Iran: Esfahan and Shiraz
It was ten years ago today that I touched down in Tehran after a jaunt around Iran and fired off the next of my emails from the trip of a lifetime. Here, edited only ever-so-slightly for public viewing, is that email in which I described my adventures in Esfahan and Shiraz.
The thing that has struck me the most about travelling in Iran is how easy everything is here. A lot of people speak English and transport seems to be fairly well geared towards travellers. What else has surprised me is how European (particularly non-Arab) it feels – we all know that Iranians (Persians) aren’t Arabs, but the full extent of the cultural difference can’t be fully appreciated until you are actually here. I also feel very at home here; apart from some surprised looks which I get in some poorer parts of the cities, I don’t feel that ‘foreign’.
At last post I had just woken up in my hotel in Esfahan. Esfahan is a beautiful city, with tree-lined boulevards and a river, surrounded by mountains. It actually reminded me a lot of Canberra in that way, only not as clinical. It’s a great city for walking around in, getting lost in the bazaar, and smoking qalyun (water pipe) over chai by the river. I spent my first day wandering the vast Imam Square, and around the old city. On my second day I rented a car and with a driver from the Amir Kabir Hotel to take me to Kashan, a university town north of Esfahan where I met several local girls wanting to swap email addresses! That afternoon my driver put on a picnic lunch at Abyaneh, a very picturesque town built into the side of a mountain. This is one interesting point about Iran; often the places that look really boring in pictures are breathtaking in real life; even the desert scenery is incredible. My final day in Esfahan was spent at Manar Jomban, the ‘shaking minarets’, so called because if you try to lean heavily against one minaret, its twin (just metres away) vibrates.
My next destination on this whistlestop highlights tour of Iran was Shiraz. the southern capital of Persian culture. If Esfahan was like Canberra, then Shiraz is like Adelaide – deserted wasteland punctuated by surprisingly lush gardens and lovely, genteel architecture. I spent time walking through the divine botanic gardens and visiting the tombs of several dead Persian poets. Similarly dead is Shiraz after dark; if New York is the city that never sleeps, then Shiraz probably makes up for it. I also headed out for a day trip to Persepolis; once the centre of the Persian empire. The ruins apparently rival those of the Acropolis in Athens. While I was in Shiraz there was a mourning day for the death of Shia Islam’s Imam Ali a.s, an occasion for local students to peacefully protest the occupation of Palestine.
Other observations; Shirazis seem to be in love with pizza without tomato paste, Celine Dion, internet cafes and motorbikes. I also discovered a local pastry that tastes suspiciously like Krisky Kremes, and a street in one of the poorer quarters which smelled like Starbucks sausage rolls. Road rules in Shiraz aren’t as closely observed as in Esfahan; basically everyone tries to stay on the right, unless they need to drive elsewhere! For someone with no care for resale value (like myself), it’s a really liberating experience – a defensive driver would probably need therapy. Also of note is the perception that many Iranians seem to have of Australians; “Mark Bosnich!” was the standard response!
Finally, while I was in Shiraz I made friends with two local students, who very kindly came to the airport to see me off at 7am. I’ve since lost contact with Mehdi and Javed… I wish I knew how to contact them today. I wonder where they are…
Until next time, khoda hafez!
I surprise myself with what I used to write about; I like to think that how my writing has evolved over the years is indicative of my developing skills. My next destination was Tehran, then Istanbul, Turkey, but I’ve since lost the email that I sent from there. I have also recently written about Istanbul here and here. Instead, I’ll use the ten year anniversary of my arrival in Turkey to publish a special “Istanbul in 24 hours” piece – stay tuned!
For more detailed information about Esfahan, check out my piece entitled Esfahan; Half the World.