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krisek Nicosia - A travel report by Krys
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Nicosia,  Cyprus - flag Cyprus
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krisek's travel reports

Europe's last divided capital. Nicosia.

  7 votes
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Sadly, but true, Nicosia is divided. Northern part is occupied by the Turks, and according Turkey only, it belongs to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. While the southern half, is the capital of Republic of Cyprus. It has few sights on both sides.


The border in the middle of the city!
The border in the middle of the city!
Landing was easy. Perhaps I snoozed for a while, but I think the aircraft touched down not too long after passing the extensive lights of Istanbul. The Embraer 170 (as per the onboard safety and emergency card and the flight attendants, although the the pilot claimed it was the Embraer 175 model) touched the ground smoothly. The airport was spacious and modern. The passport control was virtually non-existent for the EU citizens. The arrivals hall was small and there was no cash machine. I had to go upstairs to the departures hall to withdraw the euros.

I had actually expected Larnaca to look more glamourous from the air at night. Instead, the bay seemed very quiet and almost abandoned. Strange. As I heard from the hotel clerk that the area was exceptionally busy with tourists from Russia. Anyway, the clerk also told me more implausible stuff. He said that the Turkish-occupied part of Nicosia was very expensive to visit and that tourists tended to 'disappear' in Northern Cyprus. I had never heard of situations like that. At that stage, I decided to stop talking to him.

Uh, I wanted a receipt for my taxi ride from Larnaca airport to the Hilton Park Nicosia hotel, which was EUR58, bu the driver had none. He promised to drop one for me the next evening. I was wondering how genuine this promise was.

Shops like Debenhams, Holland & Barrett, Topshop, Next would normally indicate a high street somewhere in the UK. This is what the main pedestrianised avenue in Nicosia South had, despite being much uglier than an average high street in Britain.

Nicosia brands itself as the last divided capital city in Europe. It is true, very sadly. I had a very clear plan to cross over to the 'evil' part of the city despite what the hotel clerk had told me the previous night. The crossing was completely painless (the Turks actually stamped a piece of paper with my name, passport number and nationality, rather than a page in my passport) and there were absolutely no questions asked.

Favourite spots:
Büyük Han Cultural Centre, view from the upper alcoves.
Büyük Han Cultural Centre, view from the upper alcoves.
Büyük Han Cultural Centre in the northern part of the city was my favourite spot in the divided capital. The 'other' part of Nicosia has a couple of superb sights. Apart from Büyük Han, was the massive Saint Sophia Cathedral converted into a mosque with two very tall minarets, between which a flag of Turkey and Northern Cyprus were flying.

It was very pleasant to walk about this part of the city. Kids played football pasionately at the larger squares and piazzas and it was clear that they were taking no prisoners. The obvious difference between the Greek Cypriot and the Northern Cypriot parts of Nicosia was that businesses in the latter part had prices quoted in both the euro and the Turkish lira, with 1:2 exchange rate. And it was about 35% cheaper there (and so the hotel clerk lied!). Shredded baked chicken with chips and salad was EUR5 in the northern part and EUR7 or EUR8 in the Greek part.

What's really great:
Boys kicking football in the northern part of the city, right by the St Sophia Cathedral.
Boys kicking football in the northern part of the city, right by the St Sophia Cathedral.
This being Good Friday, a public holiday on Cyprus and a religious one, churches in Nicosia rang their bells and people attended masses. They kept bringing pieces of food in small baskets to be blessed by the priests. This is what the Poles do on Good Friday, too. I peeked into a couple of churches, including the richly decorated one, right by the grand Archibishop's Palace. I found the masses rather busy if not to say chaotic. The worshippers kept moving about the temples as if they were at a train station or a concert and not attending a holy mass at a church. I found this very interesting. I had never seen anything like that before.

Sights:
The Archbishops' Palace in the southern part of the city.
The Archbishops' Palace in the southern part of the city.
Both sides of Nicosia had a number of sights. Not many, I have to say. Nicosia looks extremely promising on the map, as a perfectly circular fortress with triangular ramparts in regular intervals. This could not be more misleading. The ramparts and the city walls do in fact exist but when I visited, only small fragments have been excavated and the entire new city had been erected on top of them. This could have been the saddest thing I saw in Nicosia.

Anyway, most of the sights, as the city was not very pretty, to be honest, were connected with religion. The southern part boasted a good number of very interesting little churches and a disturbingly flamboyant palace of the Archbishop. Plus a couple of mosques and a string of civilian mansions.

The northern part had mostly mosques, really grand ones, the aforementioned cultural centre, a few small Christian churches and an incredibly modest yet fascinating old library. It also had a couple of great squares, absent from the southern side.

Accommodations:
View from room #124 of the Hilton Park hotel.
View from room #124 of the Hilton Park hotel.
Hilton Park Nicosia allocated room #124, an very large and comfortable junior suite with a long balcony overlooking the pool. It had a large bathroom with everything and a separate toilet at the other end of the suite. I also got champagne and a fruit platter from the general manage of the hotel as a welcome gift. A nice touch!

This being Hilton, all amenities were available, except an Executive Lounge, which would have been great for a night drink or an afternoon snack. Anyway, it was clean, organised and had a fantastic lobby, where people mingled, relaxed in the armchairs or chatted at the bar.

The personnel was polite and helpful, except one night receptionist, who annoyed me with his ridiculous comments about Northern Cyprus. Everything was in place. But the single best thing in the hotel was the bed duvet. It was so comfy and slick. Such a dangerous pleasure to sleep in - dangerous due to the risk of oversleeping.

Nightlife:
Main avenue in the southern part of the city, actually leading to the pedestrian border crossing
Main avenue in the southern part of the city, actually leading to the pedestrian border crossing
On Cyprus, many waiters did not speak any Greek. Only English. Shockingly, in my view, locals accepted this as a normal thing. 'Sure, we are Cypriot, but this is a tourist area, and it is okay for the waiters not to speak any local language'. Now, I have just been a witness to a couple of situations like this and I was impressed with the attitude the locals demonstrated! Perhaps they would not want to take those jobs themselves, but the level of their relaxed acceptance really flabbergasted me. I have always considered myself a tolerant person, but I suddenly realised that if I were being served in my country, anywhere in my country, and a waiter or waitress could not speak my language, I would have flipped a big time! Actually, I had this feeling while staying at the Warsaw's Hilton Hotel. They employ foreign students, who have struggled with their Polish and that got on my nerves a little. Cypriots were so blasé about the service staff not being able to express themselves in Greek.

Hangouts:
One of the little squares in the northern part of the city
One of the little squares in the northern part of the city
It was time to sit down for a local lager and watch people a little. I found it hard to get a spot. Everywhere tables were booked! Finally, a table became free at the Flocafe, along the main pedestranised avenue in the old town. It was perfect for people watching. Actually, I was also lucky to catch the glimpse of a holy procession at about 9pm, which passed right by my table. Two bottles of local lager later, I got my hotel. My EUR60 taxi receipt was waiting for me, so was a bottle of champagne, curtousy of the hotel manager and a bowl of fresh fruit. Nice!

Restaurants:
Shredded chicken dish at the Eleftherias Square
Shredded chicken dish at the Eleftherias Square
I struggled to pick a place to eat. I was not sure if I wanted to have an unhealthy pizza (not very Cypriot, Greek or Turkish), a healthy but boring village salad with salty feta cheese (exceedingly Greek), or a suspicious and doubtful kebab (exceedingly Turkish). I had a peek at a number of spots in both parts of the city. Admittedly, the Turkish part had less variety of eateries but they were at least 30% cheaper than those in the Greek part. I almost sat down near the St Sophia Cathedral but I was not sure until what time the border was open, so I eventually opted for a gyros - shredded grilled chicken - in the southern side. It was a small and simple eatery by the city wall, at the opening of the main pedestrianised avenue. The meal was of a good size and set me back by €7.

Other recommendations:
Houses at the back of the St Sophia Cathedral.
Houses at the back of the St Sophia Cathedral.
A very lazy and extravagant day. Having plans to get up early and see Nicosia in a better light did not pan out well. Despite the alarm getting off three times, I changed my mind and slept in. Got breakfast in the very last minute (they served until 11:00am), showered and checked out from the Hilton hotel. It was too late for crossing over to the northern side and travelling to Kyrenia (Girne). So, I investigated with the more-reliable-looking hotel clerk about the ways to go to Pafos. She suggested three things: a private taxi (€120); a collective taxi; and Euro... something transport. Only the private taxi was going to take me directly to Pafos. If I was to use the other two, they would only take me to Lemesos (Limassol) and then I would have to change. Lemesos was not in he plan for today, so, rather extravagantly, I called for the private taxi. It took just over an hour and twenty minutes to reach my Pyramos Hotel in Pafos. It was a good decision, after all.

Published on Monday October 3th, 2011


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Tue, Oct 04 2011 - 07:18 PM rating by basia

As usual, great report, Krys!

Tue, Oct 04 2011 - 07:25 AM rating by shervin19

you almost write very good and useful. Thank you krys.

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