WHO: Ruth Martin and her husband, Farrokh Seifaee, both 52, of Acton
WHERE: Dubai and Iran
WHEN: Three weeks in April and May
WHY: ''I'm originally from Iran but I've been here for almost 28 years," Seifaee said. ''I went back five years ago for the first time in 20 years." Martin had never been. ''I should have gone much sooner, but there were always revolutions," she said. ''It was very exciting to go."
PEOPLE MAGNET: ''People were looking at us as if we were exotic," Seifaee said. ''Not so much me, because of course I look Middle Eastern. Though still they can tell a difference. But everybody was looking at her and wanted to talk to her." Martin, who wore a scarf around her head, said she felt safe and very warmly received. ''And people at the tourist agencies were so thrilled to see people traveling. We saw German and English tourists, and they were having the most wonderful time."
WARMING UP: They spent their first few days in Dubai. ''It's a fantastically modern and cosmopolitan city," Martin said. ''The local people all wear elaborate Arabic clothes and all the foreigners wear Western clothes. About 60 to 70 percent of the population there is foreign." Hotels line the beach, on the Persian Gulf, and the couple took Seifaee's young relatives swimming. ''They'd never gone in the water because locals don't really go to the beach," she said. ''They were ecstatic."
POETRY IN MOTION: From Dubai they flew to the Iranian city of Shiraz. ''We were there 10 days and took a lot of day trips," said Martin. ''It's most famous for its poets, Hafez and Saadi. The shrines to them are very popular among Iranians and European tourists. They were so crowded and people were very emotional. The poetry, very old, is very romantic. People have tried to keep it alive over the centuries." Added Seifaee, ''About 40 miles outside of Shiraz is Persepolis, almost 2,500 years old. It's beautifully preserved."
COVERING TERRITORY: ''The day trip for me that really stands out was in the area north of Shiraz," said Martin. ''We went to see this remote waterfall and went through magnificent valleys where the nomadic tribe the Qashqai spend summer with their herds. There're thousands of them migrating through the mountains in search of green pastures. Since so much of the country is undeveloped, they can move freely. They wear magnificent, brilliant clothes and have thousands of animals. They weave rugs call gabbeh, which is a tribal rug made of soft, thicker wool than most Persian rugs. We brought some of those back." In the area of the falls, villagers ''invited us inside and gave us yogurt. They had a few rooms and a dirt floor and a little donkey out front and maybe one cow."
SILK TREAT: The couple usually stayed with relatives, but in Isfahan they stayed at the Abasi Hotel. ''It goes back to the 1600s and is where caravans would stop on the Silk Road," Martin said. ''The rooms are basic, but the place itself is gorgeous. You can see mosques right outside the hotel." Added Seifaee, ''It's a beautiful city to see, with beautiful squares, mosques, and mosaic tiles. It's well known with tourists. A large river cuts through the city and . . . everything's beautifully preserved. There's a giant square near the bazaar. From 200 to 400 years ago, it was the capital of Persia."
DINNER FOR 100: When they weren't sightseeing, they were visiting relatives. ''We were the event of the spring," Martin said. ''One night, they had a dinner at a hotel with 100 people. Usually it was 20 or 25. People were giving us wedding gifts 20 years later. It was so moving for me."