Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cyprus, crunch, cats and more

Thursday, April 14

Story by Joe Szalai

We had an uneventful flight from Toronto to Istanbul.  Wayne reserved our seats on Turkish Airlines online so the three of us could sit together.  Before the plane took off we saw that there were quite a few empty seats so Warren and I grabbed window seats for the takeoff.  We stayed in those seats for the whole flight because it gave us extra leg and arm room.  It was easier to eat and nap that way, not that I managed to get any sleep.    Last year the plane was full and we had to stay put for the whole trip. 

The only downside to our flight to Cyprus was the six hour wait at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul for our connecting flight to Ercan airport in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.  While waiting we made the mistake of buying some Gozleme at the airport.  It was dry and tasteless and expensive.  They looked good behind the glass display case but we should have known better. 

The airport at Ercan is small and our driver was waiting for us as we cleared customs.  He took us to the Highlife Hotel (I hate names like that) but, because it was after midnight, hotel staff were not on duty so he showed us our room. 

Our split level room is at the end of the second building on the second floor with a bed upstairs and a foldout couch on the lower level.  We have a view of the north, east and west.  We have an excellent view of the Mediterranean sea and the mountains to the south.  

Around our hotel, there are tall palm trees, fields of tall yellow flowers interspersed with red poppies, bougainvilleas, red and pink woody geraniums, red and yellow roses, red hibiscus, oleanders that reach up to the second floor, various cacti and other flowers I don’t recognize.  The air is fragrant.


Because it’s been rather wet, there are hundreds of large snails everywhere around the hotel.  It’s difficult to walk and occasionally you can hear the crunch of snails as we accidentally step on some of them.  They remind me of the dew worms back home that crawl on the sidewalks after the first warm rainy night in spring.  The snails aren’t as gross but the crunching sound is a bit weird.  It’s a new experience for us. 
Escargots anyone??  I’m tempted…


There are cats everywhere at the hotel.  They’re all friendly and love to be petted but what they really want is some food.  There’s even a beautiful white Persian cat who has a green and brown eye.  Some reviewers on Trip Advisor mentioned all the cats here and they weren’t kidding.  If you love cats, this is the place for you. 

A cat story

Yesterday, as usual, we took a nap in mid-afternoon.  I’m already awake when I hear Warren come downstairs to use the washroom.  While in the washroom I hear him talking to one of the cats.  It seems one of them jumped onto the window sill and presented itself to Warren.  I’m still trying to get a few more winks but I hear Warren grab a beer on his way to the balcony.  Seconds later, through my half-closed eyes, I notice a cat walking beside my bed.  I wake Wayne and tell him there’s a cat in the room.  Sure enough, the black and white tabby was in our room looking for food and/or attention.  Seconds later he’s on the bed and we start petting him.  Instantly he’s on Wayne’s stomach kneading and purring loudly.   But how did the cat get in?  Well, after Warren saw the cat on the window sill, he closed the window partially but after he left the cat opened the window wide enough to be able to come in to our unit.   If I could, I would take this cat home with me. 


Our first outing was to the beautiful hillside village of Bellapais, site of a Gothic abbey.  The narrow road going up to the village is lined with colourful homes, most with large pots full of flowers.    It’s a small place that can only be described with superlatives.  I’m not one for village living but if I had to chose, this is the village I would love to live in.  


We took a dolmus to Nicosia, which is the last divided capital in the world.  A Venation wall, completed in 1567 (three years before the Turkish invasion) surrounds the Old Town.  We got off the dolmus at one of the gates to the Old Town and walked towards the centre where we had some cay (Turkish tea) before crossing the Green Line into the Greek part.  The only pedestrian crossing between the two sides of the city opened several months before the last time Wayne and I were here.  It’s an interesting experience for sure.


We took a dolmus to Famagusta and spent some time exploring the old walled city.  At one time it was one of the wealthiest city in the world but time and conflict have taken their toll.  Still, there are plenty of gems to be seen.  Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque is a spectacular building that was built in the Lusignan period between 1298 and 1312.  It’s of Gothic design modelled on the French cathedral in Reims

What I really wanted to see was Varosha, a deserted district south of the city.  It was once Cyprus’s biggest resort but today it is decaying and access is forbidden by the military.  The Greeks fled the city when the Turkish army invaded in 1974.  The once fancy hotels that line the beach stand like tall tombstones, a true testament to the stupidity of war and conflict.       

St Hilarian Castle

We took a taxi to St Hilarian Castle high above Kyrenia.  It is named after the monastic saint from Palestine who died here in 372.  The Byzantines built a monastery here in his memory.  We only stayed an hour but managed to take in the breathtaking views of Kyrenia, the Pentadaktyos mountains and the Mediterranean sea. 


Wayne and I were in Kyrenia several years ago but, because we stayed for one night, we only managed to see the old yacht harbour, apparently one of the most charming in the Mediterranean.   This time we’re here for ten days and we’ve gone into Kyrenia every day.  It’s only a half hour walk from hotel and we sure need the exercise to burn of all the food we’ve been eating.  Kyrenia is a pretty place with lots of stores, hotels, casinos and restaurants.  There seems to be a building boom at the moment.  Our hotel is located down a long lane but several beautiful new homes have been built close to the main road.  We met too of the people who live in these modern mansions and they both have British accents.  Actually, you can hear Brits everywhere.  One day, while waiting for a dolmus to take us into town, a car pulled over and the women driver, who seemed to have a British accent, asked if we wanted a lift.  Naturally, we agreed.  It turned out that she wasn’t a Brit but was a real estate agent who was originally from New York City.  I’m sure she wouldn’t have picked up three men in Manhattan but had no qualms about it here.  We certainly never felt threatened by anyone.    

Istanbul next…


northern-cyprus said...
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northern-cyprus said...

Being a the top traveling place the cyprus airlines will sell the tickets like hot cakes but some time the rates are so high that its hard to buy a ticket mainly in april.