The flight from LAX to Istanbul wasn't as long as we remembered - it was "only" 12 hours, as opposed to the 14 we thought we remembered. We spent the majority of the flight alternating between sleeping, reading, and watching the map. The route we traveled took us northeast through North Dakota into Canada, over Hudson Bay, past the southern tip of Greenland, right over the middle of Iceland, and at that point turned southeast towards Scandinavia, where we went between Malmo and Copenhagen. About 10 hours in we finally entered the main part of the European continent, probably around the Germany/Poland border. From there we headed southeast over Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria. Whilst reading, Justin also caught a bit of some of the English Premier League matches that were going on live. He brought about a dozen different magazines that had been piling up at home, and made good progress on only one of them. Crystal made a lot of progress on one of her books on her Kindle, although she worried the book was a rip-off of "The Vanishing."

Coming in for landing, we were zig-zagging quite a bit, perhaps there was a backup on the number of planes coming in to land. When it was finally our turn, we gunned the engines about 45 seconds before we were due to land, as apparently there were too many birds in the area. So we looped around to the south and got in the back of the approach line again. On the second try, we had no issues, and landed just fine. We were at the very back of the plane, so figured it would be a long time until we exited. To save time, Crystal changed into her more conservative clothing (except for the head scarf). Except about 15 seconds after she went into the washroom, they opened one of the back doors, letting people exit from the back of the plane as well. So we were some of the last people off the plane, just not for the reason we originally thought.

Once out of the plane and in the terminal, we were a bit lost, as the numbers for the gates are not immediately (if at all) helpful, as they start with differing numbers (2xx, 3xx, 5xx), but those first numbers don't correlate with a different floor. We were looking for the Turkish Airlines lounge, but none of the signs showed it, which we thought odd given that it had to be the largest lounge in the airport. We went into one of the other lounges and asked them where to go, and their directions weren't the greatest, but at least they got us towards the main lobby area that we remembered from 2014. The lounge was right near where people exiting security came out.

The lounge was very large, and had so many people that there were signs stating there would be no boarding announcements. The lounge was full of these rounded arbors that each covered maybe 200 square feet, and if anyone anywhere underneath the arbor spoke, you could hear it loudly because of the acoustics. This may help constrain noises from across the room, but it makes local sounds much louder. There was a guy making a bunch of lamachun [turns out it was actually pide], so when a batch was ready, we grabbed quite a few bites, including one meat, one veggie, and one that was cheese and olive. We also got some lentil soup, some olives, some cheese, and some beverages. These would be the last beverages we'd be having for a week. About 15 minutes before we left the lounge, Crystal changed into her long shirt/dress, as well as her pullover headscarf, so that she'd be properly dressed when we landed in Iran.

Down at the gate for Shiraz, we were surprised to see that the people in line were not dressed nearly as formally as we would have thought. There were very few headscarves, and numerous tank tops and other revealing clothes. When we handed our boarding passes to the gate agent, the red light went off, so at first we were worried there was some problem. But instead it was us getting upgraded to business class. With the long hours already, plus the comfier seat, Justin fell asleep right after leaving Istanbul. Crystal ate, and also got some water (including Justin's).

The path from Istanbul to Shiraz avoided Syria, Iraq, and the other areas currently at war with ISIS. We flew almost due east from Istanbul, all the way across Turkey. Then, around Urmia, we turned southeast and flew through Iran the rest of the way to Shiraz, in the south central part of the country. Justin woke up a little southeast of Tabriz, once we had entered Iran. It was pitch black outside, and the only lights were odd pockets of (presumably) towns that were seemingly at regular distances from one another. Put differently, the lighting should have looked random, but didn't look random at all, the pockets of light were evenly spaced and each about the same size, fairly small. The plane was nice, but it wasn't a truly "International" flight - the business class on this flight was basically what domestic first class looks like in the US.

When we landed in Shiraz, all of the women on the plane began changing their clothes, adding on shawls and headscarves to cover shoulders and heads. By the time we exited the plane, everyone was in their conservative(ish) garb. We didn't have a jetway, so it was down the stairs, with buses waiting for us. We got on the first bus, and it took off before it was even remotely full - our best guess is that it left after the first class passengers got on. We were the only non-Iranians in the bus, which we confirmed when we arrived at the immigration area and were the only people in the foreigners line. Aside from some questions of Crystal regarding her middle name, the process was painless. The main concern was that the time appeared to off by an hour. We had checked the time zones, and set our various watches/cameras, but now the time was an hour earlier than we expected, and could not figure out what had happened. We waited about 5 minutes for our bags, which came off the carousel fairly early.

After going through customs, we met Amin (our guide) and Ehsan (our driver). We exchanged some money before leaving the airport. Because of the various sanctions instituted against Iran, it is impossible to use credit cards or ATM cards in Iran, so we had to bring enough cash for everything we might purchase. Usually we try to not bring much cash, but we didn't have much of a choice this time. Amin asked Crystal if she was Muslim, based on her attire. When she said no, Amin told her that she didn't need anything near that conservative or formal, that pretty much any clothing that covered shoulders and head would be fine. On the drive into Shiraz, Amin told us that he works with lots of people from the US, and that about 70% of them are from California, with the rest from other places on the West Coast and East Coast, with almost no one from the middle of the US. We aren't that surprised. Amin was also able to clear up the time issue - the day before had been the day when Daylight Savings Time had rolled back, so that meant we got an extra hour of sleep tonight.

He bet us that Iran would be the highlight of our trip, based on conversations he'd had with other guests who had traveled throughout Central Asia. On the one hand, we hoped he would be correct and that we'd like Iran that much. On the other hand, we kind of hoped that the first stop wouldn't be so much better than everything else and set the bar too high. We looked forward to finding out how things would transpire. We set up our departure for tomorrow's (technically later today's) tour to be 9am, so that we could be at the Pink Mosque early in the morning, for best timing with sun coming in through the eastern windows. It was now around 2am, so we figured 6 hours would be enough sleep. Our hotel, the Park Saadi Hotel, was right across the street from a large garden. We got there about 2:30, and although check-in was quick, getting to sleep was not. We tossed and turned for hours, with Crystal getting to sleep a little after 5, and Justin around 6:30.

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