Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays, Readers!

Happy holidays and new year to all of you that have faithfully kept up with my blog. I will not be signing on to add anything to my blog until a week into the new year because I will be enjoying London and Paris with my girlfriend, Katelyn! Look for some pictures of our trip after the break.

Constant 70 degree highs were inhibiting my Christmas spirit... I needed some snow and cold.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Photo of the Day - "New Friends"

I had never previously considered my blonde hair and my camera as representative of celebrity status, but children in North Nicosia are immediately drawn to me and often ask me to take their photograph. These two students found me on their way home from school a few weeks ago and begged for their picture to be taken. Well, here they are in the moat area below the Barbaro bastion near the Kyrenia Gate.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Photo of the Day - "Ravenous Kitty"

I think it's safe to say that the feral cat issue in Nicosia is out of control...

Monday, December 13, 2010

Road Trip - Kantara Castle, Famagusta, Varosha

Another Sunday meant another road trip. We set off toward the beginning of the Karpas peninsula (northeast region of the island) in search of the final mountain castle to be found in the Pentadaktylos mountain range.


Kantara Castle is a well preserved monument that was seized by the Richard the Lionheart in 1191 from the Byzantine rulers that oversaw the island previously. It overlooks two of the most historically important bays of the island, Famagusta in the east and Kyrenia in the north, and is rumored to have views that extend all the way to Turkey on clear days.

A view toward the Karpas Peninsula.

A view west along the Pentadaktylos. Kantara Castle once communicated with the Buffavento Castle, which we visited last week.


After we enjoyed a few hours in the mountains we stopped for lunch in the Old Town of Famagusta. Similar to Nicosia, Famagusta is a walled city, but it lies along the port and hosts a much larger collection of important monuments. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough daylight left to fully explore the city after a long lunch near Lala Mustafa Mosque (formerly known as St. Nikolas cathedral), so we drove only a few blocks south to view the ghost town of Varosha.


Varosha was the flourishing tourist district neighboring the historic port city of Famagusta prior to July  1974. As the Turkish military invaded the island from the north, the entire town was vacated by its residents and visitors who expected to return in the following days, weeks or months… After 36 years of partition, the entire city of Varosha remains under the occupation of the Turkish military as a forbidden zone; as a ghost town of beach, hotels, and homes. 

The citizens who were displaced from this area remain passionate in their fight to regain their property (with numerous videos and blogs dedicated to it). This particular area has been seen as a potential bargaining tool to progress the reconciliation talks in Cyprus and remains an important factor in an overall property settlement plan, yet today it remains vacant.

A crane frozen in time after construction work ceased in the summer of 1974

Friday, December 10, 2010

Road Trip - Bellapaix, Buffavento

For the last few months we had discussed places we wanted to see around the island, but we didn’t have an efficient plan for how we would see all the beauty this island had to offer. Recently, one of the other Fulbright students purchased a vehicle for use over the remaining six months of our stay in Cyprus. Last Sunday marked the first opportunity we had to venture out by car and we took full advantage of it with an entire day of site seeing in the Kyrenia region.


Our first stop was Bellapaix. A quaint town outside of Kyrenia proper, Bellapaix is famous for its abbey that was built in the late 12th century and as the village where Lawrence Durrell, author of Bitter Lemons, found his house after he arrived in Cyprus in 1953.The abbey and neighboring cloisters are perched above Kyrenia, one of the historic port cities of Cyprus, creating a nice view of the sea over the sprawling city below. The most beautiful parts of the complex are definitely the ruined cloisters which surround a courtyard with a pointed-arched arcade and tracery windows. 

Unfortunately, part of the building was torn down by the British who used the stone from the abbey to construct other buildings they needed during the colonial period.

The surrounding area is the setting of the famous book by Lawrence Durrell called Bitter Lemons. He writes the book about his travels to Cyprus where he plans to spend a few years. The journal chronicles his experience with the local population in Bellapaix and his understanding of the changes that were taking place in Cyprus at the time (namely, the EOKA movement which was the Greek Cypriot uprising seeking to rid the island of colonial rule and unionize with Greece). Near the abbey is a public space shaded by the “Tree of Idleness” which was made famous in Durrell’s book as explained by one of the locals:
“… I must warn you, if you intend to try and work, not to sit under the Tree of Idleness. You have heard of it? Its shadow incapacitates one for serious work. By tradition the inhabitants of Bellapaix are regarded as the laziest in the island. They are all landed men, coffee-drinkers and card-players. That is why they live to such ages. Nobody ever seems to die here. Ask Mr. Honey the grave-digger. Lack of clients almost driven him into a decline…” (76)

That tree could be either of the two trees shading cafĂ©’s due to the fact that he never explains what kind of tree it is… No matter, time seems to move a little slower in this place. We walked up the hill to find Lawrence Durrell’s house, which he bought and fixed up while writing the book. The house has been substantially renovated since he was there but a plate above the front door marks where the author once lived. Another character, Frangos the town drunk, has a small plaque at the house next door as well. The chapters of the book I read the night before gained color as we walked through the intimate streets and up the steep slopes of the town.

At the top of the hill we found a Lonely Planet Guidebook “Authors Choice” for Bellapaix called the Gardens of Irini. This charming bed and breakfast/light restaurant is run by a British woman named Deirdre, who was wonderfully welcoming and enjoyed a glass of wine as she fixed us brandy sours. For quite some time we sat in her beautiful courtyard space, between the main house and the studio she rents, to talk about life. Deirdre told us stories about her childhood in Bellapaix and about her neighbor, Lawrence Durrell, who she calls “Larry”. She apparently is also a very accomplished flamenco dancer, which she recently retired from… just shy of her 70th birthday. This seemed to be the true “Tree of Idleness”, a place I could imagine escaping the world in.


On our way back to Nicosia we drove through the Pentadaktylos mountains that buffer Nicosia and the Mesaoria plain from the northern Mediterranean coast. After a hairpin turn toward the peaks off the highway we started up toward Buffavento Castle. Meaning “Buffeted by the Winds”, Buffavento Castle was constructed by the Lusignan (Frankish) ruling class shortly after they captured the island from Byzantine control in the late 12th century. Its strategic location at the top of the mountain overlooking the port city of Kyrenia and the capital, Nicosia was undoubtedly the reason for its treacherous location. To reach the castle, you must first navigate the two-way, single-lane winding cliff-side road for six kilometers at which point you are forced to park and hike up a winding walkway that takes around half an hour to zig-zag to the castle gate, a paved walkway that did not exist in medieval times. However, the journey is well worth the panoramic views out of the ruined castle.

View of the Pentadaktylos Mountains, named for the "five fingers" that are reaching up along the northern coast of the island.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Photo of the Day - "Boy near Selimiye"

A well dressed little boy who must live in the neighborhood of the Selimiye Mosque.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Peace Players Girl's Basketball Tournament

On Saturday morning, and into the afternoon, I had the opportunity to help my friends at Peace Players International coordinate a bi-communal basketball tournament for Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot girls. Around 70 girls were split up into older and younger groups to do a few drills and play a competitive 3-on-3 tournament. Each bi-communal team played against each other until there was a champion crowned.

I found the tournament to be a great success, and I was impressed with how much enthusiasm the girls had to interact and play basketball together. Despite ethnic differences and the language barrier (especially for the younger ones), the girls proved that they are able to work together and encourage each other. For one day at least, a future solution for a unified Cyprus seemed reasonable.

Stolen Bike!

I have a crime to report. Friday night, sometime between 6pm and 11pm in Nicosia south of the Ledra Palace Hotel Checkpoint my bicycle was stolen. After enjoying a dinner with some fellow Fulbright students, I arrived at the crime scene to find my bike and helmet gone and fragments of my lock scattered on the ground… I suppose this shows that I had a faulty piece of security equipment. The whole situation is angering and shocking to me not only because that bicycle was my only method of personal transportation, but because I never expected this to happen in a community that does not bicycle and, from my experience and understanding, does not steal (especially near a UN controlled checkpoint). It’s unfortunate that I must now be so guarded about my belongings…

Friday, December 3, 2010

Classy Santa

Sign found not far from the manger scene (see below post) at the carnival in the moat... Great role model.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cyprus Warming

With the 80 degree highs for the past week, I am experiencing a winter heat wave rather than a white Christmas in Cyprus this year. I have not experienced a single high temperature below 70 degrees in Nicosia since I arrived, what many are telling me is the hottest fall season (following the hottest ever summer) in memory. In addition, it has drizzled (not rained) on two occasion in Nicosia in the past two and a half months leaving me concerned that the sky forgot how to form clouds and release water.

Although I am fully enjoying my t-shirts and shorts in December, I am concerned about Cyprus' future. As Cypriots continue to drive their cars EVERYWHERE, as residents of low rise flats in the sprawling suburbs continue to water their concrete patios and walks, as I remain the only biker on the road, and as the taxi drivers continue to (unofficially) boycott the push for a bus system (which I believe should be supplemented with an inter-city train system servicing Larnaca Airport, Limassol, Paphos, Nicosia, and Agia Napa to be extended into the north upon any sort of reunification or resolution), I am beginning to think that a small hole in the ozone is forming above this small island. I feel like I am watching the slow degradation of this island into a desert.

Nativity scene set up in the carnival area in the moat of Nicosia directly below a mosque's minaret and cloudless sky in 80 degree December weather.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving Celebration

Over the extended weekend, Rachel hosted a Thanksgiving feast that taught a few of our Cypriot friends about what the holiday is all about. The meal included all of the traditional elements of a great Thanksgiving meal (turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, carrots, salads, sweet potatoes, etc.) and there was enough food for a small army, which we were not. Everything was absolutely excellent and all of the guests enjoyed themselves.

For dessert I helped Rachel make the apple pie, which we decorated with a map of the island (notice the star shaped capital city of Nicosia at the center and the extra sugar on the mountain ranges).

In addition to the food, Rachel made turkey place settings for everyone that attended which included a Thanksgiving-themed question on the bottom. We also made Pilgrim and Indian hats to get into the spirit of things.