Esfahan is a magical city. We were thrilled to discover that our overland trip brought us back to this lovely section of Iran. Lucky for us, we had a whopping 3 nights here! Seeing the ancient bridges of Esfahan at night was wonderful – full of Iranians having a picnic or shisha. We spent hours wandering through the Esfahan bazaar linking Imam Square to Jameh Mosque, and got to finally visit the Vank Cathedral in the Armenian section of Julfa. We resisted the temptation to buy another Iranian carpet which was much harder to do than we realized…the carpets here are stunning. Needless to say, our 3 days here flew by. Next up is Persepolis and Shiraz (no wine, unfortunately). Till next time!
23 May – We had a bit of a lie in this morning since our walking tour didn’t kick off until 9:30 am. Breakfast at the Sunrise hotel was excellent with fried egg on a bread, cereal, dates, tomatoes, cucumbers and a wide range of cheeses. Hossein led us on our tour this morning, taking us to the Imam square, Chehel Sotoun (40 Column) palace, Hasht Behesht Palace (8 Heaven) Palace (complete with locals playing music with a traditional instrument out in the nearby park), and then down to the Siosepol Bridge. We then backtracked to the Imam Square where Hossein took us to a “traditional” Iranian restaurant called Bastani Restaurant. One look at the interior and we quickly realized this is where all large tour groups end up. The staff tried to sell us on the 400,000 Rial each buffet, but we were insistent on ordering off the menu. The food was mediocre (as we suspected it would be. Robby ordered Biryani, which he thought would be a rice dish…needless to say, he was shocked to discover in Iran it’s a sheep’s stomach specialty, ha), but at least the ambiance was quite nice with the fabulous interior décor. Since this was the first touristy restaurant we had eaten at, we were dismayed to discover a 10% tax rate and a 8% service charge fee in addition to the cost of our meal. Apparently that is the norm at the restaurants that cater to foreign tourists, which is one of the primary reasons we try to avoid eating at those establishments to begin with. After lunch we broke away from the group who was keen on carpet shopping. Instead, we wandered over to the Qeysrieh Portal. There we met Ichi and Lars who had ditched the group early on. Ichi got a miniature painting done on her nails for free, and since they were looking for a shisha pipe for Lars, we decided to split ways as we were keen on seeing the Jameh Mosque. We eventually stumbled up on, and discovered that we didn’t quite have enough for the 200,000 Rial entry fee. Robby emptied out his entire wallet and counted out 396,000 Rials which the ticket seller accepted with a sigh. Thank goodness he did agree to sell us 2 tickets because the Jameh Mosque is not to be missed. It’s a fabulous mosque with the most amazing mihrab and countless leaning columns. The ceiling brickwork on the domes was especially memorable. From Jameh Mosque, we made our way back through the labyrinth bazaar to the Imam Square where we hung out until sunset. Hossein had advised us not to tell anyone we were from America and to tell them we were Canadian instead. We didn’t really like lying to everyone that happily greeted us and after the constant lies, we decided to just be honest since it didn’t feel right being duplicitous about our nationality. We were at the square for sunset photography, but with the countless locals coming up and excitedly greeting us, we knew we’d never be able to get any shots off if we stayed stationary, so resorted to wandering around the square in a big endless loop. Any time we stopped for any length of time, boom! We would quickly find ourselves at the end of another long personal interview, answering countless questions from inquisitive minds. It got exhausting after a while, so we wrapped up our photography session by 8:30 pm and slowly made our way back to the hotel. Our hotel was fully booked tonight thanks to the arrival of a French group. We quickly drained the hotel of its water resources, because Becky’s shower started sputtering, and the water flow cut off completely when Robby was taking one. Since he was in mid lather when the water shut off, Becky went to investigate was told to try again in 5 minutes. A weak water flow eventually trickled forth after a few minutes allowing Robby to finally rinse off. At least we were clean after our long sightseeing day today. Access to the network required usernames and passwords which cut off after 100 MB of usage. It was so painfully slow with all rooms at the Sunrise fully booked and everyone trying to get connected at the same time. At around 10:30 pm, we kept getting a maximum usage exceeded error message and the hotel staff said it might take an hour to resolve. So we gave up on surfing the Internet for tonight…it is just way too frustrating in Iran.
24 May – Free day in Esfahan! After having a leisurely breakfast, we decided to walk over to Hakim Mosque for a wander. Then it was a long walk over to Esfahan’s Armenian quarter (Julfa) for the fabulous Vank Cathedral. The frescoed ceiling is not to be missed! We ran into Mark and Andy as we were leaving Vank Cathedral, and told them it was well worth a visit. After grabbing a liter of cold chocolate milk to refuel us, we strolled back over the bridge for lunch, opting for something a bit different as we were getting a bit kebab’d out. Yes we did it and we’re not even embarrassed to admit that we stopped at the “Kentucky House” for lunch. Their chicken sandwiches were freaking delicious! Since we had no other plans for the day, we headed back to the hotel by mid afternoon and called it a day. The Sunrise hotel had long ago run out of hot water but our cold water showers felt refreshing so we didn’t even mind. We discovered a minor crisis that occupied our attention for the rest of the night as we had to tediously check to see which photos on our back up hard drives had become corrupted. It had to be done…quite a few photos from Ecuador, Tunisia and Turkey had become unreadable on the hard drives. Since we were deleting the originals from our laptops to free up space, it was vital to ensure that what we were backing up wasn’t corrupted. It would have been preferable to spend our night doing something more fun but we took care of business and got everything sorted out before going to bed.