Several times in the past few weeks I asked Iranian locals if I can share their picture and story and told them about this blog. I have collected amazing experiences in the last few weeks and the many Iranians I met deserve my utter gratitude and respect. I dedicate this entry especially to my friends and colleagues in America who may not know much about this ancient land and those who are concerned or even hostile towards one of the kindest people I have ever been in contact with. I will attempt to list events as they happened and try to stay true to facts.
I did not plan or expect to travel to Iran this summer. Living in the United States and waiting for the Green Card process to advance I was not permitted to leave the country since December 2018. The Employment Authorization Card, however, arrived in mid-June, unexpectedly. Being a professor, it was very good news as I would not have to teach until the end of August, thus putting travel plans back on the horizon. Iran was an obvious choice as Nargess has not visited her family in 4 years, due to US regulations. Also, having met many Iranians in America, I was curious to learn more. It is a different thing to hear their stories and experience them first hand. Thus, flights to Iran and afterward Austria (my home country) were quickly booked.
Nargess and I flew separated, mostly for logistical and cost reasons as I had my Austria stop afterward. She took Qatar airlines with a short stop in Qatar for $ 1400, while I took a flight to Munich ($900) and from there another flight to Tehran (over Istanbul) for $500. Prices could be cheaper but considering we booked only 2 weeks ahead of time we were quite happy. Also, Nargess could bring two suitcases which will come in handy for all the Persian souvenirs we planned to bring.
After a stop in Munich airport with Wiener Schnitzel and Weissbier, we arrived in the middle of the night around the same time in Tehran.
Visa and Immigration
For this trip, I prepared an e-vista about a week in advance, something I can recommend to any traveler. For $ 70, they organize you travel insurance, e-vista and very useful recommendations such as which hotel to book for the first night. Foreign tourists should have a hotel booked for the first night just in case they are asked at the immigration. With my Austrian passport, it took me less than 5 minutes to enter the country. Iran no longer issues stamps and the visa is electronically, something useful if you travel a lot and worried that an Iran visit would impact their ability to enter other countries. As far as I know, only the United States is impacted as ESTA is no longer an option and visitors have to get a visa at an embassy or consulate just like non-allied nationals.
I was welcomed by Nargess, her Brother, Ehsan, and her Mother who drove all the way from Quaemshar (5 hours) to pick us up. We stayed at Nargess’ cousin’s place that first night and arrived at 4 am. I thought we would quietly get a few hours of sleep but that was not an option. The whole family including the kids were up and excited to give me the first lesson in Persian hospitality. We had a nice dinner, and afterwards, her husband proudly presented us with finest, home-distilled wine. I was prepared to not have any alcohol for the next four weeks, so I was pleasantly surprised.