Monday, 7 March 2011

Iran 3

Another rip-off taxi puts me in the centre of Isfahan. I check into the hostel – the only one I know of in the entire country. I set down my back and meet Dada a traveller from Korea. She shares her dinner with me and then fires up her travel kettle – like her style.

The next day I strap on my walking boots and familiarise myself with the city. Emam Khomeini square is the second largest in the world (Tienanmen being the first). The perimeter is lined with teashops and souvenir shops – the tourist junk is broken up by some incredible mosques and palaces. Actually it's unfair to call it junk – the silverware and ceramics are some of the best in Iran...perhaps if my budget wasn't entirely occupied with bread and jam I might like to purchase some such local produce.

 I spend a day walking round the mosques and the square – accepting many cay invitations along the way. The sellers in Isfahan lack the intensity of those in Istanbul – they are very happy to chin wag over a cay and fully understand “no thank you” which never has to be repeated.

Another day is spent exploring the famous bridges with Cheolo another Korean hosteller. On the bridge we meet Big Gay Al (name changed for security purposes) – he takes us for a coffee and we talk about his life in Isfahan. He tell us that the bridge we were exploring is the secret gay hang out!!...thought I felt the “gaydar” going a bit mental! He tells us that he is gay and married and goes on explain the (fairly obvious) difficulties he has in Iran. He has to return to work so we say our goodbyes and continue walking along the river bank. Perhaps five minutes later we make two new friends Bill & Ben – a couple of cheery guys about our age keen to practice their English. We are whisked off on a walking tour . In the evening we meet up again and the take us on a drive through the city. Rather than the usual Turbo-Folk the stereo is pumping English tunes. We head out of town to a huge park area. The park is beautiful and allows us great views of the city lights down below – It's also home to the highest mountain in Isfahan We finish the day off in style at the local restaurant. Food was pretty good, but the resident magician was all we talked about on the walk back down to the car. Top day.

At various points around the city there are place to hire bicycles....but they're free!!! How cool!! Puts Isfahan ahead of many European cities on the tourist front. We take a ride along the river – chat away the hours and see a few sights along the way. In the evening we go to Bill's English class and become teaching assistants for the night. I am surprised to hear the teacher instructing them to say “gonna, wanna” etc...not on my watch!

On our final day in Isfahan Cheolo and I take another walk around the square and shoot some more pictures. Several times during the day people, keen to practice their English, stop and talk to us. Isfahan has the friendliest crowd of all so far. It's a little bit like a scene from Inception (with all eyes upon us as we walk down the street) but many people greet us as we pass.

While eating in a fast food restaurant I'm accosted by a Crazy. While munching away on my burger he leans in close enough to lick my ear'ole and whispers “Tony Blair is my enemy”. “Good for you fella, he's mine too”. (A glance towards Cheolo) “China is my enemy, Russia is my enemy”. This continues for five minutes or so until the restaurant staff intervene. Upon leaving the burger joint the limping Crazy follows me down the street. He once more gives my a run down of his list of enemies and then invites me to stay in his hotel in Tehran. Once I pry my hand out of his (clearly this chap is not up to speed with “hand-shake etiquette”) Cheole and I make a dash an lose him in the crowds.

Back as the hotel Dada treats us to tea and biscuits and then the pair of us collect our bags and head to the bus terminal. Crap bus ride to Shiraz – small seats, excessive heating. We arrive at 5.30 and I steal an uncomfortable hour of sleep on another set of cold metal seats.

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