by Nina Sabin - Travel
In our last blog we finished our fifth repat – Around the World in a Month. For us we only had a few months back in our home in Saudi Arabia before going off traveling again. It is hard not to have the traveling bug when places are only a short flight from our home. It seemed like between repats and holidays we were out exploring other countries about every three months. All I can say that we were blessed to have those opportunities and experiences.
At this point, five years of our living overseas experience, we had already been to 30 countries and we stayed 16+ years living in Saudi Arabia. That explains how we have been to over 100 countries.
We had already experienced countries in North America, Asia, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, and the Middle East. We have almost been on every continent. Only two more to go. South America we do visit in our future trips (more on that later). I still have hope we will make it to Antarctica, maybe via cruise. Only time will tell.
This blog we are back in the Middle East. Iran is only a short three hour ride from Saudi Arabia. I don’t know about you, but my memory growing up of Iran included: political unrest, terrorists, war, and hatred of Americans. Most people thought we were crazy to plan a family trip to Iran. However, we like adventure and didn’t want to miss any opportunities to visit the whole world, even countries that had a negative stigma connected to them.
When we arrived at the airport in Tehran, I have to admit, we were a little scared. Reminders of history came flashing in our minds. Our fears only enhanced when they took John and his passport to another room and left my daughters and myself waiting for him at the passport control in the airport. What seemed like an eternity (probably about 45 minutes later) John returned with his passport and we were free to begin our excursion around Iran.
I bet you are wondering why they took John into another room. To this day, we still don’t have a logical answer. They just brought him back and had him sit, then escorted him back to passport control… No discussion. We think it is because they could do that and they did.
We met our guides in the lobby of the airport. We had one ex-military guide; he was our driver. The other was an ex-police officer; he was the navigation guide. It was no coincidence that both guides had such strong backgrounds. This was for our safety. At the time we were planning the trip, this information was not disclosed.
The guides made us feel welcomed and overall we felt very safe. In fact, when we did interact with the locals, they were excited to see American tourists coming to see their country. They said it had been over 30 years since they have had seen an American Tourist.
Iran is a fascinating country. Though we lived in the Middle East, we saw some similarities and differences with this country.
We started our journey by driving from Tehran to Shiraz. This place reminded me of all the stories we have read about the Arabian Nights. Many of the stories about Arabian Nights includes the city Shiraz; especially the one called One Thousand and One Nights. Later on in my journey of living overseas I take the position as a music teacher and for the third grade performance I put on a show about Arabian Nights. It was based on this book.
One of the first places we drove by in Tehran was the American Embassy. The building was no longer being used. In fact, there was graffiti all around the walls that had the Statue of Liberty’s face with a skull and bones and it stated ‘Death to America’. Of course, this definitely didn’t feel very inviting, but it was from issues that happened years ago.
Next, we explored the archeological museums with many artifacts. So much history to observe and learn about at this place.
Shiraz was one of the most important cities in the medieval Islamic world and was the Iranian capital during the Zand dynasty (1747-79). Through its many artists and scholars, Shiraz has been synonymous with learning, nightingales, poetry, roses and, at one time, wine.
Our third day, we are off to adventure another part of this beautiful land. We went trekking in the mountains near Firuzabad and then we continue on to stay with the nomads, Ghashghaie. We had the opportunity to camp overnight in tents in the village. The village chief and all the people in the village were so inviting. We enjoyed eating with them in their mud huts, sitting on the floor by the camp fire that was right on the floor in the center of the home. They also make carpet; while we were there we watched as the wove each strand. We bought a small square as a memory of our time with the nomad tribe. The villagers are most generous people who protect their traditions.
Even though we have now experienced outhouses (hammams) in other countries, going to the bathroom in a stall where when you stand up everyone can see you and going in a hole in the ground is still something I don’t think I could ever get used to.
We were woken up in the morning by a rooster with a hoarse voice. It was a sound I don’t think we will ever forget.
We visited Iran in the month of January, so we camped and traveled in temperatures of 41 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit. There was snow, which our girls loved. They were able to build a snowman, which is definitely a novelty for a child who lives in the desert. We even saw a snowman be removed from the ground and placed in a truck to be moved to another location. You never know what you are going to see when you travel.
The other cities we visited while in Iran were: Persepolis is a gigantic old city with extensive remains of the palaces of Achaemenid kings; Isfahan has an amazing bazaar that you can admire and purchase wonderful Persian crafts and taste the delicious food. Our favorite thing to try in the Middle East is the flat bread. It seems like each country has a unique way to make this bread. This one was done on stones and tasted amazing.
Most people visiting Iran don’t want to miss the opportunity to buy carpet. The authenticity of the Persian carpets, especially the silk ones, is amazing. We had a fabulous time learning about carpets while visiting Iran.
One unique thing we discovered about Iran is that on all the doors the door knockers are different. This is because one is for a male in the house to answer and one if for a female in the house to answer. The door knockers are different shapes and they make different sounds.
Before heading back to Tehran and finishing our tour, we stopped at a couple more cities along the way: Abyane and Kashan. Abyaneh is an ancient fascinating village with its colorfully dressed inhabitants and mud brick houses where little has changed for several centuries. Kashan is where it is believed the magi are from in the account of the ‘Three Wise Men’.
Our Iran experience is coming to an end, which by the way was a total of 10 days, a perfect amount to truly get a feel of this fascinating experience.
I couldn't finish without mentioning that women are required to have their head covered at times – it is the law. They dressed conservatively, but unlike Saudi women, they were not required to were the abaya (the black robe) but are required to cover their heads. However, one time I went down to breakfast at our hotel without my head covered; everyone in the room stopped what they were doing, to stare at me. It felt as though I came down to breakfast naked. From then on, I did not forget to cover my head while in Iran.
Overall, a great country to explore with friendly people.
Check out our custom-made itinerary of Iran and tailor it to your own needs. All the planning is done for you.
Stay Tuned for our next adventure - Little Petra, Where is that?