After I left my hotel room yesterday morning I had a bit of time before I needed to be in Nicosia. I walked along Larnaca’s sea front for a while and then visited the castle.
As it clouded over and started to rain I went to find a café for a drink. It was only a short shower which passed in a couple of minutes, then the sun came out again. I walked in the other direction along the sea front, towards the fishing harbour. Before leaving Larnaca I had time to call in to and have a look around the Church of St. Lazarus.
It was after 2.30 by the time I got in the car and set the sat nav for the divided Cypriot capital, Nicosia (Lefkosia in Greek). It’s not far – it took about 55 minutes to drive and it is motorway all the way. The Cypriot motorway speed limit does seem rather slow though – 100 km/h which is about 62mph.
The hotel I’m at in Nicosia is a little out of the centre of the city in a quiet residential district, but with sat nav I found it without issue. I did miss an important turning coming in to Nicosia, but driving right through the City Centre once the sat nav had recalculated the route was not an issue and the roads were relatively quiet.
Once checked in to the hotel the Sun had come out so, with just a couple of hours of daylight left before sunset, I walked in to the centre to try and find my way around. It took about 15 minutes to get to Paphos Gate, right on top of the border betweeen North and South.
The UN buffer zone here is so narrow that people on the Greek side were having conversations across the fence with those sitting in a café in a park on the Turkish side! People on the Turkish side would go up to the Northern Cyprus flag and take selfies by the fence, with a view down the hill in to the South part of Nicosia.
From Paphos Gate it was only about another 10 minutes to the narrow streets and pedestrianised Ledra Street, with countless shops, bars and restaurants. I walked all along it until the route in front of me was blocked, with a sign poining to the right for Passport Control. I had reached the border of Northern Cyprus.
I approached the Greek border post and handed my passport over – the immigration officer then handed back my passport and waved me through. Clear of Greek Cypriot passport control, I walked down the street towards the Turkish Cypriot passport control, on the other side of the narrow UN buffer zone – probably a distance of maybe than 40-50 metres. Buildings which would previously have been shops and restaurants, were now borded up, side streets fenced off and still looking very much like a war zone.
After I reached Turkish passport control I handed over my passport once again. This policeman entered my details in to a computer and handed back my passport. I was now cleared for entry in to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It was quicker than queuing for passport control at the airport.
It is only since Cyprus joined the European Union that travel between North and South has become possible; this is because the Republic of Cyprus claims the whole island as its territory – therefore the whole island is technically EU territory. Any EU citizen has the right to visa-free access to any part of the island, North and South. Border crossings are open 24/7 and you can cross as many times as you like, and stay as long as you like.
Yesterday evening after crossing the border I was doing nothing more than explfgfgfgoring. I didn’t stay for terribly long, because I wanted something to eat – and I had no Turkish Lira on me. Close to the border, all the restaurants trade in Euros but the further away you get, the less common this is.
Once across the border the city has a completely different feel. Churches change to mosques; the North is a predominantly Muslim country. The road signs change, the language changes (my Greek would not be much help here). International high street brands disappear and are replaced by Turkish Cypriot brands. My phone switched to a Turkish network. In the restaurants, souvlaki becomes kebab, and restaurants advertise all sorts of things I’ve never heard of before. My phone’s sat nav also does not work in the North.
After a short time in the TRNC I crossed the border back in to the Greek part, and walked back to my hotel. I’d done a lot of walking so needed to sit down – put the TV on for a bit, and work out what to do on Sunday.
By 7.30 I was getting hungry so I set off in to town again, to a restaurant I’d walked past earlier on. “To Anamma”, serving a typical Greek menu, specialising mainly in souvlaki and pita – it looked interesting and good value.
Sitting at a table in the pedestrianised street I placed my order, the waiter had recommended I try the marinated chicken so I went for that. The portion I was given was massive, loads of chips and pitta bread to accompany it – I was stuffed by the end of it! I got back to the apartment just after 10.
Today I am going to venture briefly in to the North. I’ve paid extra to the car hire company for fully comprehensive insurance for the North which means I don’t have to buy it at the border (only 3rd party available at the same price as what I’ve paid). Time will be tight so I won’t have a massive amount of time, but there should be time to go and visit Kyrenia, the centre for tourism in Northern Cyprus.
Then it will be on to the Paphos region where tonight I’m staying in Polis Chrysochous. Then tomorrow – my final day in Cyprus – I don’t fly until 8.15pm so I will spend some time in Paphos itself before continuing back to Larnaca Airport for my flight home.
I’m off for breakfast now.