SYNOPSISToday’s blog is written by Nicola.  She will tell you about our final day in Esfahan which we spent shopping, visiting one more palace and people-watching.  Shopping amongst the new year crowds in Esfahan.

Elisabeth has quite a bit of catching up to do so I am writing today’s entry. This was our last full day in Esfahan so we permitted ourselves a break from cultural pursuits and went shopping. And to my mind there can be no place in the world more suited to the acquisition of exquisite treasures; the type of objects that you never knew how badly you needed until you saw them piled in such dazzling profusion.   From amongst these riches we selected delightful miniature paintings, finely decorated enamels, beautiful block printed cotton tableware, the finest saffron and, of course, the ubiquitous carpet.

Surprisingly enough, we managed to keep rigidly within both our predetermined lists and budgets; or perhaps it would be more correct to say we kept one another in check. Rather the opposite of the image of two ladies on the splurge, I’m afraid, but this is no country in which to find oneself short of money for essentials and we both have the responsibility for balancing our own books when we get home. Never mind, even without the guilty thrill of an illicit purchase, we definitely had fun. In the Noruz crowds we also had to watch each other’s backs whilst juggling money, cameras and bags of purchases. There was no evidence of pickpockets but then there seldom is.

Those crowds were out in full today and it was a great pleasure for us to mingle with so many families out to enjoy the holiday. It looked very much as if all the tour companies had listened to the advice about not traveling in Iran over this period as I saw absolutely no foreigners today. Mind you, most of the crowds enjoying the sights and the bazaars seemed to be as much tourists as Elisabeth and I, people from out of town obviously visiting for the holiday. And some were in a greater hurry to part with their money than we were. Whilst we were sipping tea in one of our favorite carpet shops an Iranian family came in and, within minutes, left again with a hideous rug bearing a disneyesque rendering of a scene from the Omar Khayam. It certainly wasn’t cheap either.

We posed for the usual pictures and video camera scenes and wherever we went people wanted to know where we were from and practice their English on us. There was also an assortment of attempts to communicate in other European languages, a testament to the standard of education amongst city dwellers. Of course we had fun amongst the crowds as well as answering well meant questions; Elisabeth was wearing her baggy, nomad trousers again and, frankly, it’s better in those circumstances to just go with the flow. I met a young man walking a sweet little puppy through the crowds and as companion dogs are such a rarity in Iran given the disapproving view that Islam takes of dogs in the home, I stopped to speak to him. He was not as friendly as the puppy and seemed rather embarrassed to have it with him at all. Perhaps it was his Mum’s.

Later at Chehel Sotun, the Palace of Forty Columns, we solved the mystery of the white noses. Traveling around Iran we have seen so many young people, boys as well as girls, wearing thin strips of plaster across the bridge and down the sides of their noses. There being no obvious swelling or bruising to be seen, I hazarded a guess that it might be some fashionable remedy for congested breathing but Elisabeth struck up a conversation with a pretty young girl wearing one of these contraptions when she posed for yet another photograph. The girl shyly said that she had broken her nose and so we concluded that plastic surgeons in Iran are currently doing a roaring trade. The best that can be said is that the damage appears to be pretty minimal.

I shall follow Elisabeth’s example and leave out the tourist brochure description of Chehel Sotun, the Safavid ceremonial hall. Like so much in Esfahan it is a treat for the eyes, its twenty beautifully proportioned columns reflected in a long pool to make up the forty that give it its name. We had cause to be grateful to our hotelier for advising us to look out for the paintings of foreign ambassadors, with the details of their alien Jacobean clothing faithfully rendered. We might easily have missed them in the rush of the crowd to get inside to see the huge, sumptuous paintings of Shah Abbas and his successors, their glorious heyday and subsequent downfall. The latter superimposed with rather less artistry by their conquerors.

Without the holiday crowds we might even have failed to see this beautiful building at all. We had confused it with the Hasht Behesht Palace on our Mosques, Monuments and Mausoleums day earlier in the week and were too late for the regular opening time today. The queues of people at the ticket office told us that opening times had been extended and for that reason we were happy to share it with them. It would certainly have been a shame, not to say an embarrassment, to have missed it.

Now it’s time to pack up ready for another long bus trip tomorrow. I might just manage to fit in a non-alcoholic beer and so I’ll finish as Elisabeth does by wishing you

Good night.