Carpe Diem-ing in the capital

The goal of Sunday was to make a trip up to Nicosia, the capital. After all, we’d be remiss if we didn’t check out a larger, more varied area of the island. Getting there was supposed to have been a straightforward 50 minute bus ride, but with the transport system’s policy of stopping at least four or five times on a single journey, it took us roughly 70 minutes. Eh, at least we got there.

One of the most noticeable things was how shabby the immediate area next to the bus station was. You do expect that from bus stations, but at the same time, it didn’t feel appropriate for the capital city. Lots of dirty stores gave you a strange first impression, but fortunately the rest of the city wasn’t like that. After winding our way around a block or two, we eventually matriculated on Ledra Street (as seen in the first picture), which is the main shopping thoroughfare of Nicosia. While it may not be as long as its compatriots in other capitals, I liked the fact that most of the shops there were local, which did add that flavor. We didn’t have a set plan, but the looming threat of rain motivated us to walk around as much as we could. After getting a glimpse of what places we possibly wanted to see, we then decided to head into Shacolas Tower, which was there on this strip. You may be thinking it sounds a bit elegant, but really all it was was a basic observation post, albeit one with a solid view of the city. Something that was helpful was that once we were up there, there were signs indicating the history and location of the major sites; I cannot emphasize enough how handy this was when charting our next destinations. After soaking in the views, we started to head out to Buyuk Han, the former Ottoman tavern turned artisan area. As with most travel-related sayings, the trip there was more about the experience. Before making it there, Polina and I made a pit stop near a Turkish bath/a mosque in a cozy local cafe to power through the rest of the day. We spent more time there than intended, but it was worth it just to soak in the atmosphere! Both of us remarked that this cafe was what we’d imagined life was like in the good old days. Post meal we continued on to Famagusta Gate, which is when it started to rain. The gate itself is built in the Venetian style, but to be honest was just a gate; there was nothing really inherently special about it other than by who built it. Plus, with the rain starting to pour down, we opted not to linger and thus head over to Buyuk Han. Google Maps told us that we could take one street all the way then cross over, but when we attempted to do this, we found a wall blocking our way. Well then. Thankfully, retracing our steps to find the official border crossing wasn’t to bad and lo and behold, we made it to North Cyprus. Given my experience with Russian Customs, I was bracing for the worst, but it turned out that getting to North Cyprus was a piece of cake-all I needed was simply just to show my passport and I was allowed in.

After crossing into this unrecognized territory, we spent maybe half an hour maximum. There’s nothing against it, but honestly speaking there really wasn’t much to do there. Picture any generic marketplace and you get the picture: the shops seemed to specialize in tacky tourist items and clothes of suspect quality. To its credit, there was a distinct feel and you obviously knew you were in the Turkish part of the city and island. However, I just can’t say it’s a place I’d have liked to spent more time in. Buyuk Han, the main attraction, was a former tavern that is now hosting artisans and cafes. I can see the appeal of it, but we both thought, to reuse the word here, it was tacky. And that’s not necessarily a knock on it-the souvenirs in Cyprus generally were low quality and as generic as you can find. Just, make it so that people want to remember the time they visited Buyuk Han in a positive way. All in all we didn’t stick around because this part of North Cyprus wasn’t enticing enough, so after maybe thirty-ish minutes, we retraced our steps back to the Greek part of Cyprus.

Once we’d returned to regular Nicosia, further walking ensued. After stopping by the awesome Piatsa Gourounaki restaurant (the Greek salad alone was fit for two people!) for an early dinner, we strolled around to finally get a chance to peek in to what Ledra Street had to offer in the way of shopping. One store from earlier caught my eye, and it was admittedly a bit nerdy in that it focused on pop culture. As Polina could attest to, I went a bit nuts and spent more time than originally intended there. What held me back from buying a lot of stuff was the fact that I couldn’t have crammed all of them in my backpack, since Pobeda Airlines is anal about what you could bring on. Alas, maybe next time. Another thing notable about this place was how it was right next to a sex store, which both of us got a kick out of; gotta make sure you were going in the right entrance! Moving on, there were lots of cozy looking cafes, and we did find one that served excellent, piping hot white chocolate! Our stay there was necessitated by the fact that yet again the rain started to intrude on our parade. No worries, we had lots of fun staying warm and dry with our drinks. After the rain subsided, we then made our way over to the Pivo microbrewery, which took us back near the demarcated line. The brewery only opens from 7 until midnight, which meant that we’d have to be there right as they opened in order to make the last bus back to Larnaca at 8:15. The walk from the center didn’t take too long, so we had about ten minutes to kill, which we did in the adjacent building. One thing about Cyprus is that abandoned and/or ruined buildings abound, and in this case, there was one to explore. Being the adventurous soul she is, Polina decided to explore the inside while I, being the chicken I am, stayed close to the lit entrance. She walked upstairs and checked things out, but there wasn’t much to see, literally and figuratively given the dark. This killed the ten minutes we had, and then it was time to get our drink on. Pivo was founded by guys who made a pilgrimage to the Czech Republic to learn from the masters, so the beers we had reflected that! What I liked was how the menu was small in order to ensure the high quality of taste. The only thing that held us back from tasting more was the fact that we had about an hour there, so we didn’t go too crazy, which was a shame. All in all, we had a fun day in Nicosia and it whetted our desire to explore more.

The Liberty Monument was tucked away in a quiet area of Nicosia. I’m kind of surprised it wasn’t somewhere more central.

View of Buyuk Han, in the Turkish part of the city. Apparently it was an inn in Ottoman times, but it’s since been converted into a place of shops and cafes.

This was taken as we were leaving the Turkish part of the city. As you can see, that’s the control point for entering/leaving.

Since the invasion of the island back in the 70’s, many old cathedrals have been converted into mosques-this was one of them. I’ll be honest and say that I find the aesthetics pretty fascinating.

Pivo microbrewery, nestled rather close to the border. The beers were great, but don’t drink before embarking on a long bus ride home lest you need to pee almost immediately after getting on.

From Shacolas Tower, you can clearly see the Turkish side of the island.

Church turned mosque.

Having two radically different types of stores next to each other was a hilarious combination.


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