Iranian Trip Page 2 (back to page 1)
email Cristy Trembly
The drive from Yazd to Esfahan is about 4 hours, with modern 4 and 6-lane roads and the scenery reminds me of the high desert of Southern California or the road from Las Vegas to Los Angeles.
As the day passes and we get closer to Esfahan, the last city on our trip, we realize that this wonderful experience is coming to an end and it is sad...but there is a reason why we end in Esfahan.
There is an expression in Farsi, Esfahan nesf-e Jahan (it rhymes), Esfahan is half the world, and when you are here you feel that it must be true. It is the most beautiful city, definitely the heart and the soul of Iran, and it has the kind of visual poetry that is perfect for a honeymoon, the kind of place so full of beauty and culture and character everywhere you look We had wonderful food and so much ambience everywhere. The Abassi Hotel is a converted caravanserai from the early 1700s and has beautiful rooms looking out onto stunning gardens and blue fountains; I had a lovely room with a balcony and when I woke up I looked outside and thought I must be at Queen Noors house! You can hear soft music, very exotic and intoxicating (though one afternoon I head something I swear was Jingle Bells!), the tea house which is very dark and mysterious and the perfect place for young couples to sit and drink tea and look at each other...
We had some amazing food here, a great chicken in pomegranate sauce that reminds me somewhat of a mole sauce, I had my first potatoes (you get a lot of chicken or lamb and rice in Iran but very few opportunities for potatoes!) This first place we eat, the Scheherazade Restaurant, is beautiful, the walls, the garden, the pools, and it is run by a woman who is a very tough boss!
The main areas of town are the Square with the most beautiful sites, and the area around the river with the historic old bridges. The Square was the religious, commercial, political and cultural center of the city since the beginning, and is certainly the heart of town today.
At the square, we visited the important buildings from one end to the other, with the Jame Mosque, another site that you see on the covers of tour books as a representation of the beauty and history of this country. It was built between the 11th and 18th Centuries, and is a meeting place, a place of prayer, and up to 50,000 people can worship here at any one time. It represents 800 years of Persian architecture and was built on the site of a fire temple so people would be familiar and comfortable with the location. There are 4 buildings with a courtyard, all connected, reshaped and rebuilt. Changes were made during the Seljuk, Mongol and Safavid periods, with beautiful calligraphy.
We visited other buildings in the Square, the mosque where we learned the difference between the one side which was mosaic and the other side which was painted, and the different techniques used for each. The echoes in 7 different directions from standing in one spot on the floor, and how the dome is sectioned at 30 degree angles. This mosque is at an angle to face Mecca, and built by Shah Abbas, with a hypotenuse stone on the floor which always shows prayer times. Being a mosque from Qajar times you see more green and blue in the tile designs. The Mongols used more Persian techniques and you can read the calligraphy and the name Ali in the design.
The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, actually not a mosque but a madrase since there is no minaret nor a courtyard, where you can stand in certain places and see a peacock tail in the dome due to the placement of the sun, and the Al Qapu Palace whose 6 storeys were the skyscraper of the time, where dignitaries could go and watch the events in the square below, a beautiful room with perfect acoustics for singing (which I had to do, at any opportunity!)
All through this area are lots of school groups and we felt almost overwhelmed by the attention we were given from the students and teachers, who welcomed us, wanted to know about us, practiced their English on us and took video and photos as if we were the attraction! Of course we also took pictures of them in their school uniforms and asked them questions, too.
The feeling of being here, the experience, the blue tile, the ambience of the square, the horsedrawn carriages taking people around (something like Central Park!) There is an experience in every trip where I just look at something, feel something and think, wow, I am in this place, I am actually here, its not a TV show, I am not watching a video, I feel the full immersion of this place and standing in the square was that experience for me. Seeing the sun here at various times of the day, watching the colors of the buildings change, the shadows moving, was a breathtaking feeling, looking at the moon rising, it was astonishing, indescribable...
We also visited the 3 most famous bridges, the drive there, the river, the ambience, people walking, the tea houses where they stop, a jet deau like Geneva with the fountain shooting up, making a rainbow. The bridges are different ages and styles, from the Seljuk period and Sassanian period, one like the Ponte Vecchio bridge, really interesting and such a beautiful life, so relaxing.
I also had the opportunity to attend a Catholic Mass in Father and Father Fernandos hotel room, yes they even take Methodists! It was quite interesting to celebrate Mass and then put on my long jacket and skirt to go back to my room just down the hall. Still, you do feel the religious tolerance, you couldnt go proselytizing but there are church services in town, and quite a large Armenian Orthodox population in Esfahan.
We visited 2 churches here, in fact, the Vank Church and Bethlehem Church, with beautiful icons and paintings on the walls of the Stations of the Cross , scenes from the Gospels and the Old Testament, and we were fortunate to have Father Fernandos expert commentary. We also saw the depiction of the 4 writers of the Gospels just as in Persepolis, its amazing how it all fits together.
Esfahan is also known for its great shopping, and I hadnt bought very much during the trip, so this was my perfect opportunity. While Iran is a cash-only society (good for my Visa card balance, for sure!) there are a couple places where you can use a credit card, and one of those is the carpet store, where I saw beautiful, Caspian Sea silk carpets, with 1.5 million knots that takes a year to make knotting 5 hours a day, I wish I could have afforded several. But I bought 2 small ones which I am very happy with, as well as 2 miniature paintings for which Esfahan has famous designers. I also got some plates and a clock with the famous Esfahan blue color tiles, just breathtaking. I bought a turquoise copper plate, which you can burn with a match and then put water on it and the black melts away, I was amazed by italso a plaque with the 99 names of God really interesting stuff. I also bought a handstamped tablecloth with beautiful designs and natural dyes which will last forever.
We also visited a shopping mall, the old city, several other mosques and madrase, another mausoleum, this time a descendent of the 6th Imam (I love the mausoleums, they have a spiritual quality that is hard to describe), and all too quickly we have to get back to Tehran.
RETURN TO TEHRAN:
We stopped in Kashan and had a fantastic meal in the Delpazir restaurant with the British woman owner, she married an Iranian guy and moved here with himit was the best lamb of the trip and of course very clean bathrooms...There are also many nice sites in Kashan, two old houses, another beautiful mausoleum, and the Fin Garden, belonging originally to Amir Kabir. We also spotted a very famous Iranian movie star, Amin Zendegun, we took photos and I hope to get one of his movies on video!
The mosque there has 6666 dots in the door for the number of verses in the Quran, with a sunken courtyard, and dormitories for students underneath to keep them cool.
After Kashan, we continued on to Qom to see the magnificent Shrine of Fatima, or at least as close as we could get being such obvious tourists. You can feel that Qom is more serious, more religious, with more women wearing chadors in all-black and very covered, the atmosphere is quite different from Esfahan, for sure!
Finally, before reaching Tehran, we visited the huge complex of the mausoleum of the Ayatollah Khomeini, in some ways like Arlington National Cemetery, in some ways not! It is a huge area and there is tight security though photos are allowed, in fact at the checkpoint they ask where I am from, I say America, the look through my cameras thoroughly and then say welcome to Iran, and the people who work here would be the most conservative! Inside there are lots of school groups and kids playing and making noise which is quite a contrast to the pious mullahs and ayatollahs sitting quietly and praying, blocking out the outside distractions. It was fascinating, and interesting, and just to sit and look at the people was amazing.
We returned and since all of us were homesick for some more familiar food after 3 weeks on the road, we went to the mall with a food court and had our choice of French crepes, Italian, Mexican, Chinese food, we were in heaven!
If it sounds like I am in love with Iran, it would be true. I am realistic, I know that our 3 weeks is not like living there, I am sure the daily dealings with government officials can be quite difficult, I wouldnt want to wear my scarf every day. Life is much better than right after the Revolution, though, and they are trying to progress and I think we have to give them credit for that.
One thing I liked is how the life is so relaxed compared to my life, people have time to sit, smell the roses as we say, have tea, walk, experience life that is unheard of here. I really thought about my life and all my activities and the new stresses and long hours of the job and though I have an excellent life, there is something to be said for taking more time out and having more balance.
What you see in the news media is not my experience at allI never saw any anti-American feeling from one end of the country to the other, while the governments might not agree, the people are similar to us, just to want a good job and raise their families and have a comfortable life. If I can inform others about the Iran I experienced, then I feel I will have done something important, because if we see people as individuals, not a figurehead government, on their side or on our side, I hope we can make more rational decisions about policy.
I was very sad to leave, and I hope to return. I think the Bestway tour was fantastic www.bestway.com and I would not have wanted to see the country with anyone but Amin.
Our driver Reza was superb, I couldnt imagine how he navigated us safely in horrendous city traffic, through ice and snow and rain and desert and took excellent care of us. We encountered other tour groups who I know paid twice as much as we did, they stayed in the same hotels, ate in the same restaurants, they had lots more people so did not have the flexibility of visiting extra places and doing more things, we were very, very fortunate. I had examined many brochures with trips to Iran and I am so thankful to have picked this oneI could not have been happier. I encourage everyone to visit and see for themselves!
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