Ankawa Wanderings

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

neighborhood.

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…

View from 120 feet up
View from 120 feet up
The snow caps of 12,000 foot Turkish peaks in the distance
The snow caps of 12,000 foot Turkish peaks in the distance
On a perfectly clear day, if such a thing existed here, Mosul should be visible
On a perfectly clear day, if such a thing existed here, Mosul should be visible
High rises of Dream City in the distance
High rises of Dream City in the distance
Looking towards the City Center.  In the middle of the photo is an abandoned mall that houses several hundred Iraqi refugees, including Marln Salim and his family
Looking towards the City Center. In the middle of the photo is an abandoned mall that houses several hundred Iraqi refugees, including Marln Salim and his family

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.

Not the best photo, but this is the outdoor courtyard of the Deutscher Hof Bier Garten
Not the best photo, but this is the outdoor courtyard of the Deutscher Hof Bier Garten

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.

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