Day 397: Calypso’s Isle


When they say slow boat, they mean it! It was 11am before we reached port in Girne in the northern half of Cyprus. Northern half? What, like in St. Martin/Sint Maarten? Well, kind of, but in a much less hilarious fashion…

Warning – history lesson alert!!

You can skip this bit if you like…

Back in the mists of time, Cyprus was ruled by a succession of all the usual suspects in the area – Assyria, then Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome and eventually the Byzantines… that was up until Richard The Lionheart turned up like a great big flowery nonce and gave the island to his ‘friend’ Guy de Lusignan. That was good for Cyprus for a while, having a ‘guy’ in charge who was good with colours helped with the aesthetics no end and before long, Cyprus was enjoying a golden age. That golden age was damaged by the meddling of the Venetians and then completely blown out of the water in 1570 by an invasion by the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were a bunch of ne’er-do-wells and didn’t really care for their new possession, which languished in a state of entropy until BRR-PAP-PAAAAAH!! The British returned to the island in the late 1800s to get the place ship-shape, Bristol fashion and more than a little camp once again.

Anyway, after 300 years of not liking the Turks much, the original inhabitants now decided they were all Greek (this was news to anyone who had bothered reading a history book). This led to the concept of ‘enosis’, which is the reunification of the island with Greece. The fact that the place had only been (kinda) Greek for a few years under Alexander (who was a Macedonian) and then had been ruled from Egypt by the Ptolemaic Dynasty (the one that ended with Queen Cleopatra, pop-pickers!) didn’t seem to phase them – you know what people are like when they get a foolish idea in their heads… and something to moan about.

A victim complex is something that’s a bit alien to me, being white, British and middle-class, sorry I know that sounds terrifyingly blunt, but there you go, at least I’m honest about it. I supposed I get a bit miffed that America steals all our best ideas and makes loads of money out of them and I wish Everton would win a few more football matches, but if I started portraying myself as some sort of victim, I would (quite rightly) be shouted down by people who have far bigger grievances than I. However, it seemed to the ‘Turkish’ Cypriots that playing the victim card had done the ‘Greek’ Cypriots well and so they played it themselves. Although when the Turkey army invaded in 1974, they may have played it a bit too well.

In situations like this, I draw a cartoon in my head of women and children in trenches throwing bombs at each other, the caption being “No- WE’RE more persecuted!”

But once you start down this road, where does it end? That’s right! IN A ROADBLOCK! One slapped down in the middle of Belfast, Jerusalem or Cyprus, it doesn’t matter – in a situation in which both sides see themselves as the victims, neither will be interested in seizing the moral high-ground, nor organising a big music festival and getting stoned together.

So here we have a divided island. One half of which is an independent state and a member of the EU and the other half is controlled by Turkey, and single-handedly thwarts their own ambitions to join the EU at every turn. This is one of the last (and daftest) conflict-zones in the world and that’s possibly why Banksy Moon, the graffiti artist from Bristol who is currently Secretary General of the UN, is here at the moment attempting to thrash out a deal which will ensure sovereignty and peace for a re-unified island. It’s a nice dream – let’s call it Cynosis, the reunification of Cyprus with itself.

In the meantime, though, to cross from one side of the capital city Lefkosia (Nicosia to us Anglophones) you need to get your passport stamped. Seriously. Imagine a roadblock running the length of Hanover Street in Liverpool and you needing to bring your passport along in case you want to walk from the Cavern to the Jac. It’s that silly. But that’s exactly what I did when entering the ‘European side’ of the city with Sylvan, the French musician guy from yesterday.

Having said all that, it was nice to feel I was back in the EU, and I guess another passport stamp isn’t going to hurt. I went to a cash machine and got out some real money for a change and then blew it all on an outrageously expensive pint of beer. Wow, Cyprus is expensive. Beautiful, but expensive.

The city walls of Nicosia are amazing – a perfect circle surrounding the old town, how they pulled it off, got it so precise, blows my mind. And walking about, you really do get a sense of ancient history that is sadly missing from other capital cities. Sylvan had bigger fish to fry, so we said our farewells and I headed off to meet with Zafer, my CouchSurf contact for the evening.

He met me on the Turkish side of the ‘border’, being a Turkish citizen he’s not allowed in the south of the city. If he’s desperate to go to the Nicosia branch of Debenhams, he must first fly back to Turkey, then apply for a visa to Greece, fly to Greece, apply for a visa for Cyprus and fly back to Cyprus, you know – the country where he lives.

Madness, sheer madness.

Zafer was a really interesting guy, a Christian Turk of mixed Turk/Armenian heritage… and you thought the Armenians and Turks hated each other! There must have been some proper West Side Story going on there with his grandparents – ah, the power of love. Zafer has travelled all over the Middle East and while I envied his Turkish passport for allowing him to travel to all these places without having to wait weeks for approval, he envied my British passport more. I suggested we swap, but I doubted we could pull it off (although I have to say I’ve seen a good few ginger Turks…!)

After a traditional Turkish dinner, we headed out to Girne to see if anything was happening in town, but the answer was a resounding no. Out of season and a Monday night? Forget about it! But that’s not to say we didn’t have a good time, Girne waterfront is really quite picturesque and hell with it – I couldn’t afford the beer anyway.

The best bit? Not only did I find a kebab shop called Kebabistan (love it!), I also managed to find the perfect kebab – not in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon (although they were really good) Iraq or Turkey… they’re in Cyprus. Adbul would be proud.

Day 398: Branson’s Pickle


Dragged my carcass off Zafer’s couch a few minutes after seven, said my thank yous and goodbyes and soon enough I was down at the port clambering onto the fast ferry back to Turkey. And twist my nipples and call me Frank what a fast ferry it was. While the Calypso had taken a good eleven hours to cross the sea to Cyprus, the fast ferry took under two hours to get back.

If only these hydrofoil things existed elsewhere… I could have been to Crap Verde and back within a day! The return leg from Mauritius would have taken a six days, not six weeks! The Caribbean?! Oh, if only…!

Excuse me, Mr Branson, once you’ve quite finished fleecing the British commuter of every penny to travel on your disgustingly over-priced train ‘services’ (you know, the ones that actively punish the spontaneous and bereaved for having the audacity of not giving two weeks notice to ride your tilting toilets) can you buy a few of these hydrofoil things and set them to good use in the Caribbean? Cheers.

Back in Turkey, I returned to my cafe with the super-fast internet connection only to discover that the floodgates had been firmly closed and the best I could hope for was a thin trickle of one and zeros out of which to curry favour with the internets gods. Naturally it didn’t happen, so I still haven’t seen the second half of the Lost Season 6 opener. Bah! But they can’t keep me in this plastic prison forever, right Professor?

As I left the cafe to catch the bus for Istanbul, my eye was caught by a camera crew outside. Do you speak English? asked the rather fetching Dutch girl who I guess was the presenter. I can do you one better… Turns out that I’m not the only idiot running about annoying people by not speaking the lingo – these guys have set themselves the task of getting around Turkey without spending any money. They’ve been here for three days and where, up to this point, doing quite well. Now, however, it was dark, wet, utterly miserable and nobody is Tacusu was up for helping them out… small wonder – there were nine of them. I would think three people on a blag was taking the mick, but NINE? Crazy Dutch.

Anyway, after a quick chat with the Dutchies, I headed back to Silifke to get the bus to Istanbul, the oh-no-it-isn’t capital of Turkey (yeah, it’s Ankara, but who’s heard of Ankara?). The bus I got on was AMAZING! The usual free cups of tea and flat-screen tellys where trumped by something I had heard of in legend, but was yet to experience – free WiFi! Honestly. What have you to say to THAT, National Express, Greyhound, Eurolines or any of the other utterly dreadful bus companies many of the people reading this have to put up with?? Your buses suck, you treat us like cattle and developing nations in Latin America dis you from a great height. YOU SUCK!

Hurrah for Turkish buses, they truly are a delight.

And so I contentedly tapped away at my laptop until the wee small hours, safe and warm from the blizzard raging outside in my little internetty world.