I like telling my friends incredible stories of how I’ve seen the deepest lake or the oldest christian temple in the world. The higher/the taller/the bigger, the better. The problem is when you travel to a country like Iran, where all the standard units of measurement fail. Iran certainly has what it takes to impress (the hottest spot on Earth – Lut Desert, the relics of one of the oldest civilization – Persepolis) yet talking about Iran in numbers or records is a fatal mistake. This country is unique, hence it requires unique units of measurements.
The Persian art of hospitality.
Some nations are more hospitable than others, it’s a fact. However…
not until I travel to Iran did I realize that hospitality could be elevated to a high art!
Don’t go to Iran if you don’t like being around people as it’s almost 100% sure that at some point of your trip you will get spontaneously ADOPTED by a nuclear Persian family. They will take care of you as if you were their missing family member. Now you’ve been found. You have a brain damage hence you’re unable to speak Farsi, but it doesn’t matter. From now on you are one of them. This is why I love Iran. Iran truly feels like home.
You can’t classify Iranian hospitality, the rest of the country can be measured using 4 special units – a sugar cube, a cup of tea, nights slept on Persian carpets and random acts of kindness. Are you ready to visit Iran with the Wildest Tales?
Sweet like a sugar cube.
Mehran, our guide, drops one into his tea. One after the other. Sweet God! A sugar cube is definitely the king of the Persian measurement system. But sugar in Iran comes in all shapes and sizes so visiting the country you’ll feel like a kid in a sweet shop.
Iran is like a huge confectionery. You see it from the outside first. The display window belongs to Sohan – a traditional toffee from Qom. The people of Qom are conservative and religious. If you are just a window shopper this is how you will see Iran. But Qom’s sweetness is far from being scary and serious. When the Big Brother is not watching, cardamon and saffron are dancing on your tongue.
Befarmaid, come inside, see the shelves full of identical boxes filled with same size sugar cubes made to stand in perfect rows. Sweet regime. These boxes are labelled with Western slogans screaming sugar kills! Stay away from it! Will you trust them and leave?
You haven’t left, so I have a treat for you. When you look under the counter you will see Nabat – traditional Persian lollipop candy made by boiling sugar. It reminds me of Tehran. The city is buzzing under the surface!
Open the freezer and get yourself a Bastani. It tastes like Shiraz and Esfahan – delicious and exotic. Yet it’s just an ice-cream. Everyone will like it. Try super soft, moreish dates from Kerman, piling in big wicker baskets, or irresistible cookies and biscuits from Yazd. You will find yourself spoilt for choice. Yazdi pastries are second to none. Before you leave, get on your toes and see what’s hidden on the top shelf. It’s the North of Iran – Alamut Valley captured in the jars of sweet honey. Have you ever thought of Iran being so sweet?
Back to my sugar cubes. I open the box impatiently and put one of them behind my teeth. With a gulp of tea the cube quickly dissolves inside my mouth leaving an insanely pleasant sensation on my tongue. Different shapes and sizes of Iranian sugar have one thing in common. They are sweet. Just like the Iranians!
A cup of tea.
Myriads of them. Drinking tea in Iran is a social activity and Persian tea is famous around the world. Pablo Neruda, Chile’s most prominent writer, mentions in his Memoirs lively Persian restaurants in Rangoon “where he drunk the best tea in the world in little translucent cups”. When those cups land softly on a beautiful carpet in Iran, you know it will be a long night.
It’s snowing and raining on the way to Abyaneh, yet the taxi driver insists on stopping 3 times in the middle of nowhere just to invite us for a cuppa. Incredible!
I close my eyes and wrap my fingers around a hot cup. It doesn’t take long for my mind to take off to the routes of the ancient Silk Road. It’s easy to be a dreamer in Iran.
(Sleepless) nights on Persian carpets.
I noticed that in traditional Persian houses, especially in smaller towns and villages, there were no beds. People sleep on mattresses or they put several blankets on the carpet so if you wake up stiff and your back is killing you – you’ve seen the real Iran! One of our couchsurfing hosts said “to know my country, or any country in fact, you need to see our houses and what do we keep in our fridges“. Dear Reza! I’m happy to report back – mission completed! Even though there was a bed in Reza’s flat, we decided to sleep on the carpet. Officially Persianized! (to my surprise this word does exist!).
Do yourself a favor and travel to Iran without a plan. You never know what happens next. If you have a plan, be flexible. Learn to say YES instead of NO especially when an Iranian invites you to stay for a night at their place. It’s the best thing about travelling in Iran. The people!
Random acts of kindness.
Have you seen a bazaar? You’ve seen them all. Rushing around Iran is a cardinal sin. You need time for so-called random acts of kindness to happen.
Iran is the best country in the world for souvenirs. It’s also the first country in which I haven’t bought anything and at the same time I’ve come back with so many mementos given to me by random people. Isn’t in incredible?
An embroidered bracelet, some apricot kernels, bags of sweets, postcards, colorful satchels, verses form Hafez’s poems. I’m serious. Couchsurfing helped us a lot, but the real cherry on top of the Iranian CAKE were those moments of connecting with random people. Someone helped us with our SIM card, gave us a lift to the other side of a huge city, invited for lunch, didn’t let us leave their house. I can’t wait to share these amazing stories with you. Let this post be a sweet intro to my Persian tales. So excuse my French but for a short moment fuck the politics and try to forget what the Western media say. Leave your prejudices at home. Get on our flying carpet and travel with us to the country of million wonders.
Without further ado, WELCOME TO IRAN!