Weekends in Erbil disappear quickly. But, so do the school days most of the time. For a school
day that has classes ongoing from 8 am to 340 pm, time seems to disappear and periods fly by.
The weekends are the same. Amanda and I try to get in as much as possible but there never
seems to be enough time. The most common way we’ve spent our time over the weekend is by
wandering through Ankawa. There’s so much to see tucked into little corners of the old
Erbil is itself a Muslim city, and Ankawa developed as the Christian town close by. As the city of
Erbil spread, Ankawa was swallowed up in the maddening growth. It does still poke out from
city maps, oddly, a weird bulge in a city that has an otherwise nicely circular distribution of
development. Although it is slightly detached from the other 1.5/2 million or so people of Erbil,
Ankawa is said to be one of the most vibrant neighborhoods of the city. It is the hub for almost
all westerners, and it is not uncommon to walk down one of the main streets of Ankawa and see
a couple of middle-aged American men sitting at an outdoor coffee shop shooting the breeze
about the NFL. No doubt it was strange the first time I saw it. It is an eclectic neighborhood.
Although the vast majority of people are Christians, mosques can be found throughout different
parts. I’ve yet to see one, but I have heard the call to prayer a number of times from the top of
my apartment or during walks.
We like to walk a lot. Exercise time can be hard to come by, and the pollution is bad enough to
deter any exercise more intense than a brisk walk. Ankawa is small (as is all of Erbil) so walking
is a surprisingly easy way to get around. Just have to be careful of the drivers. One day as a
random suggestion I remarked that we should climb one of Ankawa’s towering skeleton
construction projects. Security is non-existent, so if you feel the sudden, or odd desire to
wander up an abandoned half-completed building by all means go for it.
The views from our adventure up the skeleton as unbelievable. We could see clear out to the
city center, to the high-rise projects of Dream City, and even into Turkey where 12,000 foot
mountain peaks loomed over the surrounding landscape. If there was no low-lying pollution
layer at all I think we would’ve been able to see Mosul, which is occupied by ISIS. We’ve made
a habit of hiking up the stairs of the abandoned building every time we pass by, and it’s
something I could honestly do every day. The view never gets old. The novelty of being 120
feet up an abandoned high rise with no one around never loses its appeal either. And the views,
as you can tell are unrivaled…
If there’s one thing we haven’t taken the full time and effort to explore in Ankawa, it would be the
night life. Most days we are fighting off sleep by 8pm, and for the few days where we have
mustered the energy to go out for drinks we don’t seem to last late. Late night social options, if
somewhat limited by Ankawa’s small size, are interesting.
There’s the Deutscher Hof, a German style biergarten with outdoor seating and several German
beers on tap, because of its size and wide availability of good foreign beer, it is one of the most
popular spots in Ankawa. We’ve only managed to go once, but both enjoyed it a lot. It was a
cold December night, and at a large fire pit in the middle of the open courtyard workers were
tossing fork lift palettes onto a fire that roared brightly and warmly enough to illuminate the
entire area and keep all 100 or so of us there plenty warm.
T-Bar is another popular location. Situated on the main road in and out of Ankawa, it is nestled
between a couple of large hotels that house a lot of expats coming and going with foreign
business. T-Bar is much the same, and from what I’ve heard (again…I’ve been just once)
started as a small local bar and has expanded into one of the most popular spots for expats.
The only problem; beer is expensive. An Efes- a Turkish beer but the closest thing to a local
beer- will cost you an arm.
I’ve enjoyed Ankawa so far. So many different things and people in a small suburb of Erbil.