Just back from my second trip to Iran. My first time was 4 years ago and, since there, I was looking forward to come back again.
I left Italy on January 28th to Tehran where I spent a couple of full days. Tehran is not my cup of tea but there are still some interesting places to visit like the History museum and the Shaa's palaces. Then I flew to Mashaad, an important holy city in the Muslim Schii world. It was interesting to see pilgrims visit the holy Shrine of Imam Reza (not open to not Muslims).
>From Mashaad I went to Kashaan, a middle size city with an interesting bazaar and some historical typical houses really nice to visit (in this city I met also an American tourist visiting Iran for himself with a local guide since Americans are not allowed to visit Iran alone!). After that I went in Qom, another holy city with an important holy shrine (the grave of Fatima, the Imam Reza's daughter) that is also the place of the Iranian's religious power (I have been told that Qom is the Iranian's Vatican city) since it is the city where Komeini grew up and lived. Despite the fact that this holy shrine was supposed to be banned to not Muslims, it seems that nobody care much about that, so I decided, with all the respect for the holy site, to have a look inside. I did and I found a really impressive architecture, mirror mosaics everywhere in the shape of stalagmites and colorful tiles. Even the houses of Komeini was close to public but, starting to talk to the solders at the entrance about soccer (it seems to be the 6th pilaster of Islam!), he allow me to have a look in the courtyard.
Then I moved to Hamadam where a dear Iranian friend, that I met during my first trip to Iran, was waiting for me. I have enjoyed the proverbial Iranian hospitality for a week: I increased my weight of 3 kg!! Hamadan use to be the capital of Persia and is a good base to visit the interesting Ali sadr Caves, some old complex, the famous leon of Hamadan (dating back to Alexander the Great) and on important Jewish holy shrine with the grave of Ester (the wife of the king Serse I). While in Hamadan, an important religious celebration was on: the celebration of Imam Hossein martyrium in Karbala in the 7th century. It took 3 days in witch there was street celebrations and some historical theatric representations of the event. I have been invited in the village community lunch offered for the end of the celebration.
At the end of the week there I felt a bit sad to leave my friend's house and his warm family but I did. Before coming back to Italy I decided to spend 3 days in the city garden of Isfahan, the most touristic city in Iran with lots of interesting ancient palaces, gardens, bridges, mosques, old Armenian churches and the fabulous and colorful Imam Komeini Square. I flew back to Italy on February 18th after 3 interesting weeks in Iran.
Iranian are as welcoming and friendly as they was 4 years ago, I have never felt alone in the evening because, going in the teahouse or elsewhere, there was always someone interested to chat with me, inviting me somewhere and so on and I never felt unsafe there even during the well know facts about cartoons. Even during my last day in Iran I met people in the street greetings me with "Welcome in Iran, Mister", a typical phrases over there. I think that only the people that have been in Iran can understand me. Talking to the people, they can't understand why westerns are so scared to go to Iran (and actually me too), and it was so difficult for me explain why Iran (as a whole country and not just the government) has a so bud reputation in the western countries.
It is really shocking for me realize how much the power of television can manipulate the public opinion against a country (I mean the country itself and the people living there and not the government of that country) and get a so wrong idea about the people living there. For this reason I would promote a motto for The Travelzine that, actually, is a Persian proverb: "The distance between eyes and ears is just four fingers but the distance between listening and see with our eyes is infinite".
Ciao, Marco in Milan - Italy.