I get asked very frequently, “Where was your favorite country?” and I always reply Iran. I first visited Iran in 2004 for two weeks and had an absolute blast. I had an amazing time since I was hosted by my friend Orod and his family and friends. We hung out in Tehran, went to the Caspian Sea beach house, a short trip to Shiraz, Esfahan and Persepolis.
Iran is a self-sufficient country, not having to rely on other countries for import or export. Iran pretty much has everything. Despite going through the embargos, Iran has been able to cope somewhat well. The media portrays the Iranian government as the bad ones, but the people are truly wonderful. I have never been to a country where the people are so hospitable.
During my first trip, my host took excellent care of me, but let me write about my most recent trip to Iran for two weeks, where I faced so many situations where the locals helped me.
I met Mohammad on the flight and he happily drove me from the airport to the city center, not asking a single penny. The amazing thing was that he had to wait for me for about 40 minutes outside the airport, while I had to complete my visa and custom process. I did not doubt once that he will be gone without me. When an Iranian promises something, they always deliver. I thank him and his wife for waiting patiently for a stranger.
When walking around Esfahan, there were numerous vendors of ice-cream, sweets, juices, etc. Whenever I approached the vendors, they always let me try their goods. This was not because they wanted me to buy their products (of course, to a certain extent), but mainly for me to try their local stuff. They want foreigners to taste and have an idea of local products. It was really sweet for them to do this. One of the most interesting things that I tried was this plate of white spagetti looking sweet with ice cream on top. The vendors did not speak English and we had a hard time communicating, but he gave me a small plate to try. It was an interesting sweet snack.
I stayed at a hostel for three nights. The hosts there were very friendly and kind. When I arrived, they offered me tea, ice-cream and all sorts of sweets. The food was not meant for guests, but the host was eating it with their friends. They always had an open heart in offering/sharing whatever they were eating. The host asked me if I wanted lunch one day. I declined and went out to eat, but some of the other guests did eat lunch and they did not have to pay a single penny.
On another occasion, I went to the Yazd bus station to go buy my tickets to the next city. The bus station was not far, but took two different public buses to get there. On the way back, I was not sure which bus to take, since there were no numbers and everything was written in Farsi. Thus, I asked a group of university students and they helped me. One of the girls even paid my bus fare. She did not have to do that at all, but the gesture was really amazing.
It was Ashura, when we got to Kashan. During this period, almost everything was closed. We could not find any restaurants or stores to buy food. We asked a friendly looking man for a place to eat and he told me everything was closed. Instead of guiding me somewhere, he offered us his lunch box (soup and bread), but we declined, feeling bad. Of course, we were hungry, but we were not going to do that. We continued walking, looking for the restaurant that the hotel recommended. Upon getting there, it was closed. I could not believe that every single restaurant was closed in Kashan. Then, we asked a group of young guys on motorbikes for a place to eat. They spoke very little English, but knew of a place. He told me to hop on his motorbike, so we did. I was on one guy and my friend Gulzada on the other. We sped off. A few minutes later, they dropped us off in front of a mosque and told us to go inside. The mosque was giving out free food! We ended up talking to one of the clerks there and he invited us down to the kitchen and fed us unlimited food. What a nice gesture!
We were strolling along the side streets of Abyaneh, when we met a lady sitting outside her house. She said “hello” and invited us into her home. At first, I thought it was a joke but she reiterated again, “Would you like to come in?” I thought for 10 seconds and decided why not? I wanted to check out the inside of the building, since the houses were built with mud and wood. Upon entering, there were three families that greeted us and showed us around the house. They all live in Tehran, but were visiting their grandparents home in Abyaneh. They were super friendly as usual and fed us fruits, soup, candies, and tea. They welcomed us like a family and we ended up staying there for an hour. It was a lovely time.
We arrived at the train station in the south of Tehran, late in the evening. We decided to take the metro towards the northern part. Since it was Tashura, there were very few people inside the metro. We wanted to make sure that we were going the right way and asked a gentleman sitting across us if we were going the right direction. He did not speak any English, but we were conversing with our hands and maps. At some point during our limited conversation, he gestures to us that we should come to his house and stay there. I was not really sure if he was being serious, but he kept repeating over and over. I would have actually gone to his place if I was not going to my friend’s house. I politely declined, but it was really nice for him to do that to a stranger.
There you go, those were few of my cases when traveling within Iran. I’m sure other travelers have more stories to share. If you can visit Iran now!