Iranis are such beautifully friendly people, so pleased to meet visitors to their country. Taking the time to sit and talk to them about their culture, their lives, their fears and their perception of the western world was fascinating. Their hospitality is second to none, their monuments are magnificent and their country is clean, prosperous (at the moment), well looked after and commercially unspoilt. Every second of my time spent there was interesting and enjoyable.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
One of the most inspirational moments of my life, let alone my trip, was sitting in Esfahan's Naqsh-e Jahan Square one evening as the sun set. As the fountains sparkled and shimmered in front of the magnificently ornate 17th Century Imam Mosque, silhouetted against the crimson sky, the haunting sound of the call to prayer echoing from the minaret top made me shiver with the delight of being in such a beautiful place.
A moment I will never ever forget.
- What did you think of your group leader?
Farzaneh, our group leader, was a legend of a tour guide. Her knowledge of Iran's history, architecture, art and culture was incredible. But she went about her work in such a friendly and humorous way, providing us a good understanding of how the way of life in her country had affected her own life and successful struggle to pursue a career in a place where women's rights are severely restricted.
By the end of the trip I considered her to be a friend as much as a tour guide.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
Iran will never be a threat to the tourist trade of Benidorm. Don't go to Iran if you want swimming pools, drinking and dancing because they just don't exist. What you will find is a fascinating and welcoming country unlike any you have ever visited before.
Please don't believe what you see and hear in the western media. Mingle with the people, immerse yourself in Iranian culture and judge for yourself.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Don’t be put off by the number of ancient monuments you will visit on this trip. They are all different and they all have their own story. And none of them are swamped by foreign tourists.
Don’t be put off by the Islamic laws of Iran. They are strict, and I’m not suggesting that we introduce them in Britain, but they are effective and consequently there is very little crime. I felt safer walking around Tehran at ten o’clock on a Saturday night than I do in my own home town.Don’t worry about being hassled by shopkeepers and traders. They are a little persistent (after all, they do have a job to do) but they will take no for an answer. They will all welcome you into their shops and give you a drink whether you buy their wares or not, so please be polite to them.
Don’t try to cross the roads in the cities on your own. My tip is to find a family with young children and tag along behind. They won’t let their kids get run over so if you’re in the close vicinity you should be safe.
Don’t be rude to anybody. The Iranian people are all very respectful and polite and they expect others to be the same.
Don’t deviate from the dress code. They don’t like it. And it doesn’t appear to be as strict as in some other Islamic countries anyway. Although women must keep their heads covered at all times I didn’t see anybody wearing a burqa, many of the headscarves were brightly coloured and the younger people all wore modern clothes but within the religious guidelines for covering up certain parts of the body.
Don’t let anybody tell you that Iran is a bad place. It was far different to what I am used to but I absolutely fell in love with the place.