Imam Khomeini Airport Airline Travel Koln Dom Koln Carnival German Beer German Beer Staircase Cologne, Germany Coke Discount Travel Barcelona, Spain Barcelona Architecture High Speed Internet Kiss in Public Bikes Spanish Beach Spanish Girls Homeless Man Night Club in Spain Hostel Paris, France Paris Metro Old French Lady Louvre Mona Lisa Valentine's Day There Will Be Blood Small Town Hose Cuervo Buying Gifts Doner Kabob Public Pool Iran Air Shilang LGOIT.COM Barcelona Panoramic View
It is extremely difficult for a single Iranian man in his twenties to obtain a visa to visit countries in the West. So when my 25 year old cousin lucked out and got a Schengen visa, we had to take advantage and travel to Europe -- his first visit across the borders of Iran. The thing Americans take for granted the most: their passports, which allows them to travel freely.
Due to the US sanctions Iran is not allowed to buy new airplanes. Instead, Iran Air -- once one of the world's safest airlines -- now spends millions fixing the planes they already own and keeping them flying at any cost. I didn't even trust the sticker that read "Life vest under your seat" (roll over). We did land safely in Cologne, Germany, but one of the plastic roof panels fell upon landing!
The mere sight of the Dom cathedral in Cologne will leave you breathless. You can find better photos of this and other buildings and sites online. I have tried to reduce the touristiness of my photos. Also, let it be said that my observations can only be as good as my first impressions. I would have to live in each of the cities we visit in order to be able to tell you how life really goes on there...
We arrived on the final days of the Cologne (Koln) Carnival. The mainstream American films and TV portrays Germans as David-Hasselfhof-loving, polka-music-listening people who do not know how to party. That's clearly not the case. At the same time in Iran, bus loads of poor people were being dropped off in Tehran with a promise of food so that they march in celebration of the 29th anniversary of the revolution for TV cameras.
When a beverage becomes a symbol of freedom for you, you know you must have been living under an oppressive regime! We got our first taste of "freedom" minutes after arriving. Unlike America, you can buy your alcoholic beverage at any store, open the bottle and drink it out in the street. So in a sense, there is more freedom in Germany than in the US.
Kolsch is the local beer in Cologne and at bars it is served in thin glasses. This way you are always drinking cold beer. The problem is that you just keep drinking without realizing how much you have had and you may in fact overdose on cold thirst-quenching beer!
Most buildings I've been to in Cologne have lots of stairs and no elevators. I am told this is because most these buildings were built before World War II and since Cologne was for the most part left undamaged, they have kept their old structure and haven't bothered adding elevators. (UPDATE: Turns out, Cologne had heavy casualties during the war and I was mis-informed. Read this.)
I always have an identity crisis when I visit Europe. When people ask where I am from, I don't know if I should say Tehran or LA. If I say Tehran, then they question my American accent and mannerisms. If I say LA, then they wonder why I don't look like an "American!" Europeans in general don't understand the concept of being something-American, in my case, Iranian-American.
At $1.47 a Euro, I found Europe to be very expensive. Specially since I was traveling on borrowed-from-credit-card money! For example, I once paid 4 Euros for a bottle of Coke at the airport. That's $5.88 for a 20 ounce bottle of Coke! I could do nothing but to damn President Bush for the falling value of the US Dollar.
But luckily there are a great number of discount airlines that let you travel across Europe for very little money. You can find them on We flew on Germanwings to Barcelona, Spain, where we stayed at the Centric Point hostel found on My world-traveling friend Tony helped me plan our trip. Tony, congratulations for finishing your travels. You're an inspiration to us all...
I immediately fell in love with Barcelona. I have never said this about any city, but with Barcelona, it was love at first sight. The city was alive and had a soul. Most western European cities are rather soul-less and I can never see myself living in one. But this was not the case with Barcelona.
One great thing about Barcelona is its beautiful architecture. But what is impressive is not just the fabulous collection of buildings designed by Gaudi, here even the modern buildings look inspired. There is a beautiful building peeking at you from every other corner.
Internet speeds are limited in Iran. I still have a modem connection at home. Plus half the internet is blocked by the Islamic censors. So I caught up with the rest of the world wherever there was free high speed internet. This creepy dude with no friends was using the free internet at the hostel on his Mac. It seems that Facebook and MySpace are all the rage with kids everywhere.
A girl kissing her boyfriend on a bench by a Barcelona pier. It is sad and pathetic that you never see people kissing in Tehran. You only see them fighting and arguing. What a shame, because Iranians are generally affectionate people. But ours is a government that has banned even the very act of showing affection in a public space.
This is something you will never see in Los Angeles; Bikes for rent provided by the city. They are everywhere. You can pick one up at the city center and drop it off by the beach.
Another couple kissing as a business woman on her lunch break looks on. This is the famous beach featured in American movies and ads where women can go topless during the hot summer season. Coming from Iran, I was just happy to see women free to show their hair!
Spanish girls are even more beautiful than I had anticipated. And my image of them comes from watching the Spanish film Sex & Lucia! One might find oneself fall head over heels with every other girl who walks by in Barcelona.
A homeless man sleeping underneath an ATM machine as a drunk homeless man approaches and later falls on him. It was actually a funny scene. But also sad I guess. You don't see many homeless people in Tehran. I wonder if that is because they simply just die because unlike the developed countries, they can't live off of other people's change in Iran?!
Barcelona is truly a city that never sleeps. The clubs open their doors at 1:00 am and together with the bars, they go on until the last guests leave. This is at a time when in Los Angeles, the last call for drinks is at 1:30 am and the bars close at 2:00 am.
A view of Passeig de Garcia from our hostel room. Barcelona is definitely a city I will come back to, and Spain is a country worth exploring.
Next stop was the world's most overrated city: Paris. I didn't like Paris the first time I visited it a few years back, so I had to give it a second chance. And for some reason, I still didn't like it.
Paris is not the fairy tale city in Amelie, where Audrey Tatou asks to be gently kissed on the cheek. Paris is the city in Irreversible, where Monica Bellucci violently gets raped and beaten. But to be fair, those are the two extremes of what Paris is capable of being and you might find yourself closer to one or the other.
Paris itself features a number of iconic buildings that are in fact very beautiful. But the people are the main problem. The city is filled to the rim with immigrants who never assimilate and fit in because the French are too proud to ever accept them as French. This is most visible with the bitter old French ladies who look at people like me and wonder "what're you doing here?! Go back to where you come from!"
Ancient Iranian art is on display at a section of the Louvre. Us Iranians are too proud of our ancient past. So proud that we forget to deal with our present. This is partially due to our need to separate ourselves from our current regime. We live in 500 B.C. as a means to distance ourselves from 2008 A. C.! But too much pride leads to blindness.
The Mona Lisa being protected from thousands of tourists. The TEV (Tourist Eye View) is something I have thought about extensively. Tourists are like birds that pry in on the lives of people in countries they visit. The more they exercise their TEVs, the better they will become in being able to look at their own lives with a TEV, and the easier it will become for them to overcome obstacles in life.
Valentine's Day in what is often dubbed the world's most romantic city is just as pathetic as anywhere else in the world. Love as a commodity has even found its way to Tehran.
We happened to walk by the Paris premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood on Champs-Elyse. Unfortunately I didn't get to watch it and I will have to settle for the bootleg DVD to make it out to Tehran. It's a shame because he is one of my favorite filmmakers. One that makes me wonder if I am cut out to make films.
Next stop was a small town in Germany called Rheinmunster near the French border where we visited my cousin's uncle. It turned out to be what I needed after Paris, where I suffered from a horrible fever. I used our four nights in Rheinmunster to recover.
As is the case with small towns anywhere, there was nothing to do but to play cards and drink. I once again let Jose get the best of me.
We spend our last days back in Cologne where we practiced the great Iranian tradition of buying soghati. When you travel, you are supposed to bring back gifts to your friends and family.
Doner kabobs are really popular in Germany. You find a wild variety of chicken and doner kabob joints in every other corner. This is a gift of the Turkish people to the Germans. America's gift is McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut and KFC, all of which we hit up as it is still very affordable.
Public pools and saunas in Germany are mixed gender. And they have this little unwritten law where you have to enter the sauna butt-naked. Men and women of all ages share a space wearing nothing but their skins. It'll be centuries before Iran and Iranians can reach this point. As for America and Americans, perhaps it will take a few more decades.
On the Iran Air flight back to Tehran you are witness to an episode of Transformers! As the plane inches closer to Tehran, women start to look less and less Western and more and more Islamic. By the time the door opens in Tehran they are born-again-muslims! A bearded moral police officer standing immediately outside the plane makes sure of that. He reminds them with his grumpy look that they are indeed back in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The only thought crossing my mind upon returning to Tehran was that we deserve better. We deserve more color in our lives, in our city, our country; We deserve more freedom in the way we dress, in what we eat and how we express ourselves. We deserve to have tourists. The only benefit of living in Tehran I thought is the advantage of high pressured water over dry wipes. Yes, Iran at the moment is the best country for you to poop on!
I shared my birthday cake with Life Goes on in Tehran who is now a year old. Thank you to the 30,229 unique visitors from 3973 cities in 126 countries who have helped make this site a relative success. And thank you for your birthday wishes on MySpace or Facebook, I am sorry if I cannot write you back, because those sites are blocked in Iran. Here's to another year of LGOIT.COM and me getting closer to 30 and hopefully realizing my dreams...

A panoramic view of Barcelona. I dream of a day where Tehran and other cities in Iran become hotspots for tourists from all around the globe. With a friendly government, Iran has potential to be one of the leading destinations for them and tourism can be Iran's number one source of income, above even that of oil and gas sales. I dream of a day when YOU can visit Iran and fall in love with it. I dream of a day that the name Iran will make you think of love, peace and calm, and not fear, terror and chaos. That will be the day...

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