I damned my Iranian visa fiasco one more time as I left Yazd that morning, being so late in the year I had only seen the desert cold, grey and wet. The local bus cost me precisely twopence to the Terminal and after my favourite omelette and tea I was off to Esfahan hoping for bluer skies. It was in Yazd in the geographical centre of Iran, and the furthest East I had been thus far, that Asia could be seen to be tightening her grip. Away once more from the big city influence, the Chador had pretty much universal patronage by the women and it was the first place I saw men wearing the Shalwar Kameez, the long shirt and baggy pants more synonymous with Pakistan and Afghanistan. They also wore an array of hats of varying styles, ones which you had come to associate with Bin Laden and the Taliban. Men swept up autumn leaves inefficiently with long palm fond brooms, whilst others scooped them up with shovels onto an open top trailer, doubtless for the wind to spread them elsewhere. Tape recorders in shop windows looked to be 1960s vintage and new rudimentary construction projects looked fit for demolition before completion. Out into the desert then and billiard table flat scrubland could have been the Nullarbor Plain of Australia if it hadnt been so wet! Passing by small towns and villages it seemed every one had an impressively large dome at its heart, sometimes bland, some silver, some the eternal turquoise blue. Within a couple of hours the cloud rescinded and I was left wondering if I had deserted Yazd just too soon. We also rose up to the snow level where the desert now lay carpeted white in front of heavily snow laden mountains, very pretty. For good measure there was a scuffle on board the bus for no discernible reason, the weedier boy of the 2 was quick to produce a nasty looking spiked knuckle duster, then the half wit next to me proceeded to incessantly spray a cheap and nasty bottle of perfume all over the front of his jersey. I tried not to take it personally! We went back to sandy Nullarbor after an hour until the suburbs of Esfehan materialised much earlier than expected. As it turned out I got the bluish sky of sorts I had hoped for and with it a whole gamut of services on a par with Shiraz.
Unusually for Iran, Esfehan had a discernible backpacker scene with perhaps half a dozen hostels dotted around and I elected to stay at one of these places for a change. At 3500 Toman (around 2 quid) it was on a par with the cheapest bed of my trip. My decision was repaid once again when I spotted on the notice board an adviso which had only been left a couple of months previously, saying that the all important visa extension office had moved. It gave directions and I would have been stuffed without it. It was here that I also had to sign a chit warning me of the prevalence of scam merchants and street crime, a first for Iran and most unislamic. Even the habitual guy on the pavement with bathroom scales had them secured on a chain, lest some dodger might pinch them while he dozed.
With plenty of unexpected daylight left I struck out along the main drag until I came to what appeared to be a very aesthetic lake but the guidebook showed it to be a river. Incredibly, an obviously very old and elegant bridge had been built across it at its widest point and though the book declared it to be 160 metres long, I reckoned on at least twice that. There were too many arches to count, but later I learned that it is known as the Si-o-seh Bridge (bridge of 33 arches). Passing under the first arch I caught a peek into the famous teahouses which shelter underneath, a very nice spot and a popular recreation. A foray out to the local Iran Air office left me empty handed as before, then I decided upon making a beeline for Emam Khomeini Square, one of the main drawpoints of the city. Getting there and away, I also had my first taste of the very good bazaar, very touristy in parts but excellent all the same. In searching for Tuborg non-alco beer (yup, thats how sad it had become folks) I came across a small supermarket which was a most un-Iranian concept. It was run Soviet style in 3 stages, with one guy to scan the goods, another to check your receipt and a 3rd to sit on his arse and do nothing.