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Brad’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 18 Aug 2005

Location: Esfahan, Iran

MapAgain, plenty of exciting adventures to report - in fact, this entry is massive, so be warned!

Straight after posting my last entry I headed off to meet up with my friends Alireza and Asal. The public transport in Tehran is really terrible, so most people get around in taxis, which are really cheap here. I was standing by the street and a man ( who I presumed was a taxi driver) came up to me and asked where I was going. I told him, he nodded then gestured to the back seat of the tiny motorbike by the side of the road. What could I do but climb on the back and enjoy the thrill of weaving through the insane traffic of Tehran on the back of a motorbike?! It was all quite fun (although a little hairaising) until the traffic started to slow down because there were people blocking the street up ahead. Is we got close I could hear people shouting and holding up placards saying "Down with USA" and "Down with UK" etc. It was a protest asserting Iran's rights to nuclear weapons! We drove right through the protest - I just tried to look inconspious (not easy with my blond hair) and smile in that scared sort of way. A few people yelled things out to me but we made it safely though both the diabolical traffic and anti-west protest!

That night I said goodbye to Alireza and Asal and the next day I headed off to Esfahan. After a measly seven hours on a bus through the semidesert I arrived at Iran's most famously beautiful city. As soon as I had found my hostel I walked straight over to Imam Square, the second largest square in the world (the biggest is Tiananmen Square in China). Its so amazing! At one end is probably the most beautiful mosque in Iran, on one side is a palace/pavillion where the shahs used to watch polo matches being held in the square. On the other side is another amazing mosque and at the far end is the main entry to a bazaar that stretches for kilometres. The end of the square with the mosques and palace is full of fountains and gardens, and in the evenings (until about midnight) all the locals come and have picnics. It has such a great atmosphere at night, all lit up with kids running around playing vollyball and families all enjoying the cool evening.

In the square I met a yound Iranian boy, Hamid, who took me over to the other side of the city to see some of the less touristy areas. We went to some underground cafes, where the young folk of Esfahan hang out. Once again, a lot of makeup could be seen and not much heascarf.

The next day I headed back to Imam Square to actually go inside the amazing mosques and palaces. Entering Imam mosque through the huge portal I was presented with a view a courtyard surrounded by four walls covered incredibly elaborate tile tilework. In the centre is a big pool of water reflecting the sides of the mosque. Inside the mosque (its all very open) is a huge dome with more amazing tilework. If you stand on the tile directly beneath the dome the accoustic is amazing, if you just make the smallest noise it's reflected back at you with amazing clarity at almost excatly the same volume. The second mosque was also filled with beautiful tile designs, and was for the exclusive use of the shah's many wives! I wandered around the bazaar for a while, then walked back to the square to see the palace. While I was up on the bacony overlooking Imam Square two girls approached me and offered to take me on a tour. They've just finished their high school and want to study english, so they come to the square everyday to give free tours just so they can practice their english. They were really nice and we all had fun together, so we arranged to meet the following night and they'd show me some other parts of the city.

While wandering around the square looking for somewhere for dinner I met another young guy who offered to take me to see a Zukhaneh, and kind of traditional Iranian sport. We caught a taxi to this tiny little stadium, where about twelve men performed different feats of skill and strength, from lifting huge pieces of wood, juggling, and spinning around for as long as fast as possible to singing the beat of a huge drum.

After we left we came across a whole lot of people outside a mosque burning incence and giving out free food. Apparantly it was the birthday of the first Imam, Ali, and people were celebrating. We went into the very sparkly mosque (where I was welcomed most heartily) and listened to the last ten minutes of preaching and prayers of the local imam, then everyone gave flowers to each other and left. The image of Islam portrayed in the West is so incorrect, although is does have some strictures (such as the dress code) it is really accepting and should NOT be associated with terrorism in any way. People keep feeling they have to tell me: "Iranians are not terrorists."

Yesterday turned out to be another really eventful day. In the morning I went to Jameh mosque, another really beautiful mosque in a different part of the city. It was constructed over different time periods so parts of it are really old and other parts relatively new (only two or three hundred years...). I went to see a few more palaces set in beautiful parks in the afternoon then met the girls (Tahmineh, Major and Nida) in the arranged place. They are really nice girls, all only eighteen, and fairly conservative compared to most of the other young people I've met. We caught a taxi together to a lovely flower garden just out of town, and all sat down together to have a picnic together. We were happily talking and eating when suddenly a policeman appeared from behind a bush and started talking to the girls in Farsi. We all knew that what we were doing wasn't really acceptable to the regime, but it wasn't unusual at all and the girls assured me we wouldn't have any problems. The policeman examined all of our ID, then told us we'd have to seperate. We all went our different ways then met up again at the exit to the garden. I thought it was quite funny at the time, but the girls were really shaken. They told me that he'd threatened us all, especially me and had said that if I'm ever seen with Iranian girls again there'd be big trouble. We spent the rest of the evening really paranoid about police but eventually went into a nice cafe in Imam Square where we'd be safe. Yikes! The girls were really nice, they all wanted to study english and leave Iran, despite their comparatively conservative (and very Islamic) attutudes.

We said goodbye then I ran into a lovely Russian couple that are staying at the hostel. We went for a walk down to the river to take some pictures of the amazing old bridges. There are four or five bridges that are over three hundred years old but two of them are especially amazing. One is really long ( a few hundred metres, and has two stories has thirty-three arches. The other bridge is really cool, it also has two stories, but all along one side are steps which lead down to the river. At night locals come and sit on the steps because its about five degrees cooler than anywhere else in the city. In the centre there's a beautiful frescoed pavillion where the shah used to sit, and in the arch underneath there's always some local men singing and dancing and enjoying the cool night air. We ended up hiring a pedal boat (in the shape of a swan) at around midnight (about half the shops are still open) and pedalled around one of the bridges for a while. We predicably got bored and tried to escape down the river in our swan. The supervisor eventually caught up with us, and feeling a bit silly, when he asked where we were from, we told him Israel! Well, to our surprise, instead of being angry or rude he was delighted, insisted on shaking all our hands and saying "Mosa, Mosa" (Moses, Moses)!

Today I'm having a day off, I've been going pretty hard lately so it's nice to have chillout day where I'm not running around with locals or seeing the sights. Tomorrow I'm off to Shiraz (yes, the place where the original grape comes from) but this afternoon I'm just going to chill out with a some tea and a waterpipe under one of the bridges of Esfahan.