We leave our lovely hotel in Kashan, request help to take our luggage to the bikes, load our panniers back on the bikes and get ready to ride up the very steep, angled and weirdly corrugated driveway up to the lane-way. I had thought about it the day before and thought it would not be easy – better be careful not to lean too far to the right and fall over or you could land your chin and break neck on the hand rail. Vivid imagination sometimes… As I walked down to the bikes, I had decided how to tackle it. I can do it. It will be fine. I position my bike for the ride up… Yes I can. Aarrgghh. No!!! I chickened out. Anthony walks back down and rides my bike up. I am really annoyed at myself. Really annoyed and disappointed. Anthony tells me it was easier the 2nd time. We ride out. I keep having little chats to myself – one minute telling myself off, next telling myself to “drop it” and concentrate on the road. It’s done. It’s ok.
Our ride out of Kashan to Isfahan is short and easy, just 200 kms and quite pleasant. We stop half way to refuel and stretch our legs. As usual, our bikes attract a bit of attention.
There is no restaurant open so we open one of our cans of tuna which we eat with a small packet of chips/crisps in the shade of the closed restaurant. Several cars pull up, all from the same group and install themselves along the wall in the shade, like us. They have brought rugs to sit on and pillows to lean against, large containers of hot tea and all sorts of food.
We had given ourselves 4 hours to get to our rendez-vous – 3 for the bulk of the route and a final hour for getting into the city centre. We are meeting friends by a large, very famous park, Bagh Ghadir, everybody knows it we are told but the GPS doesn’t and no park is shown on the GPS so once again, the GPS cannot find the address we’ve been given. But I have it on my iPad with a saved Google map. So Anthony works on locating roads, bends, roundabouts, underpasses and puts a target pin roughly where our the meeting point is. I know the name and Anthony knows the direction. Between the two of us we get close. We’ve gone through 2 underpasses – do we exit here? It doesn’t look quite right. At the traffic lights, as a driver asks where we are going, I call out the name of the park. The driver waves towards the underpass, then left. We confirm our understanding – back down here and up again or…?? The lights turn green. Rats. Was it down the ramp, and stay left or down, up and left? He takes off, and cuts in front of us. Nothing unusual. He was in the left hand turning lane, which we know means nothing here really, but he waves at forward so we think he’s going to lead us to our destination. How nice!! Just as we thought, down, off to the right, up and left at the top. At the intersection, I spot a sign “Ghadir Gardens”. He is taking us there! We eventually arrive at a park which I recognise – thanks Google Earth. We were meeting 3/4 of the way along. I tell Anthony we should stop. The driver waves towards the park on the left, and starts to turn right. We decide to pull over where he’s turning and call our friends. Just as we’re pulling over, right there are 2 people waving at us!!!! Our usual luck strikes again – thank you guide, thank you angels…
Who are these friends? A friend of a friend and we’re staying at her sister’s house. We have never met them before. And our friend has in fact never met her friend either. They know each other through social media. And it seems perfectly normal to them to put us up. Why are we not staying in a hotel you may ask? Because every single hotel I called was full. I even tried for single nights, prepared to move as necessary as we wanted to spend at least 3 nights. And it wasn’t until Afrooz asked me yesterday where we were staying in Isfahan and I told her that every hotel I had tried was fully booked for the whole of September so we would try on arrival that she said she would call her friend that evening and check with her. As luck would have it, this friend, Zoreh, was coming home to her parents at 3am from Southern Iran where she works 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off as the emergency doctor at a hospital. And of course we could stay, but her sister’s home would be more comfortable for us.
So that’s how we meet Zoreh and her nephew Mohammad, by the side of the road. The house is close by, a few short lanes away and we’re there. The garage doors are opened for us and we park our bikes in the beautifully tiled garage. The car will be parked on the street while we’re there. We are dripping wet with sweat – it got to 42 degrees again today – it is good to stop.
We meet Zoreh’s eldest sister, her husband and their daughter. Mohammad’s wife arrives a little later. We are offered glasses of iced water. And biscuits. And sweets. And chocolates. And a cool fruit drink. And fresh fruit. Eat fruit!! I am invited to take my scarf off – even though all the others have kept theirs on, even within their own home. We are shown to our room. It’s massive. I am sure we are taking someone’s room but we are assured not. That night, as we went to the toilet, we get confirmation we have taken the parents’s room as they are sleeping in the lounge.
We are thankful Zoreh speaks good English. Mohammad tries hard and Zoreh completes the sentences for him. We are invited to go over to one of Zoreh’s aunts who lives across the road. We think of how close families are in Iran still. Family members never live very far from each other. It was like that for Afrooz, Saba, Fariba and now Zoreh, except that those 4 women were largely the exception in their family. We think of our families, and how travel pulled us away from them, geographically, all those decades ago…
As we walk into the aunt’s home, we see this absolutely enormous pot, about 50x110cm, with the biggest ladle and stirrer. We are greeted by so many people, with more waving from a balcony upstairs. We don’t know who they all are. Several kids are happily playing together in the courtyard. There is a happy and relaxed atmosphere. They have prepared and cooked kilos and kilos of osh. A large table cloth is brought down into the courtyard and and we and our ‘immediate family’ have our dinner together. Anthony and I struggle with sitting cross legged – our bodies are not used to that position, we feel so stiff and awkward! Our lovely hosts invite us to stretch our legs out. Dinner finished, we all get up and leave all the others.
Zoreh, Mohammad and his wife Shadi take us to see the city by night. The streets are so busy, like rush hour – the night rush hour really. It seems that the whole of Isfahan is out enjoying the cooler evening air. Roundabouts, which are beautifully treed with lots of flower beds are dotted with several families having picnics. This isn’t the week end – it’s like that every evening we are told. Past the Si-oSeh-Pol bridge (30 bridges bridge), past the Khajoo bridge, and onto the main square Naqsh-e Jahan or Imam square. All beautifully lit. On the way, we stop for ice cream and a special lemon sherbert desert which is tasty and extremely sweet. We have found that Iranians love their sweets, in many forms, love salt and love sour foods. We spend a lovely evening strolling through the bazaar, stopping for tea at a very quirky tea house, admiring the bridges. We have long and very open discussions about marriage, kids, families, politics, religion.
Over our two whole days in Isfahan, we meet several of Mohammad’s friends, several of Zoreh’s family members, we are invited to her parents’ house, an aunt’s home to see her most stunning home with mirrored walks and ceilings, like we’ve seen in palaces here. Once again, we are amazed at how people suddenly turn up, appear, join us for a while. Always so lovely, interested in us and life in Australia and interesting. I am quizzed once again on marriage and kids, why don’t we have kids, is it important what age you marry, is it important what age your husband is.
We are taken to restaurants, and some of the historical sights I was interested in such as: Chehel Sotun Palace, originally built as a pleasure pavilion (and was rebuilt in 1706 after a fire) is one of 300 palaces that were built when Isfahan was the capital of Iran. It’s name means 40 pillars and is derived from the 20 slender pillars that support a stunning wooden ceiling, and their reflection in the long pool in front of the palace. The palace’s great hall is adorned with magnificent historical frescoes. The palace gardens, covering an area of 67000sqm are stunning. I find that I am attracted to the vivid greens we’ve seen in gardens in Iran – probably because we’ve seen so much desert while riding.
I was interested in seeing the Armenian quarter called Jolfa. Back in 1604, Shah Abbas was so impressed in the Armenians’ skills as merchants, entrepreneurs and artists, he kidnapped the whole population of the original Jolfa near Tabriz, and sent them off to build him a new capital at Isfahan, ensuring them that their religious beliefs would be respected, although they would be kept at a certain distance away from the city’s islamic centre. It is a relatively small, compact quarter but has a very distinctive feel. It was interesting to visit Vank cathedral, which is richly decorated with old and new testament imagery, together with typically islamic tiles and designs below.
Finally, I was keen to visit the Sheikh Lotfollah mosque on the Naqsh-e Jahan squre, built between 1602 and 1619. It is unusual as it has no minaret or courtyard and but steps lead up to the entrance. That is because it was never designed for the public but for the women of the shah’s harem. They would enter their mosque via an underground passage under the square from the Shah’s palace.
Zoreh’s sister prepared us a different breakfast every morning, delicious lunches, so many Iranian sweets, especially Yazd nougat which we both loved, and lots of home grown fruit. They were so lovely – we just wish we could have communicated with them better. And so incredibly generous. When we left, we gave them a large box of sweets (which we had heard was a traditional gift when you visit people for dinner). They were obviously offended, asking us why we gave them a gift. Anthony was quick thinking: so that you can remember us when you eat them. Insult avoided, just!
Zoreh was wonderful and so attentive. Despite her migraine, she joined us on our last day. She could not have done more for us. Her nephew and his family were so lovely too. Once again, we leave new friends behind. We know we’ll stay in touch…
After several photos and our final goodbyes, we set off for Yazd.