Random if inconsequential travel observations plus, a female primer for travel to Iran (Part 1)

Glass screen at Sa'ad Abad, Reza Shah's summer palace

George Bush International Airport, May 15th

Have you ever noticed that there is something about airports that brings out the voyeur in everyone? As spectacles go, it is truly a free-for-all of watch-fests. People sit and observe other people without any restraint, the word discretion chucked out like so much lost luggage. I think it has a lot to do with the transitory nature of airports. Who cares if I shamelessly stare at you? Like me, you will be getting on a plane and neither one will see the other again. As far as everyone is concerned, airports are one of those places where an unspoken carte blanche to people watching is extended.

The loudspeaker announced: Passenger Hoodini, passenger Hoodini, please come to the Lufthansa counter. My husband looked at me and said, “you think he’ll appear?” It took me two seconds to process what he was referring to but, once he realized I had gotten the joke, we simultaneously dissolved into uncontrollable peals of laughter. It was the perfect tension breaker to a harried morning of trying to get ourselves to the airport.

In flight, May 16th

The truth is that our previous mirth had deserted us halfway through our cramped plane ride. R was a little trouper but even his small frame was having trouble adjusting itself to the compressed space of his seat. I had done my best to make it as easy and distracting as I could for him. I’d loaded my iphone with movies and some of his favorite TV shows, packed a goodie bag of never before seen toys. A magnetic slate with airplanes, helicopters and other airborne contraptions turned out to be an inspired choice. He played for the longest time with it and fell into exhausted sleep still clutching it in his small hands.

I myself cannot sleep on airplanes. Everything about flight is geared to impede rest for me. I just cannot. My husband dozed fitfully but every once in a while, we’d stare bleary-eyed at each other, silently ticking off the minutes, counting down the hours till Frankfurt could be reached. Hoping our son would remain asleep for as long as possible and thus be spared the worst of our transatlantic journey. We willed a burst of speed that never really came true. It took forever to get to Germany.

1:00 am Houston Time, early morning in Frankfurt

Dragging what felt like all our earthly possessions through miles of airport corridors, we finally made our bedraggled entrance at the Frankfurt Sheraton. We had debated prior to going whether $370 for a half day (unforgiving Euro exchange rate) was a worthwhile investment for the 10 hours we would have to enjoy our Sheratonian luxury (notice the sarcasm). All it took was the hot spray of the steaming shower to convince me of how wise I had been to make the reservation. Clean and revived, we got into bed the three of us and slept like the dead. No dreams, no movement, exactly as we lay down is how we woke.

Frankfurt, early evening

If not exactly fully there in our bodies, we had at least responded well to the pseudo defibrillation of our truncated rest. We made a sorry sight trudging back across the skyway and into the airport once more. For R, all it took was knowing we were getting back on a plane and he morphed once more into the Energizer bunny. At that point in time, I would have given much to have just a smidgen of his energy. I keep wondering where exactly I’ve lost my love of flying because I know that I’d pay a fortune to just materialize in places with all my bags by my side. Yet one more reason why I don’t question my love for Star Trek…

Anyway, despite some apparent last minute snafus by Lufthansa, all three of us got on a fully Persian-populated flight. The few foreign flyers stood out mostly by their coloring and by their ineffectual attempts to keep their invisibly drawn circles of personal space, intact. Not that it did them any good since for the most part, Iranians are physically pushy people (with your pardon jan). From experience, I've learned that many Persians don’t give a hoot about your body boundaries. If you’re in their way, they will get you out of it. Getting into our seats was a Farsi-comedy of mistaken chair assignments (not our own as we knew were we were supposed to be) and a mad-dash for overhead compartment space. I could tell the German crew was used to our kind of crowd. “We have noticed that many of you are carrying more than the allowed pieces of luggage onto the plane – where necessary, we shall be forced to send some carry-ons down to the luggage storage.” There was some rapid scuffling in an attempt to hide the chickens better and to camouflage the 3-foot high date tree sapling but, it was all for naught. Before the plane could actually move there were wars fought and lost, a modern day reenactment of the Persians vs. Sparta except it was the Huns who won this round. Call it what you will but to my fascinated eyes, this was Roman Circus at its best.

By contrast, the last segment of our flight itself was fairly uneventful. Right before we landed at 3:00 am Iranian time on the morning of Saturday the 17th, all the women on board were exhorted to cover their heads with the hejab and their bodies with the manto because by “edict of the Islamic Republic of Iran, we were asked to do so.” I will assume that you are not in the know and explain that a hejab can be any triangular piece of cloth or any type of scarf (colored or printed) that covers a woman’s hair. A manto, is a coat that comes to the knees or a little further up and covers your arms up to your wrists. Like most of the women, I waited until the last possible second to wrap my hair in a sheer ivory gauze scarf and to don the prettily embroidered cocoa-brown Indian style tunic I had brought along as my manto.

I’ll stop my retelling at this moment when we were about to enter customs because I’m tired and, the post is already long enough. More later…


  1. Milena, congrats on reaching your destination safely...good choice on taking that hotel room in Frankfurt....I always did the same in the airport hotel in Istanbul, what a difference a few hours of real sleep in a real bed can make on a long flight.

    Wishing you the best journey. I can't wait to read more!


  2. your description of traveling with Persians reminds me and my peeps.
    that and hiding the chickens and the saplings.

  3. First of all, your husband and my husband? Would have a grand old time with one another. My husband is also quick on his feet with the one liners. I love a person who doesn't skip a beat! Myself? Three hours later, I will call you with my zinger in response. And you will say, "huh?"

    In addition, my husband calls me at least once when he is at an airport awaiting a flight to relay something or another about another fellow traveler who has caught his eye. I've heard some interesting stories and some terrifying descriptions. You are so right. There is nothing like an airport to bring out the voyeur. And interestingly enough, people fall into two camps - those that are on their BEST behavior and those that are on their WORST behavior. I like to think I am the former, but on more than one occasion, I'm sure I've been the latter!

  4. Suzanne: Don't you know it. It was worth every penny. You'd go to Baku via Istanbul? What airline were you using? And thank you, I'm working on the continuation post.

    Chesca: There was more Chesca, there was more... and it doesn't surprise me one bit that your peeps (love that) travel like my own peeps do. Do you speak any spanish or Tagalo Chesca?

    Melissa: Something tells me that you are right. Your C and my M would get along famously. It seems that you and I are similar too. They come at me and fly right on through, the zingers do. Since we are being frank here though, I'll too admit to being on my worst behavior. Simply shameless I am. I adore people watching. I can't be discreet about it either. I will never see them again after all. Unless... for some horrible reason... they get seated next to me.

  5. hiding the sapling...ha!

    Flying isn't the same as it used to be for me, either. Probably not for anyone. Comparisons to cattle drives come to mind. Or to penned animals.

    You stories are always interesting, and I love your descriptions. Enjoy the rest of your trip!

  6. So interesting to hear about your travels. I can't wait to read more. I hope you are enjoying your time in Iran.

  7. Hi Milena,

    I usually flew either Delta or Turkish Airways or a combination of the two. I loved Istanbul airport because they had great shopping there...there was always a sale in the Bally shoe store!


  8. The last time I was at risk for overseas travel was several years ago when the company I worked for wanted to send me to Indonesia. The plane would have stopped over in Singapore, and that meant I would have had to cut my hair, so I refused. They laid me off a few months later, but it was worth it to me- I'd rather not go to a country where they still hit people with sticks.

    I'm pretty sure I'm on the "no-fly list" now, which I hope ends the threat of air travel once and for all.

  9. I've been gone too but but am back and checking in and delighted to find you posting about your travels.

    The airport and plane always make for great tales. I'm so glad your little one seemed to do well with such a LONGGG flight.

    I'll catch up on Iran 2 later but just wanted to say I'm thinking of you and enjoying your travelogue.

  10. Finally found some time to soak up your blog. I've missed you, Milena. You are a brilliant writer. I've started with Part I and am off to the next. (Feed still isn't working for me; am I the only one???)


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