Notes from our visit to Tehran in 2013. Tehran is a sprawling modern city at the foot of the Alborz mountain range. Currently home to about one-fifth of the country’s population and the Iranian capital since 1795. The city has numerous large museums, art centres, palace complexes and cultural centres, Iranian markets, with numerous bazaars covered like a railway station. The city, thought to have been inhabited since Neolithic times, is populated by a number of different ethnic communities. In addition to Persians, there is a population of Azeris in Tehran, as well as Armenian, Assyrian, Kurdish and Jewish communities. 98.3% of Tehran's residents speak Persian. The city is dotted with mosques, and there are a number of churches and synagogues.

We flew from Mashhad to Tehran, and set about the plan here . That was visiting the Golestan palace and the Imperial Crown Jewels, buried deep in a vault in the Bank of Iran. Tehran certainly has traffic and traffic jams - progress through the city was always slow and unpredictable.

This was the day before the Ashura public holiday in Iran.This is one of the major holidays in the country and celebrates the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. We came across a stall outside the palace, and were offered free tea

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Golestan Palace

During the Pahlavi era (1925–1979) Golestan Palace was used for formal royal receptions and the Pahlavis built their own palace at Niavaran for "everyday use".

The most important ceremonies held in the Golestan Palace during the this time were the coronation of Reza Khan (r. 1925-1941) in Takht-e Marmar and the coronation of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (r. 1941-deposed 1979) in the Museum Hall. In between 1925 and 1945 a large portion of the buildings of the palace were destroyed on the orders of Reza Shah who believed that the centuries old Qajar palace should not hinder the growth of a modern city. In the place of the old buildings modern 1950s and 1960s style commercial buildings were erected.

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Lunch was an interesting Iranian "fast food" restaurant, where masses of people queued to get in. We had a table booked so were able to trample past these forlorn souls and bag our seats

Once our food arrived, it was difficult to see why they were all queuing for it. I thought that the food was dreadful, but it must have had the attraction both for the locals queuing and for our tour company in being cheap. Still the experience was worth going there for, even if I did not eat any of their food. They did offer plastic foam lunch boxes for you to take the remains of your meal away with you - I declined the offered box.

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Crown Jewels

The exhibition of the Imperial Crown Jewels is situated inside the Central Bank of the Islamic Republic of Iran on Tehran's Ferdowsi Avenue. To enter you have to go through several security checks, until finally you enter what is literally a vault - past a massive steel vault door. The guide instructs you that you cannot even put your hand on any of the display cabinets without triggering the alarms and the automatic sealing of the vault doors.When you see the value of what is there, you can see why they have all these precautions.

What looks like bucket loads of glass beads, are in fact real diamonds, emeralds or rubies. What looks like sticks covered in coloured glass baubles are sceptres encrusted with precious stones worth millions. The opulence of the life that the kings of Persia led is quite beyond belief, and it is not surprising that eventually they were removed - they just did not know when to stop. The oil money that they spent is now flowing to the Iranian Government, but it is impossible to see where this money is going: there is no obvious sign of it being spent on infrastructure, nor on social schemes. I did ask, but nobody was able to give me an answer.

Then just time for a short walk round the shops before heading back to the hotel

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Espinas Hotel

This hotel is a long way from anything that tourists in Tehran would want to see We walked a long way among streets, quite weirdly, lined with nothing but opticians - and I certainly did not want to buy spectacles. So to visit the Palace or the Treasury you will need something other than your feet. There is a spa and pool in the depths of the building, but the front desk, after a lot of prevarication, told us it was only for men! I doubt that this is the best hotel in Tehran.

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Our next stop was Kashan

On to next town - Kashan

Back to Overall Itinerary for Silk Road Trip 2016