BEAUTIFUL and amazing.
Almost got couch to sleep on!
Esfahan was all it was promised to be. The exceptional craftsmen of a village on the Azabaan boarder had been kidnapped wholesale by the Shar of the time to be brought here to create the enormous Imman Squar and the mosques, palace and bazar off of it. They had settled in the south of the city where an apparently impressive church and delicious resturants still reflect that dispaced heritage today but we ran out of time to see that. We also saw little of the infamous and numerous bridges spanning the river although this was largely due to the unusually heavy rain which had begun. It was apparently the first good rain they had had in three years so we couldn't complain too much. The largest mosque was IMMENSE, looking at the scale of the peopel in my photos is the only way I can remind myself of just how big it is. The huge main open air courtyard was covered over due to ongoing resturation which made it harder to photograph but on reflection I don't think I could have done it justice without a wide angle lense. One of the workman came over and chattd to us as he had a fair bit of English and, after exchanging contact details, (we refused tea with he and his friends as we felt we'd never see Esfshan) said that if we were passing through his home town near by that we'd be very welcome to stay. This mosque was the first, (catalised by the shar's impatience and temper) to pilot the concept of painting complex and interlocking designs onto square tiles instead of producing seperate small pieces of tilework for each colour, both were apparent here.
We wandered thrugh the crafts bazar situated around the square seeing some really stunning work- particularly the mina-kari, camel bone minitures and khatam-kari that Esfahan is famous for. Every person who could speak any English called out "Hello, how are you?" to us. At first I thought that it may just be carpet sellers which I had developed a healthy fear of in Morocco but it really was anyone who noticed we were foreign wanting to convey that they were glad we had come to visit Iran and that they could say some English to us. Anyone who was able to say more quickly engaged us in more conversation, When I saw other ladies in headscales my brain automatically registers them as Iranian but to the trained eye this was clearly not the case and I realised we stuck out like a sore thumb- but they made us feel like movie stars rather than oddities!
We decided to by pass the palace, put off by an enthusiastic, (and unusual) tout at the gate and went instesad to lunch. We tracked down a reccomendation from the guide serving Biryani and I can still call to mind that fantastic and unusual taste now, four weeks later. It was a couple of large, fat free meaty burgers spiced with all manor of things including a stong cinaman taste served in some of the soft flat bread. It didn't seem emense at the time but it was very filling. Full up, we relaxed in an internet cafe for a time then dropped back a load of boxes of different sweets I had bought to the car. We went next to the other mosque in the square- perportedly a simpler one with no minnerettes, built for use by the Shar's hareem. I think the whole complex was origionally for private use so it's fantastic that it's all accesible today. The corridor leading to the main room had more stuning tile work and when I turned to step into the domed chamber I actually stumbled and gave an invluntairy squeek as to it's beauty and balance. In all these designs you don't realise the mathmatical brilliance they exhibit until you notice that the circular repreated design at the apex of the dome flows into larger and larger, more elaborate designs as space allows, all the way down to the walls remaining perfectly evenly spaced throughout. Really really impressive, a feast for the eyes. We headed on into the main bazar from here. It is enormous and maybe we were only in the more everyday bits bit it seemd full of mundane thigs toy csn get anywhere- clothes, cheap toys, fabrics, purfumes.
On the way back to the car, off to find a hotel for the night, an excellent English speaker engaged us again. He had studdied English Literature at Uni and was a Couch Surfer- he said we were welcome to crash at his. WIth his obviously honest, enthusiastic and generous personality plus the good experiences of the night before and the careful wiki style vetting techniques of the Couch Surfer website this seemed like a great idea. We were so relaxed with him that even when it transpired he worked in a carpet shop and he got us to come back there for a cup of tea first it was all fine. Three Europian travellers came in while we were there- one had come to view a particular carpet for the third time to contemplate buying it. Whether it was this or the genuine and honest nature of our host, (he was one o the youngest but the most fluent in English of the five or so guys helping stock take the shop this evening) he was very to the point about prices, not beating around the bush and giving just the value I would have expected for such a fine piece of workmanship. I joined in on the sales banter- having enjoyed a talk in Edinburgh I fully iunderstod the true value of the rug and can't resist helping to sell something I belive it. In the end the guys left without buying it and it was like all the enthusiasm for life had left the room with them. Our kind host suddenly slumped, along with the rest of the shop folk. I could tell he was a lot tireder than he had realised and made it easy for him to admit that maybe he wasn't up to guests after all tonight.
We had some trouble finding the hotel we were after as the map in the guidebook had been penned wrongly but when we did it was comfey enough and a lot cheper than we were expecting and included breakfast brought to our room! We poped out for a very tasy Iranian style piza around the courner and sampled some of th delicious beer style fizzy drinks we had been noticing- across between that flavoured fizzy water you get and fruit juice- deicious and refreshing, a welcome break from the day glow fanta we'd been having.
The next morning started well with great showers and a head scalf free breakfast in our room with fried eggs. We then had a frustrating time of re navigating the awful traffic, (due to metro works, like the oh too familiar tram works of Edinburgh), to fail find a phone shop for a sim card. We found our way back to the carpark of the day before and went in search of the nice carpet shop man for money changing- he had offered the other foreigners in the shop a much better rate than the banks yesterday. Unfortunately they had banked all their cash but he reccomended a money changes near by and I did manage to pick up a phrase book from the stall next door. I felt very nervous using a mony changer after various dire warnings but it was all fine- it was a very sparkaly clen place with mainly women working there, the rate was the same as the carpet shop and there were no fake notes passed into our hands. I even managed to pick up some of the craft work I had much admired on the way back to the car- although being me I managed to choose a workshop that didn't usually sell direct to the public but I had an entertaining time trying to communicate with the two lovely girls working there, a slightly better price and the pleasure of knowing the money had gone direct to the makers.
We filled up with disel on the way out and headed for the mountains. I were impressed by the lip of ragged craggy peaks surrounding the flat dry plain- a welcome difference to the monotonous flat view of the previous day. We saw someone had pulled off the road and got stuck so we pulled over and managed, to everone's great plesure to successfully winch him out- exercising this part of the TLC for the first time. The greatful man gave us a large bag of unbelivably juicy and delicious walnuts and the other guys that had come to assist him exchanged our contact details ad half heartedly invited us back with them. Having read about the Iranian custom of people often refusing things up to three times we turned them down and they didn't press it so we headed out to a lovely spot in the foot hills for the night in the car amid gorgeous scenery.