“Varosha” Upon A Star: The Best exCYPRIOTnces Are Those You Least Expect

“Varosha” Upon A Star: The Best exCYPRIOTnces Are Those You Least Expect

 

 

Despite a successful border crossing attempt via the Ledra Pedestrian Street UN Buffer Zone in Nicosia from the southern side to the northern side of Cyprus without any of the required materials 3 days ago, it seems that the border guards at northern side of the vehicular crossing at Deryneia had done their homework.

 

 

When we attempted to drive through (instead of walking) Deryneia’s checkpoint from south to north this morning to visit Varosha, we were politely turned away at the northern side as they required the following:

  1. That we had stayed in the part of Cyprus south of the this border crossing for at least the past 14 days (which we have not done)
  2. OR that we’d be fully vaccinated WITH a negative PCR test within the past 72 hours (the latter of which we did not have)

 

 

I think this was my first time ever turned away at a border crossing. But such are the hiccups that would be expected in post/current pandemic travel. I think we took it well.

 

 

And yet still undeterred and at the recommendation of the Cypriot border guards on the southern side, we drove down to a private clinic 10 minutes south to get a rapid PCR, only to be told that the turnaround would be 24 hours and the closest appointments would be next week. Too late. Then I determined perhaps the 6-8 turnaround rapid PCRs at Larnaca’s airport 30 minutes away could be another option, but they closed early at 4:30pm (we’d barely make it) and also required appointments.

But then I realized: if we had been successful at crossing 3 days ago via the pedestrian street crossing at Nicosia with the city’s rapid antigen tests (let alone the PCR tests we took back home 5 days prior), why not repeat our success again the next day at that same crossing and then have local taxis pick us up on the other side of the border and take us to Varosha and back? After getting wifi, I started up a random chat with Savas of Cyprus Taxi via Google Maps. And within an hour and an initial down payment online, we confirmed the plan for the next day!

With Varosha moved to tomorrow and having a few extra hours, we leisurely drove for some sightseeing at the easternmost point of Cape Greco and its famous natural bridge Kamara Tou Koraka:

 

 

Although on a better day we’d be cliff diving, we watched the precarious waves crash against the Sea Caves a few minutes away:

 

 

A bit west of Cape Greco is the town of Ayia Napa known for its Love Bridge and Miami style nightlife.

 

 

There’s also a Sculpture Park opposite the Love Bridge:

 

 

After driving back and forth Cape Greco and Ayia Napa, we then kicked back at Kaliva On The Beach to celebrate Jeanette’s birthday as if we booked the whole place to ourselves (we literally did):

 

 

If you want to complete with your autonomous region checklist, the British-owned overseas territory of Dhkelia is sitiuated between the drive from Ayia Napa and Lanarca or Nicosia:

 

 

After returning to Nicosia from Ayia Napa, we rallied and continued Jeanette’s birthday rager at the outdoor club/lounge/bars Zonkey, D’avillaSeven Monkeys, and Locker all in that order and all unplanned until we finally collapsed in our beds at 5am.

 

 

Despite waking up a bit hungover at 11am this morning, we slowly crawled our way to the free rapid antigen COVID-19 tests at Eleftheria Square so we could be cleared for our return flights home. Then with a quick breakfast and coffee at the atmospheric Pieto, we then made up for yesterday’s failed attempt in visiting Varosha.

I felt like we were legally exploiting a loophole by returning to Nicosia’s Ledra Street UN Buffer Zone and successfully crossing over with our rapid antigen tests (they don’t require PCR tests at this particular crossing). And there waiting for us on the northern side of the checkpoint as agreed, Savas’ 2 vehicles from Cyprus Taxi picked us up on and took us on a one hour drive to Famagusta and the ghost town of Varosha. Easy peasy.

 

 

As we approached Famagusta and the ghost town of Varosha, we felt like we were stepping into an alternate dimension:

 

 

No registration, no admission fees, no drama, and no issues. We simply walked right in.

 

 

In the early 1970s, Famagusta was one of the top tourist destinations in Cyprus if not the world, where movie stars such as Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton flocked here as their preferred destination away from Hollywood. Then just as what had happened in Pripyat and Chernobyl, its entire population quickly abandoned the city as the Turkish army advanced from the north, after which the army seized and walled off the entire city.

 

 

Associated Press Photo:

 

Our photo today:

 

Associated Press Photo:

 

Our photo today:

 

Since then and until only recently October of last year, no entry has been allowed other than Turkish military and United Nations personnel. That makes us one of the first casual visitors to enter the area:

 

 

This is what we travel for: to cross into unknowns and see it for ourselves once instead of reading about it a thousand times.

 

 

We walked as far as we could along the recently paved roads for pedestrians and rented electric bicycles. You’ll know that you should turn back when you reach military fences such as these:

 

 

But don’t be intimidated; all of the military personnel were quite friendly when they told us to delete certain photos or not go certain places. They even set up little ice cream trucks to soften the blow.

 

 

Ghost towns. There’s something about witnessing a world without us.

 

 

After about an hour and half exploring Varosha, we turned back and drove 20 minutes north to the ancient city of Salamis:

 

 

A Byzantine-era city that was built on top of Roman ruins, it’s a fascinating wonderland of past ghosts to explore in the same vein as it was with Varosha.

 

 

Try to find the extremely well preserved Byzantine mosaics:

 

 

At this point I think the girls have been getting along on this trip (that’s an understatement — LWCSD is now an official club):

 

 

Before returning back to Nicosia, Savas added in a complementary detour to visit the lesser known Saint Barnabas Monastery, which was built in the 1700s featuring a museum of icons, archaeological finds and the tomb of Cyprus’s patron saint.

 

 

Then after an hour’s drive back to Nicosia and saying our goodbyes to Savas and Ali, we crossed back over into southern Nicosia for an impromptu dinner at Fanous and a last run at our lodging’s hot tub:

 

 

This is going to be a tough monsoon to say goodbye to. This one was special. And yet it becomes another one in the books.

 

 

RETURNING TO THE USA: At check in airlines hand out the following attestation forms and require you to fill them out before returning to the USA regardless of your vaccination status.

 

 

And if you’re returning to NY (like me), you also need to fill out this:

 

And for what it’s worth now that I’m back home safe and sound — nobody checked for these forms when I arrived from the airport to the taxi ride home. -_- Stop killing trees!

 

- At time of posting in Varosha, it was 27 °C - Humidity: 36% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: sunny

 

I’m At A “Paphos,” Tryin’ To Call Home: From Nicosia through Akotiri to Paphos

I’m At A “Paphos,” Tryin’ To Call Home: From Nicosia through Akotiri to Paphos

 

We took on nearly all of South Cyprus today, beginning with a 45 minute drive out south from Nicosia to the beautiful boardwalks of Limassol and its eponymous castle.

 

 

After a quick bite at Pier One, we drove 20 minutes onwards into the British owned autonomous area of Akotiri: one half of the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia and considered a British Overseas Territory. Some would say it’s a reminder of colonialism.

 

 

The areas are British military bases and installations retained by the UK under Cyprus’ treaty of independence in 1960. The territory remains a strategic part of UK’s surveillance gathering network in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

 

 

While in Akotiri, we stopped for a second meal and dip at one of the numerous beach cafes and bars on Lady’s Mile Beach.

 

 

It’s a getaway paradise:

 

 

After 2 hours here, we then continued onwards for about another 20 minutes to the ruins of Ancient Kourion, an ancient city-state and formerly one of the island’s most important city-states in antiquity.

 

 

There’s a sexy clifftop 2nd century Greco-Roman amphitheater that faces the Mediterranean and still used today as an outdoor performance venue.

 

 

East of the theater, you can explore the ruins and fifth-century mosaics of the House of Eustolios, which was originally a private villa but was transformed into a public bathhouse in the early Christian period.

 

 

There’s also a beach down below.

 

 

The views everywhere here are stupendous:

 

 

And don’t miss the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates, about a 3 minutes’ drive up the hill:

 

 

Halfway towards reaching the west coast of Cyprus, we paid the obligatory respects to Petra tou Romiou. According to Greek mythology, this is said to be where love was born when Aphrodite — the goddess of love and beauty — arrived on the foam of a wave.

 

 

After another 15 minutes of driving we finally arrived at Paphos, a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its preserved Greek-Roman ancient ruins and where the mosaics at Nea Paphos are said to be some of the most beautiful in the world. Like those among Kourion, Paphos is home to a few ruins of its own including the Roman Odeon and the Villa of Theseus, a 2nd-century Roman house featuring a preserved mosaic of Theseus fighting the Minotaur.

 

 

Another 10 minutes’ drive north from Paphos led us to the Tombs of the Kings, a large necropolis carved out of rock and dating back to 4th century B.C., as well as the Shipwreck of MV Demetrios II, which has been grounded off the coast since 1998. Having been navigated without the legal maritime certificates and under questionable leadership, the ship was abandoned and purposely left on a shallow to rot instead of the high costs of trying to move it to a scrapyard.

 

 

After an exhausting day of driving and ruins, we recharged with a lazy dinner in Paphos and by 10pm we turned the car right around back and returned to Nicosia by midnight. But instead of going to bed, our group rallied once more and hung out in the old city at D’avila Cafeé until “curfew” at 2am. . . .that’s 2 nights in a row now!

 

 

- At time of posting in Paphos, it was 21 °C - Humidity: 83% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

I’ll “Nicosia” Later!

I’ll “Nicosia” Later!

 

After our 2 days in Larnaca, we embarked for the world’s last divided capital city (since the fall of the Berlin Wall) of Nicosia:

 

 

The most southeastern reach of any of the European Union’s capital cities, Nicosia has been continuously inhabited for over 4,500 years and has remained the capital of the island since the 10th century.

 

 

In early 1964, following the Cyprus crisis of 1963–64, the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities of Nicosia split the city (and island) into South Nicosia and North Nicosia respectively. This segregation then exacerbated into becoming a militarized “Berlin Wall” between the Republic of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus after Turkey occupied north Cyprus in 1974.

The Turkish army will remind everyone of this piece of history on the northern hills:

 

 

Officially today North Nicosia is the capital of Northern Cyprus, a state recognized only by Turkey and otherwise considered as occupied Cyprus by the international community.

 

 

So today we went to explore. After a 45 minute morning drive from Larnaca, we reached our lodgings at Central Park Residences about a 10 minute walk south from the city center.

 

 

Don’t say I don’t treat my monsooners well:

 

 

We freshened up for 20 minutes and treated ourselves to brunch at the memorable Elysian Plant Blased Kitchen Bar:

 

 

We then entered into central Nicosia with 10 minute walk north past Eleftheria Square, which was designed by the late Zaha Hadid:

 

 

To explore the atmospheric walled city of central Nicosia is a must. So we immediately hopped onto the main Ledra Street, a major shopping thoroughfare that links both sides of Nicosia.

 

 

From 1955–1959 this street was nicknamed “The Murder Mile” in reference to the frequent targeting of the British military by nationalists along its course

 

 

Then after much time and negotiation, the world’s last “Berlin Wall” eventually loosened up to (with a quick passport check) most tourists up until the pandemic, after which this border crossing was essentially entirely shut again to the world. It seemed all hope was lost for our group for a visit to the northern side of Cyprus until the respective authorities that be had made a sudden announcement 5 days ago (last Friday!) that they were reopening the border again. Although set rules exist regarding who can cross regarding COVID-19 precautions, it seems that our group of 11 arrived so soon after the reopening last Friday that the border guards of both respective sides weren’t entire sure how or who to let through.

And at the time of posting, the border guards on both sides essentially let all 11 of us USA passport holders through back and forth multiple times on both sides today, as long as we provided a paper copy proof of a negative PCR result for COVID-19 within the past 7 days (we used copies of our PCR tests we obtained back in the USA prior to the trip). The only issue was quickly explaining how the the month and day is switched in the USA (so that a test performed 5 days ago on June 4th is not April 6th) by showing the date of the email that contained my PCR result.

The crossing was so much easier than expected that when 4 of us were forced to walk back to our apartments to retrieve their paper copies (as the guards did not accept digital copies on our mobile phones), I did a double U-turn by crossing the border 3 times back and forth to give part of my group the apartments keys without so much a nod and an eye roll from the guards on both sides of the border.

But it wasn’t all smooth sailing: when one of us was given a really hard time on the final return back to the southern side of town — even though everyone else in our group was allowed back through to the south by that point — we found out later what they really needed was a paper copy proof of a negative rapid antigen test with an official “stamp” (see below). None of the guards we had — except the one at the end who definitely did his homework — seemed to have been aware of this. However, by the time we found that out, the damage had been done and we already had explored nearly all of the northern side of Nicosia hours after the fact.

We hope this accidental honest oversight on their part didn’t get anyone in trouble!

 

 

After this border kerfuffle we even promptly headed back to the lower part of Eleftheria Square for this specific rapid antigen COVID-19 test and get that stamp that the border guards’ had unknowingly needed.

 

 

The rapid antigen test at the square is free and takes 15 minutes to process on site. Just bring your passport as an ID to match. It’s open from 7:30am-7:30pm.

 

 

Anyways, let’s roll it back to our pre-border shenanigans: if you’re sticking to the southern side of town before heading to the border, don’t miss the Greek Orthodox houses of worship Panayia Phaneromenis:

 

 

and the adjacent, smaller, Arablar Mosque:

 

 

But no matter how long you stay on the south side, the border will draw you near as it literally is the elephant in the city.

Other than with the aforementioned appropriate proof of negative COVID-19 test to get to the northern side of Nicosia, make sure your passports also work: For a visit less than a month, visas are not required for any nationality except for citizens of Armenia and Nigeria. Visas are otherwise acquired at international representative offices in London, Washington D.C., or NYC before travel.

 

 

It’s simply a walk across no man’s land for a few feet:

 

 

You’ll know it when you see the pin on the Google map:

 

 

And surprisingly at the time, nobody cared about us taking photos or video:

 

 

You’ll know you’re in the northern side of town when you see ads everywhere for Efes beer . . .

 

 

. . .and a photogenic pentagonal convergence of multiple pedestrian streets.

 

 

Büyük Hamam lies immediately past the border, which is still running and open to the public to this day:

 

 

…and Büyük Han will be to your right: a place to shop for eclectic crafts, dine, people watch, or take in live music under the incredible architecture of a building constructed back in 1572.

 

 

A few more paces north will lead you to Ataturk Square (Sarayönü), a landmark square marked by a Venetian Column placed in 1915 and the Judicial Building.

 

 

Directly north of the square are the Samanbahçe Houses that exemplify photogenic Turkish Cypriot architecture.

 

 

If you’re lucky, the 13th century fortress/mosque hybrid Selimiye Mosque — the centerpiece of Nicosia’s landmarks — will be done with its renovations and finally reopened to the public:

 

 

We also headed off to the deserted side streets . . .

 

 

. . . just to peek at Lusignan House, a mansion built in the 15th century as a residential building for Latin nobles during the Lusignan period. They were so caught off guard by our presence they turned on the power and opened the small museum inside for 5 minutes just for us.

 

 

You’ll reach the northern limits of the walled city when you see Girne Kapisi, a Venetian built 16th century gate and Ottoman watchtower:

 

 

After about a few hours exploring northern side of the border, we walked back across the UN Buffer Zone:

 

 

…and then totally vegged out pretending we were back in Miami in our own private sauna/spa at our residences.

 

 

1 hour later:

 

When Opportunity Comes “Larnaka’n” On Your Door

When Opportunity Comes “Larnaka’n” On Your Door

 

The country of Cyprus has been open to tourism since April, requiring a negative PCR test within 72 hours for the most at risk countries for COVID-19 and another negative test upon arrival.

Then as of May 10, 2021, Cyprus opened up even more by only allowing fully vaccinated travelers via its Cyprus Flight Pass travel portal. Minimizing any chances for rejection, we corralled a fully vaccinated group as Cyprus has remained my last EU country to visit and made sure even with our vaccination cards, we’d get a negative PCR test within 48 hours of travel.

 

 

The only hiccup are the layovers: At the time of posting, only one stopover in an EU city is allowed between the USA and a non-Schengen country destination like Cyprus (even though it’s part of the EU, EU ≠ Schengen); two EU stopovers in between requires an official entry into the Schengen area and therefore compels you to their entry rules regarding COVID. Therefore if you are not on the exemption list for entry into the Schengen area, even if the reason was “transit,” you will be denied boarding.

One of us who wanted to fly out 3 days earlier took one for the team and found out the hard way for us…keep in mind these messages are HERS and HER experience only at the time.

 

 

Looks like this potty mouth wasn’t taking any chances once she reached Serbia:

 

 

After her messages, I quickly scrambled to change my bookings from NYC-BRU-VIE-LCA to NYC-FRA-LCA and got a rapid PCR test within an hour’s turnaround at the closest ER I work at. It helps to have put in your time somewhere.

 

 

There’s no way they can deny me…or can they?

 

 

But in terms of my own personal experience at EWR with Lufthansa, it was a breeze!

 

 

No PPE? No problem.

 

 

At the time of posting, Lufthansa does not allow mobile tickets, and therefore I had to get through via the check-in desk (where they check all your documents before boarding). On the upside, TSA Pre-Check still is in business.

 

 

If you’re looking for a respite at a lounge, don’t expect much in terms of food.

 

 

Boarding began at 5:35pm for a 6:10pm departure. Thanks to all the unused miles the past 16 months staying on this side of the world, I was able to upgrade for free:

 

 

First time trying vegetarian for business class, at least for dinner.

 

 

Also quickly got in a breakfast after a 4 hour nap:

 

 

Landing into Frankfurt promptly at 7:10am, I relaxed in the spacious Lufthansa Senator Lounge at their headquarter airport. Although they have more food and drink than their satellite lounge back at Newark (in forms of lunch bags, you can only eat and drink outside the lounge.

 

 

Then joining Mihaela who had arrived into Larnaca 2 hours earlier, Deenah and I met at Frankfurt airport before arriving at 4pm into Larnaca: a port city on the south coast of Cyprus that claims to be the oldest in Cyprus, given evidence of habitation up to 6 millennia ago.

 

 

When we arrived into Larnaca, security met us directly at the sky bridge to check if we had Cyprus flight passes:

 

 

Then the rest was pretty straightforward as if you were getting your passports stamped in normally pre-pandemic, except for the ubiquitous mask wearing.

 

 

And not even 10 minutes disembarking we were entered Cyprus and my LAST country in Europe!

 

 

Who needs to check into an office when a car rental service brings the registration desk to YOU:

 

 

Since we arrived one night earlier than planned we settled in at Juliana Apartments, and then having our first dinner with an incredible mezze spread at To Arxontikon / Το Αρχοντικόν:

 

 

…and already on day one, cutting through the small talk and getting to know one another really well at Habibi Café:

 

 

BTW, 1.5 euros for a water jug bigger than your face.

 

 

Although our stay on the first official night of the trip was supposed to be at SIX Apartments, I got this message in the middle of the day:

 

 

Welp, after scrambling again for alternative lodgings at literally the last freaking minute for 12 people, I was fortunate enough to find something even better at Krasas Beach Apartments which confirmed our stay within seconds:

 

 

Right outside less than a minute’s stroll we got our bearings at Finikoudes Beach, a sandy strip in the city center and palm-lined seaside promenade.

 

 

It’s literally right there. A beach as a city center lined by outdoor beach bars and restaurants. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect reintroduction to travel.

 

 

After a lazy next day waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, we kicked off the official beginning of the trip on the Finikoudes Beach right outside our lodgings.

 

 

We then made it to our last minute dinner reservations along the street lined tables at Stou Roushia:

 

 

…then rounded it out with deep deep conversations usually expected on the last night of a trip instead of the first:

 

 

The next morning after everyone’s arrival into Cyprus, we began with a casual walking tour around Larnaca at 10am:

 

 

We first stopped at the medieval Larnaca Fort:

 

 

Then from there and the old Turkish quarters, we turned the corner for the Church of Saint Lazarus, a 9th century recently restored Byzantine church.

 

 

It contains the tomb of Lazarus, the very saint said to have risen from the dead.

 

 

Then about a 10 minute walk west outside of old town led us to Panagia Faneromeni, featuring a mashup of various architectural styles.

 

 

If you’re looking for a little getaway, drive 15 minutes southwest just outside the city to the adjacent salt lake, although it’s more of a salt flat now:

 

 

There’s a historic lakefront mosque called Hala Sultan Tekke and is now a pilgrimage site for many Muslims around the world. Make sure you’re respectfully covered as they don’t supply shawls to cover exposed skin if you want to go inside and visit.

 

 

For an even farther day trip 30 minutes away, we found an atmospheric and authentic Cypriot village to the west called Pano Lefkara for a quiet place to stroll to ourselves and take some photos.

 

 

We then returned back to Larnaca in the evening to welcome Jeanette to the group, before having dinner at the atmospheric Ithaki Garden restaurant.

 

 

And did we mention how much we love having brunch every morning at Café Mingle?

 

 

- At time of posting in Lanarca, it was n/a - Humidity: n/a | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: n/a