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Day 8: Girne (Kyrenia)

When we went outside on the balcony of our apartment this morning, we realised we were so close to Northern Cyprus that we could see it. The flag painted on the mountainside looks a bit blurry in the picture below, but we can see it quite clearly in real life.


That was fitting, because our plan for today was to cross into Northern Cyprus again, this time by car.  The border crossing of Agios Dometios is only a couple of miles from where we are staying, so that was the first place we navigated to. Because its in the middle of Lefkosia, this is a busy border crossing and so we had to sit in a queue for a while. No one wanted to see our passports on the Greek Cypriot side, but we had to show them to the Turkish border police again.

It's permitted to take a hire car from southern Cyprus into northern Cyprus, but car insurance purchased in southern Cyprus doesn't cover you to drive in northern Cyprus, so we knew that we would have to purchase Turkish car insurance at the border. My research indicated that there was going to be an insurance booth to do this at the border crossing, next to the passport control booth. What my research didn't indicate was which lane we needed to be queuing in to be able to do this. There were two lanes for passport control and, in the absence of any signs, we'd ended up in the left hand one when the insurance booth turned out to be in the right hand one. Oh dear!

We showed our passports to the Turkish border guard and he asked to see our car insurance. Tim explained that he wanted to buy it, so the guard told him to park the car to one side and go to the insurance booth to make the purchase. Meanwhile he was going to hang onto my passport for security :o I may have been regretting this adventure slightly at this point, but luckily it all turned out to be fine. Tim successfully purchased the insurance, which turned out to only cost €20, and showed it to the border guard, who promptly returned my passport.  In possession of an insurance certificate written entirely in Turkish, we drove across the border and onto the main road towards our ultimate destination of Girne.

First impressions were that everything felt a bit more foreign on this side of the border. The signs were mainly just in Turkish (whereas on the other side, a lot of signs are bilingual in Greek and English) and the standard of driving seemed a little bit worse (though not as bad as Sicily!). There were lots of Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags everywhere, and we drove past what looked like an enormous mosque being constructed on the outskirts of Lefkoşa.

The reason for today's excursion was that some of the top sights in Cyprus are on the Turkish side of the border and there were two in particular that I really wanted to see. One was Saint Hilarion Castle, which our guidebook described as being the best castle in Cyprus, and the other was the town of Girne (or Kyrenia, in Greek), which was described as having the most picturesque harbour in Cyprus. Girne is located less than 20 miles from Lefkosia and Saint Hilarion Castle is on the way, so both are easily doable as a day-trip from the capital.

It felt like we hadn't been travelling for long when we saw a sign indicating the turn-off for the castle. From the main road, you have to drive a few kilometres uphill on a small road which takes you through some stunning mountain scenery, with great views up towards the castle itself. Unfortunately, this road is owned by the military (there seems to be some sort of army base on the hill) and so there are big signs telling you that it's forbidden to stop and/or take any photos here. That didn't seem to stop a couple of other cars of tourists from doing just that, but we definitely weren't going to risk it!

At the top of the hill there's a small car park, which was overflowing with French tourists who had just got off a coach. Tim managed to find a space and we walked up towards the castle entrance.


It only cost €2 each to get in, which seemed like a bargain, and luckily they did accept Euros in cash.


From here we were allowed to start taking photos of the views :) 


This was the road which we'd been driving up to get to the castle.


We could see all the way down to the sea; the town on the coast is Girne, where we were heading later. It looked quite built up from here and I was starting to wonder whether it would really be as attractive as the guidebook had promised.


Once we'd finished admiring the views, we turned our attention towards the castle.


As with everywhere here, the castle had its two flags proudly flying.


A series of steps took us uphill towards the lower part of the castle.


A castle was first built here in Byzantine times, to help defend the coast from attacks by Arab pirates.


The castle was later upgraded by the Lusignans, who ruled Cyprus until the end of the fifteenth century. The upgraded castle was used as a summer residence by the Lusignan kings.


Once the Venetians took control of Cyprus, the castle began to fall into disrepair.


It is still, however, the best preserved of a number of castles in this part of Cyprus.


We'd climbed a fair way uphill by this point, overtaking most of the elderly French tour group, and we were now a long way above the entrance gate with its flags.


There were still more steps to go, though!


Eventually we got up to the middle part of the castle. Here there were various rooms that we could go into to explore.


This one used to be the kitchen.


There were some bits of the castle ruins that I didn't really feel like exploring; that ladder looks rather scary!


We did, however, intend to climb a bit higher, to the top level of the castle. Although when I suggested it, I hadn't realised quite how much further there was left to climb xD


It turned out there was a long way! Another series of stone steps took us upwards, but the stone had worn smooth and was extremely slippy. Not anticipating this, we were both wearing our trainers (despite having our walking boots in the back of the car down below), and so we found it a slightly challenging climb at times, despite the fact that several Russian women in high heeled sandals seemed to be managing it just fine xD The saving grace was that there was a series of strong metal railings all the way up to hold on to.


At last, we made it to the highest tower :)  


Or, at least, the highest tower that you can climb to; this one was higher.


It was a long way down to the car park from here on one side...


...and a long way down to Girne on the other side.


It had been a tiring climb to get up here, but now that we'd made it the views were incredible.


Now there was just the small matter of getting down again!


It was a little nerve-wracking in places but we managed it and soon we were able to look back up towards where we'd been.


Phew :)


Now it was time to get back in the car and continue onwards to Girne. The guidebook had recommended a parking place not too far from the harbour, which we found without any problems. As we parked and started walking into the town centre, we were somewhat surprised to find that the first thing which confronted us was an English pub. Not quite what I expected when I thought we were having an exotic adventure :o


Although it was lunchtime by this point, we definitely weren't going to get lunch from an English pub. We continued on through the town, passing a ruined tower...


...and a pretty white church.


Then we found the sea :) 


The mountains made a really beautiful backdrop for it; it reminded me a bit of Montenegro.


This part of the seafront didn't look quite like the pictures I'd seen in the guidebook though, so we needed to explore further.


It turned out we'd walked along the sea front in the wrong direction. If we'd come out of the town and turned right instead, we would have started walking towards Girne castle.


There's a long promenade here which enables you to walk around the harbour.


These were the views that I'd seen pictures of :) 


We could see the castle, and the minaret of the town's oldest mosque.


The water was beautifully clear and we could see lots of little fish swimming in it.


We walked around as far as we could, admiring the views.


The town is definitely a lot prettier from here than it looks when you are on top of the castle.


The huge castle here was built by the Venetians in the sixteenth century.


It later surrendered to the Ottomans, who continued to use it as a castle.


During the British administration of Cyprus, it was used variously as a prison and a police barracks.


Today it is a tourist attraction, but we decided that climbing up one castle was enough effort for today so we didn't pay to go inside :D


Instead, we walked back around the harbour, towards the centre of town.


There were lots of restaurants around the waterfront, so we soon found somewhere to get a belated lunch. Tim ordered a chicken kiev, which looked enormous when it came. I order something which was described as "chicken meatballs". They turned out to be pieces of grilled chicken with herbs mixed through them; delicious but definitely not meatball-shaped :D 


For pudding, Tim had ice-cream and I tried a Turkish desert called kadayifi ekmek. It tasted a bit like tiramisu, without the chocolate and alcohol.


I also had a coffee, which came with this rather peculiar carton of water, the size and shape of a yoghurt pot. I'm guessing that the tap water isn't drinkable here, so they have sealed cartons to serve with coffee rather than glasses of tap water.


By the time we'd finished eating we were absolutely stuffed. The entire meal came to 193 Turkish Lira, which is less than €30, so it felt like good value :) 

It was only a short walk back from the restaurant towards where we'd left the car. On the way we passed the mosque whose minaret we'd seen from the harbour.


The car parking cost €2 and they let us pay in Euros, which was good. Then all that remained was a drive back along the motorway towards Lefkosia, where we had to go pass back through the border control. Our passports were checked on both sides of the border this time, although only briefly, and there were no complications with insurance in this direction :) 

It's been a really exciting day and we've seen some beautiful places. Tomorrow afternoon we will be flying back to the UK from Larnaca airport. We should have time to see some of Larnaca in the morning, though not sure how much there is to see there! I don't think it will beat today for scenery, but we've had such a great holiday that we can't really complain :) 


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