So the work is over, we have said goodbye to Alison and off we go for some sightseeing! Not Tehran so I can make no comment on that city. We saw a few interesting buildings on the sky line but it was basically a typical crowded, busy, dusty city. This trip was to Isfahan.
Unsurprisingly our introduction to our trip to Isfahan was problems with the traffic. We were late leaving, as always, and Leila got us a cab by jumping out of one car in the middle of a really busy street, and jumping into a cab driven by a madman! Well, he said he used to be a police driver, and certainly he was good, but I have never been so scared in my life! When I told him through Leila to slow down he totally ignored me. Luckily by the time I had argued with him a few times, and seriously considered aborting my trip to Isfahan and catching the next plane home to the UK, we arrived at a very large domestic airport with well spread terminals. The cab driver dropped us at what he said was the right terminal and off we rushed to check in just 30mins before the flight left; only to discover it was the wrong terminal. A ten minute taxi drive later and we arrived at the right one where Leila talked us through check in very quickly.
So a forty minute flight with a cooked meal later, we arrived in Isfahan. We couldn’t see very much at this time of the evening, but Isfahan appeared less busy and fairly flat. A 20 minute trip and we arrived at our hosts apartment. Leila had suggested we could either stay at an hotel or with her friends. I opted for the latter as I like to immerse myself in the culture where possible. This did lead to a few challenges – a traditional loo(and me still with the remnants of my tummy bug!), a bed either on a thin mattress on the floor or on a wooden block, and food served on a tablecloth on the floor. But I managed and met some lovely people. So after the traditional tea and fruit, we retired for the night.
Next morning, we awoke and had breakfast and then left to see Isfahan. Breakfast was a traditional omelette, with bread, cheese and fruit. (The omelette was just what I needed!) A lovely young man with a huge smile and great sense of humour, a neighbour, was to chauffeur us for the day in his taxi. But as we prepared to get into the taxi, we were called into the ground floor of a neighbouring apartment building where a number of ladies were making soup! This soup would be handed out to local People in honour of Imam Husein whose life Islam was commemorating at this time. We had to take turns stirring the soup making a wish as we did so. Another excuse for a photo call of course. Then we set off into Isfahan.
We first stopped for coffee and then for nuts at a typical store, then briefly visiting the fire fort and the spinning minaret. We then parked and wandered around an area containing a mosque which was unfortunately closed. I actually spent some money in some local shops and we visited a couple of coffee shops, decorated traditionally. Here we saw increasing numbers of tourists. Over our two days in Isfahan we met several groups of tourists from around the world. On chatting to them, they commented that Iran was a lovely place with lovely friendly people , and they would be recommending Iran to their friends.
Moving on we went down to the river and walked through a park eating Iranian ice cream. This was delicious and flavoured with saffron. It tasted as if it were made from yoghurt rather than milk with quite an intense substance. As we walked through the park a teenager called over to me. Hello how are you? This happened a lot especially in Isfahan – obviously they could see I was not from Iran. I replied to her and next thing I knew we had been invited to join the two families who were sharing a picnic and invited to take some fruit. It was a lovely pleasant interlude and the teenagers enjoyed practising their not very good English on me. After half an hour or so we then moved on to visit one of the covered bridges for which Isfahan is famous.
My hosts now suggested it was time for lunch and took us to a very famous square in the centre of Isfahan called Imam Square. Here we were taken to a traditional restaurant which looked like a very basic fast food outlet downstairs but upstairs was a ‘restaurant’, wooden tables/benches covered in rugs for us to eat our beryani.. I had been told to look out for this dish and Ishbel was right. It was delicious. After eating, praying and charging up phones for more photos we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the bazaar that surrounded the square and then as evening settled in we sat and soaked up the atmosphere. Finally we joined the people we were staying with at a BBQ held on a huge sundial on a mound in the middle of a local park. It was a great way to end the day!
Our final day was not so full. After breakfast at which I was given some of Imam Huseins soup, we were taken to a historical mansion which is being slowly restored to its former glory. Typically Leila got me into the closed section of the building to speak to the restorers. It was then time for a walk round the garden and an extensive photo shoot with anyone Leila could persuade to join us. We met up with a lone German traveller, a Berliner, whom Leila invited to lunch and we returned to Imam square for another traditional meal, a kind of mutton stew. On our way to another tourist spot we got waylaid by Parven who had disappeared off to visit a relative. We were invited for afternoon tea. And here we spent the rest of the day until time was getting very short for our return flight to Tehran. Another mad dash to the airport, a postponed/cancelled flight, Leila and her quick talking onto a different flight and we made it to Tehran for midnight. I was due to fly out at 7.30am!