Short version: became Teherani – tollah here, tollah there, tollah’s you can see everywhere – applied for visa – got a lot of visa – smiled to the police in Isfahan – enjoyed the beauty of Jolfa – spent time on a carpet in Isfahan – got stuffed with food – still alive and kicking!

Tehran

Tehran

Tehran is a big place and most people visiting Iran will probably leave it as quick as possible. Besides the Saipas, Prides, Zamyads and dated Peugeots there are now more decent cars driving around. On the side of the roads, on the walls and signs, there are many pictures of tollah’s; small tollah’s, big tollah’s, young tollah’s, old tollah’s, all kinds of tollah’s. I was here to stay for a while, since this is also the city where the visas I need for the upcoming countries are to be obtained. When reading stories online people complain a lot about this visa hassle and it made me nervous as to what would happen, or rather what would not happen. For Uzbekistan I had received a letter of invitation from a tourist agency and thus, on day 1 in visa land, I got my Uzbekistan visa…within a few hours, hassle-free. Then, encouraged by this success, I went to the Dutch embassy the next day to pick up two letters (which I wrote myself) explaining in 4 lines who I am and what I want, which I needed for my visa for China and Tajikistan. Armed with this letter I got my Tajikistan visa hassle-free within 3 hours. Kazakhstan followed suit although they required 4 days to process the visa but then gave me 3 months (I really only needed one week). Then the trickiest ones: Turkmenistan, China and an extension of my Iranian visa. The Turkmen Embassy was closed for a week for no apparent reason and the Chinese Embassy would take my passport. The tricky part was that…

I have the visa for Uzbekjistan and Tajikistan – both allow me 1 month travel time – the travel window is fixed – China takes my passport – Chinese embassy requires 4 days – this would lead me into 1 day from the Iranian visa due date – this would lead to Marty having a nervous break down – I need a 3 week extension to make it to the border – visa extension in Tehran can take up to a week or more – in Tehran they often give only a few weeks extra – in Isfahan it can be done in a day – rafti Isfahan…

Now if the above confused you, try to explain all that to the police officer at the visa extension counter in Isfahan.

“Visa still has days, you have to do this in Tehran”
“But I need to apply for my Chinese visa, and they take my passport”
“I know, you apply for visa extension first”
“But I am by bicycle and need to be in Uzbekistan in time, I don’t have the time to wait” (showing Uzbekistan visa and making silly hand signals that seem to be universal for riding a bike, and smiling and looking kind and all at the same time)
“By Bicycle? Why?” (Iranians like to ask “why” a lot, and when they do, they usually look at you like you’re an idiot)
“Because I like to meet people”
“You are from Netherland, playing very well!”
Marty is relieved; oh thank the Lord for organizing football worldcups, it makes talking easier and people more helpful, especially when your team is doing well and people know “Robben” and they happen to think i look like him.
“Which hotel?”
Ooops, Marty thinks…no hotel…”Hotel Abbassi”
“OK” “Please pay 300.000 Rial at the bank and fill in the form and come back”

I payed, filled in the forms and begged for a 30 day extension. The police officer told me to come back at 13:00 and when I came back at 13:30 he even asked me why I was late. I got 30 days extension starting at the due date of my visa; smiling kindly was as much hassle as it was.

Not only is Isfahan a good place to get your visa extended, it is also a beautiful town and it’s great it still exists today. When Tamerlane arrived at the city’s gates Isfahan peacefully surrendered knowing resistance was futile. At night however, a bunch of hotheads killed the garrisson Tamerlane had installed and thereby signing their death warrant. The day after the whole city was massacred; hotheads, men, women and children alike. The story goes that all children up to the age of 7 were collected in a field and trampled to death by horses. Shiraz surrendered peacefully later and was spared a similar fate. I was picked up from the bus station by Sara. I would stay with her and her family for a few days while being in Isfahan. Thanks Sara and family! After the mandatory food stuffing we went to the centre of Isfahan for a coffee and some nighttime viewing at the Khomeini square. The day after it was Friday, which I wanted to use to check out the city. All was closed however, so I spent my time being lazy in the shadow of some bushes looking at the pretty exterior of the Lotfallah mosque. Little did I know how beautiful this small mosque was on the inside. I found that out the next day…what an amazing artwork, no doubt the most beautiful mosque I have seen so far. Since the season for visiting Iran is utterly wrong most places on the visit list were rather empty, and so was this outstanding building. I spent a good time just laying on the carpets on the floor, admiring the ceiling and walls completely on my own.

After some more lazying about in the shadow I spent the evening and night with Behrooz; a great guy to hang out with. After some night time viewing at the Armenian quarter where there is much beauty to be seen walking around, and then a cycle ride along the now dry river, we watched the Netherlands beat Brazil in the pitty final with some of his friends. The next morning we went back to the Armenian quarter where I went to church and then I was off to the bus back to Tehran. Thanks for the hospitality and showing me the pretty…errr…church, Behrooz!

Isfahan has a lot more to offer and it is wise to visit the town in a better season. A combination of extreme heat and Ramadan is bound to disappoint. The bigger mosques have open courtyards where people pray. These courtyards offer fantastic views on the building itself. However, mosques now have fabric hanging over the courtyards to shelter the people from the sun thereby reducing the view. Anyway, just visit the city in spring or something, but visiting you should.

Getting back to visa land…I went to the Turkmenistan embassy where I was sent back since my passport copy was not in colour. Fixed that and then it was accepted…I applied for a 5 day transit visa which takes at least a week to process, so I’ll have to pick it up in Mashhad. Then onwards to the Chinese Embassy. I expected it to be busy there but it was not. I walked in, handed in paper work, and walked out. 4 Working days later I walked in, handed in the pick-up note, and walked out wth a 90 day visa.

So there you have it; all visas except Turkmenistan in the pocket and all hassle-free. OK it takes some time (and money) to get this all organized but hey, remember, the people from these countries will probably have to go through a lot more hassle to get into my country. Also I was so fortunate to have family of friends and friends of friends in Tehran. This meant that most of the travelling to embassies was done by car making my life very easy (merci Mahtab joonam, you are great!).

During my time in Tehran I stayed with the lovely parents and sister of my lovely friend Bahar. They don’t speak a word of English but mommy desperately tried to make me gain the 7 kilos back that I lost over the last months. What a great family to be part of for the last two weeks; I will surely miss the company, relaxation and good food for the months to come…thank you my beautiful Iranian family!

There’s not too many pictures in this post since I somehow seem to be unable to upload them. However, you can refer to here!