Esfahan and Shiraz

Esfahan Travel Blog

 › entry 6 of 6 › view all entries
We have come to the end of our trip to Iran and will be flying out to Dubai this afternoon.
The last city we visited was the beautiful city of Esfahan. This is said to be Iran’s masterpiece, the jewel of ancient Persia and one of the finest cities in the Islamic world.
In the centre of the city is the absolutely massive Iman Square. Around the square are the domes of the beautiful mosques, elaborately decorated in blue, green and yellow tiles, and stunning palaces.
My first interest in travelling to Iran came when I was reading the book written by Tony and Maureen Wheeler, “Once while Travelling” which is about how their company, Lonely Planet, came about. One of the pictures in it had Maureen Wheeler sitting in Iman Square with the beautiful Iman mosque in the background. This was in the 1970’s and before the revolution as she was wearing ordinary clothes and no head covering. Women have had to wear the hejab since then. I thought it looked beautiful and suitably exotic, so put Iran on my list of places to visit at some stage. And now we are here.

Esfahan also has many beautiful covered bridges, often with teahouses underneath.
We visited several of the mosques which varied in age and design but were all very stunning. Esfahan also has an expansive bazaar and a lot of shops selling carpets, art, handicrafts, plus of course the usual tacky souvenirs.
Being the most beautiful and popular city in Iran, we found it very crowded with Iranian tourists travelling during their New Year holidays.
A park runs the length of the river that goes through Esfahan and this was right across the road from our hotel. We took Hugh down to the park, as he seemed to need to let off some energy after being in the car for so long.
We saw that there was a playground as we were driving in, so we started walking in that direction. The park was packed with Iranians picnicking in family groups. Hugh was investigating every tree and picking up every stone he saw on the ground and generally moving at a snail like pace. We sat down on a park bench while Hugh was exploring, and after a minute or two, a boy came up to us from a family sitting on the ground near by with a plate of fruit and a knife to cut it up with. We looked over at the family to say thank you and they smiled and nodded at us. We ate the fruit and then a girl from the group brought over another plate of puffed rice and nuts. So this is what life is like in the axis of evil!
We went over to the family to say thank you again, and they invited us to sit down with them and have tea. The men were grouped at one end of the rug and the women at the other. Cameron was invited to play cards with the men. I’m impressed that he caught on how to play since we couldn’t speak any Persian and they not a word of English.
They kept feeding us and seemed to have and endless supply of food, plus a gas cooker for making tea (and later, dinner). Hugh loved all the food and was eating non stop. We managed to communicate with sign language and the limited Persian words written in the back of the lonely planet (however these were mainly geared towards asking where the toilets were or asking how much a double room etc was). However when they asked what our occupations were, they understood ‘Doctor’ as the word is understood in Persian, however for me, I pointed to the Persian word for hospital which was one of the words listed. They said “nurse?” and to keep things simple, I nodded yes. I had had a hard enough time doing the sign language for ‘anaesthetist’ as, when they found Cameron was a doctor, they immediately asked something else in Persian which I gathered was “What type of doctor?”. However I think they understood my charades as they suddenly nodded and then told the others who didn’t hear, who then all looked at Cameron, nodding and smiling, suitably impressed (which embarrassed Cameron no end)
We spent about an hour with the family but then said our thankyous and goodbyes and made our way back to the hotel. They invited us for dinner, but we had to get back and get Hugh ready for bed.
We spent 2 full days in Esfahan and then drove on to our final destination, Shiraz.
The town is named after the variety of wine. Before the revolution, when alcohol was legal, the surroundings of the town contained many vineyards. However, today, not a drop is to be had. Our hotel, although slightly spruced up, is definitely pre revolution. The lobby has a bar, and even wine glasses hanging up, however the big sign above it says “coffee and tea”. The elevator is also 70’s retro with stars cut out on the ceiling and some very retro music that plays when it is moving and abruptly stops when the destination floor is reached.
It was a pretty long drive from Esfahan to Shiraz, and we also made some stops along the way at the rock tombs of Naqsh-e-Rostam. These are huge tombs containing the bodies of some great figures in ancient history, Darius I & II, Artaxerxes I and Xerxes I. They are carved out of the cliff side, in the shape of a cross. Very Petra-esque.

The other place we visited is one of the absolute highlights of any visit to Iran - the expansive ruins of the ancient city of Persepolis. This was the magnificent city of the Persian empire, and although Alexander the Great set it on fire and effectively destroyed it, the remains of the huge palaces and huge entrance gates still remain as well as the grand decorated staircases.
Although lesser known, the Lonely Planet says to be prepared to compare it with the pyramids of Giza, the colosseum of Rome, and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
We found it very impressive, and so did the 60,000 people that also visited Persepolis every day on average during the New Year holidays. H said that there were usually around 20 cars in the carpark, but when we went, there were at least 2 entirely full carparks.
So if anybody reading this is interested in travelling to Iran, avoid this time!
Iranians are rightly very proud of their history, and are to put it lightly, slightly annoyed at such historical figures as Alexander the Great for wrecking it (they speak as if it happened yesterday), not to mention the Arabs who invaded in the 7th century, who also destroyed a lot of their palaces and temples, even going to the trouble of chiselling off faces of carvings and replacing inscriptions on tombs and palaces with passages from the Quaran.

Shiraz has a huge castle in the city centre which we visited, as well as several mosques, a bazaar, and the tombs of famous poets. People from Shiraz are very proud of their poets, the most famous of which is Hafez. He is loved and revered and has folk hero status. Apparently it is said that every house must contain two things: first the Quaran, and then Hafez, and most would reverse that order. Most people can quote his work and bend it to whatever their situation.
The day we spent in Shiraz was the 13th day of the New Year. On this day, it is a custom that nobody should stay at home, or else they will have bad luck for the rest of the year. People get out into parks and the surrounding countryside, and shops and offices are all shut. The streets outside our hotel were absolutely dead, and we decided to take Hugh to a park we could see on our map to run around. We hardly saw a soul while we were walking, but as we turned the corner to the street the park was on, there were suddenly big crowds. The park was packed and there was barely a spare spot for another Persian rug sitting family. Most had all the gear including portable gas stoves, pots and pans, and big containers of food. Gaining popularity for the picnic loving Persians are pop up tents. These are very practical especially when it is very hot and there is no shade. It was unbelievable how many people were out in the park, and also where people would set up their picnics, even on the grassy median strip between lanes on the road.
Hugh was determined to walk around and explore on his own. We found a small patch of shade and kept our eye on him, though frequently had to get up and prevent him putting things in his mouth and walking into the middle of people’s picnics.
Similar to what happened in Esfahan, somebody from the next picnic over brought over a mandarin for us. And then a few minutes later, a bag full of mixed nuts.
People here are just so nice.
Then another girl came over with a younger boy and gestured to us whether it was ok if Hugh played ball with him. The boy was about 7 and, I think, a bit disappointed that Hugh didn’t ‘get’ playing ball. Hugh would get the ball and then run off with it in the opposite direction, or go over to the path and bounce it on the concrete instead of throwing or kicking it back to the other boy.
The older brother of the young boy came over and could speak English fairly well. He asked us where we had been, what we thought of Shiraz, and if we would come back. He told of how upset Iranians are that the rest of the world think that Iran is unsafe and that they are all terrorists. He talked about how people think they are Arabs or like people in Afghanistan (spoken with a bit of disdain - people are very proud of their Persian roots), and that he wished people would come and see what Iran was like. He also talked about how people in Iran hate how the Arabs came (talking 7th century here) and brought their religion. He asked me what I thought of wearing the head covering. I said, “it’s hot”. He asked whether I thought women should wear it. I said that personally I didn’t think it was necessary. He seemed to agree and said he wished it was a matter of personal choice, not law.

Speaking of which, there are actually dedicated police officers that drive around in a car looking for ‘bad hejabs’. The hejab means any covering for a woman - some wear the coat and headscarf, and others wear the full chador.
There is a sign on the back of the car that translates as “the chador is the best hejab”.
There are many young women who push the boundaries and have short and tight coats, and wear their scarf way back on their heads. They are called ‘bad hejabs’.
Women who are ‘bad hejabs’ are arrested if they are detected by the patrolling police (some run the other way if they see these police coming). We thought this was a bit of a joke until we actually saw two girls being arrested and bundled in the back of the car. From what I gather, the girls have to go to court and then pay a fine, and I’m not sure whether it is a big deal or not to them, but to us looking on, it really was something out of the dark ages. There seemed to be a lot of other things police could spend their resources on, like the way people drive or the terrible littering.
H also told us that, at the same time, they were investigating how the girls (who were now in the back seat of the car) knew the boy they were walking down the street with. It is forbidden to walk with an unrelated male and they were making phone calls to their family to determine the relationship. Something else from the dark ages. They don’t hassle foreigners for this, though it is still illegal to be a ‘bad hejab', but I’m not sure what they would do. I was getting paranoid because I was wearing flipflops and I wasn’t sure whether showing foot flesh was allowed or not. I had seen other women wearing sandles, though they may have been ‘breaking the law’.
Hopefully one day soon, these ridiculous laws will be changed as it seems most Iranians don’t agree with them. H said it drives all the teenagers crazy, which I can well imagine.

So that is the end of our trip to Iran. We had a great time and saw some wonderful sights. We head back to Dubai today and then will be going to Oman for 2 weeks.

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photo by: genetravelling