Days: 564-565 (10 December 2016 – 11 December 2016)
Total Distance Travelled: 141,855.1 kilometres (88,106.76 miles)
Hmmm, it may have escaped mention until now, but did you know we have flights booked home?
This shocking turn of events actually took place back in late October, but as a reality, well it’s something we haven’t had to actually face until now.
We both actually felt a little sick at the time as we’d sat there, having pressed the confirmation button for our online reservation, but we knew it was something that had to happen eventually… didn’t we?
A combination of frustrating tenants and the occasional yearning for little things from home, not to mention the half a dozen little ones we had to meet (including my very own nephew), saw this idea become concrete.
It doesn’t mean we truly had to like it… well, not fully anyway.
What this also meant was, that these two days that we’d returned to the Iranian capital, these would be the last days of this incredible adventure.
Ahead lay nothing but the long journey back to Melbourne, but instead of getting to Tehran and getting stuck in to squeezing as much out of these two days as possible, we instead found ourselves back at the same hotel where we’d started, finding another room and instead relaxing.
There was a moment of panic on arrival.
Not for us, but a fresh guest had just arrived from an Asian country (I have a suspicion she was Chinese).
To her horror, on arrival directly from the airport, her passport, it was nowhere to be found!
It wasn’t long, and she was back on the way to the airport, hoping to retrace her stops and with any luck locate her missing papers.
We wished her all the best.
Us, we didn’t have too much planned, however we were in loose contact with a local guy by the name of Amir.
Despite all the grandstanding and showy foreign policy of the US, we’d actually met Amir in Yerevan at our hostel, where he was in town to arrange a visa for that very country.
He was a medical student, had recently been offered a position at Harvard so was in town for his interview at the US Embassy (quite obviously, the former US equivalent in Tehran has not been an option for some time).
Upon learning we were soon headed to his home country and indeed city, he told us to look him up and Sarah had added him to her WhatsApp account (yes, it works fine here).
That’s how we suddenly had plans for the evening, with us waiting on Amir to let us know where to meet (in this regard he was a little tardy), but we eventually got word and he and a mate arrived with a set of wheels and whisked us away.
It is amazing how trusting we can often be when on the road, but also an example of how most people, wherever you go, are generally genuine and good natured.
Not so keen on haemorrhaging Rials, we’d not actually spent much time on the roads of Tehran (preferring our feet for the most part, and the metro system for anywhere further afield), so it was a nice chance to experience the car filled roads and streets for the first time.
The night was chilled (being the middle of winter), but not at all wet, so as we chatted from our places in the back seat, we were whisked to a slightly more elevated area of the city, where the hillside around us was covered in conifers.
Welcome to Jamshidiyeh Park, a large wooded hill dotted with small streams, boardwalks, bridges and stone paths.
Apparently also a popular destination for young lovebirds, although being the Islamic Republic, don’t expect to see anybody canoodling!
There was a significant lighting budget around the park (and an adjacent footbridge that apparently lead to a mall of sorts), but it was a bit lurid, in vein of Nightscape, but it seemed less tasteful, lest suited to the surrounds.
After we’d left the park, it was a drive back into the city, where our guides for the evening wanted us to experience one of their regular pastimes.
We pulled up in a street somewhere, busy enough that it could have been in the heart of Tehran, or in any number of the outlying suburbs. There’s no way we could truly know.
Here we were treated to hot chocolate, Tehran style, and lovely tonic against the evening chill, but a little less laden with milk than we would normally enjoy (it was quite sweet as well).
Amir and his friend gave us insights into the life a young local.
They’d all drunk alocohol before, in fact this was quite common, however a somewhat more tactful affair than just hiding the booze from your parents kind of deal (ever needing to mindful of the Morality Police… no seriously, this is a legitimate force in the country).
We’d already had a glimpse of it back in Yerevan, where sausage made from pig had been no issue for him, despite the hostel staff being quite prepared to offer him an alternative.
Eventually they dropped us off, somewhere close enough to our lodging for us to find our way home and our night was done.
This left one full day in the capital before we were due to leave, but what to do?
With a return to the blue skies that had seemed almost strangely absent for the past two days (despite it being the depths of winter), there was somewhere significant we thought might be worth visiting.
It sat about twenty kilometres from our district, a distance quickly overcome through use of Tehran’s clean and efficient metro system.
Leaving the Haram-e Motahhar metro station in mere minutes we were there.
The Imam Khomeini Shrine, the mausoleum to the most famous (or infamous) Ayatollah in history.
There it was, its golden towers shining in the sunlight, fountains flowing.
There is was… covered in scaffold.
The curse had struck us yet again.
Had we done a little more homework, we’d have discovered that a bit like La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, this too was still under construction and has been for almost twenty years.
We were unable to enter the mausoleum proper and see the tomb itself, so we wandered the grounds where it didn’t look like all that much construction was going on, or actually needed to be done to complete the complex.
Every so often we’d come across large walls covered in colour.
Murals depicting young boys in military fatigues, their images floating atop white fluffy clouds in a blue sky.
These are images of the martyrs, child soldiers from the Iran-Iraq wars and quite possibly victims of the chemical warfare waged by both sides…
Not so far from the mausoleum sat a series of cemeteries.
We’d little idea whether this was reserved to soldiers and their families, however it was unlike any such place we’d visited (and we’ve explored quite a few).
Not with any intent to disrespect the deceased, but we’d never seen a place where headstone after headstone was adorned with what looked like glamour shots of the individual interred, kind of like they’d completed a modelling portfolio in preparation for this very day.
It’s not every day you see the dead staring right back of you, a deep and dreamy look in their eyes as they clutch a pomegranate…
That evening we had a loose plan.
Dine on our favourite grilled chicken in flatbread from that vendor we met early in our adventures in the city.
One can never be certain that the stall will indeed be again in the same location, but this day, on another cold evening, there he stood as hoped, a skewer for Sarah and a pair for myself giving us a memorable culinary farewell to Iran.
For our last hurrah, I then I wanted us to make the journey all the way back to where it began, all the way back to the bus station we’d arrived at that cold morning some weeks past.
We were headed back to visit once again, Azadi Square and the Azadi Tower.
After all, we’d never seen it at night.
As hoped, its lighting budget did not disappoint.
We savoured it all with a tinge of sadness… for tomorrow morning, we were starting the long journey home.
Our morning was in no way memorable.
At the hotel, our host (who was also a great option should you ever need to exchange Rials) arranged for us a taxi to the airport, which, like so many monuments and significant locations presently bears a name associated with the late Imam Khomeini.
It was a stuttering departure from the capital, the choking traffic of the city meaning extricating ourselves from it was a stop start affair, but eventually we were back out in the arid expanse that is the surrounding countryside.
Before long, we were back in the air, headed for Istanbul where that very night, we’d board a flight back to Melbourne.
* Our bus from Qazvin to Tehran cost 50,000.00 Rials per person.