Cyprus part 2, Kyrenia and Bellapais

Leaving Famagusta, this strange ghost town behind, our coach carried us up to the north coast, across the plain of central Cyprus where we passed the recently built Erdogan mosque, a present to the people of northern Cyprus from their Turkish ruler. It struck us that most of the people we have met are not particularly religious. They are, after all, Cypriots rather than Turks and their views of religion are not necessarily those of their Turkish de facto rulers. We do wonder just how delighted they are with their new mosque, floodlit at night and at a crossroads way out in the plain, isolated from any particular muslim community. It seemed to us that it was really a monument to the power and magnanimity of President Erdogan!

Erdogan mosque, northern Cyprus

Flag of the Turkish republic of northern Cyprus, based on the Turkish flag with the colours reversed, cut into the hillside - just in case anyone should forget. It is said to be the size of nine football pitches.

We were driven up into the hills then down by steep winding roads to the north coast and the beautiful old town of Kyrenia. It was already dark by the time we reached our new hotel. Our new room also overlooked the sea while along the rocky coastline we could see to where the lights of the city twinkle through the darkness. The hotel was smaller and more intimate than the huge complex at Salamis. The choice of the buffet meals were more limited but still good. Its only fault was that it was some way outside the old town. However, after supper we walked up to the main road and discovered small buses that ran regularly along the route into Kyrenia. On our way down to supper I slipped on the marble stairs and fell, fortunately onto the landing, twisting the ligaments in both my knee and my ankle. It was so painful during the night I feared Ian would be exploring Kyrenia alone next day while I drank beer all day in the hotel bar with the alcohol drinking contingent of our tour group!

Next morning, as our guide had abandoned us all to take a select group willing to pay extra for an additional tour down to Limasol, we asked at reception if they could provide assistance as my knee was very painful following my fall. Their first aid box extended only to an elastoplast! Ian went up to the main road and found a chemist. They are more in evidence in towns than bakers even! He drew a knee wrapped in a bandage on a scrap of paper and handed it to the young lady behind the counter. Who needs language skills? He returned with something that wasn't my size so together we went back to the chemist. It turned out she spoke pretty good English but hadn't wanted to dampen Ian's linguistic enthusiasm! Between us all we found something more suitable and I was astonished at how much easier walking became! I felt able to join Ian as we clambered into a minibus and headed into Kyrenia for the best day so far! Back on our own it was almost like Maxted travels where we would frequently leave Modestine and use local transport to explore the locality.

Statue of Kemil Ataturk above the route into Kyrenia (Girne), northern Cyprus

We explored the harbour and the walls of the Venetian citadel built from honey coloured stone. Both were ancient and beautiful. Small cafes with bright protective awnings lined the harbour where little masted fishing boats bobbed on the clear, green/blue water. We strolled the long harbour wall that sheltered the boats and lower town from the sea.

Boats in the harbour, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Kyrenia viewed from across the harbour, northern Cyprus

Quayside, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Harbour, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Harbour, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

The sunshine was bright and warm. Little boats entered and left the harbour as we lounged watching before returning to the town and, Ian clutching the free map he'd picked up at the tourist office, we climbed the cobbled streets up to the citadel. At a bend in the road we were joined by a large and very sociable dog of mixed origin. He accompanied us right to the gates of the citadel where we wished him farewell. He however took his duties as a guide very seriously and refused to leave us. The official guide told us we could go round with the dog if we preferred so this we did. The dog lay across the entrance to each place we entered and slept until we came to leave when he would sigh audibly and get up to show us the way!

Harbour beneath the Citadel, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Citadel, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Boats moored beneath the Citadel, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Courtyard inside the Citadel, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

State appartments inside the Citadel, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Looking out to sea from the walls of the Citadel, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Looking down into the fortress from the walls of the Citadel, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Inside the Citadel, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Chapel of St. George, incorporated into the walls of the Citadel by the Venetians in the 16th century, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

We discovered the oldest shipwreck in the world! It was a Mediterranean trading ship that sank, fully laden with its cargo of amphorae containing wines and oil as well as its cargo of several millstones. The wreck dates from around 320bc and the vessel was already around eighty years old when it sank. From its cargo it was possible to trace its trade route around the Mediterranean.

Reconstruction of early trading boat, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

World's oldest shipwreck dating from 320bc, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

World's oldest shipwreck dating from 320bc, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Cargo of almonds dating from 320bc, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Rigging gear from the World's oldest shipwreck dating from 320bc, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Shipwreck dating from 320bc. Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

We tiptoed past the sleeping dog in the doorway and made good our escape finding a cheap and friendly street cafe while we waited for the bank to open after lunch. We then asked them to replace a banknote Neil had given us left over from a visit he'd made to Turkey some ten years ago. In Exeter we'd been told it was no longer current but any Turkish bank woud be able to replace it for us. We were told, very charmingly, that this was not the case. The note was not of a high value and as we'd really gone in for the contact with local people we didn't press the matter. It was all very friendly and the experience charming, but we were surprised that the note could not be replaced. Don't English banknotes say "Promise to pay the bearer on demand ..."? Maybe it's different in Cyprus.

Around the town we discovered the Anglican church of St. Andrew where we were invited to the weekly service due on the following day. We also found the Islamic cemetery.

Anglican church of St. Andrew, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Islamic cemetery, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

We were delighted and amused to find evidence on the streets of a British presence in Cyprus when we discovered a couple of homely British letter boxes. I suppose they must also be found in cities throughout India and other places in our former empire. Cyprus has made them their own by painting them all bright yellow.

A familiar sight for English eyes, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Pillar box, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Pillar box, Nicosia (Lefkosa), northern Cyprus

Feeling weary from walking in the warm afternoon sunshine and having seen most of the centre of the town we stopped for a beer in the garden of a lovely old guest house run alive with pretty delicate cats that sprang from roof to balcony to tree, all around the grounds. Soothing music played softly from a hidden microphone somewhere but otherwise the garden was deserted and the sunshine comfortably warm. A pleasant experience.

Agha Cafer Pasha Mosque. Fa├žade. 1590. Kyrenia (Girne). northern Cyprus

Doorway discovered in the town near the harbour, Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Returning to the bus stop we showed the driver the name of our hotel and he stopped the bus at the entrance on his way past. We also made a detour along the route to drop off students at the American University in Cyprus, bringing yet more money into this Turkish tax haven. It seems the rest of the guests had spent a pleasant but less energetic day enjoying the hotel beach and the bar, except for those who had gone off on the additional trip back to the south of the Island. They complained it had been very expensive and they'd been obliged to buy another expensive lunch at the place selected for them or go hungry all day.

On our final accompanied day we visited the monastry of Bellapais up in the hills overlooking the town and coastline of Kyrenia spread out far beneath us. This is where Lawrence Durrel bought his home back in the 1950s, at the top of the steep, picturesque village. He did this with the help and advice of local Greek friends. At that time the main population was Greek and the British were well respected. Now the town is completely Turkish.

Arid landscape, Kyrenia Mountains, northern Cyprus

Dry hillside Kyrenia Mountains, northern Cyprus

Dry and dusty landscape near Kyrenia, northern Cyprus

Pentadaktylos mountains in the Kyrenia range, northern Cyprus

Somehow, with obligatory, unexpected visits to warehouses along the way, we didn't reach Bellapais until late afternoon and we'd had no lunch. The sunshine was hazy and due to the dry conditions the air was full of dust that blotted out the beauty of the view down onto Kyrenia and got deep into our throats. The monastery however was lovely! It was everything we'd hoped for. Set in beautiful grounds with tall, dark cypress trees, flowering borders and dark green shrubs the ruins of the 13th century abbey mainly overlook the long view down onto Kyrenia with the remains of the abbey centred around the cloisters.

Monastery, Bellapais (Beylerbeyi), northern Cyprus

Iconostasis, Monastery of Bellapais (Beylerbeyi), northern Cyprus

Abbot's throne, Monastery of Bellapais, northern Cyprus

Cloisters, Monastery of Bellapais (Beylerbeyi), northern Cyprus

Cloisters, Monastery of Bellapais (Beylerbeyi), northern Cyprus

Cloisters, Monastery of Bellapais (Beylerbeyi), northern Cyprus

View down towards Kyrenia from Bellapais (Beylerbeyi), northern Cyprus

Monastery, Bellapais (Beylerbeyi), northern Cyprus

Late Roman sarcophagi, Monastery of Bellapais (Beylerbeyi), northern Cyprus

General view over the ruins, Monastery of Bellapais (Beylerbeyi). northern Cyprus

We were eager to identify Durrell's home, called Bitter Lemons in English though, surprisingly in Turkish Cyprus, still bearing its Greek name on the village map! We wandered off in search of it. We found it right at the very top of the steep path out from the attractive village with its groves of olives and oranges and of course, bitter lemons. Above the house the path disappeared into scrubland and the hillside continued steeply upwards.

Home of the writer Laurence Durrell, Bellapais (Beylerbeyi), northern Cyprus

On the way down we discovered where he would spend so much time drinking and talking with local friends at The Tree of Idleness - the title of another of his books. Bellapais was definitely the most peaceful and beautiful place we discovered during our visit and is to be recommended.

Tree of Idleness, Bellapais (Beylerbeyi), northern Cyprus

It was already dusk when we were driven down to the centre of Kyrenia for the rest of the group to visit the citadel and the shipwreck museum. We left them to it and went off to explore further the streets and night life of Kyrenia. The streets were brightly lit with Christmas decorations - surprising in a Muslim country!

Casino. Kyrenia (Girne). Cyprus.

We call that honest! Kyrenia (Girne), northern Cyprus

On our final day we were again abandoned by our guide and found we were the source of knowledge for any members of the tour who didn't want to spend another day back at the hotel. We explained about the buses, how to pay and where the bus stopped in town. Several then went off for the day to Kyrenia on their own. We decided to take the bus in the opposite direction to explore Lapta, a large, rambling, residential town of pleasant homes, gardens and orchards, climbing up the hillside. It was agreeable exploring the streets and watching the old men sitting outside the cafes talking and playing board games. We got lost however and were weary by the time we found the bus route around the town and back past our hotel on its way to Kyrenia (or Girni as it is called in Turkish) We decided to stay on the bus and returned to the city for lunch. Later we returned to our hotel room and caught up on some sleep, knowing we'd be woken at 1am for the journey back to the airport and our flight home.

Thinking back about our bargain holiday we feel it has been well worth the price we paid of £199, but not worth the company's valuation price of £950. Therefore we accept the inconveniences of the trip and the time we wasted in retail outlets. We would not be likely to take up a similar trip to Cyprus, or anywhere we have ever visited before, however attractively priced the offer. We might though consider a bargain trip to somewhere new to us on the same terms - wandering off whenever possible to explore on our own. This trip worked well and we were able to see everything the trip promised.

Our journey home was frustrating with delays in mainland Turkey before we reboarded the same plan to fly over a Europe hidden beneath a thick white blanket of snow with the Danube winding widely across the landscape. By early afternoon we were back in Purley where I went straight to bed for a few hours. Next day we returned to Exeter to find our family already arrived. It was Christmas Eve and good to be back with our family.

Leaving Cyprus behind. Aerial view of Anatala, Turkey

A chilly view down onto the Alps

In case this all seems too good to be true, here is a close up of the hotel beach they don't show in the brochure!

Less than idylic sight, Denizkizi beach, Kyrenia (Girne), northern Cyprus