We arrived in Tehran, Iran, at 2:30 pm. The visa process was not difficult as our tour company, Friendly Iran, had prepared us with the required tourist visa tracking code, and informed us of the procedure and expected cost.
The whole process did end up taking over one hour as there may have been some confusion that we were part of a larger Chinese tour group, plus the passport control officers were just changing shift.
Our tour guide, Eli, from Friendly Iran was patiently waiting when we finally exited from passport control.
Eli then drove us to our hotel, Hafez Hotel, in central Tehran, the older and historical part of this large city of 9 million people. Shortly into the drive, we immediately noticed the beautiful mountains of Tehran. As it is winter time, the mountain range was stunning with a blanket of snow. Tehran has good skiing within these mountains, conveniently close to the city.
We also noticed signs of the upcoming national celebration day. Tomorrow would be a major celebration for the people of Iran as it was exactly 40 years ago that Iran was liberated from the Shah rule into a republic.
This evening, we just walked around the neighborhood outside our hotel for a general orientation and rested early as tomorrow will be a busy day to see all the key sights in Tehran.
After a flavorful, colorful breakfast at the hotel, Eli met us promptly at 9:00 to begin the day.
We walked over to the National Museum. On the way, we saw the Foreign Ministry building, formerly a building for political prisoners.
Unfortunately, the National Museum was closed because of the national holiday. Then we walked over to the Golestan Palace (a UNESCO World Heritage site), which was supposed to be open in spite of the holiday. But it too was closed over some last minute decisions. So we could only take a photo of the outside.
We then took the metro to the Darband area. Tehran is a huge city, and there are 8 metro lines serving the city.
Upon exiting from the metro station, we walked through a bazaar and visited the Imamzadeh Saleh shrine.
Tom’s work colleague, an Iranian, had recommended that we check out the Darband scenic area. It is indeed a beautiful area with opportunities for some serious hiking. In spite of the cold and misty weather, there were many people taking the chair lift to the top of the mountain, or hiking from the bottom of the mountain with full backpacks and hiking poles.
We took the hiking path and hiked half way up. But as it started to rain, we decided to turn back. We can see that on a sunny day, it would be a wonderful place to spend the day walking or hiking, then enjoy the cafes, restaurants, and shops.
We then took a taxi south to visit the Nature bridge, built about 4 years ago. The bridge has many vantage points to see the city. The bridge has 3 levels – two levels for walking, and one level had restaurants.
The rain started to fall again, and it became colder. So we headed to a atmospheric restaurant to warm up with lunch and tea. The restaurant has wonderful outdoor seating offering great views but we had to settle for indoor due to the weather.
We had a nice lunch and tea service. Total cost of this lunch was $1,050,000 rial or $9 USD. I had some trouble understanding the currency which officially should be $1 USD to 52,000 rial. Eli explained that would be the official rate for government control purposes, but the market rate is actually $1 USD to 120,000 rial.
In the last 3 years, the rial has lost much value compared to the USD, Euros, and other foreign currencies. As a result, prices are incredibly great value for foreign tourists, but not so good for the local people wanting to travel elsewhere.
After lunch, it was still raining. So we decided to call it a day and returned to our hotel to rest.
At 5:30 pm, Eli drove us to the Tehran main railway station for our overnight journey to Shiraz.
We boarded the train at 6:40 pm. The train was new and modern. The cabins were for four people but we ended up sharing with only one other passenger, an Iranian man, who was quite friendly, but only spoke a few words of English.
Our train tickets included dinner on the train. So at 7:30 pm, we had a simple chicken and rice dinner served to us in the train’s dining car.
In spite of the museum and palace closures, we enjoyed our first full day in Iran. Our overnight train ride was scheduled to arrive at Shiraz at 9:25 am.
We slept well to the train’s rocking motion. When we awoke at 6:00 am, we were surprised by the fresh snow scenery.