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Published: November 24th 2018
Kyrenia's spectacularly scenic and picturesque harbour.
Now, I've visited a couple of disputed territories, with some
being much stranger than others
. There is always something intriguing about them though, which is why Scott and I thought we'd check out what it's like in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
We'd already seen the Turkish half of Nicosia
, so we had some idea of what it's like; but we thought we'd venture into the territory a bit further to check out a couple of supposed coastal gems - Kyrenia and Famagusta.
I don't quite know what I was expecting but the outskirts of North Nicosia are actually quite nice. They definitely aren’t poor. We got a decent look at them as our colectivo
made its way towards Kyrenia. In looking for the colectivo - I don't know what they call a shared taxi here - we had to be careful to use the Turkish name for the city; Girne.
The journey lasted about an hour and for cost us each the princely sum of 2€, or about 12 Turkish Lira
- Northern Cyprus's obvious ties to Turkey extends to its currency too. On arrival, we then dumped our bags at the hotel and headed straight out to
Lala Mustafa Pasa Camii
Famagusta's grandest building is its biggest mosque, which was once a cathedral.
explore the city.
Kyrenia has a lovely seaside resort feel to it which reminded me of Piran
in Slovenia, with it's compact, maze-like old town of narrow alleys. The wonderfully picturesque harbour however, is Kyrenia's real highlight, evoking Dubrovnik
, St Ives
and to an extent, even Marseille
. The sun was beating down and it was definitely hot enough to be tempted to dive into the clear turquoise water, despite it being almost Halloween.
The Lonely Planet-listed sights were a real let-down - so I'm not even going to mention them - but there are two worth seeing; the iconic harbour and the castle that looms over it.
Kyrenia Castle dates to the Byzantine era and since then, with Kyrenia being the island's only northern port, every subsequent conqueror of Cyprus have added their own touches to it.
Access is via a bridge that was once a drawbridge over a moat and the complex is quite big and takes a while to explore all the dungeons, chapels, towers and bastions. Some of the old halls have been converted into museums and galleries displaying artefacts from the castle and exhibits on the castle's history. I've been to more forts
Old Town Kyrenia
The compact old town sometimes resembles a Greek island village.
and castles than I can remember so it was difficult to be overly impressed but the castle's highlight was definitely walking along the ramparts, which would not pass health and safety standards in most Western countries.
"Well, if anyone falls off into the sea, then that's just natural selection at work", muses Scott, as we tip-toe and clamber along the castle walls.
For accepting a little bit of danger however, one is rewarded with glorious views over the harbour and along the coast.
Having conquered the castle, we spent most of the rest of the afternoon simply chilling at a harbour side restaurant. The weather was simply glorious as we enjoyed a long lunch over a beer and some Turkish coffee. As I sat totally relaxed next to the water, I realised how great it was to be able to travel without worrying too much about budget and to really enjoy my holiday. Unlike when I was backpacking, my mind was at ease as financially, as I spent with relative abandon. No scrounging around for the cheapest hostel - I could now spend that extra money to get my own room with ensuite bathroom and travel that bit more
More than 1500 years old, Kyrenia's castle by the harbour has seen a lot pass through.
comfortably. How things have changed.
Later that afternoon, we stumbled upon a rally some sort n the promenade leading away from the harbour.
Locals were waving white paper flags with a red crescent moon on them - the flag of Northern Cyprus - and what appeared to be a military band in full regalia were busting out some Turkish hits. They were very popular and a sizeable crowd were cheering them on. There were many youngsters and children in the crowd.
I found the scene to be very interesting, especially considering the political state of the island. When one thinks about a divided country, one naturally sees it as a bit of a shame and hopes that one day, the country will be reunited with everyone living in harmony. It's never that simple however and nationhood is intrinsically linked with identity and in watching the people here waving their Turkish Cypriot flags, it was very apparent that their identity is very different from their counterparts south of the Green Line. In fact, it was living together that brought about the sectarian violence that ultimately led to the partition of the island in the first place. Despite historical grievances with
Kyrenia's harbourside resembles a rustic, old-school version of Auckland's Viaduct.
each other, both sides seem to be doing OK at the moment and there is peace; so sometimes, it may perhaps be better for a country to stay divided.
We went back to harbour that evening for dinner where we thought we'd have a go at the seafood meze. Scott had been fantasising about eating decent seafood again ever since we booked the trip. Living in Berlin, we realised that we were pretty blessed in New Zealand when it came to seafood and fish.
As for our first taste of seafood in Cyprus, it was enjoyable but perhaps not anything to write home about (even though I am doing exactly that right now). The portions were also decent, although it wasn’t anywhere near as epic as the meze we had at Zanettos Taverna in Nicosia.
Overall, we had lovely, relaxing stay in Kyrenia, scenically and atmospherically, the highlight of Cyprus so far.
The next morning we caught another colectivo and made our way to the east coast of the island to Famagusta.
A walled city like Nicosia, the vibe here is different to Kyrenia despite also being by the water. It is far less dense within the walls
St George Of The Greeks Church
Once-majestic Greek Orthodox church in Famagusta.
than Nicosia and feels much more spacious as a result. Unlike Kyrenia, Famagusta's main attraction isn't a picturesque harbour - it has instead, an ugly modern commercial port just outside the walls by the sea, which is a real shame - but its many old ruins.
Although established in the 3rd century BC, Famagusta (Gazimagusa in Turkish) rose to prominence in the 13th century when it became a major shipping point between Europe and Asia. These were the city's halcyon days as the city became extremely wealthy over a relatively short period of time. Genoese rule in the 14th century saw the city decline and at the start of the 16th century, the Venetians took over, which was when the city wall were erected. The walls couldn't stop the Ottomans from conquering the city after a ten month siege in 1571 and after that, the city was left to decay by the new rulers, even if it did eventually became a key centre for the Turkish Cypriot population.
The city blossomed again in the 1960s when nearby Varosia became the St Tropez of Cyprus, populated mainly by Greek Cypriots. This changed in 1974 when the Turks invaded and the Greek
View Of Lala Mustafa Pasa Camii
View of Famagusta's grandest buildings from its city walls.
Cypriots fled; Varosia is now out of bounds in the UN Buffer Zone, washing still hanging and dishes still left exactly where they were over forty years ago, the resort town now a ghost town.
In terms of Famagusta's famous ruins, most of them are of old churches built in the 14th century in order to reign in the excess of the city's inhabitants during its original heyday. The churches are all in various states of intactness but such are their number, elaborateness and scale, that you can really feel the history and former grandeur of the city when visit them.
None of the old buildings however, are as impressive as the Lala Mustafa Pasa Camil. Once the St Nicholas Cathedral, it is a beautiful piece of Lusignan (French) Gothic architecture. Imagine Paris's Notre Dame
with a minaret poking out of it.
Walking around the Venetian Walls is a pleasant stroll and gets you some nice views into the city. Unlike Nicosia's walls, Famagusta's are somewhat piecemeal and don't follow any particular pattern. A lot of the walls are in a crumbling state of disrepair and have become one with the earth. Walking around the walls reminded me of walking the
Walking along Famagusta's Venetian Walls with the old moat on the right-hand side, which is now a park.
walls in Xi'an
, minus the scorching sun and perfect wall restorations. The overall feel of this walled city however was more like Galle
in Sri Lanka.
At one point in the wall, we came across a citadel called Othello's Tower. Those of you who know the Shakespearean play of the same name will know that most of the story is set in "a seaport in Cyprus". Given that the city was around in Roman times, when the play was set, could Shakespeare have been referring to Famagusta? In any case, we weren't too keen on spending the 5€ entrance fee to go inside.
Walking around the city that evening looking for some dinner, the place was a ghost town. There definitely wasn't any of the ambience that you had in Kyrenia. We finally settled on a place called Desdemona which is inside an old storehouse attached to the city walls. With the walls adorned with farming tools and Ottoman paraphernalia, the lady serving us was very friendly. Like everywhere else in Cyprus however, it seemed that the waiting staff are running a nationwide competition to see how quickly they can remove your cutlery and dishes after - and often
Promenade leading away from Kyrenia's harbour.
before - you're finished with the. Otherwise it was strictly a local joint and pretty cool experience. One of the other customers decided that this would be a great place and time to conduct an Islamic prayer via FaceTime.
Overall, I thought that Famagusta lacked the charm that Kyrenia had and would rate it the second of the two. It just doesn't have that relaxing harbourside vibe, which is a shame, as they could've had that if they had lined the wall facing the sea with cafes, bars, restaurants and a promenade instead of sticking the commercial port there.
Some observations of Northern Cyprus;
- North Cyprus has been cheap. Rides between the cities - which were between 1-2 hours - were no more than 3€ and you got a lot of bang for your buck with food.
- I found the people living there to be surprisingly cosmopolitan, although judging by some of the looks I was getting, this seems to have been a recent thing. There were quite of lot of Indians around, there were a few Middle Eastern-looking people who couldn't speak Turkish and a few of African descent. Might the latter two be refugees
Stunning views looking eastwards from the top of Kyrenia Castle.
from Syria and Africa respectively?
- North Nicosia has some funky cafes.
All in all, Northern Cyprus did indeed feel very different to the Republic. At the end of the day however, you are talking about people from two very different cultures and who practice different religions, so it was bound to feel different. It even extends to the types of buildings in each part of the island, both old and new. The land in the north, very much felt like a literal slice of Turkey.
Having now experienced the unique atmosphere of Nicosia and having now had some Turkish delights (literally, in Kyrenia, as we found a store selling them), we were now to experience another very different environment. The next day, we were hopping on a plane to somewhere I have always found fascinating and somewhere I had always wanted to go - even more so after one of my favourite bands decided to name themselves after the city; Beirut!
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