Today I have the privilege to introduce you to Ása, of From Ice to Spice. In my opinion this is one of best up and coming travel blogs I’ve seen in the last few months. Ása and her partner Andri left Iceland and have been slow traveling through Asia and already have some pretty incredible stories – and some incredible pictures! Be prepared, I included a lot! But I’ll let Ása tell the story, please make her feel welcome.
When did you discover that you were a travel fiend and what was the influencing factor?
The travel bug has followed both of us for quite a long time. Before we met we were always searching for an opportunity to escape our little island in the middle of the Atlantic, trying to trick friends to join our adventures. Coincidentally both of us decided to find work abroad during summer holidays back in 2010 and we both ended up in Norway, where we first met. Since then we have exploited every opportunity to travel together, the thing we love most!
Do you have a particular song/video/poem/quote that particularly inspires you to travel?
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page”
Can you let us in on a secret? What is one place you have come across that really felt like ‘the road less travelled’?
Visiting Iran was definitely one of our highlights. At first we were both skeptic and afraid due to all the media coverage on instability in the Middle East, but after our travels we can definitely say it’s the most genuine experience we have encountered and at no time did we feel unsafe. Tourism is still underdeveloped in Iran and only once during our one month stay did we meet another foreign tourist. This made the experience so authentic, also due to sanctions the past decade you won’t find many international brands, like Starbucks or McDonalds, so you’re truly forced to experience the local culture everywhere you go.
Is Iran known for anything in particular?
First and foremost I’d say that their reputation as the most hospitable nation in the world is no exaggeration. During our 30 days, we only stayed four nights at a hotel. For the remainder of our visit we stayed with friendly locals. We quickly realized that the couchsurfing community in Iran is a hidden gem of its own, filled with friendly locals that find pleasure in hosting foreign visitors. Everywhere we met the same hospitality; endless cups of chai, carpet-sitting-dinners with big families, extra miles to show us around and true interest shown to you and your own country.
It already sounds like an amazing experience, but what did you do in Iran and why do I want to visit?
We were so surprised how much Iran has to offer in terms of nature and architecture. Our top recommendations:
– The Kaluts (towering sand formations) in the Dasht-e Lut desert, the hottest spot on earth.
– The red clay mountain village, Abyaneh, a sight out of this world where time stands still.
– Go skiing in the Alborz Mountains in one of the highest skiing resorts in the world.
– Get lost on the Dasht-e Kavir Salt Lake and the sand dunes of the Maranjab desert.
– Sail into the largest water cave in the world, Ali-Sadr.
– Witness the breathtaking mosques and shrines throughout the country.
– For the history buffs: Don’t miss out on Persepolis!
So what was it that initially took you to Iran?
When we planned for this journey, Iran wasn’t on the list of countries to visit, but Andri’s brother had recently spent a year solo backpacking Asia, and met some backpackers that had travelled to Iran and had nothing but good words for the country and the people. This gave us courage to seek out more information and the more we searched the more we got convinced that we had to visit Iran.
Tell me about the food. Was it different to anything you’d experienced before?
You won’t find many restaurants in the country, since Iranians prefer to cook at home, so stick with the locals. Iranians love their bread, we were often so bloated due to the carb overload in Iran; they eat a lot of bread with all meals! They have seven different types of bread, most of them unlike anything we had tasted before. Our favorite meal was the traditional Iranian Kebab, grilled to perfection, served with saffron rice, fresh orange slices, and of course, bread. The sesame spread, similar to peanut butter but just better, was also addictive!
Oh, and be prepared to dine on the carpet floor most of time, it’s the usual way for most Iranians, whether rich or poor.
It seems like visiting Iran is a very cultural experience, can you go over bit more just what that Iranian culture is like?
The culture is fascinating with Islam at the center but if you look further back in time you discover the old Persia and stories of the great Persian Empire. Iranians do not look at themselves as Arabs like many people think. They don’t even speak Arabic; they speak Farsi, a totally different language. Before the Arabs invaded Persia most of the nation was Zorostarian, one of the world’s oldest religions, where fire plays a huge role. With a country so rich in history you won’t be disappointed; you’ll find the most beautiful mosques and religious shrines, cities from the ancient Persia and Zorostarian temples.
One thing that won’t go unnoticed is the strict dress code, especially for women. Still, the people of Iran are quite open-minded and they love to meet up and have fun. We were also fascinated how deeply they value their family relations.
As mentioned before we only stayed four nights at a hotel and the rest was spent with locals. In Iran we made friendships that will last for a lifetime. They taught us how to cook Iranian food, told us about their daily life and opinions towards their government and the western world. They even offered us to smoke opium (a custom in cities/towns close to the Afghani border). We owe most of our best travel experiences to the locals in Iran, they will remain our friends throughout life.
Beyond the things to visit, do you have any tips on how one might best experience a visit to Iran?
Go there to immerse yourself in Persian culture and Iranian hospitality. Stay with the locals; Iran is without a doubt the easiest place to couchsurf in the world. Learn to tarof (their strange etiquette), where denying a cup of tea at least three times before accepting is considered courteous. Follow local customs and clothing. Discover their view of the world; don’t be afraid to talk about religion and politics, you’ll quickly realize that the beliefs of the nation and the people who govern them can differ greatly.
It sounds to me that after visiting Iran you cannot leave as the same person. Moving on from Iran, think of your favourite big city. Can you share with us one tip about this city that you would never find in a travel guide book?
Tokyo has to be our favorite; you can easily spend a year there and always find new surreal places to visit. You’ll find so many weird cafés in Tokyo; maid cafés (young women dressed as babies serving you coffee), robot show restaurant, theme hotels and all kinds of animal cafés (cat, dog and even owl cafés). Tokyo is a city where one can’t get bored and the sushi is amazing but it can be expensive.
A local tip: Try the Muten Kura sushi train restaurants. There are few places in Tokyo but mainly Kyoto. Their sushi is the best but still the prices are very reasonable.
Can you recommend any of your favourite travel blogs?
1) Nomadasaurus: Lesh and Jazza, a couple in their 30’s, have been on the road for a long time and only travel overland. They are very enthusiastic in their writing and inspire us to visit countries off the beaten track.
2) Hippie in Heels: Rachel has a lot of good value information on India and has a very honest and funny writing style.
Last question, where do you live on the internet and social media for us to all come visit?
You’re welcome to follow our adventures on www.fromicetospice.com. If you’re inspired to visit Iran you’ll find a lot of practical information and more photographs to match the sights we recommend above.
For more photographs visit us at www.instagram.com/asasteinars
Wow. What an incredible interview. If that doesn’t make you want to visit Iran I don’t think anything will.
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