Day 20 – Tehran to Isfahan

Actual mechanical work had to take place on Mickey this morning – a brake light that had been indecisive in operation since Istanbul was finally changed out – a marked level up in repairs – actually replacing parts on the Micra is something we had so far not carried out – a good sign, we hope. While the repairs were carried out, a Canadian team were in the restaurant trying their best to battle with the WiFi and its various blocks and filters. Oli allowed them access to his laptop and the Tor network configuration – while at a cost of speed, this tunnelled through to a more open world wide web.
We set off for Isfahan, witnessing the construction of Tehran’s fast-access rail network to the international airport and a stark contrast in landscape within 50km – fauna went promptly from trees to bushes to shrubs, grass became gravel and rock, riverbeds were completely dry. We had entered the desert and with it the heat, something we thought we had become accustomed to, with the intensity belting down from the sun. Realising out water supplies were not in check, we pulled in to a service station early, where Rhys and Thomas proceeded to buy half the store – snacks and sweets galore with 6 litres of water.
When we approached Isfahan we missed the junction taking a redirection of about 20km. Iranian road signs are in 3 words, short-notice and minimalistic – in the literal sense. Turkey’s nod to UK road signs, with large blue boards and text that can be read at 200 metres are sorely missed out here. It is best to have a clear understanding of where you need to head in Iran, with a good road map and basic compass skills so you can predetermine your junctions and estimated arrival times. See the Iranian Highway guide on our site for more information. We continued driving and found a lorry in state of breakdown with 3 men attempting repairs, and with and exchange of greeting and some water, they directed us to an “untrue” road (single rough lane) that could see us back onto the highway.
We arrived into Isfahan early evening to the “Traditional Hotel” an old-world styled Persian hotel with wood-framed windows and a courtyard featuring raised seating areas and a large fountain. We considered this a marked improvement on Tehran’s accommodation and settled into the large suite with its own private courtyard and very efficient air conditioning. What was not efficient however was the WiFi. Of all the places visited thus far, Isfahan presented not only the Iranian global filter but a 3-stage authentication process which did not work as intended. Aspirations of contacting loved ones and updating this blog were quickly extinguished in a flood of connection errors and speed issues.
With the hotel check-in complete we ventured out to the highlights of Isfahan – the Nash-e-Jahan square is the 2nd largest public square in the world, second only to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, bordered by both the Shiek Lotfollah and Jameh Abbasi Mosques, surrounded on all sides by the Isfahan bazaar. A large water pool with fountains cut through the middle, and horse-drawn carriages took families and tourists around the square. It gave a true sense of community spirit even in a city as large as Isfahan. Losing the main group for a brief moment, Oli met an inquisitive girl, Hojan, who had just finished her college degree. She asked after our group and what we were doing in Iran. Exchanging contact details, and with a farewell we headed into the Bazaar to see if there were any bargains to be had. Mistaking a man for the shopkeeper, we enquired about postcards and stamps to send them on to the UK. Enter the actual shopkeeper who, upon seeing this conversation unfold with his stock being sold by a stranger (who later turned out to be an addict, as described by Reza), set upon him, throwing him away from the store front and wrestling him to the floor, kicking the man in the ribs and holding him in a headlock. Thomas attempted to involve himself in the struggle, but was kept away by Oli on the basis that any involvement in a physical fight, in Iran would have much greater consequences. We made for a swift exit of the scene and met a well-spoken carpet shop owner who invited us inside for tea and discussion on possible purchases, with credit cards accepted. This was an attractive proposition for us- Iran’s sanctions forbade MasterCard/Visa and other global banking transactions. This man’s solution was, very cleverly, to use a 3rd party in Saudi Arabia to process, then send the money across to him. This came at a risk for us, as the 3rd party was unknown and could potentially take more through the card details than simply payment for a carpet. We decided that on returning to Isfahan in 2 days, we would make a decision then, taking in the sites of Shiraz in the meantime.
We headed out into the late evening sprawl, crossing the “33” Bridge or Khajou Bridge, named for the 33 major arches connecting one side of Isfahan with the other over the arterial riverbed, currently dry from the high-summer season. Several locals were happy to see us walking through and asked various questions about the UK and surprisingly, a lot on the political situation, especially the EU referendum – something we had put in the back of our minds. Inkeeping with themes on names, we visited the “Traditional Restaurant” recommended by a local man – a heavily decorative Qatar-era themed establishment with high quality food, at an equally higher price when compared to previous restaurants. Dinner choices included a fish grill platter (400’000 Rials) and grilled chicken pieces in a very tart pomegranate sauce, both served with an abundance of rice and flatbread.
Filled with cereals once again we walked off the heavy meals back over the Khajou Bridge and returned to the Traditional Hotel to take in the evening air. A chance moment of working WiFi allowing a few emails and calls to be sent through.

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