Cyprus – December 26, 2010
Nice first day, starting in Nicosia/Lefkosia, one of the few remaining divided cities in the world, and interesting on both sides. It’s also very easy to cross now for many people, including tourists and most Cypriots, which I believe became the case in 2003. Before that it was said to be a bit more tense. At the far edge of the walled portion of Northern Nicosia (it was the Venetians who walled this city long ago) I struck a deal with a taxi driver. We went through some spectacular mountain scenery to the northern coast of Cyprus, which is not far away. Great driver, and I may use him again for further explorations of the North in the next few days. Also may have found the perfect place for New Year’s after striking up a conversation with a cafe owner in the North. More on that later…
crossing the border – December 28, 2010
I’m heading over across the border again today, this time to meet one of our philosophy blogger friends. Here’s what the border crossing is like when coming from the southern part of Nicosia/Lefkosia, where I’m staying…
Ledras Street, which is the main artery of the shopping district in the southern part of the city, leads straight into a checkpoint. All of the governmental facilities on both sides of the line are sort of like trailers, or like ticket windows for a theater or circus.
To your right is a Republic of Cyprus facility, but that’s only for when you’re coming back in. They don’t want to see your passport on the way out.
Then you’re in the zone for about 20 or 30 feet, and if you look left and right you can see plenty of damaged/abandoned buildings along the Green Line. The big conflict was in 1974, and I would assume that none of these buildings have been used for anything in 36 years.
Then, on your left, a Northern Cyprus trailer, white and with the image of their flag painted on it. You have to fill out a white visa form. They can’t stamp your passport because there are recognition controversies about the national status of Northern Cyprus. So instead, they stamp the piece of paper.
The northern side of Nicosia is rather different from the southern part. On the North it’s a lot like Turkey, unsurprisingly; the style of the mosques is the same, of course.
It’s also pretty easy to get lost in the northern part, though just like in Damascus you’ll eventually hit one of the old walls and be able to reorient yourself that way. But a couple of times, the twisty streets had me turned around so that I was shocked to come upon buildings that I thought were many blocks behind me. It had a sort of urban “Blair Witch Project” feel to it.
Neither the northern nor the southern part of the old city is especially large, but you can easily spend several hours wandering around the northern part.
When leaving, the Northern Cyprus authorities do ask to see your passport and visa. In most cases they type your passport number into a computer. They let you keep the visa, which is reusable for periods of, I believe, up to 3 months. They do stamp the visa upon exit, though, which would make me somewhat self-conscious about going in multiple times per day; as a result, I’ve only made one trip per day to the North.
The Republic of Cyprus trailer then appears 20 or 30 feet later, and they also want to see your passport and visa before allowing you back in. To my surprise, they didn’t check my rather large bag the first time. I had read that they are very strict about cigarette smuggling and so would examine any tourist bags carefully. That didn’t happen.
Since 2003 this has all been a lot less tense, apparently. My understanding (and this is just what I’ve heard) is that the only people who have problems crossing are the Turkish immigrants in the North who want to cross into the South. The original Turkish Cypriots reportedly have no problem.
I’ve wondered a bit if Nicosia was the inspiration for China Miéville’s much weirder divided place in The City and the City.
fun time in the North – December 28, 2010
We dipped into Northern Nicosia bohemia for a bit, then had a nice long meal in a village outside Kyrenia, then nargileh (a.k.a. shisha) at the Kyrenia waterfront itself. Lots of talk about the current state of SR.
It was nighttime, of course, but here’s how beautiful Kyrenia is by day. This is the waterfront where we smoked the nargileh.
Cyprus cultural note – December 29, 2010
In the southern part of the Old City there’s a Starbucks that’s just a plain old Starbucks, sure. But out here at the edges of Nicosia, the chain coffee shops function almost like bars. I’ve never seen anything like this before, so if this is an emerging global trend, it has escaped me until now.
What I mean is, chain coffee shops here are all large, airy, fancy, and seem to function as a young adult dating scene. The music is cool. Everyone’s dressed for show. The stuff on the video screens is stuff you would normally see at a bar, such as runway models on infinite loop.
There are at least 4 chain coffee shops in a row out here that fit that description.
more Northern Cyprus -January 2, 2011
Another nice sightseeing tour of the North today, thanks to Cengiz Erdem (see HIS BLOG).
He’s an especially good host when it comes to knowing very good local restaurants that you wouldn’t have a ghost of a chance of finding if you weren’t a long-time local resident.
But of course, we ended up at the Kyrenia marina smoking apple nargileh (shisha) yet again.