“I went for the attractions but what the attraction turned out to be was the people.”
That’s intrepid traveler Suzanne Anthony recalling her trip to Iran. This nomadic soul has traveled to over 70 countries and recalls Iran as one of her top three destinations. She picked up the travel bug as a kid, out of college worked as a flight attendant, and has spent the better part of her career with a prestigious travel management company. Solo travel suits her fine.
Iran might not be at the top of the typical bucket list (the film Argo didn’t do it any favours), but when Anthony recounts her travel experience her voice conveys wonder and excitement. “The people, especially the young people, work very hard to let you know they’re cultured. So they always want to talk about music and poetry.” She told of guys dressed like punk rockers in skinny jeans with spiked hair and of one listening to his iPhone who asked her, “Do you like rock ‘n’ roll?” She replied, “Yes, I love rock ‘n’ roll.” Wide-eyed, he whispered, “I do too but here it is forbidden.”
One of the many casualties of the US’ war with Iraq was the looting of its museums. Anthony figured it might not be long before the same fate befell Iran’s antiquities. She’d always had an itch to see its famous hand-painted, blue-tiled, honeycombed mosques, and it was time to scratch it. Americans can’t travel to Iran alone so Anthony chose GAP, a Canadian tour company, for their reputation and tendency to attract more adventurous travelers. Once there, their Iranian tour guide allowed the group to cut loose during the day.
Photo: Suzanne Anthony
Isfahan, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was her favorite city. Travelers flock there for Iranian and Islamic architecture, art, history, and parkland. But it was the blue mosques that she couldn’t wait to see. “I’m just crazy about those because you go inside and the ceiling’s are all honeycombed. Just to walk through a giant mosque and have every surface around you in these blue and white tiles is just beautiful. I couldn’t seem to get enough of those.” The mirrored mosques also caught her fancy.
On a visit to the holy city of Mashhad, the women in her tour group had to sport a chador, the black robe that covers you from head to toe. A bit freaky at first, they got over that feeling quickly when the Iranians looked at them and giggled. Blending in among a sea of black was an experience Anthony had never had. She felt a huge energy shift. “All of a sudden you’re one of them now. You’re not the lone vanilla scoop in a chocolate sundae. You’re swept up in that mystique.”
She talked of how in the west we’re so focused on the power of a headscarf and recalls a gorgeous woman who asked her what she thought about wearing one. Anthony answered, “I respect your customs and am willing to do it to visit your country. What do you think about it?” The woman wore a purple scarf, tossed it over her shoulder and said, “My god does not care about such things.”
A visit to a caravanserai, a sort of open-air dinner theatre in the desert, turned into a wild experience when an Iranian tour group arrived and threw the party of all parties. “They threw upon the doors and dragged us into their party. Before you know it, we were all dancing. It was wild, the headscarves started to loosen and come off and everybody was on the dance floor. As quick as they blew in on their tour bus, they were gone and we were all stupefied. It was like prohibition. Here they were out in the desert and they were breaking all the rules.”
Anthony thinks it would be an amazing thing for more people to visit Iran because they would be awed by the experience. “Don’t be afraid of what you don’t know. Go and see it for yourself,” she said. Another plus: women don’t have to pack much because nobody’s really going to see you!
Get inspired. Visit Take To The Highway to discover more about Suzanne’s journey in Iran.