Thursday, 29 September 2011

Optimistic attempt at uploading photos...

Ancient Salamis: The columned courtyard

Ancient Salamis: a fresco over one of the baths

Ancient Salamis: the amphitheatre

Famagusta: Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque

Famagusta: Turkish coffee and baklava

Famagusta: Turkish delight

Home: Nelson, the one eyed cat

Naked Romans dripping in oil...

Yesterday we went back across the border to visit Salamis and Famagusta again.

The road to Famagusta is an interesting one. It runs along the Green Line, and so most of the journey was spent staring at the no-mans land on our left. The line itself is not demarcated by fences or walls, which seems unusual as no one crossed it for 29 years. This is because after the ceasefire line was drawn both the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots laid down extensive landmines along its length, as this is cheaper and more practical than building a giant fence and manning it every few metres. Thus Cypriots were discouraged from crossing.

Along its length you can see Turkish outposts, which are painted completely in patches of red, green, yellow and black paint. But they don't look as comical as the UN outposts, which are basically just one-man huts on top of giant sticks!

We crossed over the border again, and I got my first experience of driving in North Cyprus. It's...interesting, lets say. It's like driving through Rusholme on a Friday evening. Road traffic rules do not seem to apply at all, so it was a little stressful!

We made it in one piece to Salamis, however, and parked up by the sea.

The ancient city-kingdom of Salamis was founded around 1100 BC by the Homeric hero Teucer, who fought in the Trojan War. He was exiled from his homeland by his father, the king of the Greek island Salamis, for not avenging the death of his brother, Ajax. Instead, he came to Cyprus, and set up the city of Salamis.

Over the years, despite being ruled by many different parties, same as the rest of the island, Salamis grew wealthy, due to its prime position for sea trading. But it was in the Roman era that Salamis really prospered, and it was during this time that much of the building work was done.

In 674 AD, however, Arab raids brought about destruction of the city, and the residents fled to what is now Famagusta. There then must have been an impressive change in climate, as the whole area was flooded with sand, until only the tops of the columns peeped above. This did stop some of the destruction by natural forces, but unfortunately did not stop the looters. The area was extensively looted until 1952, when the Department of Antiquities began excavations. These stopped between 1974 and 1998, when international sanctions prevented excavation parties going into Northern Cyprus.

So, what is there left to see in Salamis? Lots! The ruins we see today are from the Roman period, some of which were rebuilt by the Byzantines after the earthquake of 331 AD.

The first area we saw was the latrines, which catered for 44 people at a time! Imagine the smell... Then we walked out into the columned courtyard, a spectacular gymnasium surrounded by huge columns. This was built in 76 AD, but was largely destroyed by the 331 AD earthquake. When the Byzantines rebuilt it, they dragged columns from other areas of Salamis, not caring if they matched or not, so the columns we saw were all different sizes and styles.

Around this area are many headless statues. They are headless because when Christianity was adopted as the official religion, these Roman symbols were abhorrent to them, and they broke off all their heads.

Of course, this prompted many photos of me and Bernie pretending to be headless statues.

Around the courtyard the Roman's obsession with baths became apparent. There were hot baths, mild baths, and cold baths, some with elaborate multicoloured sides and complicated under-floor heating systems. This was where the Roman warriors went to relax after a hard day wrestling each other naked covered in olive oil.

We also saw an impressive amphitheatre, which has been partially restored to 18 rows of seats (originally it had 50 rows). It was here that we pretended to be headless. We also saw: sweating rooms, stoking rooms, an aqueduct, Byzantine walls, and a (very straight) Roman road.

Sadly, we didn't get to see the mighty Temple of Zeus, as it was too warm to walk the 3km down there. The thermometer in the car said it was 38º, but I don't know how reliable that is. Much more reliable, however, is the Ashlea-ometer, which measured the temperature as 'Too Frickin' Hot'.

After a quick cold-drink-and-factor-50-suncream stop, we headed back down the road to Famagusta. We had a picnic in the shade of a tree, then wandered around the walls of Famagusta.

Under Venetian rule Famagusta had great wealth, and impressive churches and walls were built. The city is surrounded by these walls, which are up to 8m thick in places. Unfortunately these great walls did not keep the Ottomans out, and much of the walls, bastions and churches were blasted with cannonballs. They have never been rebuilt, so ruins are just scattered about the modern day city.

The most interesting thing about Famagusta, however, is that it is supposedly the city in which Shakespeare's Othello is set. This is based on the stage instruction from the play 'a seaport in Cyprus'. Also, the description of Othello as being a moor may be a misunderstanding on Shakespeare's part, as he never went to Famagusta. The Venetian ruler of Cyprus in 1506-08 was called Christoforo Moro, whose surname means 'Moor', though he himself wasn't a moor.

The second most interesting thing about Famagusta is Petek's Patisserie. I said in the previous blog I would talk about the treats today, and here we go.

Turkish Coffee

Taking a sip of Turkish coffee is like being punched in the face. Its rather extreme potency comes from the preparation process. First, one teaspoon of coffee is boiled in one cup of water in a small long-handed pot called a 'cezve' until it froths up. A small amount of the froth is then poured off into the cup, and the cezve is returned to the heat. It is boiled again, and then served.

When you order your coffee you have to specify how much sugar you would like: çok şekerli (with sugar - 'sweet as love'), orta (medium-sweet), or şekersiz (unsweetened - 'bitter as poison'). As it is so intense it is served with a carton of water, to prevent the inevitable dehydration.


Just one word – amazing! I don't even like honey, and I gobbled my portion down pretty damn swiftly, and returned to buy more to take back to the UK (fortunately everywhere in Famagusta accepts Euros as payment, performing a rather informal 2:1 conversion from Turkish Lira for us).

Turkish Delight

I do not like the Turkish delight I've had in England. Especially the rose flavoured stuff, its pretty revolting. However, the counter at Peteks is a smorgasbord of brightly-coloured, coconut-covered cubes, and I couldn't resist. They have pieces containing hazelnuts, pistachios, even carrots! And it tastes nothing like that gelatinous rubbish we have at home.

I wish I could show you pictures of all the exciting things I've seen/eaten, but sadly it is not to be :(

In other news, North Cyprus is the only country I've been where homosexuality is illegal. Attempted to look straight for the visit but probably failed miserably.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Famagusta, and a nice history lesson for you all.

I arrived in Cyprus just after a big thunderstorm, so the air was hot but not heavy. My first impression was that Cyprus is very beige. Everything is beige – the dirt, the buildings, the roads...

Actually, I tell a lie. My first impression was that Cyprus is so very Anglicised. The first advert I saw upon leaving the aeroplane was for TGI Fridays, and it detailed all the different branches in Larnaca. Helpful information for the majority of Brits on my plane, but the likelihood of me ending up in TGI Fridays in Manchester is minimal, let alone on foreign lands.

Anyways, I soon got over the Englishness and the beigeness, and we went to Bernie's house. I shall talk about that in a later blog.

Yesterday we had a nice relaxed day – we got up reasonably early as we had to pick up Bernie's friends from the port in Larnaca. This involved me driving Bernie's mums car.

Automatics really are the way forward. Just a stop pedal and a go pedal – it's like go-karting! Fortunately in Cyprus everyone drives on the left like in Britain, but all the speed limits are in kilometres. Helpfully Bernie's mum has written a conversion chart on the dashboard in tippex to avoid confusion.

After collecting Bernie's friends, we went back home and caught up on their travels. They had recently cycled from London to the Middle East, over a period of about six months, and are now making their way back home. They have spent the majority of this time camping or sleeping rough, so we spent most of the day providing food, running water, washing facilities and tobacco. We did go for a nice swim in the Mediterranean, but due to my true Anglo-Saxon heritage (i.e. a ginger mother) I had to dodge the carcinogenic rays with a UV top, and probably looked quite ridiculous to the two olive-skinned Cypriots we were sharing the beach with.

I tell myself I'm an 'English rose', rather than just pasty.

Today we took our cycling friends to Famagusta, where they intended to get a ferry to Turkey. To make sure everyone understands the events of the day, first I shall give a brief (and probably incorrect and naive) recap of recent Cypriot history.

The Ancient Greeks invaded Cyprus around 1200 BC, and the island prospered. Since then, Cyprus has been ruled by: Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Egyptians (again), Romans, Egyptians (again again), Romans (again), Byzantines, Arabs, Byzantines (again), the English, the French, Italians, the French (again), Italians (again), Ottomans, and the British in 1914. The British had been responsible for the administration of the island since 1878, with the Turks maintaining ownership, but as Britain and Turkey found themselves on opposing sides with the outbreak of the First World War, the British assumed sovereignty of the island.

The Greek Cypriots originally welcomed British rule, as it was generally assumed they would promote enosis, union with mainland Greece. Indeed they did try to do this in 1915, but Greece rejected the terms.

In 1960 Cyprus gained indepence from Britain. Under this agreement, Cyprus was prohibited from attemping to unite with either Greece or Turkey, and the British retained control of several areas for military purposes, due to Cyprus's strategic position near the Middle East. However, the Turkish Cypriots, an ethnic minority, became increasingly uncomfortable with the threat of being forced into enosis with Greece, and the early 1960's were marred by violence and political difficulties. In 1964 the violence was such that the UN had to deploy troops to help the British forces maintain peace. The Major General used a green pencil to draw a ceasefire line across the capital city (and later the rest of the island), and 'The Green Line' was born.

The state of affairs in Cyprus continues to deteriorate over the next few years, until the Turkish army arrived in 1974 to take control over North Cyprus. The Greek Cypriots who lived in the north third of the island fled to the south, and similarly the Turkish Cypriots in the south fled northwards. Many were caught up in battle and died. After that, the ceasefire line divided the island wholly, and no one crossed from one side to the other in 29 years. South Cyprus (the Republic of Cyprus) became more Hellenised, and North Cyprus became almost completely Turkish.

In 2003, however, the first step towards a more unified Cyprus occurred. The president of North Cyprus (known by the Turkish as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus(TRNC), and by everyone else as the occupied territories) opened the ceasefire line to travel, allowing people from both sides of the divided capital to cross to the other, as long as they were back to the own side by the end of the day. The Greek government were taken completely by surprise by this amendment, and no one knew how the Cypriots would react. After all, many still had family and homes on the other side of the line that they had not seen in 29 years.

The answer was: the Cypriots did not react. Thousands upon thousands crossed the border in the next few weeks, visiting their old houses and walking around the places that were so familiar to them. The two populations were friendly, exchanged gifts and tears, and since then there has been no major incident. The border is now open to crossing in six places, and Cypriots can now cross for three months at a time. The UN still maintain a presence along the line, and will until reunification is achieved.

And so...back to the events of today.

Famagusta is in North Cyprus, so we had to cross the Green Line to get there. On the way we saw the ruins of Marąs, a deserted town on the border. Pre-1974 this was a prosperous town inhabited by many Greek Cypriots who worked in Famagusta. However, when the Turkish army landed, they had to flee the area in such a hurry that there are still plates on the tables with breakfast foods on them, light bulbs still switched on, curtains blowing in the wind. Since then, no one has been back, and Marąs remains a ghost town.

After Marąs came several Turkish outposts, with the red and white Turkish flag and the white and red TRNC flag flying proudly. Then came the Agios Nikolaos Crossing.

Manned by Greek soldiers on the South side, followed by a small stretch of road then Turkish soldiers as it goes North, the area is studded with customs officers and signs warning of crossing without the correct documentation. We had to purchase additional insurance to allow us to drive in the North, and then we got our Turkish visas. The border guards stamp a piece of paper that is not included in your passport. This is because if you tried to enter South Cyprus through another way, e.g. flying into Larnaca airport, you would be detained and heavily questioned if you had a Turkish stamp in your passport.

After having your passports and visa checked by both Greek and Turkish border guards, we were in North Cyprus.

Since the division in 1974, the South prospered from tourism and entering the EU, but the North trailed behind significantly. However, the Turkish economy is picking up, and the GDP of the TRNC is now around 50% of that of the Republic of Cyprus. As such, Famagusta is still a tourist attraction but does not have that 'Brits On Tour' feel that Larnaca does, and the tourists we saw were mainly American or other nationalities.

I, however, looked touristy enough to represent the whole of Britain, with my white, white skin and my giant camera.

Under Italian rule Famagusta prospered, but invading Ottomans laid waste to the city. Much of the crumbling Venetian walls still remain, however, and we wandered around the remnants of the fort for a bit. We also saw the Lala Mustafa Paşa Mosque, a very impressive building that was built as a church in the 1200's but during the Ottoman seige the two towers were destroyed. It was then converted into a mosque, and they added their own minaret.

Unfortunately the internet connection here doesn't seem up to loading photos, and it just gets stuck on 13%.

After a bit of wandering we settled down in Petek's cafe and had some treats, but I will not disclose too much about this today. Tomorrow we are going to drop in to Famagusta on our way slightly further north, and I will talk about the treats then. For now, I shall go to bed, as the heat is rather exhausting.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Εγώ θα Κύπρος σήμερα / Ben bugün Kıbrıs'a gidiyorum

Today I go to Cyprus, yay! Hence the Greek and Turkish blog title (not taking sides is key to personal safety, according to my guide book).

Due to the resounding success of the New Zealand blog (i.e. praise from my grandma) I have decided to resurrect it for my holidays in Cyprus. This means you will all be forced to learn facts and read my inane ramblings once more.

I am currently sat in the Burger King at Manchester Airport. This is not my usual habitat, but I have a bad mouth ulcer over my wisdom tooth, and have to apply Bonjela at regular intervals (other anaesthetic gels are available). I fear the more upmarket places might frown on my sticking my finger into my mouth and dribbling everywhere. So Burger King it is.

It's like an episode of Benidorm in here.

Soon I shall board the plane and five hours later I will be picked up from Larnaca Airport by my good friend Bernie and her mum. Then my Cyprus adventures shall begin!

I know you are all desperate for my next update...