Isfahan – Monday, April 12

I wanted to make one last attempt to see Chahar Bagh. On my way out in the morning I walked by again. There was no one around but the door was ajar. I pushed it open and stepped inside. I found a guard sitting there and he just looked at me. I walked over and asked if it I could look around. He motioned that I could walk around the entrance and look from there.

That was fine: I could see the dome, the minarets that flank it and the pool in the center of the courtyard. There were lots of boys and young men walking around. Now I understood why it was closed to the public: it was a working school. I stood there drinking it all in. I took a few pictures and then left. I was delighted.

I had decided to enter the bazaar from the west side today. Here I found a busy industrial area. There were men sitting in a courtyard repairing carpet while others transported huge piles of carpets on hand trucks. Down a little lane I saw a cloud of steam coming from a huge vat. A man standing next to it motioned for me to come in. As I got closer I saw he was dyeing fabric. I watched for a while and when I left, he waved good-bye. No one seemed to mind me nosing around taking pictures.

As I continued my walk, an Iranian fellow approached me and asked if he could come along. We talked a little and then I saw something in a shop that interested me. It was a small world globe, about the size of a grapefruit, with all the country names written in Farsi. It looked like a great souvenir, so I stepped in the shop and asked the price. After the owner answered in Farsi, my companion picked up the shopkeeper’s calculator and entered something. Then he showed it to me: 10,000 Rials. Not a bad price, but something didn’t seem right.

I left the shop with the guy in tow. We walked a ways down the lane and then I stopped. I held my hand out and said, “It’s been real nice talking to you. Good-bye now.” He looked a little disappointed that our conversation had ended so soon. After I was sure he was gone, I returned to the shop and asked the price of the globe again: 4,000 Rials. Although it was not a lot of money, I hate it when people try to cheat me.

I had already decided I wanted to buy a small carpet or kilim in Isfahan. On my many walks through the bazaar I had been checking all the shops. Most of what I saw looked to be of poor quality, but I did find one shop that had lovely old carpets and kilims. It was on the north east side of Emam Square and called Nomad.

I found a little salt bag there I really liked, but couldn’t get them below $120 – I offered $100 and, when they refused, I walked out thinking that might get a lower price. It didn’t and I spent the rest of the day debating with myself about that $20. These are debates I always loose. I really wanted that bag and later that evening I went back and bought it.

After lunch I decide to walk south, past the Si o Se Bridges, and try to find the Vank church. I wasn’t all that interested in seeing it, but it was somewhere to go. Once past the bridge, the walk got real boring as there were no shops to look at. Getting close to where I thought the church should be I saw a traffic policeman. I had a picture of the church with me and I showed it to him. He just pointed in the direction I was already walking. He then thought for a moment and waved that I should follow him. We walked a few blocks together and then he pointed to a building, the church. He waved good-bye as I stepped inside. Just as I got there a small group of tourists arrived, so I just followed them around and saw the church. The paintings on the inside of the dome are quite impressive, but probably not worth the walk.

I then headed back to the Si o Se Bridge again. On the south side I saw a different teahouse. This one was under the bridge between the pillars. At the entrance there is a stand where I ordered a pot of tea. You can also get a water pipe there, if you wish. I then walked from pillar to pillar until I found an open table. At first there were little wooden gangplanks between the pillars over the river. Further back there were only little stepping stones. The river was rushing between the pillars and I had to concentrate to keep my balance. Finally I sat down and noticed that once again I was the object of great interest. “Where are you from?” I was asked. “Oh, America! Welcome!” I was told over and over again.

This teahouse was the single most interesting place I visited in all of Iran: the tea, the friendly people and the relaxing sound of the rushing water. It was completely unique and delightful. If I could go back to Iran right now, that’s the place I’d want to go.

As I walked back to the hotel I thought about tomorrow. I would be leaving for Yazd. I was sad to go and would have been happy to spend a few more days in Isfahan. The many tree-lined streets were interesting to walk and surprisingly clean. The people looked prosperous and the shops were full of goods. In fact,the only sign of the US embargo was the lack of US brand.

Traffic, always the bane of the pedestrian, wasn’t that bad either but it did take me a few days to get the hang of crossing the street. Iranians just cross anywhere and simply walk slowly and let the car move around them. I never had the courage for that, I preferred to wait for a break in traffic. In general I found Iran to be more orderly, less hectic than other Middle Eastern countries I have visited.

That evening I received two phone calls. The first was from Mr. Rowshani, my travel agent in Tehran. He wanted to know how I was doing and to tell me I would be hearing soon from my driver. The second was from the desk clerk: the driver had arrived and wanted to know what time I would like to leave in the morning. We settled on 7:30.

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