My trip to Cyprus has an unknown origin because I do not remember well when and how I made the decision to go to this Eastern Mediterranean island. This is because I am constantly consulting maps and information about possible destinations. Through the tour operator I booked three trips to Northern Cyprus.
One cannot go to North Cyprus by rental car because the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has not been recognized by any other country apart from Turkey and therefore is illegal. The insurance does not cover in the North. One would not have medical insurance since not being the territory of the EU, the European health card does not cover you. So there is an element of risk. Neither would the repair costs of the rented vehicle be covered.
My flight landed punctually at the Paphos International Airport. There was the taxi driver with a sign with my name. When I saw him I thought this is the prototype of an old-school Cypriot taxi driver. He is an obese man with a dark complexion, wearing a plaid shirt with a huge mustache. We got into the car and the conversation started immediately. He told me that it was very hot in Cyprus, exceeding 30 degrees.
He also told me that he knew the hotel well since he works a lot with them. The taxi driver was not silent. We arrived at the hotel finally at around 12.15 in the night. I paid and we said goodbye!
I found the information about this hotel in the Lonely Planet guide of Cyprus and looked for opinions on it on tripadvisor. It is a hotel with good value for money. Nothing fancy, but it is very clean and well located.
I checked-in I was attended by a rather young guy. He told me that he worked all night and that he alternated between the reception and the hotel bar. The breakfast is from 8 to 10.30. Since the next day my tour started at 7.45 in the morning I asked for breakfast around 7.
He gave me the keys to the room that was on the outside of the hotel building, attached to it. It has direct access from a side street between the hotel and a hookah bar. Although for me only, it is a double bedroom, with wardrobe, a small desk, chair, TV (which I did not turn on), air conditioning and bathroom.
It was very good for the price I paid. I forgot to take pictures of the room. It was more than 12.30 at night. So I went to sleep because the next day. I had to get up very early to be punctual in front of the hotel. From here they would come to pick me up to do my first island tour to Salamis and Famagusta in North Cyprus.
Day 2: Northern Cyprus: St. Barnabas, Salamina and Famagusta
I woke up early and at 7 in the morning I was already in the hotel's dining room. When I arrived, I had several buffet items on the table. I just had to serve myself. The hotel breakfast, although plentiful, does not include anything hot. There were juices, bread, toast, butter, some very good jams, cheese, cold meats, salad, cereal, and Greek yogurt.
There is also coffee, tea and milk and possibly something else that I now forget. But there was nothing hot, apart from the coffee, tea and toast. It was all served in a very pleasant dining room, which even has a terrace that faces the street. The day was very sunny and hot.
At 7.45 I go to the entrance of the hotel that is just 100 meters from Pyramos. As soon as I arrived, I was immediately approached by a bald guy in his 40s who smiled and wish Kali Merah or Good morning. I think these were the only two words I heard in Cypriot during my entire stay in Cyprus. Due to my late arrival we had no choice but to be at 7.45 to get the tickets for the excursions and pay.
The guide told me that Paphos has grown a lot in a very short time. He told me that in Cyprus there is always good weather because the sun shines an average of 320 out of the 365 days in the year. What he told me was going to contrast a few days later through another source of information. I asked if it was possible to travel around Paphos by bicycle.
He replied that the city was not really good for a bike as most of the time I would have to share the road with motor vehicles. He also told me that the upper part of the city, called Ktima was upside down. The bus arrived, and the door opened. A guy received me and asked me for the ticket for that trip. I went in and sat in the middle zone.
The first excursion began. The bus was filled 75%. First we went through a couple of hotels in Paphos to pick up more tourists. Then it takes the road to Famagusta, about 170 kms from Paphos, in the South East of the island. It is essential to carry the passport to go to the other side of the island. Most of the tourists on the bus were British.
This type of tourism is not the one I like most. We have neither the freedom nor the flexibility to be able to stop where we want to see a view, a village, a church or just to take a picture. There is no doubt that you have much more freedom if you go by rental car. In Cyprus, people drive on the left side of the road, as in the United Kingdom, India and Japan.
Once the bus picks up all the passengers from their hotels, we headed east. The guide spoke very correct English, very academic and has a funny accent. And he is a great connoisseur of the history and culture of his country. His explanations were very interesting and made the trip very bearable.
We went along the coastline, surrounding the very large city of Limassol and also Larnaca. We take a break for a coffee in the typical roadside cafe, located somewhere in between Larnaca and the Neolithic site of Choirokoitia, which we did not visit. After coffee, we climb back to the bus and take the road back to Famagusta. The next stop was at the Pergamos passport control point.
The Greek Cypriots of the south do not like to call it border, but checkpoints. But before arriving there, we traveled for about 5 or 6 kilometers parallel to the so-called Green Line, which is between Chipres and controlled by the United Nations. In the middle of it is the village of Pyla, which is one of the only four villages still inhabited by Cypriots both Greek and Turkish together. There are sections, however, where the green line is so narrow that from the Greek side you can see the Turkish side directly.
We arrived at the passport control point. We did not even have to get off. An official went up and walked the bus to the end. He took the documentation and with the help of the guide and other colleagues checked them. Shortly after the same thing was done on the Turkish side. The whole process lasted about 20 minutes. We cannot take photos. After finishing, the guide returned to the bus with our passports. Ten minutes later we arrived at the first of our destinations to the St Barnabas monastery. The story of Saint Barnabas described in the frescoes of the church.
Saint Barnabas was born in Salamis, the son of a Jewish family of the Levitical clan, who emigrated from Syria to Cyprus. When he was doing his religious studies in Jerusalem he witnessed some of the miracles of Jesus. He was appointed archbishop of Salamis and returned to Cyprus, along with John Mark and the Apostle Saint Paul to evangelize the Jewish community of the island. It was not very successful, although they did achieve the conversion of Sergio Paulo so that Cyprus became the first state in history with a Christian ruler.
On his second visit to Cyprus, Barnabas was arrested by the Jews and imprisoned in a synagogue in Salamis. It was then that he was stoned to death. They wrapped up the remains and threw them into a lagoon to end up in the sea. But Juan Marcos and some converted slaves recovered their remains and secretly buried them under a carob tree in a certain place west of Salamis by placing a copy of the Gospel of San Mateo on his chest.
After this they quickly escaped to Egypt to avoid the persecution of the Jews. Christianity was persecuted and the tomb fell into oblivion. In the fifth century, Christianity returned. The church of Antioch, founded by Peter, was the dominant one, but that of Cyprus, being founded by Barnabas, acquired the same level as that of Syria and therefore independence.
The Archbishop Antemios of Cyprus dreamed that he found the tomb of Barnabas in a specific point. Guided by this divine inspiration they went there and found their remains with the gospel in their chests. That gospel was given to the Archbishop of Constantinople a few years later, who delightedly granted autonomy to the church in Cyprus. Thus the Cypriot ecclesiastical ranks choose their own archbishop, who can wear the same attire in ceremonies as the emperor of Constantinople. St Barnabas is today the patron of Cyprus.
The monastic complex consists of a main church, where there is a museum of icons. On the other side of the small garden are the rooms where there is now an archaeological museum, with many pieces collected from the ruins of nearby Salamina. A little more to the east, about 100 meters away, is the chapel where the remains of St Barnabas are.
We climbed back to the bus and in just five minutes we stop to enjoy the fabulous archaeological site of the ruins of Salamina, which are next to the sea.
Salamina is only 9 km from Famagusta. According to legend, it was founded in the 12th century BC. It was for several centuries thanks to the richness of the copper ore deposits of Cyprus a prosperous city that has been under the domination of Greeks and Persians in the past. It was snatched away by Alexander the Great, entering thus under a Hellenistic period after which it was ruled by the Egyptian Ptolemies, who moved the capital of the island to Paphos.
In 58 BC it fell under Roman rule during which the city regained its prosperity despite not being the capital, especially under the emperors Trajan and Hadrian. St Barnabas tried to Christianize the area in the first century, but was a victim of the Jewish population, that at that time was very powerful in the area.
Subsequently the city suffered several earthquakes and was rebuilt with the name of Constantia. After a period of decline and abandonment it was conquered by the Arabs who moved it 9 km further south to what is now the city of Famagusta. During the time of the Crusades the city regained its apogee and standard of living.
It was also under the control of Genoese and Venetians, its history being a succession of apogee followed by abandonment and new recovery, mainly due to its strategic location east of the island and facing Asia Minor and the Middle East.
As I was going with an organized tour, I could not stay as long as I wanted. Fundamentally what we saw were the Roman remains consisting of the gymnasium, bathrooms and theater, which are in a relatively small area. In the surroundings there is also a necropolis with remains dating back to the eleventh century BC and several remains of Early Christian basilicas. There is also a museum.
The first thing we saw was the Roman Gymnasium, built in turn on one of the Hellenistic period, which was surrounded by columns. In which there are also statues, all of them decapitated. Up on the left is the statue of a wise Roman, who never lost his head, although they broke his face.
We walked 50 meters to the south and entered the Roman theater, which once had a capacity for 15,000 spectators and had a proscenium of which there is nothing left. There remains a decapitated statue and apparently the central moat could be filled with water turning into naumaquia where games and aquatic shows were held.
Salamina is quite impressive and I was left wanting more, but time was pressing. We had to return to the bus to go to the city of Famagusta (which in Turkish-Cypriot is called Gazimagusa), which is only 9 kms away.
We arrived in ten minutes and the bus driver found a parking lot next to an immense statue of Ataturk. The city is surrounded by medieval walls built by the Venetians and the Famagusta Gate gives access to the old city.
It was together with Salamis a city with a splendid past, with successive periods of apogee and crisis, which the Ottomans were in charge of putting an end to. Hence the significant presence of medieval buildings. When we arrived it was time for lunch and the cleric was in the minaret calling for prayer. So at that time we could not enter the mosque, located in the nerve center of the city. That mosque, which in the past was actually the Cathedral of St. Nicholas of Famagusta, is now called Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque.
So we decided to disperse all during the next two hours to wander around the medieval city and eat something. It's market day and in the square they had also put on some speakers with eighties music. Passing under the medieval arch I saw that there was a beautiful church of St. George that was closed. Under its lateral buttresses there is a Muslim tomb of that of Yirmisekiz Mehmed Celebi. Its exterior is quite impressive.
In the area there were also remains of a Venetian palace and stones here, and there. I ate at the first place I saw on what is considered the most commercial street in the area, although it was not really that much either. I did not think there were many people. I take a kebab with salad and a beer. I do not remember the price, but it was not expensive. I paid with the Turkish lira.
Then I went back to the Cathedral to see it inside, now that there was no prayer. I paid a small donation. Its interior, being devoid of all Christian images, does not have much grace with those white walls and without stained glass. The architect, apparently, was inspired by the cathedral of Reims, but today is light years away from it.
To finish and, already back to the bus, I climbed to the top of the wall to see the sea views, although I found them a bit disappointing. From there, looking to the other side, there was a view of the main street with the cathedral next door:
And from there I went to the bus. I was the last one to arrive and we started to start our way back to Paphos. Soon we passed through an area called Varosha, also known as the ghost town. This district, of Greek Cypriot majority was what was called the Riviera of Famagusta. It was full of luxury hotel complexes arranged in large avenues and promenades. It was one of the biggest destinations in the country and in the world. Here celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Raquel Welch, stayed.
The Turkish occupation of 1974 arrived by means of a morning bombardment from the sky. The Greco-Cypriot inhabitants of Varosha, fearful of a massacre in the area, fled in a hurry to the south of the island to Larnaca and Paralimni, a town very close to Famagusta. The Turks could not populate it.
So, today the area is inaccessible and everything has remained in the same place it was in 1974. What happens is that nature invades everything. The cars have been left there for more than 40 years. The houses have not been reformed. Plants and vegetation begin to invade the streets. And turtles spawn on their empty beaches.
The bus did not stop in the area, obviously, since we cannot enter. It's all fenced. The truth is that seeing everything in such a state is very sad. Everything is decrepit, rusty, and no one has touched it for more than 40 years. Nobody knows what has happened to the pieces of the Archaeological Museum of Varosha.
Finally we left Famagusta to go through the passport control point again and return to South Cyprus, in the direction of Paphos. They are about 170 kms. The experience was worth it, of course. The bus left me at the entrance of the hotel in Paphos at around 6.30.
After walking the barely 100 meters to get to my hotel, I have a shower and went out in the first place to wander around and visit a site that caught my attention. It is right behind me. hotel. I had to make a small detour, but then I realized that it was a magnificent place.
I saw that there was a small church (Agios Kyriakos) all surrounded by Roman and early Christian ruins and mosaics. I verified that the church was open because of the celebration of Orthodox Easter. Its interior is very simple. It only highlights its iconostasis. The best is out. This church, rather small, is built in part of what was previously a large Byzantine Paleo-Christian basilica with five naves, called Panagia Chrysopolitissa. Even today some of the mosaics are preserved.
Among the many pillars and columns around the church is the so-called St Paul Pillar. The tradition says that the Apostle Saint Paul, who came to Paphos to Christianize these lands, was bound and whipped with lashes on this same pillar that is next to this church.
I continued my way to the port of Paphos, but I began to feel the ravages of tiredness caused by the trip. I dined and returned to the hotel.
Day 3: Paphos
I slept like a log and woke up at about 8 o'clock. I had a hearty breakfast. There was no hurry. I had to reorganize the planning for that day. Initially I had planned to visit the Tomb of the Kings and the archaeological site of Paphos, but being Easter Sunday everything was closed. This is along with Christmas Day one of the main festivals of the year. Also Easter Monday is a party.
The previous day in the afternoon, near my hotel, I saw a shop that rented bicycles and asked the attendant to see if it was going to open on Easter Sunday. I thought that if I could, I would rent a bike to tour the town of Paphos. It is tremendously touristy.
I went then to the part of the port, which is very close. It is the area full of restaurants belonging to chains that are in the United Kingdom, all with their terraces and not so cheap prices. At that time of the morning they were closed. Only some cafes were open, also very British looking. I looked for a pharmacy.
I found something better, so I did not care too much. I went to what they call the beach of Paphos, which is not such. It is a concrete boardwalk where people sunbathe. There is no sand. The water is pretty clean. In the distance, at the end of the pier, we can see the Paphos castle.
I walked around the port a bit. It was 10.30 in the morning with sun and pleasant temperature, but a very hot day was coming. There were already people sunbathing on the boardwalk and some also used to fish.
As it is not a really special area with everything closed, I decided that it was best to go to the beach. So I went to the main bus station of Kato Paphos where I took the bus that goes from Paphos Harbor from the port to Coral Bay. The last stop is precisely the beach of Coral Bay. The entire route to Coral Bay consists of hotel complexes, one behind the other. After half an hour we were there.
In Coral Bay there are in fact several beaches. I was about to get off at the wrong stop but some bus passengers told me that I had to get off at the end of the whole, which is where the best beach really is. This actually consists of two small Bay-shaped coves superimposed one behind the other. The first one had enough people, but there was nothing more to walk along the shore a little more to realize that the second beach was emptier. This is where I settled.
It is not that it is a very big beach. From end to end there is no more than 1 km. The temperature was perfect. After a while of relaxation, it was already getting hot and I was getting ready to take a bath.
Then it occurred to me that I had to talk to the lifeguard. It was necessary to warn of what was coming. A terrible and eerie scream of pain was going to be heard throughout the Mediterranean basin from Algeciras to Istanbul with very possible acoustic reverberations through the area of Carthage.
Although in reality all this was not more than another excuse to postpone having to face the temperature of the water. We had to put an end to this! To all this we must say that there were people in the water, even children, but it is already known that the first maritime bath of the year has a dramatic component.
So I went in. I dived and swam for a while. And I felt great. After the bath I dried in the sun, like the lizards and then I took a walk along the shore. The rocks that separate both bays were full of children catching carramarros or shrimps. How nice are the kids on the beach!
After a couple of hours I took the bus again to return to Kato Paphos but I did not get off at the same central bus station of the port. From the window I saw a sign indicating the Christian Catacomb of Agia Solomoni, about which I had read in the cypress travel guide. It is not very big and it does not have much.
There are a few caves excavated in the rock where there are small altars with icons. Apparently the seven Maccabean brothers who died as martyrs were buried here. His mother was canonized. All this happened in the second century. During Roman times, it was apparently used as a synagogue and later as a Christian burial. I took a couple of photos but the truth is that it was pretty bad.
A little further up there are more tombs carved into the rock. This time are those of Agios Lambrianos and Misitikos. They have been dated in the Hellenistic period. There are some remains of frescoes (although I did not see them) and it is still excavated today.
Very close to there I was struck by a building whose facade was decorated with Roman motifs and colorful colors. I approached and verified that there was even a huge statue of about ten meters tall of a legionary in one of the gardens! It seemed stolen from a theme park. Then when I turned the corner I saw that it was not just a house, but the whole street was like that.
The sculptural figures were halfway between Roman statues and Asterix comics. The legionary was in fact a little fondon. There was also, of course, the goddess Aphrodite and Athena. There are also images of the god Ares and the King of Argos. There was also a Roman Tavern and a Roman Hotel with the facade painted with scenes from the life of that time. I decided to take a few pictures.
There I just found an open store! I bought some postcards and souvenirs and asked if there was any shop in the area where to buy bread, and sausage. A guy who spoke English with cockney accent told me that below there was a bakery that sold some food as well. I found it after 5 minutes.
I continued walking for another 5 minutes looking for a shady place to sit down to eat when suddenly, on the left I see a side street with an indication that says to the basilica of Chrysopolitissa. I went there and ate on a bench in the shade next to the archaeological site that is next to this church and then go to the hotel, shower and rest a while.
At about 6 o'clock in the afternoon I went out again to take a walk around the area of the Paphos port, designed for the British tourist. It looks like a Mediterranean version of Brighton, although it is not yet crowded with tourists. The waiters of the restaurants go out on the lookout for potential customers.
I reached the castle and continued to the right bordering the perimeter of the Paphos archaeological site along the sea for a walk along the coast of the peninsula. There was a nice sea breeze. The humidity was wreaking havoc again and it started to get dark.
So after several kilometers along the coast I decided to turn around, go back to the port, find a place to dine and return to the hotel. Seeing that the restaurants located on the coast were very nice with their little terraces, but little genuine, I decided to go to a place that I saw a bit more to the interior, looking a little seedy. The meal of kebab accompanied by salad was pretty good and cheaper. Then I went to the hotel.