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Supreme Leaders, Sheikhs and Sultans; Three weeks across Iran, UAE and Oman.(EY/EK F)

Supreme Leaders, Sheikhs and Sultans; Three weeks across Iran, UAE and Oman.(EY/EK F)

Old Feb 28, 15, 10:41 am
  #1  
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Supreme Leaders, Sheikhs and Sultans; Three weeks across Iran, UAE and Oman.(EY/EK F)

Introduction
TPA>CLT>IAD>AUH
AUH>BAH>IKA
Tehran, Iran: Day 1
Tehran, Iran: Day 2
Shiraz, Iran: Day 1
Shiraz, Iran: Day 2 (Persepolis and Necropolis)
Yazd, Iran: Day 1
Isfahan, Iran: Day 1
Isfahan, Iran: Day 2
Kashan, Iran: Day 1 (Abyaneh)
Kashan, Iran: Day 2 (Qom and Transfer to IKA)
IKA>DXB
Abu Dhabi, UAE: Day 1
Abu Dhabi, UAE: Day 2 (AUH>MCT)
Muscat, Oman: Day 1 (Nakhal)
Muscat, Oman: Day 2 (Wadi Shab)
Muscat, Oman: Day 3 (Nizwa and Jebel Shams)
Dubai, UAE: Day 1 (MCT>DXB)
Dubai, UAE: Day 2
Dubai, UAE: Day 3
DXB>IAH>TPA
Conclusions

Last edited by rivlinm; Apr 4, 15 at 3:45 pm
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Old Feb 28, 15, 10:42 am
  #2  
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Introduction

What started just two years ago as a desire to take a shower on an airplane evolved into my best and most memorable trip to date. And one which I suspect may be hard to top. With the partnership between AS and EK intact and having just experienced SQ Suites, EK F was my new aspiration with a goal of Early 2015. Along the way I discovered a simple yet fascinating trip report on Kish Island, the film Argo quickly attracted my attention and a long-standing fascination of Persia and its history directed my travel plans to what you will hopefully enjoy reading here.

Before we get started I plan to leave no stone unturned in hopes of inspiring those interested in traveling to the Axis of Evil in addition to providing as much insight to those who will never have the opportunity to experience the Islamic Republic of Iran; and to a lesser extent, Oman and UAE. If endless photos and a detailed description are not your thing, I suggest reading the TL;DR version below:

TL;DR“I went to Iran, Oman and UAE. It was fun. I flew First Class and ate caviar.”

Ok, for those of you still intrigued, block off your work calendar, and let’s get started.

Having just returned from burning the last of my UA miles on LH F through Finland, Estonia, Poland and Germany, it was time to begin planning my next mega trip. In August of 2014 it was between Myanmar or Iran, both of which I knew nothing about. I began with exploring the logistics of Iran and fortunately never turned back.

FLIGHT PLAN

The initial plan (assuming I had no Visa issues) was to fly UA J via KWI (with an overnight) en route to SAW. (Yes, I was actually planning to actually fly to my final destination). Then spend a day or so in one of my (previously) favorite cities, Istanbul, before continuing on to IKA. While waiting for a Visa, AV changed things and that route was no longer an option at the bargain price of 25k miles. Next, EY announced IAD would see their new 789 en route to AUH and I tried to snag a J seat with AA miles but only F was available. Darn. Would eventually be downgraded to an A346. Damn. Once my Visa was in hand (I’ll get to that shortly) I officially added AUH to IKA via BAH on GF.

The return was always intended to be EK F via DXB. Again, with Visa in hand, I booked IKA to DXB and a 9-day stop over to explore Oman and UAE, using AS miles.

Eventually my mother (who I had foolishly told I was going to India to spare her the heartache while in Iran) said she wanted to see Dubai and I booked her along side in EK F for the Oman and UAE portions of the trip.

All in, my flights looked like this:

TPA>CLT>IAD>AUH>BAH>IKA (AA F redemption; 90k miles)
THR>SYZ (booked via Iranian agency as part of tour; ~$45)
IKA>DXB/stopover/DXB>IAH (AS F redemption; 90k miles)
AUH>MCT (Cash)
MCT>DXB (Cash)
IAH>TPA (Cash)




THE VISA

First I had to decide what I wanted to experience in Iran. After endless research I then needed an agency with a formal tour (required for US citizens) best matching my interests and price point. There are ample agencies out there with a broad range of itinerates and prices. I reached out to two and in the end Key2Persia best met my needs. With no money down, I made a formal commitment at the beginning of September for an early February departure. I was told they would apply for my LOI to be sent to the Special Interests Section of the Pakistani Embassy in D.C. come December. Now I wait. And wait. Finally I got impatient and booked some of my flights with the understanding I would need to cancel or change depending on how the Visa request panned out. The agency was very helpful with answering most of my questions, but just straight up ignored any queries regarding turnaround time and probability of approval. Nerve wrecking. Toward late November I grew impatient and informed the agency (K2P) I would be D.C. in a few weeks time and would like to hand deliver my passport for the Visa. I was told they would apply early….how kind. Just days later I was told the MFA had approved my Visa request and I should provide my embassy with the formal application and passport. Was told over the phone 1 week if expedited, 3 if regular. I knew with MFA approval, the remainder of the process was simply a formality and wasn’t in a hurry. Sent in the passport along with $90 fee and $30 return shipping and just 4 days after receipt I had my shiny new I.R. of Iran Visa in hand! What a relief but boy did that make my anxious for the next few weeks. All in all the entire process was about 12 weeks.



With Visa in hand I confirmed the remainder of my flights and began planning out 3 full days in Oman in addition to 2 in AUH and 3 in DXB. I’ll save all those details for their respective chapter.


In short I expected much more heartache than what I actually experienced.
While the process was lengthy, it was very straightforward and simple to accomplish. If your citizenship requires an official tour, I would recommend Key2Persia as they handle all logistics with no cost upfront (baked into tour package I suppose) and if you simply need a Visa LOI I would suggest for the 30-50 euro they charge, it would be a good value and be handled well.

Initially for my tour I had selected an 8-day group tour with an additional private day in Tehran on my own to conclude the trip. The total cost (not including dinners nor tips) was 818.50 Euro. This would change down the road as I made some adjustments but all things considered for a tour package, I found this to be a fantastic value. Plus with the troubles with the Euro lately, it became even cheaper when it came time to buy the Euro.

At this point the only thing left was to sit back, and wait for departure.


Last edited by rivlinm; Mar 25, 15 at 9:09 pm
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Old Feb 28, 15, 10:43 am
  #3  
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Tpa>clt>iad>auh

After ditching out of work at noon to fanfare worthy of a last day after 30 years with the company (less than a year in reality), I bummed a ride to the always enjoyable and hassle free Tampa International. Checked in at the US F desk and even though my one way flight ended in Tehran, no one checked for my Iranian Visa. Once airside I figured Iíd print some final documents and pay the last of my credit cards before I begin the most circuitous route to Tehran possible. I had expected to do so in the AA lounge but was told since my international segment (booked on AA) was on an AA partner they had no way to bill EY and therefore refused entry. While I still donít agree with their ruling, she did make a call to her help desk, it was simply 45 min until departure so I made the shameful walk back out of the lounge while all 3 guests of the otherwise empty lounge celebrated keeping their lounge more exclusive than the LH FCT.


TPA AAdmirals Club Rejection Scene

US flight 1962
Tampa, FL (TPA) to Charlotte, NC (CLT)
Depart 13:30, Arrive 15:00, Time 1:30
320, Seat 2C


Once on board, I enjoyed a glass of water and endured a few scornful looks for my photo of a plastic cup of water on a plane.



Private IFE today was an exclusive showing of Rosewater. I assume in preparation for my Evin Prison stay.


Rosewater IFE

The snack basket was served in addition to your choice of red or white colored alcohol. I selected red. I didnít partake, but the basket made multiple trips up and down the aisle.


AA glass; US napkin

An uneventful 90 minutes later we landed and I headed over to the E gates in CLT for my flight to Dulles, where the real magic would begin.

US flight 5591
Charlotte, NC (CLT) to Washington Dulles (IAD)
Depart 16:15, Arrive 17:30, Time 1:15
CRJ9, Seat 1A




After a slight delay, we quickly boarded and I was seated in 1A for the quick jump over to IAD. There was a bit of traffic, but we eventually took off with many more RJ waiting behind us.


Traffic in CLT

I finished Rosewater and was sure to delete all traces of it from my phone while enjoying snack basket junior. I passed on the two bucks chuck figuring I should stay hydrated before over imbibing for the next 14 hours on EY.


Snack Basket Jr.


[email protected]

We touched down just behind schedule on a very chilly evening in Virginia. I had the option of a late UA flight getting me to IAD just in time for the EY flight, a stop in CLT with 4 hours of pad (plus time to enjoy the lounge and shower after a day in the office) or a direct flight to DCA with the risk of using the EY chauffeur across town. Not knowing the weather 2 months out, I took the safe bet and upon deplaning waited a few minutes for the bag valet and made the easy trek from B to the EY lounge at the end of A to hopefully get a boarding pass.


In the lounge, I discovered I was the first to arrive and asked to have my BP printed.


IAD EY J/F Lounge

The agent asked for my name and if I was in J/F. Stating that she would print and deliver my BP momentarily. Before doing so she asked if she could store my coat/bags and show me around the lounge. She mentioned the buffet was available but the kitchen would not be open until 18:00. I settled in, and was quickly offered a glass of wine with the few treats I found on the buffet.


Snack 1


EY Lounge seating


Dining area


TV room


Lounge overview


Salads and mezze


Cheese and fruits


Desserts


After a quick exploration of the lounge I used the Business center to print copies of all my reservations and inquired about a shower.


Three iMacs with printing


Bathroom


Shower

The shower room (only one I believe) was small, but offered everything I needed since EY makes its A340 passengers survive 14 hours without onboard shower facilities. By now the kitchen was open and a few other passengers were trickling in (the lounge, not the bathroom) so I decided to have a look at the menu and eat a proper meal before boarding.


Table service


Lounge menu

Service was very poor, though as I found out one of the staff was experiencing her first day. And her partner was constantly tending to her mistakes therefore creating the slowdown.

After a glass of champagne, I enjoyed the artichoke soup, lamb and bread pudding. The main was a small portion but having already eaten from the buffet and knowing I would feast again once on board it wasnít an issue.


Artichoke soup


Overexposed rack of lamb


Bananas foster bread pudding

With just about an hour until boarding I made some final calls to family and they wished me luck and said be safe in India. Not long after, boarding was called and J/F passengers were asked to board via this magic door in the lounge.


Lounge boarding gate

EY flight 130
Washington Dulles (IAD) to Abu Dhabi (AUH)
Depart 20:50, Arrive 20:00 (+1), Time 13:00
A346, Seat 2A



EY 130

Once onboard I was shown to my seat and snapped a few photos before having a seat and being handed more gifts than I clearly had space for. For the record, not wanting to risk traveling a week in Iran with my suitcase always one day/city behind me I decided I must fit everything in my carry on for the journey and will add luggage as the need arises. Maybe I was just being paranoid, but I didnít trust US, EY and GF to get my bag there on time and my last trip to SJU took AA over 24 hours to deliver my bag; when they had 8 daily MIA>SJU flights. All made even more challenging by Iran being mostly cold and UAE/Oman being mostly hot. Off track, sorry.

So I was offered champagne, dates, Arabic coffee (Iíd had one cup of coffee in my life up to this point), hot towel, welcome letter, slippers, pajamas, menus & an amenity kit. Thatís in addition to the pillow, blanket and headphones already at my seat.


EY F Suite


EY F seat


EY F aisle


EY F diamond


EY F IFE and champagne


Seat controls


IFE controls and power ports


Non-chilled mini bar


Amenity Kit

As everyone was getting settled in I took a quick trip to the double windowed bathroom, which was a first for me. Certainly not as spacious as many A380 lavs, but still plenty big.


Lav


Two windows!


Sink Useful caption, I know!

Boarding was actually pretty snappy and with jetbridges A14 & A16 pulled away we were wheels up just about on time.


Economy jetbridge


My next 14 hours

Iíve always said I will listen to the entire Quran on a series of longhaul flights, but Iím still batting .000Ö


IFE

Just before take off the onboard chef has asked what I would like to drink upon departure and I was excited to see VB on the menu since I havenít had one since my last visit to Australia. Still have yet to find a VB (or my favorite Crown) in America. Enjoyed with a few nuts and olives.


Post-departure snack

Following the VB I was offered a very salty amuse bouche of salmon on EYís awesome new china. If only there was a way to steal an entire table setting. Or 8.


Amuse bouche


Table setting

Having eaten a full meal already in the lounge and knowing I would be eating for the next 20 hours of so between my flights and lounges I decided to simply have a few lite bites and get some rest. I started with the marinated prawns and concluded with the mezze. I was very underwhelmed by the mezze.


Marinated prawns


mezze

I took a casual walk to the back of the mostly full plane while I asked to have my bed made. They even left me a suite good night message, although Iím not sure I agree with it.


Bed mode


Sometimes the icing is just awfulÖ

After a solid 8 hours of very very turbulent sleep I woke up somewhere over the western edge of the Black Sea and took advantage of the mini barís water since the crew was nowhere to be found. After some time I was able to order a meal and enjoyed the hot smoked salmon pie, followed by a cheese plate and baklava with a pot of tea.


Smoked salmon pie and smoothie


Cheese


Baklava and Tea

At this point I realized just how close to Tehran I was, yet still have over 12 hours of transit remaining. If only IR still offered that direct out of JFKÖ


So close!!!


Looks like an awesome country to me

I watched an unmemorable movie and ordered the chicken biryani alongside a glass of the always-enjoyable JW Blue. Concluded my in-flight dining with some petit fours.


Taste the rainbow: color one


Chicken Biryani


Petit fours

About an hour of approach while I listened to some music and before I knew it we were on the ground in AUH. The flight was enjoyable although the crew didnít go out of their way to make it overly memorable. Did the basics, but nothing more. Still a very comfortable way to get across the pond and then some. I can imagine the A380 would be even more enjoyable.

After touchdown everyone rushed to the smoking lounge with a capacity of 5Ö


Smoking lounge

Öand to claim dibs on their EY strollers.


EY strollers

Knowing the EY segments of my journey had concluded (they only operate IKA 4 times weekly, otherwise the timing would have been perfect) I wouldnít be granted access to the EY F lounge, so I entered the country for about an hour and decided to get a shave, shower and shirt press at the arrival lounge. Not a place where you would want to spend extra time, but while you wait or if you need a shower, itís a very suitable facility.


EY arrival lounge entry


EY arrival lounge seating

I hung my shirt in the locker and closed the door before taking a shower. After my shower I realized the attendant hadnít given me the key card to open the locker and retrieve my shirt. Inconvenient. I then asked for a shave and had to wait about 10 minutes while another passenger concluded his. Let me preface this by saying last year while in Turkey I experienced my first shave with a straight blade by a legitimate barber and it was unbelievable. Again, this was just as enjoyable but was made even better by the hospitality of Amin. A Syrian gentleman who has been living in the Emirates about ten years, almost made me miss my flight. Just before the shave I had about 90 minutes before my flight. I still didnít have a boarding pass, but he ensured this would take 10 min max and I would have plenty of time to get my BP and make it to the Al Dhabi lounge for a quick bite before departure to Bahrain. Well that 10 min became nearly 45. He was just a pleasure to speak with. Amin was very open about his countryís situation and the wellbeing of his family. I only wish I had more time to discuss with him.


Shirt press locker


Shave from Amin

Finally after hinting that I really needed to get going we wrapped up and I headed over to T1, got my BP and headed to the Al Dhabi lounge. Pretty decent lounge for Priority Pass, but I had entry from my GF J (or is it F) flights.


Walk to T1


Al Dhabi lounge entry


Arabic coffee and dates


Al Dhabi food selection


Al Dhabi lounge/cave

Last edited by rivlinm; Feb 28, 15 at 3:39 pm
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Old Feb 28, 15, 10:43 am
  #4  
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AUH>BAH>IKA

With about 30 minutes before departure I headed out from the lounge in search of my gate. While T1 is nothing fancy and a bit dated, it is really easy to get to your gate quickly. Meaning I was there way too early and had to sit with people in economy for almost 10 minutes!


AUH T1


GF Gate 11 for BAH

GF flight 547
Abu Dhabi (AUH) to Bahrain (BAH)
Depart 22:30, Arrive 22:30, Time 1:00
A320, Seat 2A



AUH to BAH on GF 547


Gulf Air has some beautiful aircraft

We boarded just about on time and to my excitement the flight was operated using Gulf Air’s long haul J/F seat. I never was able to find a conclusive answer on if their short haul flights featured their new lie-flattish seat. I still don’t know, but this 1-hour flight did.


Angle flat


Unlimited legroom

The flight was mostly full in the back, but the front had plenty of seats open, ensuring I would be among the first to sip the pre-departure Ninja Turtle blood beverage.


Lime juice?

Since it was nearly Saturday morning at this point I watched a few cartoons.


GF safety video

I still had a ways to go to Tehran, but we were making noticeable progress.


GF 547 flight map
The crew was friendly enough and after collecting my Ninja Turtle blood glass offered dates and Arabic coffee. Shortly after takeoff I was offered a meal, which was more than adequate for the length of the flight. With even more turtle blood juice.


View of AUH after takeoff


GF meze with mini kebab?

Although it was dark and my photo proves otherwise, we had some cool views of Manama. I’ll have to come back some time and spend a few months exploring the Kingdom.


Manama

After landing we had to ride the bus, although business had its own mini buss with luxurious seating.


GF Bus to terminal

Surprise! Tinkerbelle just brought you a new phone. How does something like that come to fruition? And who surprises someone with a new phone like that?


Bahrain telecommunications ad

A quick walk through the small but nice BAH terminal got me to the GF Falcon Gold Lounge. The lounge itself was nice and offered an array of food and drinks, including alcohol, but at this point I wasn’t in much of a mood to eat or drink. I just wanted to get to Tehran. The lounge did have many nooks and crannies with areas for lounging, reading, eating and best of all gaming. The Xbox room had about 10 stations with a large selection of games including Call of Duty.


BAH terminal


Gulf Air Falcon Gold Lounge entry


Falcon Gold Lounge


Food


Booze


Lounge room


Xbox room

Finally I was just bored of taking photos of a lounge and decided I’d head to the gate and see what sort of people would be on my flight. Well when I got to the bus gate area, it was packed. I thought wow, this is a lot of people going to Tehran. I stood around about 10 min people watching before I finally went to the special gate that handles Falcon Gold class and they asked me to have a seat in the small partitioned off set of maybe 10 seats. They boarded FRA from here and I was the only person left. Strange I thought, but maybe the others just haven’t arrived. Then they asked me to board a bus. There were two Westerners (eastern European?) already onboard and we headed off to the plane. We were first to board and about 3 minutes later another bus arrived with maybe 10-12 passengers. Then the aircraft door was shut…..

I was perplexed, but that was it! Just 15 of us (all male) headed to IKA on this fine Saturday morning. The two other gentlemen in Falcon Gold with me went right to sleep with their matching suites and red ties. I later found out they were headed to Iran to sell fire trucks. So I’m not sure of their nationality.

GF flight 336
Bahrain (BAH) to Tehran, Iran (IKA)
Depart 01:20, Arrive 03:45, Time 1:55
A321, Seat 2A



BAH bus gate area


General IKA gate


GF livery


The pilots taking us to IKA

I was again offered more Ninja Turtle blood pre departure but this was much lighter in color, so it may have been a baby turtle.


Baby turtle blood

We had the same Falcon Gold seats as the previous flight and they even offered us an amenity kit of slippers, eye shades and ear plugs. Very nice for a 2 hour flight. I was asked if I wanted a meal and decided since it may be some time until my first meal in Tehran I should have one last bite. Not bad for airplane fish.


Empty flight to Tehran


GF amenity kit


Quick 2 hour jump north


Fish

Upon landing I got my first glimpse of an IR plane. I’d have the luck of flying Iran Air tomorrow from Mehrabad Airport. I exited the plane as normal and followed the Fire Truck salesmen toward immigration where my destiny awaited me.


IR plane at IKA upon arrival


Deplaning


Glamorous walkway to immigration


Welcome Signage


Immigration!

Last edited by rivlinm; Feb 28, 15 at 8:34 pm
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Old Feb 28, 15, 10:44 am
  #5  
 
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Supreme Leaders, Sheikhs and Sultans; Three weeks across Iran, UAE and Oman.(EY/EK F)

A report would be great!!!
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Old Feb 28, 15, 5:27 pm
  #6  
 
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This looks like a start to a great adventurous TR.
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Old Feb 28, 15, 8:59 pm
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I wonder if the fire truck sales folks were from the US? I buy fire trucks in the US. Although unlikely due to various sanctions.
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Old Feb 28, 15, 10:17 pm
  #8  
 
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Great TR! Disappointed by the IAD-AUH leg. The food doesn't seem nearly as good as QR J.
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Old Feb 28, 15, 10:32 pm
  #9  
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Great photos and interesting read. Not something I would do but I enjoyed the pics and read. I wonder how those planes and airports are even making money as they look empty.
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Old Mar 1, 15, 3:44 am
  #10  
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Originally Posted by rivlinm View Post
Eventually my mother (who I had foolishly told I was going to India to spare her the heartache while in Iran) said she wanted to see Dubai and I booked her along side in EK F for the Oman and UAE portions of the trip.
Having visited both countries I would have thought Iran would be safer than India?
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Old Mar 1, 15, 9:14 am
  #11  
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Supreme Leaders, Sheikhs and Sultans; Three weeks across Iran, UAE and Oman.(EY/EK F)

Fire trucks, red ties? Most likely Austrians from Rosenbauer.
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Old Mar 1, 15, 1:26 pm
  #12  
 
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Fantastic.

I am too scared to go to Iran though would love to go one day.

How did you get SQ Suites? You got Kris points?
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Old Mar 1, 15, 2:00 pm
  #13  
 
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Originally Posted by Bretteee View Post
Fantastic.

I am too scared to go to Iran though would love to go one day.

How did you get SQ Suites? You got Kris points?
Let's hope that this report helps clear up the misconception that Iran is an unsafe country for tourists. It really isn't, except maybe for the traffic. It may be an oppressive government but its much safer than most countries for tourists. I feel bad that Americans have to experience it with a tour though, the highlight of my trip (non American) was all the interaction with locals (including hitchhiking) who were amazingly friendly.
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Old Mar 1, 15, 2:01 pm
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Originally Posted by gilbertaue View Post
Fire trucks, red ties? Most likely Austrians from Rosenbauer.
I was recently in SIN and noticed a number of Rosenbauer fire trucks. Good call on that.
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Old Mar 1, 15, 4:23 pm
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Originally Posted by mpkz View Post
Let's hope that this report helps clear up the misconception that Iran is an unsafe country for tourists. It really isn't, except maybe for the traffic. It may be an oppressive government but its much safer than most countries for tourists. I feel bad that Americans have to experience it with a tour though, the highlight of my trip (non American) was all the interaction with locals (including hitchhiking) who were amazingly friendly.
I would love to go to Iran, and am lucky enough to hold two passports. However, both passports (Canadian and UK) require guides
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