Day Eight: Sulimaniyah to Erbil, Iraq

by - August 23, 2012

Erbil City Centre
In many ways the sightseeing part of our journey was now over, as we had visited the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan - Dohuk, Erbil and Sulimaniyah.  There were a few bits that we wanted to see in Sulimaniyah in the morning, such as the Torture Museum, but everything was closed as today was the last day of Ramaddan.  We got a taxi to the ‘Erbil Garage’ where the share taxis left from Sulimaniyah back to Erbil.  We were again faced with the difficult issue of whether to go through Kirkuk.  The fastest way to do our journey would have included a trip on the ring road around Kirkuk - so while a car bomb had gone off in the city centre a few days earlier, we wouldn’t actually be going to the city centre.  Kirkuk, which is ethnically Kurdish but contains a real mix of people (Arabs, Turcomans, Christians, Kurds etc) and is home to a lot of violence.  Some Kurds had insisted it was okay, while some advised us to steer well clear.  Tom and I decided that the journey wasn’t worth the risk, even if we only travelled on the ring road, as another attack in a different city had seen a man attack an army checkpoint with a machine gun.  Some French people we had met in Sulimaniyah were risking the Kirkuk route, so it was tempting to join them, but we managed to convince a share taxi driver to take us the long way round (over the mountains) for an extra 10000IQD each.  The whole trip therefore cost us 25000IQD - and paying an extra £5.50 to avoid Kirkuk seemed like a no brainer.

14th century minaret
We arrived back in Erbil in the late afternoon and found a really nice hotel in the city centre.  All of the prices had gone up as the last day of Ramaddan is the day before Eid and is therefore the equivalent of Christmas Eve.  By this stage in the trip we were quite exhausted and happy to just sit around the hostel until people came out to get their dinner after sunset.  Before we grabbed some food, we walked to the 'minaret park’ on the edge of town where a the remains of a 14th century minaret are sitting in a small park - it was shut but we still got a few photos.  In the evening we had our last meal - finally getting a chicken kebab rather than the countless lamb kebabs we have had thus far.  As is now customary, we proceeded to a shisha bar where we sat with two Arab kids from Mosul.  This was quite a big thing for us, as we had psyched ourselves up to believe that Mosul was the centre of all evil (which obviously it isn’t, but we were very keen on staying away).  The two guys were reasonably friendly (but a bit reserved) and we talked about all the things that they were into that we might know of - they were both keen BMX riders and showed us the videos of them in action.  We left the shisha bar fairly early to make sure that we would be rested for tomorrow when we fly back to the UK.

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