In November 2000, my co-worker Wade took a leave of absence to cycle around the world. A six-month vacation turned into two years. Once in a while, he does some work on his laptop and transfers the files to Impac via the Internet. Since we work on the same project, we communicated frequently via email. About a year ago, I asked him where he planned to go next, he said through the Middle East and on to India and Pakistan. I mentioned that I had always wanted to go to Iran and Jordan, and naturally we started talking about my joining him for a short section of his trip. We tossed around a few ideas, each with pros and cons. Our biggest constraint was how long I could take off. One month was as long as I could get away. We thought about cycling through Morocco, or Jordan and Syria, or Iran. Finally we narrowed it down to Asia only since Morocco is too far out of the way. There was no way we could cycle through Iran, Syria and Jordan in one month, so if we were to do a bike trip we'd have to give up a country. As our work project dragged on and on, we couldn't take off in September as we had hoped. The only time we could go was around Christmas. I'm a fair-weather person, don't like the idea of cycling in the ME, or anywhere else, in winter. The situation in the ME was kind of sketchy and cycling was only going to make us stand out even more. I voted to travel as regular tourists so we'd have time to visit Iran, Syria and Jordan.

Wade lives with his Spanish girlfriend Amalia in Madrid, Spain. Amalia wanted to join the trip and she also voted against cycling. After going back and forth a few times, we decided to travel as regular tourists to Iran, Syria and Jordan, leaving sometime in December.

I booked flights from SFO to Tehran via Frankfurt, arriving on December 13th, 2002. Wade and Amalia booked flights from Madrid to Tehran, arriving on the 14th. The organized tour part of the trip consisted of one day in Tehran and three days in Esfahan. On the 5th day we flew to Shiraz and were on our own from there on.

Top Ten List

1. Arg-e Bam. The mud brick city is awesome
2. Emam Khomeini Mosque in Esfahan
3. Shage Cherah Mosque in Shiraz
4. Baalbek in Lebanon
5. Hiking up Mt. Tochal in Northern Tehran
6. Hammam in Aleppo
7. Jewels Museum,Tehran (Oooo... Ahhhh...)
8. Petra
9. Sunset over the Dead Sea
10. Downtown Beirut

Recommended Books

- Lonely Planet Guidebooks of course.

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- LonelyPlanet Thorn Tree Middle East Branch
- Ruth's site - everything you need to know about Jordan
- Al Jazeera English site
- Iran Testing the Waters of Reform National Geographic article
- Net Iran - Almost everything you want to know about Iran. Highlights: Interview with Mrs. Khomeini, Iran's Female Police academy
- Iran Air online schedule
- Saudi Trip Photos and Reports
- Fear of the Kyrgyz Police (Guess I'm not the only one.)

Recommended Hotels

Keep in mind that we were there during the winter. You might not be able to get the same price during high season.

- Sasan Hotel in Shiraz (Tel: 337 830, Anvari St).$10/night  It's next door to Anvari Hotel which is highly recommended by Lonely Planet. Sasan is much newer and cleaner than Anvari and I only had to pay $2 extra per night. There is a portrait of Khomeini waving at you at the entrance.

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Iran - If you are not a US citizen, lucky you. Fill out a simple form and send it to the Iranian Embassy in your country and you are good to go. No sponsor or organized tour required.

If you are a US citizen, you need to do a bit more paperwork and perhaps pay a little bit more, but it really isn't that bad. I'm sure Iranians who want to visit the US go through a lot more hassle than we do, so stop whining. There are two ways of getting an Iranian visa: you can either go with a tour agency or have an Iranian sponsor you. The bottom line is that the Iranian government wants someone to be responsible for you when you are there. The advantage of going with a tour agency is that everything is arranged for you including your visa; the downside is you have to pay more. There is no minimum number of people required for the tour. You can have a "group" tour tailor made for you only. We paid $800/person for a 5-day tour, which was a bit overpriced considering we spent less than that in the next 2.5 weeks. If you don't want to pay that kind of money, find someone in Iran who is willing to sponsor you. There are many Iranians living in the US, you should be able to find a link easily. Your sponsor needs to apply for you at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran. You need to let your sponsor know where you want to pick up your visa. Once your visa is approved, you'll get a reference number. Send your passport along with the reference number to your pre-selected embassy and you'll get your visa in a week or so. The Lonely Planet Iran describes the process in great detail.

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