`Aqrah Things to Do
Zarvia Dji: the summit
Although Akre is very much a Muslim town now, with a not very visible Christian minority, it once had a sizeable Jewish population, and if you clime to the top of Zarvia Dji, you can see the remains of a holy Jewish site. I'm not entirely sure what it was, but the ruins are fairly extensive so there's probably more to it than just an ancient synagogue. Nowadays, this is where the people of Akre come to picnic, and two or three picnics were in full swing when I got there, groups of men and women dancing in circles and singing along to a spluttering tape recorder.
Almost as soon as I got to the top, I noticed mist beginning roll in, and Akre was slowly beingg engulfed. Actually it wasn't all that slow, as the mist crept up the mountain and burst over the top with a huge gust of cold dusty wind. It was a shock to me and to all the picnickers, who ran around in panic gathering up rugs and food and chasing after headscarves that had blown off. Rain followed, and worried about the poor visibility with no end in sight, I decided it would probably be best to start my descent, especially as sunset was not far off. A shame, as there looked to be more to explore up there.
If you happen to be in Iraq for Nowruz, the Kurdish New Year, I'm told that Akre is the place to celebrate it, on top of Zarvia Dji.
Climb Zarvia Dji
The mountain behind Akre is called Zarvia Dji, and it is possible to climb, thanks to a set of steps winding up the slope from behind the monastery. It looks like entering someone's private house at first, but the kids told me it was fine to do so, and soon enough I met a few other people coming down. Every so often, the steps turn a corner, and there are sort of resting points where you can catch your breath (I thought I was really unfit, as I kept stopping to "admire the view", but soon caught up with lots of locals who were as out of breath as I was, so that made me feel a bit better!). Anyway, it is certainly worth stopping en route to the top, as you can photograph the fantastic views down onto the rooftops below.
Whereas Akre seems very colourful from down below, from above it is all brown and blue: brown from the stone/wood/mudbrick roofs and blue from all the plastic sheeting used to keep water out. You can only really appreciate Akre's layout from above, as you can see into the next valley and see that old Akre spreads over there too, while the modern town stretches for kilometres along a hilly main road.
The Old Monastery
At the top of old Akre, the houses start to look older...this was the original village before it exploded downwards. Akre used to have a sizeable Christian population, and evidence of this is the stone and wood monastery at the very top, just before the path to the mountain summit. I wanted to have a closer look, as I was told it was no longer in use and just a shell of a building, but a snarling dog kept me at bay. It actually looks more like a church, with its little belltower, but my new friends in Akre were adamant it was a monastery.
To find it was actually harder than expected, and I ended up asking a bunch of kids to help me. They were all very excitable, and although one little boy took the lead as he lived up at the top, about ten others followed, daring each other to shout out the English phrases they'd learnt at school.
Where to find food
Akre isn't a touristy place, and there isn't really the culture of eating out here as there is in other Kurdish cities. I noticed a bakery and a basic snack place on the main square behind the bazar, and that was about it in Old Akre. In the newer part, there is a "touristik restyrant" on the main road close to the Hotel Sepal, although it looked very closed when I walked past. Heading from the hotel away from Old Akre, just past the hospital there are a couple of restaurants with shawarma stalls outside, and that was where I ended up. Further up the road are a couple of grocery stores where you can stock up on nuts and biscuits and other unhealthy junk food.
Favorite Dish: A Liffa is a loaf of sandwich bread, and you can ask for liffa-ye merieshk if you want a chicken sandwich, liffa-ye shav for a lamb one. Seferi is the word for take-away if you don't want to eat it inside or standing up at the counter.
By Taxi from Erbil or Dohuk
Shared taxis leave from Erbil's Karaj-e Shimaal (Northern Garage), a few hundred metres north of the citadel and within walking distance of the bazar area if you haven't got too much luggage and are prepared to ask for directions on the way. Akre isn't a popular destination, so i had to wait for ages, and eventually came to an agreement with a driver who had to go to Akre anyway, with or without passengers. I can't remember exactly how much I paid, but it was the most expensive trip I did in Iraq. It took a couple of hours from Erbil, following the main Mosul road before turning north before the turnoff for Dohuk.
The taxi took me to the Karaj in new Akre, on a roundabout with a couple of cafes and shops at the bottom of the main road to old Akre. Old Akre is about 20-25 minutes on foot from here, and in the other direction, it is a good 20 minute walk uphill to Akre's only hotel...you pass this as you enter Akre, so if you intend to stay, tell your driver beforehand!
Leaving Akre, I took a taxi to Dohuk with three other passengers, for about 10,000 (it may have been more or a bit less, but I didn't take note at the time and can't remember now....but it was much more affordable than the trip from Erbil). It took under two hours to reach Dohuk, dropping me off at the Hotel Bircin by the taxi offices.