Tehran

We have just returned to the hotel in Tehran after visiting the National Museum of Iran and having lunch. My tour guide is a delightful woman named Tiam. She has been a guide for 9 years and has a Master’s degree in Archaeology. I could tell within moments of meeting her that we were going to get along just great. It will just be the 2 of us for the trip, apparently an Australian couple were also scheduled to join but cancelled. 

Originally, the plan today was to meet at noon and then go to the National Musum and then the Jewel Museum, but that turned out to be closed today. I don’t really mind, I would rather rest and regain my stamina for our trip to Shiraz tomorrow.

Tehran is a dirty city, but it is not without its charms. The air pollution here is quite bad, for that alone I am glad we are not staying long. There are some interesting buildings that help distract from the grayness of the place. 

So far, I have learned how to cross an Iranian street without dying (seriously, they are crazy drivers here) and I learned that when you sneeze, you should pause for 3 seconds before continuing in motion. Why? I have no idea. 

The highlight was definitely the National Museum. I think it would be better to call it an archaeological museum. It does an excellent job of informing about the history of the people from the Neolithic time and onward. Tiam has done some digs in Iran, and was a wealth of information about the different time periods and some of the pieces. I am still having problems uploading photos. When I can, I will show you one of the first ever animations drawn into a chalice. You spin the chalice and the deer jumps!

This afternoon I will rest and then we will leave early in the morning to fly to Shiraz!

 

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In Which I Wear Hijab

Your reading this will mean that I have successfully made it to Iran and found wifi. I am more worried about this second bit, though I will confess that nerves have fully set in (along with the excitement)! 

I am currently on the plane to Tehran after having met a lovely woman in the airport who showed me all of her photos of Yazd, a city I will be going to. We communicated in broken English and lots of oohs and ahhs. She was quite excited that this is my first time in Iran…and my first hijab experience. 

Speaking of hijab, I will look like I am wearing a blanket on my head compared to all of the other women in their stylish scarves. I look forward to mastering the art of wearing it, but I also am certain I will be glad to remove it. Most of the women on this flight are not wearing it. Should be interesting to see the frenzy as we all put them on before landing.

Now, the adventure truly begins. To all of you who love me in spite of my so called insanity, who have supported me even when you sometimes had to fake it, I am eternally grateful. And I promise that I will be safe, careful, and respectful of Iranian laws and customs. 

Dubai Airport – Whoa. 

I have reached Dubai. 14.5 hours on one flight alone. I recall recently posting about how much I love flying. I really should go back and modify that post to include the caveat that the flight should not be over 4 hours. 🙂

But in all seriousness, it could have been worse, Emirates food was decent, the entertainment system expansive, and there was nobody in the seat next to me!

So, here I am in the Dubai airport. I have been here less than 30 minutes but I am already in awe. Going up a massive escalator to get to my terminal, I felt like I was in a ridiculously massive and fancy shopping mall, with palm trees, and the Call to Prayer. The toilet stalls all have a place to wash your feet. The bathrooms are immaculate. I think I should enjoy that while I can. Ha! I have also seen more than one sign advertising “green” and “organic” food/goods/experiences. Do they not realize that this city is built on a desert???

Ok…too tired to write more. This will have to do you for now!
Still have 6 or so hours to go until Tehran…all in the name of adventure!

   
 

Miss Me Miss Me, Now you Gotta Kiss Me

When I was a kid going to camp during the summer, I would ardently demand that my parents not eat spaghetti while I was gone. You see, spaghetti was my favorite meal, and what would I do if my parents ate it without me?! It is as if I thought I’d never get the chance to eat spaghetti again. As soon as I got home, I was so excited to get to eat it again.

(Note: Today, I hope my parents DID eat spaghetti without me, just to spite me.)

In College, when I came back from my year studying in Northern Ireland, I came back to not just one new class of Freshmen, but a class of Sophomores who I had not met. My friends had all had their own adventures together, and in a way, I was an outsider.

I am only two more sleeps until my trip to Iran, and I am fully aware of all of the things I’m going to miss while I am gone. In fact, I’ve been spending some time specifically considering all of these things. I will miss early Spring in Portland, one of the most beautiful and happy of all of the Pacific NW seasons. There will be events, dinner parties, birthdays, and work events, all of which will occur without me. (How dare they…).

Travel is a choice. The experiences that I will have are unique, and I’m so excited to be going. But, I’m also glad that I know there are things I will be missing here. It’ll make coming home so much easier, it sure did make the spaghetti taste all the better as a child.

Iran Itinerary

With my trip just over 3 weeks away, some friends have been inquiring about my actual itinerary, so I thought I’d share with you all! I’ll post updates from each city as I am able (depending on wi-fi connection and such), but here’s a general introduction to what I’ll be up to!

Day 1: Tehran
Most international flights come and go from Tehran, but most tourists don’t stay in Tehran for long. We’ll be there for just one night, spending our time visiting the Iranian Jewel Museum, shopping at a Bazaar, and going to the National Museum. From what I’ve read, visiting Tehran is a little bit like going to Dallas. Not much to speak of. Though I’m kind of looking forward to the Iranian Jewel Museum with items dating back to the 1500’s!

Day 2 & 3: Shiraz
We’ll take short flight to Shiraz that morning where we’ll spend two nights. Shiraz was the Capital of Persia 250 years ago, so we’ll be visiting the Zand Complex including a grand citadel and palace with walls at 15 meters high, it looks like a fortress from the outside.

On our second day in Shiraz, we’ll head out to Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the empire until about 330 B.C.E. The city was sacked and burned by Alexander the Great, for which many Persians have never forgiven him. You can still see some of the epic statues and carving though. We’ll also go to Naqsh-e Rustam, a necropolis holding the tombs of the great Achaemenid Kings including Daris I, Xerxes I, Artaxeres I, and others. If you’re familiar with the Old Testament, these names will ring a bell. We’ll also see the tomb of Hafez, in central Shiraz, Hafez being a celebrated 14th century poet in the Persian culture. I’ve read much of his work, it’s simply stunning.

Day 4, 5, and 6: Kerman
We’ll be driving to Kerman where we’ll experience a bit more of the desert culture of Iran. Here I’ll finally get to see some of the ancient Zoroastrian fire temples and burial mounds that I learned about in Graduate School. This is much of why I wanted to go to Iran in the first place. Zoroastrianism played a large role in Judaism and Christianity, so in a way it’s connecting me to my roots.

We’ll also take a day trip to Mahan, a center of culture for Sufi’s, and we’ll spend time in a famous garden which will be a great contrast to the desert surroundings.

Day 7: Zeinoddin
Zeinoddin is a 400 year old Caravansary that sits on the Old Silk Road, a major trade route between Asia and Europe. Caravansaries were built by the governments to help protect traders and soldiers. They were built approximately every 20-30 miles along the route. Not many survive today, and there are few that travelers can actually visit. The Zeinoddin Caravansary was restored and now allows travelers to experience the Silk Road very similarly to how the caravan travelers would have.

Day 8 and 9: Yazd
Another major Zoroastrian city, Yazd has a history of over 5,000 years. Much of our time will be visiting Zoroastrian sites, but we’ll also see a historical Qanat, basically a method to transport water that was developed around 1,000 BCE. We’ll visit the Masjed-e Jameh mosque which was built in the 15th century and has one of the tallest portal entrances in Iran.

We also get a free day in Yazd, though of course I will have to have my guide with me. At this point, I haven’t decided what I want to use this day for, I think I’ll probably plan a couple of things but leave it mostly open to see where the wind blows.

Day 10, 11, and 12: Isfahan
Isfahan was one of the largest cities in the world for about 700 years and is know as “Half the World.” There, we’ll visit the World UNESCO Site Naghsh-e Jahan Square, an example of Iranian and Islamic architecture. We’ll see a royal mosque and spend some time in an Armenian section of Iran, which should be very interesting after visiting both Islamic and Zoroastrian cultural sites. We’ll also get some leisure time, for shopping and what not.

The tour actually will continue without me from there, but as I only have 12 days, my tour guide will drive me back to Tehran where I will fly to Dubai and spend a couple of days visiting friends, learning about the UAE, and relaxing on the beach. I think it’ll be an excellent way to end my journey!

 

 

What to Read Before a Journey

When taking an international trip, I spend a lot of time preparing myself, physically and emotionally, by reading a variety of books about or set in said country. Here are the types of books that I typically read prior to a journey.

Travel Guides
I always begin with travel guides, but the difficult part is deciding which travel guide to choose from. Lonely Planet, National Geographic, Rick Steves, Rough Guides, Frommers and many more! Don’t just buy what’s at your local book store simply because it’s there, you can spend a lot of money on information that is free online or difficult to navigate. After purchasing more than a couple of travel books from a variety of Publishers, here are my top publishers:

Lonely Planet: This is by far my favorite, and it’s the easiest to find in your local book store. I think they do an excellent job of laying out information in an easy to read and interesting manner. My least favorite is by Bradt. I find the information is dense, doesn’t intrigue, and is generally more tedious to read. Before you buy any travel books, be sure to check out your local library. I found the Iran Lonely Planet there, saved myself $20.

In addition to tradition travel guides, keep your eye out for cultural and language guides. I’m currently reading a well written cultural guide to Iran published by Culture Smart Guides. Remember, even if you’re going to an English speaking country, the culture can still be quite different than our own!

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Who has time for work with all of these books?!?

Historical Fiction
Reading fiction stories set in your destination country can help understand a culture and ignite your imagination. Prior to my trip to Turkey, I read a number of entertaining stories by Jason Goodwin, setting the stage of the Ottoman Empire and the age of the Sultans. I read “The Persian Boy” about Alexander the Great’s time in Persia in preparation for my upcoming trip to Iran. To find a good historical fiction set in a particular country, just do some googling (and let me know if you need help!).

Non-Fiction
Non-fiction is an especially good way to understand more about the political situation in a certain country. For Iran, I’ve already read “Jasmine and Stars: Reading More than Lolita in Tehran” as well as “Iran Awakening.” I’m also currently reading a couple of memoirs written by women (modern and not) who have lived and traveled in the Middle East. I’ve learned a lot about the current political setting as well as some history of how we got where we are now. And, I’ve been inspired by the people who have traveled before me. Again, a good Google search will be a great source of suggested books.

Culturally Important Books
Last, but certainly not least, I try to read books or stories that have cultural significance for the locals. Reading books that they love and admire can give you a great window into the culture. For example, in Iran I’m reading the Shahnameh, or Book of Kings. It is the National Epic Story of the Iranian people, detailing the historic (and non-historic) link between the early Zoroastrians and the Muslim conquest and subsequent rule. I’m also reading Hafez, an Iranian poet who is beloved by Iranians. I’ll even be going to his tomb while I’m there.

Reading prior to a trip is a great way of traveling long before your actual trip takes place. It helps mentally gear you up while teaching and entertaining you at the same time.

Self Care on the Journey

I’m a pro when it comes to deliberately finding time for self-care…when I’m at home in my comfort zone. Bubble baths, a relatively strict social calendar (social one night means alone the next, etc.) and recognizing what my body needs is my norm.

While traveling, we are literally in a whole new world. The time zone is different, the food is different, our bed is strange, and we’re surrounded by people who often don’t speak our language. Our routines get thrown out the window. And, if you’re anything like me, you’re trying to do and see as much as humanly possible. It’s a recipe for exhaustion. Here are some tips for how to keep your sanity, and take care of yourself!

Pack a small treat for yourself

One of the people I met in the hostel in Istanbul had brought a small pack of Mint Milanos, which he kindly shared with a small group of us. It was not only fun to watch our new German and French friends taste this delightful cookie, but it was also a nice reminder of home. From now on, I’ll be packing some small comfort food. Sometimes a tea bag or a favorite chocolate bar is all you need to bring you home for just a moment.

Mini Mint Milanos!

Bet you didn’t know that Mini Mint Milanos Existed! NOM NOM NOM

Keep yourself organized

Living out of a suitcase, no matter how big or small, can be tricky. I always start out with great expectations to keep everything in its place, make sure I know exactly where everything is, and not make a mess of my room. I always fail. I get back to the hostel or the hotel room, usually exhausted, or focused on socializing, that everything gets tossed in. So once a week, while abroad, I make sure to tidy up. It takes about 10 minutes and saves me a lot of anxiety the rest of the week. This is also a good time to wash any clothes that are getting a little stinky, if necessary. Feeling clean is also important!

Stay inside for a day

Sometimes, the greatest give you can give yourself is a break. Put your feet up, read a book, drink tea, and well, do as little as possible. It’s okay to take a day off and not see things. If you don’t see everything, which is impossible anyways, you’ll be fine. It’s okay to even miss the “must see” places! On my very last day in Turkey, I was utterly exhausted and sick of getting harassed by the salesmen. I couldn’t imagine the idea of trying to find my way around the winding streets to see another (probably fabulous) mural or piece of history. So instead, I stayed in the hostel, almost the entire day. I read a book and slept. It was glorious. Do I regret not going to tour more? Not even a little bit.

Connect with your roots

Even though you may be thousands of miles away, we are fortunate to live in a time of technology, when it’s easy to reach out to the people who know you and love you the most. I have a friend who was recently traveling in India for a couple of weeks and found herself overwhelmed, exhausted, and homesick. She posted on Facebook that she needed some love, support, and permission for self care even though she felt like she *should* be out exploring. Her friends came to her rescue and encouraged, reminded her that she’s not the first person to have this feeling, and gave her the permission she needed to rest.

No matter if you are gone for one week or 5, remembering to take care of yourself will go a long way in helping you enjoy your journey.

For the Love of Flying

There’s very little doubt about it, flying has become one of the most stressful experiences for those of us in first world countries. Seats are smaller, lines are longer, prices are higher. But even now, flying home for Christmas, I am reminded why I love flying. 

Perspective. Sometimes we need to see the world differently, literally. That can mean noticing the smallest details close up to distantly experiencing that which surrounds us every day. On a plane, it is this second perspective which is illuminated. The countryside appears as blocks of color, dotted with tiny buildings. Green, yellow, red, the source of our life. One sees a city in the full expanse of its existence. Not just a few buildings on a block, but an entire network of structures, working together. Flying into Seattle today, I saw the Space Needle and the Experience Music Museum, encompassed by their surroundings, no longer single entities, but part of a whole.

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The Sweet Grass Hills, Montana. This is home.

Time to do nothing. While flying, we literally have to disconnect. Yes, we have our iPads with our books, and our games, but we no longer have Facebook, endless web surfing, or emails. This is probably my favorite part of flying. Just sitting. Just being. I so rarely give myself time to do this in my everyday life. I don’t know why. I blame Netflix, I am, after all, a champion binge watcher. I don’t meditate, and yet I believe that it is necessary and good. I use my time in the air to just sit with my thoughts, so let them flow by like the land and water below. 

The anticipation of arrival. Anticipation is a double edged sword. It feels wonderful to be excited about something, but it can often feel miserable. Time can drag and we can suffer in our waiting. But with practice, anticipation can be a peaceful and calming experience. It’s a time to dream and hope for what is to come when the plane lands. 

My recommendation to those of you who get stressed out when flying is this: slow down. Give yourself time to move slowly and to enjoy the act of simply watching. It will take some practice, and even the best of us get frustrated and antsy sometimes, but with time you will begin to enjoy the process.

How to Pack – Part 2 of 2

In my last post, I reviewed what to consider when packing for a trip – weather, activities, and social expectations. Let’s get into some specifics. All of the recommendations below are items I have personally tried, except when noted. Also, I’m (sadly) not getting paid by any of these brands…but they can offer any time and I’d probably accept!

Shoes

Choosing shoes for travel is, in my opinion, the hardest pre trip choice you’ll have to make. I generally don’t recommend brining more than 2 pairs of shoes on any trip, unless it’s longer than 2-3 weeks. Not including flip flops if you’re staying in a hostel.

Unless you’re a complete fashionista, I generally recommend a pair of every day walking shoes and then if you plan on any hiking, then a pair of hiking shoes. Of course, you need to consider your activities. If you plan on a nice dinner out, then a pair of ballet slippers will generally fit into any size suitcase, but they’re not great for lots of walking around in.

I can’t recommend enough the Keen Sienna MJ Canvas shoes. They were my primary shoe in Turkey, and not only did I walk around Istanbul’s cobble stone streets in them, I hiked in the Cappadocian hills and never once had any foot fatigue. They do get a little stinky, so when I got home I used some baby powder in them. I now have 3 pairs…one for getting wet and dirty, and two in different colors for every day use.

Keens at the Beach

My Keens and I at the Oregon Coast

Base Layers

I’m allergic to the cold. You think I’m joking? I wish. I have a fairly rare condition called cold induced urticaria. Not only is it annoying, it can also be somewhat life threatening. As a kid, my only option for layering were those waffle long johns that I think were meant for sleeping in. They usually made me sweat too much, and I felt pretty ridiculous with them under all of my clothes. For a while as a poor graduate student, I bought leggings from Target or Ross, but they always seemed to pill or bulk up under my jeans.

Fortunately, I eventually found much better options. There are many types of base layers now, and what you decide to buy will depend on your activity as well as your budget. I really like Winter Silk’s long underwear. They come in different weights aren aren’t bulky, so won’t take up much room in your luggage.

Day Bags

For safety, I recommend cross body bags or backpacks. Shoulder bags and clutches are too easy to steal or lose along the way.

For cross body bags, be sure to get one that zips closed, it’ll be much harder for pick pockets to access. I purchased the Ogio Tablet Purse for my trip to Turkey because of the padded section for my ipad and the hidden pocket for my passport. It also has a long, thick strap that can be both cross body and over the shoulder. I loved it so much that I continue to use it to this day, and I constantly get compliments on it.

I also brought a small backpack because purses tend to hurt my back after too long. I can’t emphasize *small* enough – bringing a big backpack can be just as bad for your back if it gets too heavy. Mine was actually a small camelback style bag without the bladder in it. Here I am in it in the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul!

Hagia Sophia Cat

Luggage

I recently heard that airlines were considering making the allowed carry on size smaller, which makes me think that luggage manufacturers are in on the deal since they know everybody will have to buy new bags. I did a TON of research on carry on bags because I prefer not to check luggage if I can get away with it. This ensures I won’t bring too much stuff and what I do bring won’t get lost somewhere along the way.

I love my Osprey Porter 46. It is the largest size carry on allowed by most major airlines. I especially wanted something that opens on the side as opposed to the top. I find traditional backpacks to be frustrating when you’re looking for something towards the bottom of the bag. Interestingly, it looks like they have updated it since I purchased mine. It now has an organization panel which is kind of interesting.

How to Pack – Part 1 of 2

Being accepted to study for a year at Queens University under an exchange program at my undergrad college was probably the highlight of my youth. Packing for said trip, however, was my downfall. I don’t remember exactly what I brought with me, but I know it involved two large suitcases, a trunk, and two carry ons. I looked ridiculous pushing all of that luggage on a cart through Heathrow, transferring to a domestic flight.

In retrospect, brining that much stuff was absolutely overkill, even for a 10 month trip.
To be fair, I had never been a really great packer. At the end of every year of college, I would pack all of my stuff until the following year. Most would be stored at my best friend’s house, the rest would be shipped home with me to Oregon and then back again at the beginning of the next year. Inevitably, after my best try at packing, my best friend would come in and redo the entire job for me. She always managed to get more stuff into less space.
Packing for a 1-2 week trip (or even 3) is admittedly much easier than packing up your life every 4 months, but it’s still a challenge.  There are a lot of things one needs to factor in such as weather, activities, and social expectations.
Let’s break that down a bit.
Weather
Yes, weather is unpredictable, but you can at least try to anticipate what you’re going to need. Clearly, if your destination is warm, you don’t need as many layers for warmth. However, if you anticipate rain or snow, it’s important to bring layers. I’m a fan of base layers because they aren’t bulky to pack. Sometimes, you just get stuck in bad weather. When I was in Istanbul, my friends and I were drenched in a sudden downpour as we made our way to the Chora Church outside of the city center. Of course, right at that moment, the price of umbrellas soared, so we just got wet and dealt with it. If we had foreseen rain for the next few days, of course we would’ve paid the price.
Activities
Unless you’re just going to the beach to lay out and relax, you’re probably going to be doing a mix of activities. This can sometimes make packing a challenge as you want to be properly attired for different scenarios. When I went to Turkey, I knew I’d be doing a whole lot of walking around the city, but I also wanted to be prepared for a nice dinner out. So I brought a dress that was on the casual side but could be dressed up with a simple necklace and earrings. Shoes were the hardest for me because comfortable shoes that are also not dowdy can be hard to find. Shoes also take up a lot of space in your luggage, so you don’t want to overdo it there. It took some time, but I settled on a pair of keens (see next post for more info). The only thing I didn’t factor in, because I didn’t expect it, was hiking. Fortunately my keens worked out, but a good pair of tennis shoes would’ve been better.
Sadly, this sign exists because people are stupid.
Embed from Getty Images
Social Expectations
This is something that women need to consider more often than men, but that doesn’t mean men should just wear whatever they want. I feel that it’s best to blend in with the culture as much as possible, especially in more conservative countries. It’ll be important for you to do your research, and I recommend reading travel books and using google. For example, for men and women, wearing shorts for just walking around is not acceptable in Indonesia. Just a quick google search came up with these suggestions.  Does this mean that I always 100% follow the social norm? No, but sometimes I regret it. For example, when I was in Istanbul, I brought a dress that showed my shoulders. It definitely brought me some unwanted attention. I might’ve gotten that attention anyways, but it made me feel a bit more visible than I would’ve liked to be.
In the next post, I’ll focus more on specific gear that you should/shouldn’t bring and how to pack.