With my daughter to Iran (and my wife and son) 2008




Introduction

Yes, women have to wear a scarf and no, you cannot enjoy a glass of Shiraz red wine in Shiraz. That is about the prejudices and bad things I can confirm.
Iran has tons of beautiful cultural treasures, the friendliest people and openness wherever you come. The second Mohammed crisis doesn’t seem to be present – at least not as a problem for us when we answer ’Denmark’ to the ’whereareyoufrom’ question – and the typical reply is: ’Welcome!’ Our two small children (Johanne 2½ and Anders 4) opened many doors, caused people to turn their heads to us, but no physical contact like what we have experienced in other countries.
Why Iran? In ’94 I had bought the 1st Lonely Planet Iran guide and studied it carefully, but waited a long time for a visa, and opted for another country to visit at that time. I had also found a booklet about Persepolis (from the Shah era) that I have looked in many times and dreamt of visiting. Now, suddenly in May, the day-care went on strike, and we now had an option to either spend our summer vacation in our garden – or buy a ticket to somewhere. So the same evening as the strike started, I found out (to my surprise, admittedly) that you could now get visa on arrival, so the next day, I double checked with the Iranian embassy and booked the tickets for the following week.
It seems that most of my family and friends have their knowledge of Iran from either ’Not without my daughter’ or from Ahmadinedjad, but thankfully we also have several friends who have already been to Iran who have recommended it very much.

Visa

The visa thing is much easier now – a couple of years ago, Iran started giving out 7 days visa on arrival – and it has just been changed to 15 days a couple of months ago. I have read on LP Thorntree that it is extendable to one month.
In practice at the IKA airport, when you get to the passport control queue, you are too far, and move back 20 meters. There is a 200 meters hallway connecting the two arrival terminals, and at one of them there is a small booth where you get the Visa – it costs 50€ - also for children. Most nationalities can do this, except British and Americans and a few others (find the list on the Internet). And you don’t need photos – we had several thoughts if we should have taken pictures of Birgitte with a scarf. Take a look at the map here to see the terminal layout.

Preparations

 Our nanny, Kristine, had just returned from her third visit to Iran the previously week, so we arranged to see some pictures and borrow a few necessary items. Also it seemed almost impossible to book internal flights from outside Iran. The only thing that almost succeeded was through email to Iran air in Germany, where they made a reservation and we got a booking code we could use in Iran to get tickets – except that all planes were fully booked and we were only on a waiting list. I then made arrangements through Amir from ’Let’s go Iran’, who helped us make a itinerary with a driver from Tehran to Esfahan, Flight from Esfahan to Shiraz and flight from Shiraz to Tehran. Also a tour to Persepolis and a couple of Hotel reservations. I was very impressed with the number of emails we exchanged during the few days before we travelled – always swift answers and alternative options.
Of course if you have more time, it is easier to make these arrangements in Iran. I found out that if you fly in with Iran Air, you are able to buy domestic tickets from outside Iran.
I bought the 4th Edition of Lonely Planet Iran, which was OK, but outdated many places. A new version is out now in July 2008.

Saturday 24.5.2008. Århus – Tehran

6:20 Århus, 9:30 Hamburg Airport, 11:30 departure, 12:15 arrival Amsterdam. A long waiting time before the 18:15 flight with KLM to Tehran. 2 British accent speaking diplomat types were in the line – besides them, we were the only non-Iranian looking. MD11 plane, almost full. I think it is the first time I’ve flown MD11 – there seems to be a design-bug – there were only 4 toilets in all the economy section, so there were constant queues all the time.

Sunday 25.5.2008. Tehran - Esfahan

In the same second we touched down, all women done their scarves and the red-wine bottles were collected. The time difference is 2½ hours here in summertime and the children wouldn’t sleep – so the 4:45 hour flight felt longer. We arrived at 02:00 local time, visa application, waiting for a (bit slow) passport check. Each person take a little while to process since they need to write your name in Farsi at the computer, so they need to know how your name is pronounced. The baggage pickup was quick, and you don’t need declarations any more. We were out at 03:30.
Kianmehr, our young driver (around 20, I would say) was waiting for us. He spoke English very well. We changed money (at a rate 15% lower than posted, and what we later got elsewhere). We had a reservation at the Khayyam hotel – but Kianmehr said we shouldn’t go there. He had visited the place (I’m not sure he was inside), and said it was a bad neighbourhood. But what about if we just drove to Esfahan directly? Yes, why not, if he was up to it – 40 km. The plan was to go the hotel, sleep and go, so we weren’t missing anything in Tehran. I later had a communication with Khayyam, and they seem friendly and nice – maybe one of my readers can enlighten us.
The road was 6 lanes all the way. When we woke up once in a while we could see he did 170 km/h until he saw the first police speeding control – "ups, the police is awake" he said and slowed down. The sun rose at 5:30 and the desert was striking beautiful.

Arriving in Esfahan at around 7:00 we started to see the first glimpses of Iranian life. Covered women waiting at bus stops, the morning traffic, and posters of the Khromeni and martyrs. We first stopped at hotel Jolfa in the Armenian quarter, but there was no reservation for us. After a call to Amir from LetsGoIran, it turned out that he had changed the booking for Hesht Beshesht (Ostandari Ave, 2200967-2214868) close to the Iman Square (no less than the centre of world, some would claim). We weren't suppose to come until in the evening, but we could get the room at 8:30 (9:30 is was ready). We went to a nearby hotel to get breakfast. We had half of the top floor with kitchen, living room, bedroom, bath, toilet and a good view of the Imam mosque. Very good.

Shower and shaving. Very tired after only 2-3 hours of sleep, but did manage to a visit the Imam mosque – we had only 500 meters to the Imam square. Already 30° at 10:30, but the air was dry. Wow, what a fantastic square. It is the second largest in the world after Tiananmen square in Beijing and the mosque was the most beautiful and impressing Islamic building I've seen. Birgitte has seen the blue mosque in Istanbul and declared that this was more beautiful. We saw one tour group and a couple of lone travellers. More local tourists wanted to take pictures of our children (everybody have mobile phones with camera) and in the big spaces of the mosque, they were very photogenic. The children thought it was fun to clap their hands and make echoes from the middle of the Main Sanctuary – 36 meters to the roof inside and 54 meters outside.
The children got soap bubbles from a stall at the square and were entertained the way home.


An afternoon nap did wonders and we took a taxi to Jolfa – the Armenian quarter. We just made it in time to see the Vank Cathedral and the adjoining museum. Surprising. It was OK from the outside – looked quite modern brick-like. But inside everything was decorated from top to bottom with wall paintings. From 1605-1655. An elderly lady (from the area), resolutely took off her scarf when she had entered the walls – the only women without scarf we did see. Many Muslim Iranians visited the church. Was not allowed to take pictures inside but found a nice postcard later. The children played for a long time with other children at a fountain opposite the church and got quite wet. Had great coffee at the café Arashku next door and relaxed until sunset.
Pizza Jolfa was recommended, but empty – right next door, in the basement there was a good fast-food restaurant, very well visited. You could even get (non-alcoholic) Carlsbergs there.
We were going to see the beautiful lit Si-o-seh bridge, and walked a long way (we thought), and then it was another bridge we reached. The map from LP was a bit misdrawn. Well, we took a taxi – we thought. It didn't have a taxi sign, but many doesn't - the man drove us to where we wanted – and then he didn't want any money and we found out it was just a man who wanted to be friendly and help us! We urged him to take the money – three times.
We were happy to see the bridge in the night; it was beautiful and many Iranians enjoyed their evening there.


Monday 26.5.2008. Esfahan

The enclosure of Imam Square is like fortified walls and there are small shops in much of it. Very quiet and good atmosphere and no hassle. Talked to several people and locals. We were invited to come home to a family, but is was somewhat out of town, so we said we probably didn't have the time. The children thought it was fun with a ride in the carriage around the square (30.000R/3$). Afterwards we saw the blue Sheik Lotfallah mosque on the east side of the square. Incredible beautiful. We were there at noon, and the ticket seller said we should come back at 15:00, but just then a small Australian tour group came and we asked if we couldn't go in with them – which was ok.
The Sheik Lotfallah is from the beginning of the 16th century. After entering through the blue, beautiful entrance, a short passage leads you to the space of the mosque. Difficult to explain – but take a look at the pictures from there.
Walked around the beautiful (HUGE) Bazar-E Bozorg. Birgitte bought a manteau (120.000R/12$) and then just browsing. It went directly into my all time top-5 Bazar-list. No tourist items; all authentic.
In the square we talked to a sympathetic school teacher, Amir, who had vacation and in his vacations took tourists on tours, so we agreed on him taking us to the Shaking Minarets tomorrow (10$).
Afternoon nap and then we had promised the children to go to a playground – we remembered seeing one in the area. First a quick look in Chehal Sotun Palace and after some walking around we found the play ground (corner Goldasten and a block south of Falhiyeh, in the gardens) – quite big and at least 100 children with their parents. Together we enjoyed a cool late afternoon and sunset mood. Several families did picnics in the gardens. The children just thought it was great and many children came by and said hello to them. There was another 'foreigner' that we easily spotted – she was from Ukraine and was married to an Iranian. My observation is that they are more conservative dressed that I had imagined. About ¾ wears a black chador and the rest a manteau. None wear burkas or covers their face though.
At around 19:00 we hurried to Imam Square to see the mosques in sunset light. Now it was filled with locals who strolled around, played soccer and socialised. Birgitte talked with a mother for a long time while our children played. She and her husband were taking English lessons since they (as many here! wanted to go to Canada). I had a long, talk to two Islam students and as the only time on this trip,  (after 15 minutes)  I was humbly asked what my opinion was on the cartoons. It was very difficult for them to understand that most people in Denmark (and probably Europe) don't reflect much on making fun of Deities. I was sorry that the Muslims were hurt – they thanked me a lot for that opinion and were happy.
Dinner at Bastani Restaurant in the south east wall of the Square. Good kebab food, well visited and several foreign tourists. The children enjoyed the big aquarium and the fountain.




Watch a small video I made of the sunset scene at the square:
 

Tuesday 27.5.2008. Esfahan – Shiraz, 35°

At 9:30 Amir (091 34123763) picked us up for the trip to the Shaking Minarets, west of the city. One used to be able to climb up, and shake it, but they are a bit afraid of it now, so they do the shaking at 10 and 16 o'clock. The trick is that they shake one tower by climbing up, into it, and it really shakes quite a bit. And after a little shaking, the other starts to shake as well – at least a little :-) We continued to the nearby Zorotrast firetemple on the top of a hill. Hot, but nice view. We asked an older Iranian man (who had climbed up together with his wife) to take a picture of us – he seemed terrified, but accepted the challenge, but he obviously never had had a camera in his hands. We extended out drive with Amir to see a few more places before we should fly to Shiraz. Sent several postcards from a Post Office at the square (had not noticed it there before). We crossed the Khaju bridge (another of the beautiful bridges) and went to the Gholestan-e Shohada – graveyard of the martyrs. Pictures on all the gravestones. In 1980-88 half a million died – on each side in the Iran-Iraq war. Amir knew a good restaurant nearby. It was a little bit funny. No doubt it was a nice restaurant, but the menu was only in Farsi, and the waitress did nothing to try and translate. So we pointed at the pictures, but she shaked her head at each dish. We asked what was available, and we could get Pizza and Kebab, but that was about it. Probably because it was lunch.
Amir wanted payment in Euro and we thought his 'extra' service was somewhat more expensive as the first part. But he was very helpful, and had his brother come to drive us to the airport.
15:45 Air Iran to Shiraz.
Hotel Parse(h) was a 4 Star hotel and quite nice. The children enjoyed the bath tub immensely and the big room with 4 beds. Did sunset walk around the Arg-e Karim Khani fortress nearby – with a lot of other Iranians. Saw a couple of burka clad women, probably Arabs. Johanne and Anders were photographed with a thousand mobiles.
Had been looking forward to dinner at Hammam-e Vakil, but did not look to be open. (at 20:15 it should be, right?). Good food at the hotel – should be mentioned. Used the internet. The funny thing was that I usually check the news on jp.dk (Jyllands Posten, who first published the Cartoons), but (obviously?) it didn't work – it was blocked. The sister paper, Politikken was not. Ekstrabladet and BT were also restricted. How amusing.
Children wouldn't sleep until 23, so grumpy parents.


Wednesday 28.5.2008. Persepolis (Shiraz) – 42°

Persepolis – I have envisioned to visit here since I in '94 had bought a pre-revolution booklet about the royal summer residence. A lot is missing and Alexander burned it down to the ground, but luckily it has been buried in the sand hundred of years and not excavated until 1930. It was used by Darius, Xerxes, Artaxerxes and the following kings - for New Year visits (in the spring) and summer residence.
Finally. At 8:30 we were picked up and went with a mini-van and a young female guide, Khadijek. First to Naqsh-e Kastan – the tombs of the above mentioned kings. From the pictures I had seen, I thought they were carved out high up in the mountainside, but they were not. But still impressive. What shall I say.
Naqsh-e Rajab – some Sassanian bas-reliefs nearby – quick stop.
A mega parking lot – with 4 busses. Met a big group from India. Khadijek said she had never seen that before, and she comes here 3 times a week. A group of individuals on a tour and besides that only Iranians. Could write a lot about Persepolis, but you are better off reading the history elsewhere. 42° and heat haze. When in the palaces with names Palace of 100 columns palace, you should imagine the sumptuousness and decoration. I recall a good book about Ester (from the Old Testament) by Poul Hofmann ("Månen i Persepolis"). I also asked Khadijek at one time where she said it was a palace of Xerxes wife, if it was Ester. "Ester was a Jew", obviously offended that she had lived here, and it was not her palace. When we took a break (what we did many times :-), families would often offer us bread or cucumbers. Anders and I climbed up a small tomb overlooking the palaces. Ice, coke and return at 13.30. Drove to the tour agency to pay the rest we owed them. It now turned out that the agency was Gardeshgaran Shiraz. Many people, but a bit confusing. Our tickets were for a 1:00 am in the night flight, what we didn't like. One of our tickets were on the following day.. They did change it, and we got tickets Friday afternoon instead, which meant that we didn't have time to see Tehran, but had some more time in Shiraz.
Late lunch at Haji Baba. We agreed on a half-day tour tomorrow with the guide. Relaxing and trip to a playground where the children found several new friends. Two of them followed us home to the hotel. Saw two red-haired Iranians. Dinner at 110 Pizzas (not 110 Hamburgers as LP calls it).




Thursday 29.5.2008. Shiraz

Morning trip (kind of) to another great bazar. Bazar-e Vakil. High ceiling, old, colourful. Lots of different fruits for lunch (1€) – also a bunch of Shiraz grapes. Sigh. They could have been used for a much better purpose. Could taste it was not for eating they were created. Yesterday when driving, we could see the old plantations, where the hundred years old plants have been cut – only suckers were seen. What a waste. Shiraz is my favourite red wine grape. Our guide had asked if we drank wine all evenings and got drunk – and visited discos in the weekends. And whether our children also drank red wine. What are Iranians told about the west?
In the hotel, we met an Iranian who had lived in Denmark since he was 10, but returned in 2000. He taught music at the university in Tehran and was in Shiraz since his students gave a concert here. He still had relations to Denmark since he knew the Danish ambassador.
Interesting thing I noticed: The call for prayer had been very discrete. I only noticed it a few times at 13:00 where we passed a mosque at the same time. I haven't been to many Muslim countries, but in Bosnia it could be hear all over the towns and cities.
Khadije picked us up at 13 and we visited Aramgah-e Hafez – the grave of Hafez the poet. Not very interesting,, but it is part of the Iranian understanding.
Another playground in the park nearby, and a taxi to the Mausoleum of Shah-e Cheragh (somehow the taxi fare was much cheaper when Khadije negotiated the fare…). The Mausoleum is actually a big religious complex, made over many years around the grave of a Mohammed relative. It is no longer open for non-Muslims, and Khadije had to lie for the second time in her life, when she was asked if we were Muslims. It was also very beautiful and special and many, many people. Difficult to describe. Entry to the mausoleum was divided up for men and women with separate entries, so Birgitte had a good talk with Khadije while they were in the woman section. Johanne came out with all pockets full of candy, given to her by curious women. In general the women are more open in talking to Birgitte and the children when I'm away. We tasted the local 'rice-ice' before continuing to see the Nasir-ol-moik mosque. Jet another "one of the most beautiful" mosques. Not in use and only open for tourists. The special thing was a hall with mosaic windows and many columns – Johanne had a small nap here while we walked around. There was also inside one of the buildings a well that had 'watered' a part of town in it's time. A friend of Khadije, Yasha, had joined us and she had a car, so we went to Qurans Gate (Darveze-je Quran) for afternoon tea. Very nice and cosy and good atmosphere – maybe the Iranian disco music was a bit too high.
Sunset at the playground and dinner another great kebab at the hotel.


Friday 30.5.2008. Shiraz – Tehran

Since we had postponed our flight to Tehran with a day, we got another night at the hotel, which wasn't included. 750.000R/75$ which I find quite OK for a 4 bedroom in a 4 star hotel.
We got the idea to have the Hotel write down the name of the Eram gardens in Farsi, so it was easy to get a taxi there. A kind of botanical gardens with a 'palace'. Was quite a relax and hang out place. The children enjoyed running in the small pools bare footed – several Iranian children were inspired.
Then a long journey home. Taxi to the airport (50.000R/5$), 15:50 to Tehran (flight about an hour), taxi 150.000 (15$) to Imam Khromeni Airport. Were there at 18:20, dinner, coffee, boring before check-in that didn't start until 23:30 – luckily they let us check in relative fast. Could not change our Rials back to Euro at the arrival hall, and you could not change them until inside the check-in area where there was a small booth, not marked in English. To prevent Iranians from changing money or what is the reason?

Saturday 31.5.2008. Home

Departure at 02:20 with Air France. The children were obviously tired, but had done well. We all fell asleep quickly. All women took off their scarves when they entered the plane.
Paris de Gaulle, croissant and coffee, on to Hamburg and drive home.

Summary

We felt very safe, and all felt that it was one of the best trips we have done. We will recommend it highly to our history- and culturally interested friends.

Travel with Children in Iran

We had no problems travelling with our children in Iran. That said, there are no Disney Land or Water Worlds (just fountains...), so we would probably recommend to go before the children are more than 2-3 years old, or wait till they are at least teenagers. That said, all Iranians are super friendly to the children and don't touch them without asking us first. They do take a lot of pictures of them, but hey, then we have a excuse to photograph the Iranians. I have mentioned several playgrounds in this text - at sunset always full with parents and their children. A good way to get into conversation.

Costs:

- All entrances was about 5000R/0.5$, and we never paid for the children.
- Visas 50€ x 4
- Tickets Hamburg – Tehran – 600€ per adult, 450€ children
- Hotels, car Tehran-Esfahan, Flight Esfahan-Shiraz, Flight Shiraz-Tehran, Tour Persepolis – 630€ total for the four of us – through LetsGoIran.com
- Food, souvenirs and other costs: 380€

Feel free to mail me for questions and if you found useful information. You find my e-mail at my homepage www.futtrup.name.

Erik Futtrup

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