Saturday, April 22, 2006

Night train to Tabriz

After the near back-to-back 20 hour bus marathons that I did in Turkey the 12 hours on the bus to Tehran was a piece of cake. Moreover there was no bicycle in the hold to be concerned about. That which bothered me was Tehran itself & the Turkmenistan Embassy there.

As usual help was offered by a total stranger when needed. My 'seat partner' was a lawyer returning to work in Tehran from a weekend with family in Tabriz. One of the laws of the Islamic Republic of Iran was demonstrated, the person was male. No-one meets their future spouse in the adjacent seat of a bus. It turned out that his office was not so far from the Turkmenistan Embassy. He arranged & paid the taxi that took me there.

Fortunately the Lonely Planet was wrong & the Embassy was open. The application for the visa was rather easy, & thus my business in Tehran was concluded by 11am.

I proceeded to try & get a feel for the place, by walking a bit. I knew that at some point I'd need to take some form of public transport but was putting it off as the bus & shared taxi system didn't seem very user friendly to strangers to the place & language. The city buses were extremely cheap but not feasible to non-Farsi speakers. There was a growing underground metro system which was useful getting along the North-South axis of the city but needed to be supplemented by something else to complete a journey. The other option was taxi, either chartered or shared. I didn't fancy being picked clean by a taxi driver who sensed ignorance so I started on the shared system. This wouldn't guarantee that I wouldn't be ripped off but at least it allowed me to see how other passengers paid. It turned out to be relatively simple once the general layout of the system was understood. The shared taxis operated from ranks by major intersections or squares. One picked a destination square, something similarly significant, & went along the rank saying the name of the square until you were directed into the door of a car. I'd always try & ask someone how much the fair ought to be before getting in but you could learn this by seeing what the other passengers paid. Once when I paid too much the driver returned the excess. They were pretty cheap, I never paid more than 30 Euro cents for a 15 minute ride.

It was great to watch the Tehran traffic in action. There were so many cars on the road, they passed on the inside, pulled over without warning, zoomed into any gap that appeared & all with hand on or near the horn. At times it gave the impression of being a constantly rearranged jigsaw puzzle. Few had side mirrors, I suppose that without them the smaller the gap that could be negotiated. I would be foolish for the unfamiliar to voluntarily place a car under their control in such traffic. Crossing the road was fun. One didn't just go from one side to the middle in one gap then to the other side in another, one went lane to lane. The nice thing was that the logic was simple it was safe to go in front of a car if you both recognised that you got to the gap first & that he wound stop, slow down or swerve around you. it was a bit scary learning this.

I had dizi again for lunch, it wasn't as good as the double portion that I'd had the day before but was good nevertheless. I got talking to a guy in the restaurant who turned out to be the owner. He refused payment for the meal. I gave him 3 goes at accepting to be sure that it wasn't ta'arof, a common ritual gift of something that isn't supposed to be accepted. When I asked about the location of a travel agent he had a friend drive me to the place. It'll be hard traveling in a 'normal' country after so much kindness.

After lunch I went to the site of the formed US Embassy, the scene of so much drama 26 years ago. It wasn't open but walking around the outside was interesting. There were revolutionary murals on some of the exterior walls & the insignia of the US government could still be seen on the main gate.

I spent the rest of the afternoon just walking around. I didn't find Tehran a particularly attractive place & as interesting as observing the traffic was the noise of it got old fairly quickly. Hopefully I'll have another short visit some time in the next month to pick up my Turkmen visa. It was nice to be getting out of town on the night train to Tabriz which cost something 12 Euro for a sleeper in a 4-berth cabin.

I cycled 0 km

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