Esfahan Iran – our third destination in this country, so we already managed to fall in love with it. We would never guess that after visiting Esfahan we will be enraptured with Iranian culture even more. The attractions are impressive and it’s amazing how much kindness we experienced from the locals. We have loads of good memories connected with this place and would encourage everyone to go there :) Especially those who have a sweet tooth – you need to know that delicious Efahani candies are waiting for you there!
Esfahan Iran – Day 1
We got to Esfahan from beautiful Yazd by overnight train and in the morning went straight to the hotel to get a short nap and refresh ourselves. Luckily the hotel stuff allowed us to check in early. It took us a couple of hours to prepare for sightseeing the city and then we set off.
Amir Kabir Hostel, where we stayed in, was full of tourists from abroad – just as many other hotels we visited in Iran. Maybe that’s why it wasn’t a problem in all of them to communicate in English with the hotel stuff. It really made our travel simpler and that’s a huge plus. On the streets it’s also possible to always find someone who speaks English or even better – those people often found us :) Many people on the streets just asked “how are you?” or wanted to greet, so it’s not a problem in this country to find someone who will help when getting lost.
In Esfahan the metro isn’t fully operational. At the time, we visited the city, there was only one line and not every station was opened. Luckily our hotel wasn’t far from our first attraction – Imam Square. For these reason, we decided to go on foot. Imam Square is a great place and is a must-see while being in Iran. Esfahan is also probably the most touristic places of all we’ve visited in Iran. When we got to the attraction (during the day) there wasn’t many people because of the hot weather. People use to come to such places in the evening but we must admit that we were happy to see it also during the day.
We took some photos of the Square and then headed to the nearby Imam Mosque – the biggest one in the city. While admiring the mosque at close range an Iranian guy came to us and started a conversation. He was our age and told he sells Persian carpets in a close store and invites us for a tea. He really just wanted to talk with us and we felt encouraged to go with him.
SHOPS ON THE SQUARE
Many shops with souvenirs are located in the big square building surrounding the whole Imam Square. And so was the shop of our new friend :) He had some chairs in front of his little shop and made us a delicious tea in special Iranian glasses called estekan. They are very small and transparent. We sat with him and talked about everything – travels, carpets, personal stories and the situation in Iran. He told us many interesting things and we got to know the point of view about Iran from a local person. He wasn’t the only Iranian who told us about life in Iran. We’ve met many people that shared with us their thoughts and that’s what’s great about this country – it’s very easy to get to know the real Iran.
He recommended us to go inside the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, because as he said it’s worth to see that particular mosque the most. We decided to sightsee the mosques first and come back to him for our Persian carpet later.
IMAM MOSQUE AND SHEIKH LOTFOLLAH MOSQUE
At first, we went to Imam Mosque and saw its facade – we could go to the front yard of the Mosque for free with no restrictions. If you want to visit in from inside, you need to buy a ticket. Many Iranians say that although the Imam Mosque looks better from the outside, it’s more worth to go inside the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque (which is located at the square as well). The carpet seller confirmed this, so we decided to enter only Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. And it’s definitely worth to. It was the first time we’ve ever been to a mosque and we loved the interior. It’s so much different from the catholic churches – there is nothing inside (no banks to sit, no altar) and the mosaic was beautiful. Tiny beams of the light, which were going through the window, made the whole place even more mysterious and fascinating.
As we wrote earlier after seeing the mosque we came again to the carpet shop to see the rugs. The carpet seller had so many of them – in every sizes and colors. We loved them so much and wanted to buy one. But we had still over two weeks of travel lying ahead of us and we had only a small luggage (two very small backpacks).
Earlier, during our conversation the shopkeeper told us that newlyweds get as a gift from their parents little Persian carpets. That was one encouragement for us to get the carpet – we just got married so we could make ourselves an exceptional present on this occasion. The second was just the fact of having a Persian carpet at home. For us a carpet was always the first association with Persia.
We told the shopkeeper how the situation with our backpacks looked like and he showed us the smallest ones he had. We just couldn’t resist and we knew we would do everything to stick the carpet in one of our little backpacks. Eventually, we picked this one:
We thought it’s really exceptional – the carpet was very soft because was made of silk and was slightly uneven. The shopkeeper told us it looks like this because of the fact it was handmade. We think he said the truth because later at home we checked on the internet how to distinguish the handmade carpet from the one made by a machine. And all tests we conducted confirmed that we got real, hand-knitted Persian rug. Till now we are very happy about that souvenir and it has a special place in our apartment :)
Later we had a walk around the center and were looking for something to eat. As around the Square there are no good food options we walked a bit further. Finally, we found a restaurant, which serves chicken with rice and vegs on the side. We took two portions of it and bought two tasty malt beers too. Definitely it was a good choice!
After our little break for eating we went to see Khaju Bridge. We decided to go on foot but we got lost. It was in the middle of the very hot day so there was no people around to ask how to get there or even a single taxi in sight. Only two thoughtless people were wandering through the streets during that horrible heat.. Guess who was it? :D Not a good moment to get lost when it’s around 40°C outside. But it’s Iran, so what happened then? One car just stopped and the guy asked us something but he didn’t spoke any English. We only kept saying “Khaju Pol” but we think probably our pronunciation wasn’t that good and he couldn’t understand us so we all just given up on trying to understand each other and he drove away.
Suddenly, after maybe a minute we saw him turning back and smiling :) He realized what we needed and offer us a pick-up! We hopped to his car and he drove us to our destination. It was such a relief that we met him. During the ride we were trying to communicate, but the language barrier was a too big obstacle for all of us. We really glad that he understood our “Merci” when we were getting off. Why did we say “Thank you” in French to him? This French word is commonly understandable and used in Persia. It’s just a small legacy of Shah’s reign when the Royalty was concerned with French culture and tried to bring it in Persia. All in all, people in Iran are just unbelievable and of course in the most positive way :)
Then we spent some time on the Khaju Bridge that was almost completely empty as well, took pictures and just sat on the bridge in a shadow for some time to have a rest. The bridge is beautiful because of its architecture and historical background. We saw it only during the day but we’ve read that if you have more time it’s also worth to see it by night when it’s illuminated.
BACK TO IMAM SQUARE
When it got dark we decided to come back to Imam Square to spend some more time there and see how this place looks in the evening. This time we took a taxi because we didn’t want to get lost again.
During that time more and more people started to come to Imam Square as well. There were many Iranians but we could also see a few people from abroad. We had shorter or longer conversations with locals or took some pictures together. We’ve also met three middle-aged men that were speaking English very good and that was impressive. They asked us about our imagination of Iran that we had before our trip and our thoughts about the reality that we saw in place. We enjoyed talking with them a lot. We have to admit that even though we’ve read a lot about the kindness of people in Iran before getting there, we wouldn’t expect that kind of hospitality. And certainly everyone should just see it by themselves.
Many people in Iran are frustrated that majority of people from abroad think Iran isn’t a safe place. It’s sad that wonderful Iran with so lovely citizens are not shown in the press like they’re deserve to be. Locals are very friendly and the phenomenon of racism rather doesn’t occur in this country. Iranians are welcoming, very conscious about the political situation, positive, selfless and helpful towards tourists. During our trip, we’ve met many good people and faced an incredible dimension of hospitality.
So, we spent a couple of hours at Imam Square, we enjoyed the views of the fountains and time we shared with locals. We also liked one more surprising thing in that place. When it got a little bit colder and people started coming, they took blankets with them and made picnics on the grass. However, it’s not only popular in Esfahan, but also in all other places we’ve been to. Only that at Imam Square there were so many people :) Maybe it’s because it’s a very famous place. Iranians spend their free time like this – they take blankets, big thermoses with tea, glasses (estekan), sunflower seeds and just sit together and talk. It’s a great view to see families and friends spending time like this.
END OF THE 1 DAY
Later we went to our hotel because the next day we were going to take a bus to Varzaneh. Unluckily, it was Friday, so it’s a day off. On Fridays buses go very rarely and the next one was supposed to departure in couple of hours. Fortunately, there was one driver who also was planning to go to Varzaneh with his car and was looking for passengers to earn a bit extra. We picked him, because we didn’t want to waste so much time doing nothing at the station.
As it turned out the guy was a breadstuff provider for small stores in villages around Esfahan. So we had a ride in a car with tons of fresh rolls and baguettes. Also we had a few stops in tiny, lovely villages on the way when the driver was delivering the food. It was a nice, exceptional experience as we saw the places that we would never see otherwise.
Esfahan Iran – Day 2
The second day in Esfahan started when we came back from Varzaneh. This time we managed to take a bus. We still had almost a whole day and planned to see the Si-o-se-pol Bridge. We decided to spend the whole day in this area. For dinner we ate something nearby and bought delicious ice-creams. We’ve met two locals that couldn’t speak English and used a translator on their mobile phones to communicate with us. They said they have a car and can give us a ride wherever we want to :) But as we were tired after having a desert tour in Varzaneh the day before, we wanted to stay in this place for longer and have some casual day. At least we just had a short conversation with these guys.
Walking around we remembered to go to the shop to buy popular Esfahani candies – gaz. The city is known for them so we must have tried it. They are incredibly delicious! It’s a nougat with almond or pistachio kernels inside. We’d say it tastes just a little bit like marshmallows but they are tougher and not that sweet and have an extra nut taste too. Great, now we want to eat them :( We have to go to Iran again :) If you are there, you should definitely try it!
ON THE BRIDGE
On the bridge we’ve met a nice family having a picnic (also hardly spoke English but tried hard) and a guy our age that spoke English very good and spent some time with us. We sat on the bridge in the shadow and just enjoyed the view and our time in Esfahan. And the view from Si-o-Se Pol is kind of specific. In summer the river under the bridge is dry out. You won’t find any single water drop there. If we wanted to see it, we would have to come during colder months. Still, we think the view was great and we had the rare opportunity to walk through the river bottom.
END OF DAY 2
In the evening we had a train back to Tehran and also met some interesting people at the station and onboard so we didn’t get much sleep as we previously planned to. The most fascinating person we’ve met in Esfahan is an elderly woman, who to ours surprise, spoke communicative English. In the past she was a customs official at the border between Iran and Iraq. In 1980 when the war between these countries broke out, she had to escape from the her town Khorramshahr and immidiately moved to Tehran. The town including the house she lived in before the war was totally destroyed by the troops. It’s unbelievable for us to hear such stories and we are glad that we met such a person on our way.
And that’s our whole experience about Esfahan. The city is interesting and we’re satisfied with our stay there. It’s possible to see it in two days on a budget if you are a backpacker just like us.
And the best thing is that we got our carpet reminding us of our great trip every day :)