Tehran, Iran – Day 1 – Qeytariyeh and Tajrish

North of Tehran buffered by the Alborz Mountains. 
A long day of travel and lots of joy tears later, I found myself, with my parents, in Tehran, Iran.  My head hit the pillow and I was out cold until the morning. Besides being overjoyed at being able to see my parents after so many months away, I was thrilled to be back in Iran for a second time. My first trip, with my family, was during Dec – Jan of 2005-2006 for three weeks. That trip was pre-blog, so I’ve never written about it much besides a few photo essays. I’ll just quickly say that that trip remains in my top three best all time trips so far.

Tehran is a massive city, surrounded in the north by the Alborz Mountains. The city runs right up to them, pushing its high rises every closer to climbing the mountains. Depending on the last time it rained, the mountains are either encased in smog or highly visible. In the north of Tehran where we were the first day, they look very close, and in fact, they are. Neighborhoods dot the steep graded streets that give way to the mountains. Several parks and trails start in the foothills and continue deep into the mountains. To give you an idea of the size of these mountains the tallest peak is Mount Damavand which rises over 5,000 meters or 16,400 feet.

Qeytariyeh Park 
Daily ping pong tournaments in Qeytariyeh Park 
We had a good walk around Qeytariyeh Park, watching the locals exercise in various ways throughout. Some were playing ping pong in the open courts in the park while others did laps, while still others used the outdoor exercise equipment in the park. Numerous stray cats that resembled my childhood cat could be seen sunning themselves and playing hide and seek. The flowers and trees had not yet bloomed but the gardeners were hard at work planting pansies all over the park. At the edge of the park there was a bread shop, let me specify, a very, very fresh bread shop. They were making it right there and handing it out the window to passersby. This is one of the many things I love about Iran, incredibly fresh, well made food, and amazing bread, hot out of the oven. You can smell it from down the block. The whole park filled with the smell beckoning you to buy it after your exercise.

Bread shop, Qeytariyeh Park 
Qeytariyeh metro stop is just one stop from the new final station on line 1 of the Tehran metro, Tajrish. Tajrish is a bazaar in the north of Tehran that is on the smaller size compared to the central bazaar but it still has everything you could ever need. Bazaars are the original mall. Each shop has a specialty and together, the rows of stalls make up the culmination of the shopping experience. The Tajrish metro station stop is one of the deepest that I have ever been in. We took five very long escalators to reach the surface and when we did, I was overwhelmed with familiar smells that flooded my senses and put me into an almost euphoric state. I have been to hundreds of markets and bazaars but none smell like Tajrish. It is above and beyond the sensual delight of a market. Stalls full of spices, bread, nuts and torshee (pickled vegetable variations) waft down the street.

Brand new metro station on line 1
I was thrilled to be able to see Tajrish again, especially since it had gotten a major face lift since 2005. The tented roof was new and an actual roof, instead of a patchwork of tarps. The sandy brown brick had been done over in spots and sandblasted in others, and the tiles had all been spruced up. Honestly if it wasn’t for the smell I might not have recognized it until we got to the food section. It is amazing how much has changed in 8 years.

Tajrish was awash in particular frenzy this day and the few following because of Persian New Year, Norooz.  If you need a quick lesson on Norooz, read here.  The best way I can explain it to a Western audience is a mall before any particularly large holiday. People everywhere are in a rush trying to get their goods at the best price, haggling and gently nudging each other. The smell of fresh cut greens, sabzi, filled the air like my grandmother’s kitchen. Goldfish swam circles in tiny tanks, fake colored eggs were piled high into pyramids and chadors floated by as if they were free standing.  My favorite Norooz item was found just outside the bazaar on the street corner where an entire separate street market had formed. The smell of the hyacinth, or sombol, filled me with joy. Of all of the sensory memories I have, this is always the strongest. It reminds me of Norooz days spent in New York City, with family, eating giant meals and exchanging gifts. And it also reminds me of that time my cousin decided to fill the fish tank with Sprite seconds before the New Year.

Over the course of the next few days we would visit Tajrish several more times. Each time, a new street market had been set up in advance of Norooz. Technically they were illegal but they flourished at this time, selling goods for bottom dollar and enticing you to make your shopping dreams come true before the New Year. 

Pop up, sidewalk store for Norooz. 

Things got a little crazy the day before Norooz.