Monday, November 21, 2022

Iran Trip Planning

Going to Iran with an American passport isn't as straightforward as other destinations, due to the strained relationship between the two countries. I do have a Kenyan passport and it would have been much easier using it, unfortunately it is expired and for this trip, I wouldn't have had enough time to renew and get it back on time.

After looking up entry requirements into Iran for Americans, I took the following steps:

Find a tour company - after extensive research I narrowed down my choices to 3 companies that I gravitated toward: Irana Tour, TAP Persia and Key2persia. After chatting with agents from all 3, I selected Irana Tour, the rest were good too but the agent from Irana Tour was really personable which made it easy for me to select my choice.

Plan on an itinerary -  Iran is a huge country, we are talking almost 3 times the size of France or slightly smaller than Alaska which is the biggest state in the US. With this size and being a first time visitor, Irana Tour came in handy as the agent helped me come up with the perfect itinerary based on my interests. I settled on a 10 day classic route of Iran that most first time visitors take in order to get a good introduction to the country's highlights.

Apply for a Visa - the benefit of using a tour company is the fact that they handle the whole visa application for you. You have to time the application of the visa so that you don't apply to early or too late plus some time has to be allocated between when you apply and when your application gets approved. Based on my travel dates, it was best to apply 3 months prior to my travel.

Fill out required paperwork - the tour company sent me a list of what I needed in order for them to apply for the visa on my behalf. I had to fill out an application form, provide my resume/CV (this is to check if you work for the govt) and a passport size photo. All these I emailed to the tour company, after everything had been submitted, it was now time to wait for the visa approval.

Visa Grant Notice - I honestly can't remember how long it took before I got notice of my visa approval but once I got it, I could now buy the ticket for my flight to Iran. It is advised not to buy a ticket until your visa is approved. 

Electronic visa - after getting the visa Grant notice, the next step is to get an electronic visa. This means that you have to forward the grant notice letter to the closest Iranian embassy near where you live. Since the there is no Iranian embassy in the US, I sent mine to the Pakistani embassy that has the Interest Section of the Islamic Republic of Iran, this section handles all Iranian affairs.

I went to their website and filled out the necessary form which I printed and mailed them together with a copy of the page on my passport (please don't send your actual passport, they just need a copy of it since they stopped stamping Anerican passports) that has my personal information, a copy of my visa Grant notice and the visa application fee (I chose the expedited service which I think cost $120).

I was expecting my electronic visa to be mailed out to me but turns out that they can email it to you. Check your spam folder folks because I was waiting for like 3 weeks to see something in the mail but all along they had sent out the electronic visa to my email account. I was freaking out as my travel date neared, until my travel agent looked into it and told me that my visa had already been issued and to perhaps check my spam folder.

With my electronic visa on hand at last, all I had to do was wait for my departure date to begin a great adventure.





Saturday, November 19, 2022

Dream Trip

Years back I came across a page on social media titled, "Humans of Tehran," I was captivated by the stories of the people featured on that page and that's when my fascination with Iran begun.

I remember mentioning in passing to a friend that I would love to visit Iran but at the time it just seemed like such an out of reach feat. Prior to the pandemic I had started looking into traveling to Iran but the requirements just seemed overwhelming to me and I gave up. I didn't feel like dealing with the hustle.

After my trip to Lebanon in March of this year, I made up my mind to travel to Iran come what may. This time I was ready to be patient and follow through with all the requirements. I did some research and once I identified the classic route that most first time visitors take in order to get a good introduction to the country, I was ready to start planning.






Friday, March 18, 2022

Baalbek, Anjar & Other Fun Adventures In Lebanon

Alas! my last day in Lebanon, part of me feels like I have been here for a lot longer than I actually have, while the other part feels like days flew by way too fast! either way, I have had fun during this trip so no complaints at all aside from the fact that I have to go back to reality after a fun filled vacation. Anyway, let's focus on the fun part of the day for now. Karim my tour guide picked me up in the morning and as usual, we stopped by a cafe to get some local Lebanese dish. Everyday that I have taken a tour with him he has made it a point to get me some new local dish to try depending on the area that we visit, I have been loving it! 

After a filling breakfast of Sfeeha Baalbakiyeh that you see below (the stuffed meat is lamb), we continued our trip to Baalbek.


Our first stop in Baalbek was to check out a limestone quarry where a team of Lebanese and German archaeologists uncovered the largest stone block curved by man. The site actually went into decay and people used to dump garbage there but this one local guy made it a mission to have the site cleaned up and it's now become a tourist attraction. He actually used his own resources to have the site cleaned up and there are plenty of newspaper articles written about his efforts. he has these articles hang up at his souvenir shop which is right next to the quarry. By the way, the large stone block is nicknamed "The Stone of The Pregnant Woman" because apparently when women with infertility issues touch it and say a few prayers, they end up pregnant.




Next up were the famous ancient ruins of Baalbek. The site of the ruins is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and it was once an important place for pilgrims to worship the sky god Baal, a Phoenician god. The city Baalbek was founded by the Phoenicians then when it was conquered by Alexander the Great, it was renamed Heliopolis meaning City of the Sun. There is a long history associated with Baalbek and it's definitely worth a read.........just not in this blog because I wouldn't do it justice. It is such an impressive site and is actually considered as the best preserved ancient site in the Middle East.










We spent some time at the site as Karim my tour guide went through the history of Baalbek, tourism has been really down in Lebanon so the site was practically empty and we took our time exploring without having to deal with large crowds. After we were done, we headed to check out the other ancient ruins of Anjar.

Anjar was founded by the Ummayads (the first muslim dynasty established in Damascus) and it was a commercial centre which was strategically situated between the north-south and east-west trade routes of the Arabian peninsula. The city ended up being abandoned after about 30 years and while the ruins are not as impressive as Baalbek's, I think it's still worth checking out.








Lastly we stopped by a winery to try some Lebanese wine, I actually did not know that the country is among the oldest sites of wine production. I opted for a smaller family winery where the experience would be more personal, and I am so glad that I made the right choice because by the time I was leaving the place the owner and I were hugging, laughing, taking pictures and complimenting each other's good vibes. If anyone that reads this blog ever visits Lebanon please check out Chateau Rayak 







That's it folks! I have had such a good time here in Lebanon and I am going through a phase where I am so fascinated by the Middle East so expect more updates on my next trip within the region. Nothing has been booked or planned as of yet but I have several countries within the region on my radar so once that travel bug bites again, I will be booking the next flight to whichever country that I end up picking.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

Bread is a big staple of most meals here and I love it! it just compliments every meal. If by now you haven't realized, I LOVE the food here.

I was joking with my husband that I will get out of Lebanon with a second husband as I have managed to gather quite a number of admirers here. I find it very flattering and hey! it's good to be reminded that I still got it so I am not complaining plus the attention has all been respectful.

I have been listening to quite a bit of Arabic music and I think the language sounds so beautiful, Karim was telling me that second to Chinese, Arabic is the hardest language to learn. 

I find that hanging out with locals always opens many more doors than say hanging out by yourself or within a group of tourists. That's why I always try to immerse myself in the local culture of where I am visiting and go out of my way to befriend locals, it's so enriching and you end up learning so much and appreciating the culture even more.

One thing I will not miss about Lebanon though are the blackouts, if you stay in a hotel then they have generators that ensure electricity is on 24/7 but since I am staying at an Airbnb, I am experiencing what the typical Lebanese goes through on a daily basis and it's not fun but I wouldn't trade my Airbnb stay for anything.













Thursday, March 17, 2022

A Year Older in Lebanon

Happy Birthday to me!!! if there is anything that this trip to Lebanon has taught me, is to roll with the punches. I am usually really good with sticking to my planned itinerary and ensuring that everything I want to check out has been explored but this time around, circumstances beyond my control totally shifted my plans. The places I wanted to check out were closed due to bad weather so there was nothing I could do about it. My Airbnb host with whom I have managed to bond with, invited me to meet her friends and hang out so that we could have a relaxing day driving around the mountains and checking out cool places. 

I took her up on her offer and had the best time ever! her friends were super cool and we got on so well that they want us to hang out again before I leave. I actually got a request to extend my trip but I can't because bills have to be paid and money made so I have to go back to work........unless I win the lottery. I was impressed by how chill I was about my plans not going as expected, I took everything in stride and actually had a good time. Normally I would be so upset but I put things into perspective and realized that within the few days that I have been here, I have seen and experienced quite a lot and I have had a pretty good time despite the challenges that are going on in Lebanon. The new friends I have made have had a positive impact and showed me so much generosity and I can honestly say that I couldn't have asked for a better birthday. Here is to turning a year older gracefully, rolling with the punches and making meaningful connections with other people. Ooh! and enjoying some of the most delicious Lebanese dishes.



Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Exploring Beirut, Beiteddine & Tyre

Today the plan was to explore the southern part of Lebanon but before heading down south, Karim my tour guide decided to show me some sites in Beirut. We drove around downtown town then he took me to check out the following places:

Zaitunay Bay: Located at the Beirut Marina, the place has a boardwalk filled with restaurants, cafes and shops and is considered the city's most prestigious coastlines.

Pigeon Rocks: These rocks are 60 meters (197 ft) high and were formed in the prehistoric era by geological movements. The rocks are a polar landmark in the city and If you want to get close to them you can pay a small fee to get on a boat and pass by them. 






I Love Beirut: What is a trip to Beirut without passing by this landmark to take an instagram worthy photograph? 


After we were done with downtown, we headed to Beiteddine Palace which was built in the 1800s by the Ottomans, construction was completed in 1818. The palace was used by the Ottomans then later the French as a government building. These days it serves as the president's summer residence. It was snowing and cold but I still manage to get a few photos.





Next stop was Tyre which is located in southern Lebanon and is one of the oldest cities in the world that has continuously been inhabited. It was one of the most important cities of the Phoenicians and the color purple is believed to have originated from here. The Phoenicians used snails from the ocean to make the dye for color purple which came to be associated with royalty. In this city you can find Roman ruins that have been designated a UNESCO world heritage site. The ruins are quite impressive especially after learning what the sites were used for historically.







Tyre is a coastal town by the Mediterranean sea so of course there is a pretty coastline to enjoy, the color of the water is so pretty and the soft sound of the waves just adds to the ambience.




Tyre seems pretty chill although I heard during summer it comes alive with people visiting from all over


That's it folks! it was a long fun day and I got to see a lot! My posts are just summaries of places I have visited in Lebanon, I don't have the energy to go into details because by the time I get back to my Airbnb I am usually so tired. I do hope though that the summaries are giving you an idea of how beautiful Lebanon is despite the messed up situation that they are currently enduring.

Random Thoughts of The Day:

If you visit Lebanon now, expect daily power blackouts, most places have generators which kick in once power goes off but it's not easy on the locals here. Taking a nice hot shower requires planning, I have to let my Airbnb host know in advance what time I plan to shower so that she can turn off certain appliances in order to heat the water. Usually it takes about an hour before the water is hot enough to shower with. 

Thanks to my guide Karim, I have indulged in all kinds of Lebanese delicacies, I am all up for trying new things so I don't mind at all. Lebanese food is DELICIOUS!!!! if you haven't had a taste of it, you don't know what you are missing.

It's so weird carrying large sums of currency even though they don't carry much value. That's what inflation has done to the Lebanese Lira, it's been so devalued.

Despite all the issues that Lebanon is going through, it truly is a beautiful country with lot's of history and I would encourage anyone to visit if they have the chance to do so.