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Clare
Clare

Day 7: Platres to Lefkosia

Today it was time to leave Platres behind and travel to our final destination for this holiday: Lefkosia. Or maybe Nicosia. I have spent the holiday in a state of some confusion about what the capital of Cyprus is actually called, because personally I have always been fairly sure it was called Nicosia (and, indeed, this is what my Cyprus guidebook and the English Wikipedia call it), but all the road and other signs here refer to it as Lefkosia. As far as I can tell, the city is called Λευκωσία in Greek, which transliterates as Lefkosia. Historically the city was called Nicosia in English, although it was still called Lefkosia in Greek, and in 1995 an official decision was taken that Lefkosia would be the official name in English too. It doesn't seem to be a decision that has caught on internationally, but given that everything here is labelled as Lefkosia, we're going to use that name for today's blog :)

Lefkosia is about 90 minutes away from Platres by car and it was a fairly straightforward journey, which only required use of the satnav for the final 10 minutes or so as we made our way into the city centre on the hunt for parking. The old town of Lefkosia is surrounded by thick defensive walls which were built by the Venetians in the sixteenth century. The guidebook had recommended a car park just outside the walls and Google maps surpassed my expectations, taking us there on the first attempt :) 

The carpark seemed to be in a sort of moat outside the walls. Once we'd parked, we climbed up a steep staircase to the level of the rest of the town. Almost immediately, we found ourselves in a very touristy quarter called Laiki Geitonia, whose narrow streets were full of people trying to entice us into their cafes and restaurants. We didn't take any pictures, because we were too busy trying to evade them and track down the tourist information office, which was signposted somewhere in this warren of streets. We eventually found it and acquired a map of the southern part of the city. The man in the tourist information office even circled the main sights for us, which was helpful, because our first impression as we started walking around Lefkosia was that sights were few and far between xD

The first photogenic building which we came to was the Faneromeni church, which is the largest church within the city walls.

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It was interesting to see that it had a Greek flag flying on the back of it.

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The church is in a square, opposite the Faneromeni school, which was the first school for girls built in Cyprus in 1857.

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A bit further on, we found the Ömeriye mosque, which is the most important functioning mosque in the Greek Cypriot part of the city.

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Unfortunately, everything in Lefkosia seems to be so built up that it was difficult to get a good photo of it from up close.

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We walked down a pretty little street...

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...and found we had a better view of the mosque from a distance :) 

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There were some interesting streets in this part of town. Some of the buildings had enclosed balconies, which reminded me of those we'd seen in Malta last year.

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Not far from here we found St John's Cathedral, which looked quite small for a cathedral in a capital city.

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The cathedral is close to the Archbishop's Palace.

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This is the official home of the Archbishop of Cyprus.

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By this point we had walked horizontally across the city and were almost at the edge of the Venetian walls. Here we found the Liberty Monument. This was built in 1973 to honour the fighters who fought for Cyprus's independence from Britain.

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We walked along the edge of the walls for a while, which was quite pleasant :) 

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They look like really solid walls!

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By walking along the walls, we came to the Famagusta gate.

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This was the main gate into the city in Venetian times.

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From here we walked inwards back into the city. On the way we passed this tiny mosque with a very short minaret.

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We were walking towards Lefkosia's main street, Ledra Street. Ledra Street is home to one of several checkpoints where you can cross from the official Republic of Cyprus, where we have spent our week, to the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) which covers the northeastern part of the island.  The TRNC came into being in 1974 when Turkey, concerned that Greek Cypriots were planning to officially unite the island with Greece, invaded the parts of Cyprus which were inhabited by Turkish Cypriots. The conflict has never been resolved, despite the fact that Cyprus is now a member of the EU. Turkey is the only country which recognises Northern Cyprus as a country, and so to the rest of the world the territory, which includes half of the capital city, is viewed as being under illegal occupation. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Lefkosia has been the last divided capital in the world.

Tensions are, however, lower than they used to be and the Ledra Street crossing was opened in 2008 to enable pedestrians to pass from one side of the city to the other. Crossing the border is a slightly strange experience. First of all you have to queue to show passports to the Greek Cypriot police, who admittedly didn't seem terribly interested in them. They were much more interested in opening the bags of people who were crossing back in from Northern Cyprus, to make sure they weren't importing illegal amounts of cigarettes. Then you walk through a no-man's-land kind of area, before joining a queue to show passports to the Turkish Cypriot police. They seemed more interested in them and put them through a scanner, although they didn't seem to stamp them at all.

The queue for the Turkish passport control was quite long, but they have built a covered wooden walkway for people to queue in, which at least meant we were in the shade while we waited. 

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Once we'd had our passports checked, we were officially in Lefkoşa (a third name isn't at all confusing xD), the capital of the TRNC. Somewhat unexpectedly, the first thing we saw was an off licence.

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In general, many of the streets were lined with shops selling knock-off designer clothes. There had been a sign at the border warning people that bringing counterfeit clothing back across was an offence.

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There were some more attractive buildings too though...

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...including some attractive porticoes...

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...and pretty much everywhere we looked we could see minarets on the horizon.

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The highlight of this part of the city is the Büyük Han, a historical inn built by the Ottomans in 1572.

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During the time of the British administration of Cyprus, it was used as the city prison.

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Today it has all been beautifully restored and is used as an arts and cultural centre.

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It's also a popular tourist attraction and there were several shops and restaurants in the courtyard.

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We decided to stop at one of the restaurants and get lunch.

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The prices on the menu were all in Turkish lira, which is the official currency in northern Cyprus. We had to do a bit of careful googling to check the exchange rate (careful, because I'd had a text from EE warning me that if I accidentally connected to a Turkish mobile network while in Cyprus, I would be charged some pretty expensive rates!). The prices seemed pretty reasonable though, so we found a table and sat down :) 

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The menu consisted of variations on the theme of grilled meat (although pork was notably absent). Tim experimented with a mixed grill, while I played it safe with chicken. Both meals came with pitta bread, chips and beautiful sticky rice.

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I had a glass of Turkish wine, Tim had a Turkish beer, and all in all the meal came to 133 lira, which was €20.50. We didn't actually have any Turkish lira, so Tim paid on his card. Interestingly, they would have accepted cash payment in Euros, but the Euro amount quoted on the bill was €24, so it wasn't a terribly favourable exchange rate!

Service over lunch had been a bit slow, so we only had a little bit more time to explore before we needed to get to our apartment to check in.

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I wanted to track down a big mosque, whose minarets with Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags flying we'd been able to see even from the Greek side of the city.

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This is the Selimiye Mosque, formerly a Gothic cathedral, which was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman period.

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It's very clear that parts of it used to be a church.

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With that our time was up and we had to head back across the border.

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There was less of a queue this time and so we made it to our apartment in good time. It turns out to be another spacious one. We've got a comfy living area...

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...a good kitchen...

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...and a nice bedroom.

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There's even an office if Tim wants to catch up on some work :D

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All in all we've had another very interesting day in Cyprus :) 




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