Isfahan – Sunday, April 11

After breakfast I headed out to look for a place to exchange some money. The street rate is significantly better than the official bank rate and my guidebook suggested an exchange office that was nearby.

On the way, just around the corner in fact, was a theological school I wanted to visit, Madrase-ye Charar Bagh. It was the pictures of its twin minarets and blue dome than inspired me to make this trip. I could see the dome from the garden of my hotel, but I had heard the school was closed to visitors. I had already walked by the previous day and found the door barred – still, I hoped to get in somehow.

As I neared it I saw two tourists coming out and I hurried up to see if they had been lucky enough to get in. They told me they had opened the door, but then had been stopped by a guard. I took a deep breath – oh well, I’ll try again later.

Up a few blocks I found my exchange office and exchanged $20US for 152,000 Rials – that’s fifteen 10,000 Rial notes, the largest bank note I saw, and some odd change. It’s quite a bundle to carry, so it makes sense to cash only a small amount at a time.

Next I walked over to the Emam Mosque. It was the second reason I had come to Iran. I had seen pictures of its soaring blue-tiled domes and iwans (entrances) and wanted to see it in person. Pictures just don’t do it justice: it was magnificent.

As always, I was eventually drawn to the bazaar. It’s a wonderful place to wander, view Iranians at work and to meet people. I walked the full length again and this time stopped to visit the Jama mosque. While not as outwardly spectacular as the Emam mosque, it has a great central courtyard surrounded by four tile-covered iwans. (An iwan is the half dome entrance that Iranian mosques are famous for.)

I decided to take a taxi back to the hotel again. I stood out on the street in the same spot and looked around for one. As I was standing there, a car pulled up next to me. It had two men it in. It was a regular passenger car with no markings on it. The passenger said something to me in Farsi, the Iranian language. I didn’t understand and replied in English. As we were trying to talk, a pedestrian came up and translated for us. They were offering me a ride and as soon as we established a price, I got in and off we went to the hotel. You go out in Iran and you never know who will bring you back.

I was unhappy with my hotel room. It was in the front on a busy street and quite noisy. I had asked for a different room before I left in the morning and when I returned I was given a new one. This one overlooked the quiet, central garden. I was very pleased and to celebrate I took a nap. Afterwards I had lunch at the hotel restaurant and then headed south to the river. I had read about the bridges and teahouses there: I was thinking about finding a nice place to sit and do a little writing.

To get there I had to walk down a busy commercial street where shops sold everything from Iranian music CD’s to computer supplies; from fashionable clothing to appliances. As always I was surprised how friendly and curious everyone was, especially the women. Oh for sure, the more conservative were covered in black literally from nose to toes but many had some of their hair showing and/or were wearing makeup. I was beginning to think Iran was more liberal than I had heard.

The first bridge I can to was the Si o Se (Bridge of 33 Arches) and one of the loveliest in Isfahan. It’s closed to motor traffic and a great place to stroll and watch Iranians. I saw a little teashop at the foot of the bridge, but the day was so nice I decided to walk west along the river a little more. I had read that there were more bridges down that way.

Not far along I saw a group of middle aged men siting in a row waiting to have their picture taken. One called out to me as I passed, “Where are you from?” When I told them I was from America, they insisted I sit and have my picture taken with them. They spoke very little English so I never found out why they were posing, but we had a good laugh together anyway. The Iranians I met were all good company even when we couldn’t understand each other. When I got up to leave they all shook my hand good-bye.

Farther down at the Chubi Bridge I decided to have some tea. Out in the middle of the bridge, on one of the supporting pillars at water level, was a small teahouse. You could either have tea inside or outside on little carpet-covered benches. I went inside, ordered a pot of tea and then took a seat on one of the benches beside the water.

At the same time, a group of young men, university students I was soon to find out, sat down too. Of course they were as curious about me as I was about them and we had a lively conversation. They were standing and sitting all around me asking questions. One of the guys, he called himself a “laugh-man” because he told so many jokes, acted as translator. Some of his jokes were in English and some in Farsi. I suspect the ones in Farsi were sometimes at my expense, but it was all well intended. We spent a half-hour talking and then they took off. I stayed and wrote some.

April 12th »

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