One thing that many people will find hard to believe is that Tehran is one of those cities where you could - if you chose - spend your morning in the museums and your afternoon on the ski slopes. Tehran is situated at the foot of the Alborz mountain range, the highest mountains in the Middle East. These loom, sometimes rather menacingly, often rather prettily above the city. Except of course when the pollution is so bad that they just disappear and you wouldn't even know they were there.
On our final day in Iran we found ourselves with time to kill. Our flights had been postponed giving us an extra day in the city but what we'd not realised was that the delights on offer for this last day were to be limited. Every museum or attraction was closed for the same reason that our flights had been put back - it was one of Iran's many holy days. It's always the birthday or death anniversary of a long-dead imam, or saint, or his wife/brother/dog or whatever and Iran has bank holidays with a startling frequency.
Our guides decided that we'd go up to the mountains and take the cable car to the highest point where we ought to be able to take some great photos. What they hadn't counted on was that everyone ELSE in the city also thought it would be a great day to go up the mountains and it was the unofficial first day of the ski-ing season. We were there in November, and whilst the city itself was still bright and sunny, the snow was already settling on the highest peaks of the Alborz.
So we hopped back in the bus and started to wind our way up the roads out of the city and up the mountain side. Iranian drivers are dreadful at the best of times but wealthy Iranians with skiing in their minds behave like utter loons. Our bus was a small one but as we got closer to the mountains, it was harder and harder to get round the corners for all the cars double parked on the corners. Eventually the driver gave up, deposited us on the side of the street and left us to walk the rest of the way.
There was an option to take a bus to the cable-car but we were all feeling fit and healthy and the lines were long so we walked. It was a lovely day and the views were great. As we got closer to the centre of all the action and excitement it became clear that this seemed to be THE place to be on a bank holiday. There were dozens of stalls selling all manner of fast food (including bizarrely, what appeared to be roasted beetroots). There were assorted amusements on offer and all of Tehran was dressed up and looking for a good time.
Some of the ladies were using the excuse of skiing to wear rather more risqué clothing than normal - out with the traditional manteau that reaches to mid-thing and in with butt skimming ski-jackets. Headscarves had been replaced with wooly hats or just pulling up the hoods of their coats. But lest you get the impression that Tehran girls go casual when looking for some snow-fun, most appeared to have spent hours with a trowel putting their make up on so thick that it looked as if it would crack. The girls who were there to have fun rather than to ski had pushed their scarves back as far as possible after teasing their hair up into beehives. The young lads were dressed in black leather and denim with gravity defying hairdos that wouldn't have been out of place in a re-enactment of Grease or Westside Story. They looked very funny and very serious but it was clear that they were all there to have a good time.
Whilst we waited for the rest of our party to arrive on the bus, we loitered amongst the snack stands and stalls selling all sorts of junk, chatting with the locals who wanted to practice their English. Then our guide arrived, gathered everyone together and we took off to find the cable car. Disaster! The line was already snaking back and forth and extending well outside the cordoned off area. With many of us being British, we calmly joined the queue - after all, that's what we Brits do. See a queue, join it! After about 40 minutes, during which we'd gone nowhere fast, the guides decided to call it a day and to give up. They rationalised that by the time we got to the front of the line and up the mountainside, it would be time to come back again and there would most likely be an equally ridiculous queue to get back down again. With some regrets, we gave up and left the line.
Heading back to our bus we had another pleasant walk, plenty of time to take photos of the city and to exchange pleasantries with the people walking in the opposite direction, snowboards strapped to their backs and looking forward to a few hours on the slopes. We all agreed that it didn't really matter that we'd completely failed to do what we set out to do - it had still been a bit of fun, a chance to get out of the smog of the city and an opportunity to mingle with the bright young things of Tehran's well-heeled neighbourhoods. Did we tell them they had hours of lines ahead of them? Of course not. Why spoil a perfectly pleasant day out.