Two Sides of the Same City: Nicosia
February 22, 2018
John and I took a weekend to drive up to the divided capital of Cyprus. Nicosia or the “shame-capital” as one waiter referred to it, is the last divided city in Europe. The Northern half is occupied by Turkish Cypriots and the Southern part is occupied by Greek Cypriots. Many of the Greek Cypriots we talked to about the divide seemed very sad that they haven’t figured out a way to compromise yet.
Other than the fascinating political atmosphere of Nicosia, it’s also the bustling big city and cultural capital of Cyprus. There are cool museums, archaeological sites, and tonnes of restaurants to explore.
Although things are calm in Nicosia now, within my lifetime there has been great unrest, war, and death. You can sense the tension still even though in central Nicosia the streets are filled with modern shops and restaurants. You can freely sit and have a coffee right next to giant walls with barbed wire. If you’re unfamiliar with the issues in Cyprus, I recommend you read about it. I think it’s very important to recognize and remember what walls can do to people and what happens when people focus on their differences in a negative way.
We stayed in the old town of Greek Nicosia which is full of cool old stuff like the ancient walls, aqueducts, and small walking streets.
This is part of the ancient city wall which is now used as a more modern wall to separate the Turkish half and the Greek half.
A cool abandoned building that’s been overgrown.
The Greek and Cyprus flags across from the Turkish flags on the other side.
Our fav beer bar, Brewfellas! Great selection of local and imported beer.
Now to the Cyprus Archaeological Museum. The museum was one of the main reasons we wanted to go to the big city, since our little Paphos one was closed during our visit.
The Turkish Side.
John and I ventured over to the Turkish side for the day. You have to go through a customs stop where they check your passport. Then a 5 minute walk through the spooky empty buffer zone, then another passport check. It felt so strange to have this divide in the middle of the city.
Here’s another ancient gate of the city on the Turkish side this time.
We stopped for lunch and had chicken kebab wraps that came with spicy peppers and buttermilk to drink. I did not enjoy the buttermilk. The whole meal was like 1 euro.
Once crossing the border in Nicosia, I felt transported back 10 or 20 years. The Turkish side is clearly more rundown and less modern. They don’t get the level of support the Greek side gets since they’re only supported by Turkey and not by all of the EU.
We also stopped at a coffee shop for some Turkish coffee. The tray includes the coffee, a glass of water, a small glass of juice, and some Turkish delight.
And we played a game of backgammon!
After coffee we went to this former Gothic style Catholic church that’s been converted to a mosque.
Mama cat and kittens!
I’m glad we went to the Turkish side. Staying on the Greek side makes them seem so otherly and so foreign, but having lunch, coffee, and walking around the neighbourhood made me see that it’s just another place full of people living their lives. It’s easy to see the Turkish side as the “bad” guys but that’s far from the case, like everything in life it’s so much more complex than that. I hope to see a united Cyprus in my lifetime.
Other than the borders themselves, the only thing that struck me as odd was the lack of women out on the streets. There was easily 20 men for every 1 woman I would see. I’m not sure if that’s a normal everyday thing, that the women are elsewhere while the men go for coffee and chill in the parks or if it was because we were visiting on a Sunday. It’s not that I felt unsafe or afraid, but I was definitely unnerved. When I’m travelling I’m usually out with John, but if we were separated or I had an emergency when by myself, my instinct is to find other women especially mothers, they’re the ones who know how to handle a crisis and would generally help me without question.
On our way back to Paphos from Nicosia we drove through the beautiful twisty mountains. Definitely an incredible thing to see, even if you’re like me and get nauseous at every turn. The mountains are all terraced and farmed for wine grapes and there are these adorable little villages that pop up in every valley.