THE BEST MOSQUE & THE BIGGEST CAKE SHOP I’D EVER SEEN – REACHING ESFAHAN, IRAN, 1976

SUN 7TH NOVEMBER, 1976

Everyone feeling smelly and filthy (dust rises up through the floor from the roads – less in Iran – E. Turkey worst).

Got into Esfahan about 10.30.  Drove up main boulevard – very wide street with rows of trees and paving down the centre with seats.  Dropped in Shah Square outside Shah Mosque [now called Imam Square and Mosque].

Really incredibly beautiful Mosque – covered in tiny, intricate blue tiles both outside and in.  Passed through huge wooden doors, plated in silver with gold trimmings; passed under cool archways, again decorated in blue tiles.  Main courtyard was huge and magnificent – arches and minarets and huge dome; some very delicate smaller arches in one corner (ten of them) and all were reflected in a rectangular pool, so 20 could be seen at once.  Really warm in sun and peaceful inspite of a few tourists.  Various little men squating under columns – one washing himself by the pool.
Two little courtyards off from main one, either side of dome.  One was fabulous.  Rectangular in shape, enclosed with wide arches causing shaded raised pavements all round.  Up the middle were trees and lovely white and purple flowers and at the centre was a little pool with goldfish.  (Tiles here were blue but largely yellow too).  Then there was the area under cover of the huge dome.  At the centre the echo bounced back at you.  Jan and I stood stamping on the stone floor.  2 Iranians asked us to pose with them!
Then me, Jan and Rob made for main street and post office.  Went down arcade with fantastic shops with material prints, miniatures, jewellery, silverware etc.  Asked way from lad who gave us dry figs and pointed us in right direction.  Looked for place to eat through arch, down steps to small courtyard with store houses and restaurant.  Ordered chicken and rice; served up with chunks of raw onion and flat bread (loads of it) and yoghurt, glasses of water and loads of ice.  Sprinkled kind of nutmeg (sweet) on rice – delicious.  Really filling meal for 90 rials (less than 90p).
Staggered across street into sticky cake shop!  Biggest we’d seen – rushed from huge cakes to date biscuits wondering what to buy!  Bought 3 different types – cocoanut cake, chocolate covered bun and date biscuits.  Felt too full.  Rob stopped on way back to square to have shoe mended – Jan and I escaped man wanting us to buy his sticky cakes (!) then a carpetseller who wanted us to drink his cay!

Met up with others coming out of bazaar.

Had a fresh banana milkshake at stall in square – saw it being made.

Then me, Julie and Paul wandered up street, beckoned into miniature shop by artist.  He did little drawings on his name card and wrote our names in Farsi.  Showed us lots of photos of girls who’d come into his shop and were now all his girlfriends!

Entrance to covered bazaar, Esfahan

Outside one shop, where a metalworker was banging away at a plate inside, was an incredibly big teapot – made Balnagown teapot [of Edinburgh Gorrie Granny] look doll’s size!
Fred back again!
Back to camp after post office stop – 6 letters!!

Had a shower (cold), washed clothes etc.

In evening made up punch (supposed to be for Nov 5th) – red wine, dashes of spirit (my cherry brandy), cinamon, orange.  Very nice – especially hot.  Had session in the bus until quite late.”

Packs down at campsite, Esfahan – chaos in bus

LANTERNS MADE OUT OF MELONS FOR GUY FAWKES! IRAN 1976

Iran is often portrayed negatively in the news these days, so it is strange to re-read the first impressions of my 18 year-old self, this time 36 year ago –  curious, excited, naive and glad to be there.

“Breakfast outside customs house, to amusement of lorry drivers.  Iran!
Small villages below hills – the hills and plains are very light in colour.  Dress is different – men with jumpsuits and boots and striking turbans.  Women with veils down to the ground, very light floaty material, often with jeans on underneath!
Rezaiyeh – first stop for money.  All banks closed because of festival of burning of prophets.  Lots of flags etc.  Towns seem to have ornamental rounds in middle of them, with statues and plastic animals etc.  Fountains not working.  Nice town, found money changer in bazaar.  Had a cay and first Iranian sticky cake! (Thurs – Neva’s gutsy day!)

People curious not pressing like Turks.  Lunch was flat waffery bread and tomato – bread a bit like cardboard.

Stopped later in smaller town for few minutes – nice biscuits and cakes and lots of nuts.  More picturesque costumes – people friendly.  Little boy saluted me as I got into bus!

Camped by river as sun going down – lovely orange sky, and pink in east.  Herds of sheep and goats.
Iranians came and looked round bus – perhaps looking for drugs.  Stood around while we ate.
Cut up melons and hollowed out faces for Guy Fawkes Night.  Didn’t have fire.”