A Travellerspoint blog

October 2017

North Nicosia

Lefkosia, Cyprus

It's our last day in Cyprus. We decided to head back across the border to see the north side of Nicosia.

The north side maintains much more of the Ottoman history than the south side, and seems much older. We walked through old market places and saw Hans that had been used during Ottoman times.
Buyuk Han

Buyuk Han


The big Han used to be an inn where caravans could stop and spend the night on their way to other markets. Currently, several artisans sell their wares from the upstairs, and a couple of restaurants serve patrons downstairs in the courtyard.
Artist's Loom

Artist's Loom


The stairs themselves were covered in yarn. I had heard about this project, but seeing it was something else. Some ladies cover various objects (trees, benches, bannisters) with knitted objects to indicate that they want unifcation and peace between two factions.

Not too far down the road is the big mosque. Like the one we saw yesterday, it used to be a cathedral and then was converted. It's still called St. Sophia Cathedral on some of the maps. It was very similar to the one we saw yesterday inside.
Mosque

Mosque


Next door, several times a day, a group of young men put on a Whirling Dervish show. They dress in plain traditional costumes. They start out in black coats, but then threw them off to reveal white clothes underneath. It represents throwing off your sins and being pures. They explain how the concept of "spinning your way to God" began in Afghanistan, and how the spinning affects them spiritually. Then, the music comes on and they spin. And spin. And spin. The guys were fascinated. I could have used a little something other than a half hour of guys in mono-chrome white outfits spinning to relatively slow music.

I understand that this is designed as a method of prayer, and not my own personal entertainment. Again, the guys loved it, but for me it had the "inauthentic" ascpects of entertainment and the "excitment" aspects of prayer. I was interested in the explanations at the beginning though. A running commentary would have worked for me.
Whirling Dervishes

Whirling Dervishes


From there, it was a short hop over to a small market. This market had beautiful produce on sale, as well as "Cyprus Delight." Cyprus delight is a bit looser than Turkish Delight, but it's more or less the same thing with a different name. It came in a surprising array of flavors and colors.

We also stopped at a meat stand. We were told yesterday that the border folks often stop goods from being brought south from the north. It's not quite an embargo, but it's supposed to hurt the economy of the north and make them want to rejoin with the rest of Cyprus. But one of our party really really wanted to bring back sausage. We barely haggled with the sausage seller, but we got our sausage.

When we came back across the border, they didn't say anything or stop us. Maybe there is a quantity limit, maybe it depends on the mood of the guards that day, or maybe it was just well-hidden in my backpack, but the sausage made it!

Posted by spsadventures 10:20 Archived in Cyprus Comments (0)

North Cyprus

Famagusta, Cyprus

Yesterday, I had noticed that the museum we saw atthe end of the day opened early- 8:30 am. As I am a much earlier riser than the guys, I decided to see that in the morning before they awoke and ate breakfast.

Of course, I got up way too early to just start at the museum. First, I walked the border between north (Turkish) and south (Greek) Cyprus. The border is in the middle of a walled city, and it is its own sort of wall. Some parts of the border consist of the houses and buildings that were there before. They're just empty and abandoned now. Some parts of the border are blocked-off streets. Some are blocked with piles of rubbish. Others with big metal cans. Still others have some sort of barbed wire. Many areas have UN guard posts and UN flags demarcating the area which you should not cross.
border

border

border

border

border

border


At the point where the border crosses the city walls, I followed the city walls. I got to see the famous Famagusta Gate, built in old times to give access to the city. It's no longer in use, as they've torn bigger holes in the wall for car traffic, but it still is pretty imposing.
Famagusta Gate

Famagusta Gate


The city isn't that big, and it didn't take long for me to circle it all, but the museum still wasn't open. I popped by the location on the map marked "market," but it was pretty empty. I stopped to check on the guys, and then finally went to the museum, arriving right at 8:30. It was closed. I wasn't giving up though. I leaned against a fence across the street andwaited until a guy came and unlocked the doors.

I was the first one in the The Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios Mansion museum, and he had to unlock the exhibition doors just for me. The first floor exhibition gave some history and general background about Cypus-related things. The upper floors were set up as he would have had the mansion. This guy was a big hotshot during the Ottoman rule of Cyprus, and the house sort of shows that. One room was clearly an Ottoman tea room (like what we saw in Bosnia). His bedroom and other rooms his family used were also interesting. The courtyard was a bit dry, but I can imagine how nice it must have been during his time.
inside the museum

inside the museum


It didn't take too long to see the museum, and I headed back to meet the guys for the tour.

Today, we had scheduled a guide, Cemaliye Must. I highly recommend her. She arrived at our hotel right on time, and walked us through the border, explaining what we needed to know on the way.

The border was about 2 blocks from the hotel, right on the main street. It requires a passport, but they don't stamp it. First, you go through Greek Cyprus control, then walk a bit to Turkish Cyprus control, and then you pop out on the Turkish side in the middle of a shopping street very similar to what was on the other side of the border.

We got into the car and headed off to Famagusta. Our guide was super-knowledgable. She helped us understand the history of the island as well as the political situation behind what were were going to see.

Famagusta is a beach town that used to be bigger than Miami. Celebrities had homes here, developers put up high-rise beach apartment blocks, and people strolled the sand.
Famagusta beach

Famagusta beach


Then the war split the island, and the border zone went right through the town. Thousands of homes were now blocked off, inaccessible except to the peacekeepers.

We walked along the open part of the beach, just up to the border patrol building. We could see the desolation of all of the formerly-occupied buildings. And despite being quite nice, the beach was relatively empty as well. Only one hotel had rebuilt nearby, so not a lot of tourists were taking advantage of the area.

Next, we went to the old city area of Famagusta. We visited the ruins of the old palace, and the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque, which was originally the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas. The mosque had all of the elements of a classic cathedral- flying butresses, stained-glass windows, the altar space at the front. But in order to adapt it into a mosque, they added a beautiful carpet, reamoved the statues of the saints, and added a minaret.
Mosque in former Cathedral

Mosque in former Cathedral

Mosque in former Cathedral

Mosque in former Cathedral


We walked around the old town, passing mostly souvenir shops and restaurants. I climbed up the old city walls and looked out over the sea, although the area was very industrial, so it wasn't the prettiest view.

Our guide took us to a cute little seafood restaurant with a very pretty view of the sea, before we moved on to Salamis.

Salamis used to be a capital of Cyprus, hundreds of years ago, but now it's just ruins. We walked into the old Roman gymnasium, where headless statues still overlooked a wide-open athletic area. We took a look at the Roman toilets- a long row of latrines with no barriers in between for any sort of privacy. Finally, we looked at the baths. Our guide explained how they had a series of cold and hot baths for different purposes, and how they heated the hot baths.
Salamis Statue

Salamis Statue

Salamis

Salamis

Salamis Mosaics

Salamis Mosaics


After Salamis, we made one more stop at another seaside restaurant for drinks, and then drove back to Nicosia. The drive out and back had given us a good view of Northern Cyprus. We noted that at this time of year, it's very yellow. There's not a lot of greenery, and the land seems very dry. We also noted that there are a lot of new housing developments arising in odd places. Some seem to be in the middle of nowhere, others are right on the highway. Beyond that, the scenery wasn't really anything to write home about.

We passed through the border without any issues to return to the Greek Cypriot side. Immediately across the border, there are a few nice restaurants, and we picked up some mezzes from them to eat back at the hotel. I really enjoyed their version of majadra. The stuffed grape leaves were ok, but the falafel ball was better. The salads were pretty good. I'd say that it was a successful traditional dinner.

After dinner, we took a bit of a walk along the main street, just to see what was open. Pretty much everything is- restaurants, bars, shops, you name it. It was a short but pleasant walk and we returned to the hotel.

We had forgotten to mention to the staff that our window needed fixing. The restaurant across the road from the hotel was open all night long. Based on the constant cheering, they were either showing a ball game, or having a frat party. If you're into hanging out at the bar all night, I can say that this place was open very late. I you're into sleeping through the night, make sure the hotel fixes the window so that it closes all of the way.

Posted by spsadventures 09:50 Archived in Cyprus Comments (0)

Welcome to Cyprus

Nicosia, Cyprus

I got home from Taiwan so that I could go on a pre-scheduled family vacation the next day.

We flew out of the Haifa airport, which is the second-smallest airport I've ever used. It has 2 gates: an international one and a domestic one. There was one check-in lady, and one security line, one immigration officer. There is one food establishment that's basically a snack bar. But this is for Israelis (who love duty free), so it had a duty-free shop that was at least twice the size of the waiting area. That shop took up like half the airport.

We flew TUS to Larnaca, and it does not feel like a discount airline. They fed us (a snack) on the plane, even though the flight was 45 minutes. Larnaca is a bit of a bigger airport, but it is still small, so we had an easy time working our way through to the taxis.

We had pre-ordered a taxi and eventually found the driver with our names on the sign.

We couldn't see much scenery out the windows on the way to Nicosia, but I noticed that it is obvious that the British built the roads here. They drive on the British side of the road. The highway signs all tell you what city is on the way from the exit, but not whether that is heading north/south/east/west. There are a lot of roundabouts.

We arrived in Nicosia, but the driver was struggling to find our hotel. We ordered ahead of time, so there's no reason why he couldn't have made sure he knew where it was ahead of time or at least printed a map. Also, he had some sort of gps/maps thing on his phone. I have no idea why he didn't use that. Instead, he stopped somewhere, got out of the cab, and asked some people for directions.

It took some time, but we made it to our hotel, Kipros Accommodation. It's actually not that hard to find. There is a big sign out front clearly identifying it, and there's not too much else on that road.

The hotel's street is right next to the main street, so we didn't have to go far in order to get a nice dinner before bed, even though it was a little late.

The hotel is decorated as a sort of "rustic historic" hotel, and the staff is quite nice and helpful. The rooms are clean. The mattress is a bit hard, but it seemed pretty decent, especially for the location and price.

Of course, after a night sleeping there, I figured out that one of our windows doesn't close properly, so all of the street noise kept coming in all night long, including lots of people listening to great music as loud as I normally do.

Despite not sleeping as well as we wanted, we rose early enough to get a nice breakfast from the hotel. It's simple- slices of veggies, cheese, meat and bread, plus butter, honey, and jam- but it was good for what we wanted. (And the jam was really great.)

Today's plan was to just tour around Nicosia, taking it as easy as we needed to.

We started out with a leisurely stroll down the main street, passing mostly restaurants, souvenir shops, and other shopping. We turned to some side streets that had plenty of "historic" feel. One had a fountain that was marked as having been Byzantine. All had old-style brick streets. Many of the buildings appeared very Ottoman.
Street Backgammon

Street Backgammon


One old building housed the Leventis Municipal Museum. We entered and took our time learning about the history of Cyprus. The museum carries artifacts from the pre-historic times, through the Romans, Byzantines, French, Venetians, Ottomans, British, and modern Cyprus. Each room takes you one step more from the past to the present and has a good description of who fell, why they fell, and what changes came to Cyprus. I actually really enjoyed the little dive through history.
from the Leventis Museum-British cultural senstivity

from the Leventis Museum-British cultural senstivity


Just a few buildings over, we saw Shacolas Tower. This tower isn't nearly as high as Taipei 101, but it still gives a great view to Nicosia and the area surrounding it. Like Taipei 101, each view has information as to what you're seeing when you look there.
View from the tower

View from the tower


When we said that we were looking for seafood, the hotel staff had recommended Ocean Basket, so that's where we ate lunch. My food was ok, but the guys seemed to love their big pile of seafood bits. They ate fish, mini-octopi, mussels, clams, some sort of beady-eyed shrimp looking thing thing that I felt kept looking at me, and calamari. At the beginning, the platter was overflowing with food, and at the end their plates were graveyards piled high with shells and exoskeletons.
Ocean Basket

Ocean Basket


We took an afternoon rest, but I also went and took a walk around the city walls. The original walls were older, but the Venetians later expanded them and built the walls that stand today in a circle around the city. All of the "turrets" that were near our hotel were under construction, but it was still good to take a walk along them.
City Walls

City Walls


Next, we headed to the more east part of the city in the walls. Many of the houses we passed in order to get there were historic houses, build with old-fashioned doors. As one of our party used to be a welder, we frequently stopped to admire the metalwork. He knew the different techniques used to make the bolts, knockers, and gratings, and didn't hesitate to share his wealth of knowledge with us.

Eventually, we made it to the Omeriye Mosque and the Omeriye Hamam. The mosque clearly used to be a church, but when the Ottomans came it, they built a minaret and converted it into a mosque. The hamams were closed, but looked very Ottoman from the outside.
Omeriye Mosque

Omeriye Mosque


Next, we passed a house museum of a former rich guy (more on that tomorrow), and headed to the archbishopric.

The buildings were a disappointment in that they were very modern. I was hoping for something left over from the crusaders, but these had clearly been built recently, even if the grounds themselves were much older.
Archbishopric

Archbishopric


When we got back to the hotel, not everybody in our party felt like going out to dinner, so we decided to bring it in. I'm a bit embarrassed to say that we got KFC and McDonalds, but the food was somewhat different that it is elsewhere. Some elements were the same, but this McDonalds had a veggie burger that was more or less a falafel patty. This KFC had fries in a weird shape, almost like celery boats. It wasn't the most adventurous dinner, but it was tasty enough (especially the blueberry oreo McFlurry.)

Posted by spsadventures 11:27 Comments (0)

Maokong Mountain

Taipei, Taiwan

It's a holiday weekend. The guys at work warned me that I might not make it to Taroko Gorge, and they were right. I got up for the first train from Hsinchu to Taipei, and then tried to get the train to Hualien, but there were no seats at any point today, or even tomorrow morning. On to Plan B.

I took the metro to the Maokong area of Taipei. This is where the zoo is. It is also the beginning of the Meokong mountains.

I took a cable-car gondola up the mountain. I had a choice between a glass-bottom car and a regular car. If there is a line for the glass-bottom cars, they're not worth the wait. But, since there was no line, I took one. Through the bottom of the car, you can see how lush and green the mountains are, but really, you can see that from the regular windows as well. We didn't have great visibility due to the rain, but we could still tell that we were passing over a very verdant forest as well as some successful farming areas. Specifically, these mountains are known for growing tea.
Cable Cars

Cable Cars


Cable Car View

Cable Car View


When you get to the top of the mountain, the last cable car station, it's obvious that this is a tea area- every other building is a tea house. Even though it was a holiday weekend, it was a rainy morning, so there weren't a lot of people around and most of the tea houses weren't open yet.

I took a short walk to the Tea Promotion Center, hoping to learn something about Taipei's tea production. The views along the walk were incredible- I could see the city off in the distance, and even Taipei 101 tower sitcking up through the mist. I took the walk slow because I didn't want ot slip and fall in the rain, I didn't want to get my feet too wet, and I dind't want to be too stinky to go up into Taipei 101 later today. Still, it wasn't that long to the center.

Unfortunately, the center was a let-down. There was only one room dedicated to showing how they dry tea leaves, and nothing on growing the plants or any other part of the process. They did offer a free cup of tea and a nice place to sit and drink it.
Tea Center

Tea Center


On the way, I also passed a small temple. It wasn't as big as some of the ones we looked at the other day, but it was still incredibly decorated. It seemed pretty new, or at least recently refurbished because all of the paint seemed pretty fresh. If I hadn't seen the others, I would have been in awe, but at this point, I'm starting to get "temple-jaded."
growing area

growing area


I walked back to the cable car station, and noticed that the food vendors were setting up and starting to sell brunch to the small crowd that had grown.

The weather was getting clearer, but I was still walking with my umbrella up. I went down another marked path for tourists, hoping to see some more temples, as well as a really old tree and some special grove. All of these items were marked on the map.
View in the rain

View in the rain


I walked in the rain. I walked by the forests. I walked and walked. It was downhill, so I didn't mind too much. I decided that I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because I walked way more than I should have based on the map. But, I was not about to turn around and walk back up that steep mountain. I figured that I'd keep walking all the way down into the city below, and I'd catch some sort of bus from there.

Then, I saw signs for the things I thought I was walking towards. I hadn't taken a wrong turn after all, the map was just not capturing the distance very well.
View of Taipei

View of Taipei


Jiuquian Temple is not worth the walk. I saw a sign that pointed the way. It took me onto a side path and off the street. From the path, I missed the temple and walked right by it the first time. Then, I saw a sign pointing me back where I came from. I realized that the run-down building that is barely decorated and mostly just has trash piles that make it look like a construction site was the temple. What a waste.
Crappy Temple

Crappy Temple


I was not about to walk all the way back up the hill, and the next temple over required a walk through some trails. Given the drizzle keeping the roads a bit slick, and that I was still trying not to get too gross, I decided that I would wait for the next bus. The sign at the entrance to the temple clearly said that it was a bus stop. It had the route times listed, and the route ended at a metro station, so I could continue exploring from there. The bus was due in 10 minutes, which was perfect timing.

I waited.

And waited.

A half hour after the bus was supposed to arrive, I gave up.

Now, my choice was pretty much to walk down hill and hope for another bus from somewhere else, or continue on my way to Zangshan temple, another one of the temples on the tourist map. I had seen a sign for it a bit up the road, and so I headed that way to see how far it was, the whole time, still hoping that I'd be able to catch the bus I'd been waiting for.
Hiking Trail

Hiking Trail


The sign said that the temple was pretty close, and google agreed, so I took off in that direction. Unfortunately, the path splits around a bunch of small farming plots, crosses a controlled river, and gets confusing in several places. I didn't go more than a few meters out of my way, but I certainly took an alternate path until I was able to find another sign saying that it was only 0.6 more km to the temple. Great.
Farm area

Farm area


In that 0.6 km, there were 383 stairs.

I got to the temple, but I was soaked by the time I got there, both from the remains of drizzle, the mist, and my own sweat. Lovely.

Panting, I took in the temple, but it wasn't that different than any other temple. It was new, and it was smaller and less decorated that some of the others. It did, however, have a great view of Taipei.
Zangshan Temple

Zangshan Temple


The best part is that there was a working bus stop out front of the temple. I waited with a little old lady with a cane until the bus arrived to take us back to the Maokong cable car station.

What a difference!

The morning ride up had no line and almost nobody around. The food court was packed with tourists eating their lunches now. Tourists wandered all of the streets. Taxi drivers touted rides down the mountain. The cable car line snaked down the stairs and to another floor.
By the cable car station

By the cable car station


I grabbed some lunch at the station convenience store and sat inside at the tables, enjoying the view. It may seem odd to eat at a convenience store, but that's the culture here. I was only one of dozens of people eating there. This is why they have their own tables and chairs set up.

Due to the long line, I made sure to get in the line that was NOT for the glass-bottomed cars. Only about every fourth car is glass-bottomed, so that line was taking way too long.

I got off at the next stop- the temple stop.

Throughout the day, whenever I had a good view, I saw this huge temple in the distance. Well, now I was there.

It's actually not one building, it's a complex of buildings. Zhinan temple is quite exquisite. The ceilings are painted with beatiful pictures. The walls and posts are all painted. Carvings and statues abound. This was a temple worth seeing, even though it was undergoing a lot of construction work.
Zhinan Temple

Zhinan Temple


"Dice" to throw to get answers from the gods

"Dice" to throw to get answers from the gods

Zhinan Temple

Zhinan Temple

Zhinan Temple

Zhinan Temple

Zhinan Temple

Zhinan Temple


Despite being gross and knowing it, I went to Taipei 101 next anyway. This was pretty much my last chance to see it, and I was pretty desperate to see the tuned mass damper.

The entrance itself is just a regular mall- nothing special. But then there's the observation deck...
Mall

Mall


The line to get int was pretty quick when I got there, but when I left, it was out the door and around the corner. I guess afternoon is a better time to visit than close to dark. I got a discount on the admission because I had purchased a Taipei Metro day pass, which was cool.

And then, we got moved from room to room to elevator, and finally the "top." There's actually one more floor up that they open on calm weather days, but it wasn't open today. So, I stayed inside and learned all about the tower. They have interesting short videos on loop- about 2 minutes each- that show different information about the tower. One talked about the design elements- good luck symbols, money symbols, and the pagoda shape. Another talked about the techology behind the elevator and how the pressurization works. Yet another compared it to other tall towers in the rest of the world. Of course, the the tunable mass damper one was my favorite.
View from Taipei 101

View from Taipei 101


Also, at each window area, signage helped me to understand what exactly I was looking at. They labeled the important buildings, mountains, and landmarks.

In the middle, the floor opened up to the tunable mass damper, but really, the good view was the floor below. For those who don't know what a TMD is/does- basically it's a huge steel ball that prevents the building from swaying too much in the case of high winds, an earthquake, or any other event that might cause the top to sway. I didn't happen to notice any movement when I was up there.
TMD

TMD


When I descended, it had started to rain again. I had noticed from the top that I was super-close to a few other sites, and figured that I'd at least stop by, despite the wet.

The Sun Yat Sen memorial was only a few blocks. The building itself was closed, but the park around it was open. Actually, the outside part of the memorial building itself was pretty hopping. Groups of dancers practiced their routines, others seemed to be in some sort of lessons. People were just enjoying the evening there.
Sun Yat Sen Memorial

Sun Yat Sen Memorial


Fortunately, I was able to get a train back to Hsinchu. I was so tired and my feet so worn out that I got a cab back to the hotel and wasn't even really able to go out for dinner. Fortunately, I have Sheraton lounge access. This enabled me to go grab a light dinner made up of salad and appetizers just one floor above. Normally, that wouldn't be enough of an eating adventure for me, but tonight, I was thankful for it.

Posted by spsadventures 10:00 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Hsinchu Night Market

Hsinchu, Taiwan

For tonight's adventure, a bunch of work colleagues and I headed out to the Hsinchu night market.

The market we went to is walking distance to the train station, and seems to take place in a big empty parking lot. Of course, half of hte lot is used for parking for the market, and like the rest of Taiwan, it's over 50% motorcycles and scooters.

We entered the market and immedately were assaulted with the smells and sounds of cooking. Fryers bubbled, cauldrons of soups boiled, and knifes chopped away. As we wandered, we saw a wide variety of foods, many on sticks.
Night Market

Night Market


One stand had ears of corn that had been coated ins a spicy sweet sauce and roasted over a fire. (But the corn was not nearly as juicy as AwShucks.) Another stand had a large variety of meats on a stick. You were supposed to pick which sticks you wanted, put them in a bowl, and they would grill them for you. the variety included all sorts of interesting items from chicken skins to blood sausage.
Food

Food


I saw odd foods like whole duck heads, pork knuckles, and stinky tofu. I saw somewhat more "normal" foods like corn dogs and crepes.

One of the more interesting processes to watch was how to make these octopus balls. the guy poured excessive batter into a mold for tiny round balls. As the mold cooked parts of the batter, he rotated it so that the mold would then cook another part. Somewhere in there, throw some octopus pieces in. Keep rotating the batter, and you end up with a ball. Of course, you have ot put them on a stick to serve them.

One of the foods that I found interesting and very enjoyable was this eggy-latke dish (not on a stick). They make the large potato and onion "pancake" part with extra egg in the middle. Then, they top it with herbs, a thick soy-based sauce, pineapple, corn, and some other sauce. I had no clue what that one was. I enjoyed it enough that I want to make it at home now.
Eggy thing

Eggy thing


After that, eggs on a stick, corn on a stick, tapioca balls on a stick, and juice squeezed out of a sugar cane stick, I was quite full. Fortunately, there is more to the market than just food.
Food

Food

Food

Food


Every few feet, somebody is running a carnival game. The most popular one seems to be one where the players throw darts at balloons. The balloons aren't set up in a tricky way, just in a specific pattern on the wall. If you pop enough, you get a prize. I wanted to see somebody play and my colleagues didn't want to play, so I coughed up the dollar and took a stab.

My first dart didn't even hit the board. Another grazed a balloon, but lodged in the foam next to it. Then, I was on a roll. I hit the required number of balloons, plus one more, to win my first-ever carnival prize. I didn't really want one of the stuffed animals, but I saw one that looked pretty bad- it had one eye and crooked teeth, and I thought I'd get the ugly monster. Turns out, when you unsquish it, it's a dinosaur! Double win!
I win!

I win!


There were several other carnival games that I couldn't quite figure out how to play- one with Mahjong tiles and either bingo or matching, another with some sort of pinball launch and some holes. There were a lot of jewelry and clothing vendors. We continued walking around for a while, until we had seen all of the stands and taken in as much of the excitement as we wanted.
Gaming Table

Gaming Table


We headed back to the hotel with full bellies and a stuffed dinosaur.

Posted by spsadventures 05:12 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)