Now imagine this. Try and remember all the wonderful images you might have about Greece and the spectacular Turkey. Now mix them up, jiggle them around in a jar and plonk them in the middle of the Mediterranean. What you get now is the sublime Cyprus.
This war-torn country has demanded a special place in the history since ages. Sadly, the militaries of Turkey, USA, UK and Greece treat it as a vantage point between the Europe and the middle-east. The result- a country torn apart into two, friends no longer in contact and red tape that inhibits progress. It’s highlighted nowhere better than the shooting of Solomos Solomou, a Greek Cypriot refugee that invited a worldwide human rights criticism.
But Cypriots are nothing if not resilient. Our driver Nikos was an example. During the British dominance of Cyprus, he was the son of a wealthy businessman. The civil war ensued and he lost many of his friends and the business went south. His Turk Cypriot friends had to cross a hastily drawn border. But talk to him for five minutes and he oozes optimism. Even while showing us the deserted Turkish/Cypriot parts of Larnaca. Now the Turkish part of Cyprus is a self-declared state, Northern Cyprus, though none other than Turkey recognize its official status.
Luckily one of the days we visited was also the Super-Moon time. It was a good time to observe the phenomenon when the moon is low on the horizon. It looks huge, way bigger than when it is high up in the sky. It’s an optical illusion, an apparent variation in the moon’s size is due to the fact that it has an elliptical, not circular orbit around the earth, unlike most other bodies roaming the sky. At its closest, it is 48,280 kilometres closer to earth than when it is furthest away. So on November 14th 2016, we were lucky to walk along the Larnaca and Promenade and stay long enough to catch the Super-moon.
- Agios Lazarus Church: This vividly decorated church is where St. Lazarus is buried. You can climb the stairs at the chapel and have a look at the tomb. There is an adjacent Byzantine museum as well. It’s well worth a visit.
2. Hala Sultan Tekke: This sacred mosque honors the prophet Muhammad’s wet-nurse, Umm Haram, who is said to have died at this site after falling from her donkey, and a shrine was dedicated over her tomb in AD 645
3. Salt Lake: The serene salt lake next to the Tekke is perfect for an evening stroll. During winter the lake is filled with Flamingoes. Flamingos are actually dull gray or white. They eat algae and crustaceans that contain pigments called carotenoids. Enzymes in their liver break down the carotenoids into the pink and orange pigment molecules that are absorbed by fats deposited in the feathers, bill, and legs of the flamingos and they turn pink. So thank the lake for the color.
4. Cape Greco: The famous stunning arch at Cape Greco was one of the most clicked locations of the island nation. It’s washed away now. An hour’s drive from Larnaca. Cape Greco is still famous for the limestone beaches, and beach caves. Good trekking spot as well.
What I Read: This book by Lawrence Durrell depicts the struggle and accounts the Enosis (Political union) movement for freedom of the island from British colonial rule. Great Read..
What I Saw: As a Shakespeare fan, I couldn’t but help see once more Lawrence Fishburne in Othello (1995). The story is set in Cyprus during the Turkish invasion for relevance. Read on..
- Cyprus is not fully part of the EU, bit accepts Schengen. A separate visa is needed for the Northern Cyprus (an independent state recognized only by Turkey). They also accept Schengen but a little reluctantly. However crossing the borders in Cyprus is fine if you have some visas like the US, Schengen etc on your passport. Read on..
- My friend once had a Schengen Visa for Greece which was expired. However, before leaving Greece he had emailed the immigration officer at Larnaca airport that he wanted to visit Cyprus as a spur of the moment thing. They replied that they would check our documents and decide. When he landed there, it took them only ten minutes and some regular questions to stamp his passport. But, it may not work for everyone so plan ahead. Get a Schengen…
- In Cyprus Euro works. But in Norther n Cyprus, Turkish Lira is preferred, though you can get by Euro.
- You drive on the left in Cyprus, much like the Commonwealth.
- The political tension if any is not obvious and there is no restriction on travel anywhere. The divide between the two Cypruses is located at Morphou through Nicosia to Famagusta, physically separated by a United Nations (UN) Buffer Zone referred to as the “Green Line”.
- The one food that’s a Cypriot special and everyone should try is the ‘Halloumi‘. Its made of goat milk and may be grilled or fried. It has a weird salty taste. It’s a common delicacy and used in a variety of dishes. We tried the grilled Halloumi. It was sumptuous.
- Most of their cuisine comprises of the Greek specials like the Mousakka, Keftiko, Souvlaki etc. There is also a Turkish touch, especially in the Kebabs and Kibbeh.
- Some of the beaches are littered with the Dragonfish. So get in with water shoes on. They do give you a sting to remember.
- Though the locals speak in Greek with each other, almost everyone speaks fluent English, thanks to the colonial days.