Video: Finding Love In Iran

When people think of Iran, dating isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. It’s a conservative country with a strict form of Islamic law. Natural urges are unconquerable, though, and young people will always find a way to hook up. This video from Alessio Rastani describes how the young and well-off find love in Tehran, Iran’s capital. Rastani talks with his cousins, who live there, about how to go about it and what Iranian women are looking for in a man.

This is nothing new. When I was in university back in the ’90s, one of my friends was an Iranian woman studying in the U.S. She told me that when she was in a girls’ high school, guys would hang out in front of the gate at the end of the day and throw little balled up pieces of paper onto the ground with their phone numbers on them. If you liked the guy, you picked up the piece of paper and called.

She was strictly Muslim, so talking was all she did. She liked one guy enough that she got permission for him to come over. After a few visits, her parents left them alone together. The first time this happened they sat together and talked for a couple of hours. After he left, her mother came out from the next room and said she’d been listening the whole time and was proud that she had been a good girl. My friend replied, “What did you expect me to do!?”

For her, you could be a good Muslim and still have fun.

Check out Rastani’s YouTube channel, HelloIranTV, for more great videos about life in Iran.

Retail therapy: Istanbul ShoppingFest begins March 18

Every year, many people visit Istanbul to shop in the historic Grand Bazaar to haggle over carpets, Turkish tea glasses, and souvenir t-shirts. But most locals do their shopping in Istanbul’s many malls, markets, high streets like Istiklal near Taksim Square and Bağdat on the Asian side, and neighborhoods such as posh Nişantaşı and funky Çukurcuma. This year, from March 18 to April 26, travelers can take advantage of the best of all worlds with the first Istanbul ShoppingFest, also celebrating the 550th birthday of the Grand Bazaar. For 40 days, shoppers can get special discounts and win prizes, shop late into the night (with bigger discounts after 10pm), and be entertained with performances and events. Each Saturday, one mall each on the European and Asian sides will stay open until 2am, and all malls will be open until 11pm daily during the fest. In addition to sale prices, foreign travelers can get tax back on purchases at various malls around the city and enter raffles with each 40 TL (about $25 USD) spent.

Already established in India, Singapore, and Dubai in usual sale seasons, Istanbul’s promotion will hold a special draw as discounts will apply to new season merchandise and take place over several major holidays including Easter, Passover, and Iranian Nowruz. With this festival, Turkey hopes to carry over some of the momentum from last year’s European Capital of Culture designation, and become the destination of choice for travelers from nearby countries such as Russia, Iran, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Rumania, Syria and Iraq.

Check out more details and events at and follow their Facebook page and Twitter @istshopfest. See also the March issue of Time Out Istanbul in English for feature guides to the fest and the Grand Bazaar.

[Photo courtesy Flickr user antonystanley]

Pittsburgh restaurant features ‘conflict cuisine’

Most American travelers will never set foot in Iran, but at least now if they make it to Pittsburgh, they can enjoy some of the country’s delicious cuisine. It’s the idea behind a new take-out restaurant called Conflict Kitchen, a new eatery that’s attempting to feature cuisine from countries the United States is in conflict with.

Conflict Kitchen might serve food, but it’s hardly your normal carry-out joint. The project, which was started by artist Jon Rubin, will regularly shift themes to feature a different “conflict country” and promote cross-cultural understanding. The first four months are devoted to a collaboration with Pittsburgh’s Iranian community. In addition to delicious food like the Kubideh Sandwich, Conflict Kitchen also plans to host events, performances and discussion surrounding this much discussed Middle Eastern country. Though there’s been no announcement on the project’s website, chances are good that other “rogue states” like North Korea, Venezuela and Afghanistan will get similar treatment.

The Conflict Kitchen project raises an interesting question. Who are we demonizing when we disagree with a country’s politics? Is it the government of that country? Or is it also the people who live there, many of whom have nothing to do with the policies we dislike? Perhaps by traveling and through projects like Conflict Kitchen we can learn to better differentiate between the two.

Rick Steves in Iran

Rick Steves is the kind of guy who can tell you where to find the best Chianti in Tuscany. No one would label him an intrepid travel journalist… Until now. Steves, known as the host of PBS shows about traveling in Europe, recently went somewhere that few people in his line of work have gone before, Iran.

He spent 10 days traveling through the country earlier this summer, camera crew in tow. Though the show filmed during the trip will not be aired until next January (on PBS, of course), Steves related some of his Persian experiences on his blog.

He was also interviewed recently by Budget Travel Magazine. He related how he found the strict theocracy to be quite stifling, but how Iranian people were surprisingly friendly, good humored, even mischievous. “I’ve never had so much fun talking with people.”

Should Steves Iran journey inspire you to pack you bags, keep this in mind: all travelers are required to be led by a registered travel guide. Sound intimidating? It’s not really so bad, at least according to Steves. “I met a lot of Europeans using a Lonely Planet guidebook, and they technically had a guide, but he was off somewhere having tea.

Photo from Flickr user Jayne Dough

Nooroz Mobarak or Happy New Year

When some of woke up this morning and turned our calendars to Tuesday, March 20, 2007 another part of the planet and even some of our friends nearby were turning the page to the first day of a new year – the year is now 1386. Nooroz (Persian New Year) is no stranger to the Gadling pages. I mentioned it last year and offered some greetings for those who wished to spread good cheer and happiness through local communities celebrating the days long event.

This year I’m going to leave you with a few events to check out across the country should you feel so inclined to learn a little about this fascinating culture and holiday. Last year I missed out on various happenings, but this year I’m hoping to find a nice party to crash in the DC/Virginia area. Here are just a few of my finds, but please feel free to share the specifics on others.

From pars411 I found this Eid Nooroz party happening tomorrow at Lima in D.C. has a calendar featuring events taking place all across the country from San Francisco to New Jersey throughout the entire holiday. So not many discoveries on this end, but there are several out there worth looking for and participating in – I’m sure.

Again, happy, happy New Year.