Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

Awe and shock!

September 11, 2010

I am still impressed by the beauty in this city. The parks and monuments that have been built here are amazing. There are fountains at the most seemingly random locations. I spent the day at Minaret Park. The weather cooled down today and it was really pleasant, with a nice breeze. There are so many surprises to be found here, like a Disneyland style tram ride between two parks. I didn’t even know where the other end of the tram was, but I bought a ticket anyways. It looked fun and offered a nice aerial vantage point to help me get my bearings on the city. It was definitely worth the $4.

When I arrived on the other side, it was a beautiful park with tons of people out and about relaxing and eating from the popcorn/kebab stands. Probably 200 people laying out on the grass and enjoying an ice cream, or Pepsi (sorry Coke, Pepsi is dominating Iraqi market share right now). In the middle of the park is an art gallery displaying works from university students from all over Iraq. Really fantastic paintings for cheap as well. I ended up walking out with a piece of pretty abstract Arabic art from an artist from Mosul.

I have found one of the tastiest flavors ever. This makes me happy. “Classical Sauce!” I imagine Beethoven requesting this stuff with his dinner. I don’t know what makes it so classical, but it is an interesting, gluten free sauce made from dates, tomatoes, and has a sweet and salty taste to it. It was really good though. It looks black and has the consistency of teriyaki sauce, but tastes absolutely amazing.

I’m getting sad about leaving back to Bahrain tomorrow night, but happy about the thought of being home in my own bed. The flight here was an Airbus A320, but the flight back is a little Embraer 170, and I really hate flying in little planes.

Here are some pictures of the day…

I discovered the “next level” of Kurdish rap & hip hop music (I’m sure they won’t mind an international plug).

Erik- second to the last one is for you.


Around Erbil…

September 10, 2010

I decided to walk to the citadel instead of hailing a cab. It looked close enough, and cabs can be a pain to flag down. About five minutes after I started walking, I realized that it was really hot. Really really hot! So I told myself that I would flag down the next cab I saw. I ended up walking the entire way.

The citadel was amazing! Fantastic views of the city, and so many narrow alleyways to get lost in. It was really neat to see 8,000 years of city preserved. It’s falling apart currently, but you can see the renovations going on to preserve it. The nice thing is that even though renovations are underway, they are done in a way that does not take away from the visit.

I’m not sure how to put this, but the Kurdish have a very abrasive way of communicating. They are incredibly nice people, and love tourists (everyone I talk to gives me the thumbs up and says “America good!”, but they are just gruff during conversations. I miss the warmth of Arab conversation style. I was walking around near a family in the citadel, and the father kept offering me his water (remember, it’s ridiculously hot). They asked me to take a photo of their family, and we started talking. They were visiting from Baghdad for the weekend. They were the sweetest family. It was so nice to be able to communicate with someone! With my broken Arabic, and their broken English, we had a very nice conversation sitting atop the citadel in the shade. I thanked them for the photo, wished them a happy Eid, told them it was nice to meet them, and made my way down the hill to catch a cab with A/C.

I took the cab to Ainkawa (the Christian neighborhood) next. It was nice, with a few too many liquor ads for my taste (you would think that Chivas Regal sponsored the town!). I grabbed some great cheap kabab, looked around a bit, and did a quick tour of the church, and caught a cab out of Ainkawa. It was neat to see a different ethnic makeup. There is a very large Assyrian population here.

I cabbed it to the Jalil Khayat Mosque to snap some photos. It is the biggest mosque in Kurdistan and looks a lot like Blue Mosque in Istanbul. It was prayer time when I arrived, so out of respect I took pictures from the outside. It a really beautiful building!

A great thing about the taxis here, is that they are really cheap! Usually $2-$4 for a ten to fifteen minute ride. You have to watch your hydration here, because you don’t sweat. It just evaporates off of your skin. Before you know it, you’ve lost a couple pounds!

Hawler (Erbil, Iraq)

September 9, 2010

I arrived this afternoon in Erbil. All is well. The flight was a quick A320 ride from Manama. Arriving into Erbil International Airport is a strange experience. The airport is beautiful! It’s just empty. Even the advertising space has not been filled. Imagine only using 10% of San Francisco International Airport, and leaving the rest empty. As far as infrastructure is concerned, it’s ready for business. The presence of security is everywhere. The taxi ride from the airport was 3 minutes, until we got to a parking lot/checkpoint, where I had to switch cabs from a Filipino driver, to a Kurdish one, and he took me the rest of the way to the hotel. Police stand at every intersection and watch traffic, but I haven’t encountered any checkpoints within Erbil itself. The citadel looms large over the city and is lit up beautifully at night. Tomorrow is Eid Al Fitr and there will hopefully be celebrations going on everywhere. There are plenty of foreigners walking around, but may either live here or are visiting on oil related work. So far, I’m enjoying myself, and reading the Lonely Planet to see what I want to check out tomorrow…

On my way to Bahrain and Iraq!

September 5, 2010

Sitting in the airport lounge. About to visit a friend in D.C. On my way to Iraq. This being the first international trip since March, I’m super excited. Unfortunately the trip is very short due to time constraints, but a trip is a trip.

I have three days in Manama, Bahrain, and from there I fly to Erbil, Iraq (the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq) for four days. In preparation for the heat of the desert, I spent a week working down in Arizona. It was a pleasant 108 degrees in Phoenix and Tucson. During the drive to Tucson, I did see one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while: Pinal Air Field. It is a desert graveyard for airplanes. Big airplanes! There are probably 100 747’s sitting out in the desert sunbathing. I pulled off at the exit and drove a few miles to the west off of the freeway, and arrived at the gate. Nobody is allowed to enter apparently. I quickly googles this strange place and read up on the history of the airfield. Apparently they park the planes here due to the dry climate in hopes that the dry air will keep the planes preserved, in the event that they bring them into service. According to the Internet, several cargo companies based at this airport were CIA front companies over the past few decades dating back to Vietnam era operations. We all know, if it is on the internet, it has to be true!

One really great thing about Arizona is the speed limit. Most of the freeways outside of major cities are 75 MPH. This is fantastic, because you can set your cruise control at 80 and relax. Fantastic. But I suppose the worst thing you are going to hit is a cactus anyways…

I’ll have the ability to give a quick rundown of my day in D.C. Tomorrow before my flight over to Bahrain. An annoying thing that I have learned over and over (although I never seem to remember this) is the fact that “direct flight” and “nonstop flight” are NOT the same! I just learned that I will get an hour and a half courtesy stop in the Kuwait airport. That brings a total transit time from Dulles to Bahrain to 14 hours. I can fly (not that I ever want to do this again) straight from San Francisco to Dubai (which is geographically further) in 16 1/2 hours. I think it seems like a long time due the excitement that is waiting on the other side…