March 2017

Iran is very different from what you hear on the news. Of course, it has a strict regime enforced after the 1979 Islamic revolution, but nowadays it seems that the regime slowly becomes more liberal, travellers are welcome (although there are still very few foreigners), people are incredibly hospitable and the ancient Persian culture is what makes them proud.

Flights are inexpensive from Europe - we arrived through Kiyv-Borispyl. Nowadays, you get a visa on arrival in the airport. It took us 4 hours, but better than sending your passport somewhere before the trip. Make sure your travel insurance lists Iran specifically, otherwise you will have to buy a new one and stand in another long queue.

Iran proves once more that people don't like something that is enforced on them - Iranians are much less religious than many other more liberal muslim countries. On the contrary, Zoroastrianism, the original Persian religion that inspired Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is very much respected.

Travelling around the country is quite cheap and convenient with buses. We did that, but also rented a car in Esfahan in order to better enjoy the desert and countryside. We had a good experience with Europcar, but bring lots of cash - even the deposit cannot be paid by credit card. Iran is still financially isolated. To my surprise, I got the traffic fine deposit back to my account a few months later from Kuwait.

As a practical warning, after visiting Iran you will also loose the ability to use ESTA to travel to the USA. You can still get a full US visa, which I already have without any problems. Apart from that, architecture, cultural legacy and landscapes are really worth the trip.

As a side note - try to avoid Nowruz, Iranian New Year held in the end of March, as Iranians have holidays for two weeks following it. All the popular sights get very crowded, some interesting ones are closed, traffic gets more dangerous and you have to make thousands of selfies with locals who don't see foreigners too often.

As usual, the rest of the story is in the comments below.

Supreme leader is watching passer-byers in Tehran Fake tea for Nowruz decorations - the New Year The infamous murals on the walls of former US Embassy in Iran The guard tower of former US Embassy aka Trump was not here yet Tehran streets are not particularly beautiful Nowruz has many traditions very similar to Easter in the west One of many churches in Tehran. Most of them closed Waiting for a bus in Tehran. Infrastructure is very good there Women are in front behind a low wall, men are in the back in a much larger space Tehran lies on the edge of huge mountains The arch was built a few years before the revolution, but now became the symbol of it A street musician in Tehran - traditional music is not banned Approaching Darband - a getaway from noisy streets of Tehran Darband has many cosy eateries covered in plastic to reduce cold of winter Traditional Iranian sweets made of fruits and berries that are actually very sour Boiled beetroot snack People walk in Darband along a winding trail along a mountain creek Many upclass restaurants in Darband situated on the slopes Islamic caligraphy Choose your food Guests sit on carpets in beautiful surroundings, whether inside of outside Walking further along the trail into the mountains Nice river-side sitting Eating out, Tehranian style Kabab master has a view Waiting for qualyan and a dinner with tea Dizi - lamb meat and vegetable stew that you crush and eat with lots of bread Sun sets quickly during our dinner Darban is even more cosy by the night No cars here, donkey is for cargo transport Traditional Persian art is very appreciated The year is going to become 1396 on 21th of March at 13 hours-something Traditional coffee is prepared in hot sand Playing Metallica songs on the streets is illegal, but can be done until police arrives in Northern Tehran Mosques are nicely decorated for Nowruz Chador is compulsory for women visiting a mosque, but is provided at the entrance Islam doesn't allow images, only ornaments and caligraphy Men kiss the grille and pray in the heart of a mosque The inside of many Iranian mosques is decorated with pieces of mirrors A theatre and a museum has very western-like architecture A rest stop in the middle of a desert between Tehran and Esfahan Iranians have no problems throwing a picnic on the parking lot Locals crowd the best place for beryani in Esfahan, since 1905 Beryani is best enjoyed with your hands Beryani in preparation looks like something else :-) Main square of Esfahan is always full of people The main mosque is very old Women have separate, usually smaller prayer rooms Different stages of restauration can be seen on this wall Reading holy Quran in an ancient mosque Underground prayer room full of Persian carpets Washing place before the prayer Praying and resting T-shirts are ok in Iran, but pants should be long Bazaar gets very busy during the day Children can enjoy uncovered heads, but not for long Queuing in bazaar Most women look the same in chador outside, but can be whoever they want at home The choice of women's underwear at the bazaar is decent Chadors for sale - choose the one that suites you best Less conservative colorful options are not as popular in Esfahan ATM in an ancient bazaar. Unfortunately, these have no use for foreigners Bazaars are huge, so sometimes you need a transport inside An oasis in all-stone and dark bazaar Bazaar begins here and goes on for several kilometers A touristy and expensive coffeeshop at the bazaar Iranians relaxing with Fanta and selfies. Headscarfs are sometimes blown away from the head Some girls are brave enough to have the shape of their legs visible You photograph me, I photograph you! Domestic tourism is very developed, as it is hard to go abroad Si-o-Seh Pol bridge, one of the famous bridges of Esfahan over a waterless river She gave us a private singing concert here Most mosques are even more beautiful at night This is the only coffeeshop in Esfahan where women are allowed to smoke qualyan Naghsh-e Jahan Mosque Aali Qapu palace Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque Ruined mosque to the east of Esfahan Ruined pigeon tower Pigeon towers were designed to be confortable for pigeons, who would produce guano for agriculture Pigeon towers were like capsule hotels for pigeons Pigeons nowadays have probably moved to cities, like people This could probably host thousands of pigeons More pigeon towers Iran is not that hard to navigate Roadside mosque-like structure Entering Varzaneh, a desert town Lounge at the Varzaneh dunes Climbing up the Varzaneh dunes Cars have replaced camels nowadays on the silk road Chilling on Iranian sands Sandstorm is approaching, run! Most villages have photos of martyrs, who have died in Iran-Iraq war Everywhere in Iran are traces of civilization Whether it is pigeon guano or irrigation - agriculture is possible in a desert Saltworks Iranian desert madmax team Car rental is not easy in a country without credit cards and crazy driving A little sandstorm Dunes are overtaking the road Salt road In Varzaneh, white chadors have been traditionally used I was invited for a tea to a mosque on Nowruz eve Varzaneh men wanted a picture with me More locals discover a guest in the mosque Mohamed (in the cap), the owner of our guesthouse, also came to the celebrations Happy New 1396, Iran! Women are celebrating separately White chadors of Varzaneh Entrance to the guesthouse. All living spaces are behind tall walls to avoid outsiders seeing what's happening inside Traditional desert homes have inner courtyards More remains of civilization Unofficial entrance to a citadel Citadel dwellings, some are still occupied Planet Tatooine? Newly constructed building in deteriorating citadel Most Iranian motorcycles have handwarmers and this funny windshield. You can ride even if it is cold Local prayer room has images, so not a traditional mosque Probably remains of a Zoroastrian temple Citadel used to have magnificent multi-storey buildings About 20% of the houses are still occupied In the corner tower of the citadel This is what it all made from - hay mixed with clay Varzaneh roundabout Road to Yazd Remains of ancient underground water supply Iranian shepherd Cherryblossoms in the desert Another citadel Iranians seem to have unofficial access to terrible western cartoons Pistacia trees and wind catchers - ancient air conditioning system Wind catcher directs wind underground to cool water reserviours Mausoleum in Nain Emamzadeh Soltan Sayed Ali On Nowruz people gather to remember their dead relatives Citadel in Nain A classic sight - water reservoir with dedicated wind catchers for cooling In March, the cooling dome is nicely warm A mosque at dusk in Ardakan Green lights are pretty common for mosques as it is a holy color in Islam We've been told that mirror decorations in mosques came after Shah has ordered them from Europe and they arrived broken Nowruz decorative table - 7 things beginning with S in Farsi View to Meybod after sunset Night view of Meybod Meybod castle A ghost making a selfie Traditional hotel in Yazd Traditional hostel with rooms around an inner courtyard Tourist street in Yazd Cafe with a roof-top terrace Water supply. In Iran people go down the well instead of lowering a bucket Egg-shaped huge symbol that is used for Islamic celebrations Streets of Yazd feature tall walls without windows for privacy Tech-savvy religious scholars This water reseviour is used for battles and performances Revival of Iranian hippies after a ban lasting 30 years Tekiyeh-e Amir Chaghmagh - the symbol of Yazd More Nowruz decorations In the reserviour of water museum Camels are mostly for (domestic) tourists nowadays Kharanaq mosque View from Kharanaq Colorful domes from the inside In Iran it is hard to resist hospitality Streets of Kharanaq Kharanaq is another desert city in ruins, but in a very beautiful setting Plenty to explore on multiple levels The building here were 4-5 storeys high Playing Tea is a big part of culture, at least since alcohol was banned in 1979 Iranians travel massively during the Nowruz holidays Chak-chak temple - a very holy place for Zoroastrians View from Chak-chak People climbing up the temple Samovar is also an Iranian tradition These guys were telling how cool it was to have beer on their trip to Thailand Zoroastrianism is a Persian religion that predates Islam, still gets lots of respect Entrance to the Zoroastrian temple of fire Zoroastrians pray in the direction of fire - the only light source that ancient people could control Back to Yazd Very nice daughter of hostel's owner showed lots of interest in tourists On the roofs of bazaar in Yazd Nomad craftswoman Bazaar in Yazd Yazd is situated in the desert among nice snowy mountains Yes, this is also Iran! Nomad girls dancing Making of bread Tomb of Cyrus the Great, founder of one of Persian empires Ruins of Pasargad This wall is couple of thousands years old Kebab maker Naqsh-e Rustam - tombs of Persian emperors Welcome to Shiraz, previously famous for its wines Heavily guarded entrance to Shahcheragh Holy Shrine, foreigners enter only with an official guide and not allowed to take pictures The leaning tower of Karim Khan Citadel Every region has their own type of bread Note the gold fish in Nowruz decorations - millions of them die afterwards Semi-official cafe made from owner's grandmother's home Everyone wants their tea Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque‌ has very beautiful light early in the morning Eram Garden is very crowded during holidays Very fancy looking Shiraz  Hotel Domestic tourists praying near Persepolis It seems that all people had curly beards 2500 years ago Persepolis was super crowded after Nowruz, we couldn't stay anywhere without thousands selfies taken with us You can only imagine magnificent palaces that were here long ago Persians had their own writing before Arabs came The symbol of Zoroastrianism Persepolis is where the name More tombs of the kings At every step you do a selfie with someone