We have passed the two month mark of being away from home. People took bets on how long they thought we would be gone and I would say the average estimate was three months. If you are wondering, I am not feeling anywhere near ready to return. Travel has a funny way of making you want more, rather than leaving you completely satisfied. Before we took off I visited my doctor to get everything squared away. She sensed my anxiety about the trip and took the time to tell me she expected the first six weeks to be the most challenging while I adjust. She could not have been more accurate in her assessment, as it seemed right around the 5 or 6 week mark something clicked. I felt more settled and less intimidated by this season of continuous change, realizing how adaptable us humans are! And as far as being with S all the time, we have grown into loving the constant togetherness. I read some statistics out of curiosity and found most couples spend an average of 2.5 hours a day together, including weekends. Which means by the end of our trip we will have spent the same amount of time together as couples do over the course of 5 years (sleep excluded).
As mentioned in my previous post, my cousin Anna convinced us to add a stop in Cyprus. I thought I had probably heard of Cyprus but would not have been able to locate it on a map. The major selling points were the $40 direct flight from Cluj, 80 degree weather, and killer beaches.
So where exactly is Cyprus?
You can see on the map Cyprus is an island just below Turkey. The country is divided in two, Northern Cyprus and Southern Cyprus. After a war in 1974, the Turkish occupied the Northern region of Cyprus. As a result, no other country in the world except Turkey recognizes Northern Cyprus as a territory of Turkey. The lack of recognition has required Northern Cyprus to be sustained by Turkey, while Southern Cyprus is part of the European Union (EU). Along the border lies the United Nations buffer zone, a reminder of the potential for further conflict. Now that we have some of that confusing history out of the way, the rest should hopefully make more sense.
The southern portion of Cyprus has a lot of Greek and even some British influence. The locals in the South speak Greek, eat the typical mediterranean cuisine, and as expected you will find a plethora of Greek Orthodox churches. Driving is performed on the left hand side of the road, and this is attributed to the English influence—Cyprus was once a British colony.
The capital of Cyprus, Nicosia, is the last city in the world to be divided (top half is in the North, bottom half in the South). The country has some long-standing issues because of its separation and we learned quite a bit about the related complexities. For example, you cannot fly into Northern Cyprus and then enter Southern Cyprus- the EU will view this as an illegal entry into the country. You can, however, fly into the South and cross the border into the North legally. The only airline flying in and out of Northern Cyprus is Turkish Airlines.
Once we read about how to cross the border into the North, naturally we wanted to go. We did not receive any help on figuring out how to do the border crossing from the locals as most do not travel to the North. I asked our Airbnb host and she tried to deter us from crossing the border, mentioning she had never done it and didn’t know if it was safe for us. Her response reinforced the sentiment that the two halves of Cyprus are not a whole. Taking our rental car was not possible since it is viewed as going into another country, and the insurance policies do not transfer. It was sort of a bummer we could not take our car because we would have loved to drive around the northern perimeter of the island. The available and easiest option to cross was by foot through Nicosia.
Visiting Nicosia is like a two-for-one deal, giving you the chance to see two countries and cultures in one day with very little effort. We drove our rental car to South Nicosia, parked near the border crossing, flashed our passports, and walked ourselves into North Nicosia (Turkey). As soon as we walked across we noted the changes from the language, flags, places of worship, and food. I started referring to the North as Turkey-Lite because it seemed like the entry level version of what I imagine Turkey would be like. I felt as though we did something of historical significance by experiencing the division of Nicosia. It is very possible one day reunification will occur and the nuances we witnessed may no longer exist in the future.
One of the more famous sights to see in Northern Cyprus is this Gothic-style mosque pictured below. It once was a cathedral, which explains the architecture. We were unable to enter as we arrived during prayer time. A man sat outside sort of guarding the mosque and turning tourists away. I thought he must have an awful job of explaining to a million annoying tourists why they cannot enter for their photo-op.
Wandering around after our visit to the mosque I was wanting to find authentic Turkish coffee. We turned a corner and I spotted a quiet, almost empty cafe. I had never tried Turkish coffee before so I asked the owner for the order of events once I saw the it was served with extras. I did not understand him due to his thick accent but I believe the order was water, coffee, the sweet red drink and Turkish delight at the end (if anyone is reading this and knows please correct me!).
The coffee was bitter and not easy to drink. I did not know you are not supposed to drink the sludge on the bottom but after I tasted it I quickly realized my mistake. I enjoyed the coffee for the experience it offered but I will be sticking to my americano in the mornings. The gummy delight at the end was a nice touch and finish to the bitterness, almost making me forget the intensity of the whole thing.
After fulfilling my mission to try a traditional Turkish coffee, we checked out the Buyuk Han. We learned from the plaque posted within the marketplace it was once used as an inn to host travelers visiting the city. Today you will find restaurants and shops tucked away in each room.
I front-loaded this post with Northern Cyprus because it was the most culturally interesting part of our travels in the country. While many would equate the South to Greece since they share many similarities, I did not feel like I had a major cultural experience in Southern Cyprus. I guess you can call it Greek-Lite, or as my friend said, the Greek Beaverton. Despite this, I encountered the dreamiest beaches. One of our goals on this long-term trip is to chase the sun, so the heat was a welcomed change after witnessing the beginning of winter in Romania.
Our Airbnb was in Parlimni, in the Southeast. We liked the area because it is hidden from the swarms of people in Ayia Napa. The best beaches are in Ayia Napa but everything is catered to tourists. We split the difference by doing day trips to Ayia Napa to enjoy its beaches. It was only a 15 minute drive from Parlimni…but when you are the passenger of a car with a driver who is not used to driving on the left hand side of the road, 15 minutes feels like an eternity.
Each beach we visited had the characteristic fifty shades of blue, clear water. The water was maybe too clear for my liking because I spotted a jellyfish swimming right past me. That was an invitation to escort myself back to my towel on the sand. I have not decided if I prefer to see what is swimming around me or if it is better not to know. I was neck-deep in the water and could still see my toes at almost every beach we visited!
Truly unforgettable was driving around with S in the car. Not only did we have left hand side driving to contend with but the steering wheel of our rental was on the right side. The roads in Cyprus are in terrible condition and extremely narrow. Having a tiny rental car is essential. The concentration required to drive in a way that does not at all feel natural is unreal. We eventually made a pact that whatever happened in the car, stayed in the car. We had many squabbles driving around as S was trying to remember which side of the road to be on and I was navigating us. The worst was making a right turn! It constantly felt like we were driving on the wrong side of the road and were going to get hit head-on at any moment.
The drama with the car started before we even arrived in Cyprus. We read horrifying reviews on Trip Advisor warning people of the scammy nature of the car rental companies specifically in Cyprus. People wrote about being charged hundreds of dollars for minor scratches, and even reported employees getting down on all fours to check underneath the car for damage. We thought by booking through Hertz we could have some confidence but when we arrived we realized the name brands are just franchises; all of the companies operate in a similar fashion. Our fears were proven true when we ran through the initial car inspection. The woman working at Hertz pointed at “scratches” we could barely see. I am used to companies being more generous, where they don’t count anything smaller than the size of a quarter. The whole situation made me uneasy because I knew getting slapped with a huge bill for normal wear and tear would put a major damper on things. We braced ourselves for the return process, expecting them to accuse us of ruining something. We were so on edge I think the guy processing returns thought we were odd. He quickly scanned the car and mileage and told us to have a good flight. We stared at him in disbelief, like it couldn’t possibly be that easy. Needless to say we felt lucky we came out unscathed.
When I told people back home we were going to Cyprus many had the same reaction as I did, wanting to know where it is and what it is. It seems as though mostly Europeans know about it and travel there regularly. While we were visiting the majority of tourists were from England and Russia. Because it is not a destination for Americans I think we expected it to be cheap. While the plane ticket was only $40 due to our proximity, food and accommodation are comparable to US resort prices. We happily indulged ourselves with beach time but I do not think it is a country we would visit again. I would recommend it only if you are ever “in the neighborhood” like we were.
We have been quite busy since Cyprus! We visited Greece, Israel, Jordan, and are now in the UAE. Sunday we are headed to South Africa and our friends from Portland are meeting us for a safari. I will catch you up on the details as soon as I can!