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Live the adventures of Dan Walker's travels through reading his travel journal. The travel journals are listed below in descending order of date. To search the travel journals, use the keyword search at the bottom of the page.

Journal Entry:

Thursday, October 09, 2003 04:36:31

Central Asia 2003: 9 - Esfahan to Mashad, Iran

On our last morning in Shiraz we visited three beautiful palaces with sculptured gardens. We also stopped at the tombs of two poets - large ornated buildings set in beautiful gardens. They both died over 300 years ago, and are remembered by these monuments to their works. All the gardens are open to the populace, who use their shaded benches to read, relax or just people watch.

I had tipped off Ali that it was Marilynn's birthday, so we made a clandestine stop at a bakery where I purchased a cake and candles on the way to lunch. The cost - full size decorated cake and a box of birthday candles - $1.80.

Lunch was good, and the cake a big hit. The sugar rush got Marilynn up and going, as she was not too keen on not being in touch with everyone on her birthday, and the fact that a party as we know it would not be possible. After lunch it was siesta time, as the hotel had permitted a 4 PM checkout.

Another shopping stop was made at a bazaar, and we were transported to the airport. The flight once again was on time, this time using a newer Fokker 100 aircraft. Even on the 40 minute flight to Esfahan a sandwich, desert, juice and so on were served. It seems to be only in North American that they are determined to starve the travelling public into submission.

We were picked up at the airport in another very nice minibus and taken to the Abassi Hotel, arriving after 9 PM. The hotel is amazing. It was built around 400 years ago as a caravansary - a resting places for the caravans plying their trade on the silk road. Esfahan was the capital of Iran at that time. It has been extravagantly renovated, and is complete with a large, formal garden with lots of fountains. The drive to the hotel was very interesting, as there are coloured lights everywhere in the city including down the centre boulivards , giving it a truly festive look at night.

The hotel apparently was overbooked and gave away our rooms, so the travel company gave the OK to upgrade some of us to suites. Ali and I have hit it off very well, so he told them I was a VIP, and Marilynn and I got an amazing suite. It is two stories high inside, with Persian arches all around the top with backlit glasswork in each of the arches. The double wood entrance doors lead into a living room, which leades to a huge marble bathroom, and a bedroom with the first king sized bed we've had in Iran. Both bedroom and living room have doors opening onto a balcony overlooking the gardens. This will do very well for our stay here and was a great ending to Marilynn's birthday!

Yesterday morning, Wednesay, we headed off about 9 PM to have a look at this beautiful city of wide boulevards, shady well kept parks, palaces and mosques. There are about 2,500,000 people living here now, up from about 100,000 when it was the capital of Iran 400 years ago. We visited the Jama (Friday) mosque, on which construction started in 156 AD. It is not particularly ornate, but immense with all it's connecting rooms and high pillared roof. We also visited two beautiful palaces, built between 300 and 400 years ago, both with beautiful grounds which are now public parks.

It was back to the hotel for lunch and a seista, and then off again at 4 PM. Pretty much everything closes in the markets between noon and 4, as it is time for lunch and prayers. We were given the obligatory tour of a shop selling miniature art and of a place making stamped cloth, where I'm certain the guide is on commission, then were cut loose to explore the giant plaza. The central mosque and main plaza, which has miles of bazaars in it, is apparently the largest enclosed square in the world - it is 250 meters by 550 meters.

There was a big gathering in the city for children. Games and entertainment were on for them in the plaza, so Marilynn and I headed off on our own to have a look. We were soon surrounded by many people wanting to know where we were from, how old we were, how did we like Iran, what my occupation was and how did Iran get portrayed in the papers at home. These were standard questions from the many people who would stop us, wanting to try out their English and chat. We had a great time, but it was a little intimidating - at one point I had over 20 school kids of various ages around me firing off all kinds of questions, including getting into politics. We eventually disentangled ourselves and wandered through the bazaar, with Marilynn happily doing the inevitable shopping.

Dinner was at a great restaurant, which actually had something other than kebabs. After dinner we went to a gymnasium where the local wrestling organization put on a warmup exercise, juggling with heavy wooden clubs, throwing around 100 kilo wood panels, and generally doing a workout routine. It was quite good, and the women loved the tight shorts.

Thursday, October 9, 2003

We returned to the central (Imam) square this morning, to go through the Sheikh Lotfollah and Imam mosques, and the Chehei Sutoon Palace, all of which are part of the buildings surrounding the square. The Sheikh Lotfollah mosque has to be one of the most ornate buildings I have ever seen - acres of tiles over the entire complex, which covers over a city block. The main dome is 52 meters high, which give a little idea of the scale of the place. There is no area that is not covered by beautiful, ornated tiles.

After going through all the various areas, it was time for shopping again, so I did an exit stage left and took a taxi back to the hotel where I'm typing this. The business centre hours are short here, so it is not easy to find time to get on a computer. Hopefully I'll be reunited with my computer cord tomorrow, which will enable me to use my laptop again.

We head off again at 4 PM to hit the last of the city's highpoints, which will be followed by our farewell dinner with our female travel companions. We have an ungodly early start tomorrow - out of the hotel at around 5 AM for the flight to Tehran, where we will be joined by our first guide Ali (and my computer cord?) for the flight to Mashad.