Cyprus in the news: A traveler's glimpse inside the capital of Nicosia

Turkish Nicosia 

Imagine a country of 1 million people so small (about the size of Connecticut) that you can drive most distances in less time than it takes to go between Portland and Seattle. Then divide it two-thirds, one-third, each section with its own culture, religion, food, flag, language and traditions.

This is the island of Cyprus which has been in the news recently over the collapse of its banking system and controversial plan for a financial bailout by the European Union. 

Hearing about Cyprus on the radio this morning, I was reminded of a trip I took there in 2005.  Cyprus,  third largest island in the Mediterranean, after Sicily and Sardinia, is 45 miles south of Turkey.

Ruled during various periods by the Greeks, Romans, Ottoman Turks and British, Cyprus was politically and physically split in 1974, when tensions between Greek and Turkish Cypriots came to a head and Turkey intervened to stop a coup led a Greek military junta.

The Greek-dominated Republic of Cyprus, set up in the 1960s after the former British colony gained independence, is the only government recognized internationally, but it controls just the southern two-thirds of the island.

Greek Nicosia

Turkish Cypriots set up their own government, and in 1983, the northern one-third became the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, officially recognized only by Turkey.

Both sides warmly welcome visitors, but until around the time I visited, border crossing regulations required tourists to essentially pick sides. Most Westerners chose to spend their holidays in the wealthier and more developed South.

Those rules were lifted when Cyprus entered the European Union, and visitors can travel back and forth without restrictions.

A local cafe in Turkish Nicosia

A Starbucks in Greek Nicosia
Cyprus is very popular with British tourists who go for the sun and beaches. The London Independent offers this advice for those planning to travel to Cyprus soon. Should you go, I recommend visiting both sides. Nowhere are the contrasts more striking than in the ancient city of Nicosia, Europe's divided capital. Here's a link to a story I wrote for The Seattle Times eight years ago. I'm sure much has changed since then, but the story offers a glimpse inside a complicated country unfamiliar to most Americans.  

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