Mardin- This is the obscure entrance to the truly deluxe $55 Hotel
Reyhani Kasri where I stayed most of my time in the city. You can see why I
nearly failed to recognize it as a hotel the first time I passed it! Of
course, if I'd looked up, I would have seen the sign.
Mardin- This is the last of the old stone houses on the steep
hillside below the Reyhani Hotel where I found this lonely chicken standing guard.
Greetings from Mardin,
This interesting city some twenty miles north of the troubled Syrian border is not even on many maps of Turkey, but here I am. Mardin is an ancient city located on the southern slope of a high hill overlooking the Mesopotamian Plain so rich in historical significance. It has been ruled by all of the familiar great empires of this region: the Hurri-Mitani, Hittites, Surs, Babylonians, Persians, Romans, Arabs and the Seljuk Turks. Today it includes the modern "new city" which is quite separate from the sections of interest to tourists. I am here as a convenient jumping off place for a shorter bus ride into northern Iraq.
While still in Urfa I visited the "otogar" (bus station) and checked with bus company agents using an English-Turkish translator application installed on my Samsung Galaxy Note "telephone." It worked great, both speaking my questions about schedules in the translated Turkish and displaying the written version. Except for the time delay and the fact their responses needed to be mostly "yes" or "no" our conversations were no different than if we had both actually been speaking the same language, at least from my perspective!
After more than two weeks
holed up in great value hotels in Urfa I finally hopped a bus east to
Mardin which will be the city from which I'll catch the final bus to Erbil Iraq. Getting information about traveling from
Turkey to Erbil has
been confusing. The Internet is full of travel reports containing
inaccurate out of date information about transport logistics and first person
travelogues are peppered with scary reports of daunting experiences like
this one. I'm sure people have had such nightmares in the past, but after lots of
research it is now clear there are bus services point to point that will
get me into Erbil Iraq without a lot of hassles involving multiple
taxis. A visit to the local office of the Dilmenler bus company here in Mardin confirmed what I had
been told by their agents in Urfa, though I have not been able to find
their schedule information on the Internet (in English). This
person travelogue details one successful recent experience using a
bus, but there are few such stories making me wonder why. Wider
knowledge of a cheap, easy bus option would doom the monopoly taxis have
on Iraqi border crossings from Turkey, but it is hard to see how that
could have any influence on what other travelers have shared on the Internet.
The bus from Urfa took three hours to
reach the outskirts of Mardin and suddenly stopped along a wide
boulevard lined with a half dozen bus company agent offices, but nothing
resembling a bus station. One of the other passengers spoke English and
inquired of the driver how I could catch another bus going to Erbil and
learned I'd have to show up at this same place at about 5AM any morning
for my ride... which is only one of many options it turns out!
"What rate? How long will you stay?" By now I
know this will always be an opening gambit during rate negotiations. Put
off the bad news until you can get some concessions out of a prospective
"That's 150 dollars?" I gasped.
"Oh, no; 150 lira." he
hundred and fifty lira converts to about $83, toward the top of my comfort
range, but certainly doable considering all the money I'd saved on cheap hotels in
Urfa. My practiced reaction surely gave the impression a hundred and fifty would be
pushing it and he responded without being prompted: "Let me show you a
deluxe room that is vacant right now. I'll have to check with my
manager, but I think we can let you have it for a hundred, if you will
be staying for a longer period with us."
By now I should be accustomed to the normal breakfast selections to be included even in up scale hotels like this one. Only the Hotel El-Ruha in Urfa exceeded my expectations, but none of the others has come even close. If you want eggs, they will be hard boiled. If you want meat, it will be slices of baloney. Coffee? Drink your Nescafe powdered coffee and be quiet.
Starting the second morning a tray of thin fried eggs showed up, but soon got cold as no one ever turned on the steam table. Cereals and dried fruits are commonly available and most mornings dried figs joined the apricots among the possibilities. So much for breakfast, adequate with beautiful presentation and service, but not overwhelmingly satisfying like everything else in this remarkable property. The quality and selection varied during my seven mornings: sometimes quite good, sometimes mediocre. The coffee never varied from the powdered variety, though the tea, the national drink of Turkey did pass my taste test.
During the several rainy mornings water leaked under the glass doors into the dining area keeping the staff busy with squeegees. But even with dedicated attention to the water problem the floors stayed wet and at least one hapless guest slipped and fell on the slick floor as I jumped up to render unneeded assistance.
Meanwhile, as I agonized over powdered coffee and cold eggs, Ravi Shankar and his ethereally beautiful sitar music became a lingering memory with his passing, North Korea launched an earth satellite in defiance of world condemnations and the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria approached its final days. Sometimes it is impossible to keep it all in perspective.
Mardin's outstanding public bus system connects much of both the old and new city destinations and the drivers are remarkably dexterous. Astonished, I watched one guy juggling change making, handling accounting tasks with bundles of bills, conducting cell phone conversations, calling out requested destinations, answering passenger questions and maneuvering his wide bus through streets crowded with double parked cars and dare devil pedestrians dashing into oncoming traffic indiscriminately. Slight variations in routes for the red, blue, white and yellow placard buses insure that every popular destination is served every few minutes. I don't think I ever waited more than five minutes for a bus or paid more than 69 cents for a ride.
During the first week here it rained nearly everyday and all day on three of them forcing me to sequester myself in fortunately comfortable accommodations. At one point the temperature dropped to freezing and I discovered all of my planned layers of clothing still left me chilled. So, I took my own advice and went shopping. In the "best clothing store" in Mardin called "YKM" and pronounced "YeCamMay" I found a black wool crew neck sweater for $28 and gratefully slipped into its warmth. To my surprise, the clerk handed me a special promotional coupon for a free pastry in the store's adjoining "coffee" shop, so I had lunch consisting of soup and a large slice of gooey cake. Right after I bought the sweater the weather turned warmer of course.
The Reyhani Hotel is located in the middle of the old city, so is delightfully picturesque. When the sun shines... which it hasn't done much since I got here... all the old buildings covering the side of the mountain glow gold from the yellowed stone used for construction. On cloudy days the effect is drab like everywhere else, but still charming. I love wandering among the Labyrinth of little alleyways and narrow walkways threading among the old buildings.
Rich in historical color, one could spend days roaming around the old city with guide book in hand learning about the thousands of years of cultural changes which have taken place in and around Mardin. During the planning phase of my preparation for this visit I stumbled on an unlimited number of authoritative information sources. Daunted I imagined the impossible task students here face as they try to acquire some perspective on their country's historical heritage. America's two hundred years story seems puny compared to the challenge faced by students in Turkey. In fact, it seems to me an impossible task to do much more than scratch the surface of a hundred times more records than we have accumulated in America's short history.
No one should visit Turkey without nibbling on a simit purchased from one of the numerous little bakeries around any town in the country. Slightly sweet with the delicious flavor of sesame seeds and shaped like a skinny oversized donut, they are a perfect afternoon snack... and I might add the de-facto iconic symbol of Turkey as far as I am concerned! While I tended to return to the same restaurants for basic food needs, one afternoon I ventured into an obscure place four doors east of the Reyhani Hotel. The Erdoba Evleri is both a restaurant and boutique hotel, though neither is obvious from the outside. Built inside a renovated hundreds of years old stone building I felt like I had entered an austere monastery or castle dungeon, dark cold stone walls with little visible furniture.
As I hesitated, the manager encouraged me to follow him to the "dining room" down three steep flights of stairs dimly lit. Curiosity overcame my trepidation and I thought "What the heck, this is an adventure, right?" Reaching the bottom level finally, I could see the pleasing results of the modern restorations and when entering the actual tastefully appointed "dining room" I marveled how the old features of the original building were retained and integrated with modern deluxe furnishings. At a table set for a king I settled in to study the menu. The waiter explained several items I indicated using perfect English and helped me choose a light lunch of tomato soup and Turkish "pizza."
The soup, heavy with floating soft cheeses and a big basket of breads would have been an adequate lunch for me, but then came the most unusual "pizza" I have ever devoured: puffy like a small football with a light layer of spicy minced meat inside. The whole charred balloon-like contraption collapsed when I stabbed it with a fork. Unusual in appearance, this delicious dish gave new meaning to my idea of what a pizza should be. Halfway through my meal a group of thirty or so college students bolted in noisily, all obviously in good spirits for some sort of celebration, suggesting to me this "obscure" restaurant enjoyed an earned reputation as the place to be on important occasions.
The Shutterfly slide show of photographs taken while in Mardin are here.
In a few hours I board a
giant Marses Turizm bus for the eleven hour trip to Erbil Iraq. As usual
I bought two tickets to be sure I'll have plenty of room to squirm
during the long trip. The total of $100 makes it a rather expensive bus
ride compared to others here in Turkey, but this is an international
excursion. Several other bus companies claim to make the run, but only
Marses Turizm actually advertises the service on a sign at their office,
incidentally charging 10TL per ticket more than their competitors. As my
bus leaves from a location down in the newer part of the city, I moved
over to the
Hilton Garden Inn for the last few nights. Amazingly, the rate here
is still only $65 and it is a four star deluxe property... though
located almost a mile from the shopping areas... rather remote. In good
weather I wouldn't complain about the distance, but with rain almost
everyday, walking can be problematic. One big plus is that "everyone"
speaks understandable English! Another is a breakfast buffet designed to
ensure Western guests will be thrilled... with real brewed coffee and
properly prepared eggs! Gads, how spoiled I have become in my old age.
What ever happened to that youthful spirit of wild abandon?
I've mentioned before my concern that "enlightened self interest" alone should be propelling the Power Elite toward the redistribution of wealth throughout the world. It is not only the poor who suffer more as the gap between the wealthiest and poorest segments of our societies widens; every segment suffers! Revisiting the 2011 TedTalk by Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies, makes it clear the political goals being pursued by President Barack Obama are needed to start that redistribution process. Naturally, most of the wealthy can be expected to resent and resist, but a gradual movement toward a more equitable distribution of wealth is "for their own good" and is bound to be less painful than a violent revolution of the "proletariat." I use that term deliberately because I've noticed the ideas of Karl Marx getting more attention from the financial community lately. The failure of political Communism in the last century obscured the sensible aspects of his socio-financial ideas. I am now motivated to finish reading Das Kapital (I have a copy on my netbook to read as time permits). During my young adulthood Communism verses Capitalism could hardly receive a reasoned examination for all the screamers, even among the reasoning educated segments of American society. Never mind that this small segment has always been vastly out numbered by the majority who already "know it all" without bothering to examine the evidence, relying instead on noisy pundits . An excellent examination of the problem appeared in a book by Esquire columnist Charles P. Pierce entitled: "Idiot America: How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free" If you are not worried about the state of our union now, consider the evidence he presents, nicely summarized in this foreword to his book.
I've noticed the Shutterfly slide show crops many of the photographs badly; my web pages do not. Now it is back to answering old email and working on preparations for Erbil. More when the floods abate.
Fred L Bellomy