Day 65: I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike...
Esfahan Travel Blog› entry 91 of 260 › view all entries
June 9th, 2010 – by: Biedjee
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Alirezza (Iran), Michael (Australia)
I woke up after a good night's sleep and was treated to the best breakfast I'd had in ages. Ali had brought some goodies from The Netherlands, so I had a delicious breakfast with hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles) on my bread, and topped it off with a good cup of coffee with a stroopwafel. Ah, this guy knows how to make friends with a Dutchman!
Before Ali started his study in The Netherlands he worked on the Esfahan metro. This morning he went to visit his old boss and colleagues and I joined him. Like the metro in Tehran and other Iranian cities, work on the one in Esfahan started way too late when traffic problems in the city had already become unbearable.
First off UNESCO isn't particularly happy about the metro crossing right through the heart of the historic centre and has threatened to de-list Esfahan from the World Heritage list and cut the not insignificant funding. Not everybody in the local government cares too much for this, although they did give in to UNESCO's demands that no building in the centre should be higher than the historic buildings, and they took the top two floors off the new metro headquarters.
An issue much more difficult to resolve is the fact that due to a miscalculation two ends of the metro tube did not line up and are now six metres apart. A group of German scientists have been brought in to try and fix the issue.
After the metro visit we went to the Jolfa quarter, the Armenian quarter of Esfahan, where we met up with Michael. In the times of Shah Abbas I the Armenians were moved here from the town of Jolfa in the north of Iran, near the present Armenian border and the town New Jolfa was created. As Esfahan expanded New Jolfa became part of the big city and now, 300 years later, there is still a sizeable Armenian community living here. Armenians are Christians, and like the Iranian Jews, they are allowed to practice their religion and customs as long as it doesn't interfere with the Islamic republic.
An interesting fact about the government's 'tolerance' for other religions. Christians and Jews are welcome to convert to Islam, though conversion from Islam to another religion is punishable by death!
Apart from alcohol there is another drug which Christians use frequently: coffee. I have no idea why, but coffee is rare (and extremely expensive) throughout Iran, but here in Jolfa there are more than a dozen coffee shops selling decent espressos and cappuccinos at affordable prices (though at 3 bucks a cup still expensive when compared to the rest of the prices in this country).
We visited the Vank cathedral, the largest of 13 remaining churches in Esfahan. One immediate difference from the rest of Iran was noticeable when we paid for our ticket to visit the cathedral and museum: the price. Throughout Iran all tourist sites charge prices between 20 and 50 cents. The Vank cathedral is an exception. It is not run by the Iranian ministry of culture (obviously) so they charge $3 entrance instead.
As part of the museum there is a small display on the Armenian genocide in Turkey. I had not visited the genocide museum when I was in Yerevan, so I was quite interested in seeing this. I knew the 'official' story from the Turkish viewpoint, ranging from “it didn't happen” to “it was an accident” to “it was war, so it is unsure just what happened, why don't we try and figure it out together?”.
In Yerevan I was already told that the evidence in the genocide museum is quite striking, and here at the Armenian cathedral in Esfahan I was able to see it for myself. After seeing the pictures and also reading the documents (including a book by one Adolf Hitler, no less) it is unimaginable that anyone in their right mind could claim that nothing has happened. And besides, the genocide happened during the Ottoman times, which existed before the present state of Turkey was created, so what is the Turkish government trying to achieve with their denial?
It was a very moving bit of history from a country visited earlier on my trip.
The cathedral itself was also quite interesting. Inside the whole interior is covered in frescoes, depicting bloody scenes from the bible.
After our Jolfa tour we went to the Zayandeh river front where we hired some bicycles. For the next two hours we rode our shoddy Chinese bicycles through the parks that grace both sides of the river, past all the beautiful historic bridges (as well as the not so beautiful modern concrete ones). It turned out to be quite a long ride, as the city is pretty big and the bridges quite far apart. So it was good exercise, if not a bit painful for Michael, who, as an Australian, is not used to riding a bike at all.
We spent the early evening at a tea house in the hills of Esfahan. You could have a great view on the city from here, were it not for the fact that all tea houses and restaurants here are facing *away* from the city.
Ali's parents had invited Michael and me over for dinner (along with a large chunk of Ali's extended family) so tonight we finally had some real Iranian home cooked food. The Iranian kitchen has a great diversity of food, though for some reason 99% of the restaurants only serve the same few dishes everywhere.
The food was absolutely delicious. Much better than anything we had had in any restaurant in Iran.
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