In May 2011 I got guests from Iran via Sajjad, his wife and three friends came to stay at my place for four days. Sajjad told me that they will all be in Iran for Ramadan in August. As I didn't have much vacations recently I thought, maybe I could actually accept this invitation but scared of the country I hoped to find a companion. One friend initially said yes, when I first asked him but two weeks later he dropped out as he wanted to be free for vacations with his now ex girlfriend. Another friend also said yes instantly but not without his gf, who again was the show stopper.

As those problems were a bad excuse to not go to Iran I stopped asking others and started getting a visa and a flight end June. Starting my own business recently also scared me a bit as this was not all settled and I wouldn't want to spoil my career for some vacation. Anyway, stopping now I would have felt stupid so I tried to get all regulations for my business done before leaving the country to where I could not react on short notice. I also released a first beta version of my game.


I went to see the doctor for vaccination. Hepatitis and best would be to also do rabies. The assistant told me scary stories about people that died in Iran because of rabies but as I was kind of too late to do it anyway, I saved the 150€ and decided not to pet dogs when they had foam on their mouth.

At my bank they guessed I could use Iranian ATMs with their card. A call at the central branch of my bank was clearer: They did not know. I should check on the internet. I insisted it is their job to tell me and so they called me back half an hour later with a “Maybe Melli Bank has some branches in the biggest cities where I could get money.” Great. Ok. According to wikitravel, costs would start at a minumum of 10$/day including hotel and travelling around. I opted for 35€/day, just to be on the safe side. 700€ in cash with people knowing I have money for vacations in my pockets did not feel that comfortable.

Aug 2nd – a long flight

Today my brother brought me to the airport for my 10:30 flight. Saving about 200€ I booked a flight with 9.5h transit in Istanbul. There I worked on my Android game Flux Forest for some 8h. Plan was to work on it a lot on buses. At 23:40 local time my plane left to Tehran to land at 4:10 local time, that is GMT+4.5.

Aug 3rd – first steps in Iran, missing all opening hours, destroying my phone, perfect start :)

Lots of construction work is going on in Iran. I liked this digger in the sunset but also the fact that apparently so much is getting done

First challenge was to get to my first host, Saber. (No, Saber is not special knive, it is actually his real Farsi name with a completely different meaning.) But as I was well prepared I had a complete map of Tehran on my Android and Saber even added his little side street to OpenStreetMap so I could direct the driver if he didn't understand the address. But, as in most countries in the world we had to agree on a price. I read it would be 150,000 Rial so I was quite confused, when the driver said “twenty”. He only knew to say numbers. And in Iran they use toman. 10 Rial is one toman but as they are tired of saying 10,000, they also say 10 toman for 10,000, what is about 10USD. So a short distance bus ticket is 700 toman and a coke is 1 toman – and my taxi ride 200,000 Rials. (I will use toman throughout this page but you can just think USD)

Well, the taxi driver brought me somewhere near my host but as he did not see well, I could not show him the exact address on my Android and asked him to just drop me anywhere near. At the address I called Saber, he let me in and we slept some more.

Later I had a breakfast with Saber and his wife Maryam. Somehow my diary starts only some days later. Guess I went out to walk around a bit and spent a lot of time in “park-e Laleh” where I took rests on some benches here and there as the heat was tough. Around 40°C.

Alleys like this are sometimes only separated by hedges three next to each other with benches everywhere
Pavilions like this are are pretty common
Gyms - you find them everywhere in every park

Parks in Iran and especially in Tehran are different from English Garden in Munich for example as they have a bench to sit on every 10m and sometimes three alleys next to each other separated only by a hedges. A feature you find in almost every park are those fitness machines with cross trainers, steppers, rowing, … and sometimes there are places with 10 chess boards in special tables or ping-pong tables. In park mellat there are 20 ping-pong tables in one spot.

I wanted to walk to the grand bazaar but on my way there my phone fell to the ground and the screen was totally broken. Only some green stripes showed when switched on. I was afraid to not find back to Saber as I had everything on the phone. His number and address, Sajjad's number, many notes, ... so I searched for a telephone shop. In some grocery store another customer said he knew where to get a phone and he can give me a lift on his motorbike. After five exciting minutes on his motorbike he dropped me in front of a shop with many other mobile shops left and right. In Iran, apart from grocery stores, stores are always grouped by what they sell. I asked here and there and finally got a 35toman Nokia phone that later proofed to be of quite good quality :)

Shady parks invite to rest. Here it was freshly watered and too wet to sit down.
Playground in a park

I took a taxi to "between park-e laleh and hospital immam khomeini" and the driver was totally lost with that information and dropped me at the hospital. A jung guy talked to me and helped me find the southern edge of the hospital and from there I knew where to go. He said he has to go the same way and invited me to come to his place. As Saber said to be home only one hours later, I accepted and came in to a big, unlit living room where his father was sitting. I said hello to him shaking hands and he invited me for a "beer". Beer in Iran is without alcohol but with sirup so it has little to do with beer in Germany. He more or less directly asked me what I think about mullahs and I tried to be diplomatic as he didn't tell me what he thinks, first. He ranted about them and I still stayed diplomatic as I felt a bit uncomfortable with the dad sitting there only understanding "mullah", "nuclear weapons" and "Ahmadinedschad" and so we did not get to a relaxed chat somehow. I even said I didn't feel comfortable talking about politics and left pretty soon after finishing my "beer". No idea what the dad would tell the Guardian Council from what he understood :(

I easily found Saber's home and Sajjad also texted me so my biggest concerns were sorted out quite quickly.

Aug 4th – lazy day at home and a chicken curry without curry

These are no letter boxes but donation boxes for orphans. You not only find those in the street but sometimes even smaller versions in private houses.

Today I mostly stayed at home with Maryam and Saber. I promised to cook at night so we went out to buy some ingredients, a lonely planet and short trousers. As short trousers are forbidden in public, I didn't bring them but as covering while sleeping is not an option with these temperatures, I felt a bit naked in my underwear, so I got me shorts for at home.

The butcher offered to not pay for the two chicken but Saber told him I wouldn't know t'aarof. Crème fraîche was hard to get. Saber picked "fat yoghurt" instead. Curry they had at home ... well ... the curry turned out to be not hot at all and it had a serious amount of cinnamon in it, so my curry was a bit weird in the end. Still I liked it and somehow I ate it four meals in a row. Not sure about Saber and Maryam though. They left it all to me after the first meal.

Later I showed some Android programming to Saber but he got work to do so we didn't get far.

Aug 5th – forgot my Lonely Planet, went to a museum too late

Nice trees in a park

Saber had no time to accompany me so I walked around alone. He suggested to go see the Sa'd Abad museum and gave me a note which bus to take. I took my time going to the bus stop and enjoyed park-e Laleh again.

At the bus stop I noticed I had forgotten the note and my new Lonely Planet but I remembered it was almost all straight north so I just decided to take any bus and leave it if it turns left or right.

People really don't speak English here. Even in English schools they teach words like "Birth Day Party" and "wel come" is ten times more common than "welcome" which makes it sort of the right version to use I guess :)

People could not help me as nobody speaks English here and “Sa'd Abad” was nothing I could remember easily. I reached the final stop without any noticeable left or right turn and it looked as Saber had described, so I searched for the “and there you walk up the stairs” that I remembered. At the highest point of that street, I counted cars going straight down again and cars turning right to go further up. Right won, so I walked further up but it was a dead end with some villas only. So after a panoramic picture I took a taxi to the museum. He charged me two toman for a 20s ride to a museum that already was closed for today.

View over Tehran

Another taxi brought me back down to the bus stop and I walked around in that small bazaar. All those pastes, spices, pickles, sweets and nuts looked delicious and somehow I wanted to try everything but not having the slightest idea what it was, I somehow wanted to wait till I get a chance to go shopping with a local.

All in all by now I was really relaxed after all those uncertainties and doubts I had before I came to Iran. I really felt safe here.

Water dispensers - you find them everywhere with chilled water. Very nice :)
Also the water quality is good north of Shiraz.

I took a bus southwards. Near park mellat I got off to see it and walked around. Took water at one of these water dispensers and a girl came and tried to tell me something. As she realized I didn't speak Farsi, she took my water bottle from me and filled it from the other tab with the chilled water as I was using the unchilled water.

Later some guy asked me "where you from" and we started talking. I tried to explain couchsurfing to him but it was too hard. He took his phone and called his English teacher so I explained it to her :)

At dusk I spent two hours watching people play ping-pong on 10 tables. Mostly families, but despite their scarves and warm cloths the girls were really good at it :) I didn't dare to ask to also play a bit and nobody asked me to join :(

"Security first" is certainly not an Iranian motto

On my way home I wanted to try some Iranian burger. Star burger looks not much different to Burgerking or McDonalds in Germany but it works different. The woman that I talked to at first, first tried to send me on but then took my order only to send me to the counter where I should have gone in the first place. Little confused I did my order, got my bill with #88 on it. They will call my number. Great. In Farsi. Another customer asked my name and told it to the woman at the counter so they call my name instead of the number. Felt strange but I didn't bother much and went up with said customer. Luckily they did not shout “Leo” but the number and the guy waved me to go down now so my burger didn't get cold :)

After diner I went to park-e Laleh again as there was a gathering. Some 300 people sitting on chairs watching a stage. I watched, too and later found out this was the national TV doing some breaking the fast show like every evening but in different parks all the time. Some 17 years old guy approached me only to turn away when he noticed I had noticed him but his mother and father pushed him to talk to me. "hello sir! may i ask where you from". Well I got this question about ten times per day. Every day. Unfortunately that was all his English so my counter questions all stayed unanswered.

Aug 6th – went to the bazaar too late

A mosque in Tehran

Somehow I was super tired even after ten hours of sleep. I got up anyway and was on my way to the bazaar at 3pm. I walked to the university and at a metro station that was not in my three years old Lonely Planet (it opened two months ago) I decided to see the metro for the rest of the trip to the bazaar. A guy helped me to change at the right stop but he left the train with me at a wrong stop only to jump back in. I asked him, how the metro was different to the bus where women were strictly separated from the men and he explained that in the metro no men are in the back and and the rest is mixed. Strange system :)

Mellat Park

In Park Shah there were cages with birds of all kind. Aras and chicken, budgies and ducks. And there was a show again. I guessed it was the same like yesterday. An Iranian talked to me again with his non-existing English: “Dirty Mullahs!” he said. He didn't only hate the mullahs but also the western countries that were supporting Ahmadinedjad. The German president is supporting him and the Iranian people has no jobs and nothing to eat. Two of his friends of him arrived. He was 46. The others older. One of them supposedly spoke German but I did not understand a word of what he said. The other two said good bye and I took the chance to go, too. The guy who “spoke German” almost looked offended. Sorry :(

Families playing ping pong

Well, 7pm and the bazaar was closed already and as my bus to Khoy left at 10pm I took a taxi home. A mototaxi. It was not as exciting as described in the Lonely Planet and I didn't understand much of the Farsi city tour but it was definitely more fun and more refreshing than riding in a car. :)

Not all of Iran looks like desert. Especially here in the north there is a lot of green, too

After eating the rest of my curry and packing almost all of my stuff Saber brought me to the terminal. Taken he took almost 10 minutes to find my bus, I was very lucky to have him around :)

On the bus I noticed I had forgotten my Lonely Planet. Again. Sajjad had told me to not miss my bus after prayer time break but I was more worried if the bus would stop for a bathroom break and if my bag was safe.

Here the bus had to stop for prayer but as nobody wanted to pray we were back on the road quickly

All went smooth and I had time to write my diary on the bus but I was sad to not find people to talk on the bus. Something I got used to until my 2nd last bus trip in Iran. Still people were super friendly and invited me to share their food with them and served me tea. Guess simply nobody spoke English again.

Aug 7th – Arrived at Sajjad's house

In front of the rocky door of Khoy bazaar

When I arrived in Khoy (خوی), Sajjad picked me up with a taxi and we went to his family's house. All those small houses in that street had a wall to the street, and a little court. Their house had a colder room in the basement where they slept. The living room was big with carpet everywhere and without a table. I got my private little room and after saying hello to Sajjad's parents and brother and a quick shower we went out to see the bazaar of Khoy with its Rocky Door.

The covered bazaar of Khoy

In the bazaar, a shop owner was excited to show us how to produce ghand, the Iranian sugar that doesn't melt as easily as our sugar cubes. Back at home searching for such a description, the first hit was a description that most likely also mentions this exact same shop in Khoy :) No, this is an actual shop and not a tourist site

In the evening, Sajjad's mother cooked and we talked at home.

Aug 8th – a big round trip

Saint Thaddeus Monastery
Monastery garden

Today Sajjad asked two cousins to come and take us to some waterfalls. We wanted to do some hiking. His cousin knew the road to the waterfalls was blocked due to a land slide and had his own idea of where to go so neither Sajjad nore me know where we were heading.

Our first stop was at a very old church. The Saint Thaddeus Monastery. There was a church said to be built in AD 68 on this site. I was told that on the day of Saint Thaddeus there is a big service with people coming from far away and Muslims are not allowed near the church during that time so they don't convert to Christianity. The very small inside of the church was not so nice with a scaffold but there was also a small garden within the monastery walls.

Nomads on the horizon. My camera didn't get them closer

Back on the road, Sajjad showed me nomads on the horizon. I asked to stop to take some pictures and I took many as they were so far away that you could barely recognize them on my pictures.

I got back into the car and only one minute later, we had nomads some 200m away from the street.

We among nomads :)
Group photo in front of a nomad tent with the father and his youngest son.
The sheep live next door

Sajjad's cousin asked if we should stop and before we could decide he was driving his car across the grass towards the closest tents. He asked us to close the windows so the dogs would not jump in and at the tents he asked the nomads if it would be ok if we took some pictures. It was and so all of a sudden we were in the middle of that nomad family taking pictures of the sheep and the tents and group pictures with the father and some children and I asked if I also can take a picture of their “living room”. It was ok again and I somehow missed to take a good picture of both sides as the left half of the tent was for the sheep and the right half was for the family :)

A dog was growling at me and got a stone from the hands of the father. He said I shouldn't be afraid. The dog's just old. Actually growling dogs were one of my biggest concern in Iran as my doc scared me of rabies but not enough to get a vaccination :) [Hmm … maybe I should be more concerned of the traffic. As I'm writing this story to my diary, my taxi from Khoy to Tabriz almost ran into an oncoming truck. We were overtaking several cars and trucks at once and a truck in the opposite direction had the same idea. We had to cuddle up to the car behind the last truck on our lane to not crash. Actually Iranians proudly claim their traffic is #1 in the world in … guess what.]

Tea, home made bread and cheese in a nomad tent. Oh how I would love to surf their couch ;)

They invited us to have tea from a nice samovar and home made milk, butter, thin bread and a very delicious cheese with them and so we sat down. My friends talked a lot with them and didn't bother to translate all of it but I enjoyed sitting in that tent with everybody laughing and discussing. I was just overwhelmed by the hospitality and I thought about how you could never buy such great experiences for money.

Laughter and a soup

Later the mother brought a soup. One pot and eight spoons. Sajjad and I looked at each other and we talked about whether it's a good idea to try that soup with everybody eating from the same pot but as the soup was still steaming hot, we decided it's safe to try a bit. I guess the mother saw how we are sissy and brought some tin plates.

The eldest son Muhammad(?) tried to talk to me in English but failed badly. With the help of Sajjad he told how he never worked hard to learn English as he thought that he would never meet tourists as a nomad anyway but he will now learn harder.

Precious shadow in the tent

I thought about how cool it would be to do couchsurfing in a nomad tent and if it would be possible to somehow stay in touch with them and so I asked if they have email or internet somehow. Muhammad was the only one who got in touch with internet at university I guess. He wanted to buy a laptop and “learn internet” soon. I asked the telephone number so I could send them the URL of this travel log so they could see the pictures and if he improved on his English maybe also read how much I liked it at their “house”.

The rest of the "village"

When we were leaving, they asked us to say hello to the grandfather who was in the tent next door.

The whole compound was like a village with 50m space between neighbour families and all in all there were maybe five families. Sajjad told me the family was actually quite wealthy. For example they had a pick-up and two houses in villages near the winter and the summer destination.

Almost Bavarian
Azerbaijan on the horizon
Skipping stones
Sajjad and his cousins
Almost sunset at the Aras
Water melon ... I had water melon every day

Next destination was the Turkish border, a small canyon and then on to the border to Azerbaijan, where the river Aras forms a big lake for a hydro power plant. After skipping some stones we went on to the streaming river behind the power plant and ate a water melon. A fisher man showed us a little water snake.

After that we were very late to get back home. I had promised to do pancakes but as fast breaking was already in one hour I was pretty sure Sajjad's mom would not want to wait for pancakes to be ready. After 16h of not eating or drinking most people wouldn't want to wait a second with drinking and surely not two hours with eating.

We drove home at top speed and I asked what that constant beeping was. Sajjad explained it was a device that is warning that you drive faster than it is allowed in Iran. Guess it was beeping most of the time :)

Talking about cars: Since some years you can get compressed natural gas (CNG) at most gas stations and many cars got upgraded to be able to drive on both petrol and gas. They can switch back and forth while driving, so when the gas is out or when they need more power, they can just switch to petrol.

Back home Sajjad's mom had cooked already and we ate dinner. I insisted to keep my promise and make pancakes as Sajjad's mom had bought all ingredients already and so I cooked pancake for five late at night. Sajjad's brother took a video and the mom was standing there watching. She wanted to learn something :) We had the pancakes for breakfast – the Muslims at 4am and me at 10am I guess.

Aug 9th – taxi to Tabriz

The taxi driver regularly overtook several trucks before bends. Iranians are proud for Iran being top in traffic casualties

After breakfast Sajjad brought me to the bus stop, helped me find a way to get to Tabriz and in order to not wait 2h I took a taxi which is only slightly more expensive than a bus but faster and more dangerous as I wrote above.

In Tabriz, Babak and Nazila picked me up at the bus stop and brought me to their home. We talked a lot although Babak's English was a bit limited. Still it was very interesting learn about Iran.

Shah-goli park at night
From the window of Babak's home

In the evening we went to the Shah-goli park, like people in Iran do after or for dinner. It was very crowded with music coming from loud speaker and it was much busier than the parks in Tehran. Here it was actually very chilly for the first and only time in Iran but as I forgot to take my jacket or my pullover those did the Iran trip unused :) In shah-goli park there is a camping ground with tents with beds at affordable rates. I can't quite believe it but they told me there was no shower with the tents.

Aug 10th – bazaar, cooking again

The samovar is not the reason I took this picture but these protecting caps that fell down all the time
Traditional German Beer ... without alcohol ... with lemon and sugar. Very traditional.

Today I went to the biggest covered bazaar in the world here in Tabriz. I bought halva and the guy at the counter, Ali, was actually quite good in English. He told me about the shop and that it's his father's shop and that people of his age are most likely to speak English but he had private lessons at an institute. I asked him how to get to the blue mosque and he showed me the way walking to that street with me. On the way he started talking about Hitler. He told me how he's a great fan of Hitler and how Iran has to thank him a lot as he attacked the enemies of Iran to save the Iranians from starvation. Also killing the evil Jews would be a good thing. Ok, he's a kid but I asked myself how he could be somewhat well educated but at the same time welcome so much evil.

His father called and he offered to give me a lift in his car. The mother who was also in the car asked me if I would like to join them for dinner and I would have loved to meet more people but as I already had promised Babak and Nazi to cook for them, I couldn't accept and so they dropped me at the Azerbaijan Museum. There they had old vases and coins (half of the gold coins were missing and my guess is this has to do with the high gold price) but the most impressive part was an exhibition of scultures by the Iranian Azeri sculptor Ahad Hosseini. The most impressive was the sculpture 5 monsters of death depicting five cave men with the centre one holding semi spheres of uranium in his hands. As the other motives were not less disturbing, I wondered what the intention was to show these and how it was even possible to have such sculptures in a museum.

On my way to the blue mosque next door in a small park a guy asked me where I was from again. He told me he was an English teacher with his students and asked if I would join them for a chat. I joined them and we talked for at least an hour. Well the teacher talked with me and they talked among themselves in Azeri and sometimes one of his students tried to ask something. We got to subjects like nudity and homosexuality and they were surprised how much is possible in Germany. Then one of the students asked me to sing a German song and I rejected and told them how bad my singing is. (As a student my teacher played the guitar and I sat next to him. He asked me to sit somewhere else as he can't play with me singing next to him.) Well he was not so shy and sang an Azeri song for us about hopeless love. They translated it for me but that's all I remember :)

After having a brief look at the blue mosque I more or less randomly walked the streets of Tabriz and came to the University of Tabriz and asked the guard if it was ok to walk around on the campus. He didn't understand me so he asked the next student passing by for translation. He looked sceptical and decided to ask his boss. The boss said no, I can't enter. The guard didn't like that answer and told Saber, the randomly recruited interpreter that if he guides me around, it is fine. He accepted and so I got a nice tour of that huge campus :)

Saber told me he was almost(?) finished with his biology studies and that he is also writing philosophical texts. He showed me all the different faculties and the big stadium up on the hill. This university is the second largest in Iran with its 16k students.

He accompanied me back to the city centre by bus and helped me find a good butcher and said good bye. The butcher apparently was good. At least there was a long queue at the entrance. The next customer behind me asked me again where I was from and asked what I want to buy and told me that meat was 20 toman per kg. I said I want to buy for 10 toman and said I should jump the queue. I told him I was not in a hurry but he tried to push me verbally. Finally he took my money and jumped the queue himself. I tried to stop him but no chance. Some other customers looked amused others not so much. The butcher came out and showed me minced meat and I said yes. He showed me a chunk of meat and as he had a machine to mince it, I thought he wanted my approval to mince that chunk and said yes again. Next he showed me both and I pointed at the minced meat. Seconds later a plastic bag with minced meat came out, I thanked him and went to buy vegetables, crème fraîche and pasta. With the tomatoes the merchant gave me three small cucumbers, there was no crème fraîche again so yoghurt had to do and the Parsley was only sold in batches of 0.5kg. Back at home Nazi helped me in the kitchen and also weighted the meat: It was 1kg, so the butcher had given me 50% of discount!? I cooked and had the slightly bad idea to add the cucumbers to the sauce. I was not all happy with the result and also Babak told me the next day that he somehow liked it a bit but Nazi was the better cook. I decided to do no experiments any more and do pancakes whenever I cook at another host.

Aug 11th – Kandovan and a hiking tour missed

Many cars take both petrol and CNG
A minaret shot while driving accidentally directly in front of the sun
Fresh apricots taste delicious :)
Little refreshment
Caves outside ...
... and inside
The village of Kandovan
Wooden bridge
Drying apricots for winter
Holy water that helps cure many deseases

Babak had suggested to meet with his hiking mate and first go to Kandovan, a village where some of the houses that are carved into the stone are said to be inhabited since 700 years. After that we could do a 2,000m hike. I asked him twice if by 2,000m hike he means 2,000m up and down again, Tabriz (1,300m) to 2,000m and back or 2,000m long and he confirmed it would be 2,000 height meters up and down again. I told him that my toughest tour was about 1,500m and took all day at 25°C so Kandovan and then such a tour at 35°C sounded a bit unrealistic to me. He insisted it was a doable tour and I tried to convince him that maybe my condition was not as good as his and I guess he was quite unhappy with me spoiling that tour although I had agreed to do it with me eventually waiting for him half way up. He even suggested we could stay at home all together. Ok, actually all this talk was yesterday.

Today we had to leave at 8am. I was packed and ready at 8 and didn't want to disturb the couple's bedroom so I laid down on the sofa and waited. Babak got up at 9am and complained that I didn't wake him. Ok I should have waked him but I was tired anyway and didn't see much sense in waking him to be honest.

We left the house at around 10am and met Behzad to drive to Kandovan. Behzad was a nice guy but sadly spoke less English than Babak.

We did a stop at Behzad's grandfather's garden, picked some apricots and other fruits, said hello to the neighbour who showed us around in his garden and gave us some apples. These gardens are quite refreshing. Especially as at the neighbour's there was a lot of fresh water from a pumping station (I guess).

On our way to Kandovan we next stopped at some caves that were discovered 10 years ago. I was not done with my first panoramic picture when Babak started hurrying again. Half an hour in the garden was no problem but five minutes here was too much :(

Kandovan was quite impressive. All the houses are still inhabited although they added satellite dishes and electricity but they still live in caves. Ok, it is quite touristy also because of its magical mineral water that is said to cure many deceases but they also have many sheep and fruits. Near the mineral water fountain they sell empty bottles at five toman next to the fountain or half a toman 10m further away. We took some liters with us, Babak to take it home, me to have something to drink at all.

In the car Babak drank from my water in a way that I already know from Vietnamese: without touching the bottle he poured the water into his mouth. Well, as he was driving a bumpy road he did not quite succeed but at these temperatures, this shower is not too bad neither. I tried it, too and even without having to steer a car at the same time I got pretty wet, too :)

Now he told me that we will not go hiking and after dropping Behzad, we stopped at the terminal and got a bus ticket to Kashan for the night bus that same day.

After three short hours at home, packing, writing emails and travel log and checking couches on couchsurfing Babak brought me to the bus.

This bus ride of ten hours is only 15 toman. The bus should be at the final stop in Kashan at 6am Babak said. On the bus somebody told me I should set my alarm to 4am to not miss my stop. Also I was worried for my backpack as I didn't get a reclaim number. Lastly I had no host in Kashan yet so this time I was prepared to search my first “mosafer khane” (= “traveller house” = motel).

Aug 12th – A spontaneous tour guide :)

A natural fountain in the center of Fin Garden
Fin Garden
Historical house
Historical house
Historical house
Historical house
Historical house
Fire Temple
Water course right after the natural fountain
Kashan is famous for its rose water. This is how they produce it
The waterfall: upper end
The waterfall: lower end
Table 23: Black tomatoes and meat - but delicious

Hospitality is amazing here. At Kashan the bus driver himself came to pick me at my seat and accompanied me to a small shop on that dusty bus stop well outside of Kashan. At the counter there was a guy who spoke English. He called a taxi for me and we talked a bit. He explained to me those bottles with healthy water he was selling. To my question “What is this?” I got the answer to the question “What is this good for?” but he was not the first to do this :) He told me how the mint water smells good but tastes horrible. I tried it and it really was horrible.

His name is Vahab and he studies English. He gave me his telephone number and offered to show me around in Kashan at 9am. As it was 6am and I was very tired, I asked if 10am was fine, too. I was a bit sorry for him as he himself did a 10 hours night shift and ramadan.

The first mosafer khane didn't have rooms at first. Then the guy thought a bit and said 50 toman. I decided to try another hotel and went on. At Sayyah hotel they said 37 toman for two nights and Vahab later said that's a good price. The next day though they said it was 37 toman per night. I was a bit angry as I had asked three times if it was per night or for two nights but as I wouldn't risk to run out of money I didn't want to complain about my most expensive days in Kashan.

Vahab called me at 9:45 and he showed me all around Kashan. Fin Garden, two historical houses, a fire temple and the Niasar waterfalls 20km outside of Kashan. Water is very scars here so those waterfalls have not been the only ones with maybe only five liters of water per second artificially made to flow over rocks. Still it is a nice place where many people go to relax having a picnic under the trees.

At first Vahab even wanted to pay for the taxi but he quickly agreed on me to pay all taxis and entrance fees. He got us cheap taxis :) The four hours ride to the waterfalls was only 13.5 toman. The four hours ride to Abyaneh booked at the hotel was 30 toman.

In the evening Vahab was not allowed to come to my hotel room and so I brought my laptop to the lobby to copy the photos. We agreed to meet at 8am to go to Abyaneh and Vahab called a friend to make sure there is no problem driving by the nuclear facilities at Natanz.

After Vahab left, I took a nap and wanted to go to a restaurant but during ramadan restaurants are hard to find. In the street an Iranian woman (Akram) sitting in a car asked if she could help me. I asked for a restaurant. If I like fast food? No, I'd like to try some traditional food. She, her husband Abbas and a guy outside the car were talking. They asked if they can give me a lift to a nice restaurant and I enterd the car. Later it turned out this guy outside of the car was a friend and owner of a fast food place right there. I felt sorry to not have eaten there but well … Akram told me she was English teacher and her English was really good. Abbas' father had carpet factories in Kashan and claimed that all the machines were from Germany and he knew people in Stuttgart :) They briefly thought about accepting my invitation to join me for dinner but in the end Akram helped me ordering and left.

The food was delicious but there seems to be no cancer in Iran. Both the meat and the tomatoes were black outside.

After dinner the waiter asked for the name of my hotel so he could call a taxi for me. The driver said “3 toman” and off we went. When I realized he was driving out of the city I said “Hotel Sayyah, Bazaar” and he said “yes, bazaar” and drove on. After what felt like 15 minutes we've been far outside of Kashan he entered the drive of a hotel and stopped the engine. Given the fact that two toman would be the minimum price for a taxi here, I guess he tried to get me check in at that hotel and gave him four toman when we finally arrived at my hotel although he offered me to not pay at all but I guessed it was t'aarof again.

Aug 13th – A day lost …

View from my hotel window
Near the bazaar
Walking in the neighbourhood
Walking in the neighbourhood
Family "car". I have seen four adults on a motorbike but wasn't fast enough with my camera
This guy asked me to take a picture of him
Here I hoped to find thread and needle to fix the pocket of my trousers. They sent me to the changing room and fixed it for me laughing a lot and in the end they refused to take any money.

I got an SMS that Vahab had to work today so I decided to get some things done. Had to do the laundry and get a new battery for my watch … but a nap first. The air conditioning did little more than noise so I was not really well-rested. I booked Abyaneh for the next day and went to the bazaar and up some random street to find a laundry shop. I found one but they didn't name a price. I asked if two toman is ok and showed them the bill and they said yes. Of course later when I came to pick up my stuff it was seven toman. And my laundry was not ironed, it was wet. After eight hours that they made me wait for it.

Prices are strange here and without a local guide completely inconsistent. At a fast food place that evening I got a vegetarian burger for one toman and the Iranian beer for two toman. I had coke for half a toman elsewhere.

On my way home from that restaurant I wanted to take a taxi for the one km ride. At the taxi stop there was no taxi and I waited when suddenly a moped stopped and the guy asked me if he can give me a lift. I asked “two toman” and he said no. No problem. Hop on the bike something … He turned into some dark alley and stopped the bike to ask me to directly pay. I was slightly scared and well surprised and stepped back one meter to search my wallet for a 2 toman bill but it was too dark to recognise the bills. I showed him my anger and he said no problem again and said I should get on the bike again. 2 toman? Yes! As my last taxi took me to the wrong hotel, I said “Sayyad, bazaar” again and so at the bazaar he stopped and asked for 2 toman. Sayyad 5 toman. I told him to stop and I want to walk the rest but he said, ok, two toman. When we arrived at the hotel I only found a 50 toman bill and very small bills in my wallet and I was somehow sure that he would take the 50 toman, too. Luckily I finally found a two toman bill and he took it but also the one toman bill that I did not really intent to give to him but well, a regular taxi would have been three toman, too and I was happy to leave this crazy guy alone. I was so much in a hurry that I forgot my beer on the street :( He followed me and argued a bit with the hotel receptionist but I didn't care.

During the day I had met an English teacher who asked me to maybe join him and his students at his students' house for tea. He wanted to call me but didn't so maybe the best news of today was that I had two couchsurfers that accepted to host me in Esfahan.

Aug 14th – Abyaneh, Natanz, Esfahan

Somewhere near Abyaneh
Green trees! Well after 20km of almost desert that's nice :)
People in Abyaneh have very special cloths
Red houses
Above Abyaneh with the driver

At 7:45am – I was just coming out of the shower – the hotel manager who organised the trip to Abyaneh knocked on my door reminding me we had an appointment at 8am. Checkout was not possible at 8 as there was a general power outage, so I put my big backpack to a small storage room and went to the “taxi”. It was no taxi but the hotel manager's private car. On the back seat there was the driver's nice Yasna. As she has never been to Abyaneh and was learning English, the uncle thought it would be a good idea if she joined.

On the way to Abyaneh we drove by the nuclear facility of Natanz said to be the biggest nuclear facility in Iran with its 5,000 centrifuges. Consequently the whole area is very well protected with anti air guns several km around the compound. Taking pictures is strictly forbidden and the driver told me how he had to spend three hours at a police station when once an Italian guy took a picture of the facility three years ago. The police also took the photo equipment. Consequently I did not take pictures but on our way back I almost accidentally took a photo of an AA gun when I actually wanted to take a picture of a water tank kms before we reached the facility.

In Abyaneh the driver said Yasna and I should explore the village. He already knows it. So we went there and I asked Yasna where to go first. She didn't know and so she asked some locals. They didn't know neither and as in the desert I like best where it's green I suggested to go down to where it's green. She said there are only gardens what I interpreted as disinterest :( and as the road down was getting dirtier and she had kind of high heels I agreed to turn around and go up in the village. On our way up we met the uncle and he showed us the mosque and an “old door” that once was kidnapped to Turkey and now stood behind bars. I wanted to know how old it was and he said “very very old … maybe 120 years”. Hmm … as I said earlier I lack a bit of respect for “old rocks” and a door of 120 years in a country that holds treasures 20 times that age I was not really impressed by that door.

Next Yasna bought some snacks for us and we went to a place next to a one meter wide artificial watercourse and sat down under some trees to have tea and snacks. It was nice chatting with them and actually having had Yasna around was more interesting to me than to see Abyaneh itself. Well … I've said it before … old rocks vs. people :)

After the trip to Abyaneh I took a bus to Esfahan and missed to see Vahab again. Sorry I couldn't say goodbye :(

In Esfahan I met the best organized couchsurfing host you could imagine. Mohammad sent me an SMS to show to my driver. The driver said “2” and I sent that to him. He told me that's too far from his place and to get a taxi and show the following Farsi text to him … At his house he gave me an electronic bus ticket, keys for the house, a yellow paper with the address and the address “city center” in Farsi to show to taxi drivers. He had the fastest internet I had in Iran, cooked delicious food, has a wonderful sister Maryam who also helped out where she could and the whole flat was for his couchsurfers, only.

Hiroyuki preparing charcoal for a water pipe

When I arrived there was already a long term surfer from Japan – Hiroyuki. Hiro is learning Farsi and stays a total of three months in Esfahan. After one hour Mohammad was on the phone directing the next taxi driver with couchsurfers to his place. The Kiwis Matt and George, both law students on their way to study abroad in Sweden arrived, got the same “treatment”. Mohammad served us some delicious home made lemonade with rose water, we smoked a Qalyan and talked a lot.

Aug 15th – Esfahan sight seeing and more couchsurfers

33Pol but very broken on the right side. My panorama stitcher somehow failed at this. The bridge normally is very straight :)
Under 33Pol
On the bridge

We left the house at 8:30am and Mohammad joined us. He showed us Si-o-se Pol, a bridge through the dried out Zayanderud river. The river was dried out since weeks but it is only the second time it ever dried out in recent history due to increased demands upstream. We saw nice gardens and the impressive Naqsh-e Jahan Square and several of its surrounding buildings like the huge Shah Mosque, the Ali Qapu with its nice view over the square and the Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque with its nice reflections in the roof. There once was a tunnel from Ali Qapu to this last mosque so the family of the king would not have to walk there in public.

After a visit to Chehel Sotoun where we met a Canadian and his Iranian friend who suggested to see a zurkhaneh (house of strength, traditional Iranian body building) at night we went back home as it was getting hot and the tourist sites closed anyway.

Although we spent all afternoon at home writing travel logs and emails and chatting, we were too tired at night to go to a zurkhane. Mohammad cooked a delicious food again and it wasn't getting boring anyway :) Also I had to organize my next couch in Shiraz.

Aug 16th – more couchsurfers, pancakes, telecabin

This morning I woke up to the sound of Mohammad's welcome ceremony (yellow paper, bus ticket, keys, …) and the new guests talking about hitch-hiking to Pakistan. It was Emil and Zoran from Denmark. They had to do our tour of yesterday on their own. Mohammad said good-bye to see his wife and daughter but not without showing me my breakfast before. I had told him that I wanted to fast but seeing this plate of salad, scrambled egg and cheese covered in plastic as he didn't know when I would get up, I couldn't just not eat it :)

Hiro went up to the roof to see how Matt and George were doing but apparently they've been blown away. No sign of them. Later they came from one of the other rooms and told how horribly windy it was up there :)

They had an appointment via couchsurfers so we went to the city center together. I wanted to see the flowers garden as I haven't been invited to join them :( George really did fast today. For me this is madness with walking around all day and 40°C but he survived. The bus somehow dropped us somewhere else than yesterday and so we walked the rest. I asked a local, Ashkin, and he accompanied us to Si-o-Se Pol. I asked him if he does ramadan and he said no. He does sports. Actually he is the Iranian champion in 3,000m hurdles. His English was ok but somehow we could not find out if he ever ran in any international competition. He learned English at high-school but there are no English classes at university. After Si-o-Se Pol he said good-bye and also we split up. I guess I didn't find the flowers garden and in different maps it also was in different locations. Actually I'm pretty sure I missed it only by some 20 meters. Anyway I was searching for fresh water and a place to rest most of the time and went back home at 5pm as I promised to do pancakes again.

I took a taxi and inside it was very chilly and I was happy to have found a taxi with working air conditioning but when entering the taxi he switched it off. Grrr. As I was not willing to pay for it I didn't ask to switch it back on. On the way he complained about the heat but also about the petrol prices and I ignored his invitation to ask to switch on the AC and was satisfied with the open window. Finally he said “ok, no problem” and switched on the AC and closed my window. At my destination he wanted five toman for the ride and two for the AC. Five was expensive for the ride already and I explicitly did not ask for AC so I didn't pay. He was mad at me. Great.

At home I took a quick shower and started cooking. Maryam had bought all the ingredients and Emil helped me with the champignons, Mohammad with the dill. As 500g champignons was not enough for eight, Mohammad went to the supermarket to buy another 500g. I used up all the flour and two litres of milk. In the end after frying the champignons still looked too few and I wanted to extend the sauce but I had no flour any more :( Somehow Maryam got more flour for me. I'm afraid she had to go to the supermarket again for it :))

At 9:10pm Mohammad and George did a count down and broke fast with a glass of carrot juice with milk. Mohammad has a machine for the carrot juice as it's good for your eyes.

Zoran was not well at all and didn't join for pancakes. Although he did not fast, he maybe got a heat stroke. All the others digged in the pancakes and even one kg of champignons was not enough but as Mohammad did some egg-plant purée there was enough spicy pancake for everybody. Later that evening I exchanged some SMS with Sajjad and was happy to hear they had pancakes today, too :)

After dinner I suggested to go to the telecabin as I thought there would be a perfect view over the city but the Esfahan telecabin actually ends behind a mountain. Mohammad, Matt and George were in but we first had some tea and water pipe. Maryam called us a taxi.

Telecabin is only one out of many attractions in Soffeh park. For example there is also the only bowling alley that I've seen in Iran. We walked to a vista point and on to the telecabin. Up on the hill there was a steady strong wind blowing and it was really nice to sit there and talk. Actually the wind was the reason people come here – not the view :)

Back down in the park we waited for the taxi half an hour sitting on the grass like all the others. Matt told me about New Zealand history. Quite impressive when somebody knows so much about history.

Back at home we had to sign Mohammad's guest book and we wrote our travel logs again. Matt and George directly on facebook I guess.

Aug 17th – Trip to Shiraz

Dinner in a very nice restaurant in Shiraz with Umar, Abbas and Rasmus

Although I have one more week in Iran I feel like it's not much time left here. I'm planning how I can cram Yazd into my trip and try to contact Reza but as he sounded like he had no time for me last time I suggested to come to Yazd I'm not sure if I want to go there. Bus leaves at 11am. Somehow I manage to be late packing my stuff again and Mohammad askes if he should cancel the ticket. Nono, I'm rushing and getting on my taxi and on my bus only to find Mohammad's keys and the electronic bus ticket still in my wallet. I text him for an address where I should send the stuff but he only replies “Don't worry! Just try to have a good trip. Mohammad” Hmm.. Now what. Throw it away? Will he send an address later? I'm confused but not much I could do.

At the bus stop I see the only really annoying idiots. Some guys around 18 years old try to talk to me and they are nice and laugh a lot. I ask them their e-mail addresses but they claim to have none. Another passenger starts arguing with them and explains to me that they are only afraid to give their addresses to me and calls them cowards. Ok, so we exchange telephone numbers and until I got back to Germany I kept getting prank calls from them. Not that I would worry much about their words but those believing Muslims get up for breakfast before sunrise at 4am and do prank calls after breakfast. Great.

I arrived at Shiraz at 5pm and Abbas picked me up at the bus stop. We brought my backpack to a friends house and went to see Shah Cheragh, a shrine full of little mirrors and many pilgrims kissing the shrine and walking away backwards to not show their back to that sacred place. Also the shrine is full of money bills. Here I also met Umar from Pakistan and Rasmus from Denmark, the other two couchsurfers at Abbas' place. They met each other in Edinburgh but wouldn't be back to host me for the fringe festival after Iran :)

In the evening we went to a nice restaurant. Actually the first restaurant with a nice interior design that I see in Iran. Again the prices are strange. Main meals are 7-20 toman, 1.5l of Pepsi is 2 toman. All in all prices are too low to worry about who is cheating me but I don't see any consistency. This dinner was great fun and we laughed a lot. With salad, soup and sweets from the buffet we also could try out lots of different things. Later they started live music and that was a bit too loud to talk across the table.

Aug 18th – Persepolis and Abbas' cousins

Nice pet on a wall in Persepolis. About 30cm long!
With Umar and Rasmus in front of Persepolis. Yes, it was very hot.
Somewhere above Persepolis
With Rasmus, Umar and five other pillars
The triumph of Shapur I over the Roman Emperor Valerian, and Philip the Arab (at Naqsh-i Rustam)
Mojtaba "Add me on Facebook" Shirazi ;)

Today Umar, Rasmus and me we went to Persepolis. (Did I mention already how much I love old rocks? Actually my German diary that this travel log is based on completely misses this day's travel.) Nice rocks. We did the mistake to also go to Pasargadae which even Rasmus and Umar didn't like much. On our way back we stopped at Naqsh-e Rustam where the oldest relief is said to be 3000 years old.

In the evening, Abbas' cousins came over. Eight of them I guess :) But Abbas' “table” is easily extendible as we ate on the floor and the table was newspapers. Abbas bought some food on the street and Umar and Rasmus bought Faloodeh and ice cream. We did their video blog (again) and sitting their not having to say anything felt very stupid but well … see for yourself :). Then they rushed off to Esfahan. I got to talk to Lida who spoke quite good English but at some point they were all getting ready to go to a garden. When they were all outside Abbas asked me if I were tired? No, I wasn't. If I wanted to join them for the garden? Yes, definitely. Ok, then pack your stuff, they'll wait. Hmm … Abbas didn't join? Pack stuff? What garden is that? Is it really ok if I join? Whatever … Abbas told me to get my sleeping bag and my tooth brush as we will not be back before tomorrow morning. I didn't find my wallet and he told me I wouldn't need it but I don't feel comfortable without some money to get a taxi to Abbas' place for example and so he lent me 15 toman and rushed out. Surprise. Lida didn't join for the garden. How was the English of the others? Whatever … if it's more complicated than expected it could still be funny.

In the car I talked to Ladan who also was quite good at English and she talked a lot. She made me guess her age and I thought maybe 24 but didn't want to guess above her age so I said 22 which was very far off and so I refused to do any more guessing with the other girls :) We stopped at Ladan's parent's house where she showed me her paintings. She gives painting lessons :) We packed stuff (and people?) went on to another house were we packed stuff again and went on to the garden. Guess it was three cars.

We arrived in the garden 30km outside and 900m above Shiraz before midnight and first had some tea. Then we went to the upper end of the garden where there was the pool, the volleyball field and a … house without walls? Roof? No idea how to call it. Not really a pavilion.

After five minutes of playing volleyball I managed to fall into the pool. According to my dictionary I felt sheepish about it :( Not sure exactly how it happened but I fished the ball out of the pool with a shovel and I guess I held the shovel in one hand throwing the ball with the other and somehow got too much inertia towards the pool. Stupid me. Great, I had my jeans on with my new Nokia in the pocket but the Nokia was fine. The boys instantly brought me my bag and offered me some short trousers but I had my own short trousers in the bag and wrung out the t-shirt so it could dry playing volleyball. When we were done with volleyball at 2am it was dry.

While playing they always shouted something like “Hiertsch” and it took ages till they “translated” it for me. It is no real word and means “crazy”. Somehow I was incapable of pronouncing it right and every time I tried they laughed about how wrong I did it and asked me to repeat it. At some point Ladan said something that I did not like and to express displeasedness, I growled at her. She liked that deep sound and asked me to do “Frankenstein” again and after I talked in that deep voice I had to do “Frankenstein” every hour or so :) They even did a Frankenstein video the other day. Wonder if it is on youtube. I asked them to not put it there … hmm …

Now we prepared to go to bed. Well, I didn't know what we prepared to do as nobody spoke English with me. Ladan was not close to as talkative as she was in the car and I felt a bit lost … but only a bit :)

The boys took me between them on the first floor of that “house without walls” and there was much fooling around before finally sleeping :)

Aug 19th – ““We get back in the morning””

In the “morning”, guess it was 10am the girls came to wake us and not all had slept enough but after some grumbling of the tired boys, we finally through down the mattresses, pillows, … and climbed down the ladder to have breakfast. They asked if I slept well and I carefully mentioned that it was a bit hard. They claimed I didn't want a mattress. Hmm … guess I can attribute this misunderstanding to our language barrier.

For breakfast we had naan with cheese, tomatoes and cucumber like I had it many times before. Mojtaba played the clown and explained to me how to eat breakfast in Iran. In totally exaggerated gestures he put the cheese and the vegetables on his naan, folded the naan, opened the mouth widely and moved the bread to his mouth like a sword swallower his sword. Amir and Mojtaba were always competing about who's the bigger clown and all of the cousins were making some sort of fun most of the time which I liked as it is most likely more fun be among people that laugh for something that I don't understand than among people that do serious talk that I don't understand.

After breakfast they taught me some Persian words and later the boys went to the pool with me. A bit later the girls came, too but not to jump in the pool but only to watch. In Iran that's difficult, even in a private garden :(

Amir and I fought a bit for the air mattress and when we tried to get on top of it faster than the other, his elbow broke my nose. I climbed out of the pool, the boys got me Kleenex and they asked me if I had a headache. Hmm … don't know … yes, a bit.

Now the uncles went on the air mattress. They asked me to come back into the pool but my nose was still bleeding and I felt a bit dizzy. Definitely not like fooling around in the pool. The two captains asked Ladan to come aboard and so finally one girl went into the pool but in jeans and T-shirt. I liked the scene and enjoyed sitting at the pool.

Amir and Mojtaba took me outside the garden to see the other fruits they grew around the garden. I didn't feel like walking around and I was quite comfortable at the pool and so I asked to return but I had to also have a look at the potatoes and taste the almonds. I felt impolite but it was the wrong moment :(

Later back at the pool, Mojtaba splashed water at me with some very solid plastic pipe and I jumped up to run around the pool and throw him in. He got scared as he can't swim and tried to get away … and hit me with the pipe on my teeth behind his head. Luckily nothing broke but I thought I should better be careful here :) Third pool accident in a row.

Later we played some more volleyball and for me it was strictly forbidden to get the ball out of the pool :)

Now we prepared to drive back to Shiraz and Ladan's house again. There they took a shower and I got some tea and some biscuits called like the German expression “Juchee” and I asked what the plan was and they told me that they will drive by at Abbas' place where I will have 15 minutes to take a shower and change cloths and we go to the park together. They didn't ask me if I want to join but simply told me the plan. I liked it :) Only little problem was that I didn't have any fresh T-shirts to change so at Abbas' I picked the least dirty T-shirt and decided that it's clean enough for a park.

At a fast food Abbas bought 10 sandwiches with fried potato something and 3l of Pepsi and we went to Qur'an Gate to eat there. I was a bit surprised to how many people just sit on the pavement next to a big street to eat and Abbas told me it was the plan to do the same.

Hmm … Maybe due to my sceptical question we entered the park next to Qur'an Gate with the tomb of Khwaju Kermani, waterfalls and a good view over the city and had our dinner there. We've been “only” eight and the sandwiches were too much. We didn't stay in the park too long and when we finally got home I was very tired but Abbas and me started talking about the world and his brother and found many common interests. Could have talked forever … but at 2am he went to bed and I wrote some urgent SMS, got direct answers replying again … and fell asleep on the couch. At 4am I finally went to bed.

Aug 20th – laundry, pancakes for 12

At 10am a prank call woke me up and as Abbas was up already, too and he helped me with his washing machine.

Wrote my diary and talked with Abbas.

For 10pm I had promised to have pancakes ready. For 12 people. So we went shopping together. Again the crème fraîche was hard to get. No spinach in Shiraz neither. After I had succeeded explaining dill to Abbas we didn't find that neither and Ladan was so nice to get it for us – together with two pans.

At 6:30 I started chopping mushrooms and mixing dough but Abbas had only one big pot I could either use for dough or for mushrooms. No electric mixer or wire whisk but a wooden spoon.

At 7:30 Ladan arrived with her mother, half a kg of dill, two pans and a big bowl. The bowl saved me but the pans were a challenge. They had no handles.

As Abbas had no spatula (I'm learning cooking English now :) we had to distribute the dough and flip the pancake with a big spoon.

I was happy that Ladan helped me with the one pan after she prepared the dill with her mother as without handle and spatula each pancake took much more time than normal.

Once Ladan distributed the dough in my pan and as I had an idea of doing it differently I thought of the saying “Viele Köche verderben den Brei” which is “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” but literally German cooks spoil the mash. I asked Ladan about that saying in Farsi and she explained to me that they say something like “With two cooks the mash gets either too sweet or too salty.” In Farsi that is “آشپز که دو تا شد ، آش یا شور میشود یا بی نمک .” or in Pinglish “ashpaz ke do ta shod, Ash ya shur mishavad ya bi namak!” (Thanx Sajjad for translating ;) Hmmm … guess Ladan took it as criticism and I regretted having brought up that saying as I was happy to have her around not only to help with the pancakes.

We were done cooking at 9pm so we had lots of time before the other cousins arrived. The dinner was very funny as always with these guys :) I asked how many people are called Shirazi in Shiraz and Abbas guessed 10%. Mojtaba Shirazi said 17.3% but he could bargain 10% discount for me … just to give you an idea how serious talks were :)

After they all left, Abbas and me talked till 5am again.

Aug 21st – city tour with the girls, trip to Esfahan and Tehran

At 7:30am after 2.5h of sleep my alarm went off. Today the girls wanted to go to the bazaar with me – at about 8am and show me some more sites. Actually the boys wanted to join too, but the girls didn't want them to be around as they always did silly jokes. I felt quite privileged and promised the boys to do some silly jokes for them :)

Thanx for the sheep :)

My appointment got shifted so I could almost double my night's sleep to meet them at 11am. Mahroo, Marjam, Maryam and Ladan showed me the bazaar where they wanted to buy fabric. Ladan told me she sewed her top herself and it looked quite complicated. She gave me a little Shawn the sheep as a present :)

After the bazaar we went to the tomb of Hafez which has a nice garden, to Eram Garden and finally to Arg of Karim Khan which they called Cindarella's castle as that was how I tried to explain Schloß Neuschwanstein to them. Here Abbas waited with a friend to pick me up and bring me to the bus terminal. Ladan's parents was there, too and her dad took some pictures of the citadel and us.

Saying good-bye was short and … somehow I don't get used to spending much time with people I like and not hug them to say good-bye but Iranians are different in that respect :(

Abbas brought me to my bus to Esfahan, where I wanted to give Mohammad back his keys and bus ticket. On that bus I had my first longer conversation of all my bus trips. A girl showed interest the second I came in and watched me through the seats in front of me. She finally asked where I was from and we chatted a bit until she explained her mother was Muslim. Hmm … surprise :) I guessed she wanted to tell me her mother is against us talking and we had some pause. She sat away from her mother and the passenger next to her talked a bit with me, too. When that second woman left at her stop I somehow misunderstood her when I thought she had invited me to sit next to her and wanted to come over to talk more easily but by the terrified look in her eyes on my first careful movement I understood that that was not an option. As we had exchanged email addresses and telephone numbers we went on for about 20 SMS not looking at each other. During this six hours ride I've seen her face for maybe a total of five minutes. Weird country :(

In Esfahan I was not sure if I was at the right terminal this time and asked the price and got tricked again. Made me pay five toman as it is very far but the ride was one minute. He pretty openly showed me how he's happy to get that five toman but as I agreed before there was no way to just give him two.

Mohammad was not at home. On his sisters flat I heard the TV but nobody opened the door so I went up and waited for Mohammad. Later Maryam came in happy to see me, served me her delicious lemonade, melon and pistachios although I really tried to stop her from spending much time and effort. Maryam got Mohammad on the phone and he asked her to book a bus to Tehran for me. The last bus, so I could chat with Mohammad before leaving again.

When Mohammad came he helped me decipher some of the SMS I had received in the bus. For example she had written “mer30” which made no sense to me. From the context I guessed it might mean “me r 30” like “I am 30” but she more looked like under 20. It actually meant “merci” as the Farsi word for 30 is pronounced like the French “ci” in “merci”. When language is a problem in the first place, it's not getting better with this extra twist but still it was very nice chatting with her.

At 1am Mohammad brought me to my bus and I had my most comfortable bus to Tehran. It had about half the seats of the other buses and the backrest could be set to horizontal so sleeping was really comfortable for the first time.

Aug 22nd – a lazy day in Tehran and last good-bye to Iran

Today I arrived early at Saber and Maryam's home. I was super tired and slept mostly all day. Shopping gifts was no success as it was a holiday :( Sorry guys I should have thought of that. I wanted to spend my last day on the bazaar buying gifts.

Saber did a small money exchange. As I didn't want to exchange one of my 50€ bills he accepted 1.5BTC for some toman but as the only reasonable gift I found was pistachios at the airport, I had lots of toman left over in the end.

Since I had a headache I asked Maryam for an Aspirin. She had Ibuprofen. I had trouble reading the expiration date. '91? As after the Iranian calendar it is only 1390 now, they were still fine :) But didn't work :(

At midnight I took a taxi to the airport and somehow everything took so long there and I was just right for my 3:30am flight. Good-bye Iran. It was wonderful.


Stories between the lines …

My diary this travel report is based on are twice the length and I'm sorry I stripped out many interesting stories as they were either very personal experiences, politically dangerous or maybe even criminal by some shari'ah law. I hope this glue between the real highlights is not too boring to read but in the end maybe more in depth reports about my various encounters would also be lengthy and boring. is a website where people register to either host or visit other couchsurfers. Their motto is “Creating a better world. One couch at a time.”

After having hosted many people together with Van and now alone and only some short trips to Berlin, Varna and Marrakesh, this was my first real big couchsurfing trip.

I'm no fan of old stones

I repeatedly claim to be no big fan of old stones and I want to apologize for that. I did not prepare well for this trip and met wonderful people every day and wanted to do this travel log. Actually I like history and can spend hours reading through all the articles on wikipedia about ancient culture and the sites that I've been to but it was just not my priority while in Iran. I wouldn't want to miss a single second that I talked to people for reading a page in Lonely Planet and it was always a trade-of to write my diary or search for the next couch as I could not be there for my hosts during that times.


I tried to do some Ramadan. In Iran it is forbidden to eat or drink in public and a host told me the punishment was digging seven graves with a spoon but today police lets you go after digging seven hours with a spoon.

On my first day I decided not to drink unless I see one other person who drinks so I would dare to drink, too. There was none until late in the afternoon. This non-drinking was so stupid so I drank a lot throughout the rest of my trip. Luckily there are water dispensers everywhere with very cold water and the water was of good quality in most cities except Shiraz.

With eating I planned to be strict. Maybe a small breakfast and no eating till others broke their fast, too. Unfortunately my hosts were very worried about me not eating enough and I did not stick to that plan very much. Still I lost 3kg :)

Trust when hopping couches

One of my hosts was so extreme many times. With his poor English he was always taking a very long pause when answering me and his answers surprised me many times so I was sometimes not sure if I should avoid some topics. Once he offered me some water melon. When I said I don't want to, he pointed at me with his big sharp melon knife and said “Eat! Or I will kill you!” I laughed at this obvious joke although it was not funny for me. He seamed to not like me not believing him and said “I mean it. I'm crazy.” The next day we had a long talk about trust and this situation and how it is difficult to build trust in no time while couchsurfing in a very foreign country and he apologized for scaring me. Actually he was the guy I would trust the least just for this playing with my trust. Still I'm pretty sure he's a good guy and really sorry for that incident.

Showing affection in public

In Iran it is somehow forbidden to show affection in public, still couples walk hand in hand through the streets and parks. I have seen girls with the head of their sleeping friend on their laps in parks. At night, the parks are packed with families having picnic and rumours tell there is much more flirting going on in the dark than I might have seen. As there are no bars or night clubs, the parks are where the young people meet – or on the street changing telephone numbers through the car windows at the red lights.

Actually I also flirted with several girls. One was only fifteen and told me how she likes blond hair and blue eyes which I happen to have both and that she was proposed a husband but she doesn't want to marry yet (girls can marry at the age of nine) but she wants a boyfriend. All in front of her family. Best part of her flirting – I've got to remember that when flirting with foreigners – she asked me what was “I love you!” in German – and made me repeat “Ich liebe Dich!” three times. That felt weird. I forgot what it was in Farsi ;)

Women rights

In public women have to wear a scarf and cover their arms and legs – men only need to wear long trousers. Scarfs tend to slip down all the time but women risk to go to jail for that.

Girls do Ramadan at the age of nine – and can get married at that age. Boys do Ramadan not before they are 15. In conservative cities, women are even not allowed to ride bikes.

Still women here demand their freedom in that most young women don't wear a scarf that would cover all their hair but slips down all the time. They do sports. At the ping-pong tables there were almost as many women as men despite the warm cloths they have to wear.

For women it is hard to be independent. Until they are married, they have to do what their father says and then, what their husband says. A host told me that the only way to be free is to get divorced. He claimed that was why women want to get married easily. The idea of going to a remote city to study also caused some confusion with a girl I talked to. She has to stay with her family.

Dressing in public here and there

Not only women have to follow a dress code in public. Also men are not allowed to wear short trousers in public and Hiroyuki from Japan was not allowed to wear his hair the way he always did in Japan as it was too female on the university compound.

I had a long discussion with one of my hosts about the scarf. He didn't like the government to decide how women have to dress in public. I told him how I've seen gay couples in pink bathing trousers in the Munich subway which was too much for him. Also the way women and men are naked together in sauna in Germany didn't please him. Still as he is a very rational man, he didn't find good arguments to draw the line, but same with me, I wouldn't feel comfortable with people being completely naked in the streets but have no particular problem with such gay couples or nudity in saunas. Maybe it's just what you are used to.

Satellite dishes

In Iran, people are not allowed to watch international TV. Still you see many satellite dishes and most of my hosts had international TV.

Whenever the police does something against the dishes, they come, destroy the dish and the receiver and that's it. As the anniversary of the riots after the Iranian election was ahead, they were actively searching dishes these days so at one host the dishes were in the living room and not on the roof :)


The Iranian form of politeness can get tourists into trouble. Shop owners might say you don't have to pay and actually not paying would be a big insult. If something sounds weird it's sometimes better to ask for no t'aarof and Iranians will understand.


In Iran, Internet is available in all cities and all my hosts had Internet access.

The speed is rather limited. One of the claimed it was 128kb/s at max. and he only could get 256kb/s because he got a letter from his employer telling he needs it for work. Others said they had 512kb/s. Compared with the 50Mb/s available in most cities in Germany or 100Mb/s that I have, this is no fun for sure.

While any speed is enough to download content over time, some content is hard to get due to censorship in Iran. Iran bought its firewall from China. Every time you try to access a “non-islamic” page, you get a page of “islamic” links you might want to visit instead. Blocked are for example facebook, youtube, blogspot, twitter. If I want to for example visit Dani's blog of her art work, I get this. The filter is far from perfect. For example it does block anything containing some keywords. The web page of the university of Essex seems to be white-listed though, as some links talking about events taking place there were blocked. Same as all the news about Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Only for a little word …

And as if censorship were not enough, the Iranians also suffer from a broad embargo. This embargo leads to many US companies blocking requests from Iran themselves. Examples are:

  • Google Code: Your client does not have permission to get URL / from this server. That’s all we know.

  • Download Forbidden We cannot send this file to your location. Please visit our our T7 page

These examples are open source hosters but many other pages are affected, too, like the android market. Iranians can't download my games :(

Open Source is not so popular in Iran as copyright is not an issue here. Shops sell packages with 10 DVDs of all the latest software at reasonable prices like 20 toman or so. And people told me this is legal here. What else should they do? Downloading GBs of data is not an option. US companies don't trade with Iran anyway.

Final thoughts

My trip to Iran was maybe the best trip I ever had and for sure part of it was that it was my first couchsurfing trip. Meeting people that at least share a couchsurfing attitude and English as a common language was a big part of the good experience. Still Iran was special as Europeans are total aliens here. I maybe met 25 other Europeans including those at tourist sites like Persepolis. In Cairo with my dad when we walked through the big furniture bazaar or the small streets of his youth, people also smiled and pointed at us as if we were aliens but we did by far not experience this overwhelming hospitality I was happy to experience almost every day from people I met in the streets and of course my couchsurfers. I definitely want to do more couchsurfing like that. It was amazing.