North Cyprus 15th - 22nd of June 2009
Travelling with Jules Verne, Lynn Jill and Adrian took a very convoluted route which involved a five-hour stopover at Istanbul airport. We arrived at the hotel at 12:45 AM having left Lynn's house at 6:30 AM.
The itinerary was as follows with us taking the optional tours:
Fly from your chosen airport, via Turkey, to Ercan. Transfer to your chosen hotel.
Full-day tour visiting the dramatically sited St. Hilarion castle, romantic Bellapais Abbey and Kyrenia castle situated on the harbour.
Full day tour of ancient Salamis and Famagusta, visiting St. Nicholas’ cathedral, Othello’s Tower and the old city walls, returning to Kyrenia via the monastery of St. Barnabas.
Half day tour to the old city of Nicosia, visiting St. Sophia cathedral, the covered bazaar, a caravanserai and an Ottoman mansion.
Optional full day tour visiting Guzelyurt and the historical sites of Soli and Vouni (lunch included) - £30.
Optional visit to the magnificently sited Crusader castle of Kantara with its stunning views (lunch included) - £30.
Day at leisure. Perhaps take a boat trip or a forest walk with mountain barbeque.
Tuesday 16th June
On the first morning we were met by our guide Willie who had welcomed us at the airport the previous night. He is a Swedish ex-UN soldier has worked in Turkey and Cyprus first time since the 1960s. He explained to us the history of the division of Cyprus following the Turkish invasion of the North in 1974. He is clearly a great supporter of the Turkish but we found him to be extremely informative during the many hours we spent talking with him.
The coastal strip containing Kyrenia is separated from the rest of the island by a range of hills rising to about 2000 feet. At the top of this St Hilarion Castle gave magnificent views over the coastline. Dating from at least the 12th century also have been taken by Richard the lion heart at the time of the Crusades and subsequently sold off to the Lusignan family who proceeded to rule the Cyprus until the Venetians took the on the death of the last Lusignan monarch in the late 15th century.
Our next stop was at Belapais Abbey, a 13th century complex overlooking the sea. A musical trio was playing in the main hall when we arrived. We recognized the cellist as one of the passengers from our flight.
We returned to Kyrenia where we visited Lake also, permanently situated at the end of the harbour making a particularly picturesque scene. Once again, this is an old stronghold having been attacked by Guy de Lusignan in 1191.
Our hotel was quite simple but the food was reasonable and the hotel itself had a small swimming pool and surrounding sun area.
Wednesday 17th June
The following day we left at about 9 having walked up the road to meet the mini-bus. The streets outside our hotel were very narrow and with right angle junctions, with the result that it was very inconvenient to bring the mini-bus closer.
We travelled over the mountain ridge southwards to the outskirts of Nicosia and then headed eastwards to the old settlement of Salamis. This is a very large site that has been only partially excavated. It became the capital of Cyprus about 1100 b.c. and then became an important Roman city, even after the sea-front and looked over into a partial destruction by an earthquake in 76 a.d. It was sacked by Arabs in 674 and was largely left abandoned thereafter. We saw the theatre, the gymnasium with many columns and the baths. We also visited Famugasta. As well as seeing many churches, often in ruins, we also visited a medieval fort (Othello’s Tower) adjacent to the harbour and overlooking thenaval dockyard.
Our final stop was the monastery of St. Barnabas which ceased to be active in 1976 and remains as a museum containing many icons of St Barnabas. Barnabas was a native of Salamis and the monastery dates in part from the 5th century but was largely rebuilt in 1756.
Thursday 18th June:
Today was a half day tour only, to Nicosia where we concentrated on the old city. We visited St Sophia cathedral, a 13th century church unfortunately now converted to a mosque. We stopped for a drink at a 16th century caravanserai which proved interesting. An old mansion had become a museum and again we had an interesting visit. A small museum of the whirling dervishes proved of relatively limited interest.
the afternoon we spent some time at the poolside before our evening meal.
Friday 19th June:
Lynn's birthday: We had all opted for two additional tours. The first was to Guzelyurt an attractive small town east of Kyrenia and very close to the border with Greek Cyprus. We moved on to the historic sites of Soli and Vouni.
Soli dates from the same period as Vouni, but what remains is a later site. We saw Roman mosaics within a church structure, now just unearthed ruins. These mosaics were both large and splendid, being of creatures such as a swan and a duck or purely abstract patterns.
Vouni Palace is a very
large hilltop ruin dating from the 5h century BC. It has superb coastal
views and we also appreciated its slightly cooler temperatures and the daily
average of our time in Cyprus was around 37˚ C. Knowledge of the nature of
the site seems somewhat limited but it is of Persian origin and was a palace
built at considerable expense and with features such as baths and a hot
water system as well as numerous wells.
On the way back we spent time in the museum at Guzelyurt and the adjoining church.
We returned for a short stop at the hotel before going as a complete group to enjoy a good meal at a restaurant at Belapais Abbey. This was in the open air and we looked down over the coastal strip to the sea several hundred feet below. As the darkness fell the Abbey buildings were floodlit. With the strains of a concert from the hall on the site it was a truly memorable experience.
Saturday 20th June:
For the last of our tours (again optional and again just the 3 of us plus our guide) we again headed east, this time to the Crusader castle of Kantara on the eastern edge of the Kyrenia mountains at 2068 feet and overlooking the coast. This was another magnificent site. We travelled back along more minor roads along the coast and this itself proved interesting as we saw more of both the scenery and the local way of life. In due course we also saw the spread of new development along the coast as we neared Kyrenia.
evening we had a final group meal at the restaurant owned by the same people
as our hotel and enjoying a great position on the harbour front next to the
Sunday 21st June:
For our final day we had arranged to meet Nathan and Amalia! They had also booked to go Kyrenia (the outskirts) and had arrived on the Friday evening. So we enjoyed both a leisurely lunch and part of the Sunday afternoon together, leaving them to go for a look round the castle and then for an evening cruise.
Monday 22nd June:
This was an early start leaving the hotel at 7am. The journey was much quicker that the outward one but was marred by queries about our tickets and being told that we weren’t booked and there were no spare seats so we would need to go another day! Fortunately this state of affairs lasted only about 30 minutes before being resolved!