Very First Impressions of Iraq

What to see in Erbil Iraq

It is with no wonder that people are worried about me being in Iraq. I arrived here last night after an exhausting 30 hours’ bus trip that started in Batumi, Georgia, and involved taking three buses. Today I had the chance to walk around Erbil, the country’s fourth largest city and capital of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region. The area, which occupies the northeastern part of Iraq, is the safest in the country and has a booming economy and a promising future.

What to see in Erbil, Iraq

My first impressions are very positive and pretty much meet my expectations. Despite the terrorist bombings in September this year, in which thirteen people died, including the six attackers, you feel safe here. Not only because there are policemen everywhere, but people are just getting on with their lives, and this is reassuring.

Once you enter the country, you see a lot of checkpoints, but the police always flagged us through. However, on the last one before entering Erbil, an army officer came into the bus to see everybody’s passport. All passengers were either Turkish or Iraqi, apart from myself and two Syrians, who were kept at the there with their suitcases for further checks. Some will call it “discrimination”. But it shows the Kurdish government will make all they can to keep the region safe.

What to see in Erbil, Iraq

The city developed around the Citadel, which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world. Traffic, at least in the Old Town, is much better than that in other large Middle Eastern cities I’ve been to. Not surprisingly, public transport is virtually non-existent. On the other hand, the taxi drivers I used so far seemed to be fair and I managed to pay what I thought was fair – roughly 60% of the initial asking price.

What to see in Erbil, Iraq

Talking about prices, surprisingly the price of accommodation is very high. Pretty much the same you’d be paying in cities like Dubai or Istanbul. There are a few budget options, but don’t expect the staff to speak a word of English, though. If you need to negotiate the rate, don’t forget our good old friend Google Translate, so just be creative and the conversation and negotiation will flow!

What to see in Erbil, Iraq

Just like in the West, people are too busy with their mobile phones and it appears that everyone sells either sim cards or phone credit vouchers! People are very friendlyand seem to be happy. Today I was chatting with some Syrians and Iraqis in the main square over some tea and shisha and had a great time and some good laughs. Despite my very modest Arabic, we managed to communicate. When words failed, our smiles spoke for ourselves.

So, what are my first impressions of this part of Iraq? Well, it’s still early, but I can definitely say the stereotypes are pretty inaccurate. Looking forward to the next few days!

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{ 4 comments… add one }

  • Agness Walewinder November 25, 2013, 2:01 am

    Pedro, you also made it to Iraq? Policemen everywhere and a lot of checkpoints? Sounds so much like Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet to me. But at least you can feel safe here :).

    • Pedro @ Travel with Pedro November 25, 2013, 6:46 pm

      Hi Agness, yes here I am, and I&#39;m loving it! :-) It&#39;s reassuring to see policemen everywhere, but it&#39;s not scary as people may think. If it wasn&#39;t for the news, you wouldn&#39;t realise that just 80km from here you&#39;d be in very dangerous territory…<br />

  • Erika December 4, 2013, 9:30 pm

    It does always seem like the dangers of places are so over-hyped, doesn&#39;t it? Especially with the Middle East. When I went to Jordan, you&#39;d have thought I was entering the most dangerous place in the world, judging by the reactions of some. I can&#39;t even imagine the responses you must have gotten when you told people you were going to Iraq.<br />Have a wonderful trip and enjoy

    • Pedro @ Travel with Pedro December 8, 2013, 8:11 pm

      Hi Erika, it´s true, people tend to exaggerate a bit. The Arab part of Iraq is pretty much a no-go zone, but Kurdistan is totally safe and people are ever so friendly, like in most of the Middle East. Now I regret not having stayed longer there! :-)<br /><br />Thanks for the visit!<br /><br />

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