When Neşe first asked me whether I would like to tag along on a trip to Cyprus, I was hesitant to say yes. The thought of a weekend alone in the Lojman was tempting, and I had already visited Cyprus with Rebecca in 2013. I am so glad I agreed to go, though; the 36-hour trip turned out to be a wonderful mini adventure.
After a two-hour bus ride to the Antalya airport, replete with hydroplaning and rudely loud wake-up music, and a forty-five minute flight across the Mediterranean, we crammed into a minibus and got straight to business. One of the first questions out of our tour guide’s mouth was “Do you all know who is Mustafa Kemal Atatürk?”, proving that there is no bad time for an Atatürk lecture. He gave a bit of background on the political situation in Cyprus, which I’ll admit I didn’t know much about (even after visiting last year).
I’ll go into more detail in another post, but the basic premise is this: Cyprus gained independence from Great Britain in 1960; the country saw violence between Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking communities from 1963 to 1974; in 1974, the Turkish military intervened; since then, the UN has had a peacekeeping force in the country. There have been two de facto states governing the small island: the Republic of Cyprus in the south, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (Küzey Kıprıs, or KKTC, in Turkish) in the north. In 2004, the Republic of Cyprus became an EU member, which has brought about a bit of a Catch-22 for those living in the north. Because no one but Turkey officially recognizes the government of Northern Cyprus, technically Turkish Cypriots are also EU citizens, though they don’t reap the economic benefits of membership. For some reason, I always thought the political situation here was much more hostile than it actually is. It’s surreal to have this idea of Cyprus in my head, but to see with my own eyes how normal life in this country with a UN peacekeeping force is.
Crossing the border from Nicosia to Lefkoşa was simple, just like I remembered, but my memories of the different sides of the city were very different from what I saw this time around. I remember rushing out of Nicosia, in a hurry to get back to the lira and the comfort of hearing Turkish, so I don’t know why I had such a negative impression of Nicosia. This time, I really saw the economic isolation of Lefkoşa. Storefronts in Nicosia included Starbucks, McDonalds, and countless chic boutiques. Contrast this with boarded up windows, empty apartment buildings, and mini convenience stores that lined the streets of Lefkoşa.
We left Lefkoşa for Girne, where we explored castles and dungeons for a few hours before hopping back on the bus for Famagusta (Gazimağusa in Turkish, Ammokhustos in Greek). I had not been to Famagusta before, and it was nice to walk through the sleepy town at the peak of golden hour. After a meal that was more dessert than dinner, it was time to go back to the airport and wait for our flight to Antalya. Other members of my group were bothered a bit at the border, so I felt major relief that the Turkish border guard gave me no grief for not carrying my paper visa to get my 20th passport stamp. We rolled in to the Lojman at about 1am, missing a tornado in Alanya by just a few hours.
This trip to Cyprus was short and sweet, to say the least.