• Bulgaria!

    Bulgaria: An old Turkish bridge. Go Now!

    Bulgaria
    The isolated mountains of Bulgaria hide cultural gems around every corner, including this old Turkish bridge in the Rhodopi Mountains. Explore Bulgaria!

  • Italy!

    Italy: Rome' historic buildings. Go Now!

    Italy
    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

  • Portugal!

    Portugal: Palace of Pena. Go Now!

    Portugal
    Although next to the seas and made famous by trade, Portugal boasts dynamic landscapes and architecture, including the Palace of Pena (pictured) near the town of Sintra. Go to Portugal!

  • Denmark!

    Denmark: Landscape. Go Now!

    Denmark
    From cities like Copenhagen to islands, beaches, and vast fields (pictured), Denmark offers incredible history, architecture, scenery, and more. Begin Your Journey!

  • Czech Republic!

    Czech Republic: Astronomical Clock in Prague. Go Now!

    Czech Republic
    The Astronomical Clock in Prague (pictured) makes every tourist list, but the towns, including Cesky Krumlov, and the mountains offer a change of pace. Go Now!

  • Armenia!

    Armenia: Noravank Monastery. Go Now!

    Armenia
    With a unique language, foods, architecture, and identity, Armenia is a fascinating country and culture unlike no other in the world. Begin Your Journey!

Cyprus

Kyrenia Harbor

Southern Coast

March 13, 2004
Arrival, Kourion, Aphrodite's Rock, & Polis

On Saturday we (Elizabeth, Crystal, and I) got up early and took a cab to the airport in Chisinau, Moldova. I was surprised at how many people were going to Larnaca, Cyprus until I realized they were all women... well nearly. I sat across the aisle from a Greek Cypriot and learned about the prostitution market in Cyprus. I also learned about the tension between the ethnic Greeks and Turks in general and in Cyprus in particular, making the country divided.

After landing in Larnaca I watched the prostitutes line up for passport control; the lines moved very slowly. We got through the airport and picked up our rental car before hitting the road, the left side of the road that is.

The trip from Larnaca to Kourion was incredible. To the left the greenery went on for a mile or so until it abruptly ended at the Mediterranean Sea; in front and to the right, only mountains. The roads were in perfect condition and the signs even better. We made it to Lemosses without a hitch, but passed by the city to go to Kourion, the ancient ruins.

The views from Kourion alone were worth the stop; we stood upon the mountains, a steep fall to a very narrow shore and then the sea. From here you could tell the water was very transparent, the ruins were great, the mosaics were more incredible; it was architecture one only reads about.

After taking numerous pictures we moved on to the amphitheater, however not completely ancient as some ruins seemed to be touched up for safety, including this one. Next we saw a room of mosaics and relaxed just to take in the view and cool breeze off the sea. We relaxed until the tour groups started rolling in, at which point we headed out and I took my turn at driving.

After leaving Kourion, we passed a bend in the highway and saw the best view of the mountain cliffs, water, rocks, and Aphrodite's rock/birthplace. The beach was not sand, but smooth rocks. However, it was little more than a beach with a story. The stop was worthwhile due to its beauty and convenient location, however other beaches are better so not worth the trip unless you're into history or mythology.

After Aphrodite's Rock, we made it to Polis very easily, finding our hotel was not as easy though. Our hotel was family owned and the father/son pair were very friendly and pointed out a good restaurant for meze... not surprisingly owned by his brother. We again got lost on the way to the restaurant, but found a 600-year-old olive tree and eventually the restaurant. It had a great atmosphere and the host and waiter were more than accommodating. We ordered brandy sours and meze: a traditional Cypriot meal. The brandy sours were incredibly good and we soon realized were very strong as well.

The meze began with bread and four dips: one was pink and they said made of fish, another purple (forgot what it's called), the third was garlic paste, which was very strong and the fourth incredible, although I'm again not sure what it was.

We were all served salad with our bread; a traditionally Greek salad with lettuce, feta, tomatoes, olives, onions, cucumbers, and a little olive oil. After this first part we got 1) olives, 2) eggplant and eggs, 3) veggies (leafy, unlike anything I've had) in tomato sauce, 4) grilled cheese cubes, and 5) a lot of stuffed pasta with strange foods, all of which were very good.

The main dish of meze was lamb, liver, bacon, and pork. The lamb was the highlight and we finished out meal with brandy on the house; again, very smooth. We were very full and immediately went back to go to bed.

Paphos

March 14, 2004
Ruins & the King's Tombs

We got up and quickly left Polis, arriving at Paphos (or Pafos) at about 8:30am. We went straight to the archeological ruins, where we spent time just walking around. The mosaics here were much better than those at Lemosos and their amphitheater small, but more authentic I felt.

The underground rooms were great and at the entrance we were greeted with orchids. After seeing the ruins, we left to the tombs of the kings, most of which were nothing out of the ordinary except tomb #3 which looks like something out of Indiana Jones.

We finished our time in Paphos by having lunch at a small restaurant, then headed out to go to Nicosia via the mountains.

Troodos Mountains

March 14, 2004
Mt. Olympus, the Troodos Mountains, & Arriving in Nicosia

We headed out to go to Nicosia via the mountains. Our first stop in the mountains was Aphrodite's temple near Paphos, where we saw mouflon in the street, "threatening" to attack us. These large animals are essentially wild sheep.

After naming our rental car mouflon after the animal, we decided to drive off the beaten track as were trying to find something we found in our guidebook. What we were seeking is lost to me, what I do remember is the adventure. We followed a gravel road that turned into dirt and loose gravel as we slid down the mountain's slight grade. We then drove through an abandoned town with stones that said 1953 on them, but they had all since been lost in time. We continued on until we found a stream, which I wanted to jump, but the girls convinced me to reconsider and we turned around... probably for the best. We took tried another route that led us into a grass field or prairie, so we again turned around to rejoin the main road.

After a short while back on the main road we found a little village nestled in the hills. It was beautiful; the houses huddled close together and the streets were made of cobblestone. We found a church and winery, where there was a party going on so we were very politely turned away after buying some wine. They took us into their cellars and said they studied abroad in Virginia, which was obvious from their great English. They then gave us directions to a nearby monastery, which we walked to.

We got back to the car and drove through this tiny town and it's very narrow streets to get to another monastery. The signs of this monastery were in Greek, with one in English "no tourists allowed," so we asked a person before entering and he was willing to let us in, I think because we respected it and put our cameras away. The 1300s monastery was dark, silent, and spine-tingling. The icons and paintings were unlike anything I've seen before: very colorful and bright, yet in so much contrast with the dark lighting.

After the monastery we found Mt. Olympus nearby; it was snow covered and we watched the sun set over its shoulder. Sadly, on the top was a military radar station, taking away much of the romance of the mountain.

Once in Nicosia (or Lefkosia) we had problems finding our hostel, but eventually made our way there, only to quickly check in and leave for dinner. The atmosphere of the city is great; nearly all pedestrian, buildings close together, all old, which gives a great feel. I felt like I was in a secluded mountainous town, untouched by foreigners, but I quickly came to reality when we found a restaurant and sat down.

Our restaurant had one other occupied table, filled with Russians, and our host, the restaurant's owner was from Greece. He recommended the Greek meze and so we got started. This version had better bread, and similar olive oil salad, the same four dips, eggplant, and a great feta cheese/olive oil/tomato dip. The meal continued with cheese, meat in sauce, pork kebabs, and finished with fruit. Again, fantastic.

Famagusta & the Karpas Peninsula

March 15, 2004
Lonely Sand Beaches, a Monastery, & an Evening in Nicosia

We awoke and left Nicosia for the Karpas Peninsula. We got a cab and went to the border between north and south Cyprus. Our cab driver wanted to take us all the way to Famagusta but it would be $125 each way so he dropped us off at the crossing. We ran into all sorts of problems here, so soon decided to go back to our hotel, rescue mouflon (our car), and head north on the way to Famagusta.

Famagusta's mosque is quite imposing, but the walled city even better, like a castle with few entrances and only bridge-crossings to enter the city hidden behind the walls.

We also saw a part of the city run by Greeks until 1974. In 1974 with the Turkish invasion, many ethnic Greeks fled south so quickly they couldn't even gather their belongings, so the city remains as if frozen in time. Even the car dealership contains "new" 1974 model cars. This part of the city is now no man's land; inaccessible and guarded with armed guards, no one is allowed to enter.

Although I really wanted to explore Famagusta further, the girls had little interest and I was out-voted 2:1, so we headed north to Salamis, then on to the monastery at the end of the Karpas Peninsula. The trip was long since the roads were pretty bad, but sometimes, in retrospect, losing a vote can be a good thing.

The monastery was fairly ordinary from an architectural perspective, but the area indescribable and the monastery incredibly meaningful to the Greeks. The water's edge was rocky and the water would crash against the edge, splashing upwards. The area was desolate with mountains near the water; in some places the shores were rocky, in others sandy, but nearly no buildings anywhere. This peninsula was untouched, unblemished, so pure, and so perfect.

We got lost in Nicosia on the way back to the south, but getting lost in Nicosia seems easy to do considering the city's layout based on a rounded city wall and a huge dividing wall in the city's center. After asking for directions multiple times we got home... two hours later. It was about 6:30 or 7:00 and the deadline for re-entering the south is 5:00, but no one seemed to care and so our rush to the south only appears to have helped increase our stress.

We got back to our hostel in the south and spent the evening walking around until we came to a restaurant that looked decent and cheap. My Czech roommate in the hostel just happened to be there so we sat together and again got the meze. The food was again good, however after last night's incredible meal most food sadly seems bland now.

After dinner, we headed back to the hostel, where we drank our wine from the mountain winery and talked to the other backpackers about Cyprus and their political spider web, which seemed to interest others much more than it provoked conversation on my end. It was interesting at first, but when conversation shifted to our lives and times in Moldova, Elizabeth, Crystal, and I became center of the conversation.

Kyrenia

March 16, 2004
St. Hillrion's & Kyrenia

We got up early and, knowing what we were doing today for the border crossing, got to the north and to St. Hillrion's Castle without any problems or delays. However, we could have used a delay, since the castle was still closed, so we headed to Kyrenia. Kyrenia's castle is similar to a fortress with phenomenal paths everywhere and a great courtyard. Each tower has tunnels and pathways deep into the ground. The prison/dungeon had 2 holes where people were held to die or be tortured. It was interested, although not particularly welcoming with stories like that to be told.

The view from the top of the castle displayed the clarity of the water and even allowed us to see as far north as Turkey, outlined by the snow-capped mountains. The highlight of the castle, however was the old shipwreck, found in the 1900s, which is from 600 B.C. and still in phenomenal condition. It's hard to believe that it's 600 years older that Jesus when you look down at it.

The town itself is great: old and historic; the sea on one side, the mountains on the other. We had ice cream that refused to melt, but more than the flavor (or texture) the show the "Turkish ice cream man" put on was worth the money we spent. With ice cream in hand, we spent some time just seeing the town, but as the day passed, we soon left to St. Hillrion's for a new perspective.

St. Hillrion's castle was built on a hill nearly impossible to reach. It has a Byzantine chapel, kitchen, barracks, and dining halls. We continued up to the top, which contained a courtyard, more rooms, a watchtower and the royal bedrooms. The queen's window, extravagantly carved, presented a view of the mountains, city, the sea and the sky. The very top of the castle was peaceful and still so we spent some time just watching the world below.

Nicosia

March 16, 2004
Our Last Evening in Cyprus

We spent a couple hours in Nicosia itself today. The Famagusta Gate is imposing, huge and great; across from it are large pottery bowls, four or five feet in height. Next, I reached the city's dividing wall, but not quite a wall so much as a street, lined with houses side by side with no breaks. This line was the wall; they added some barbed wire and UN guards at all the street crossings. The wall was nothing more than abandoned houses covered in barbed wire, decorated with UN guards, and a few concrete slabs blocking all streets running north-south: simple, but effective.

Not far from here I turned a corner to see a church steeple in the distance framed by buildings and a fenced yard where a number of Cypriot children were playing soccer in the yard as if threat and pressure were thousands of miles away, as if unaware of any tension, lost in their youth and innocence.

Leaving the city I bought a shirt and gyro, which was excellent and, sadly my last taste of Cypriot food.

Learn more about Cyprus Return to Justin's Travel Blog