I really should have a new job - a consultant to all those abroad wishing to return to Kurdistan. Recently I have been getting random emails from here and there asking me about life in Kurdistan (which means there are people who are actually making the effort to reading this blog) and I am always typing the same replies, though I get so excited to type away: all about Kurdistan. This time I wanted to show you a different side of Erbil, a side that I haven't really touched on much in my previous entries. So, if you're planning to come visit Kurdistan, take a new job offer or come to meet friends and relatives then here is your ultimate guide.
Tell anyone that you are going to Iraq for vacation or to take a new job offer then they will think you are a) out of your mind, b) wanting to die c) you're not watching the news enough or d) All of the previous. Hence, the first thing I have written to any potential visitor to Kurdistan is: 'BELIEVE ME IT IS SAFE HERE', I have said it over and over again, I have never felt safe walking anywhere in the world as safe as I feel here in Erbil.
My dear, most loved, readers* in the city that is rich in culture and tradition you can live the western life too (that is of course if you want to).
For the princesses on the ice
If you like to feel like a ballerina on the ice, then Erbil's Ice Hall is definitely for you. My advice is gather a few friends on a Thursday morning and you will have the entire place to yourself. The shoes are new, the service is great and you can spend more than two hours on the ice for under $4! Right opposite the Shanadar Park the Ice Hall is definitely something to try, even the music is great and the coffee shop for afterwards is also not that bad. The bowling is literally a one-minute walk from the Ice Hall, in Aqua Park--you can go afterwards, that is if every bone of your body is not yet broken into pieces (note from the author: don't worry about falling, it's not shameful, since it's new here I've learned even the big blokes fall and laugh it off).
For those who enjoy a chat
Costa Rica is currently one of the hottest places Erbil. For varies reasons: 1) it is considered as an 'open' environment, 2) it is far from the crowd and hassle of city life 3) the service and food is actually really nice and 4) Burger Queen and Pizza is next door. It is one of those places where you can go alone, take your lap top and get some work done without having people staring or bothering you. It is a great place to meet up with a friend over a coffee as well.
For those with a feel for speed
The Speed Center has been around for a while now—actually a very long while—though I only just recently went to try it. It wasn't really to try, but to see the place that everyone talks about. Once again, I choose the worse timing on purpose to avoid large crowds. I don't know what all the fuss is really about, and I can't describe the feeling of getting on a little car-like-structure trying to go as fast as you possibly can. I don’t see the fun in bumping to another driver either, but looking at those around me they seemed to enjoy it. Girls: before you go out on the go-carts don't bother straightening and curling your hair, just tie it back and be prepared to wear a surgeon's cap under the heavy helmet, that's what they make you do! It is about $10 for a 10-minute ride around the track (which by the way is really long). The place is clean, organized and it is a general friendly atmosphere though I prefer bumper cars any day, but as I said, this is a city that is becoming one of those places that can please different people's likes. Although it is not my type of Friday afternoon activity!
For the daring devils
Family Fun is the biggest theme park, and it is definitely one of those places that the entire family can go and there is something for everyone. I am not a dare devil, so I am the one who takes the pictures, nibbles on pop corn and fairy floss, and always end up carrying everyone's bags, phones and wallets while they are screaming and squealing on something that they call a 'fun ride'. I am thankful to admit that the quality of the rides is of high standards and are safe**. As for the picture below, I just can't believe one of those legs hanging upside down is actually my younger brother.
For the shopaholics
I can swear that soon junk mail is going to be major issue in Kurdistan. There are so many fliers and adverts of the different supermarkets (see previous entry on the story of the malls in Erbil). But the newest discovery is the Duty Free near the Safin restaurant close to Abu Shahab City (oh let me throw in an advert here; coming soon to this blog: An entire entry on Abu Shahab. Don't miss it!!) on the way to Ankawa. Shops send their customers text messages when they have sales or when new goods come in. For example, the picture below is of a text that Mango sent yesterday, it is an 'informative' text about a 35% discount. They do it around the time of month when the pay arrives (of course the pay here is in cash almost 90% of the time, easier to spend then save) and you go and realize it is the worse of their clothing and accessory items that are discounted. Once again, you're fooled!
For those with a sweet tooth
Before Abu Afif sweets was the most prestigious sweet shop in Erbil from cakes, chocolate and Baklawa too. It probably continues to be today, but the new Ashtar is also not a bad choice. The new building looks good both inside and outside.
Erbil can be an expensive city but it can also be cheap, it really depends where you make your purchases and what you buy. Transport with Taxi is usually anywhere between $2.50 and $4, petrol is not too cheap nor is too expensive. The picture on the right is of today's petrol prices, the prices are for two different types of petrol. But even the better one not always good (… so if you happen to see me in the middle of a traffic light, not moving, you will know exactly why).
I hate to say it, but in many ways the culture of Hookah (or nargeeli) is really becoming wide spread in coffee shops and even restaurants. For you its paradise, for me it's hell. And your freedom stops as soon as it interferes with mine. I wish some law is passed now, and it is put into our education system to prevent this problem from becoming a serious issue in the next few years. I remember four years back I rarely saw a hookah, today it is almost everywhere you go!
*Yes, readers is plural. About time.
*Hawler, is what Kurds refer to Erbil
**Safe can have different meanings
All pictures taken by me