In the last post (Iraqi Kurdistan Part 1 – Crossing the Border) I detailed our unnecessarily thrilling journey into Northern Iraq. The main question this post has thrown up from those of you that have read it is “Why? Why did you go there if that is what it is going to be like?” and I guess that’s fair when you consider the standard image of Iraq, which is the same image I subscribed too until I started to read more about the place.
Within the Middle-East Iraqi Kurdistan is now considered a bit of a paradise, it has remained stable for coming on 10 years (In which time it has not the seen the death of a single foreigner, a better rate than most western countries) and has a lot to offer its visitors. To the north and east there is the dramatic scenery of the Zagros mountains, the impressive Kharand Canyon and the Ali Beg waterfall (a popular paddling spot with tourists and features on the 5,000 Iraqi Dinar note).
On top of this Iraqi Kurdistan has more of a nightlife than other places in the region. Alcohol is legal (Although difficult to come by) and there are late night bars and discos in the Christian areas of various towns (Mainly the Ainkawa suburb of Arbil). Add to this a strong appetite for fun fairs and theme parks and there are plenty of opportunities to have a good time in Kurdistan.
Picking up from where I left off in the last post we hopped in a taxi after leaving our hotel in Duhok and asked to be taken to Arbil doing our best to convey that we wanted to take the route via the town of Baderash and not the route via Mosul. We seemed to get our message across but this didn’t stop us being paranoid and checking out where we were going on GPS.
The route to Arbil was fairly uneventful apart from experiencing our first military checkpoints which involved either a quick stare at the passengers in the car or a flick through our passports to check our visas. In a similar fashion to the previous nights bus ditching us on the motorway our taxi driver ditched us as at the first junction into the city refusing to drive any further even after I said I won’t pay him unless he took as to our hotel. Fortunately as soon as we stepped out of the cab another one stopped by us and offered to take us the rest of the way for about $4.
Hostels are not yet really a concept in Iraqi Kurdistan so it can be quite hard to get budget accomodation but we found most hotels were priced around $40 for a single and $60 for a double, all the hotels had their prices in dollars and I’ve heard that the price you’ll get in Iraqi Dinars will be more due to buisnesses desire to use a more stable currency. We ended up using Dinars for purchasing food and drink but dollars for hotels and long distance taxis.
We’d picked out the Peace Pigeon hotel (Known locally as the Kotri Salam hotel) as there were a few mentions of it being decent online and in guidebooks, as well as it being very central. These claims turned out to be true and once we’d checked in and chilled out for a bit we headed out to checkout the famous citadel, quickly changing some dollars into Dinars at one of the many money changes located around the main square.
The citadel is an ancient fortified city on the top of a mound in the centre of Arbil and is considered to be one of the oldest still inhabited cities on earth with an age of at least 7000 years, although these days a single family resides there purely to retain its status. It’s free to enter but unfortunately whilst we were there half the place was closed for refurbishment, including a fairly famous Kurdish Textile museum which was a bit of a shame, but you could still get a good view of the minaret of the mosque in the centre of the citadel as seen in the above picture.
We stumbled upon a gun repair shop whilst looking for somewhere to eat which had surprising lack of security, pretty much a market stall with a rack of rifles and AK47’s strewn around. A part from that there isn’t much to mention about Arbil city a part from an interesting hunt for beer we had and a visit to the army surplus district, that I’ll cover in a following post, so we headed back to our hotel and arranged a driver/guide fro the following morning to take us along the famous Hamilton road to the Iran/Iraq border and to visit the famous roller-coaster at the Rawanduz fun fair which will be the focus of the next post…