Kyrenia is a delightful town on the north coast of Cyprus - with a rich past, of which - in all fairness - very little is left, in town at least. It's main charm is a absolutely perfect old harbour, full of fishing boats and yachts. There's very little traffic and the place is very relaxing during the day, and suggestive at night. My favourite thing about Kyrenia, as said before, is the harbour - which, with its Byzantine (?) castle in the background, make it a very special sight. The rest of the town is very low-key, though not ugly at all - small white houses and arrow lanes, and plenty of flowers all over. Definitely a great place to stay while exploring the surrounding area.
Bellapais is a charming little village on the edge of a mountain, that is built around what is now a ruined abbey. This village was made famous by Lawrence Durrell (brother of the more famous Gerald Durrell) who lived here in the 1950's when Cyprus was experiencing a lot of internal turmoil as relationships between the Greeks/Turks/British boiled up. A lot of British were assassinated during the troubles, but Durrell semed to be perceived as a neutral as he lived with the locals away from the British and taught in a school where he was friendly with the local kids.
These days of Course, Lawrence Durrell is long gone (and long dead), but some of his legacy lives on. He famously describes in his book about a large tree (that was appropriately nicknamed the "Tree of Idleness") which all of the villagers used to lounge around under in its shade and drink all day. Although there is some debate as to where this tree is today (or whether the original still actually exists).
The Abbey is definitely worth visiting and is very close to Kyrenia. It is also possible to walk up the hill and see the outside of Durrells old house (although whn I visited it, it belonged to a German couple!). There is a commemorative plate up on the house, although you will probably need to ask directions to find it!
A short distance from Kyrenia is the village of Bellapais.
A ruined abbey commands a wonderful view down to Kyrenia. It was in Bellapais that Lawrence Durrell lived for a time, as described in his book Bitter Lemons. In the village is the ‘Tree of Idleness’, so-called because anyone who sits beneath it is struck by indolence. Fortunately, a neighbouring cafe has adopted the name, and since it has its own tree, many passing tourists are saved from a life of indolence by the fact that they are sitting under the wrong tree.
Cyprus - the less well known North
"Not Just Another Island."
A Note about place names. I was more familiar with the pre-partition place names of north Cyprus and for consistency, will use these, followed at first mention by the currently used Turkish name.
We were surprised by the negative reaction of a some friends and acquaintances on hearing that we planned to spend nearly a month in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
It was 1999, the year in which the 25th anniversary of the political and military action which resulted in the creation of a divided island. Tension, was running high on both sides of the dividing line and it seemed to be reflected here in some UK newspaper articles commenting on the anniversary, and amongst the population at large - particularly those old enough to have been serving in the British army who had personal experience of the long, bitter and bloody events in the years before 1974.
For the North, imposed political isolation had contributed to economic decline and depression with very many fewer tourists than the thousands flocking to the more developed Greek south of the island.
We were to discover that this neglect meant that the traditional landscape and culture of the area remained largely intact with none of the despoilation inflicted by mass tourism on the south.
Shortages of manufactured goods were evident - along every street and on every street corner signs of a "make do and mend" society were evident - small, really small, engineering repair workshops, tailors and cobblers -working in their front rooms.
We met and talked with many people who spoke openly about how "partition" had affected them personally and heard many sad stories and different points of view. The one constant was the welcoming friendliness of all the people we met.
When we arrived at Ercan airport, having first landed in Turkey at Istanbul Airport - the only internationally agreed route for visitors to the TRNC, we were met by a pre-arranged taxi. We knew little more than the address and that it was in the "old Turkish" area in Kyrenia/Girne. The taxi driver knew it and dropped us off about 1 0'clock in the morning. As he drove away we realised we had no key - but no matter the door was open and the key inside. So began our experience of Cyprus - not just a holiday.
"Our temporary home"
Our temporary home was an old house in the old Turkish area of the town.
Our neighbour was the retired postmaster who at first approached us shyly but soon became more relaxed and during the first few cold, rainy days we were there apologised for the weather and assured us it would improve.
Prior to 1975, he told us, his job in the Post Office meant he had worked in north and south but he had then been forced to return to the north and was fortunate that he had his old family home to return to. For his wife it had been more difficult - all her family remained in the south and travel between north and south was not then possible.
Around the corner there was a mosque and the call of the Muezzin became a familiar sound fron sunrise to nightfall.
At the bottom of the lovely long garden, filled with orange, lemon and other fruit trees, we had views of the mountains and a junior school. It was less visible than audible, not only at playtime when the sound of young voices could be heard, but as the weather got warmer and warmer it seemed many lessons were conducted outdoors.
"Easter in Northern Cyprus"
The house we stayed in was close to St Andrew's Church.
The church is situated on a hillside close to the Castle - said to have been captured by Richard the Lionheart on his way to the third Crusade in 1191 - and almost overlooking the beautiful harbour.
We expected to find a small number of resident British people and a smaller number of holiday makers at the Easter Morning service. To our surprise the small church was unable to accommodate the large congregation so the lovely garden with its ancient olive trees, profusely flowering geraniums and a carpet of wild cyclamen took the overflow. The hymns and prayers of the openair service attracted many bystanders, some stopping on the pavement to join in, others quietly watching. During the service local people passed answering the call of the Muezzin to prayer.
There was something rather special about that peaceful day.