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Entering the TRNC

sunny

And with that there was little left to detain me in Nicosia, in the south at least, so after a change of room and a much better sleep for it I resolved to head north. Although the Green Line could now be crossed at 5 recognised points across the island these days, it made sense for me to use the Ledra Palace Crossing since it was long established as the point at which day crossings had been possible for years. The fact that it was in Nicosia also negated the need for any transport connection, you simply strolled the few hundred metres of the buffer zone and bingo, you were still in the city but on the other side of the fence. Since most people passing through were either locals or tourists on a day trip I thought I might come in for some special attention with my backpack and all, but it was all very casual. The Greek Cypriots didn't show the slightest interest in me, I simply strolled by like all the others. The propaganda I had witnessed on my previous day trip crossing years before was conspicuous by its absence and the only hint of any blustering was a very large red and yellow sign emblazoned atop the Turkish control post exclaimıng "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus FOREVER". Perversely, a T shirt print shop had somehow managed to beat the blockade and was open for business in no mans land. One could only wonder at some of the slogans requested in the past, and whether they were subject to approval at the checkpoints!

The Turks wanted to know who I was but that was about it. Everyone got their visa, a loose sheet of paper with a stamp on it (since stamping your passport with their internationally illegitimate stamp might cause problems elsewhere ie. Greece). My name was entered on computer lest I be a mafia hitman or suicide bomber and I was free to go. My first border crossing, a potentially tricky one but it was all very civilised under the circumstances. I'd had a few dodgy encounters over the years, one of which had actually been going from Turkey to the Greek island of Rhodes. I probably didnt fit the typical backpacker or daytripper profile so this guy was determined I was a drugs courier instead. The stakes were high, I had a flight to catch within hours but couldnt afford to tell them that, they'd make a point of ensuring I missed it. They let me go only when I called their bluff by threatening to empty my bag, strip naked and call the Brit consulate.

So all of a sudden the rules of the ballgame changed. Same city, different language. Actually more intelligible since Turkish had been modernised at the start of the century from Arabic into Latin script whereas upto now the Greek had been such a challenge to decipher that I usually didnt bother. It was all Greek to me! Traffic still drove on the left courtesy of the British legacy, but I had to learn the value of money all over again. Sometimes it was the small details that were surprising. In using a local ATM I found that the Turkish ones knew my name and also issued the cash before you retrieved your card. I wondered how many cards got left behind because of that. For Cyprus, the money looked thoroughly Turkish with pictures of national hero Ataturk on one side, the ruins of Ephesus on the other. It was only after a while that it dawned on me it looked Turkish because actually it was Turkish, the TRNC didnt have its own currency. A short chat with the young conscript guard at the Lidris Street barricade in the south had also proved the point. In querying him whether the soldiers on the other side were Turkish Cypriots or bona fide Turks from the mainland, I got a quizzical reaction which I could now well understand. It was a stupid question. And it brought the division home to me rather succinctly and led me to some remarkable unexpected conclusions. The island was just a geographic entity. The people of the north were Turkish, many being immigrants from the mainland, and the southerners had only ever wanted to be Greek. There was and could not be a unified Cyprus because there were simply no Cypriots to make it so. There are no Cypriots!

There was no rugby scrum of taxi drivers and hotel touts to negotiate, I just made my way to the Kyrenia Gate and turned inside the city walls again, headed up the main drag into town and searched out a dodgy pension house in one of the backstreets. Done. I took a walk back down the main street in search of brekkie and discovered on the way the Mevlevi Museum, an ancient Tekke (a sort of monastery) which had housed the local contingent of the Order of Whirling Dervishes. It was not something I had expected to encounter outside of Turkey but being on my wish list I went in anyway. There was a mock up of white kaftaned worshippers doing their thing, whirling round in a trance like state to hypnotic music. It also housed the tombs of all the past elders who had ran the place since the 14th century, until with one fell swoop the order was banned by Ataturk in the 1930s.

After that it was a case of just making a point of getting lost in amongst all the back alleys, and in so doing finding various points of note. I stumbled across the Green Line at the point opposite from which I had previously viewed it on Lidris Street in the south. It was much quieter here on the Turkish side with just one bored looking cop ensconced outside an adjacent cafe, and unusually it proclaimed "Opening Here Soon". You could see the checkpoint booths already in place looking very new. I couldn't be sure whether this was a reality in the making, what with the other recent border openings, but I reckoned it was likely to be just some more petty antagonism or indeed wishful thinking. The Turks were desperate for acceptance to legitimise their presence and so would put all the infrastructure in place ready for it just in case. Next was the Sulimaniye Mosque, the most noteworthy building north or south, which had formerly been the Saint Sophia Cathedral. In this part of the world there is a history of religious buildings being adopted by other faiths and altered accordingly as successive conqeurors waxed and waned, epitomised by the oneupmanship of the Crusades. The large twin church towers looked very unlikely now with pointed minarets atop and inside the strange conversion continued. In what had almost certainly once been walls resplendant in Christian frescos, whitewashed walls now stared back free from all idolatory. Of course the Christian builders the Venetians had not considered the alignement as is necessary for any mosque and so the Mihrab had had to be added in one of the naves offset at an angle to indicate the direction of Mecca. This was also reflected in the rolls of prayer carpet which crossed the floor diagonally and went on for miles. Then I came across two ancient caravaneserais which had once been known as the Gamblers Inn and the Great Inn. The first was under renovation and so closed, but I managed to sneak on-site and admire the very aesthetic columns and arches which even in semi-ruin gave it a great vibe. It was surpassed tenfold by the Great Inn however, which though having been turned into a tourist trap of peddlers and cafes was stunning, and I treated myself to my first Efes beer in the courtyard just to appreciate it a while longer. A very large square surrounded by a multitude of shoplets on 2 levels with a fountain in the middle, it was superb. Along quieter streets with notably poorer street lightıng than the south I spotted my first Turkish Delight, my first Baklava and my first women in headscarves. I tried to finish the day off with a visit to the only place in town that resembled a pub, with a lovely open verandah and big cushions, but exasperatingly it was only open to students and that wasnt me. They had a lot left to learn!

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Cyprus

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