Chetel Sotun Palace, Esfahan, Iran
Although architecturally a beautiful palace, it is not its 20 attractive columns reflected in the water, nor the frescoes adorning the interior halls that makes our visit to Chehel Sotun Palace so memorable.
As we arrive through the entrance, we notice the inner courtyard is full of young school girls – probably about 100-150 of them. Some of the braver ones want to test their English and shout out “Hello. How are you? Where are you from?”, followed by fits of giggles. Once we have established a repartee, they become adventurous enough to ask for a photograph with me (that's me in the white hat).
After countless photos with numerous young girls, one of them comes up with the idea that she wants my autograph. The plan spreads like wildfire, and soon everyone wants me to sign their little notebooks. Hence I spend the following twenty minutes writing autographs and posing for pictures.
It is totally surreal. I now know how celebrities feel!
Still slightly bemused by this unusual event, I am busy taking photographs of the interior frescoes in the palace when I am approached by another foreigner with the question: “Do you speak English?” She explains that she is in Esfahan with a film crew to make a propaganda film about tourism in Iran for the Iranian Government. Would I mind if she interviews me about my time in Iran? That is how we come to spend the next half an hour at a tea house, answering questions about politics, wearing the hijab, Iranian food and the highlights of our visit to Iran.
The day gets more bizarre by the minute, and I still can’t quite believe it happened.
As we continue walking through the palace gardens, still rather shell-shocked and dazed, we come across a group of younger girls and their teacher having a picnic under some trees. The teacher speaks excellent English, and tells us the children would love to sing to us. Which they do, in beautiful childlike harmony. We then have to share in their picnic, as each one of them offers us some snacks from their goodie bags.
This has got to be one of the strangest palace visits we have had on our travels. The palace? Oh, yes, it was beautiful. I think I remember the palace………?