Finishing my course – travelling to Iran by train

Since my last post, I have been rather busy!  The lack of posts on this blog since then can be attributed in part to the large amount of work my final year project has required in order to get it finished.  The project has changed direction many times along the way and even the end point of the project had not been set until my final week at the company where I had my placement.  But as of Friday it has all been wrapped up. 

But it hasn’t all been work.  In between we have managed visits to Brittany’s gale-force wind-lashed coast, Bratislava and Alsace as well as to marriages in the UK and Madrid.

And now the summer beckons.  My plan is to travel with a friend from Paris to Iran and back by train.  The route takes me from Paris via Strasbourg to Zurich and then overnight to Zagreb and then Belgrade.  The next leg from Belgrade through Macedonia brings me to northern Greece on the second day.  After a couple of days rest, the overnight train takes me to Istanbul where I will be meeting Dan for our onward journey across the Bosporous and into Asia.  The direct train from Istanbul to Tehran takes three days.  After two days crossing Turkey, the train reaches lake Van in the east of the country where we must board a boat across to the other shore where we pick up the train again down to the Iranian capital. 

Once in Iran, we will spend three weeks visiting the major cities of Tehran, Isphahan, Shiraz, Yazd and Mashad before heading back along the Caspian Sea coast back into Turkey and back along the Black Sea coast to Istanbul and back through Europe.  

So many people have asked me why Iran? The trip itself is the end product of an itinerary that looked very different at the beginning of the year.  But my interest in Iran is manyfold.   All I have read about the country tells me that it is a beautiful place with some unmissable places to visit. Iranian friends I have told about the visit are at pains to emphasise just how well we will be welcomed.  And yet, this impression of the country is a far cry from that held by those who rely on western media for any ideas about the country.  This difference in points of view is one of the reasons that I want to go to Iran and experience the country and its hospitality myself.

And why go by train?  Well, apart from the enormous carbon footprint associated with flying, I find it hard to imagine going by any other means.  The journey from Europe to Iran by land is one that dates back to the silk route.  Travelling by land is a way of feeling physically connected to a land that in the press feels far away.  Ok, so six days of travel is not exactly close, but these trains do go slowly!  And I am looking forward to seeing how the landscape, climate, architecture, people and language change along the way.  Flying can’t give you that. 

I am also lucky that I have the time to make such a journey.   The website seat61 and Thomas Cook international rail timetable are in part responsible for my choosing this route.  It also turns out that I am taking the same route as that described in Paul Theroux’s Great Railway Bazaar in which he describes his journey to and from Singapore by train.  He made his journey in the 1970s.  Since then, a lot has changed along his route, and I look forward to comparing notes.

I will be writing up my journey on this website upon my return, and will be publishing it on this blog.