Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week’s postcard is from Kathleen, a Malaysian, who currently lives in Kuala Lumpur. She works full-time in the financial industry but travels on a “part-time” basis as & when she is able to get time off from work. Kathleen feels that travel genes run in her blood (both her parents and sister love to travel too) but the mad love for travel became more apparent six years ago. She enjoys history, culture and architecture, and with huge encouragement from friends, Kathleen has been blogging about her travels since 2013. Check out Kathleen’s blog, Kat Pegi Mana, or follow @katpegimana on Twitter.
Hi Kathleen! You travel a lot – did you go anywhere particularly interesting last year?
I went to Iran in early May. It was an eight-day trip covering the capital city Tehran, Shiraz and Esfahan.
At the start of the year, I was planning for places that I wanted to visit in 2015. Turkey was one of the destinations for spring or autumn but I changed my mind after reading a few interesting travel blogs on Iran. I was intrigued by the articles as each of them explained that Iran is still a safe country to visit especially for women. In addition, I came across two Malaysians; one of whom was a former work client and she had been to Iran three times! It didn’t take much to convince me, so within a couple of weeks, I booked my flight!
My sister joined me on this trip, and although we usually go for independent travels but for a change, we opted for a private tour in Iran. According to guidelines, foreigners can opt for independent travels in Iran except for Americans who are required to sign up with a tour agency.
The trip to Iran was very much focused on ancient ruins, museums and palaces, mosques and shrines, bazaars and gardens. It was definitely our kind of sightseeing because we both enjoy history, culture and architecture.
Wow, I bet a lot of people would consider visiting Iran pretty adventurous! Was it really hot when you visited?
It was towards the end of spring, so the weather was pleasantly warm but sometimes it got rather hot especially when we were travelling through dry and dusty terrain from Shiraz to Esfahan.
Sounds like perfect conditions on the whole! How was the tour of Iran?
I like the way our itinerary was structured which gave each city a flavour or theme to its name. Palaces and museums were the highlight in Tehran; mosques and shrines in Shiraz; and mosaics and frescoes in Esfahan.
In Tehran, we visited Golestan Palace which is the oldest historic monument in the city. The palace consists of royal buildings in an ancient citadel and was formerly the official residence of the royal Qajar family from the 18th century till the early 20th century. We saw an elaborate marble throne with detailed carvings, and it was the same throne on which the last two Shahs of Iran sat for their coronations.
The Carpet Museum in Tehran was an unexpected experience. We knew that Iran was renowned for their carpets but we didn’t expect to be captivated by the intricacy and details of the carpets displayed in the museum. Some of the carpets could be mistaken for paintings but were threads finely and painstakingly woven into beautiful carpets.
Just as we thought Tehran was interesting, Shiraz was mind-blowing. We visited the Nasir al Mulk Mosque which is particularly unique because of the effects of the morning light streaming through the stained glass windows and the pink coloured floor tiles. The result was multi-coloured hues of red, pink, green, blue and yellow!
En route to Esfahan, we stopped by at Persepolis, an ancient city which was claimed to be the richest city on earth. Its treasury held vast stocks of gold, silver, ivory and precious stones. Sadly, the splendour of Persepolis was short lived when its palaces were looted and burned by Alexander the Great in 331-330 BC.
Esfahan was the best of the three cities which we visited, well, in my opinion. It was in this city that we saw incredible frescoes in the Vank Cathedral in the Armenian quarter. The interior of the cathedral is covered with frescoes from the central dome to the walls.
And saving the best for last, we watched a beautiful sunset along the Zayandeh River at the Bridge of 33 Arches in Esfahan. School children, university students, office workers and the elderly came out to walk along the bridge. We marvelled at the light and casual atmosphere – lots of laughter, giggles and photo-taking on the bridge.
What was your highlight?
The awe-inspiring mosaics in the mosques, the well-preserved frescoes in the Armenian churches, and the friendliness and kindness of Iranians. The locals do not care about politics but warmly welcome us to their country. They are constantly greeting us “Salaam” and asking if we could speak English so that they could practise speaking English with us. And at every interaction, without fail, they would say to us “I hope you enjoy our country”.
I don’t know much about the cuisine of Iran. How was it?
We absolutely LOVE Persian food and no complaints whatsoever about what was served to us because the food is delicious! We love tahchin, aPersian upside-down layered saffron rice and chicken slices – a mouthwatering dish seasoned with yogurt and egg yolk mixture, and garnished with berries.
Travelling to Iran probably still seems pretty scary to a lot of people. Do you have any advice for anyone planning a trip?
In view of ever-changing global politics, it’s advisable to check with the nearest Iranian embassy/consulate in your country (or the country you’re currently travelling in) for the latest guidelines on foreigners to travel to Iran particularly visa application process, and which nationality is allowed to travel independently or with a tour group.
Regarding dress codes, sleeveless shirts and shorts are not allowed in Iran, and this is applicable for both men and women. Women have to wear long-sleeve shirts or blouses which cover the bottom, long trousers and a headscarf. Men can wear short-sleeved shirts.
Now for some more general travel questions! Have you read any new books on your recent travels?
I just LOVE books and can’t live without them! My recent trip in Oct was to the eastern part of India, covering Kolkata, Darjeeling and Gangtok. I bought 7 books from book shops in Darjeeling and Gangtok! I’m now reading The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher.
And finally: what do you love most about travelling?
I used to think that travelling teaches me about the different world out there – people of different cultures and ways of life. But now I have come to realise that people are essentially the same – they experience the same kinds of joys and challenges as any of us – the only difference is the country, ethnicity and culture. With that perspective, I’m loving travels in a different way now because that “sameness” helps me to connect with others and that we are no longer “local vs foreigner” but friends.
NB – all images are owned by Kathleen