Early in the morning, I flew to Doha and then to Erbil in Kurdistan.
Kurdistan not only includes the northern region of Iraq but also northern Syria and southeast Turkey. There is a strong independence notion in the area, that they should form their own country by separating from the other 3. Politics aside, here’s why that matters: though largely self-governing, Erbil is still under Iraqi control. In order to not need a visa to Iraq, I couldn’t pass through the “normal Iraq” first. Iraqi Kurdistan is visa-free for most westerners, and direct flights into the region need to not stop in “normal Iraq” if you don’t want to hassle with the difficult visa process. I flew in via Doha, Qatar.
The airport process was simple and quick, then I was out the door to get a taxi into the city.
I started with the Erbil Civilization Museum. I was really impressed by how much stuff (and how old it is) that’s been found right near the city.
The museum was quite small, and even my amazement over nearly every object didn’t take much time.
From here, I walked up toward the main tourist sites in the city and saw some amazing spots along the way.
This minaret was my destination. It was interesting for about 10 seconds, and then I continued.
I couldn’t get into this park. The gates were locked, so I have no idea who this man is, but the statue was cool.
More walking. I really laughed at this ads for old Windows versions.
Next, I walked toward the citadel, probably the most famous spot in Erbil.
I stopped for a fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice for less than $1.
I walked through tons of alleys in this market. It was super interesting.
I stopped at a café and had a hot mint tea and some sugar-coated roasted pistachios for about $3. The market was awesome, and you could buy literally anything.
From here, I went up to the citadel.
The interior is less impressive than looking at it from the outside, but I liked it. There’s a school inside, and it looks like they must have some kind of public performance at various times.
Outside the citadel, past the market is this really cool square that was great for people watching. Tons of action going on.
I got a taxi to the Jalil Khayat mosque. The doors were locked, but the outside is beautiful.
A word about clothes: tons of men in Kurdistan wear this traditional 1-piece jumper type of outfit with a huge belt around the gut. I like it.
I walked across the street to a small mall whose food court had an Indian restaurant with good vegan options. It wasn’t the best Indian food on earth—in fact, it was quite greasy and ‘cheap’—but it was vegan, low-cost, and available. It was filling.
I poked around in the mall and got laughs from some of the stores.
I was impressed they had a bowling alley!
I walked around the neighborhood some more and had tea at a sidewalk shop like a local.
At sundown, I caught a taxi to the airport.
The airport setup was SUPER interesting. First, your car goes through a security station with dogs, mirrors to see under your car, etc.
Then, you get dropped off at building A. You have your bags searched, prove that you have a ticket for a flight departing soon, and do normal airport security stuff like going through the metal detector.
From here, everyone gets on a bus up to the actual terminal. You can’t get on the bus with the pass saying you went through security.
Then, in the terminal, you put your bags through another scanner to get into the building. Now, you can check in and go through security screening again.
This is how they remain the most peaceful area around, an oasis of peaceful living in a sea of violence on all sides.
I really liked Erbil. It’s conflicting counting this as a visit to Iraq. They’re really 2 different entities culturally and ethnically. If Kurdistan ever becomes independent, I would count this as a Kurdistan visit and then say I haven’t been to Iraq. If “normal Iraq” in the south stabilizes, whenever that happens, I’ll head there and just resolve the issue that way. No idea when that might be. Other places to see first while they work toward peace.
I was off on a short flight to Amman, Jordan to meet a friend for dinner before my flight home the following morning, since booking straight from Erbil to get home was impossible.This entry was posted in asia, Erbil, Iraq, Kurdistan, Middle East