21 days to go

The message from my local Iranian travel agent reads:

“Would you please inform me your favorite accommodation place and also the limitations that you may have throughout the trip, so I can provide you with what you want as much as it is possible.

In fact, the 4* and 5* hotels have king size beds, so it may cost you more expensive. What about slepping on matress, is it comfortable for you?

Please share your ideas and suggestions with me.

Have a nice day

Parisa”

Suddenly it dawns on me that I might need to rethink my assumptions about travelling in Iran. Alarmed, I hit “Close” and took a breath. The question pf whether hotels in Iran had beds with mattresses would have to wait.

Currently, I am in the grip of Visa Fever. Time is running out, and I don’t feel comfortable dispatching my precious passport to exotic Embassies. The current challenge is to ascertain whether the Syrian Embassy will allow me to breeze in and be issued with a visa over the counter. Stern warnings on the Embassy website warn travellers not to bother expecting less than a 7 day turnaround if the passport is unaccompanied and, God forgive you if you ring to inquire as to its whereabouts. They don’t go as far as saying they would slide your little blue book down the bottom of the in-tray if your number came up on their caller ID, but it oozes from the page anyhow.

So far, I have received one reply from them – hurrah, they do issue visas over the counter! Perhaps foolishly I followed up with another question: when are you open and how long might I need to wait?

I need to travel to Canberra to collect my Iranian visa anyhow. Getting 2 in one day feels almost presumptuous. The Iranian process is quite a bit more mysterious than the Syrian one, which simply involves 2 forms, 2 photos, and some dosh. With Iran, a visitor must find someone willing to invite or sponsor you. Normally, my local travel agent would play that role but I got the ball rolling on the visa before we became fast friends. I applied through an agency recommended by Lonely Planet, and after signing up with Western Union to transfer cash to Turkey to pay the fee (apparently money, mail and goodness knows what else route through somewhere in Europe or the Middle East on their way to Iran), the plan is that my humble application makes its way to Tehran where it is considered and, hopefully, accepted. Acceptance occurs with the issuing of a magic number, which is then taken to the Iranian Embassy (one must wear a head scarf, both to the Embassy and in the photo) where the magic visa will appear. My selected agency informs me that 96% of all Australians who apply are granted visas. I didn’t ask how many have, in fact, applied. Perhaps I should have. I am still waiting on my number.

My mother worries about my plan to travel in the Middle East; the mention of Iran sends her into mild hysteria. My current strategy is to soothe her worries by promising to dispatch exotic carpets to her to stop the dogs from skidding down the hallway. Someone suggested to me I should have just pretended I was somewhere travelling somewhere else, but I’m a terrible liar. Frankly, she ought to be grateful that I am not going to Iraq (the northern, Kurdish region is meant to be gorgeous), and of course I toyed with it for about a week before one of my friend’s Kurdish parents suggested a woman travelling alone there may find it tough going.

But I had to deal with the mattress issue.

Turning to my trusty travel guides, the accommdation section revealed that, indeed, 2 star hotels are “very basic”…mattresses? Were matresses at least involved?? One guide explained that cleanliness in basic hotels can tend towards optional, with previous guests leaving behind hair on pillows…maybe 3-5 stars were more my style. Certainly, the question got me focussed: what WAS necessary in a hotel for me? My list:

* friendly staff who speak some English and will not react badly to a woman travelling alone
* double, queen or king bed for single use
* clean sheets, washed daily, with daily cleaning of the room
* private bathroom/shower with western toilet
* air conditioned
* electrical outlets to charge my phone, camera and laptop computer
* (if possible!) Wi Fi for my laptop

Parisa appreciated the detail, assured me that Iranians are very friendly and women travelling alone is no issue. The sign off from Parisa read “your friend”, which is very friendly indeed, especially since I don’t know if Parisa is a he or a she.

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