We left on a 9am bus from Larnaca to Nicosia, the capital city of Cyprus. It is the only remaining divided capital in the world, as the city is split in two by a UN buffer zone. After getting off the bus, we wandered a bit through the Old Town, and eventually realized we were walking along with a nice Algerian man named Tim. He explained to us how to cross the border, warning us that it would take many minutes to walk all the way to the crossing and about the difficulty of crossing… He then laughed, pointed to a wall, and said, “Here we are.” This was the easiest border crossing of my life – we literally just filled out a piece of paper with our passport number and name, handed it to a woman behind a counter, and were told, “Hoş geldiniz!” to welcome us to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. All of a sudden, we saw Turkish flags and could actually order food for breakfast. We ate a large breakfast in the Büyük Khan, an old caravansaray that used to be called Alanyalılar Khan because so many people from Alanya stopped there in the past. Rebecca and I took this to be a sign that we were meant to eat breakfast in this place, and lingered there sipping our Türk kahvesi (Turkish coffee).
After wandering through the northern part of Nicosia, which involved admiring anti-war graffiti and trying to find the entrance to an abandoned Armenian church, we found a dolmuş (minibus) to Girne, a city situated on the northern coast. The dolmuş driver took a liking to us and offered to drive us to some of the beautiful sites in Girne for a small fee. After taking a quick swim in the Mediterranean, we got back into the dolmuş and head out for a castle perched in the mountains. We climbed around on the castle for a while, eventually crossing paths with two Turkish men from New York (both of whom were surprised when we answered their request for a photograph in Turkish) and a nice Russian guy named Konstantin. At the top of the castle, we took a selfie with the Mediterranean in the background, and while Rebecca and I oohed and ahhed over the beauty of the view, Konstantin yelled from above, “Girls, this is just too beautiful not to take a photo of it.” If I get those pictures ever, I’ll be sure to share them.
Slowly we made our way back down the castle stairs to find our driver sleeping in the van with the doors open. Once he woke up, we drove to our second destination: the Bellapais monastery. This was also incredibly gorgeous, and it has a lot of history behind it – our guide explained it was built in the late 12th century, and that was about the extent of what I understood. He spoke for much longer, but I couldn’t really understand what he was saying. There was some story in an underground dungeon-esque space involving dead bodies that didn’t decay (at least, I think). On the drive back to our hostel, the dolmuş driver continued to talk at length about Cypriot history and how the island came to be divided until he dropped us off and wished us luck on our travels.
For dinner, we took a recommendation from the hostel owner and walked to the harbour to eat by the water. There, we indulged in a huge selection of meze (appetizers) – eggplant, humus, halloumi (Cypriot cheese) – and the most delicious seafood dinner ever. On the waiter’s suggestion, we ordered king prawns and a huge slab of seabass. After saying for weeks that we were craving fish, this was the perfect meal. Once we finished our meal, our waiter gave us complimentary Turkish coffee and Cypriot brandy. It worked well to take a sip of coffee followed by a sip of brandy, as the tastes complimented each other and the coffee took away the sting of the brandy in our throats.
In the morning, we had a bit of a difficult time finding the proper ferry that would take us back to Turkey, but eventually we made it back to the mainland and eventually to Alanya.