From Shiraz we flew to Isfahan (pop. 4 million) famous for its boulevards, covered bridges, palaces, mosques and minarets. There is a Persian proverb that says: if you have seen Isfahan then you have seen half of the world. It has also been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. We were able to rent for 4 nights (at $750), a 2-bedroom suite with en suites, lounge and a balcony over-looking a beautiful garden at the 5-star Abbasi Hotel — breakfast included.
While staying at the Abbasi Hotel we had an amusing incident. After two weeks of eating kebabs my wife and I were keen to have a piece of fillet steak. We noticed that one of the restaurants at the Hotel had fillet steak on the menu. So at this very lavish restaurant we ordered fillet steaks -- cooked rare to medium rare and awaited with anticipation. We were served thin slices of veal cooked to destruction -- upon complaining to the waiter, he politely smiled at us and said in Farsi the equivalent of: "you don't travel all the way to Isfahan to have a fillet steak!"
It is interesting to note that due to the economic sanctions there are no ATM’s or EFTPOS or credit cards. We were advised to bring American dollars and these were converted to rials (1$USD = 27,000 rials) which meant we were carrying fat wads of paper bills, but despite our ignorance the local merchants always gave us the correct change, we were told, and never were ripped off.
While in Isfahan we were able to visit the mosques and on one occasion were greeted by a mullah who offered us Russian toffee and spent time explaining the architecture and religious practice in a softly spoken English accent.
Isfahan is a truly beautiful city and where ever you went there was something amazing to see.
Before leaving this description of Iran, there is a somewhat sinister aspect to the country’s Islamic system — the Revolutionary Guards. The Revolutionary Guards were set-up in 1979 to protect the Islamic system from foreign influences as well as coups by the military or ‘deviant groups’. Since then they have become very powerful and have ground, air and naval capabilities. They are seen at customs and passport control in green uniforms young, well-trained, educated and courteous. The Revolutionary Guards own hotel chains and business ventures. They make investments overseas and have universities and health centres. They are the infrastructure that hold the mullahs and every aspect of Iranian society together. They are the hidden power of the country. They are reminiscent of the “Ten Thousand Immortals’, the elite force of soldiers that fought for the Achaemenid kings of Persia.
We flew back from Isfahan to Tehran and then onward to Dubai, Sydney and New Zealand. We spent a day in Dubai and after the rich cultural experience of Iran were disappointed by the glitz and bling of Dubai. The fountains at night were delightful but the rest was a ‘waste of space’.