Half the World

Esfahan Travel Blog

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People I met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Masoud (Iran), Mahshid (Iran)

Departing the bus at Esfahan, we stood with our bags, trying to work out how we could phone our couchsurfing host Masoud. The look of a lost tourist is just too much for the Iranians to handle, and within seconds we were approached by a cheerful woman called Mahshid. She immediately offered her assistance by lending us her mobile and once we had arranged somewhere to meet Masoud, she was insistent that her husband would give us a lift there.

It took twenty minutes to get to Imam Hossein Square, located smack in the centre of the City, and en route we chatted amongst ourselves.

Mahshid had just finished 7 years at University, training to become a doctor, which was also her husbands profession. She had studied in Kashan and had just returned to Esfahan and was excited to be moving into a new house, which they had just bought together. As we left the car they called Masoud again to make sure he was there and didn't leave until they were sure we were in his capable hands! We thanked them for their generosity, before they headed off.

Masoud immediately struck me as a friendly, talkative guy and his English was excellent. He had picked up an American accent, which i found impressive, although i ribbed him that he should have learned 'real' English! The three of us wandered South towards one of Esfahan's most famous landmarks, the Si-o-Seh Bridge, where we sat and talked for a couple of hours, staying long enough to watch the sunset.
This marked the end of fasting for the day and thus we made a beeline for a restaurant, where i ordered a huge Turkish Kebab and Salad.

As we had our large backpacks with us it wasn't appropriate to walk along the river, which was spanned by beautifully illuminated bridges. Instead we caught the bus up to the Northern end of town, where Masoud lived. Julia was made to feel at home as we put an episode of 'Friends' on the TV and then Masoud and I watched Bolton 1-3 Arsenal in the Premier League. During the game he prepared a qalyan (water pipe) for us to smoke, which is about as Iranian as it gets!

A little after 22.00 Masoud's brother Mohammed came home and sat with us for some time, but as he had been at work all day, he decided to sleep soon after. The sleeping arrangements were that we would all sleep on mats in the living room, but no-one else was tired yet, so the three of us stayed up to look through some photos on Masoud's computer.
Soon after i was pretty horrified to see Mohammed looking at Julia and masturbating under his blanket. I hoped that Julia hadn't seen it, but i realised that she had, as she had a disgusted look on her face. After what had happened in Kashan, i was saddened and shocked that we had to witness something like this for the second night in a row. This time we decided to tell Masoud, as we both felt rather uncomfortable by the events and he felt equally embarrassed when i let him know what we had witnessed. He said he would talk with Mohammed the following day and this put the matter to rest.

The next morning we were up early and caught a savari (shared taxi) down to Imam Hossein Square. It was already hot enough to warrant walking on the East side of the street, so as to get some respite from the sun in the buildings shadows.
The first place of interest that we reached was the Jameh Mosque, a stunning construction from 900 years ago. The Mosque contains craftsmanship from the Seljuks, Mongols and Safavid periods and in total it now measures more than 20,000sqm. It was surprising that we were only two of a handful of people walking around, but it was nice not to have to share such a place with hordes of other tourists.

Esfahan is quite a religious City, even by Iran's standards, and the streets were filled with black chadors as we made our way through the bazaar towards the Mausoleum of Harun Vilayet. The interior of the Mausoleum contains well preserved frescoes from the 16th century, whilst the exterior has mosaics of Khomeini and Khamenei. Just over the road we entered the Mosque of Ali and the star attraction here was the 48m high minaret, which can be seen from quite a distance across the City.

By now it was midday and we were forced into the shade as the weather really was stiflingly hot. An hour in an internet cafe gave us the chance to cool off and then we met up with Masoud and his friend Hesam for lunch. Masoud has a real talent for eating, i don't think I've ever seen anyone polish off a meal so quickly and it even put Julia's achievements to shame!

Esfahan is famous for many reasons, but arguably its biggest draw card is Imam Square, otherwise known as 'Naqsh-e Jahan Square' or  'Pattern of the World'. Up until Mao created Tiananmen Square in Beijing, this had been the largest Square on the face of the Earth, measuring 512m long and 163m wide. If size is something that matters, then this place will surely impress, but for me it seemed too big, with not enough to fill the skyline.
The sheer scale of the Square also made the buildings seem smaller due to the scale, when I'm sure in any other setting they would have dominated their environ.

Bypassing the horse drawn carriages, we walked past the Qeysariah Portal and then down to the pool, located at the heart of the Square. Walking East we were confronted by the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, an imposing structure dating back to the early 17th Century. Entering the building (4,000 Rials / $0.40) we followed a passage until it opened up into a stunning prayer hall. The sheer size of the room and height of the ceiling was enough to draw you to your knees, trying to arch your neck to take in the full extent of what lay before you. Sadly we only got to spend ten minutes inside as they were closing early due to Ramadan, but this was enough to get a pretty good idea of the place.

All the other buildings on the Square were also closed when we inquired at them, so the Imam Mosque and Ali Qapu Palace would have to wait for another day. As we still had a good few hours before the sun set, we got Hesam to drop us off in Jolfa for a look around. This area is the Armenian district of the City and its main attractions are the Churches and the upmarket shops. Masoud and I therefore had to drag Julia kicking and screaming away from the latter, in search of God! Sadly finding the supreme being came at a price, namely 30,000 Rials ($3) to enter Vank Cathedral, so we decided to pass on this and stick to Allah, who was far cheaper! Nearby was the Church of Bethlehem (Kelisa-ye Bethlehem) and Church of St Mary (Kelisa-ye Maryam), which i had to climb up a ladder to see.
To be honest I've seen my fair share of churches, so i wasn't too fussed about paying over the top to visit these, especially as we are heading to Armenia in the near future.

Wandering the streets of Jolfa, it was apparent that the people here were from the upper class, as many of them had first aid plasters on their nose. In Iran this is a sign of wealth as it symbolises the person been able to afford a nose job! Amusingly people often walk around wearing a plaster, even when they haven't had the operation, so as they can look cool in the street. Personally i think they look stupid, but who am i to judge! I let Julia off the leash for a bit to window shop, before we headed to a juice stand for some ice shakes.

By now it was getting dark, but Hesam had not returned to take us to his house and we couldn't go home as Masoud's brother was arranging some religious meeting in his house.
Not only had Mohammed 'relieved' himself in our presence the previous night, but we had also caught him watching porn on the computer, which presumably his Qu'ran told him to do. Its ironic that so many weirdos are normally connected to religion in some shape or form - or am i just imagining that? With nowhere to go - thats why pubs are so great - we decided that we would make the most of it and take a stroll along the river.

If Imam Square hadn't really impressed me, then i can say for sure that the Zayandeh River and its breathtaking bridges really did. We began our journey at Abuzar Bridge, which is little more than a modern car bridge, but walking East along the riverbank towards the Si-o-Seh Bridge was fantastic, as soft yellow lights illuminated the 298m, 33 arched structure.
Built in 1599, construction took 3 years and left Esfahan with a spectacular river crossing that still stupefies 400 years on. We took the opportunity to sit in a cafe at the base of the Bridge and drink a pot of tea, basking in the reflective glow of the lights.

Continuing down river we passed under the modern Ferdosi Bridge, which had blue lighting and a steady flow of traffic passing over it. Next up was the 343 year old Chubi Bridge, with 21 arches spanning 150m across the river. The final bridge that we came across in this section of the river was the Khaju Bridge, which would prove to be my favourite. Supposedly there had been a bridge in this location since the time of Tamerlane, some 800 years ago, but what is there today dates to 1650. The 110m length has two tiers and a section at the back where people sat, smoking qalyans, chatting and watching the World go by.
We opted to buy some tasty toasties and sat on the embankment, but Julia was struggling to relax as there were countless rats scurrying around. The screams and yelps whenever a rat did appear at least meant that no human in their right mind would come and disturb our little picnic, as it sounded more like some gruesome murder was been played out!

The following morning Julia and I walked down to Imam Square, which took around 45 minutes and even though it was quite hot, it still made for a pleasant stroll. The streets were particularly quiet today and this was due to the Muslim World mourning for the death of Imam Ali. The few people that were on the streets were dressed in black and almost all of the shops were closed. As a result, the buildings on Imam Square were also shut to tourists, although we did manage to take a peek into Imam Mosque, which was enormous.
Even though there were lots of Muslims walking around and taking photos, they deemed it unacceptable for a non-Muslim to take a photo, and then we were asked to leave. I found this rather petty and on a par with Imam Reza's shrine in Mashhad, where you couldn't use a camera, but you could take photos and videos on your mobile. Ridiculous.

Both of us were feeling really hungry, but even the 'tourist restaurant' that we had eaten in the previous day was closed. Not to be put off, we continued scouring the streets for some sign of food, but found it disheartening that kiosks were closed and also all the internet cafes, it was like a ghost town. Thankfully our persistence was to pay off, as we spotted a building with a curtain over the door and people going in and out, this had to be a restaurant.
Entering inside, it seemed like all of Esfahan had gathered here to pig their faces, like good Muslims! So far we have met hardly anyone who even claims to be fasting during Ramadan and it baffles me why everyone is playing this charade, surely they should just let people eat where they want and when they want, its not like they are kidding anyone.

Re-energised, we went for  walk along the river and went back to take a look at the bridges during the daytime. I found them just as impressive as the previous night and we ended up spending hours meandering through the parks and gardens that lined the embankment, passing people picnicking under trees, talking, playing ball games and generally relaxing. It was a beautiful, tranquil scene and one which i hope that any City that i may chose to live in may also boast.

Later in the afternoon we went home to meet Masoud and he treated us to his home made spaghetti, which was pretty good. We sat around chatting throughout the evening, before watching a film called Memento, which Guy Pearce stars in. For anyone that hasn't seen this film, i can highly recommend it. Released about a decade ago, i honestly don't know how it never became more famous, as it has an excellent plot and keeps the viewers attention focused at all times.

On Tuesday we awoke at 08.00 and caught the bus into town, so as to go and take another look at Imam Square. Our first port of call was Imam Mosque, which was an impressive collection of buildings situated around a  central courtyard and pond. Sadly there were tarpaulin covers that were obscuring the view within the courtyard, although the interior of the buildings were thankfully free from such obstructions.
Stood on the floor in the middle the Central dome of the Mosque, there was a perfect echo when you spoke, but it seemed a bit rude to test this out too much, as people were praying.

Located on the West of Imam Square is Ali Qapu Palace and the main reason to go here is for the views from the 48m high roof top. Most of the building seemed to be undergoing restoration, but there were a couple of nice mosaics and wooden columns that briefly held the attention. Leaving Imam Square we finished our sightseeing at Chehel Sotun Palace. The Palace was fronted by a pretty pond and 20 pillars although the name 'Chehel Sotun' actually means 40 pillars and this refers to the reflection of the pillars in the pond. Inside was no less impressive, as several rooms contained vivid frescoes, relating to Historical battles, court life and action on the battle field.

For lunch we went into the 'tourist restaurant' located near Imam Square and ate a curry with rice and salad. Masoud wasn't due home until 14.00, so we decided to casually walk back home, even though it was extremely hot. Having packed our bags we said goodbye and caught a taxi to the bus terminal. Unfortunately there were no buses due to leave to Yazd for several hours, but there was a nice park that we could sit in whilst we waited.

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photo by: genetravelling