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Ukraine, Iraq, Iran, etc

a travel blog by bennedich


I take a one month vacation in order to relax a little before I emigrate to USA. The idea is to head to Iran and visit some friends on the way.
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My last day in Oslo

Oslo, Norway


My last day in Oslo is a bit hectic. I have a lot of things to pack and finish and the situation at work is just chaotic. For the second day in a row, I work until 7am and wake up to continue at 11am. "Are you taking the weekend off?" a woman asks me in the elevator as I enter with all my luggage. "I'm moving to USA" I reply "And I won't come back."

permalink written by  bennedich on December 4, 2008 from Oslo, Norway
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A night in Prague

Prague, Czech Republic


I have a one night stopover in Prague and am staying with a Mexican guy named Eduardo. He studies "relaciones internacionales" and went to the same school as me in Mexico! After having slept 4 hours a night for the last two nights, I hope to get some sleep... but Eduardo has other plans. He takes me sightseeing in the middle of the night then we head out to a bar where we meet up with his girlfriend and have some drinks. We get back home at 3.30am and set the alarm for 6am in order to catch my early morning flight to Kiev.

permalink written by  bennedich on December 5, 2008 from Prague, Czech Republic
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Meeting up with Rostik

Kiev, Ukraine


Rostik, my ex-colleague from Oslo, meets me at the airport in Kiev. We go to his place to dump my luggage then we head out sightseeing Kiev. It's a beautiful city, similar to Minsk but the buildings are even larger here. It's also really cheap, much thanks to the economy crisis. In the evening we play poker and drink honey pepper vodka with Rostik's flatmates and we go to bed at around 2am.

permalink written by  bennedich on December 6, 2008 from Kiev, Ukraine
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Sightseeing Kiev

Kiev, Ukraine


Today I was supposed to go to Chernobyl, but the trip got canceled. Instead we spend the day sightseeing Kiev. In the evening we play more poker and drink cognac from Rostik's hometown.

permalink written by  bennedich on December 7, 2008 from Kiev, Ukraine
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Leaving Kiev

Kiev, Ukraine


A snow storm hits Kiev and we mostly stay at home. I buy a new 70 l backpack at the market (for 16 euro), so now I can carry 135 l in total. In the evening I fly to Ankara and meet up with my friend Eda who visited me in Oslo a few months ago.

permalink written by  bennedich on December 8, 2008 from Kiev, Ukraine
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Sightseeing Ankara

Ankara, Turkey


We sleep until late and spend most of the day sampling Turkish food and drinks. We visit Eda's university and the Attaturk Mausoleum. Apparently I bring the bad weather with me as it snows for the first time of the year. In the evening I order some kind of meat kebab on the street. The street vendor asks me why Turkey is not allowed in the EU. I tell him and he starts chopping the meat. As I eat I notice he starts laughing. Eda says to just keep eating and she'll tell me later what's up. And later she explains "This meat is prohibited in EU. It's made from part of animal where shit goes through."

permalink written by  bennedich on December 9, 2008 from Ankara, Turkey
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Ankara and Diyarbakir

Diyarbakir, Turkey


Today we visit a huge mosque and a castle overlooking all of Ankara. I tell Eda about my plans to go to Diyarbakir (city in eastern Turkey) and Iraq and she says "Yeah. Good luck with that." and she shows me a website with recent terrorist attacks in Diyarbakir. Eda thinks I will die before I reach the Iraqi border. Or at the very least at the border itself. But she gives me some advice: "Don't ever mention the word 'Kurdistan'. You'll get into trouble."

Due to religious holiday Bayram I'm not able to find someone to stay with in Diyarbakir and have to check into a hotel. I'm very disappointed to have to pay for accommodation for the first time in 41 nights. At the kebab place around the corner from my hotel I happen to sit down next to Bivar, an Iraqi Norwegian guy who's heading to Iraq tomorrow morning. He's already arranged a driver and everything and offers me to go with him to Dohuk. It wasn't where I intended to go, but he tells me he'll visit his old refugee camp and some other places along the way, so it sounds too interesting to say no. We leave tomorrow at 11am.



permalink written by  bennedich on December 10, 2008 from Diyarbakir, Turkey
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Entering Iraq

Dihok, Iraq


Bivar calls me at 10am and says the car is outside my hotel and we have to leave immediately. I sit in front and Bivar goes in the back with some luggage and a wife. We make several stops along the way to eat, drink tea, take photos and visit historical places. As we arrive in Silopi close to the Iraqi border we have to stop to empty all the gasoline from the car since we risk being charged with smuggling if we enter Iraq with too much gas. After Silopi there are several kilometers of trucks lined up waiting to cross the border. Bivar tells me they can wait here for weeks. A few hundred meters before the border we run out of gas. Bivar swears at the driver as he gets out to push the car towards the border while Bivar leans forward to take the wheel.

The border basically consists of two parts: leaving Turkey and entering Iraq/Kurdistan. When leaving Turkey I am called into a small office and questioned about my motives. Bivar comes with me and has prepared a story about how we know each other from Norway and how I come to visit this area for socio-anthropological reasons. After 5 minutes we're done, and after 20 more minutes our driver comes running with a PET bottle of gasoline and we continue to Iraqi immigration. Bivar knows one of the border guards there (the one with me in the picture) and we're treated tea while we're waiting for immigration to process our passports. Everything is very smooth and we're on our way within minutes.

We continue to Dohuk where I am at the moment. Tomorrow I will do some sightseeing here and then continue to Erbil. Non-Iraqi SIM cards do not work here so I've bought an Iraqi one and my number is +9647709142398.




permalink written by  bennedich on December 11, 2008 from Dihok, Iraq
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Mohammed Mohammed

Arbil, Iraq


Wow... what a day. I wake up in Dohuk without electricity. There's extreme power shortage in Iraq so this is normal. I do some sightseeing and try to look for an ATM but people I ask just look at my visa card as if they've never seen one before. I have euro but not a lot so I would have preferred to save it, but now I have to change it on the street. I get 76000 Iraqi dinars for 50 euro.

I meet a guy on the street called Steve. He describes himself as a warrior from Mosul. He has two scars across his face and speaks with authentic American accent, although he's a Christian Iraqi and never left the country. He shows me pictures of him and American soldiers. He's like 8 years old. Or 11 at most. He shows me around for a while and helps me arrange a shared taxi to Erbil. I stick him a 1000 dinar banknote for his help. He hugs me and says "keep it real man".

The taxi to Erbil is 2.5 hours and 20000 dinars. There are no buses in Iraq. Bivar told me to stay away from Mosul if I wish to leave Iraq alive. The taxi basically circles Mosul, 20 kms from the city. We leave Kurdish area for a while, but everything feels safe.

In Erbil I'm staying with Mohammed Mohammed. Mohammed provides Kurdistan with satellite Internet. He is doing fairly well. He picks me up with his BMW and we go to his house where he lives with his mother and brother. On the way he needs to change engine oil, but has trouble paying because he only carries 100 USD bills. His mother makes me lunch and later we head out to meet Mohammed's friend David, a British architect working for UNESCO. We go to a top end Lebanese restaurant and are taken to the VIP table. The food is good and the raki (Turkish liquor) is strong. The power goes out 4 times during dinner. Mohammed and I continue to Ankawa Palace to meet up with his other friends who all belong to the elite in Erbil. Richest of all is Zatan, good for 20 million USD. We drink only chivas regal 18 year old and smoke nargileah (water pipe). There are no Iraqi dinars around the table, everyone carries 100 USD bills. I'm not allowed to pay for anything during the evening.



permalink written by  bennedich on December 12, 2008 from Arbil, Iraq
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Erbil

Arbil, Iraq


Bad news. I just found out there are NO international ATMs in Iran, and possibly nowhere in northern Iraq either. This is bad because I only have 200 euro, 5 USD and 10 more days before I leave Iran.

I meet up with David at 10.30am for a tour of the citadel, a huge fortress on top of a hill in the city center, 8000 years old. David is working on the preservation of this thing and is trying to make it a world heritage site. Most of the citadel is closed to public, but that doesn't bother David. As we climb over one of the blockades, peshmerga (Kurdish military) comes towards us with a machine gun. Amin, a Syrian guy working with David, translates: "He say we can not go". David ignores him and mumbles "We're UNESCO, we can go wherever we please". Afterwards we have lunch, mutton and rice, courtesy of UNESCO.

I spend the afternoon sightseeing the city center and the bazar. The city is a bit chaotic but still enjoyable. A lot of people are curious about me and ask where I'm from. Almost everyone has a relative or friend who lives or has lived in Sweden, so I'm very well received. As it gets dark Mohammed picks me up and we go play bowling with Zatan & co. Then we have dinner, Iraqi pizza, mostly in darkness due to a blackout. We drink tea, drink tea again, then head home to Mohammed to watch some TV.

Steve calls me at 10.30pm and asks if I'm married. Apparently he can set me up with an Iraqi woman if I come back to Dohuk. I tell him thanks, but I'm heading to Iran. He says "be safe man, you might get killed".



permalink written by  bennedich on December 13, 2008 from Arbil, Iraq
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My name is Max. I like to travel.

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