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Published: November 15th 2014
Q: How can you see Esfehan in 2 Days?
A: You Can't
Sooooo... this morning over breakfast at the 'Divine Dibai' I made a decision. I decided to stay a total of 4 nights in Esfehan instead of 2. The original plan was to move on to Kashan and then have 3 nights in the Caspian Sea area to the north of Tehran before flying home. I had booked at a place called Khoone Geli, an Eco resort at the foot of the Alborz Mountains to do some more hiking. It sounded perfect- my last few nights in Iran hiking amongst forest, and 4000m peaks. In reality though it would mean 2 days of bus and taxi trips for 2 days of hiking, I thought to myself, "if Soufi has 2 extra nights available that will make my decision easy, if she doesn't I'll stick with the original program". I got lucky...
Backtracking a bit... Slept really well until 0530 then went in search of a cup of tea. It was only me and the 3 cats up at that time so I ventured across the courtyard to my bathroom and the kitchen in my pyjamas
and enjoyed the stillness of the morning. Actually, I caught up on laundry, reconnected with the world on Dibai's wifi and took another thousand photos- mostly of the cats... and the walls.... and the windows.
Breakfast was at 8, pretty late but it was really worth the wait. Soufi lived/s part time in Paris and has adopted the European breakfast habit- seriously awesome European food - fresh fruit, stewed fruit, dried fruit, muslei, yoghurt, bread, butter, jam, eggs and French Press COFFEE!!! As well as the Persian staples of cucumbers, tomatoes, feta and dates. Seating was very casual- solo or shared tables in the courtyard or down in the basement below the kitchen. A great set up to meet people or just spend some time alone.
Now that I had 4 nights I was going to get to see Esfehan at a much more relaxed pace. Today my plan was to visit the mosques close by in the morning then maybe the bazaar later on. Heading out my first goal was to find my way out of the alley. Mission accomplished, I headed for the minaret (a 48 m high landmark) and managed to get there first go-
it took all of 3 minutes! The minaret is part of the Ali Mosque complex, which on this occasion was closed to the public. The courtyard and entrance was still accessible though. Another stunning entrance made up of geometric tiles below the arches, large murals of past religious leaders and above the arches the more recognisable Persian floral tiles.
Adjacent to the mosque was a large square and a new bazaar still under construction. The square was filled with hundreds of plastic chairs and stages- the scene of last night's fireworks by the looks of things. There was also quite an interesting photo board display about the minarets of Esfahan.
From here it was only a few more minutes walk to the Masjed-e Jameh, the biggest mosque in Iran at 20 000 m sq and dating back to the 9th century (entrance fee 100 000 IRR). The tiled entrance portal with honeycombed ceiling was impressive, the ceiling reminded me of the inside of a de-seeded pomegranate. Inside the entrance was an enormous courtyard with central fountain and 4 large Iwans (3 sided structures open on the 4th side to the outdoors) with multiple prayer halls. As you stepped
Just so as I can remember how to get back
into the mosque complex there was an area set up with scaled models and info boards in Engish and Farsi- a good starting point. There were lots of tour groups in this area and the air was thick with different languages swirling around- German, Dutch, English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish, Italian- very cosmopolitan.
I wandered through the brick vaulted corridors and arches (beautiful interplay of light and shadows), rolled up prayer rugs and the odd pigeons nest before reaching the South Iwan. The roof of which had very elaborate stalagtite mouldings and 15th century mosaics. There were two 35m minarets flanking it and the Nezam al-Molk dome and prayer halls behind. The mosaics on the walls were the first I had seen in Iran that were 3 dimensional, they were mainly coloured black, brown, blue, turquoise, white and green. Other walls consisted of carved marble. It was also interesting (surprising, really) to see the graffiti etched into the walls above the marble.
The West Iwan was interesting for its marble staircases and geometric cut out tiles. It was also full of rolled up carpets- perfect for a nap (see photo) and had a sink and benches out the front-
perfect for cutting your toenails (see photo)- eeewwww.
It was now close to midday and the call to prayer was broadcast through the mosque loudspeakers. According to the entrance sign the mosque was now closed, and just like out at the Towers of Silence in Yazd, the ticket counter people had all just got up and left. None of the remaining tourists seemed to be leaving so I just sat in the square to watch. About 15 minutes later I was approached by a man who said I was welcome to stay but should put on a chador, he then went and found one for me (even smellier than the one in Shiraz, but I appreciated the gesture) and took me over to the women's section. There were probably about a hundred women praying in various formats, I squeezed in incognito and sat at the back for half an hour or so. Despite being completely devoid of religious beliefs I always enjoy sitting in various holy places, be they churches, temples or mosques- interesting.
Headed back to Dibai for a breather aka 'a cup of tea'. I had met an Australian couple last night and they arrived back
just after me- they asked if I wanted to join them for a late lunch in the bazaar- perfect. The Australians (Caroline and Mitchell) live in Dubai and were on an extended long weekend with an Iranian couple (Sam and Maryam) and another work colleague from Morocco (Aisha), so off we all went. I love that about travelling- you never know who you will meet and how it will unfold. It turned out to be a great meeting- we had such a good afternoon and night.
The Bazar-e Borg is an unmissable spot for a visit to Esfehan. It is an intricate labyrinth of alley ways that, in some sections, are over a thousand years old!! Most of it is ONLY 600 years old (built at the time that Esfahan was expanding into a major city. We snaked through it in search of a restaurant that was still open (by now it was so late that we had missed the official lunch time), we passed baskets of tea, trays of spices, colourful decorations, tacky jewellery, good jewellery, cheap socks and underwear, an entire shop full of instruments for self flagellation (!!!???!!) and other assorted must have items before falling
into a 2 level place that agreed to stay open for us. We took up residence upstairs sitting cross legged on the platforms and had Sam and Maryam ordering a total feast for us; platters of crusty rice stuffed with lamb, bread, rice, chicken kebab, rice, dizi (traditional dish of meat, juices and lots of spices), rice, bread, yoghurt, Shirazi salad, more rice, sheep neck and more rice... and more bread. SO much food. Very delicious. Very filling.
From here we rolled out to the UNESCO listed, Naqshe-e Jahan Square; it was originally constructed in 1602 and measures 512 x 163m. It is enclosed by the bazaar and is lined with shops as well as the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and Ali Qapu Palace.
As luck would have it a demonstration polo match between nomad groups was happening in the square - the first polo match was held here 400 years ago and we were told that this was the first game to be played since they stopped it 90 years ago- not sure if I understood that info correctly- but if I did- WOW, right place, right time! There was a large crowd of mostly Iranian families watching
who were very happy to push us to the front to get a better look. After an exhausting match Maryam suggested we hadn't eaten enough and needed ice cream - Faloodeh all round. Arghhh- soooo full.
Topped up with ice cream it was time to do some serious shopping. We spent another 4 hours (!) in various shops looking at traditional enamel painted plates (beautiful), other plates, Kilim rugs, Persian rugs, table legs, tables, silver trays, antiques, teapots, taxidermist chickens (!), pictures of the king, camel bone paintings, ceramics, etc, etc, etc..... I got my entire souvenir shopping done in 1 ceramic shop- very smart move buying about 5 kg of fragile ceramic plates and pomegranates right?
By now it is 9pm!!! AND we spot a familiar sight- a Lavazza Coffee sign- when in Iran drink Italian coffee I say. Really great hole in the wall coffee shop, we buy coffee and pastries (I know!) and sit Melbourne style (as in, it was a bit cold) outside on the pavement. Such a fun day, but wait, there's more.... We have to go back through the bazaar to get back to Dibai. We pass, actually, we stop at the
traditional sweet shops for some samples- they are selling Gaz which is a nougat made in various cities in Iran. The Gaz from Kerman is the most highly revered, I think it all tastes very good. There are also stalls selling lots of varieties of sugar- crystals, rocks, sugar sticks, brown sugar discs, sugar with ginger, sugar with saffron... It goes on... Last stop is the scarf selling guy- all 4 of us girls go home with at least 4 new scarves each- the scarf guy is happy.
Navigating back to Dibai takes us back through the old, now deserted, section of the bazaar- lots of rubbish blowing around, lots of motorbikes whizzing through- very James Bond but minus the people and the very, very good looking Daniel Craig.
11 pm we arrive back at a very quiet, dark Dibai House. Everyone bar the cats have gone to bed. Cool day.
PS- in case you were wondering about the ceramic pomegranates- they are actually very nice- really. AND so useful- really!
PPS- James Bond scene http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=tHRLX8jRjq8
PPS- 69 photos to get through here (And I was RUTHLESS in culling them)- it will make
up for yesterday
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