Camping near the Iraqi Boarder

The tomato farm where I was camping was at the height of activity during the night. Sleep was difficult with the sound of hundreds of frogs serenading me. I got the fright of my life when I saw the inside of my tent move and to my delight I was joined by three frogs. One inside the tent and two underneath! SICK but a preferable alternative to a stifling hot room of smelly snoring men. I’ll take the frogs any day of the week. Afraid of crushing the frogs I bundled myself into a corner for a rough nights sleep. It also wouldn’t be camping unless you were joined by  a creature of some description.

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View from the tomato farm in Kermanshah

During our time on  the farm we were invited to an authentic Persian birthday party. A bizarre first experience of the division between men and women. Before the party all the women gathered together in a room to dance Persian. The men were not allowed in and had their own separate room. We re-grouped later and mingled over a fire with once again more chai. In more religious  towns it wouldn’t be allowed to have a social gathering with men and women late at night. The rules were a little more lax here because we were on the farm. Things quickly escalated after the first cup of chai and everyone was up on the floor dancing to traditional Persian music. It was an incredible scene and not too dissimilar to a early morning sing song after a heavy night in Dublin. Difference here? Not a dribble of alcohol but lots of happy heads nevertheless. It was amazing. There has to be something magial in chai?

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Golden hour couldn’t have been more golden
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The glam Iranians
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Suns sets in Kermanshah

Breakfast was the real deal of flat breads eaten off the floor with yogurt, cheese (similar to feta), cucumber and of course tomatoes served with chai. Myself, Sarah and Ali went to visit Bisotun which is a famous area for its inscriptions on these caves. Just my luck they were covered in scaffolding but the entire place is pretty incredible all the same. Because it was a public holiday the place was mobbed with Iranians. An experience in itself. With heat over 40 degrees my self and Hijab were having some vocal disagreements. For me it’s been the hardest part about travelling here. June and July are painfully hot months to visit Iran, that’s why no one comes here then except for me of course. You can’t even benefit from the sun because your covered within an inch of your life (not that I’m partial to tanning but you never know). 

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Raging!! The women weren’t allowed swim here.
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Absolutely baked at Bisotun

We made some pit stops to a nearby hotel for some much needed non-alcoholic Islamic beer it’s yum.  This hotel was a joke it had the most insane views of the towering mountains and most importantly aircon!!!! It costs 30 dollars a night to stay here.We had a traditional lunch in the hotel of khal a delicious dish of lamb, in a fragrant tomato sauce with almonds served with saffron rice. For me, I miss the heat of Mexican food and feel a little picante would take it to the next level and not forgetting the magic of salsas. Not that I needed anymore  picante in my life as I ended up getting sunstroke that evening. Overall though, the food is excellent here. Back at the farm I spent the afternoon eating ice cubes and watermelon in an attempt to cool down.

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Hotel with a view!

That evening, we went into the city of Kermanshah to check out the beautiful Islamic Shrine. Our main reason for hitting the city was to go shopping. Sarah is quite the fashionista and wanted to give my wardrobe a little re vamp. My bum has been making the odd sneaky appearance and it’s strictly forbidden. The cheap shirts I bought in H/M aren’t making the cut. So just want I needed to help with my sun stroke was a long jacket to cover my boobs and bum. We settled on a yellow and blue number and mosied around the bizarre sampling some free deserts. Raging I had to forego the red wine and shisa that night, I retired to my tent to try and nurse my pounding headache.

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Islamic Shrine in Kermanshah
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Glam Sarah in Kermanshah nailing the pose!
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Insider tips from Ali and Sarah: Mosque’s have the best WC’s so we are all big fans

I have been nick named WC by Sarah and Ali because they are amazed at how many times I need the loo. I’m bad on a normal day but this is next level stuff I should be taking out shares in Iranian ‘toilets’ or holes in the ground as I seem to spend most of my time in them. Unfortunately peeing on the side of roads/ in bushes in not the done thing which would usually be my venue of choice. I’m  perfectly ok with the drop toilets the only issue with them is loosing things inside. My hairy eyes sunglasses were the first casualty . Don’t worry they were salvaged and given a deep clean and are as good as new.

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One shrine better than the next

Thankfully the 8 litres of water from the day before sorted out the head and I was like a new woman so myself Sarah, Ali and Ali (farm owner) set off for a road trip to Kuridstan towards the small cliff side town of Palangan. Unfortunately we didn’t make it as far as there as with the Iranian holiday in full swing families were out in their droves with their chai, tents and bbq’s so the traffic was horrendous. It was a stunning drive as we viewed lots of different hill side towns.

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Sarah!
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Beautiful stacked villages in Paveh. Located in a region called Hawraman.
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Paveh, the largest hillside village in Iran

We made a pit stop en route home to taste some homemade kebabs. I was given an introduction on how to make them. They are usually served with the typical flat breads, roasted tomato, barbequed meat, yogurt (if requested) and quarters of raw onion. Drinks generally include either Duk or Islamic beer. Duk is rotten stuff but the Iranian’s go wild for it. It is natural yogurt mixed with water and salt. Not my gig.

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This little cutie teaching me the Iranian art of Kebab making
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Traditional lamb kebab eaten off a Persian rug (on plastic 😦  ) with  flat breads, homemade yogurt , roasted tomato and chunks of onion. To be eaten only with your hands. Divine

That afternoon we went to a cave mobbed with Iranian families so again not my gig but an experience in itself screaming children and families trying to get selfies with me in  a narrow cave wasn’t exactly my ideal but the Iranian’s are so charming you can’t but smile and go along with the charade. They continually thank you for coming to their country. Since day one the photograph requests have been coming in their droves. Even on sunstroke day they insisted I was beautiful!

We had such a laugh and Sarah and Ali introduced to me to the world of Iranian music (love It). My Farsi is also slowly coming along.  Our sing song was rudely interrupted with the random appearances of a police. This resulted  in a frantic dash to throw on the hijab and act ‘normal’.  We had time before my night bus to sample some rose water ice cream (it’s divine) and a shisa accompanied with some chai.

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Local Iranian breads

The night bus was almost missed because of the shisa but dangerous Iranian driving and a delayed bus ensured I made it. My random bus partner  offered to share her blanket with me and insisted on buying me food and drink for the bus. This girl was en route home having just gotten a nose job done. Nose jobs are ridiculously common here in Iran. I have never seen anything like it. Every second person seems to have one done. They will set you back a mere $100 if anyone is interested?

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The view from my tent just after the sun had risen. Idyllic camping location.

 

 

From Tallaght to Tehran

From the minute I got home from South America my feet were itchier than ever (and it wasn’t because of the athletes foot). I knew I needed another trip but Iran had never been on my radar. My mind had been obsessed with all things Pakistan and my original plan was to travel the country for 3 months.  One of my patient’s in T Town was Pakistani and kindly organised a letter of invitation into the country (mates with the chancellor!) a slight diversion from the childhood obesity problem.  This is essential to get the visa. So with visa in check I was good to go all that was missing was the flight. Needless to say I fecked this up big time and booked it for the wrong month!!!  It was going to cost me a mere €900 to change so it looked like I had a month to kill but the question was where to go…? Not a bad complaint to have I know. Trips within Europe were working out crazy expensive so I set my sights on Iran and found ridiculously cheap flights from Amsterdam.

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A farewell before the escapades!

Myself, Una and Dom managed the squeeze in a few days in Amsterdam before the big trip. We had a rocky start with the aggressive Amsterdam biking scene but we all survived and had a ball. We even made an embarrassing/awkward appearance at Nils’s low-key  soccer game. We were the only supporters……

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This pair! High on nothing more than life
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I couldn’t help myself the Diva himself; AmsterDOM

En route to Iran things were off to a flying start when I befriended a chap called Ali on the plane. He was a professional basketball player in the Netherlands for 15 years. He had just retired and was coming home for good to live in Iran. He gave me loads of tips and got me seriously excited for what was ahead. My first stop was Tehran, the capital of Iran and I had organized couch surfing with a couple; Sarah and Ali. The Iranians are known for their hospitality and this couple took it to the next level. I was given keys to the apartment as they were working for the day and Sarah had prepared the most stunning Persian breakfast. Couch surfing is massive over here despite it being illegal everyone manages to bypass this. I was offered accommodation, advice and help by 400 different Iranians when I posted onto the CS site. Absolutely incredible albeit it slightly overwhelming hospitality.

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Sarah and Ali; Tehran’s biggest legends

Day 1, I decided to go explore a little beefed from the flight I kept it local. For some reason I was wearing Ali, the man’s shoes and managed to lock myself out of their apartment. I’ve never had a great track record with keys. I had to wait awkwardly outside their apartment until they got home from work for him to see a stranger wearing his shoes. Anyway  after a couple of glasses of vino that night Ali soon realized what he was dealing with and all was forgiven. Yes I said vino was forbidden, all alcohol is illegal in Iran. It is not sold or served anywhere. I had totally psyched myself up for a month off the booze. Instead Iranian’s drink buckets of chai (tea) which is nice but not exactly the same gig (at least they avoid the vicious hangovers). There was no fear of a detox happening because Ali and Sarah have come up with an easy solution to the problem they make their own wine and its bleeding gorgeous.

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When tea looks this pretty its no wonder that’s all they drink

I was introduced to the wonderful world of Iranian cuisine which completely exceeded my expectations. First up was fesenjan , a delicious sauce made out of only walnuts and pomegranates mixed with lamb. Pomegranate is the most symbolic fruit of Iran. Unfortunately, it is not the season yet. Sarah served this with Iranian flat bread called Barbari, crisp and salted and covered in seasame seeds. Iranians are rice obsessed and mountains are served with basically every meal .The best touch is the golden saffron oil drizzled on top. Saffron is found absolutely everywhere here and like everything else is dirt cheap. Next on the list was ghormeh sabzi; a concoction of lamb, beans in a herby/citrus sauce with buckets of spices that’s cooked for hours. Sarah is a genius in the kitchen and all of the guidebooks tell you to experience the best of Iranian cuisine you need to eat with a family. Restaurant’s foods are not comparable.

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Ghormeh sabzi served with salad shiraz, saffron rice, mixed leaves friend rice.

From the get go I was having awful trouble with the hijab. Before coming I didn’t know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised when Sarah told me they only wear the hijab outside (this completely depends on the house your in). I was freaking out on the plane and had my head covered from the minute I left Amsterdam (I know overkill but I was adement I wasn’t going to have any disasters this time). This is another one of Iran’s strict rules; the hijab must be worn by women at all times outdoors, your bum and chest must be covered and you must dress modestly (even when you’re in the car, the police will check!). In 30 plus degrees this is a toture!

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Day 1 and already having some hijab hiccups

I successfully negotiated an Iranian metro and arrived at stop one the Golestan Palace. This place couldn’t have  been more excessive and was the best introduction into the insane talents of Iranian artwork.

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The front building of the Golestan Palace.
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One of the many intricate walls of the Golestan Palace.
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Wall of mirrors, Golestan Palace.
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Standard sitting room inside the palace

Afterwards I tackled the famous grand bizarre. Bizarre’s are a big affair in Iran and are crammed with tiles, carpets, spices, copper and jewelry. Tourism has definitely not kicked off in Iran yet and I was faced with lots of looks of confusion, intrigue but mainly smiles. A man from a carpet shop escorted me around the market for the day v ideal the as the place runs for km’s and its v easy to get lost. Previously tourism had been a lot better in the country but since conflicts it has significantly declined. Iranians are clearly trying so hard to change the perception of Iran and are constantly thanking you for visiting and and are just so curious as to why Iran?

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Fresh rose petals are found everywhere. Used for tea, drinks and desserts

I spent the afternoon in an artsy park that displayed Iranian arts and crafts. The coffee shop wouldn’t let me pay for my chai and instead stuffed my pockets with some juicy dates. The shopkeeper even gave me a Farsi (Iranian lesson) this is next level difficult but kinda of essential when travelling alone as not many of them speak English. They have their own writing/ numerical system and write in the opposite direction to us.

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Standard street tiles in Tehran

Iran is probably the biggest culture shock I have had to date. Sites like Couch surfing, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are all illegal. You need special software on your phone if you want to use them. There are so mainly seemingly ridiculous rules that the Mullahs enforce in this country. Whether or not these rules are enforced in households depends on the families religious faith. It also didn’t help that I was visiting during Ramadan. It is absolutely forbidden to eat/drink during daylight and virtually everywhere was closed. Obviously not everyone complies but if caught in public there is a risk of being arrested.

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Beautiful looking street food; these are filled with honey and nuts and then fired.

Another thing making travelling here even more challenging is you cannot use your debit card. The only way to get Iranian money is by doing cash exchange. The currency here is either rial or tomen (I have no idea of the differences despite numerous explanations) and nothing will prepare you for this. You are dealing with the millions.  I was told not to change my money in the airport because of the low dollar rate that day (it changes daily).  This is a massive issue for Iranians at the moment but as a westerner visiting everything appears to be v cheap. Day 1 I got totally ripped off doing this exchange as per usual I trusted the cute old man. I fall for it every time. It wouldn’t be travelling if you didn’t get ripped off at least once or in my case multiple times. You win some you loose many.

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Imam Khomeini Mosque, Tehran
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Obsessed with the stunning hand painted tiles

I happened to be in Iran for a national holiday where they were celebrating the anniversary of the death of the King. This could only mean one thing an Iranian road trip to the west of Iran, yet to be touched by tourism.  Sarah and Ali kindly invited me to tag along on their trip so I jumped on the bandwagon. We set off for a place called  Kermanshah very close the Iraq border (a 7 hour drive from Tehran).

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Road tripping with these legends

The Iranians’ are absolute lunatics on the roads so this was an exhilarating  journey. This place suffered brutally during the Iraq-Iran war. We all went couch surfing together to an eco-tomato farm. When we arrived we met another group of Iranians also couch surfing (some were volunteering with the tomatoes). We immediately hit it off despite my lack of Farsi. Back to square one with the hand communication, pain in the arse but it gets the job done. Instead of sleeping in the room with 8 Iranian men I opted to pitch my tent beside the tomatoes with a stunning view of the nearby rocky mountains. Ta Dom for the deadly treat of a brand new tent let’s hope it has more success than the previous one.

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Pretending I can speak Farsi

The farm was stunning and also grew walnuts and rose plants. It had bee hives and also farmed chickens are quail. The rose plant is extremely popular in Iran found mostly in deserts and drinks. Home for the next few days was looking pretty idyllic.

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Locals outside the Tomato Farm in Kermanshah

Hard to believe only a few days ago I was cycling around Amsterdam and now I’m wearing a hijab and speaking Farsi!

A final fact that I still can’t get my head around Iranians’s weekend is thursday and Friday so Saturday marks the start of the working week. Mind blowing stuff!