The Beautiful and fabulous City of Esfahan
May 22, 2015
Let’s see Esfahan…Esfahan is a beautiful city…I think the prettiest I have seen…I know many say Shiraz but my vote for beauty is Esfahan…Much of the beauty is in the surrounding areas around the Zayandeh River, which is peppered with several historic bridges and many newer ones. One of the oldest is called Pol-e-Si-o-Seh or the Bridge of 33 Arches. This bridge was built between 1599-1602 and also served as a dam. If you want to see a little recent drama about it, google “our man in Tehran” and watch the one on this bridge. The river has had NO water in it for over a year…one day the water disappeared…and with it went the river economy…which based on what I saw is a huge part of not only this cities livelihood but the heart of its nightly community….Then just 2 months ago the water reappeared…and at some point the river will dry up yet again…watch the video for the answer, if it interests you at all…And since many of us are living in areas struggling with drought, it’s worth a watch.
But I got totally off my train of thought…As Usual! (-;
Esfahan is Iran’s top tourist destination. It has everything from fabulous historic sites, like the Palaces and Mosques of the UNESCO-listed Central Square known as Imam Square or Naqsh-e-Jahan Square. This is a spectacular square buttressed by the huge Bazar-e-Bozorg, which is an amazing maze of bazaars and the Jameh Mosque & the Palace…Horse Drawn Carriages are everywhere…and they race around the square as if they are in competition as to who can finish the fastest….very reminiscent of their general driving style here in Iran.
When we arrived at the square in the late afternoon, the heat helped decide our plan…we entered the dark and cool Bazaar…and started our shopping sprees…I had originally wanted to buy just a small Persian Carpet, thinking that would be a fun keepsake….BUT rethought that idea when the one I picked, which would fit over a small black bench I have(that small) cost 545.00!!! So it was off to look at silver, which is my usual choice for a trinket…I tend to buy a pair of earrings, Stamps and keep some of my foreign currency as my souvenirs…They are small and light to carry, which is necessary since I am traveling to so many places, I need to kept compact and light. Gary was the big spender of the day…by purchasing several tablecloths…Fatima also took us to several shops to watch the Artists making different items from Meta lworks, Tablecloths, fabrics, lovely boxes, leather etc…Everyone was delightful and so happy to tell us about their trade…I really enjoyed that.
I was also happy that the silver place took credit cards…you see, since Iran has no relationship with the US and much of the Western world, their economy is cash based for those of us visiting…They have their own credit cards and a very intricate banking system…there are far more banks on the street then Mosques…and like Churches in the US, there is a Mosque everywhere. When some of these stores(I think mainly or only in Esfahan) use Credit Cards, they go through a 3rd country like Dubai or Germany…When I bought my trinkets, Dubai was closed for the night so they could not clear my card but the man gave me the earrings anyway and told me he would call Fatima if there was an issue…I told them that I was fine coming back the next day but the man would have none of that…He totally trusted me…and my card had no issue.
On a side note, I have to say, I have found the Iranian people to be amazingly honest…I have struggled with the currency from day 1…as I mentioned, the bills are all in Rial…for example I was handed a 500,000 Rial which is actually 50,000 Toman. Toman is the currency the economy mostly works in…BUT not all the time…it changes constantly…I have learned to just lop off the last zero for Toman which is easy BUT not when suddenly it shifts back to Rial…and as you can see 500,000 is a large number…and the value is approx. 15.00! On several occasions I have bought things and they tell me how much…I give them too much(although I would never know…and they know that!) but always and I mean always they look at me… smile and correct me…or give me back more money…never have they taken advantage…even a young boy…I accidentally gave him my 500,000 and he beckoned for me to show him my bills…he proceeded to give the 500,000 bill back and took out a 50,000 note(approx. .50 instead of 15.00)…He could have made a killing but didn’t.
OK back on track…After enough heated daylight had burned off, we went into the plaza and were able to catch the sun setting in the square…When we went into the bazaar, very few people were in the square but once the sun starts to lower, the city comes alive…and stays alive well past 11pm…Siestas are huge here…You will find much closed from 2p-5pm…and then reopen until 11pm or midnight. Heck, many restaurants won’t even start serving dinner until after 9pm…which has been hard on me since I tend to like to eat around 7pm and be in bed by 9…did I just say that out loud? OK I can usually make it until 10:30P. (-:
We ended up leaving the square around 8:30pm and headed to this amazing mountaintop restaurant overlooking the city…The Taxi ride over was a wondrous adventure of whack-a-mole of other cars, motorbikes and pedestrians…and we drove through some of the most beautiful neighborhoods…quite upscale…with Lots and lots of western style stores like Benetton…Basically there is any western product here…from toys to cars…from appliances to supermarket items…Now, the economy of scale is different for the average Iranian…for those of us visiting, our dollars and Euros go quite a long way 3 and 4 to 1…but for the average Iranian, they really are struggling…but then so is the average American and European(except Germans..they are doing quite well based on how many Germans are here)
Our dinner was wonderful…Lamb Chops and other wonderful foods and I indulged in a non alcoholic Mojito…They gave us samples as we came in so I ordered a full one…it cost me .75
The view was amazing and it was fun watching all the people. This was the most upscale restaurant we have gone to…and still it cost each of us just 10.00 or so for everything.
The next day was a full day of Palace & Mosque visits…I am Mosqued out! Just like I get Churched out…BUT Fatima also took us to the Armenian section of town which was quite different and interesting and we visited the Armenian Cathedral -Vank Cathedral…Then we ran into the Intrepid group at this little coffee house where we went to for Tea, Coffee… bar none the best Chocolate Cake I have ever eaten!
It was fun catching up with the Australian group from Yadz…we gossiped a bit(about the “drama” that I will tell in my final Iran blog).
A couple of other side notes: Did you know the Persians invented Polo? AND Backgammon…Before Islam, the Sassanid Dynasty commissioned the creation of a game to be harder then Chess but also easy if you are a “thinker”…and Voila: backgammon! I bought Fatima a backgammon game back in Shiraz because we both love it and planned on playing…but we have had no time…so we thought we would kill some time before her flight tomorrow when we are in Tehran and play…
When we were in the Bazaar the first afternoon, we saw a Tea & Coffee shop that had a Starbucks sign…we stopped in and the 2 men who ran it made us the Traditional Iranian tea made of flowers…it reminded me of some floral teas with hibiscus that I had in Bali. So delicious…The men are both Coffee traders and have been all over the world & US, especially Seattle…that is where the Starbucks comes in! (-:
Our last day was a free day in Esfahan…Gary and I spent it together…We braved getting a Taxi…and went off to the Museum of Modern Art and the Palace of 40 Columns, which also had some lovely gardens…then we walked back to the bazaar where we wondered off the beaten path and ended up in what I can only describe as the warehouse and business district of the bazaar…Honestly, we just kept taking new paths… it was so cavernous and felt like a maze…at one point I posited that once we came out into the daylight, we might well be across the city for the distance we walked…We saw some very interesting things…but we were cautious not to take pictures since this wasn’t a tourist area and we were trying not to stand out…which is utterly impossible here…Iranians are so adept at knowing what region a person comes from in Iran…It’s like me knowing someone is a Mid Westerner or from Boston just by their look…without a word being spoken…which I rarely can do.
Once we found ourselves successfully back at the square, we ducked into a side ally and found a traditional Tea House down under the main area(It seems much of the great places are well below ground…I assume it is to stave off the heat…Once settled in, we had lunch…I was the only woman and after leaving I am guessing it was for men only…but they knew I was a foreigner so I think they let it slide…There was no menu…they just brought an Iron pot over with some liquid and what we surmised was Lamb…the man poured the red liquid(soup) into our bowls and then proceeded to smash up with a metal pallet the meat…once it was rather pulverized, he divided it up…60/40 or 70/30 to Gary & me. Yep no 50-50 here (-:
There was also a plate of herbs, some yogurt and, of course, some traditional bread that you are to eat the food with…then he brought out a bottle of liquid that we decided was a lime mixture after we each ventured a taste…after we must have looked quite confused about what to do with the lime mixture, an elderly man who was smoking a Hookah pipe came over to show us how to use the liquid on lamb and in our soup…Oh my this was delicious…
A nap was calling me something fierce so we battled with the Taxi drivers and made our way back to the hotel…feeling victorious that we navigated so successfully…
The “Drama” caused Fatima not to be able to take us to the 33 Column bridge so Gary & I, once again braved it on our own…and what a nice time we had walking all along the river and the bridge…the whole of the city was out picnicking and strolling…sitting and enjoying the water..and, once again, we would walk a bit and hear “Hello” “Welcome” and people would come up and ask to take our pictures with them…We finally decided to treat ourselves to a Saffron Ice Cream…oh I will miss Saffron Ice Cream…Then we walked some more before we decided to eat…yes, Fast Food…it was the only place open to eat before 9pm…I had pizza and Gary a sandwich…again people came up to our table…one woman, who was a translator was hoping we could hang with her but we just wanted to head back to the hotel…
Then morning brought us yet another 3 hour mini van ride to the City of Kashan…We did the proverbial House and other tours and now have collapsed in our rooms…I just want to rest before my Turkey Tour!!! Oh my, this tour thing is tiring…Thank goodness tomorrow will be fairly…or hopefully relaxing drive to Tehran and then an early night before my very early flight to Istanbul on Saturday.
Thank you for continuing to read my diatribe…I will file my last impressions of Iran on Saturday from Istanbul.
Your Intrepid but tired traveling friend (-: