Getting up at 6.30am on holidays was a complete gear change. I had arranged on CouchSurfing website to meet a local student, Ali, and his friends to go hiking in the mountains to the south of the city.
I found out from the group that they caught up regularly to practice German so I had sidetracked that somewhat!
It was fantastic to get a chance to meet and chat with young Iranians, some studying, some working and others applying for overseas courses in Germany. A whopping 60% of the population is below 30 and a good proportion are highly educated with women outnumbering men in universities.
The cause of this baby boom happened after the massive loss of young men in the Iran-Iraq war where there was a religious call to have more babies. As this generation comes of age it remains to be seen whether the current religious system can deliver the goods in terms of opportunities for educated youth. All too often I heard stories of Radiographers who were guides as a second job and more engineers graduating than there were jobs to support them.
We climbed up for several hours until we reached a sheltered area where we had some breakfast. Someone enterprising even brought a stove so fried eggs appeared at some point!
Then it was on to the top briefly for some photos and back down passed all the groups having picnics and other playing volleyball.
Martial arts and volleyball are the odd mix of sports where Iran does well internationally – indeed the country hosted a volleyball tournament in February where the delicate matter of women attending reared it’s head.
Heading across the 31 arch bridge and dam to the tree lined south of the river leads to the Armenian quarter and a host of Christian churches which provide some relief from mosque visits.
Shah Abbas relocated the Armenians here in the 17th century, they were useful to have in the new capital as they had a wide-developed merchant trading network. The centrepiece of the area is Vank Cathedral which, borrowing heavily from local mosque construction methods, has a brick onion dome.
Inside the frescoes and depictions from the New Testament cover every wall in the church.
There I met Setare who had been on the hill climb and was visiting Esfahan from Tehran. We walked back and discussed all about life in Iran and settled into the Abassi Hotel for some tea in the evening.
Later we were joined by her tour guide friend Behare and an American traveller, Jessica, and her guide. One doesn’t encounter many Americans or British in Iran as the requirement to have a guide at all times does inhibit independent travel somewhat and keeps groups to the main sights.
Over the tinkling of tea glasses we chatted about where Iran would be in 20 years – I asked this question many times and almost no one had a confident prediction. In the end that is what makes Iran such an interesting and complex place to visit.