June 17, 2012

This may insult thousands of years of epic history, but certainly without intending offense to Paul and Barnabas, et al., the highlight of my days in Cyprus has been zipping around old town Nicosia on a Segway. It's incredibly exhilarating to ride.

After just a few minutes, it becomes extremely easy and fun. You gotta try it. I, for one, am hooked. Standing on the Segway and creating your own breeze, you coast coolly past sweating tourists trudging along in the heat. Yesterday it was 103 in Nicosia.

As my Segway guide and I cruised around, we stopped at key historical sites and took a few (unapproved) pics of the checkpoints between the Turkish occupied northern third of the island and the Greek-majority Republic of Cyprus, a member of the EU.

The “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is only recognized by one country in the world: Turkey. Since 2003 people can cross between the two areas at several check points.  Greek Cypriots do not like to call them “border crossings” since that suggests recognition of the occupation regime. So far I’ve crossed back and forth three times easily, although the Greek side is far more vibrant than the Turkish side at least in the old town of Nicosia.

Along the dividing "green zone" there are lots of unrepaired bullet holes in the buildings.
Old Town Nicosia
Many walking streets in the Old Town were filled with sidewalk cafes.
After weeks in visiting mosques in Central Asia, it was culture shock to see so many churches, especially the ornate Greek Orthodox interiors that still seem radical compared to the plain Protestant esthetic.

At one of the highest mountains in Cyprus stands the Kykkos monastery, first built in the 11th century, repeatedly destroyed by the Ottoman and Turks over the years but always rebuilt with lavish gold and mosaic elements.

Photography was prohibited inside the church but these mosaics in outside corridors illustrate the rich artwork.
In the Turkish side of old Nicosia is this striking, unhappy hybrid: old Gothic-style St. Sophia cathedral (built in the 1200s) that was converted to a mosque with minarets added in the 1500s during the Ottoman occupation. Flags of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus wave at the top.

Of course, the most travelers to Cyprus head for the beach.  Maybe next time.