Now that I’m back in WA, its time to finish off the blogging for 2015 and write a little about our time exploring the North of Cyprus.
Depending on your point of view, the North is either referred to as the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus or The Occupied Territories.
Whatever your point of view is, there’s a bit to see in the North. In a nutshell, there’s three main fortified cities in Farmagusta, Girne and the divided capital of Leftkosa, three pretty cool castles (Kantara, Buffavento, and St Hilarion) perched high up in the mountains, the Roman ruins at Salimas and some nice monasteries in various locations.
With a great little hire car, we started with Famagusta on the East Coast, which took us an hour and a bit to get to. We got a lot of mis-information about the North before we got there; and we were pleasantly surprised when this information proved to be incorrect. For example, we were told the roads were fairly basic but in fact there were really nice roads everywhere. Famagusta is an old medieval fortified city, with city walls extending right around the old city down to the harbour. Othello’s Castle is a highlight, where a certain Mr. Shakespeare set his play of the same name. Further along the wall, there is the Venetian (winged) Lions of St Mark. Next to the town square in the old city is the Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque, which started out life as a wonderful looking Gothic St Nicholas Cathedral in 1100AD. Everywhere you look in the old city, you see ancient sites, some are in good condition and some are ruins, all within the same fortified walls, that are great to walk on top of.
After checking out the old city, we wandered across to the modern district, which is now a ghost town. Back in the early 70’s, Famagusta was one of the “It” destinations for the 70’s jet-set, attracting thousands of visitors each year to the modern district, where the luxury hotels and apartments were situated next to an idyllic looking beach. But 40 years ago, this paradise came to an abrupt and untimely end.
Following a Greek military coup in July 1974, Turkish forces invaded. Turkish tanks got as far as this beachside strip and what is left now is a Demilitarised Zone patrolled by the UN between the north and south, full of bombarded and crumbling hotels and apartments, right next to one of the nicest beaches in Cyprus. Its quite surreal and sad, a waste in every sense of the word.
Outside Famagusta we visited the Saint Barnabas Monastery & Museum, which was worth a look see; and Salamis – the ancient Roman City that was the one time capital of Cyprus as far back as 1100 BC.
In its heyday, Salamis was up there as far as ancient cities of the world went, although now its lost a lot of its magnificence through a series of earthquakes and the pillaging that occurred to build Famagusta in the middle ages.
We’d already been to Nicosia, albeit briefly, when we dropped off Hugh and took a walk across the DMZ from South to North and back again. This time we were in the North so no crossing the DMZ. We headed inland and parked just outside the circular defense that was erected by the Venetian rulers to ward off the Ottoman invaders. Well that didn’t work. We re-inacted the Ottoman invasion as we walked through the main gate and followed the blue line past all the nominated sites. Not exactly the same as in 1570 when the Ottomans landed in Larnaka and three months later stormed the fortifications killing some 50,000 inhabitants. We passed on the storming and killing bit, but we did have a great stroll around some interesting old building and well preserved walls and moats.
Our next trip was back to the coast to Girne, otherwise known as Kyrenia. Its here we found one of the few chandleries in the North, where we managed to get some of the boat stuff we were after. Girne also has a nice shopping district and some cool bars around the old harbour. But the highlight of Girne is undoubtedly Kyrenia Castle, right on the waterfront next to the old harbour.
We walked along very top of the castle and through its many nooks and crannies. Many of its rooms were taken over with museum exhibits including a shipwreck museum. The dungeons too got a good workout and this is where the exhibits got a little macabre. The shipwreck museum was also inside the castle and part of the admission fee.
The lowlight of Girne was the uneven footpath, where I tripped and bent my toe upwards in a reverse L shape. For all of you that kindly enquired, I was indeed completely sober at the time – on land and sober must be the most dangerous combination as far as my safety is concerned. The good news was that the said footpath was next street across from the Kyrenia Medical Centre.
Perfect place to take my north pointing toe. After seeing the GP and having some X-Rays taken, it was off to the orthopedic surgeon to have it straightened out and have a pin inserted. And all for 1500 turkish lira – less than $750 – bargain (for my travel insurance).
After spending a day with my foot up as per Doctor’s orders, it was time to resume exploring Northern Cyprus (not exactly Doctor’s orders). We took off along the Karpaz Peninsula, where La Mischief was parked. The peninsula is quite big, wild and exposed, with lovely beaches and an interesting monastery at the end, complete with some very friendly and somewhat bossy wild donkeys.
Then it was off to check out the castles, perched high in the mountain range.
We’d all ready done Kantara Castle, on the morning that I broke my toe, so that was a bit of good timing. They say that if you go to Kantara Castle on a clear day, you can see mountains of Syria. That’s a bit disconcerting, given whats going on in Syria, but it wasn’t the clearest day so no Syrian mountains were sighted.
My toe was well and truly broken by the time we go to Buffavento Castle. The 10 million steps up to this Castle were a bit tough on my new walking style, but I eventually got all the way up there. This was a great castle, with stunning 360 degree views once you reach the top.
Buffavento conquered, we continued onto St Hilarion. To get there, we drove through a military area including a firing range – fine as long as you just drive along the main road. It adds a little bit of spice to the visit. St Hilarion was where the King of Cyprus used to hang out and is therefore pretty upmarket as far as castles go. Great view overlooking Girne on the coast as well. Pretty extensive and pretty impressive.
Moving right along, we continued on to Bellapais Abbey, just above Girne. It was a very picturesque mostastery, with an equally picturesque little village, with very narrow streets – a magnet for tourists.
The drive back from Girne to Karpaz takes about 90 minutes and is very spectacular – with coast on one side and mountains on the other.
Its good when you’re somewhere where you run out of time at about the same time as you run out of sights and thats what happened to us here. We spent the last couple of days packing up the boat before leaving for the airport to catch up with family and friends for Xmas.
So there – for the first time in a long time my blog is completely up to date!!!
See you in 2016 for more adventures 🙂
For photos of North Cyprus click here