What do you think an Iranian weekend looks like? I discovered it arriving in Isfahan on a Thursday night. Me and my friend were coming from an all day trip to Kashan and Abyaneh and when we arrived in Isfahan it was like 8 pm and decided to go directly to the main square: the famous Naqsh-e Jahan.
Coming inside the square my eyes were overwhelmed by the incredible beauty of this place, it was already dark but all the monuments and the mosques were illuminated by the full moon (and some lights too of course).
The square was full of people, some were walking around and some others making picnics on the grass. Actually, it was at that time that I realized Iranian people love to make picnics everywhere, especially during weekends. All the members of the family seat in circle and eat together; kids, adults and the old enjoy a tasty nun (their typical bread) with saffron rice and Bakhtiyari Kebab (Lamb Kebab) together with Chay (tea).
Of course, we went back to the square again the morning after to admire it in the daylight too, and the atmosphere was completely different especially because during the Iranian Sunday (which corresponds to Friday) the big Shah (Imam) Mosque is closed- remember that when you plan to visit Isfahan! Also, the Isfahan Bazaar is closed (that is all around the colonnaded boundary) so the square is relatively calm with much less people around.
We could have stayed in Naqsh-e Jahan Square all day! But we had only 1 day to spend in Isfahan so we moved towards the river Zayande-Rud to see Sio-o-Se Pol, Khaju and Shahrestan bridges. All along the river, there is a beautiful park with grass and trees to go walking or relax under the shade. This area of Isfahan is another common place for people to picnic during the weekend.
Hundreds of people are seated on the grass, eating ice cream or drinking tea (that you can easily find at the kiosks along the river). You can even rent a paddle boat and sail close to the beautiful Sio-o-Se Pol Bridge (if river Zayande-Rud is not dry of course).
There is a lot of people seated there and we just did the same to feel like locals. It was very beautiful! Many Iranians came to us and started talking; they asked us where we were from and we even got an invitation for dinner! We had arrived in Iran only 2 days before and it was the first time for us to be invited (and that happened again several times during the rest of the trip).
Navid and his girlfriend Sogand invited me and my German friend to join them at Sogand house for dinner, we were so excited!! At 9:30 pm we were there with a beautiful cake in our hands (we were told that Iranians really love sweets). I don’t know which neighborhood it was, houses were not really refined from the outside but inside it was completely a different story. The apartment was quite large, with a beautiful and big hall, at least 3 bedrooms and a terrace. We discovered that Sogand was living there with 2 kids that she had from a previous marriage; she is 35 and Navid only 26 but they were together since Sogand divorced. I have to say that I was quite surprised. Inside the apartment everything looked liked (almost) a European context: no veils, jeans and low-necked clothes, jokes about relationships and soccer, and so on.
The only difference I could experience was the dinner itself: there is no table in the hall, you eat on a tablecloth on the floor.
Normally, they serve soup first, than put different dishes to share with meat, salads and bread. Of course, we were not offered any kind of alcohol, but we were treated like princes; we wanted to help Sogand and Navid in preparing and serving the dinner but it was impossible (just like in a south-Italian family!).
We ended up drinking Chay (tea), listening to pop music, smoking Ghelyoon (hookah) and talking till late, just like a Saturday night at a friend’s place in Europe. Of course I missed alcohol a little bit. Drinking wine with food is something innate for Italians, and it was unusual for me not to go to a bar or a club after dinner. I’m quite sure Iranians have their own way of partying too, at least in big cities like Tehran or Isfahan, but it may not always be easy to get into those situations as a tourist. No doubt that next time I’ll come to Iran I’ll try to be invited to an Iranian party.
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