A Visa as friend

February 11, 2015

Live from Orio al Serio!

This Iranian Visa is driving me mad!

To get to Iran you need a visa, that you can get at consulates that in Italy are in Milan and Rome. You have to go there in person because they take your fingerprints, with other documents, so it’s not convenient for people that don’t live in those cities. And you should take in account one month of time, even though the consulate says that one week is enough.

Italians that spend less than 15 days in Iran can get their visa at the airport, showing:

  • passport valid for at least 6 more months with two pages free and no Israel stamp
  • 2 passport pictures (with no glasses and no hat and no scarf)
  • travel medical insurance
  • hotel voucher for the first night or name and phone number of the booked hotel

(This is what was requested in February 2015. Rules change every day, so it’s better to check with the embassy/consulate before leaving.)

I thought I had everything right (a part from the insurance, because I have a regular travel insurance that includes medical expenses, it should be ok but I’m not 100% sure), when last night at 11pm, when I was ready to sleep, I get an email from the hotel that I had booked in Tehran, the Firouzeh: they can’t confirm my booking because the visa was denied to some tourists that booked with them; if the frontier police calls them to check my booking, they will deny they have any. They thought I already had a visa. All this 15 hours before departure, with a night inbetween that is night in Iran too, and little more than one day before my arrival in Iran, where I have to show a hotel booking. So I start to get nervous. I turn the TV on to calm down but Sanremo is not helping. If only they had told me a few days ago I could have called some other hotel, right?

After a while I get another email from Mr. Mousavi, that suggests I contact hotel Gollestan. He called them for me, they said they will confirm the booking immediately. Ok, I send an email, I wait for half an hour but no reply. My eyes are burning for tiredness but how can I sleep? No way. At the end I fall aspleep with no news. I leave my mobile phone on, just in case I get an email. Nothing, but at 4am I wake up and one email is there. Of course they are not confirming immediately, they want to know if I want a room with or without indoor bathroom. Who cares?? I can sleep on the floor, as long as you let me get into Iran! I reply and go back to sleep. At 6am I wake up again; another email: do I prefer a twin or a double? Really? Come on, send me this fu..g confirmation email that in 4 hours I’m leaving home! From then on it was difficult to fall asleep again, but I did manage somehow, and at 7.30 I had my beloved hotel booking confirmation and tons of sleepiness.

Ok, I print my hotel confirmation because you can never be safe enough, I print the return flight details that I forgot and we go.

Luckily there wasn’t too much traffic on the way to the airport. In the opposite direction an accident had caused kilometers of queue. If it was in this direction, the flight was lost.

At the airport the lady at check-in wants to kill me. “Do you have the pre-visa or the reference number?” WHAT??? Which pre-visa? “Yes, you need a visa or a pre-visa to go to Iran.” Listen, if you want I can show you the email by the consulate where they tell me that I can get a visa at arrival and they explain what I need for it. They also suggested I called the airline to check they made no problems at check-in, and I did, the lady on the phone said there wouldn’t have been troubles. “I must see the confirmation by Pegasus that you can leave, because from this site bla-bla where they explain what is needed for every country, it’s clear that you need a visa or pre-visa.” Well, I can’t show you the confirmation by Pegasus because I was reassured on the phone; if you want I can show you the email by the consulate. “I give a fu-k about the consulate email! (these were not the exact words, but the meaning was the same). Wait in the dumb corner while I check with my supervisor.” After 15 minutes of shame and fast-beating heart, we get the supervisor go-ahead. But what is this pre-visa? I’ve never heard about it, or I would have done it! Do you have to go to a travel agency? “No, you can do it online”. Well… She sweetens her tone, explains that EVERYONE that goes to Iran go with a pre-visa so she is right despite everything. Ok, I don’t really care about what you think, as long as I can go.

Fiuuu. I say hello to mom that can go home without me, and I pass the passport and luggage control.

My friend Paola later explains to me that until not long before my trip a pre-visa was required, now no more. So my check-in friend, please update your flight requirements that you made me lose five days of life.

Now I’m calmer, but until I’ll be out of the IKA airport in Tehran I won’t be sure this country that seems to be so beautiful will be eager to welcome me.

Furthermore, we’re going to have a pretty hard journey, as usual. Three hours to Istanbul, where it’s snowing (and for this reason the flight coming from there is late and so ours will be), 5 hours wait at the airport in Istanbul, 2 hours flight and at 4 am we’ll be in Iran. Let’s say two hours to get out of the airport, one hour drive to the centre of Tehran, what are we going to do until 11am when they’ll let us check in at the hotel? 4 hours of breakfast? I’m not going to walk around town with a heavy backpack and no sleep.

Anyway, next time I go to Iran I’ll get a visa beforehand, no matter what, at least I can sleep before leaving.

Two days before departure

Two days before departure

February 9, 2015

As usual I’m nervous and I don’t want to go anymore.

It often happens, a few days before departure: I realize how comfortable I am at home, with my routine and my cats, and now that winter is almost over and days are warmer and sunnier, there are a lot of places around here that I could visit and many events to take part to, etc.

But as soon as I will be on the plane and it will be too late to change my mind and the liberating headache will take over, I’ll be shot into the “discovery” version of myself and I will look forward to the long walks and pictures and writing.

What scares me a bit at the moment is:

  1. The picture for the visa that I will get at the airport, is it ok if my hair is visible or should I cover it with a scarf? Meridiani says that I need the scarf, the consulate doesn’t. To be safe I should take another picture with a scarf; I’ll do it if I have time.
  2. The hotel in Tehran hasn’t been confirmed yet. Usually I wouldn’t mind too much, but I need the hotel voucher to get the visa.
  3. Will I be dressed adequately? I have long chemisiers, a scarf to cover my head and I like it, but will it be good enough?
  4. Is the rough plan good or have I planned too many stops? Only in Isfahan and Shiraz we are staying 2 or 3 nights, in other destinations we’ll arrive at about midday, we’ll go to the hotel to drop the bags, go visiting and the next morning we’ll leave. We’ll be back to Italy super tired… but happy! (I hope). Maybe we should skip one place or two and spend more time in the others. I don’t like to rush. But this time we don’t have much time…
  5. Will I have enough time to pack my bags tomorrow or should I start now?
  6. On my boarding pass there’s a nice “M” for male near my name: did I do something wrong while booking or was it the website fault? I was very careful during the booking, m/f and date of birth, but it is true that I was doing many bookings at the same time on various sites and I might have missed something. Will it be a problem at boarding?
  7. What am I forgetting? Because it’s not “if”. Something I’m going to forget for sure. When we went to the Dominican Republic I forgot my notebook battery. Will they let me take the notebook with me this time or will they assume I’m a journalist hence send me back home with the notebook?

In three days I’ll be in Tehran. In the worst case scenario, if anything went wrong, if they send us back, we can still stop in Istanbul, which wouldn’t be a bad place neither…

Updates: a few minutes after I published this, my friend Paola, that works for an airline, told me that the pictue is ok without scarf and for my new gender there is no problem, they’ll board me nonetheless. Good!!

Next stop: Iran

January 23, 2015


Iran. I want to go before it becomes too popular. Tourism has already increased a lot in the last years, since the political situation is quiet. On the Italian Foreign Minister website there are no dots for special advices for Iran, no danger warnings; it’s been a while since I visited a country with no dangers. There’s a dot for the UK and France, one for Belgium and Turkey, one for Haiti “travels are not recommended unless determined by real necessity”. So this time we are really good, we’re going to a place where “security situation is good”.

We are going for 14 days only. Normally I wouldn’t visit a new country for less than a month, but this time it’s ok because:

  1. the return flight is only 280 euro (Iran is actuallly not too far from Europe, just South of Turkey)
  2. getting the visa requires some time (and as usual we don’t have time, we decided to go yesterday and we have to be back before the end of February because in March Luca has many garden works to do) but if you go for less than 14 days you can get a visa at the airport (this is for Italy, I know that it’s completely different for US or Israel citizens)
  3. 4 weeks would be nice in Cuba or Messico, but we went to a Latin country last year (Dominican Republic), I want to change environment and culture
  4. Iran is not too expensive nor cheap like Asia; I guess it will be around 50 euro per day, traveling on a budget; the problem is that you can’t get cash from ATMs (there are ATMs, but they only accept national cards), so you should bring all the money you need in cash. For 30 days it makes 1.500 euro, 3.000 for two people. I’d rather not travel with all that money in my pockets.
  5. so I have the excuse to go back to Iran on a train from Istanbul and see the North of the country, in another trip 🙂
  6. Luca has to work and it wasn’t easy to convince him to go, two weeks is better than nothing

I’m excited at the idea. Two weeks are not a long time, but it will be a nice culture shock and I’ve been wanting to go to Persia for a long time, cradle of humanity. It might be chilly, because despite the fact that it’s closer to the equator, it’s a bit mountainous; the capital Tehran for example is at more than 1.000 meter of altitude, and in most parts of the country temperature is like in Italy.

It took me a few hours to buy the ticket because I had to check 1. the cheapest company (that is Pegasus) 2. the website with the best offer (directly on Pegasus? On lastminute? Expedia?). At the end I bought it on Edreams because I could pay with paypal; lastminute was 40 euro cheaper, but I didn’t have enough money on my card and didn’t want to postpone.

So here we go, excited!

Towards the unknown

Towards the unknown

March 15, 2014

Los Patos, 08.01 in the morning

Breakfast and then we go. With no rush, Pedernales is at only 90 km (2-3 hours by gua-gua) from here.

Today it’s a bit cloudy; good, it will be cooler on the bus. There’s a storm over there, in the middle of the ocean.

If we are really taking a boat to go to Haiti probably we will catch the rain too. But I can’t believe it’s the only option we have. For this reason we want to go to Pedernales, to collect more information. The difficult part of traveling in this island is that the Lonely Planet is not very detailed nor updated and people don’t seem to know much either. Usually when you go to a country if there isn’t an information point for tourists the hotels managers or local people can inform you. Not here. We have to go by intuition. Because there is nothing sure.

Anyway, I’m going to miss this place. We are not really close to the beach, here at Giordano’s, but from the terrace where we have breakfast you can see palm trees and the ocean and there’s a nice breeze.

9.12am We are by the road, waiting for the gua-gua to Pedernales. We don’t know how long we’ll have to wait, there’s no timetable. While walking here, I thought about last night, when we were walking to the comedor for dinner and stopped to look at some beautiful flowers; a dog, living in the house, came out and run towards us. Luckily nearby there was a boy who took out his machete and creaked it on the pavement, scaring off the dog. A few meters away the boy met his friends and kept playing with his weapon, fluttering it around. People here often carry a machete, they use it a lot: to open a coconut, cut a tree or scare off dogs…

Towards the unknown, says Luca. Yes, trips like this are really an adventure. And here in particular, where there are few tourists and the guidebook is not really helpful.

10am We waited only for about half an hour. It took some time to put the backpacks in the luggage compartment: there was not enough space, so they left the door open, keeping it close with a rope. After about one kilometer we stopped to let a guy in with two bags full of straw brushes. So they took our backpacks down again, up the guy’s two bags, double the size of our backpacks, our backpacks over the bags, keep everything tight with a rope, down the door, anogher rope to keep the door down, the spare wheel on the roof, and here we go.

4.51pm Se llama cafeteria pero no hay café. As there is no coffee we drink two juices here at the Malecon (seafront) in Pedernales. I am not sure I want to go to Haiti anymore. Because apparently to cross the border it is not that easy. We have two options: on Monday night there is one very busy boat that in 7 hours takes you to Marigot, where you have to take a tap-tap (the Haitian version of the gua-gua) to Jacmel. The second option is to take many tap-tap, with no idea how long it might take, because you have to go up and down mountains. I don’t know. There were some white people around the town, I should have asked them, maybe they were coming from Haiti or want to go there.

My jugo is actually a banana smoothie. Really good, and full of ice, that we should avoid. We broke all the rules anti-diarrhea: we had drinks with ice, ate uncooked vegetables, ate without washing our hands, licked our fingers…

We are in this little square by the sea, and two “cabanas” are competing on who has the louder music, to attract clients I suppose. The result is an annoying mix of music. Luca says that here people love to ride their bikes. It’s true, in Los Patos kids were all the time going forth and back on their motorbikes, and the same is here. It is true that many bike owners use it as a taxi, so they are always going around in case someone needs a ride.

There are some tables where you can play domino here at the Malecon. Last night it was dark when we walked back to the Hotelito; some elderly men were playing domino in the street, at the feeble light of a flashlight.

The gua-gua to come here was broken on the side where I was sitting. There was a broken joint or I don’t know what. At one point there was so much smoke that I told the driver; he gave me the cold shoulder. As a result the left side of my body is completely black.

To go or to stay?

March 9, 2014

I’m at my parents’ garage saying goodbye to my cats. I’m sorry, for a few weeks they will sleep alone. But during the day they will have a lot of fun. They will be able to run around my parents’ garden.

I’m anxious and right now I don’t really want to go. Why should one want to travel when you can stay home and travel by reading a good book? I had the same feeling with Tanzania. Just before the departure I didn’t want to go anymore. That was my first time in Africa (I exclude Morocco because it doesn’t feel like Africa much) and I was a bit scared because I didn’t know what to expect. This time what scares me is that the Domincan Republic is considered “not ready” to host independent travelers, that in some forums you are advised to be cautious, because they will try to take advantage of you, it’s complicated to travel, and so on. Actually the fact that it’s not easy to travel is one of the things that convinced me to go. Adventure and the unknown attract me and at the same time scare me. Anyway, if I wasn’t a bit excited at the time of leaving, it wouldn’t be an adventure, would it? And by now I know this is how I feel, and that I will love the trip and will forget about my perplexity.

And now I must go.



March 5, 2014

I bought the flight, we leave in 4 days! Destination SDQ, Dominican Republic and Haiti! I’m agitated because:

  1. I have to postpone various appointments I had
  2. The flight is going to be a bit challenging: about 30 hours from Milan Malpensa to Santo Domingo, including two nights at the airport: the first one in Milan, because the flight is at 9am, the second in New York, that we hope to be able to visit, because we arrive in the afternoon and leave the following day.
  3. We are away for 6 weeks: will it be too long and too expensive? Surely I’m going to miss my cats. Cindy, with her sweet big eyes; Cagliostro with his bright hair.
  4. We have only a few days to organise the trip: travel insurance, first night in Santo Domingo, vaccination (luckily Luca already has an appointment for tomorrow morning), ESTA application to enter in the United States, study a bit of the area and possible itineraries, pack our luggages trying not to forget anything…

On the first page of my planners I always write the countries I would like to visit in that year. Dominican Republic was not among them. What made me change my mind? The possibility to go to Haiti, that was already a poor country before the earthquake in 2010 threw it to complete despair, afflicted by alternate cholera outbreaks, and where voodoo is the most common religion. I wasn’t able to go to Benin in January for their voodoo festival, I wanted to see something in Haiti. Unfortunately in Haiti the most important celebrations start on Good Friday, just a few days we’re due back, and at that time we will have to be in the Dominican republic to make sure we don’t miss our flight (during the Holy Week it will probably be very busy and it will be more difficult to find an accomodation).

This trip is the first one I do with someone else, after many years traveling alone. It will be interesting. I got used to many things that don’t get my attention anymore, I’m sure Luca will make me notice some aspects I wouldn’t notice. I will have new eyes to look with.

Buying the right flight ticket wasn’t easy. When, after weeks of indecision, we finally picked the destination, it took more time to choose the route and the length of the flight: from Verona for 4 weeks (there weren’t other flights), with an airport close to home, not too expensive and relatively short flight, or from Milan for 5 or 6 weeks, two nights at the airport and 30 hours flight? I don’t know why, but when I have to choose I always go for the most challenging option. Maybe because I think “while I’m young I can do it”. Four weeks weren’t enough. I prefer to have more time to visit the two countries without rushing; once the flight was bought I started to regret it, but that is my problem, I am forever undecided. Plus, I haven’t been out of Europe for two years, if I have to go, I want to do it properly. It will be fun to see how Luca copes with the traveling, the furthest he has been was Spain.

So, once we decided for 6 weeks, the flight. From March 9 to April 21. With 2 changes (New York and Atlanta). I don’t like to make many changes because I feel the chance to have my luggage lost is higher, but ok. We were about to buy the flights on TUI, 712 euro, but when it’s time to pay we realise it’s 140 euro more. For payment by card. What? No way. At the end on Delta website at 750 euro we found a flight from March 10 to April 21 with one stopover, and with a timetable that allows us to visit Manhattan for a few hours. Ok, chosen. And I start getting anxious.