Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Kashan, Iran

After leaving Tehran, the next stop was supposed to be Qom but there was a change in plans so I ended up in the city of Kashan. A city said to have been a favorite of Shah Abbas who was a king in the 16th century responsible for a lot of Iran's one architecture. The following were the main sites I got to check out.

Fin Garden - A historical Persian garden that's a popular attraction in Kashan, it's actually a UNESCO heritage site. The concept of a Persian garden dates back to the time of Cyrus the Great (around 6th century BCE) and the idea was to mold the perfect example of paradise on earth. Persian gardens have influenced other garden layouts in different parts of the world such as India and Spain.

Tabatabaei House - A perfect example of a historical house in Kashan, this house was built around 1880 and it belonged to one of the most affluent families in Kashan. The house is open for public viewing for a small fee and it is definitely worth checking out, the details are very impressive.

Borujerdis House - Another historical house in Kashan with an interesting story. This house was built in 1857 by a merchant who fell in love with a girl from a rich family, the girl happened to be Mr. Tabatabaei's daughter, remember the first house I mentioned above? yup! she belonged to that family. The rmerchant built this house in order to impress the girl he was in love with, he did end up marrying her and it took 18 good years to complete this house. The house is beautiful, these photos don't really do it justice.

Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse - A traditional bathhouse that not only served as a place to cleanse one's body, but also socialize and discuss current events. 

At the rooftop of the bathhouse, the glasses you see on the domes were meant to let in light but no one can see through them, ensuring privacy.

Just look at these beautiful arches, loved them!

That's it folks! although I spent only a day in Kashan, I had a good time appreciating some of the city's highlights. The following day, I was on my way to another city for a new adventure.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Tehran, Iran

My arrival into Tehran was pretty uneventful and at the airport, everything went smooth with immigration. After checking my passport and electronic Visa, I was warmly welcomed into the country this definitely set the tone of my visit. I arrived at 5:00 am in Tehran and after settling in and meeting my tour guide, I was ready to hit the ground running.

Tehran is the capital of Iran and is the largest city in the country with a population of almost 10 million people. That being said, just like any other large city in the world, it is busy and bustling with life.

On day one I visited the Niavaran Palace Complex which was the residence of the last king of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. 

Took a good walk around the city just soaking in the vibe and sites.

Visited the former US Embassy, which is now a museum. This is where Iranian activists in 1979 broke into and captured the Americans working there. They were held hostage for 14 months before being released.

I really had a good first day and got such a good vibe in general, After a few hours jet lag started creeping in so I retired back to my Iranian host's house in Tehran. I was treated to a nice welcome dinner and I got to meet their family, everyone was so lovely and I had a great evening before jetlag got the best of me.

On my second day in Tehran I did more exploring by visiting The Grand Bazaar

While at the Grand Bazaar I got to visit the smallest tea house in the world. It's been passed down the family and is actually a pretty popular spot to visit in the bazaar. I didn't know which flavor to choose so I just asked the owner to make me his best tea and it did not disappoint. 

Checked out the beautiful and very colorful Golestan Palace, built in the 16th century it is one of the oldest historic monuments in Tehran. Definitely worth a visit!

My final site before leaving Tehran was the Azadi Tower, formerly known as Shahyad Tower. It was built in 1971 to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the Persian monarchy. During and after the revolution in 1979 which ousted the king, the tower become a symbol of freedom.

That's it folks! my stay in Tehran was really good, and I was excited to continue my adventures to the next city. 

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 American 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.