Trip Start Jan 08, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Iran  ,
Thursday, September 15, 2005

I thought the train trip would be a welcome relief and that I would get some sleep! How wrong could I be? A lady got on with her three sons. The two younger ones must have been about 18 or so and held hands and giggled like girls the whole night! It was soooo annoying. I didn't really get any sleep.

I still haven't gotten used to the level of intimicy that the males show each other in public. They link fingers, hug each other, stare into each other's eyes and rub legs etc. Not just the young ones either, all ages. I suppose if they can't show any public affection to girls, this is the only way.

The dress code had been slightly different in Tehran too but we were back to the norm here although quite the percentage of chadors as in other towns. Lots of the younger women in Tehran wore loads of makeup, shorter, figure hugging manteaus, calf length jeans with sandals showing their ankles (oohh!!). They looked great in fact. They had changed normal dreary headscarf and manteau uniform into high fashion. We didn't get stared at much, which was a nice change.

Anyway - we arrived at our chosen hostel at about 6ish and even though we had emailed them and they said they could accommodate us, we would have to wait until 12 NOON!!!! until they had a room ready. Shit. I was really, really not in the mood. The guy on reception says to wait in the courtyard. It's ok but not that comfortable. There is a sign at reception that says 24 hour tea/coffee, so at 7am I ask for tea. Oh - the staff don't start till 8. Right. So, 24 hours, my foot. At 8am we ask for breakfast. We met an Irish guy called James, who we had seen in Turkey and a Swiss guy called Hubert who was organising a very contraversial art exhibition there. We all watched the cleaner. David named him 'shit gloves'. Hubert and I decided he needed to be sent to a Swiss School for Cleaning. He had these industrial strength black, rubber gloves on that he used to empty the shitty paper filled bins in the toilets. But not by just tipping them up. He had to remove all the paper by hand! Eeeeewwwwwww. Then he did his stuff - power sprayed all the loos and showers out with a big hose. Then he'd come and clear the tables and 'wipe' them down wearing the same shitty gloves!!! Fingers in the sugar bowls and all. We hadn't heard of any illness related deaths there though. There was a couple of little, older guys working there too that looked a bit dodgy. One of them, with gammy eyes, took a shine to me and kept coming over saying, 'very good, very good' and wanting to shake my hand. Hhhhhmmmmmmmmm. This place read 'Equal Opportunity Employer' all over!!

We decided to head out and have a look around. We wandered down to Imam Square (Naqsh-E Jahan Square), second largest in the world. Outdone only by Tianamen Square in China. We'd seen pictures but they don't do it justice. It's fantastic! It was supposedly started in 1602 by Shah Abbas the Great. Apparently they used to play polo here 400 years ago!! It has bazaars right round it, which we, of course, walked through. There are loads of touristy things to catch the eye. Copper works, jewellery, carpets, printed materials, bags and loads more. We saw James, who seemed to have been cornered by a tout of some sort. We asked him to take us to a carpet shop, which he did. James had never been to a carpet shop before, so it was all greek to him. We were fed tea, as per usual, whilst we viewed the carpets. We asked to see prayer rugs to add to our little collection. I couldn't believe it, but we actually saw one we liked and decided to buy it as it was so cheap. Much better prices than in Turkey. As it was late in the day, and we needed more cash, we said we would come back on Saturday as Friday is a day off in Iran. We went down to the Si-o-Seh Bridge to watch the sun go down and have tea alfresco. David disappeared in the crowds swarming all over the river banks. I was scouring the crowds for him when this young guy comes up to me. 'Miss, Miss!' He started stroking the front of his head. I'm thinking - FREAK!!! But he keeps doing it all the time saying, 'Miss, Miss, Miss!'. So I back away a little, but he kept following me stroking his head with vigour. Then I got it. My scarf had slid back to reveal about half my hair. I should be arrested! I located David, sitting in prime position in a tea house. He had ordered tea, only problem was, he was sitting in the men only section. So we all had to move to the family section just for little ol' me. We sat there for ages drinking tea and watching the crazy locals walking across the weir to cool their feet. Most of the ladies didn't turn their trousers up or take their shoes off, so it did look a bit strange. We shared a table with a husband, wife and child who very kindly bought us a dish of 'Ash'. a kind of thick green vegie soup thing with noodles and barley. It's the first place in Iran that I've felt a little relaxed. Although when we were walking back the same weirdo guy popped up from nowhere and started with the stroking the hair thing again. 'Miss, Miss, Miss!'. Yeah, yeah, I get it.

Next morning we walked around some of the back streets in search of a few mosques. The Hakim Mosque and the Jameh Mosque. We found the first but kept getting dud directions for the Jameh Mosque. Eventually a man said he'd give us a lift - on his motor bike. He had his daughter on the front, then him, then David then me. We went screaming throught the back laneways!!!! I thought I was going to slide off the back! But he got us there safely. Jameh Mosque is a huge mosque and over 800 years old. We took loads of pictures. We got asked back to someone's place again for lunch but we declined. We left and walked around the bird market and the non-touristy markets for a while before heading back over to Imam Square to a tea shop with a fantastic view over the whole square. It's a great place to watch the sun go down, drink tea and share a qalyan. The square is very quiet from about 2pm onwards when it's too hot for anything to happen, but as the sun goes down the square fills to the brim with families picnicing on the grass, horse and carriages taking punters for rides and traffic cramming through at one end.

Day three in Esfahan. We had to get up early and get down to the local consulate to extend our visa. They had only issued us with a 15 day one in Istanbul and that just wasn't enough. I put on my extra special black hijab, hid all my hair, and we presented our stuff to the guys at the office. We were the only tourists there. We had to tramp all the way down to a specific branch of a specific bank to pay our $US11 and then go back. They told us to come back later. When we did, there were loads of Afgans. Loads. If you've ever seen the movie, 'Team America', I swear I saw Gary Johnson after he had been valmorified. Splitting image! We couldn't stop laughing! We went in and the Afgans all followed. We were shown seats and they were told to get back outside. Then they decided to let them all in again but opened a separate door and shoved them all in. Everytime one of them crept out, the guards would shout and they would have to creep back to their little room. Poor chaps. Not long after, we were handed our passports back complete with a new 34 day visa! We went back to our carpet man to pay for our carpet and saw another he had just bought. We both liked it the instant we saw it so decided as they were so cheap we would have that one too!!! Satisfied with out purchases, we went to visit the other mosques in the square. Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, which was originally the ladies mosque. It was built for the harem of Shah Abbas I so that they could wander across from Ali Qapu Palace on the opposite side of Imam Square. It's really stunning inside. Much smaller with lovely decorative tile work. I think it's my favourite so far. The outside of the dome has cream coloured tiles with blue. It's beautiful as the sun goes down. Then we went across to the huge Imam Mosque at the far end of the square. It's gigantic compared to the little Ladies Mosque, but the tile work is lovely too. The great thing about his mosque is that it's dome was built with a double layer. The inside is 36 metres high but the external layer is 51 metres high. There are four black paving stones directly under the centre of the dome and when you stamp your foot or clap, it makes the most amazing echo. Needless to say we stamped and clapped alot and made lots of noises, as did everyone else!!!! We saw the Kiwis we'd met in Tehran and chatted for a while and went back up to the tea house to drink tea, smoke a qalyan and watch the sun go down.

Our last day in Esfahan, we decided to see the palaces. The first was Chehel Sotun. In a really tranquil setting and had an open fronted pavillion with huge wooden pillars. People come here to see the frescos that surprisingly survived the revolution. There are even topless women and one of a man kissing a woman's foot!!! They were really impressive. There were also some really old prayer rugs from the 14th and 15th century that looked practically new!! We wandered round the outside of Hasht Behesht Palace. You can see most of the paintings from outside and it's in a nice garden. We then went back to the square to go into Ali Qapo Palace. There is only one floor open that also has huge wooden pillars. It gives a fantastic view of the square and we stayed for a while watching the people and taking photos. We wandered around the bazaar for a while and then met up with the Kiwis at the tea house to watch the sun go down.

We had bought bus tickets to Shiraz, where, unfortunately they don't produce wine anymore. It would be sad to leave Esfahan. Even though the hostel wasn't the best, I had really enjoyed the city. I'd love to come back.
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