In my encouragement of QQ decision making, we left Larnaca without eating and headed straight for Nicosia, which markets itself as the last divided capital in Europe. I suppose the subtext of that statement is that Cyprus is in Europe while Palestine/Israel are not, despite Israel being part of many European organizations. I’ve even seen tourism websites tout Nicosia as the only divided capital in the world, which also supposes that Jerusalem is not the capital of both or either Palestine and Israel, which can certainly be argued. At any rate, we navigated down small roads to a parking lot right at the edge of the green line – the UN buffer zone between North and South. We walked to the roof for a look over the green line, which was remarkable in its unremarkable-ness. It felt like looking into an abandoned neighborhood.
After a coffee served by a wonderfully androgynous waiter, we ignored their kebab recommendation and instead chose a rather local taverna-type place with wonderfully simple food and low prices. I quite enjoyed the local taro dish (surprisingly a staple of Cypriot cuisine after its introduction from Southeast asia) whose multicultural roots (pun-intended) reminded me of the ubiquitous predominance of the potato in European cuisines. Our other dish, lentils in rice, aws simply an inferior version of Brent’s favorite Dal Bhat. There was something really charming about that street and that neighborhood – it reminded me of the feel of Sarajevo. Downtrodden, scarred, touristy, and optimistic.
We spent the rest of our day in Nicosia, remaining within the walled old town and thoroughly exploring all the pins I’d placed ahead of time. I particularly enjoyed the mansion of Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios, an Ottoman Greek dragoman. The architecture immediately recalled that of the ethnological museum of Berat, Albania and the Sufi Tekke in Blagaj, Bosnia. Everything in the city closed obnoxiously early, however (closing times between 2pm and 4pm), so I didn’t have the opportunity to properly draw it. The mix of ornamental styles and the collection of decrees and gifts in different languages made for a fascinating mix which belied an obvious truth – the rich in every age are those for whom borders (physical, linguistic, cultural) do not exist. This, of course, manifests today in the many European travelers who wax poetic about how they don’t believe in borders – having never encountered one, how we’re all one people, and so on and so forth. In the case of Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios, his family accrued enormous wealth from his position irrespective of the backgrounds of his subjects, such that wooden panels decorated with geometric patterns common to Islam adorned the walls of a room with cabinets full of decrees in Ottoman script, brown and green sgraffito ceramics, expensive tea sets in the Russian style, and lush pillows common to the subcontinent.
We also spent some time in the massive new cathedral for the Apostle Barnabas. As I drew and took photographs there, QQ researched his life, beginning a series of edification for the both of us (her researching online while I drew at churches and telling me the tldr) on the lives of various martyred saints. I quite enjoyed the government’s architectural solution to the placement of the new town hall over an existing archaelogical site, as the new building was raised on stilts above a portion of the excavated area, with walls of glass providing administrators with a constant reminder both of their history and their impermanence. Humbling while inspiring pride.
We didn’t spend a lot of time in the ethnically Turkish half of the city – just over an hour. The border crossing was easy but certainly gave the feel of crossing into another country. The city itself definitely felt distinctly different. The streets, cars, (lack of) organization, and general visibility of refuse combined with the completely distinct demographics. Although, in thinking about it more deeply now, it’s not so different from, say, Lakeview versus South Chicago or even East versus West Gainesville. At least the languages in these latter examples are more similar. At any rate, the main sites on the North side of the city were rather humble. The Büyük Han was a standard caravanserai, the Selimiye Cami was massive and likely fascinating but covered in scaffolding for renovation, the Venetian column was a ball on a stick. We ducked into a small gallery with highly desaturated photographs of bleak landscapes by a local professor – this may have been the highlight of the Northern half.
Keen to arrive in Kyrenia by sunset, we left Nicosia through the small winding streets out to the Western end of the city where we crossed back into the self-proclaimed Republic of North Cyprus. Buying insurance for our rental car was a rather simple affair – 20 euros for three days, for which we were awarded a piece of paper which we luckily never had to show to anyone. The Turkish half of the province felt immediately distinct – browner, dustier, punctuated by gold coated domes and minarets and noticeably worse driving. The entire journey to our AirBnB in Kyrenia went by broad highway, luckily, and we arrived, as planned, right before sunset.