are clearly visible.
Wandered around Tajrish Bazaar and saw some of the black market import stores in one of the many malls (they had lego!).
Then caught the metro from somewhere to somewhere else, near the National Jewelery Museum, because that’s where we went next. Expected to be bored, but it was pretty cool - saw Darya-ye Noor , one of the world’s largest cut diamonds (you can see through it like glass) and lots of other shiny, sparkly things.
Thus ended my first bit of Tehran - onwards to the Domestic (Mehrabad) Airport via Azadi/Freedom tower/monument. Only got a chance to drive around it for now.
Flight to Tabriz was delayed 2.5 hours so I sat nervously waiting. While there I saw a girl with the largest eyes I’ve ever seen and a lot of adverts for crane trucks. The delay turned out to be worth it though, as taking off with the sun setting in the haze was really spectacular!