Day 8 – Arriving in Tehran

14 May

5:09am and the train stops for morning prayers. Ug. Thankfully the window is open and the cabin is cool.

We didn’t all get a good night’s sleep,  but I had dozed satisfactorily. 6:30am and the breakfasts started. I say breakfasts, but bathmat bread, cream cheese and carrot jam wasn’t overly great! Max thankfully insisted on coffee instead of the offered tea, and we ended up with a mixture of hot chocolate and coffee.

Several stops helped identify where we were as Max’s tablet couldn’t pick up a GPS signal.  Although his map wasn’t detailed enough anyway.

The Alborz mountains came into view with snow on the top and smog hiding the city of 12 million inhabitants.

We arrived in Tehran railway station 25 minutes later than planned at 8:40am.

Our new guide – Aydin – took us to the hotel, through heavy traffic, to freshen up.

Back on the road, we experienced how many motorcycles Tehran can hide.  All drivers seem to have a death wish and there is no such thing as lane discipline.  Much like their queuing instincts.

We were heading for the carpet museum of Iran. It was much bigger and had more examples than Mashhad.  We had to don blue footwear covers and were then subjected to an Iranian guide having everything translated into English by our guide. Her speech was long.  His was much shorter.

We saw all sorts of carpets including 3D ones with butterflies and other animals, pink ones, and blue. Silk and wool. The higher the radj, the more knots there are per square metre.  The highest ever was 180 radj, with the highest in the museum being 105. The higher the number, the more detailed and thinner the carpet will be.  And more expensive, of course. Top tip if you are ever buying a Persian carpet – check the back so that the knots are all in a straight line. The very small gift shop included carpet mouse mats – not purchased!

Max had asked for a lunch that included the option of soup. His request was translated as “only soup” and we ended up in the best Osh restaurant in town.  Only three options on the menu. Soup with meat, without meat but with noodles, or soup with doogh the yoghurt and water drink we had yesterday. We sat upstairs amongst the locals and were stared at for the entire meal.  Top tip for osh – add lemon juice, lots of it.  The fresh bread was welcome mostly because it was actually edible.

I discovered that iPhones are status symbols here, even though they can’t access the Apple App Store as they don’t have a valid (US) credit card.

We visited the National Jewel Museum, part of the central bank. We left everything in the bus including money and passed through four airport style security gates before entering through a huge vault door. The large vault was dark and filled with tourists and guides chatting noisily. But what caught your eye were the jewels.  At least 18000 carets were present in that room and they were all glistening at me. Rubies, emeralds and diamonds as well as turquoise (the lighter the better). Case by case our guide demonstrated his limited knowledge of the subject and we perfected the knack of elbowing aside other eavesdropping tourists without setting off the alarms or touching the glass.

Three items stand out – the peacock throne – seat of the Shahs of Persia. Also the second largest diamond in the world (its partner being in some crown in the Tower of London).  And of course, a globe made from 170kg of gold and encrusted with emeralds for the oceans and rubies for the continents – Iran was depicted in diamonds. Purely a decoration. What a waste! Aydin pointed out that one small stone would see us set for life.

Thankfully we didn’t need to as we were about to become millionaires thanks to the Iranian Rial exchange rate. 40000 to the pound. Max came back with three large wads of notes.

After a short break back at the hotel, we met up for a walk in a local park. Every sport known to Tony was being played, from football to badminton, volleyball, table tennis, table football, an outdoor gym and loads of children’s play equipment.  We also caught sight of several slack lines being used – some small and low, one was very long and over 6 feet high.

Leaving the fountains and the people watching behind, we were ushered into a posh restaurant with a lone piano player in the corner.  The waiter had pictures on his tablet of all the dishes and spoke passable English.  I opted for the special lamb kebab and a banana milk shake.  Both were delicious.  Discovered that I was sitting next to the previous High Sheriff of Kent.  Interesting voluntary job, if you have the time – 300 appointments in a year and you’re not allowed to leave the country. 

Also discovered that Iranian military service could involve writing envelopes for two years, with only 2 months basic training.

An early night and a late start tomorrow means that I can have a decent sleep.



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