Friday, February 11, 2011


Saturday 8th May Mardin.

It is hard to believe it is only a week since we got on the plane in Dublin. It has been an action packed week and to be honest we are feeling a little tired. We are glad we are not getting back on the bus to travel back to Göreme with the others, as it is a very long trip.

Instead we have rented a car, or should I say Turkish Heritage Travel rented a car for us. İt would arrive at the hotel at 10 a.m. It suddenly dawned on me I didn’t know from what company we had rented the car. But no need to panic, everything had gone smoothly so far. Fingers crossed it would continue to do so.

We got up and joined the others for breakfast. This morning’s buffet was the best on the trip. In addition to the usual tomatoes, olives, cheeses, etc, there were a couple of types of borek and menemen. We exchanged contact details and promised to stay in touch. Facebook does have its advantages, so perhaps these won’t be empty promises.

Having waved the group off, we checked out and waited in the lobby for the car. We were now truly on our own; the lobby was full and we were the only yabancıs in sight! 10.15 but no panic we were on turkish time! Shy smiles were exchanged with the families around us.

TomTom, my GPS, was in my bag and ready to go. I had spent the previous day in the car looking for road signs for Mardin and thought I had spotted the road but TomTom would hopefully do the navigating for us. However he has been known to lead us astray! I have used him in Turkey before and certainly when on main routes he had proved himself to be pretty reliable and more polıte than some navıgators I know (husbands included!). However, to be sure to be sure, I had also printed out a route from the internet. Those instructıons would only help when we got onto the right road. 

Ten minutes later, a man entered the lobby and it was obvious he was looking for us. We must have blended in because amazingly he didn’t immediately pick out the two foreigners:-)) He asked for us at the reception desk and the receptionist caught our eye as we were getting up from our seats. Our guessing skills were obviously better than his!

Well, it was the strangest rent–a–car transaction we have ever done. Perhaps because the agency arranged it, perhaps because he was afraid we wouldn’t understand, he handed us the keys and then turned to the receptionist to ask where we were going to leave the car in Mardin. She smiled at me and told him I spoke Turkish.

I told him we would leave the car in the airport in Mardin at 08.30 on the following Monday morning. He then gave us two contact numbers, one for problems on the road and the other for problems in Mardin. I hoped we wouldn’t have to use either! To be on the safe side, I enquired if we had full insurance, not sure if the agency had bought the extra optional insurance on our behalf.

Reassured that we were fully insured, TomTom primed to go, we took possession of the car. Being cautious, I inspected it and noticed that there was a big dent on the front bonnet. I was about to point this out but there was no-one to point it out to. Our man was gone.

We hadn’t been asked for driving licences, credit cards, or even to sign the rental agreement! There was no point in worrying about the dent, we had full insurance..........we hoped. The one thing we didn’t have was petrol. Usually the tank is empty but this one appeared to be running on fumes. The first petrol station we saw was on a roundabout and we passed it before we realised it. 

Eyes peeled, we pulled into the next station we came to. In addition to our 60tl petrol we were given a free cleaning cloth. It was like getting petrol in Ireland in the 70’s. Anyone remember Green Shield Stamps? 

I was excited. Finally travelling on our own! İf there was anything I wanted to photograph, we could stop. This is how I prefer to travel.

Would you believe it, there was nothing of interest on the road! The road made its way through low rolling hills. Actually, all our time was spent watching the road. We had finally found a road that was as bad as our own at home. There were potholes you could get lost in. It explained the time differential. Our itinerary said it would take us 4 hours to reach our destination, while TomTom said 2½ hours. As we drove, TomTom predicted a later and later estimated time of arrival. Maybe he thought that because we were driving in Turkey it was a Turkish driver at the wheel. The road from Şanliurfa to Mardin must be an industrial highway because I have never before seen the number of trucks on the road as we met on this journey, not even on the M50 in Dublin.

As we neared our destination we spotted Mardin airport on our right. That was good news, we wouldn’t have to spend Monday morning looking for it. All we had to do now was find the hotel. I had programmed the street address into Tomtom who shortly told us to turn right. But, there was no right turn! Undaunted, we took the next right but it wasn’t going anywhere. There was a little corner shop so I asked for directions. We hadn’t arrived in Mardin yet so they gave us directions and told us continue to the upper part, to the old city. We were then invited to join them for a glass of tea but unfortunately we had to get on.

One of the reasons we were going to Mardin was one of the friends I had made on Live Mocha last summer , Kemal, was a primary school teacher in Nusaybin and we planned to meet up. As luck would have it, he had exams this weekend. They were on Sunday morning in Mardin. Kemal insisted he would not be studying on Saturday, he would be relaxing to get into the right frame of mind to face the papers.

Having asked directions another couple of times, we found the hotel. We stopped just beyond it and asked a man sitting outside his shop where the carpark for the hotel was. He directed us down the street. Obviously, something got lost in translation!
Going a little further, we asked again, to be informed that there was no carparks in old Mardin. It was funny because we were getting some strange looks from the men because I was doing all the talking and they wanted to talk to Sean, who could only look blankly at them, point at me and say boss!! 

We followed the directions and went around in a circle. There is a one way system in the old city. There must have been some high ranking officials in town that day, as there was a strong police and emergency services presence on the main street, making the one way system just a little more difficult to negotiate.
We pulled up on the kerb opposite the hotel and went to check in.

We were staying in the Artuklu Kervansaray hotel. It is an amazing building, built in 1278. There are numerous original features in the building and the lobby was a delight. They were expecting us, but even though it was half past two in the afternoon, our room wasn’t ready. They parked the car in a side street at the back of the hotel and brought in our bags. 

These were carried up by the tallest man I have ever seen. He must have been over 7 ft tall. We were asked to wait on the terrace until the room was ready. Half an hour later we were still sitting patiently. The porter asked was our room not ready yet and then disappeared. About 10 minutes later he came to get us. The building was like a rabbit warren. The room key was enormous, actually it was probably bigger than the room! Saying that, the room was lovely. It had the original stone walls with little niches with antiques in them. There was just enough room to walk around the bed and there was no wardrobe......nowhere to put it. We had just investigated the bathroom when my phone rang.

It was Kemal. He had arrived from Nusaybin and was at the hotel entrance waiting for us. He had his friend Osman with him. Osman was also doing the Turkish exam the next morning. After a quick discussion it was decided that lunch was the first thing on the agenda. Kemal was anxious to show us around, but the sounds coming from Sean’s stomach made food a greater priority!

They took us to a local restaurant and, luckily for us, Kemal was a carnivore like us, so we left the ordering to him. They brought us cacik and a dish that seemed to have raspberries with peppers and spices to go with it. Then to Sean’s delight we were served with a large plate of meat - chicken, meatballs and lamb. In addition to this the long flat bread came straight for the oven and was constantly topped up. Kemal extolled Osman’s wonderful quality as a friend............. he didn’t eat a lot, so Kemal regularly ate some of his share. 60% - 40% I asked, to be told very quickly by Osman, it was more like 80%-20%

The lads were anxious to get moving as they wanted to bring us to Deyrulzafaran Monastery, 4km outside Mardin. This is an important centre for Syriac Orthodox Christians. It was built in the 5th century over the site of a temple for sun worshipers. Later it was used as a fortress by the Romans before it became a monastery. Inside there are a number of churches as well as other buildings for the monks.

In one room, below ground level, we were shown the amazing construction. There was no mortar or cement between the stones. They were held together by keystones. This is now the residence of the archbishop of Mardin. As it is still a working monastery, people are only allowed to see the monastery with a guide. We had to wait for the next group and then we were given a guided tour of the monastery. Kemal did his best to translate the main points for us, though for some he said we had to wait ‘til we got back to the car to use the dictionary! As we were entering the monastery I caught the eye of one of the ladies leaving. İnstant recognition. She had been one of the ladies with whom İ had exchanged smiles in the lobby of our hotel in Şanliurfa this morning –small world!
Following Kemal, we left the main group and went upstairs to the next level. Kemal wanted to show us the views from the outside wall but unfortunately the gate was locked.

Back to Mardin, we went to a tea garden with a beautiful view over the hillside. We spent a little more time getting to know each other and exchanging information about teaching in our respective countries. We encouraged the boys to leave, if they were tired, but they wanted to wait for dusk and to bring us to a viewpoint where we could look at Mardin as the lights came on.

Kemal told us there is a saying that during the day Mardin is a grave but at night it was a necklace. It certainly looked beautiful, looking up at all the lights on the hill. I had no tripod to steady my camera so I got down on my knees to steady the camera on a convenient rock. Unfortunately, I had not considered how I would get back up so once again I had to forget about my dignity. I couldn’t use the arms to push up and my leg wasn’t great. The lads wanted to help but they could not take my arms to pull me up. After a couple of embarrassing moments I was back on my feet. Good job İ wasn’t trying to impress the young men!! Unfortunately the photos were like myself, a bit shaky !

We left the boys off and wished them well in their exams the next morning. We got a good nights sleep and then got up for breakfast. Even though we were up by nine we were obviously too late. There was very little variety and the hot food was cold.

So we made the best of it and then set out to explore the town on our own. It is the first tourist destination we have visited where everywhere was closed on a Sunday morning. Later, as we returned back they were beginning to open.
Stopping on a street corner to take photos, a shop owner greeted us and as usual İ answered in Turkish. Once again, this led to a conversation, where were we from etc. We were then offered suggestions as to what we should see.

We wandered along the streets, noting the gold shops on one side of the street and the silver shops on the other. Mardin is famous for its filigree silver and I wanted some time to browse shop windows. With four daughters I could feel a shopping expedition coming on much to Sean’s horror!

However we first set out to explore the streets and buildings. We wandered into a girls school that seemed to be undergoing some renovation. There were notes from a lesson on the board. It seems like I’m never going to escape the blackboard.

Later we were passing a silver shop that appeared to be quite busy. We went in to have a look and again we became the focus of attention, all positive. Even some of the customers wanted to know if they could help us and to explain about how famous Mardin silver is. Having picked out a necklace with matching bracelet and earrings, we did a little bargaining, then the deal was done. Later we would look for something for the girls.

We were happy to wander on our own. The streets felt very safe. The atmosphere was very different to Urfa. The streets were very peaceful and style of dress western. The city felt very open and relaxed. As we came down the steps from the school we were stopped by a film crew and asked did we speak English...........Sean’s turn! Having confirmed we spoke English, we were asked for the correct spelling for embarrassed. They were filming a programme for the Turkish TRT tv channel – glad to do our bit for international relations!

Later while Sean relaxed at the hotel, I wandered around with my camera. The hotel was an amazing building, it’s a pity the service didn’t measure up.

We sat and relaxed on the terrace for a while. We both were now ready to admit to being tired. We had done a lot of travelling in the past 10 days. We enjoyed the break while wondering how Kemal and Osman were doing with their exams.

Shortly my phone rang, Kemal had arrived and joined us on the terrace. He felt he had done well and was hopeful for the results. Osman had gone shopping and would return to Nusaybin. Kemal was anxious that we get going, as time was getting on and he wanted to bring us to Midyat.

We didn’t realise that Midyat was 50km from Mardin and Mor Gabriel, the monastery he wanted to bring us to see, was another 25km beyond this. We suggested getting lunch but he was anxious to show us as much of his area as possible so he made a quick shop stop and refuelled with four chocolate cakes.

The trip to the monastery was well worth the journey. Again, we had a guided tour of the monastery but this time the crowds of yesterday were missing. Mor Gabriel is the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world. It was founded in 397 and is still a working monastery. Its main purpose is to keep Syriac Orthodox Christianity alive in the land of its birth by providing schooling and ordination of native-born monks. The thing that surprised me most about the monastery was that both men and women lived there. There were three priests and eleven nuns in residence at the time.

The stonework in the building was beautiful and the sense of peace was wonderful. Sean sat and I think this could have been my opportunity to get rid of my husband. He would willingly have stayed to enjoy the peace. We wandered through the visitor quarters and he was weighing up the pros and cons of the monastic life. Unfortunately, he decided to come back with me! 

Having eventually torn himself away, we went back into Midyat where we visited Midyat Devlet Konuk Evi.This building is a restored guest house, now a major visitor attraction and has also been used in the shooting of a film. It afforded great views over Midyat. 

Leaving the house we were quickly surrounded by children, wanting to sell us bracelets and asking for money. The same thing happened when we went to look at the celebration of a Kurdish wedding in a nearby schoolyard. We were immediately surrounded by another group also hoping for a handout. Kemal explained this is a problem in the some areas of Eastern Turkey and told us not to engage with them or would continue to pester.

Kemal wanted to bring us to see some more of the sites but by this time we were a little tired and hungry. We told Kemal that not seeing everything would be a good reason to come back to visit the area again. We were happy to sit and chat and get to know each other a little better.

We thanked Kemal as we were so appreciative of him sharing so much of his time with us on what must have been a difficult weekend for him. It is so nice to see an area with someone with local knowledge. For his part, Kemal said he too was delighted as it was the first time he had spoken English face to face with native speakers. He felt he couldn’t talk to Sean the day before, but now they could talk comfortably to each other as he had gained confidence in speaking and he had my trusty dictionary by his side.

We finished off the meal with tea and Turkish coffee. I made Sean confess his opinion of Turkish coffee to Kemal. He thinks it is like mud. Kemal offered to read my fal (my fortune) from my coffee grounds and we had a great laugh. There was a long haired man ...definitely not Sean...... and a journey in my future. Could it be a trip to the Black Sea region....... but who is the man? Only time will tell.

After our meal we had a wander through the silver shops where we made purchases for our 4 daughters. The silver work is beautiful and I have to confess to hoping our girls wouldn’t like what we bought. Then I would have to keep it for myself. We bargained and so did Kemal. They asked him if he was he a tour guide because they did not give reductions to tour guides. He told them we were friends of his family. He didn’t want to tell them he had met me on the internet!!

It was time to return to Mardin. Kemal was staying the night with a friend and getting the early bus back to Nusaybin and we were packing our bags to catch a morning flight back to Istanbul. It was hard to believe the holiday was almost over.

We got up early the next morning in the hope that the breakfast would be better but unfortunately it was not to be. We finished our breakfast, checked out and headed for the airport. It is the smallest airport I have been in. Sean parked the car and we waited outside the door for the people to come and collect it. We were a little early. After a little while we were approached by a security guard who asked us were we going to check in. He told us we could go ahead and check in and then come back out to hand over the car keys.

We had hoped to check the bags the whole way through to Dublin but because there was more than 24 hours between flights we had to collect our bags in Istanbul.

So bags checked in I headed out to wait for the rental company. There was no sign of them so I rang them and they seemed to be surprised we were at the airport. They said they would be there shortly. In the meantime a taxi pulled up, a couple got out and I recognised the man, I had last seen him eating breakfast at our hotel. They also acknowledged me with a nod and a smile.

The security guard started to talk to me in Turkish again and the lady who got out of the car was very interested. I was asked was my husband Turkish and she was amazed that the answer was no. It automatically led to the next question, why did I speak Turkish. The lady was living in Istanbul but had a summer home in Turgutreis. We had quite a chat only ending when the man arrived to collect the car.

In İstanbul, we were met by a driver from the Airport İnn Hotel, a small hotel on the seafront in Yesilkoy. I stay here when I have a brief stopover in Istanbul, it is very convenient for the airport. 

Again we were located on the third floor, difficult as I was still limping, but we were reassured that though it was a climb we had the best view in the hotel and so we did. The view was wonderful.

We had a brief rest and then headed out for lunch. It was the perfect end to the holiday for us. We sat in the sun, well in Sean’s case, the shade, enjoyed our lunch and later had a wander along the promenade looking at the beautiful houses behind us, deciding which one we would choose to live in....if we won the lottery!

At 5 o’clock, my phone rang and Leyla, another of my friends that I met through Live Mocha, was at the hotel to meet us. We sat in the sun and chatted for a while. It was the first time she had met Sean, but we had met on a couple of other occasions. We have exchanged music and lots of laughs. She informed me my Turkish had got worse and İ had put on weight. Wonderful!! My swollen head was rapidly deflating. Leyla wasn’t a nurse for nothing! If she could have worked the same magic on my swollen foot I was right.

The holiday was over. In spite of all I’ve written, I feel like I haven’t words to adequately describe the experience. However, I have just read Brendan Shanahan’s book “In Turkey I am Beautiful” where in Chapter 25 he describes arriving in Cappadocia - it could have been me talking, only I don’t have the eloquence.

“Nothing can prepare you for the beauty of Cappadocia. It’s a UFO sighting or a lottery win. It’s beautiful in ways that make you want to turn involuntarily to the stranger next to you on the bus and say, “Look! Look at that!” which is precisely what I did the first time I glimpsed the Göreme Valley from the high road, oblivious to and uncaring of the fact that he didn’t speak English and actually lived there. That was two years ago. This time around the same sight had lost none of its excitement.”

I can identify totally with this. I would go back to Cappadocia in the morning. We probably tried to fit too much into too short a space of time. We definitely did not have enough time in Şanlıurfa. It would have been nice to wander at our leisure. Sean really enjoyed Mardin and meeting Kemal. He said he felt part of something. Again we would have liked to have had more time to wander at our leisure. I can see us returning!

The whole trip was a wonderful experience, made more so by the people we met along our way.

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