Meaning The Door of the Mountain in Farsi, Daraband is an area in the North of Tehran, in Shemiran, at the base of the Tochal Mountain. The place is actually a trail, a hike up, filled with restaurants, cafes, shisha places, small shops selling dried fruits and sweets.

Sweets variety made of dried fruit, including lavashak in Damavand
Sweets variety made of dried fruit, including lavashak in Damavand

There were two things that impressed me about this elevated place, with super fresh air: the way the restaurants were built on the two sides of a narrow valley which is the trail, some having over ten floors and the incredible amount and diversity of flowers.

No scent can compete with these beautiful flowers
No scent can compete with these beautiful flowers

We had dinner at Baghe Behesht, one of the restaurants having hundreds of lights shining in the night and thousands of flowers that probably need an army of people to take care of them.

No scent can compete with these beautiful flowers
No scent can compete with these beautiful flowers

In order to get to the tables we climb some four floors. All floors are narrow and have view to the valley, which makes it pretty unique. We are joking that they can afford to have the place like this as alcohol is not sold.

Myself on the 7th floor of one restaurant in Damavand
Myself on the 7th floor of one restaurant in Damavand

Probably this way of building according to the high terrain is not unique to this place, as I remember in my crazily curvy ride to Dizin, through the mountains in the Karaj Province, that I saw don in the valleys, mini palaces like these. Actually, all of them look like palaces with towers and wide terraces.

Actually this area is the place for princes, queens, shahs and other royals. The Saad Abad Palace (Green Palace) and The Niavaran Palace are nearby. Of the Shemiran area Farah Pahlavi, the former Queen of Iran, until the 1979 Revolution, wrote in her book Memoirs:

 

“[…] the biggest happiness of my childhood was to run from Tehran to Shemiran during summers, on the ridges of the Alborz Mountains. […]

Now Shemiran is a rich and desired neighborhood in the North of Tehran; when I was a child, it was a charming small village, twelve kilometers from the center of the city at a height of 1800 meters. […]

There, vendors offered us sticks, baked corn, green nuts, all kinds of sweets and sugar products and, of course, ice cream, that we were allowed to eat at least once.[…]

 I loved to death the road that was curving through the giant plane trees and the yellow roses that our mothers used to pick to make jam.[…]

At Shemiran, the nights were charming. (oh, I can definitely agree on that)

Delicious trout at Baghe Behesht
Delicious trout at Baghe Behesht

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The Reza Great Bazaar in Tehran

The Tehran Bazaar is located in District 12 of Tehran at a less than 10 minute walk from The Golestan Place. Like any other bazaar, be it Istanbul, Muscat or Shiraz, this one makes it so simple to get lost through the hundreds of small alleys cramming towards and from all directions, filled with tens of types of nuts and dried fruits and spices.

Tea, dried herbs and dried fruit
Tea, dried herbs and dried fruit

People are extremely friendly in Iran all over the places where I’ve been and they are eager to talk to foreigners even if they don’t really speak their language, they are willing to help the best they can, show you around or just say Hello. Actually, I was really impressed in a crowded intersection of Tehran, that a man with his car window opened, who was looking at us for a while, at the moment I looked at him he said “Welcome to our country” with such a genuine and calm voice. How often do we do that when we meet foreigners in our countries?

Dried fruit, nuts, tea, spices in the food section of Reza Grand Bazaar
Dried fruit, nuts, tea, spices in the food section of Reza Grand Bazaar

The Reza Great Bazaar, as it is also called, or simply The Great Bazaar, is colorful and pulsing with energy of all the women rushing to buy what they need for the household, men trying to sell things, carrying merchandise from one place to another. Of course, there are also other bazaars in Tehran and maybe the second most popular is the Tajrish Bazaar, in the Tajrish area, which used to be a village, but got swollen by the city.

Fabrics presentation at the entrance of the Tehran Grand Bazaar
Fabrics presentation at the entrance of the Tehran Grand Bazaar

Carpets, fabrics, plastic items, teas, spices, meat all find their buyers here in this huge bazaar serving the 8 million people of Tehran, without including the other 7 million of the outer Tehran. Everybody sells something: scarfs – a must for all females in Iran, music instruments, small trinkets for kids, pajamas, from pistachios to furniture, from jewelry to pots, from rose water to cleaning products, everything first arrives here before being sold elsewhere in Tehran.

Vendors having birds guess your luck by picking a pink or yellow ticket from a box, police men trying to restore the order when the crowd gets out of control.

Moslem’s Restaurant

There are also cafes and restaurants, but no restaurant is as famous as Moslem’s Restaurant, located in the food section of the Bazaar.

Moslem's Restaurant, advertised in green and red neons
Moslem’s Restaurant, advertised in green and red neons

Moslem’s Restaurant serves very traditional place and is a successful business of almost 20 years. We were actually in the location to eat, but had no idea because the restaurant extended and opened a new salon. I knew how it was supposed to look so I asked the gentlemen to show me Moslem’s Restaurant, yet he was insisting that was it. Seeing how I’m not convinced, he kept saying “new salon” in Arabic (probably the same in Farsi) and he had to repeat a few good times until I finally understood.

The new salon of Moslem's Restaurant in Tehran
The new salon of Moslem’s Restaurant in Tehran

It’s understandable why they needed a new salon – the demand is so high. They serve over 5000 people every day.

Organized as a fast food, everything goes very fast, first you pay and then you take your seat, the waiter takes your receipt and the food will be served in less than 5 minutes.

The portions are huge, but I managed to eat one that was supposed to be for two persons.

Portion for two at the popular Moslem's Restaurant in Reza Grand Bazaar
Portion for two at the popular Moslem’s Restaurant in Reza Grand Bazaar

So what did I have? Lamb with rice. In Iran, though, lamb is cooked deliciously and the rice comes as a rice cake. It is called tahchin and it’s a yellow rice cake, crispy on the outside and softer on the inside, cooked with yoghurt and egg also and sprinkled with barberries (called zereshk) and saffron.

Hungry in the new salon of Moslem's Restaurant in Tehran
Hungry in the new salon of Moslem’s Restaurant in Tehran

 

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Cool decoration at Baghe Saba
Cool decoration at Baghe Saba

The first thing I do when I find out I will visit a new place is research. A little bit of everything. Museums, landmarks, top restaurants, posh café, something specific, shows, anything goes.

So, I had a list of 5 upscale restaurants in Tehran including Divan (up North), Nayeb (established in 1964, also up North), Baghe Saba Traditional Tea House (Shariati Street), Moslem’s Restaurant (in Tehran Great Bazaar), Lidoma Dining & Jazz Lounge (private, good for caviar lovers).

Baghe Saba Traditional Tea House on Shariati Street, Tehran
Baghe Saba Traditional Tea House on Shariati Street, Tehran

Like many other cities, the North of Tehran is the place to be, is the place where above average people live, where houses cost 5 times the price of the ones in the South, where the international brands have their stores and where fine restaurants are located.

We took a cab for around 20 minutes and paid something around $2.5 for four and finally reached the famous Baghe Saba Traditional Tea House. The entrance is pretty narrow and hidden, but the place is actually two floors down. First floor down is the café, which is a little smaller and the restaurant is one floor down.

First thing we noticed is that nobody speaks English and they don’t have most of the items from the menu, but we were not there for the food itself, but for the experience. There are no tables at the area for larger groups/families, as the restaurant keeps the tradition of eating on the floor, on nicely decorated (guess) Persian Carpets or some of the areas have sort of coffee, low tables.

Decorations at Baghe Saba Traditional Tea House
Decorations at Baghe Saba Traditional Tea House

As per local tradition, we were brought welcome plates with different goodies such as dried dates, sweets, biscuits and crystallized sugar. Also, plates of green leaves including green onions, fresh mint, green basil and cheese. The greenish glass decanter holds no wine, obviously, but ayran (or laban), which is more watery and saltier than what I’m used with in the other neighboring countries.

Our dinner welcome goodies at Baghe Saba Restaurant
Our dinner welcome goodies at Baghe Saba Restaurant

The traditional tea house looks like a museum: the ceiling is sculpted in the muqarnas style, decorated with gold, blue and green borders, the chandeliers are in red and blue and each eating place looks like a spot for a king and queen, with decorations in precious wood, paintings on tiles, walls or canvas, tens of oriental patterns pillows of all sizes and shapes and we are sitting on authentic Persian carpets.

Walls of Baghe Saba Traditional Restaurant
Walls of Baghe Saba Traditional Restaurant

Meanwhile, we are invited for the opened buffet for the salad and appetizers, where we can choose for some 15 types of salads, both international and traditional and around 5 to 6 local hot dishes. I did some research on the food and I go to Persian restaurants (especially in Muscat and Doha, but also in Bucharest) every now and then, but I was not quite sure what everything was. As a general rule, the diversity is not great in Iran, but the food is delicious and the ingredients are fresh and nothing about GMF. Mostly, it is about kebabs and rice with saffron and barberry (traditional, sun dried red berries, similar to goji).

Kebab koobideh, grilled onions, rice with turmeric, a feast of senses
Kebab koobideh, grilled onions, rice with turmeric, a feast of senses

The décor is completed by the colorful locally made lamps, between the food items and the napkin boxes decorated in Khatam, the precious inlaying technique dating from Ancient times of Persia.

There are tables for two or three, made of wood with colorful tiles surface. Each centimeter of the place is inspired of the Persian Art, the Islamic traditions (there are religious quotes in Arabic, small fountains in some of the snugs), Iranian landmarks (mirror work inspired from different royal palaces).

Reading the menu in Farsi
Reading the menu in Farsi

The band starts to playing traditional songs around 8 or 9 PM, only to complete the surreal and going back in time feeling of the place. This type of cafes, were frequented by men only, who would gather to talk about great ideas, recite poetry and drink tea, obviously.

Our table
Our table

Read here the second part of the story:

Venice Fantasy – Just Art and Feeling

The two days I spent in Venice were all about fantasy, my own fantasy. I walked around with a mask although the Carnival is over, I went by myself to fancy restaurants, drank Aperol Spritz (Spritzer, the orange one) to-go, talked to some very interesting people, got – as usual – my fair share of free stuff, took my very first gondola ride through the canals thinking of the Sarah Dunnant’s In the Company of the Courtesan which I left on the night stand when I moved from my second floor room to the Middle East.

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March 29th, preparing for Venice

Some people you spend days with and then forget they exist. But all of a sudden they reappear in your life and fill it with joy.

How I get rid of crew – I tell them I’m going to the museum.

Plan for Venice sightseeing done! It’s 7 PM and I’m ready to shut down – I did wake up at 4 AM after all. And tomorrow I’ll get up a little earlier than 3 AM. Flight attendant life!

 

March 31st, 4 PM

I have prepared almost the whole month for this trip – selecting my outfit that I’m so proud of, looking for things to do. March was a tough month for me with long flights and short layovers – Berlin, Hangzhou, Perth, Manchester – so this long Venice was like a breath of fresh air at the end of the month.

It’s almost spring and I chose to wear kilted black boots, a sky blue sweater, black pants and the colorful Berber motifs long blazer which I bought from Beirut, the blanket size blue cotton scarf and the green purse with the happy elephant hanging from the handle. I’m all set and I picked the outfit especially for Venice.

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On the train from Qarto d’Altino (East Venice) to Venezia St. Lucia. At some point there’s only water on both sides of the rail and the land is only as wide to support the train. It reminds me of Sylt, an high end island in North Germany where I went for a detox program a few years ago. To arrive to the island – one hour ride by train, even for the cars – we had the same view. In that trip was the very first time when I started writing about what I was experiencing.

One of the most touching moments of my traveler life was when I stepped outside the station in Venice. I was simply shocked of the beauty of the place in front of my eyes. By know I have seen so many places, but few compare with Venice. The canal right in front of the station, and beautiful palaces with arched windows and gondolas with gondoliers wearing blue and white stripes and hats with navy blue ribbon.

I don’t know what my purpose in life is, but I want to live one month in Venice. Besides that month in Buenos Aires and few others in South-East Asia. Yes, I want to travel all my life.

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First of all, I booked a gondola ride (30E) from the booth in front of the station and bought a map (3E – yes, nothing’s for free in Venice). Since I was supposed to meet with the gondoliers in Campo S. Luca, I started walking by the Grand Canal on the same side of the station.

The city is simply thrilling, with or without the prosecco and to-go Aperol Spritz that I had. I hopped here and there, having huge slices of pizza, or classy tagliata di manzo con rucola e parmigiano, but never gave up the prosecco.

The paths/streets are narrow and odd, a true real life labyrinth. Sometimes you could think they all look the same or get lost. Besides, don’t rely too much on Google Maps as the signal is quite low because of the tall buildings and narrow streets. It’s also tricky and makes your brain work more than normal, because getting to a parallel street might mean you need to walk 5 other streets otherwise you either reach a dead end or the canals and you cannot walk right by the water.

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Lucky as always, today it’s a beautiful day, the last of March and I’m walking and walking with my Lebanese robe, stunned at the beauty of the city, munching on a Pescatore al Pistacchio – so beautifully matching the robe and my green purse, admiring the sweets displayed in the windows, the colorful pasta for sale, the navy hats, the flowers in front of each door and window, the street indicators, the gondoliers talking on the phone or shouting at each other, talking with each other as they row, pushing the gondola from the wall with their leg against the walls, the so Italian clothes hanging on a rope, the Borsalino hats, the round windows by the canals, the flying Lion of Venice, the pigeons, the lofty gondolas in gold and black or gold and red, the tourists, the boats distributing supplies from toilet paper to rare wines to the restaurants by the canal, the wooden poles keeping the gondolas parked perpendicular to the buildings, the columns, the arches, the decorations, the colors, the Italian spirit and the vibes, the elaborate masks, the art, the mystery of the city, the Murano glass shops. Water and beauty!

IMG_7500

After I reached the meeting point for the gondola ride, I did not use the map or asked people around. Because Venice is a place where you need to get lost. Besides, I love to get lost, to see what I attract. So this time it was:

  • Bacaro Jazz bar, a normal bar unless the whole ceiling would not be covered by bras of all colors, shapes and sizes. Here, I stepped in wearing my mask and robe, asking if I could take some pictures and ended up being there for almost two hours, either talking to the bartender (who prepared a complimentary amazing Spritzer for me, adding a garnish with cucumber, olives and cherry tomatoes) or talking to myself while listening to Frank Sinatra’s Don’t Take Your Love From Me and When Your Love Has Gone
  • I’m wondering how the other solo female travelers are, cause I know I’m weird.
  • Jewish neighborhood where some pubs were still opened at midnight, they offer Kosher ice cream and Kosher pizza and where I met one Arabic restaurant owner and a Moldavian bartender
  • A Somali smoking in the garden of the restaurant where I had dinner asking me some naughty things;
  • A senior and very Italian restaurant – Trattoria da Bepi – owner by Guglie Bridge being over friendly, but pleasant and fun. A street entertainer singing Oci Ciornie and me singing long the lyrics. Met with him a few hours later, towards them morning in the train station where here recognized me after my…mask;
  • The amazing cocktails at Frulala made with spirits and fresh fruit juice, tasting absolutely amazing. How did I not think about this before?
  • One whole restaurant – Trattoria Alla Palazzina – staring at me have dinner with my robe and mask on in my own fantasy.

Of course, I did not miss the Piazza San Marco, the stunning Basilica di San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale, the Campanile Tower and the sunset by the Canal. I did not visit the interior of any of the above, but it’s on my list. Because I chose to spend my second day in a modern art environment and where better to go than the Peggy Guggenheim Collection – an oasis of calm and art, the former home of the American socialite in Venice.

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And you know what? I make my own rules when I travel. If I want to see a museum or palace I see it, but if I don’t who says I need to kill myself looking at something I know I won’t like? On the other hand, if I want to look at one painting two hours, that’s what I will do. Simple as that, make your own rules. I make my own! Why? Because it makes me happy!

When I reached Piazza San Marco, I thought it’s the most beautiful place on Earth, really. The narrow streets are so charming, that I cannot know how to see more, how to express my joy. As a child I absolutely loved secret paths, mysterious labyrinth so I think this is a good place for kids.

By now I’m wearing the gold mask I bought (prices between 2,5E and a few thousands of E, depending on your budget). I walk boldly and mind my own business, alone. I am fascinating for men over…a certain age. Young men will never understand me.

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One thing that caught my attention was the people asking me why I wear the mask, they looked strange at me, one said I have horns. How judgmental is this human race if, even in Venice, people judge you because you wear…a mask. In Venice?

Someone is playing Andrea Bocelli’s Con Te Partiro at the accordion and another day is over on the canals of Venice.