Tehran is roughly divided socially between the older, poorer and more conservative south part of the city where many of the old sights are and the newer, more liberal and wealthier northern part.
As an escape from the crazy driving, pollution and people it’s no wonder that the overthrown Shahs royal complex is situated up in the northern mountain foothills The Sad Abas complex gives an insight into the life of what was an absolute monarch until his overthrow and exile to the US in 1979.
Amazingly, given the tumult and chaos of the revolution, the royal sites were not ransacked or destroyed but left for posterity and possibly as something of a propaganda piece.
Indeed visitors are required to wear shoe covers for the Green House building. The décor is opulent in the extreme with European goods (Christian Dior curtains, Czech crystal, French Louis XIV furniture) while the main local contribution being enormous and beautiful Persian carpets.
The bedroom in the White Palace is completely covered with crystals, including the domed roof with large crystal staligtites.
In the smaller Green House the eclectic mix includes gifts of vases from Queen Elizabeth and Malachite ornaments from President Nixon. There was even a billiards room with a globe drinks cabinet – in all it gives the impression of an elite totally disconnected to those ruled over.
After all the royal excess it was time to check out something a little more laid back and local. Darband is a mountain areas which snakes by river where people come with friends to eat, smoke water pipes and hit the hiking trails up to the mountains.
Zipping down one of Tehrans Chinese-built new metro lines to the far South brought me to the cemetary of Beshest-e Zahra, the largest in the city.
It is here that hundreds of thousands of young men who died in the Iran-Iraq war are buried and the glass boxes with personal ornaments and the rows and rows of headstones with pictures of young men was a dark experience.
Facing the mechanised Iraqi army invasion, supplied and tacitly supported by the Soviets and US, the Iranians resorted to ‘human wave’ tactics of soldiers fanatically running through minefields to clear them, clutching their dogtags as their passport to paradise.
Up to a million men died in the 20th century’s longest running war and in the ultimate signature of futility the borders remained much as they were before.
Nearby is the mega-structure of Imam Khomenei shrine which was quite empty at Friday evening. An enormous complex with fast food joints and tourist shops it was intended as a good day out for the family rather than a sombre place.
Walking back in the dark through the cemetery I zipped up the metro line from southern terminus up to the very north on my way to a house party.
Earlier in the week I had met a Tehrani in the jewel museum and we got chatting about skiing and he kindly invited me along to a party he was hosting. In a plush apartment in North Tehran I met a friendly set of cosmopolitan and travelled Iranians which was a world away from the Iran I was in a couple of hours earlier.
It all finished up late after 2am and it was quite strange to see the women having to reapply the headscarf before heading out to the night. Suffice to say I was worse for wear on the way home in the taxi and my plans for a dry 3 weeks after carnival were in similarly bad shape!