Cities and Towns in Middle East
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Amadiyah (also known as Amedi) is a little town perched on top of a mountain plateau at 1185 m above sea level. Though the town is nice with a mosque and some colorful houses, it's nothing spectacular... but the views are. Go to the edge in any direction and you will have amazing views over the mountains that Kurdistan is so famous for. It's just sad that some of the viewpoints are also used as rubbish dumps. The town's dramatic location is best taken in from a distance along the main road.
We don't know of any hotels in Amadiyah, but there are some in the little village below and in Sulav.
For most travellers, Koya is little more than a place to swap taxis on the "safe road" from Erbil to Suly. This is such a shame as the place has so much more to offer. From quirky hill-top picnic areas surrounding ancient Christian shrines to a central Citadel keeping watch over the city, there is enough here to rival other tours spots. A big part of the charm is wandering the narrow streets of the old city, next to the bazar. But the absolute real hidden treasure is the ancient market itself. Though not as big as Suly's or as busy as Erbil's, it is the ancient Iraq many people miss out on. With gateways dating back to the 13th century and a magnificent caravansary in its unrestored splendour somewhere in the middle, the bazar of Koya is a chance for travellers to have a bit of history in an Iraq quickly being overtaken with modernity.
Dohuk is probably the first real Kurdish/Iraqi town (not counting the border town of Zakho) you come to when arriving from Turkey. It is a small city with a big and lively souq - and not so much more. The neighbourhoods on the hills in the east end of Kawa Rd. can be fun to wander through, getting lost in the maze of living quarters while greeting curious kids. The Money Exchange Centre on the west end of Kawa Rd. is, besides a good place to change money, another place to have a look at. Here street dealers sit at cardboard boxes stacked with big wads of money, a lot of money – a reminder that Iraq is not a budget destination.
Capital of Iraqi Kurdistan
Erbil (also spelled Arbil or Irbil) is a very spread-out city. The heart of the old part is the citadel that crowns the city from a hill. The old building stretches right to the edge of the hill and all the facades facing the city have been done up, but otherwise the citadel is pretty much left in ruins. Below the citadel entrance is the newly rebuilt city square with illuminated fountains and a clock tower. To the sides you find the real Erbil in shape of the covered souq to the west and the rowdy market street of Handren St. to the east. For a different experience, head for the Christian quarter at Ainkawa, a taxi ride away - the rows of liquor stores will indicate when you are there.
Though Erbil is the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, Sulaymaniyah (also spelled Sulaimani) has a more modern city feel. The city center has a selection of cafes and shopping malls for the liberal minded girls and boys which the city seems so full of. The souq area in Sulaymaniyah is also more impressive than the one in Erbil with a fine covered part (nuts, shoes, clothes, lingerie, etc.) and a chaotic outdoor part (fruits, vegetables and meat). In the cooler evenings, do like the locals and drive up the hill outside town and enjoy the view over the city while the sun sets.
Acre Old Town
If looking for a mixture of history, religion and warfare, the fortified town of Akko (Acre) will suit all your needs. Dating back thousands of years, being a pillar of the Baha'i Faith and having nearly every major empire claiming rights to the place, Akko has been at the forefront of history since there was a history. Today, the UNESCO listed town is a pleasure to stroll around. An easy day-trip from Haifa or even Nazareth, the markets, fortifications, Khans and underground tunnels will have any visitor entertained for ages. On the outskirts of town is the temple of the most important person in the Baha'i faith. Although the gardens are not as impressive as the ones in Haifa, they still make for a lovely stroll.
Sidon town (Saida)
40km south of Beirut
Another appealing seaside town with an ancient history as a flourishing trading port. Today Sidon is the third largest city in Lebanon, but the reason to come here is the old quarter near the harbour. A confusing maze of twisting lanes and narrow passages with low hanging dodgy wirings. This is the real deal, not an open-air museum, which is very much alive with people, houses, souqs, mosques and even an old khan (rest place for caravans). Some parts are getting immaculate renovated, almost too sterile, but we are sure that the place won't loose all of its charismatic chaos.
Capital of Oman
Muscat is the only real city in Oman. It is accountable for a third of the country's population, but even 1 million people doesn't feel that big when it's spread out as Muscat is. Rather than one dense city, Muscat is made out of connecting towns, each with its own vibe. The walled old town of Muscat is where the Sultan's palace is. Mutrah is the picturesque area along the waterfront where you also find the covered market, the so-called souq. The corniche is particularly nice with great views over the harbour and on a backdrop of craggy mountains. Further inland you find the buzzing neighbourhood of Ruwi which is Muscat's "Little India". For a modern feel (read Starbucks and similar cafes), head to the area along the coast at Shatti al-Qurm. Muscat is a fine mix of new and old, without being as rich in history as Sanaa in Yemen nor as sparkling as the other oil-money-spoiled capitals in the region.
Aleppo is the iconic Middle Eastern bazaar city, with an amazing souq (market), an impressive citadel right in the middle, old Mercedes in the streets and friendly people. In its heydays, it was one of the most important trade centres on the Silk Route, but even today you can still shop-till-you-drop for local stuff like olive soap. Rise to the top of the tower in the citadel to get panoramic views of the town and visit a hammam (public bath) or some of the old traditional houses that are open for visitors. The new part of town attracts the young and rich, where they go double dating over tea and apple nargileh (water pipe) in a Starbuck's look-a-like café. A great city that you can keep exploring.
Try something different in Syria, go to the Mediterranean coast. As a modern and busy sea port, Lattakia has a different feel and look compared with places back in the lush mountains and the dry plain further east. The city's wealth is shown by tree-lined boulevards and flashy new apartment buildings kept by foreign maids. Small beaches punctuate the else rocky shore, which is sadly littered with the usual plastic rubbish, and the corniche offers shady cafes and beautiful view over the Mediterranean Sea - and construction sites. You can make the journey from Aleppo by train, a pleasant scenic ride without being too spectacular. Go there to get the full picture of Syria.