Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Cyprus - The land of Sneetches

After three weeks in Greece and Turkey, we headed to the island nation of Cyprus in the Mediterranean. Cyprus is about the half the size of Connecticut, and is split into two "countries" The southern half being known as Cyprus and and the northern half as The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Cyprus is recognized as an EU country and uses the Euro, the Turkish side is only recognized as a country by Turkey.

This unhappy scenario began when Turkey invaded the island in 1974 under the guise of protecting the Turkish Cypriots during a civil war that began shortly after the British gave up control of the island in the early 60's. Before the invasion the Greek and Turkish population co-existed quite nicely. After the invasion, the country was divided between the Turks and the Greeks with a 124 mile "Green Line" complete with barbed wire, armed guards and U.N. Peacekeepers.  The on-going dispute over the occupation causes headaches and heartaches on both sides. Thus my comparison to the Sneeches. In my opinion this book gets to the root of just about every problem facing mankind. Deep, I know.

We flew from Izmir, Turkey to the island, so we landed on the Turkish side. That meant we would have to cross the Green Line to get to the Greek side where we were staying. Our host organized a taxi to pick us with a driver that was authorized to travel between sides - that is not always the case. We presented our passports at the border and got through with out any problems.

The entrance to our courtyard. Ours was the door in the left corner.
Our stay began in Cyprus' capital city of Nicosia at a lovely airbnb in the old city near the center of town. Here's the link: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1829849 Our hosts were wonderful people who quickly became friends. Paulo is a retired Alitalia pilot and his lovely wife Laura was a stewardess - classic! They live in an apartment adjacent to their airbnb so we saw them often and spent some great time together in the garden courtyard under the lemon tree.

Our gracious Italian hosts Paulo and Laura. They were some of the best people we've met yet!
Their home is near the city's dividing line. In fact, if you walked just two blocks down the street and around a corner you bumped into a barbed wire fence and crumbling structures covered with ominous Do Not Enter warnings. Go a little further and armed guards back-up the message.

Signage at the "green line" near our house.
The areas between the two sides are abandoned and filled with rubble and trash.
We were so close to the Turkish side that we could hear the calls to prayer from the nearest mosque quite clearly beginning at 5:00 am in the morning. Shortly afterwards, at a slightly more civilized 7:00 am start, the Greek Orthodox church around the corner fired back with clanging bells and a broadcast of their service over loud speakers. Oddly, they are both in chant form. It made for an interesting, and early start to the day.

Michael would have loved to try his hand at backgammon - but these guys were intimidating!
Our hosts bought their house in a part of town that had nearly been destroyed during the war. The government gave generous grants to those willing to buy abandoned and damaged homes and accurately restore them to their former glory. Paulo and Laura did a fabulous job with their property. The area is now full of vibrant cafes, galleries, and start-up businesses - all benefiting from the restoration initiative.

An example of a neighborhood much like Paulo and Laura's before renovation.
These houses were dilapidated after the war - but they are lovely now! Ours is on the right.
The city of Nicosia is also divided between Turkey and Cyprus - with each side managing their half. One day Paulo and Laura invited us to walk to the Turkish side of the city for lunch and to experience crossing the border that divides the city. This involves showing your passport twice - once to the Cypriot guards, and then again, about 50 yards along the road at the Turkish side. As obvious tourists we didn't get questioned in detail, but it isn't as easy for locals. And if you feel like doing some shopping on the Turkish side for some "genuine fakes", you could lose your loot coming back to the Cyprus side. Many Cypriots have never been to the Turkish side out of principle.

Crossing back into Cyprus after a day trip to "The Other Side".
The crossing was interesting - but even more interesting was the marked difference from one side to the other. Once on Turkish soil, we were immersed in a typical souk market place and surrounded by Muslim culture. The level of affluence also dropped considerably. As we approached the crossing on the Greek side we passed dozens of high-end shops including Sephora, H&M, Zara, Tiger and more - while no brand names were visible on the Turkish side. That said, your dollar went a lot further!

Strolling the souk on the Turkish side of Nicosia.
After a week in medieval Nicosia it was time to head to the beach for a restful week in Larnaka before heading to Israel. Larnaka is just an hour's bus ride away from Nicosia but it felt like we'd flown to another country. This was beach party town! The promenade was lined with bars and restaurants, and vendors selling sunglasses, beach toys, ice-cream, fresh juice and buckets full of beer.

Standing at our 'front door' in Larnaka!
Our apartment was fine - small and a little on the sterile side, but the deck faced directly out to the sea and made it special. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1742220 . I talk about our front doors sometimes, in that you never know what they might look like or what really lies behind them...well this one was a McDonald's. That's a first. The most direct way to our apartment from the main road was through the restaurant and out the back door to the entrance. We were five floors up. One cheeseburger meal, and a Sausage McMuffin with Egg breakfast later - I'll take a more traditional, less fattening entrance next time, thank you!

The view from our deck. On this particular morning there was a parade!
Our week was spent reading, writing, walking, and occasionally swimming in the deep blue sea.
And eating of course. The cuisine on the island is the best of these two colliding cultures - Greek and Turkish! The weather was mixed, but when the sun was out it was glorious. It was nice to spend a week somewhere that wasn't too mentally taxing. It felt like a "vacation" from our usual Senior Nomadic adventures. Sounds odd, doesn't it?

A day trip by bus to the town of Girne (Kyrenia in Greek) on the Turkish side.
The highlight for Michael was attending a 1st division Cypriot football match between Apoel and Apollon. It was one of the most exciting matches he's attended so far and, as always there are some great moments to share. Read his Excitement in Cyprus blog that we posted last week for the full story.

Michael enjoying one of his best football adventures yet!
Cyprus is an island with a exhaustive history of occupation by numerous tribes and nations. We were happy to have occupied it for two weeks. We leave in peace.

...I'm quite happy to say that the Sneetches got really smart on that day. The day they decided that Sneetches are Sneetches, and no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches. That day, all the Sneetches forgot about stars and whether they had one, or not, upon thars.

Thanks for joining us!

Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads


  1. Such a wonderful adventure and way to travel the world. I didn't know this about Cyprus and found it fascinating. That blue blue water sure looks inviting! :-)

  2. Thank you for this post and for introducing us to Cyprus. As a retired children's librarian, I love that you find life lessons in children's literature--I always do, too! I'm enjoying all your adventures and am so glad that you share them with your readers.

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  4. I just stared to follow your blog. What a wonderful adventure you are having! You and your husband are not only an inspiration for traveling to far-off places, but to do it staying at AirBnBs. I hope to learn more about that as your journey continues!

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  6. Nice article. We enjoyed it a lot but we're still waiting to hear how you get around the Schengan Agreement in all your European travels to nations signatory to the Agreement.
    Michael and Gina Zullo
    Kyoto, Japan

  7. I spent ages constructing a comment about your Cypriot blog and then it disappeared. I see that all the comments previously entered by alexyflemming have also disappeared - or is it me.
    I won't go into it all again but I must just say that I think you have made some misrepresentations about the situation here. My husband and I met here in 1967. He and my Dad were both in the British military. We married in 1968 and lived in Famagusta for 2 wonderful years before we returned to UK.
    We are retired now and 8 years ago we bought a house here. Hence my interest.
    It is well documented now that the Turkish army came to Cyprus in response to a Greek coup and an intention to make the island of Cyrus Hellenic - and to assist the many Turkish Cypriots who had been forced to live in armed enclaves relying on Turkey and the UN for supplies for 11 years.
    The TC s do not speak up for themselves. The situation should not have been allowed to develop as it did after 1960 - when the British handed over the administration to the Cypriots - or as it has since 1974, but we are hopeful that the ongoing talks with the assistance of a UN representative will soon come to fruition and the island and the people will all prosper.