Saturday, September 22, 2007

Prince Charles stayed here

A new day. The sun is shining. A passing dolmus takes us to the next town from where a second dolmus will drop us in Mardin. Nearly every dolmus in Turkey is a Ford Transit. This is good business for Ford. We're surprised that not many have roof racks - and it's always a squeeze to get our rucksacks in behind the backseat. The driver usually just gives everything the old heave ho but it does the trick. There's a lack of air-conditioning and no-one seems keen to open a window. It reminds me of the Grands Taxis in Morocco which have the window handles removed because people believe the fresh air will make them travel sick. The journey seems slow and we climb for a bit through dusty hills until the road levels and suddenly we find ourselves looking southwards down across a huge plateau into Syria. There really isn't a bump - just flat as a map. The road is very straight and eventually the driver turns his head to read the newspaper of the front-seat passenger beside him for a while.
Mardin's old city is perched on a hill and covered in old houses looking out across the Mesopotamian plain. On the crown is a fortress still used by the military. Spreading out between the old houses and below the old town are the usual boring concrete buildings. Everything is sandy brown. We stumble around the backstreets and come across old mosques and a restored caravanserai which is now a five star hotel. We peek inside and one of the receptionists politely shows us around. She tells us that Prince Charles stayed here. Lucky bugger. The building has been well restored. We notice that there are women working here in Mardin and there are more women around on the streets and in the large covered bazaar where we wander.
We find a cafe serving drinks to non-fasters. There are four students tucked away upstairs on the terrace smoking and drinking coke. A TV crew appears - well a man with a camera, a man with a microphone and a third man who finally approaches us after chatting to the students. They want to ask a few questions for a programme on Mardin. The students, all female, have refused because they don't want their families to know how hard they are studying. The interviewer, in a pink shirt and trendy haircut, doesn't speak much english so the assistant has to prompt him with the questions which he then puts to us. His accent is faintly 'Allo 'Allo and he fluffs his lines so many times that we can't keep straight faces. He's laughing too. Goodness what inane comments we respond with but we are confident that we will be edited out.
Just outside of Mardin we visit a Syrian Orthodox monastery, which was the seat of the church until the Archbishop was encouraged to leave. The building is still in use though and an interesting reminder of how christianity spread to this part of the world before Islam or the Turks arrived. The only downside of visiting Mardin is the lack of budget accomodation and after two luxurious nights (!) we move on to Diyabakir - the "capital" of Kurdish Turkey.

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