Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Travel Shenanigans, and Spectacular Cyprus!

The One of the reasons I was "destined for Kosovo" (according to my beloved language instructor), is that my birthday falls on the Kosovo Independence Day. Coincidentally, it also falls around our President's Day every year. So this year, I looked early at the calendar, and realized that by taking one day off work, I could get a 5 day weekend, and treat myself to a birthday getaway. That was a no-brainier for me! Although I haven't blogged about it yet (I swear, I will, soon!), I've been really stressed out because I had to move houses and go through a bit of work-related stuff, so this opportunity to get away for a few days was really appealing. Also, I've been in country for 3 1/2 months and haven't been out for so much as an overnight somewhere! I think I was due!

So I booked a trip to see my friends who live in Cyprus. I've been wanting to visit them since they moved there, but I decided to wait until I got to Kosovo to cut some of the cost of the flights. They live in Nicosia, which is on the Greek side. Cyprus is a country that reminds me of Kosovo, in terms of land disputes....the North is a separate country, unrecognized by some, much like the land I now call home. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (whew, that's a mouthful!) is claimed by Turkey, whereas the Southern half of Cyprus has an allegiance with Greece. When I was researching flights, I found that it was much cheaper, and the flights were better, going into TRNC. My friends, who are diplomats, were a bit wary of this, because they wouldn't be able to take their diplomatic-plated car across to pick me up at the airport. But they did some research and we figured out a workaround. And since when do I *not want an adventure?

So I scheduled my flight to land in TRNC, after a short layover in Istanbul. Flights out of Pristina are notoriously few are far between, so although I was leaving rather early in the morning, I was pretty happy with the routing. If all went as planned, I would be in sunny Cyprus by noon on Saturday, quickly on my way to long weekend. But....if you know me, you know nothing ever really goes as planned. So, my 0445 alarm never went off. And the driver who showed up at 0530 called me at 0545, waking me out of a dead sleep. Despite our best efforts, an empty road, and no hesitation on the gas pedal, we arrived at the airport while the plane was boarding. Apparently, that is not early enough to still make the flight. What a load of crap, right? I spent most of Saturday early morning working on re-routing myself, hemorrhaging money, and stressing myself out. I flew to Geneva (check a's way far west of where I needed to go), and then to Istanbul, where I had an 8 hour layover, overnight. So I decided to get a hotel room and sleep a few hours. Which ended up being a *very* few hours, as I was back up at 230 to go back to the airport and to fly to Cyprus. By the time I landed in TRNC, I was truly in a daze of "I don't know where I am, or what day it is, or where the heck I'm going right now". Somehow, I managed to get a taxi to the Ledra Palace border crossing, where I had to cross into the United Nations buffer zone with my suitcase and backpack and start looking for my friend. Of course, he wasn't there. So I crossed into the Republic of Cyprus and sat on a bench outside a cemetery, looking at UN soldiers and abandoned buildings feeling very much like I was back in Kosovo. It was an odd feeling. Long story short, I finally caught up with my friend, and I was free and clear!!

Because it was still early on Sunday, we all went out to breakfast in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus. I was really impressed with the city and the availability of Western amenities while still holding true to it's Hellenic roots. Also, I had the most amazing bacon ever. Seriously. Or maybe it's because I now live in a Muslim country and haven't had fatty, thick cut bacon in months. Either way, it was outstanding. After breakfast, we took a drive to the southeastern shores and visited Nissi beach, the sea caves, and Fig Tree Beach. According to my friends, these are some of the most picturesque beaches in all of Cyprus. I have to admit, even though it was overcast and the sky wasn't blue, the water was crystal clear, and turquoise in some places. The water was calm and smooth, and while cold, I could have sat there all day. Being in a landlocked country sucks a little life out of my soul, so being able to walk in the sand and look out across the Mediterranean was therapy I didn't know I needed. At the sea caves, we approached from the top side, and had an unbelievable view of what thousands of years of surf had done to the land below us. K and I even climbed down part of the way to a small landing so we could take a few pictures. We saw some really brave people had climbed all the way to the shore below us, but we didn't feel particularly equipped or prepared for that adventure. Especially not with her husband and 4 kids waiting up top for us! I spoke with a local shop keeper a few days later who told me that 2 men had died there within the past year, fishing out in the surf. For as beautiful and awesome a sight as it was, it's easy to forget how powerful the ocean can be. 

Even an overcast day is beautiful at Nissi Beach.

The next day, the kids had school, but it was President's Day, so C & K had the day off. We decided to go up into the Troodos Mountains with another couple and visit the town of Lefkara. The village is set in a beautifully quaint location, nestled at what seemed to be the top of Cyprus. We were treated to amazing views during the drive up. Lefkara is known for their silver filigree (also, much like Kosovo!)  but perhaps mostly, for their handmade lace. The shop owners claim that Leonardo daVinci shopped there...and who am I to tell them they're wrong? One store was eager to demonstrate the art of lace weaving for us, as a beautiful young Cypriot woman began nimbly weaving a needle into a piece already in progress. Almost while I blinked, another few inches had been completed of accent on top of the lace! The gentleman explained that his great-grandmother owned the shop, and now his mother, his grandmother and his sister worked there. Sadly, I had no interest in buying any of their beautiful lace, but I was fascinated by the stories and products. Have no fear, I found some silver filigree with my name on it! After we explored the town and spoke with more shop owners, we decided to hike up to one of the churches in town. This church, of course, ended up being at the tippy top of the biggest hill around. Along the way, we peered in Cypriot homes, critiqued their landscaping, and picked almonds growing from the trees on the road (one had a big, fat worm in it. Ew). Earlier, C had explained that Cyprus had an interesting loan system, in that the banks weren't big on collecting on said loans. This became apparent several years ago when Cyprus's economy began to fall apart. Most Cypriots have two homes; one in the city, and one at the beach. And it's very easy for them to borrow chunks of money from different banks, because banks continue to loan money, don't do credit checks, and never collect on the loans. They also don't foreclose on people. [Insert picture of my new Cypriot villa here]. C says that since the economy tumbled, the banks are being more selective about who they loan money to, and that they are actually beginning to foreclose on second homes if necessary. We shall see about that! 

The view of Lefkara from the top of our hike, where we found....

....this tiny Orthodox Church, complete with lit candles inside, but not a soul in sight.

I spent most of one day walking around the Old City of Nicosia, shopping the Cypriot side and walking across to the Turkish side, which was a stark contrast to the modern, Western southern side. As soon as I crossed the border, I was met by the sights of typical Turkish markets: hookahs and spices,  evil eyes and Turkish delight. I found a small indoor market that satisfied my need for massive amounts of Turkish products, and wandered some of the old sites for a while before crossing back into the Cypriot side. 

And I've written this whole post without mentioning the kebabs, the shawarma, the hummus, the 4 jars of tahini I brought back in my suitcase.... Needless to say, I can't wait to go back!!

1 comment:

  1. Love this and all what you write!!! Thank you dearest Katie! I was sick on your birthday and could not reach out to you but thought about you and our Kosova :) ��