Our night train back to Tehran is comfortable after so many night buses, despite arriving at 4am, again. The conversation in our carriage the evening before stalled after we mentioned Israel to the young people with us. "Did the Holocaust really happen?" "Yes, of course." "But did one million really get killed?" Hmm. We unroll our mats in an upstairs concourse at the station and join the other sleeping families laid out on the floor. At daybreak we are on the metro, jammed onto a train with our backpack and thousands of commutingTehranis, faces pressed to the windows. We return to the Mashhad Hostel, a.k.a. The Bed Bug Hostel. We had left baggage here, so feel obliged to stay. Then it's straight back to the metro and to the north of Tehran to visit Mr. Lovecat at the Uzbekistan Embassy to collect our visa. The process is quick and painless. We zoom over to the Turkmenistan Embassy to apply for our Transit visa. The process is slow and tortuous. After a conversation with an English-speaker on a phone thrust through the window we leave our forms and photos with the staff and walk off, our fingers crossed. We must wait a week to find out if the Man From Asghabat says "Yes".
Tehran is a relatively new city - so there are not too many sights. We visit the Golestan Palace which was the Shah's residence in the 1800's, a mish-mash of European and Persian architecture set around gardens. It is an oasis of peace and greenery in the traffic-choked city. We meet a very friendly woman, Homeira, who works here. She had spoken to us in a restaurant the day before and invited us to call on her, but we had been unsure whether to because we have so much to do on this day. The question becomes redundant because she insists on giving us tea and fruit in her office. We are glad - she is so friendly and we talk for ages and look at each other's photos. At work she and her colleagues wear a black hijab, but she shows us photos of her friends at a house-warming and they are all in civvies - jeans, hair, plenty of make-up. There are times on the street when I think all the women look the same when they wear the black hijab. Ironically, as we flick through these party photos, I get the same feeling. But it drives home to us the difference between public life and private life here in Iran.After one night at the Mashhad Hostel Gayle once again gets a bad reaction to the bed bugs, but she is now armed with anti-histamines. On leaving we take everything with us this time - no reservation for when we return in April. We arrive at the Southern Bus Station which is jammed with buses and heaving with overloaded passengers all heading off for their holidays. We had bought our ticket through a hotel, because we needed to book in advance and we weren't in Tehran to do it. We check with the bus company that the ticket is right for the 9pm bus, and we get an affirmative. However, when we load our bags and get on board, someone is in our seats. The ticket is studied and the driver shakes his head. We have been directed to the wrong bus station. Our bus is about to leave from the Eastern Bus Station. After some toing and froing and translation by one of the passengers, the driver agrees to takes us to the first checkpoint on the main highway. They have rung the driver of our bus and asked him to wait for us. Afterwards we are told this would never have happened for an Iranian........we are very lucky foreigners.