Palaces and picnics

Trip Start Aug 05, 2010
Trip End Feb 26, 2011

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Flag of Iran  ,
Friday, October 15, 2010


Arrived in Sanandaj which meant I had moved from being amongst Azerbaijani people into a Kurdish region. You could tell this from the change in clothing with men wearing baggy clothes with a sash or cummerbund around the waist and some women wearing colourful cloaks. The women here were also more brazen and I saw several pairs of ankles and lots of hair being revealed. The bazaar here was a colourful one with everything for sale as usual but it also had an alley full of sugar chippers. These guys spent all day with a metal pick breaking up sugar loaves into little irregular lumps. By now I'd noticed how chewy Iranian bread was, it almost seems stale, they must like it that way but I preferred the bread in other countries.

Headed over the mountains on the way to Esfahan, the view from the mountain road of the disappearing towns below was fantastic. Decided to stay in Hamadan to break up the journey and saw thousands of pumpkins piled high on the roads at the city outskirts. Nothing much to see in the town but there were lots of murals of martyrs on the walls of blocks of flats, constant reminders of the Iran-Iraq war. Was surprised that it rained in the evening and it was cold enough for a jumper! It would be the last time I wore it for ages.

Esfahan is usually thought of as the most beautiful city in Iran and there were many sights to see. For the first time I saw tourists in Iran, some of them in groups of about 10 with a guide, I even heard American accents a few times which would probably surprise you all what with all the threats being made by the US government. However, the Iranian people are aware of politics and don't bear any grudges towards people from other countries (except perhaps Israel?) who come to visit. Many of them are quite chatty and interested to know about your life and what you are doing in Iran and like to know that you are having a good time in their country. It's also surprising to see how many women in Iran are having nose jobs. In the cities most days you'll see several of them walking around with big bandages on their noses having just had surgery. It's popular over here and I even saw 1 or 2 men like that also, or had they been fighting??

Anyway, back to Esfahan. Imam Square is beautifully laid out with grass and flowers, just a shame a road goes through it! It is said to be the 2nd largest public square in the world (after Tiananmen Sq) and it is a pleasant place to hang around in the late afternoon and evening. Families are everywhere with their picnics, children are playing, fountains spraying, horse and carriage rides go around the square and the waft of qalyan (aka hookah/nargile/hubbly-bubbly) smoke drifts through the air. It's hard to imagine an image more at odds with most Western peoples' perceptions. Surrounding the square are two impressive mosques both with detailed decorative tiles with some of the most amazing craftwork. On a larger scale the Jameh (Friday) Mosque a little distance away was also definitely worth seeing - portraits of Ayatollah Khomeini and the current Ayatollah Khamenei were picked out on one of the walls. Back at the square the Ali Qapu Palace provided a fantastic view of the square from its balcony and had music rooms with ceilings moulded in a strange way to create the best acoustic effect. Also visited the Chehel Sotun Palace with its gardens and long rectangular pond designed to reflect the entrance. The hallway was covered in impressive mirrorwork and inside were massive paintings of battles and the Shahs entertaining various leaders.

The most negative thing about the city was the traffic and with 1.6m people there is plenty of it. Most annoying were the motorbikes which constantly rode up and down the pavements, the wrong along 1 way streets and usually without lights at night, felt like hitting a few of them. A metro system is supposedly on the way, hopefully that'll help matters.

One morning I took a bus with one of my room-mates to see the shaking minarets. Every so often a guy climbs inside a short minaret and starts rocking it to and fro and the opposite minaret starts rocking in sympathy. It moved more than I expected and left me wondering how close the guy was to breaking the thing. On the bus back it was mainly black-clad women and one of them asked us why we were on it when we could afford a taxi, she must have thought we were a couple of eccentrics. Back in town I went for a walk along the river banks which is quite pleasant if you can keep in the shade. Crossing one of the bridges there were several guys singing poetry out loud.

The choice of food here wasn't too bad. I tried chicken fesenjun which was a sauce made of pomegranates and crushed walnuts. It was quite good but so rich that it was a bit too much in the end. Also tried fereni which was a kind of very smooth rice pudding with syrup over the top which I'd recommend anyone to try.

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