After breakfast, a morning walk and a little bit of sunbathing (sunbeds are free from 1st December-28th February), I packed my passport, and Turkish car insurance and set off towards the North.
The difficulty with going North is that my sat nav doesn’t work there, so to get there I set it in the general direction of the border and once over the border I was reliant on the Turkish road signs, not always terribly good road signs though.
The journey from Larnaca was just short of 50km and took me through the village of Πύλα (TR: Pile), one of only 4 villages on the island inside the UN Buffer Zone and the only village still inhabited by its original Greek and Turkish inhabitants.
Shortly after passing through the village I arrived at the border of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and drove in to Turkish-Cypriot controlled territory. My phone recieved a message: “Welcome to Turkey” The road signs changed to Turkish, and the number plates on the cars looked slightly different and the demographics of the local people change – but at least my Greek radio station could still be picked up, so I didn’t feel too lost.
When arriving in Famagusta I found a parking spot not far from the beach and went to explore. The perception people often have of Famagusta is that it is completely abandoned – In fact it is only the Varosha district, South of the City Centre, which is the abandoned ghost town.
As I walked along the beach barbed wire and fences marked the forbidden zone. Signs warned not to take photos or videos. An army truck on the other side of the fence rolled past – The military does patrol the area ensuring no one gets in.
Apart from the ghost town, the rest of Famagusta is open for business as usual. The walled city is popular with tourists. I went to visit Othello’s Castle, opened to the public in 2015. I walked up to the viewpoint where I could see across the city.
I walked down some of the narrow city centre streets and found a restaurant to sit and eat a traditional Turkish meal – home made Köfte which are essentially Turkey’s take on the Greek Keftedes (meat balls). Top tip: In Famagusta at least, Euros are widely accepted – in fact it totally confused them when I tried to pay in Turkish Lira! They had to go and recalculate the bill…
I spent a bit of time listening to the languages being spoken and observing the cars passing by. Plenty of Greek Cypriots drive over the border on a daily basis, Greeks were sitting in the restaurant having their lunch; I heard a fair bit of English and saw quite a few cars on GB plates.
A large proportion of visitors to Northern Cyprus are from the Turkish mainland and some come over with their cars on the ferry – I saw a couple of cars from North Macedonia (MK), and heard French, Dutch and German being spoken on the street.
I also note that a few Northern Cyprus registered cars were left hand drive (ie steering wheel on the wrong side); I suspect this is where, due to the price of importing cars, some of the locals have bought cars on the Turkish mainland and then re-registered them on Northern Cyprus plates.
Generally speaking, there are more foreign cars on the road in the North, because there are ferries connecting to the Turkish mainland – whereas the Republic of Cyprus…the only way to get a car in (or out) is to ship it as freight. If you drive via Turkey the Greeks won’t let you cross in to the South. The only foreign cars I’ve ever seen on the Greek side have been GB (mainly) or GR.
For the journey back I took a slightly more direct route to the border, and drove right through the British base – so in legal terms at least, I entered the UK today…Sort of!
The great thing about the border crossings at Pyla and near the British base, particularly when compared to the ones in Nicosia I used last year – are that you get straight through… No one in front of me. I just stopped at the check-point, showed them my passport and Turkish car insurance, and I was on my way. Same on the way back – but the Greek customs officials did ask me to open the boot to check that I wasn’t taking alcohol or cigarettes over the border.
It was still daylight when I returned to Larnaca so I went for an ice cream while I walked along the beach. Later in the evening I went for dinner and sat outside eating grilled chicken fillet (that was good), then went for a walk along the promenade, and then for pudding a chocolate crêpe: It’s my last night so it is acceptable!
Tomorrow, not quite sure what I’m going to do. Might try and go in to Nicosia in the morning – I can get there in under an hour – but it depends what time I get up. I’d also like to drive in to Perivolia, about 10km away and very close to the Airport; Someone else from Cirencester who learns Greek has a Summer house near there. He won’t be there at the moment, but I thought I’d go and see what his village is like. (I think I’m remembering that right, but can’t find what I did with his map!)
After that, time to return home. Aiming to get back to the Airport for around 6pm, Flight’s at 8:15pm, due back in to Gatwick just before midnight. I’m staying overnight in Gatwick and going straight to work from there on Tuesday morning.
I’m off to bed now.
Καληνύχτα (or in Turkish: İyi geceler. Don’t ask me how to pronounce that. I really should learn some basic Turkish if I’m going to make a habit of coming to Cyprus).