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Rating: 0. Esfahan was quite a culture shock in a number of ways. Firstly it was the first non-Kurdish place I visited in Iran, which meant that the women were much more conservatively dressed. However unlike other hardline muslim countries I've visited they were very visible in public life and were talkative. Secondly there were lots of cyclists - not foreigners, not lycra-clad enthusiasts, just locals getting around.
Finally it was much richer than anywhere in Kurdistan, so everything was cleaner and better constructed to the extent that it seemed like a different country. Esfahan is one of Iran's biggest tourist draws, so I was expecting the hussle and high prices tourists always bring, but neither happened.
That's partly because there simply aren't many tourists; the Iranian government makes frequent announcements about how many tourists it wants to attract, but continues to make visas nightmarishly difficult to get. It's also because women tend not to be keen to visit for obvious reasons. But there's something distinctly Iranian going on. Carpet sellers for example are notorious the world over for high pressure sales tactics.
The main square in Esfahan is full of carpet shops who clearly get little trade, but uniquely when they invite you into their shop and say it's just for tea and a chat, they mean it. In one such shop I got talking to a Kiwi guy, Sam who was backpacking around the middle east. He was good company, and for me it was a novelty to have a westerner to talk to - he was the first I'd met since Van.
We ended up spending the next couple of days together wandering around the tourist sights, which I'm not going to tell you about - the photos below give a flavour of what I saw. The most bizarre part of my stay in Esfahan was the prostitution. A number of times I was propositioned on the streets by pimps and prostitutes - it was very weird to be asked by a giggling veiled woman if I wanted an Iranian girlfriend. It turns out that levels of prostitution in Iran are immense. Sex before marriage is illegal and there's little opportunity for men and women to socialise, so the demand from men is obvious.