EZ and I decided to put an 'add-on' to our marital vows. In a collective mission to get to and experience the world's tinier nations, the countries easily missed whilst travelling, we pledged to visit a different out-of-the-way country on dates landing on and around our wedding anniversary. Insallah, we can look forward to clinking champagne cups together in Malta, Monaco, Macau, St. Martin, and perhaps even the island Yap in The Federated States of Micronesia.
To kick things off, for our first anniversary we hopped on a flight for 3 days in North Cyprus. Before our departure, friends in Istanbul declared that there is nothing going on in North Cyprus; just a slew of resorts and not much else. Either way, I was looking forward to some quiet beaches, seaside fish/mezza restaurants and lots of halloumi, a traditional Cypriot cheese.
We arrived at the Ercan Airport and hopped on a Havas (airport bus) that would shuttle us in one hour to Girne (Greek pron. 'Kyrenia') for 10 TL each (5 Euro). Okay, let me take care of the elephant in the room. Not having exchanged our currency, technically we weren't in a new country, but, the flag is different and a de facto state is good enough for me. Just show me the fish, cheese and beach.
Driving through the countryside, we noticed a lot of abandoned housing projects and dozens of car rental outlets and dealerships. The landscape was nice though and reminded us of the high-hills to sea geography of the Turkish Mediterranean. You have to drive around one of these hills to get into Girne. Just as the sun set behind the hill, we arrived in Girne, a picturesque harbour-town nestled like an egg between the hill and the sea. Not wanting to be tied down to one place we opted to stay in town as opposed to doing the resort routine. It was a bit of a shady walk to the guesthouse as most of the locals were young squirrelly men, skulking about in the cobblestoned back alleys. The local creepy man vibe was very typical of most seaside resort towns. See: Dahab (Egypt).
For those of you taking notes, we paid 50 TL for a double-bed private room at Cyprus Dorms. Our suite had a lovely snapshot of the harbour, excellent sight lines of the action along the pier and a perfect view of Girne Castle to our right. That evening we cruised the main drag, found one of those aforementioned seaside fish/mezze restaurants and had some Levrek (fish), 10 mezze dishes and of course, a couple tall glasses of Raki. At the conclusion of our dinner we were treated to a fight between a gang of local lads. The tourists, for the most part English, were well behaved.
My initial impressions of Girne, apart from the ever-present squirrely local packs of dudes, was that the tourists tended to avoid the main city and stay confined to the neighbouring resorts or inside the plethora of casinos. There is a lot of really nice restaurants and bars in town. Of course, the best ones are off of the main drag and you have to do some searching. I'll tell you about the one we found in a bit. We weren't hassled by shop owners and restaurant hosts nearly as much as I thought we would be. Also unexpected, there wasn't that laid back island vibe, to the contrary, juxtaposed with the vacationers, the people here seemed to really work hard and have not inherited a chilled out mentality common to most hot climate islanders. Often they were quite serious, curt and plainspoken. Hey, at least we didn't hear Bob Marley blowing out of the bar speakers all day and night. Overall, I think Girne has managed to avoid most of the pitfalls of a resort town but could still use a little dusting off.
Yada yada yada, the next morning we made our way over to Girne castle (Kyrenia Castle). The tourist price is 13 TL. I stay out of sight and EZ (who is Turkish) negotiates successfully for the 'local' price of 3 TL. The castle is worth a visit if only to see a properly elevated view of the coastline and the geography of the city below. There are also some corners and hidden nooks to kiss in. It was our anniversary after all and I'm not going to leave all of the romance out of this posting.
Speaking of romance, after the castle we went for breakfast and I had BACON for the first time in 9 months. It was back bacon no less. Canadian style.
It was around this time when we were forced to make a decision. Whether or not to use our two days to travel around the island or to stay in this area. Breaking with tradition we elected to stay put. We checked in to a newer (and fancier) hotel then took a cab to the nearest beach. You should also know that in Cyprus they drive the English way, on the left side of the road.That evening as we got ready for our official anniversary dinner we saw an amazing sunset behind the hills.
The back alleys of central Girne, local squirrels aside, are quite lovely. There is a architectural consistency in the shaded stone homes and the width of the cobblestone lanes don't allow for much motorized traffic. We were able to track down a gorgeous Italian restaurant tucked away within these back lanes. SET Ristorante Italiano, if it weren't a restaurant, would be our dream home. We sat in the courtyard garden at the bottom of a sculpted staircase that connected various sections of the stone hewed building. In our dream home of course, the staircase leads down through an archway to a marble dock on the Mediterranean. One day, perhaps.
Over the course of our candle lit dinner we were visited by some curious cats.
On a cultural note, over the past couple days we were noticing that a lot of the hotel and restaurant employees were not Turkish and definitely not native Cypriots. It turns out most of the tourist haunts are English owned and these businessmen from Britain import workers from Kashmir province in northern India. How these Kashmir(ians?) are pulled out of this unstable region and connect with English tourism businesses in Cyprus, I have no idea and our server wasn't about to give up his secrets.
Apart from inquisitively inquiring about the immigration status of our servers, the minutes turned into hours as we sampled local red wines, ate lasanga and cheesecake, smoked a cigar, gazed longingly into each others eyes and nostalgically recalled the year that has passed since the celebration of our nuptials. After dinner, with wide-eyes and blushed cheeks we made our way to the after party in room #36 at Anadol Hotel...
The next day was spent much the same as the first with a visit to the beach and meals at scaled down hole in the wall eateries. I also purchased four giant blocks of halloumi. We woke up at 4am the following day to catch our 7am flight back to Istanbul.
Which brings me to the important part. Are you a fan of Raki? In Cyprus it's 11 TL ($8) for a litre and flying into Istanbul I suppose you are not on an international flight (though for all intents and purposes for us, we were) so there is no customs check upon arrival. For 100 Euro we got some big bottles of Tequila, Vodka, Baily's, 2L of JD, Glennfidich, and a couple jugs of Yeni Raki. That should keep us going through year 2 of our union, or at the very least until New Years.
Which brings me to this other slightly more important part. No matter where we spend our feasts of occasion and celebration you should all know that I have the best travel partner ever. Not only is she the best dressed backpacker out there and up for anything but she is also happy to take 6 tries at making me look like Nixon getting onto the Marine One chopper while the flight crew impatiently look at their watches.
(below: flying out of Girne, North Cyprus)
I love you EZ. Cheers to us!