Glories of Persia - Traveller's Guide

Posted 16th October 2014 by Tim and Cynthia

Tim and Cynthia recently travelled on our Glories of Persia Iran archaeology tour. A prospective traveller, Gill, asked me for the contact details of a previous traveller, with whom she could communicate about travel to Iran, ideally with a woman’s perspective. I asked Tim and Cynthia for their permission and below is the letter Cynthia and Tim sent to Gill. I thought it might be useful for any others considering visiting Iran.


Hi Gill,

We are more than happy to give you some feedback on our recent trip to Iran with David and his company Travel the Unknown.

We have been quite desperate to visit Iran for many years and always there has been some glitch that has come up to make us feel the time was not right. Rouhani’s appointment seemed to indicate a sea change and we felt we would ‘go for it’ little realising the weeks leading up to our departure would see the whole ISIS and Syria situation free fall towards disaster.

The Foreign Office of course for years have only advised only business/essential travel and so the process is a little complex, with visa applications through Ireland (however all dealt with by Travel the Unknown so not difficult on a personal level). We were careful when asked the question which three countries have you recently visited not to mention Syria, Libya or Lebanon but owned up to Italy, Germany and Albania instead! We got our health insurance through Danish BUPA.

I think our family and friends were very twitchy about things as our departure date neared and I don’t think Tim’s mum slept a wink in our absence. As usual the travellers themselves went on in blissful ignorance as media coverage was limited and biased and best ignored in Iran. However we enjoyed the Tehran Times tales of the Scottish Referendum and widespread riots(?) in Glasgow which Iran volunteered to monitor! One of our group was a Scot and was able to reassure us that Civil War was not about to break out…

On the ground we found the Iranians absolutely delightful, they were so very warm and welcoming and thank goodness Facebook is blocked or there would have been hundreds of pictures of sweaty McVey’s and their new best friends!

Of course a woman’s perspective was very different as we were coated and veiled (a little daunting in temperatures that one day reached 44 degrees) but in fact we had little problem with it. Two of our group had been to Iran in 2010 and they said things had relaxed and changed so much. I only had one negative experience and the poor man lived to rue the day he tutted at me:

In my best Chairman of the Bench voice I said ‘excuse me, did you just tut at me, I believe I am appropriately dressed?’ Well, he had not expected to be called on it and looked very sheepish and claimed to have been thinking of something else – so I said ‘Good, thats alright then’ and sailed out! In retrospect probably not a wise thing to do but he caught me at a bad moment, hot and dehydrated…..

Most people could not have been nicer, we had a Pomegranate disaster where the whole of one bag got soaked in red molasses, the maids on our hotel floor took it all away and insited on cleaning it and by the end of the day the bag was as good as new, the clothes laundered and pressed and even the postcards washed! They were just so wonderful.

The trip itself was fascinating. The first week was ‘the road less travelled’ and we visited the really ancient sites and there was hardly another tourist in sight and certainly no British. Therefore we had an especially warm welcome where ever we went.

Our guide was a lovely and very knowledgeable man (Mehrdad), he was clever in organising the days that looked so awful on paper (10hrs in the bus) into bite size pieces with a surprise at every turn. He was also good at making sure we arrived everywhere before the masses, in the best light and would get the very best photo opportunities. The second week was on the more regular tourist route of Shiraz, Yadz and Isfahan and brought you out in goosebumps it was all so wonderfully beautiful – I felt I might just swoon from Stendhal syndrome!

We did feel safe. I think we were more in danger from the totally maniac drivers and complete absence of lane discipline than from waring nations. Our driver was a lovely careful and sensible fellow but he was a lone prince amongst the usual lunatic motorists of Iran. My recommendation is a) never look out the front window, its out of your control b) Wear your seat belt at all times. We had two taxi rides which are best forgotten, the only good thing to say about them is they were cheap!

We did some independent site seeing, often just walking around the town from the hotel in the evening and never felt any anxieties at all, once away from the immediate area of the hotel we often didn’t see another tourist. People are very honest indeed, in fact at one time I left my bag behind and on returning it sat in the same place undisturbed. Prices were fair but you need to get a grasp on the two level monetary system or you can come a cropper easily.

We were unaware of any surveillance other than the regular police post stops to enforce the speed limit (like a manual Tachometer) when the Police would occasionally check we were wearing seat belts and the ladies were appropriately covered. Quote for the day from David on one of these occasions “Clothes on ladies, please!”

Totalitarian countries are surprisingly safe` we have done our share in Albania back in the day (30 years ago and again last year), Burma likewise historically, but more recently Libya under Gaddafi and Syria under Assad. The people are so hemmed in and monitored they do not step out of place – and your safety is of great personal and political importance. Iran is trying to open up and they want the tourist dollar.

Politically of course they hate ISIS – they are Sunni and Iranians are Shi’ite so they will have no truck with them at all. Isis has enough on its plate at present and are not going to take on Iran.

We really had a great time and I really would recommend the trip. We made a couple of great friends to the point one is due to come visit us soon. I personally love that Russian Roulette, you never know who you might travel with, even the co founder of the company!

As far as the International situation is concerned one just has to keep an eye on it but I suspect Travel Unknown would make the decision for you if things were really bleak. Personally we felt very safe in Iran ironically the biggest danger is probably crossing the road!

To give this some context we are aged 57 and 59 and a GP and Research Nurse living in Mid Wales. We met doing VSO in Papua New Guinea 33 years ago and still just love to travel!

Best wishes
Cynthia & Tim McVey

Dear Gill,

So glad to have been to help, of course when Tim came home he did note that I had made him a year older than he is (birthday in less than 5 weeks!) and I hadn’t mentioned matters medical, which was just a tad remiss of me.

In fact we were all quite lucky with our health. There were a couple of folk on the trip with pre existing conditions which caused them a few problems but in general everyone remained fit. As always someone made a slight mis-step and wrenched an ankle which was just bad luck and soon remedied with Ibuprofen, walking shoes and a walking pole. We very much enjoyed eating the street food; falafels, kebabs and samosas and no gippy tummy at all. The loos are of the squat variety when you are on the road and mixed cleanliness. I was so glad I chose to drop my prescription glasses down the really spotless one at the Persepolis hotel! (safety retrieved and scrubbed within an inch of their existence by more wonderful hotel ladies) I feel strongly that the universal provision of running water and liquid soap in even the dodgiest loo was vital in helping us stay well.

As usual keeping hydrated is vital, especially with the exceptionally high temperatures but the company kept the freezer on the bus well stocked with water (free). I now feature that great favourite of Iranian ladies ‘The Nose and Toe Tan’! Even with so little exposed a high factor cream is a good thing to pack.

Do hope your trip comes off and you and your travelling pals have fun, it is a wonderful place; 4,000 years of history, stunning tiled mosques, mirrored shrines, restful gardens, rock tombs and the glory of Persepolis – it takes some beating.

In case David hasn’t furnished you with the link to our Facebook pictures it can be found here.

Best wishes
Cynthia & Tim McVey

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