Getting Out of Omicron City to Fort-de-France, Martinique

Getting Out of Omicron City to Fort-de-France, Martinique

 

If I’m in the photo or the photo is really really professional, then the photography credit goes to Paul Woo.

It’s time for another joint journey with The Yacht Week on our second collaboration together, this time for a much smaller excursion to visit Martinique and St. Lucia amidst all this craziness with Omicron.

With NYC at nearly a 1 in 3 positivity rate and CDC telling us we can go back to work after as few as 5 days from a positive COVID test, and after a week of drowning in understaffed healthcare facilities across the city due to COVID positive tests, I’ll take my 14 days of daily negative rapid antigen and PCRs as a sign to quit while I’m ahead and getting the fuck out of Omicron City.

I feel that instead of working as a glorified human testing site (since so few patients are getting sick or hospitalized due to most of NYC being vaccinated so I feel pretty useless as a doctor these days), I feel it’s safer for me and my own mental health to take a week isolating myself on a boat with other fully boosted healthcare workers who have gone through the same shit-show and rigorous negative testing requirements. The only exception in our group is one person who had tested positive at least more than 10-14 days ago before testing negative on both a rapid antigen and PCR at least 3 more times before starting this trip with us. We’re also fully boosted for an extra layer of security.

And sadly not all of us made it: I had 4 monsooners drop out at the last minute due to being unable to make these requirements. We started with 11, and we’re now down to 6. Luckily I bought G1G travel insurance for all of ourselves a week ago, so the 4 are getting 100% of their money back as COVID-19 is covered in the trip cancellation policy. I hope this is good enough…otherwise we’re all going to quit tomorrow and you’ll have no more safe or open hospitals left to keep society afloat.

Therefore, unlike our Sardinia trip which consisted of us filling 3 yachts out of 22 in the fleet, this time we kept it to filling a single yacht out of 5 total on this route.

Flying direct into Martinique from the USA is nearly impossible unless you’re lucky to get a cheap flight from Miami. Otherwise I had to finagle a hack flight path consisting of 2 separate bookings of JFK to PTP in Guadeloupe and then PTP to FDF to make the itinerary affordable (<$300).

Taking the 7:50am AF 621/Delta 8251 flight from JFK to PTP, I landed 4 hours later at 1:15pm, and then because of a last minute cancellation by Air Antilles, I instead joined Sabrina, Kimmy, and Paul in taking off again at 2:30pm for a 3:15pm arrival into FDF. Tammy and Koichi would join us later in the evening on Air Antilles and AirCaribes flights.

 

 

After arriving into Martinique, we hailed a cab for about 10 euros per person into the city center.

 

 

Settling into our lodgings within the hour at Simon Hotel by the bay, we then sauntered in an empty plaza outside. One of my favorite things in life are freedom you feel in the first few minutes of every new trip.

 

 

We then walked over 10 min into a city completely shuttered for Sunday.

 

 

We headed into town to Market Hall Fort-de-France.

 

 

Then turned back around for a visit to Schœlcher Park which faces the town’s cultural center and Court of Appeals

 

 

Nearby, don’t miss St. Louis Cathedral, built in 1895.

 

 

Nearby is the town’s prettiest structure: Bibliothèque Schœlcher, which houses the works of abolitionist Victor Schoelcher.

 

 

We then crossed into Parc La Savane for a glimpse of local living.

 

 

We then kept walking further down to enjoy music by the Malecon at sunset:

 

 

We then walked down peninsula past the park for Fort Saint-Louis: a fortress, former naval base, and now public museum originally built during the reign of Louis XIII.

 


 

Afterwards we finally had our first meal of the day at the hotel terrace restaurant where we devoured their entire menu despite missing items.

 

 

Then we took back a bottle of white wine and enjoyed a round of “We’re Not Really Strangers” before kicking off an impromptu jam session: Tammy somehow packed both a guitar and ukelele in her carry-on; she even almost brought a keyboard!

 

 

The next morning we tried to visit all of the above when everything would be open on a Monday, including the best fried fish sandwich I’ve enjoyed in recent memory. Thanks to Paul’s find, we went to find the obvious reason why: Asian.

 

 

The town is so small we didn’t mind another walk around the neighborhood:

 

 

 

After enjoying a rooftop drink, we then set off on our cab ride to the marina to be with the rest of the yacht weekers. If you have time on your drive, do a short detour for Sacré-Coeur de Balata, surrounded by cliffs north of Fort-de-France.

 

 

The views from here:

 

 

- At time of posting in Fort-de-France, it was 23 °C - Humidity: 73% | Wind Speed: 13km/hr | Cloud Cover: partly cloudy

 

I Want “Paler-mo” Of It!

I Want “Paler-mo” Of It!

 

After 2 days relaxing in the off-the-beaten-path island of Lampedusa, the gang took a direct evening flight out to Palermo, capital of Sicily, afterwards.

 

 

Founded by Phoenicians under the name of “Ziz” and later renamed by Greeks “Panormos”, which means “all port,” Palermo’s golden age was during Arab rule from 9th to 11th centuries AD when it became one of the most prosperous cities in the Mediterranean and Europe.

 

 

It was referred to as the “city of delights” for its gardens, mosques and palaces.

 

 

After the Normans conquered Palermo, they destroyed most of the palaces and mosques, but replaced it with a unique architectural mix of Arabesque, Romanesque, and Byzantine influences known as the “Arab-Norman Style of Sicily.”

 

 

Modern history, however, would make Sicily infamous for cosa nostra, aka the Mafia that now predominate the popular culture consciousness whenever Sicily is referred.

 

 

Let’s begin.

 

 

Starting from the west side of Palermo, we tried to visit the unique Catacombe dei Cappuccini filled with 8000 dressed up corpses and skeletons, but it was closed at the time of posting. So we walked by the 9th century neo-classical era Norman Palace instead, where the ancient chapel Cappella Palatina is also located; you can find elaborate Byzantine mosaics and paintings inside.

 

 

While here you might as well also peek inside the red-domed medieval church San Giovanni degli Eremiti:

 

 

 

Then working your way beginning east towards the harbor, pass through the symbolic and landmark Porto Nuovo, built in 1570.

 

 

Weave around Teatro Marmoreo and through Villa Bonanno park

 

 

As you walk east towards the water, stop by 12th century Cattedrale di Palermo:

 

 

If you pay the 12-15 euro ticket to access the rest of the cathedral, there’s the gorgeous roof:

 

 

…and the underground tombs:

 

 

Take a detour at the open-air Market Ballaro:

 

 

Head into the winding alleyways further east to find the baroque Chiesa del Gesù, built in the 1630s:

 

 

There’s also Church of San Cataldo, built in 1154 and featuring landmark Byzantine mosiacs, including Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio which lies next door.

 

 

…and equally beautiful Chiesa di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria:

 

 

Inside there’s a monastery you can stroll through for a few euros:

 

 

Then swing around Genius of Palermo Statue:

 

 

…past Fontana del Garraffo:

 

 

…past Fontana del Cavallo Marino:

 

 

…and as you approach Porta Felice, you know you’ve reached the sea:

 

 

There’s also an abandoned UNESCO World Heritage Site Ponte dell’Ammiraglio (“Admiral’s Bridge”) to the south, although there’s nothing much else to do around here:

 

 

Donna and I are taking it easy from here on out, because from here it’s a long way home. Brian knows it:

 

 

Palermo to Rome to Brussels …to Paris

The original plan was fly from Palermo to Rome to Brussels to NYC. So after Donna and I parted ways at the Palermo airport, I did just that. Once arriving into Brussels, however, it felt like …something was pulling me to Paris. I don’t know why since “I have come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains” …but I trust my gut. 

MXMS and Carla Bruni play on and on in my head.

 

Passing by the very same piano that caused us to miss our flight to Lampedusa 3 days prior

 

While arriving into Brussels, I got on the chat with United and asked if I could change my economy Brussels to NYC flight to a free business class upgrade at no extra cost. The answer: Sure, but you’ll have to get from Brussels to Paris and take a flight from there instead. Furthermore…

  • Evie also left her ONLY charger back in Palermo, and she was going to be in Paris that night.
  • Gina and Priscilla decided on a whim yesterday to extend their layover in Paris an extra day.
  • Priscilla had something personal of mine. And her foot, which had been injured during Yacht Week and became taken under my medical attention, appeared to need extra care.
  • Gina was still probably annoyed Evie, Sabrina, Sampson, Donna and I all barged to crash in her room 5 days ago in Olbia. It was a bad goodbye; I owed her a drink.
  • We would all be in Paris after a united last minute extension of all our trips. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

These were enough signs. And so I booked the next Brussels to Paris Thalys 9388 train at 9:16pm, arriving into Paris at 10:38pm where I would crash with one of them before all our morning flights back to the USA at 10am. It would be perfect.

But as we all know with travel, “perfect” may always involve a snag where the universe tests your will: Soon after booking my train ticket, I would get emails from Thalys every 15 minutes informing me of significant track delays up to 2 hours long. Every email indicated a longer and longer delay, to the point I was worried they were going to cancel the train entirely.

 

 

And yet when there’s a will there’s a way: although I had considered giving up on the idea of Paris as the logistics seemed too prohibitive, the prior Thalys 9376 train that had been due to arrive at 7:13pm in Brussels Midi Station instead pulled into the platform in front of me at 8:50pm. It was also running nearly 2 hours late, but oddly did not show up on the departure board as a possibility.

I immediately asked if I could board this one instead, but the agent at the station informed me that my ticket I had bought for the 9:16pm 9388 train would not apply and I would not be allowed onboard 9376. Once she left, I stowed away onboard the 9376 anyway, staying in between cars looking for a place to put my bags, pretending to wait for the bathroom, and hanging out at the café until the bullet train was well already in France.

Eventually my ruse would be noticed (I’m the worst spy ever), but after a discussion with the onboard police, playing stupid showing them I had already purchased a ticket but for a different train, a copy of a negative test for COVID-19 (with a BivaxNOW self-test kit which I had done with Donna the day before…thanks Donna!), that I was fully vaccinated, and a USA passport to accompany my vaccine card, they had no legitimate reason to throw me off the train when we were already 10 minutes away from Paris Gare du Nord station. Checkmate.

And to even make it more opportune, Evie’s hotel — where I could drop off my stuff — was located immediately outside the train station. Does that sound familiar to the beginning of this trip when I had arrived into Florence train station to briefly meet Patricia? WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

Evie would have travel issues of her own: her flight from Valencia almost would be cancelled by a tornado there. Nevertheless it was a false alarm as she arrived, although 45 minutes late. Then from her hotel room we both set out to meet Priscilla and Gina, surprising them both (well, really just Priscilla; Gina had said she always knew I’d had it in me to make it work) that we’d make it in time right before they went to bed. And so our goodbye 5 days ago in Olbia was extended in none other than a midnight in Paris. 

Having stayed up for our third sunrise, we felt the third time is always the charm.

 

 

Then at 8am Priscilla, Gina and I then coordinated a cab together back to CDG where we would be all leaving at similar times back for our onward connecting flights home. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

And of all the business class flights to be upgraded to for free, United would choose SWISS Airlines, with the exact same layover in the exact same city of Zurich . . .  WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

 

 

. . . and in the exact same 7A seat I had flown to begin this trip 16 days ago. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN.

 

 

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN

 

 

The magic of the universe has and shall continue. Whether in circles or forward, probably the next step for us would be time travel.

 

- At time of posting in Palermo, Sicily, it was 30 °C - Humidity: 61% | Wind Speed: 23km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

 

“I Love Lamp”-edusa

“I Love Lamp”-edusa

 

Definitely didn’t look nearly like this 24 hours prior to taking this photo…

 

 

After a week rampaging throughout Sardinia’s coastline including a pitstop in Corsica — with a final night belonging in a 90s teen prom movie (I really can’t describe it in any other way … it was that … perfectly bittersweet) — we tried to take it easy the next morning with a spa day relaxing in Olbia.

Some of us having pulled a second all nighter for our final sunrise, we returned to the yachts, quickly took the trash out, made one final camp check, gave our goodbye hugs to Mihaela, Ann, and Jeanette from the marina, and walked over to the hotel Priscilla, Gina, Alex, etc. were staying in.

 

 

All I can remember it was a dreary struggle of a morning, especially after coming down from a high of the night before. Once I saw a bed, my body fell hard without even realizing until later how the marina arrivals — Sabrina, Donna, Sampson and I — were likely pissing everyone else who booked the hotel as they graciously still let us use their rooms to crash in for an hour (I’M SO SORRY).

 

 

After Priscilla, Donna, Sampson, Sabrina and I got a quick hour’s sleep in thanks to a late check out, we tried to look for a quick brunch before the next round of goodbyes with Priscilla, Gina, Sampson, and Raubern. I then felt like I was living through the entire ending scene of the movie “The Half Of It.”

I don’t know how we eventually made it so underslept but Donna, Sabrina, Evie, and I then managed to take a cab over to Jazz Hotel by the airport where we then both ran into and said goodbye to Song at the Jazz Hotel, and then had an early dinner with Daisy, Ihita and Radhika before taking advantage of the hotel sauna afterwards.

The next morning Donna, Evie, and I said our goodbyes to Sabrina after breakfast and set off on a morning flight back to Rome, where we would transfer to a quick flight to Lampedusa.

However, while walking over at the gates in Rome airport I had mistakenly assumed “Palermo” was Lampedusa (we’re actually heading to Palermo the day after) and therefore was misled to the wrong gate. And the whole time we just sat, chatted and watched Evie perform on a piano nearby without realizing we had all the time in the world to go to our actual gate.

 

 

By the time we began to board at 1:06pm, it was already too late: the agents told us we had the wrong tickets, I then realized Palermo was not Lampedusa, and that the 1:10pm Lampedusa flight had already taken off. I took a deep breath, consoled myself it was only fair after a week of successes in flying 34 people into and around Sardinia, and walked over to the last flight out to Lampedusa in another part of the airport. Then leaving my bags with Evie and Donna at our new gate with only 2 hours to spare until that backup flight would take off, I ran out of the airport with their 3 passports and vaccine cards in hand looking all over for the ticket offices.

This particular Wizz Air flight out to Lampedusa from Rome was not showing up on my searches online, and the Wizz Air website did not allow me to buy a ticket on the same day. I therefore had no other choice but wait 30 minutes physically in line, sweating out everything I had drank and ate the past week wondering what my alternatives would be if I couldn’t buy this flight. After another 20 minutes at the counter figuring it out and finally getting our new flights, I was directed back to the check-in desk (thankfully having been allowed to cut in front), where I had the awkward task of explaining to them how I wanted check in 2 passengers who were already past security at the gate itself. By the time I had returned back through security to rendezvous with Donna and Evie, they had already began to board.

Crisis barely averted.

And the whole time I could recall how this near exact scenario had played out 4 years ago when I was trying to get to Slovenia, where Rome airport was also involved and I barely made it work (Mihaela was part of that experience, and it would be the same trip where we would meet Ashley Jia, who had just joined us for Yacht Week! …you never know…).

Yet what I find even more remarkable about this particular incident afterwards, was that everyone else in our Yacht Week group were also going through missed connections of their own AT THE SAME TIME: Priscilla and Gina were also led to the wrong platform for their train from Rome to Florence, and ended up instead on a wrong train to Bologna. Ashley missed her flight home in Rome. Sabrina would find out last minute her flight out of Sardinia would be canceled and would have to spend an extra night there.

I began to wonder whether these comedies of errors was emblematic of something bigger; that no matter how frustrating or random these inconveniences would seem at the time, they serve to remind us they’re just detours — or even required pit stops — that eventually get us back onto the paths we’re supposed to be on. They seem like mistakes at the time, but they might be anything but. Either way we all felt some sense of farflung interconnected camaraderie despite being separated by hundreds of miles of land and ocean knowing we were all going through the same thing…and instead of feeling frustrated at our present predicaments, we actually got a laugh together out of them. That’s a special kind of kinship.

Furthermore I wondered had we picked the right gate to Lampedusa, we wouldn’t have be sitting next that piano for Evie to play on, which could have inspired a random onlooking passenger, that mom dancing with her baby behind Evie, or even our social media, to look at life in a new light as if we became part of a greater ripple effect…

…and yet these are also thoughts I consider when I pull 2 all nighters in a row. One can dare to dream.

 

 

Back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea as the southernmost island of Italy, Lampedusa is the major island of the Pelagie Islands and considered to be part of Sicily. We arrived around 2 hours later than planned at 4:30pm.

 

 

This island has been inhabited by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and Arabs until it became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860. You can tell it has Arabic influences to moment you arrive into town.

After a week in the very Wester European influenced old towns of Sardinia and Corsica, I felt immediately at home here.

 

 

With population of 5800 people, the island is 12km long and 3km wide, boasting a Middle Eastern-influenced capital “town” full of charms and vibes.

 

 

Fun fact is that we’re not really in Europe; this island geologically belongs to Africa.

 

 

For the average visitor who must go somewhere “unique” to the island, they should head straight to L’isolotto dei Conigli (the Island of the Rabbits), regarded as the “world’s best beach” on an official TripAdvisor poll.

We took the hourly 1 euro per person bus from the center of Lampedusa’s central town which gets to the beach on the west side of the island within 15 minutes.

 

 

What we did not know was that you need to make reservations ahead of time via your accommodations to visit the beach, otherwise expected to be placed on a waitlist (aka sit on an uncomfortable rock wall) where you could wait up to 2 hours to get in.

 

 

Thanks to a kind Italian nuclear engineer named Claudia (and her parents!) from Naples living in London, her watermelon themed umbrella kept us sane for our 2 hours underneath the sun.

Once our 2 hour wait was up and after the folks with reservations having been let in first, we finally got to see what the fuss was all about. I also needed to stretch my legs after that.

 

 

For sustainability purposes, they only allow a maximum of 550 people at a time on a beach, with a maximum of 2 hour shifts at a time before you’re expected to leave to make room for another group to arrive. The beach opens late morning and closes at 7:30pm.

 

 

Once you’re in you have to hike down a rock path 15-20 minutes to finally reach your destination.

 

 

And once you do, it’s baptism by paradise.

 

 

Wait this long to get in and you just want to flip your hair:

 

 

No excuses:

 

 

Lampedusa was also a location for many film shoots, so movies fans may also recognize some locations and film stars here. We recognized one:

 

 

After our time here was up, we headed back into town for a cab pickup at our lodgings for our onward 6:40pm DAT direct flight to Palermo.

 

 

- At time of posting in Lampedusa, it was 30 °C - Humidity: 63% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: clear

 

Madeira About You

Madeira About You

 

After 3 days in the Azores, I took the 8:10pm flight from Ponta Delgada to Funchal, arriving at 11:15pm local time.

 

 

As long as you upload a copy of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of your arrival, proof of recovery, or your vaccine card (which we did) on their travel portal madeirasafe.com, and show the nurses at arrivals the hard copies before you head out from the airport, you’ll get through. Otherwise be prepared to get tested before they let you out of quarantine.

 

 

It was a 20 minute and €30 cab ride from the airport straight into the city center of Funchal, where I checked in at The Marketplace by Storytellers at midnight:

 

 

Funchal is the capital and main city of the autonomous region and island of Madeira. And where Ponta Delgada had soulFunchal has attitude. The vibes here are so much more bustling than the surreal calm of The Azores, at least during daytime.

 

 

Because when night falls, it becomes a different animal:

 

 

Since my lodgings are located right across the street from the very touristy market hall Mercado dos Lavradores, that would be my first stop the next morning:

 

 

Sé Cathedral is a few minutes walk away:

 

 

I nevertheless began my first morning in Funchal with necessary coffee at Art Corner Café:

 

 

Eat all the local bread Bolo do Caco:

 

 

Next door you can orient yourself and where you really are at the Madeira Story Center, which features interactive exhibits of the island’s history:

 

 

After a stroll around town, take the Funchal Cable Car across the street from the Story Centre for 16 euros each way:

 

 

At the top you can stroll about the Monte Palace Gardens and the church at Monte.

 

 

You can also take another circular cable care back down to visit the Botanical Gardens below, or take a toboggan for a hefty fee down the hills:

 

 

Later in the afternoon we booked a fun last-minute 3 hour tour on one of Madeira’s Sidecar Tours, which picked us up in front of our lodgings at 2pm:

 

 

Our first stop outside of Funchal was the viewpoint over Camara de Lobos:

 

 

Further out west and you can’t miss the dramatic cliffs of Cape Girão; at 580m in height they are the tallest cliffs in Western Europe:

 

 

Free admission. Try (not) to look down!

 

 

We eventually drove as far west as the viewpoint over the village of Ribeira Brava:

 

 

If you look far off in the right place you’ll catch a glimpse of the controversial sea bass farms here:

 

 

If you are in need of unique things to visit in Madeira, consider a 15 minute walk along the shore to the CR7 museum to look at all the medals and trophies Footballer Christiano Ronaldo, who was born and raised on this very island!

 

 

There’s even a life sized chocolate statue of him here. Why.

 

 

After a slow 2 days here and on our departure from Madeira (and eventually beginning our 48 hour window on our return back to the USA), we scheduled a rapid antigen test beforehand at one of the pharmacies in our neighborhood. Many already have testing tents set up in front of them but they only take appointments, which you must arrange at the sponsoring pharmacy itself.

 

 

Timing our flight back to NYC to be 4pm exactly 2 days from today, we selected the 4:35pm time slot the next day to be tested. This way our tests could count not only for our return back to the States, but also our layover in Madrid beforehand just in case we wanted to leave the airport.

 

 

The next afternoon we checked in at the tent located about a 2 minute walk past the pharmacy in front of Sé Cathedral:

 

 

They really go up there in that nose here! Our rapid antigen test results were ready within 45 minutes and we picked them up back at the pharmacy where we originally scheduled our tests:

 

 

Then I uploaded my test result to the new app Verifly so I can make sure I minimize the fuss on my way back to NYC.

 

 

In the meantime, next stop: Porto!

 

 

A word of warning: make sure you agree on the fare to the airport to be €30 from Funchal; ours insisted on the meter, which seemed shady since it’s usually a flat fare, and during which he then sneakily pressed a button on the meter that went from “1” to “2” and claimed there was a “night surcharge” (there isn’t, otherwise our fare getting in at midnight 2 days ago in the same yellow cab wouldn’t have been €30). The metered fare then began to accelerate at to double the original rate.

We would have ended up €45 on the meter but after a little internet sleuthing and catching him in the act, he relented back to €30, but then entered €40 anyway on the credit card terminal. The shamelessness. :/

 

 

- At time of posting in Madeira, it was 15 °C - Humidity: 58% | Wind Speed: 5km/hr | Cloud Cover: n/a

 

“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’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: