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Life on the Doorstep of ISIS

The battles are going on just an hour drive West as I fly into the Kurdish Capital of Erbil. I must admit that I felt a littlebit tense as the flight circled over the city around 2.30 in the morning before turning around and landing at a Turkish border town.

Aparrently there had been a fog that did not permit us to land and when we tried again the next morning I could see the city well lit up and I felt nothing but excited to soon be landing in one of the World’s longest continously inhabited cities in the World.

My couchsurfing host “Dilovan” met me with a smile in the arrivals hall, took me around the city center and showed me that life here was going on as normal. Sure, there were police and military doing road checks all the time, but other than that people were going to school, trading in the markets, drinking tea and watching soccer like anywhere else in the World. He said the Peshmera, the Armed Kurdish forces had met the ISIS soldiers by the airport in August 2014 but fought them off and kept the city completele safe since then.

His tour in the city included the highlights that I would reccommend if you ever decide to go there:

-Visit the 7000 year old citadel and take a photo at the citadel central viewpoint

-Checking out the old bazar for the oldest tea house “Matchko” and a schwarma kebab

– A cable car ride from Minaret Park to the Shanidar Park to get a good view og the city and a stroll in the parks that are very popular among the locals

He also took me to a really good Syrian restaurant to try out the regional cusine, with the best yoghurt I have ever eaten, some hummus, falafel and super fresh tabulé. The four bars we visited in the night though were pretty empty and expensive, but this is not the reason why you should visit Erbil in the first place. The city felt completely safe and the hospitality among the people was some of the best I have ever encountered. There was not a single other tourist in sight when I was there and people were all very welcoming and honest, so I did not have to negotiate with sellers or fend off anyone who was interested in my money. Erbil is a place I definitely will visit again on my next, more thorough trip through Kurdistan.

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How I Ended Up Booking My Flight To Iraq

It was the summer of 2014 that I got a call from someone on the grund in Erbil in desperate need of a ticket home to Norway. IS was about to capture Mosul, just 80kilometers away and she was afraid that they would continue further into the Kurdish region of Iraq. I did a quick search and found a ticket for 100euros. I almost couldnt believe my eyes. Never had I seen a flight that far, costing that little.
Tourism in the Iraqi city of Erbil has not yet picked up and when I did another search, 3 years later I still found the same price and booked a ticket for myself.

Since then the city has been very safe, compared to the rest of Iraq and has only suffered a two attacks in recent time-nothing more than the average European Capital and certainly less than cities like Istanbul which most people still would consider safe.

The Kurdish Areas in Northern Iraq are visa free for stays up to 15 days and their airport and roads are very developed thanks to the big amount of oil that has been produced in the area. Im starting to get excited about going there in just about two weeks, but the timing of my visit could have been better. 

American and Kurdish forces have just started to push forward in Mosul and in a couple of months IS will most likely have been giving up Iraqs second largest city. This has made them upset and they have sent out warmings that tourist hotels and expat communities will be targeted. I’ll start by staying low and see how it feels there while Im on the ground. It sure it will be interesting!