Despite my visit in early June, the temperatures were already sweltering during the day hovering around 39 degrees. Not one for sitting around inside or using taxis, I spent most of my several days here wandering the city on foot, trying to stay hydrated. I have yet to meet any international tourists and I’m ok with that.
The markets are chaotic and on the weekends (Friday and Saturday’s) are particular busy. Everyone seems to have their own niche product and sometimes these items are as esoteric has hundreds of computer cables or specific types of automotive fans laid out on mats on the street. And each of these vendors often attracts crowds milling around. The miscellaneous phone accessory vendors seemed to be the most popular.
One market features numerous money exchangers located next to each other. All had stacks of money housed either in windowed boxes or the money sitting on top of these boxes. I even saw several stacks of U.S. $100 bills. And there is not an armed guard in site nor any other visible precautions against theft. Theft must be nonexistent to warrant such casual policies.
The fruit, vegetable and spice market near the Citadel was always crowded during my several visits. During one walk-through, several children spotted my large camera and ran up to me begging me to take their photographs. Their role at this market was clearly defined by their small wheelbarrows. They delivered the produce from the trucks to the stalls where it was then sold. Whenever my large camera makes an appearance, it always draws attention here, in a good way from those young and old who despite a usual language barrier, often motion me to take their photograph.
Worth visiting is the abandoned Arab quarter in the central part of Erbil. At the time of our visit, this 200-year-old neighborhood had fallen on hard times with most of the buildings crumbling, roofs caved in, and walls toppled over. Despite being in the center of town, once I was in these old structures, I noticed a complete silence – only broken by the mosques broadcasting call to prayers.
The Citadel (located on top of a hill above the center of Erbil) has been continuously inhabited somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 years. Some of the buildings have been restored including spaces that currently house a rug museum, ‘antiquities’ for sale and gem & mineral museum. Several viewpoints offer excellent vistas of the city.
We stayed in The Vote Hotel, otherwise known as Awlad Najjar. It was one of the most affordable hotels we could find. I have never spent $30/night at a hotel where the staff were dressed in nice shirts, ties and jackets. And their hospitality was second to none – helping organize tours, staying in touch via WhatsApp during the tours and always on hand 24/7 providing excellent service.
The city of Erbil’s power kept dropping throughout the day and evenings. As a result, there are numerous private generators and regardless of where I was when the power went out, it always went on again within a couple of minutes or less.
One morning I discovered the hotel’s Wi-Fi was no longer working. So, I switched to my Korek data provider. Remarkably that was not working either. So, I inquired if there might be an issue in the hotel. It turns out that because this was an important exam day, the entire city or country had shut down all internet access. Wow!