I may have said this in my last post, but Iranians are the kindest, most friendly people ever. Actually.
When I woke up this morning, I went straight to my window and stared out at Esfahan. From there, it reminded me of Jackson Hole, WY–there are mountains bordering the city. One I later found out is known as Sofa Mountain.
I went cautiously down for breakfast, feeling like I was in the wrong place simply because I haven’t yet accepted that I’m old enough to do adult things like renting hotel rooms and buying plane tickets and such. Thankfully, after checking my room key, the man there was very nice and served me tea. They had a machine filled with warm milk that had a mixer-esque implement swirling through it to keep a skin from forming, and delicious orange and grape juices. The food options were unusual, but I was happy to eat cucumbers and tomatoes, try a taste of some strange meaty nuggety thing, and to fill up on a type of bread, nun, with carrot jam. I’ll have to pinch a few packets of the latter; it was unusual, but delicious. I also chugged about three cups of water–like in Dubai, you have to pay for it here, and I knew I’d forget to drink a lot throughout the day without my trusty Yellowstone waterbottle.
And so I set out! I took with me about 1,000,000 rial, a photocopy of my New Zealand passport, a map of the hotel’s area, my guide book, and my good ol’ camera phone. (One day I’ll get a proper camera. Maybe.) I had a vague idea of where I wanted to go, but figured I’d stress less if I were to just wing it. So first of all, I walked down towards the river.
Throughout the day, various people stopped to ask me “From where do you come?” I found that few people understand what the “United States” means, let alone “US,” so I put aside my hatred of being called American and told them I was from America. (And when they asked further, I said California. The whole more-a-kiwi-than-american-but-at-school-in-Maryland-and-really-a-San-Franciscan-but-Yellowstone-is-home-oh-and-the-plane-ride-was-only-two-hours-because-I’m-studying-in-Dubai is a tad complicated.) Most of them were really amazed; I was as close as many of them had been to meeting a real life American before. I took photos with three separate people. I also found that a lot of groups of younger people saw me, nudged each other and pointed at me, then yelled out “Hello!” and looked absolutely delighted when I replied “Hi!” or “Hello!” in my accent. The younger groups found this highly entertaining, and generally laughed. I tried saying “Howdy!” once, but that group just looked confused. It might have been my whiteness or how bad I am at wearing a headscarf, but I have a suspicion someone stamped “foreigner” on my head at the visa office.
Also, all the nonsense about New York City drivers being bad? No. Dubai drivers? Ha. Iranian drivers? Oh please dear deities, spare me from the madness. There is no rhyme or reason to their road rules (admittedly they will occasionally follow a red light) and if you’re a pedestrian trying to cross, you’re going to have to sprint across lane by lane. There’s at least half as many motorcycles as cars, and they’re even worse. They also like to drive on the footpaths, honking away at you to move because why would a silly pedestrian like you be on the footpath?! I’ve only been here a day and I’ve already seen one motorcyclist get hit, and I’m surprised it’s only been one.
Esfahan really reminds me of Christchurch, New Zealand. My memory of Christchurch is pretty foggy as I only lived there for about eight months, but Esfahan has a lot of green space–trees in the centers of streets, random playgrounds, green lawns with people sitting on them, etcetera. Also, the temperature was absolutely perfect. Well, it would have been if I had been able to take of my jacket and head scarf. In the morning and evening, it was crisp but not cold, and in the middle of the day it was pleasantly warm. (Sidenote: As I left the dorm yesterday, I totally thought “Oh! I forgot my sunblock!” but I didn’t want to bug my roommate so I didn’t go back. Bad decision. Don’t let the being covered from head to toe thing deceive.)
By chance, I came upon the Si-o-Seh Bridge, or the 33 Bridge, after about ten minutes of walking. As I’d expected from reading other travel blogs, there was no water, though the people who stopped me on the bridge insisted that I had to see it when there was water (though none of them seemed to know when that would be.) All of the water is currently being used for agriculture.
There, I was immediately approached by a friendly man named Ali, who became my tour guide for the day. Literally, that’s how kind Iranians are and how excited about Americans they are–this dude wasn’t just willing to give up half of his day to shepherd me around, he insisted on it. He’s an engineer, married with a 7-month-old kid, and he takes English classes once a week with the hope of eventually being able to teach English himself. One of his first questions to me was what “24/7” means; later came the difference between “statue” and “sculpture”; and my favourite English lesson was teaching him how to say “pistachio.”
After strolling through a pretty garden area, I told Ali that I planned on meandering towards Iman Square and he offered to accompany me.
We went around the back of the Iman mosque, and Ali pointed out that many of the buildings are made of mud and hay and are very effective at keeping homes cold in the summer and warm in the winter.
We finally made it to the beautiful Iman (Naqsh-e-Jahan) Squre, and I was gobsmacked by how utterly historic and perfect and gorgeous it looked. Many people were milling about, and I met quite a few people here, including one Brit who was incredibly jealous of my ease at getting a Visa.
In the Iman Mosque, or the blue mosque as I thought of it, I had my first request for a photo with a kid, probably about twelve years old and with pretty good English. With him was his older brother and his two friends, all twenty-one and in university. Though they understood no English, the boy translated our very interesting political discussion about people from the United States and their perceptions on Islam and Iran.
I was absolutely enthralled with the mosque and explored every nook and cranny (and took way too many photos.) There was one section that had been built so that one’s voice/clap/stomp reverberated throughout the room, not exactly like an echo, but more like a soundwave repeating, if that makes any sense. Though the designs look perfect, apparently a lot of them are intentionally asymmetrical to show how humans can never be perfect.
After exploring the blue mosque, I was invited to a carpet store for tea. “I’m not going to purchase a carpet, just so you know.” “Why not?” “I only have a backpack with me! There is no space!” “Oh, but we ship! Please, please, come and have tea.” Then, in the carpet store, he thought to comment on my staring at awe in the stacks of gorgeous carpets. “You are interested in the carpets, see!” “Well, they are gorgeous. But I am a university student. I live in the dorms. There is no space for a carpet!” “That’s why we make small carpets, see?”
We walked through some of the shops surrounding Iman square. Ali seemed a little bit offended that I didn’t want him to buy me pistachios, and I had to tell him about ten times that I do not like pistachios for him to give up; even then, he put them back in his bag instead of eating them in front of me. Iranian hospitality, man.
I had lunch at a very authentic and very delicious Iranian restaurant. I’ve been moving towards being more vegetarian recently, but one of the reasons I haven’t declared myself vegetarian is for trips like these. Upon their suggestion, I tried some sort of meat patty thing and barbecued more meat on nun. I got to watch them prepare and cook the meat in front of me. The barbecue was probably the best meat I’d ever had in my life, and again, the people were extremely friendly.
I then begun an intrepid adventure to see the other bridges that were apparently worth seeing, walking about five kilometers.
My relentless nausea/headache from the past few days decided to kick in then, but with perfect timing, a family we passed invited me to come and have tea with them. Find people like that in the US, I dare you. They were amongst many sitting in the grassy areas near the many playgrounds on picnic blankets, and they had a tiny little burner set up with coals to boil water for tea. They had a seven-month-old daughter who was also delighted by my whiteness, and I had a lot of fun making facial expressions back and forth with her until she was brave enough to come and sit with me. I also tried a gaz, a type of nougat-like sweet served alongside tea.
I’m not used to being not fully physically capable. I’m used to feeling tired after climbing 2,500 feet mountains, not during. Even when I broke my toe this past semester, I hobbled around as fast as possible. So feeling nauseous and drained so early wasn’t fun, but I made it back to the hotel without resorting to a taxi.
After resting for two hours (by resting I mean getting progressively angry at the book I was reading until it ended and made me cry) and feeling absolutely miserable, I realised the sun was about to set. The thought of a sunset invigorated me so completely that I jumped up to tackle my head scarf again. With a vague idea of going back to Iman square to catch the sunset, I set off.
Once again, I was sidetracked by a friendly lady who recommended I see the Abbasi Hotel, and since I wasn’t really going anywhere, I agreed. She snuck me in under the pretence of looking at the hotel’s gift shop, and then departed, leaving me to wander like the lost tourist I was.
I made my way into the silver/gold bazaar area and wandered around in a few circles with the vague intention of buying a birthday present for my mum or a manteau, but I’m bad at shopping. I eventually ended up where my day had really started, at the Si-o-Seh bridge. With the perfect crescent moon above, it was unbelievable how gorgeous this was.
At the hotel, I asked how to turn off the overhead light and the kind man explained very clearly and I thought I understood until I went upstairs and realised the button he described didn’t exist. By that point, I’d already discarded my headscarf, jacket, and skirt, so I decided to forget it.