I was really looking forward to visit Esfahan, the most famous of all Iranian cities, the center of Persian culture and architecture, but also the most touristic place in the country. Our timing was quite lucky. First of all, we were traveling out of season, which helped us avoid the mass of tourists (both foreign and local) that are visiting this place every year. But there was another coincidence, that turned out to be even more fortunate. The exchange rate for dollars was higher than ever, making our Iranian holidays extremely cheap. We especially loved the fuel prices, which are ridiculously low in Iran, even without a strong dollar. It really feels great to fill up your car, paying 20 cent pro liter. Moreover, we could suddenly afford staying in mid-range hotels, instead of always choosing the low-budget options, allowing ourselves all the luxuries we were missing the last few months. And the Hasht Behesht Hotel we found in Esfahan was the top of our list. It was not even a room, but an entire apartment with two rooms, a kitchen and a modern bathroom. And it was just a short walk from the main square. And this all for 10 dollars a person, so our moods were better than ever.
It didn't take us long to fall in love with Esfahan. The city is simply marvelous. Magnificent mosques, beautiful palaces with gardens, that were still blooming in November and covered bazaar with all possible kinds of hand made arts. It all looked amazing. We quickly decided we will need at least three days to really see it all. The city definitely had a lot to offer. However sightseeing in Iran is not an easy thing and it often requires some serious logistic activities. Especially if you want to visit a mosque. You have to consider the praying times, lunch breaks (which may take up to 3 hours) and weekends (Thursday afternoon until Friday evening). But the beauty of the buildings and the fact that entrance fee is around 10 cents makes it all worth the trouble.
But there is one thing that makes enjoying the city a bit harder, the carpet sellers. Traveling out of season means the places are less crowded, but unfortunately, it also means that all carpet sellers from the area have nothing better to do than to focus all their efforts and attention on you. And they know how to do their business. We could hardly walk 10 meters around the main square without someone trying to sell us a carpet. The only problem was, we did not really need or want one, but that didn't seem to bother them at all. And the worst thing was, none of them looked like a carpet seller at first. They would all start a simple conversation, just wanting to know where you're from and how you like Iran. They may give you some tips about the city, recommend a restaurant, talk about politics and when the ice is broken, they'll do what they can to drag you to their shop. And they won't hesitate to play on your feelings, while staying as nice and friendly as you can only imagine. The biggest problem is, there are still quite a lot of people on the square, who really do just want to have a small chat, exchange their views or practice their language skills. And telling one from another is very hard if not impossible. So you either risk a long discussion with a carpet seller or missing an interesting conversation or even an invitation from a friendly Iranian, with no bad intentions in his minds. We decided we'd rather take the first risk and I have to admit it was a fascinating experience. But we stayed hard and managed to leave the city without any carpet, bag or other artifacts, especially because the prices were twice as high as anywhere else in Iran.
The only place where you can really walk free of carpet sellers are the mosques and museums. But be aware, as you will most certainly come across the second of Esfahan's most dangerous creatures, tourist guides. You can meet them everywhere. They go around hunting for tourists that are not attached to any group or bus. They're as stubborn as the carpet sellers, but easier to recognize, so if the first question you hear is: ”are you here with any group”, you know who stands in front of you. But that does not make getting rid of such a person any easier. You may try to explain that you never visit any city with a guide and that you really do not need one, but this has never really worked for us. They just followed us without stopping to talk “But mister, do you know in which year this paintings were done, do you know where they got the colors from, do you know what all the symbols mean”. Honestly, we did not know, but we didn't really care much neither. The thing about big travels like ours is, that you nearly always see much more than you can actually remember. After few months you are no longer sure which cities you have been to and you keep mixing up the names of most places you have visited. So at least in our case, we were sure, that even if someone would tell us everything about each and every single painting or building, we would forget most of it even before leaving the city. And that's fine with us, as we are no art experts. We just want to see the buildings and paintings and judge ourselves whether we like them or not. We do not have to know the history of every place. We'd rather check how it looks at sunset and talk with people we meet there. Even if they turn out to be carpet sellers.