We arrive in the North Iranian city of Tabriz in the middle of the night. The customs are no problem except for one critical moment when they double-checked my passport. No one found the forbidden Black-Forest-Cake-cans with true cherry schnaps inside my stuff that I smuggle into the country. Already in the plane we get in contact with the first Persian. He is very interested in why we want to travel through Iran.
He arrives from the United States and his whole family is waiting for him. They would take us to the city from the airport, but their car is more than full with cousins and parents. But Hamid doesn’t hesitate to organize a taxi for us and makes sure we pay the local prize – meaning, almost nothing. We have a good start here, in the country of hospitality. Welcome to Iran!
We want to do Couchsurfing in Iran, staying in the places of the locals who have time and enjoy showing us around. I did Couchsurfing before and also have guests from time to time. It is the best experience I can think of to meet locals in their country and dive into their lives. But in Iran Couchsurfing is – like almost everything else – forbidden.
For our visa we have to name our hotel in Iran. So not to cause problems to any of our future friends Uwe and me have a hotel for the first night.
I didn’t expect Iran so cold and rainy. It is just above zero degrees. This part of Iran is very northern, though, and the Caucasian and Elbrus mountains are close.
We arrive in the middle of the night and everything seems to be very exotic and dangerous. The leaders Rouhani and Khomeini welcomed us on huge banners already at the airport. The laws for women to wear a hijab were proclaimed at the border. All the traffic signs are in a strange different writing. We can’t get enough to look around.
Fortunately, our taxi driver drop us at the hotel. It is a little guesthouse in the middle of the city – and closed. There is no bell to be seen. The driver, who does not speak a single word of English, picks his phone and calls someone. And in a few minutes someone opens the door and we can finally rest.
The room is tiny but cheap, and the next morning has a few surprises for us. We have to get used to the toilets, which are nothing more than a hole in the ground and instead of toilet paper there is a water hose. The breakfast is some special bread, jam and tea. We are very excited about our first Persian meal.
Ta’arof is the game of kindness the Persians aka Iranians love very much. You will be invited to anything – free ride, free food, free accommodation – but it is not always meant that way. Hospitality is a very important issue in Iran and also is modesty. When you get invited to something – modestly reject it! The offer will be made again and you have to refuse again. This goes on until one gives up. Either you take the offer eventually or the Persian accepts your refuse. Very often it wasn’t really meant honest but is part of their welcoming rituals. You would surprise or even embarrass them if you would take the offer. Fortunately, I heard about this habit before and was prepared. However, Uwe and me could not stop ourselves from having a little fun with the Persians and their Ta’arof and exaggerated it. At any door we had our competitions with the Iranians who might pass it first. We had a lot of laughter together.
Last, but not least, we didn’t think it would be that cold in Iran. The sky is dark and cloudy. It is raining a little. Tabriz lies in the mountains and is close to the border of Turkey and Armenia. We wanted to start our journey here and head down south to leave the country later from the magical city of Shiraz.
Our host picks us up right after we finished our breakfast. Or rather our host’s friend, since he doesn’t have time and passes his invitation for us to his friends.
We take another taxi to get to their place. All of these guys are friends that rented an apartment to have space to study and enjoy their life like young people do.
Their place fits to a guy’s place – don’t expect too much of order and decorations – but it is confortable and welcoming. The guys are great hosts and offer us tea and sweets. We rest a little bit before they invite to bring us to the bazaar. The oriental markets in any city of Iran are impressive places. Standing in front of the door our friends all wait to let us go first. There exists a deep tradition of politeness in Persian culture, which is called Ta’arof.
We arrive in a shopping street, which is crowded with people. Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is close, and people prepare with food, decoration and presents for the coming holidays and the time they spend with their family. My travel guide explicitly said there is no bad time to travel Iran – except for Nowruz, when everyone is busy. However, I considered that there is no better time since you can be part of this very special holiday and to get to know Persian culture even better.
It is tough for our friends, though. Uwe and me make four meters until people approach us and ask, where we are from and if we can make selfies with them.
We are like rock stars that are on a shopping trip and recognized by the fans on the street. Everyone wants to make pictures with us and soon we pull a crowd of people with us. Our friends kindly remind us to continue going and try to send the other people away. Maybe they are also a little jealous about the attention we spend on other people. It is already difficult enough to squeeze through the crowd of people that try to get the last things for the festival.