Saturday, December 24, 2016

On to Kashan

We had a final day in Esfahan, but it was not exciting.  The weather was very cold, it was a public holiday and not very much was open.  We walked over the bridge to see an Armenian church, but when we got there it was closed for lunch.  So we had lunch at an average restaurant, then walked a few kilometers uphill to see the Armenian cemetery.  But when we got there we were not allowed in as you needed written permission from the Armenian diocese.  So we walked back to the hotel in the cold.  Not all days travelling, are magic ones!

Our final Iranian destination was the small town of Kashan.  We decided to hire a driver to take us there via Abyaneh, a picturesque village that we couldn’t get to via public transport.  The Lonely Planet did warn us it is positioned to be cool in summer and freezing in winter.  As we drove out of Esfahan we started to see a little snow on the roadsides.  And in the next hour or so, the snow got heavier.  We did look at each other – what had we been thinking to make this trip in winter.  We got to the village and it was snowing constantly and it was freezing.  We did a speed-walk through the main thoroughfare and then hot-tailed it back to the car.  The driver was quite excited and walked off to talk some photos.  We did meet one local woman in the traditional dress for which the village is famous for.

Apart from the final 3 days of this trip, the weather had been warm and ideal for comfortable travel.
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We carried on to Kashan, our resting place for one night.  There we stayed in a beautifully restored boutique guesthouse, set around a garden courtyard.  Not the best time of year for sitting around the water feature, but it was a beautiful setting. And the restaurant meal of chicken and barberries, was just delicious.

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The town itself is small and in the middle of the desert.  There was plenty of rebuilding/restoration being done.

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The town had a number of wealthy merchant houses and we chose only one to visit.  Khan-e Tabatabei was a nice building, but completely unfurnished, so hard to imagine what it was truly like when it had been built and in use.

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There was a very old market in the center of town where we spent some time out of the cold and snow.  There was a lot of copper and rose water on sale.  And a spice shop with grinding wheels that dated back 700 years. There were some illustrations on the wall of the wheel being pulled around by camels. And food highlight was the coconut macaroons nargili which we purchased - we savored those all the way back to Laos!

We did see an unusual method of storing a shop’s plastic storage boxes.  One can only assume there are not a lot of strong winds in this region to blow them off the roof and around the neighbourhood

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From Kashan we took another taxi the 2 hours directly back to Tehran airport.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Esfahan: Mosque, Bazaar and a little carpet tea

The new working week dawned fine and noticeably cooler.  The forecast has gone from 22 degrees during the day to single digits in the next 3 days.


We walked down street of shops selling nougat and having already been in the city 1 full day, we have yet to buy any nougat- it is unheard of!  And by the end of the day we still had no nougat, but have it on the list for tomorrow our last day in the city.

Our 1st stop was the Masjed-e Jameh, the largest mosque in Iran.  Two of the domes survive from the 11th century and then another millennium of different architectural styles as the mosque evolved.  It was very nice, but compared to the Mosque Iman of yesterday, we both preferred the 1st mosque.


The portraits of Khomeini and Khamenei are everywhere - even within the mosques.  

On exiting the mosque we entered the meandering Bazaar which covers nearly two kilometres.  The parts near the mosque are over a thousand years old while most of the rest only date from the 1600s.


Back at the square the was a coffee and chocolate cake break before some more looking at the arcades and streets around the square.


Then more food - we are in no danger of losing weight this trip.  We choose a traditional restaurant above the arcades, although we saw a tour group go there yesterday, there were lots of locals going in.  The food was good.  The Fesenjan was interesting (chicken stew with pomegranate syrup and walnuts and cinnamon ), but not something we will order again.  It is the first time we have had traditional seating - reclining spaces leaning against cushions.  If the 2 80 year olds in the bay next to us can do it with ease - we can too!



After lunch Andrew took some tea with a couple of rug merchants and in the end we decided to buy a wool rug as a memento of Iran.  It packs down surprisingly well, but is definitely a few kilos in weight!

But as Mr Poser is demonstrating below - we got it back to Lao no problem!










Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Esfahan: Squares and Mosques

Exploring a new city on a Friday in Iran is good for us.  Like our 1st day in Tehran, the traffic is lighter, and while the Bazaar might not be open, it is easier for us the get about.


Our destination for the morning was Naqsh-e Jahan Square, a enormous space.  As a public space it is 2nd only in size to Tiananmen Square.  We sat down on a bench to work out where we would go first.  Within a minute, an 11 year old with her father, and then all the rest of her family, stood around while she asked us questions, practicing her English ( which was very good).  After they departed another man and his wife replaced them and wanted to talk.  It was very nice, but we decided to move on so we could see some of the places we wanted to see before the day disappeared.  We have noticed there are not so many independent tourists obviously about as we travel.  But we do keep seeing the same two or three elderly French and German tour groups following the same route as us!


We entered the “Kakh-e Ali Qapu” Ali Qapu palace and Andrew spotted a cafe inside so we sat while he had a Cappuccino.  This came back to rumble his tummy 30 minutes later and required a toilet stop.  Interestingly he had another cappuccino the next day, from another cafe, with exactly the same consequences.  As a result he has decided Esfahan milk does not agree with him and he will stick to espresso...moving on.

The palace has a terrace overlooking the square and we stood and took some photos.  We went up to the music room.  The ceiling here has shapes of household items which have been cut out to enhance the acoustics.


We wandered around the square and its arcades where it is good to see real hand-craft. And less mass production for sale.  We took the Lonely Planet recommendation of the Bastani Traditional restaurant, where they said the food was good.  It was at best average, it was a disappointing choice.  Even the rice, Chelo Polo, was nothing like the delicious rice we have been consuming (we have eaten more rice here than we eat in Asia)

After coming out of the restaurant we took the opportunity to visit the Masjed-e Imam.  It was visually stunning and dated from the 17th century.  



As we walked through the park to the hotel, and saw plenty more families enjoying traditional picnics in the park.

In the evening we walked down to the river to see the 1st of the bridges along the river Zayandeh, “Pol-e Si-o-Seh”. There is no water in the river, we walked one direction across the upper bridge and then back in the other direction on the lower ramparts.  The bridges are a gathering place for people and there were plenty of people parading, talking, playing music.  The open arches have no barriers and standing in the dark, it is a little disconcerting looking down!



For dinner we went to a nearby hotel Italian restaurant and had a VERY good plate of pasta each.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Persepolis

Today was our half day journey to Persepolis, the ruined city 60km outside of Shiraz.  We decided for convenience reasons to book a tour through our hotel but every taxi driver we met on the street would have taken us there "for a good price"

We traveled with 2 Persian couples who didn't really talk to us, and a driver and guide.  The guide was good and in his parallel life was just short of graduating university having studied accounting.  He wanted to get a government job but really before he could get a job he needed to complete 2 years military service.



Persepolis, is a ruined city built over 150 years being after Darius the great took the throne in 520 BC. Historians think that Persepolis covered an area of 125 km and records show that labourers were paid a salary and that females had maternity leave - so an ancient city built without slave labour.  Subjects came from across the empire to pay homage to their king. Persepolis was burned to the ground by Alexander’s in 330 BC. While the palace was built of stone the roofs are believed to have been made from huge timber beams, and as these burned they heated, then melted, the iron and lead clamps that held the structures together.  



Much of the remaining detail was preserved because it was covered by sand, the bas-relief work was extensive and the details tell stories of an empire.  From panels the various tribes of the empire were identified by their dress and the gifts that they were depicted as bringing.  Our guide making a good-natured joke of the neighbouring area said...and we know these are from Esfahan...pause....because they bring no gifts, they are reknown for being stingy.  Each of the groups is lead in a local guard who hold the visitor by the hand.  Because the different tribes didn't speak a common language they were guided by touch rather then by voice instructions.  Interesting little interpretations from the carvings.


If you look at the pieces individually they are just rocks, but the sum of the parts of Persepolis shows a slice of history and you can imagine what it was like in its heyday.  

We then drove 4km further down the road to Naqsh-e Rostam, the rock burial tombs of 4 of the kings of Persepolis, including Darius the Great

The Persian group continued on their full day tour and we were put in a taxi back to Shiraz.  Here we gathered our bags, checked out of the hotel and taxied across to the Karendish bus terminal to get a VIP bus to Isfahan (Esfahan) a 6 hour journey south.  VIP buses are nice!  They seat 25 people have reclining seats, you get a snack pack to eat, and water in a chiller.  All for the princely sum of 300,000 rials or $15.

After an uneventful journey in Isfahan we got a taxi to our hotel.  He drove like he was trying to get the vehicle airborne, but once we got into traffic, the pace was a little less hair-raising!  It was Thursday evening, and at close to 10 pm the streets were teeming with people window shopping before Friday rest-day.



Saturday, December 3, 2016

Shiraz: Mosque and gardens

Given I was still a bit under the weather, but Andrew's cold seems to skimmed over him, we had a slow day.  Andrew was a bit aggrieved when the coffee shop we had been to yesterday was not open as we went past at 8:55.  He got a little more agitated when we crossed the road bridge only a couple of minutes later and he could see it had opened. But we were not backtracking - we had things to do today!

[It is OK, as he stopped there on the way back to the hotel after lunch for a very nice international standard cappuccino.  Ba Na cafe - tick of approval from Andrew.]

We headed to the Nasir ol Molk mosque or the Pink Mosque as it is sometimes known.  A very beautiful mosque it is known for its stained glass and pleasing design.  We were lucky and had it to ourselves plus a couple of other independent tourists, before 2 rather large and loud French tours groups arrived.





Along the street we watched a couple of bread-shops churning out the local flat bread.  Fresh out of the oven the locals 'dry', fold and carry their bread away

Nearby is the Naranjestan gardens which Andrew wandered around while I had a rest on the seats outside.  The name comes from the sour orange trees planted there.  The buildings which had started construction in the 13th century had been used for public meetings and administrative purposes 

It was back to the Bazaar area and the restaurant,  Sharzeh traditional restaurant, we had previously thought was closed. We got there before a large French group and had very good lamb kebab and rice.

In the heat of the day we retreated to the hotel before venturing out for more food.  At a local takeaway we did the 'point and smile routine' and staff were very patient with us.  A local family had watched us while they ate their meal.  The father had been building up courage to come and talk to us.  His English wasn't as good as some, but he just wanted to shake Andrew's hand, ask him where he was from, and wish welcome to Shiraz.