Cyprus, a former British Crown Colony
Cyprus, a former British Crown Colony, is an island in the Mediterranean Sea, the springboard to the Middle East. It is located seventy kilometres south of Turkey and one hundred-five kilometres west of Syria. From Taşucu in Turkey, a ferry sails to the port of Girne within four hours. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, ferry services to Tripoli in Lebanon and Haifa in Israel also existed. These have been discontinued (temporarily?). British and American forces now use the island as a base for their naval vessels in the Middle East.
There was a civil war in the former British crown colony between 1963 and 1967, after which Turkey occupied the island’s northern part in 1974. The British heritage is reflected in left-hand traffic and ‘English’ sockets.
Nicosia, twice the capital of Cyprus
Nicosia, or Lefkosia as the Cypriots call their capital, has been divided between the two countries since the Turkish invasion. Just as Berlin used to be divided by the wall, the UN guards the no man’s land between the city’s two parts. From Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, you can walk to ‘the occupied territory’, as the European Cypriots call Northern Cyprus, through the Ledra Palace checkpoint. At the Turkish border, there is a large signboard that reads ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus FOREVER’.
The main attractions of Nicosia, or Lefkosia, as the Cypriots call their capital, are on the Turkish side of the border.
Arabahmet the Great Khan
A monumental building with a gallery, vaulted ceilings, and lush plants on terracotta tiles sits just across the border. We drink coffee and a chai, which cost us forty lira, about four euros.
Through the narrow streets of the Arabahmet district, we arrive in the centre, where tourists from all over the world gather in Büyük Han, a caravanserai built in 1572 by the Ottomans. In the past, travellers stayed here and stored their animals and merchandise. Now, there are shops and terraces in the complex.
Near the Han is the famous Selimiye Camii (mosque). Before the building served as a mosque, it was a cathedral. A reverse Mezquita in Spanish Córdoba, where an architectural error in the 16th century led to a bizarre but beautiful building with a cathedral at the heart of the mosque. I imagine something like that but in reverse at Selimiye Camii. I will never know as the building is closed for restoration. Olive trees, jasmine, bougainvillaea and oleander grow along the streets. The flora here is so beautiful. We have lunch under a purple bougainvillaea next to the Selimiye mosque.
Scars of the Civil War
The contrast is impressive when walking a few metres from the tourist area. The only thing that flourishes here are the street cats. Bullet holes in facades, old rotting cars and abandoned, collapsing houses like scars from the civil war are the backdrop against which little boys play football in fake Barcelona shirts. A woman bakes bread on a wood fire on the street. It feels like a slum; according to the information boards along the road, we are still on the tourist route. The walled centre has trendy cafes with cosy terraces near the Venetian walls, housed in stately mansions on Zahra Street, where bullet holes are still prominent in the limestone facades, a stone’s throw from slums.
Ledra border post
On the way back to the Cypriot side via Girne Street, we first see the Valide Hanim Konagi Hotel, a monumental building with antique tiles on the floor, a wooden staircase and a bar. We drink a glass of wine and feel very sophisticated, like a British Lord and Lady. Further down the street is the historic Rustem’s bookstore—where Harry Potter would have felt at home. At the back of the store is a terrace where a fig tree provides shade during the day and a mesmerising scent in the evening. A simple bar, wooden chairs, some Picasso posters, a Gin and tonic and life is perfect for a while.
The coast near Larnaca is more Lloret de Mar than Cinque Terre but without the golden beaches of the Costa Brava. The sand here is the colour of a white coffee. The coast is lined with unimaginative buildings, beach boulevards with obligatory eateries and shops selling tourist shit, amusement parks, and lots of sun loungers on the beach.
The Larnaca Salt Lake, where flamingos are said to hibernate in winter, is dry. The lake has a lot of pink salt, little water and no flamingos. The tomb and mosque of Hala Sultan lie on the banks of the lake, sheltered between palm trees. Admission is free, provided you are neatly dressed, i.e. knees and shoulders covered.
We continue exploring a picturesque mountain village, Lefkara, at the foot of the Troodos Mountains. This is how I imagined Cyprus with old stacked stone houses. The ‘women’ of Lefkara make lace and silver, at least according to the signs along the road. I think a factory secretly spits out the lace in large quantities, and the women are paid to entertain the tourists.
There is a beautiful boutique hotel in the village of Lefkara, the Agora Hotel, with a turquoise pool on the patio.
The peak of Olympus is almost two thousand meters high in the Troodos Mountains. In winter it is possible to ski there. Now, a smell of wet conifers lingers around the slopes. One of the black pines (Pinus nigra) on the mountain is more than five hundred years old. The tree germinated sometime during Luther’s life and the beginning of the Reformation. I sit down on a colourful rock formation for a photo. For a moment, I feel like a Greek Goddess on a mythical mountain.
Artemis walking trail
From Artemis’s walking trail, the view of the surroundings is fantastic. On the way to the coast by car, the red-brown earth mixes with the autumn colours of deciduous trees. Large amounts of crumbled boulders litter the road. It is an art to avoid them during the sharp hairpin bends downhill. Otherwise, the roads are in surprisingly good condition. Wide, with an immaculate surface, it doesn’t get dangerous anywhere despite the rough gradients. Mountain goats with curled horns cross the road just in front of us. We are down on the island’s north side at half past five.
It is almost dark when we pass through the Akamas National Forest Park. A shame we can´t see it in the dark. It is a fantastic nature reserve. Two hours later, we are in Paphos. My travelling companion suggests seeing the Neolithic antiquities in the archaeological park. Here lie the ruins of the cult of Aphrodite and pre-Hellenic gods of fertility. The mosaics of Nea Paphos are among the most beautiful in the world. Only it is pitch dark; we see nothing behind the giant fence along the park. Luckily, there is a large boulevard by the sea with terraces and hotels where you can enjoy a sundowner and a meal.
At Ayia Napa, the sandy beaches are red, and the water is turquoise. With my feet in the sand, doing nothing for a few hours except listening to the sound of the waves, I finally feel like I am on holiday. In mid-November, we have the beach to ourselves. Given the number of hotels, this island will likely get quite busy in the high season. But the flights have paused until next year, according to a kiosk owner. Meanwhile, the weather is still lovely, around twenty-five degrees Celsius. We can get an ice cream before he closes the place until the following season.
Ayia Napa Underwater Museum
The town has an underwater museum with statues which can be viewed while diving or snorkelling. We don’t have diving goggles, and the diving schools are closed for the season. Too bad, because it looks pretty cool.
A little further on is another open-air museum, a sculpture garden with hundreds of works of art overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, among cacti, agaves and oleanders. The museum is free to visit.
From the beach, we drive to Cabo Greco, a national park. Hiking trails run along high rock walls. The landscape changes around every bend while the surf crashes against the rocks in the background. Cliffs, ravines, and stretches of desert overlook the blue of the sea. Lizards quickly dart into the undergrowth as we approach.
In the background, there is a sound between whistling and chirping. I have no idea what kind of animal makes such a sound. At sunset, a mosquito army comes to life. These are not conscripted mosquitoes sent against their will. This is the Wagner of insects. Cruel, passionate, out to do as much damage as possible. The result: my limbs have lumps the size of nickels.
Our holiday is over.
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