Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week, I’ve been chatting to Valter, the blogger behind Tourists by Chance. Valter was born in Pisa and within six months was already living in his first country abroad – Oman. From there, he moved back to Italy, then moved to Australia, Cyprus and Peru. He has been to over 20 countries and says that travelling is a part of who he is. However, apart from his love for Italy, his home away from home is Cyprus, where he lived for seven years.
Welcome back Valter! Where are you sending this Postcard from?
This postcard comes from Nicosia, Cyprus. Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean and home of Aphrodite – the goddess of beauty. This beautiful island is ‘surrounded’ by Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Gaza Strip, Egypt and Greece. With a population just over one million people, Cyprus is a wonderful country to live in, with some of the most incredible beaches in Europe. Let’s not forget the incredible history of this island, that dates back to the 15th century.
Nicosia is the only European capital still currently divided even though the restrictions much more relaxed than they were. In fact, as of 2003, Cypriots are also able to cross the green line to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (only recognized by Turkey). The south, The Republic of Cyprus is a European Union State, with the Euro and all the privilege (and misfortunes) of being a member state.
Nicosia is a beautiful city where new meets old. If you love a middle eastern influence with that touch of European living, then you will really enjoy downtown Nicosia. As you walk through the streets, the elderly are all sitting at a cafe playing tavli (Greek Backgammon), some of the buildings might look old but inside you will find a cool bar or restaurant. All this in the wonderful Ledra street.
Ledra is the main street in Nicosia that is buzzing with cafes, sheesha bars, restaurants and shops! When you reach the end of Ledra street, you will come across the ‘green line’, with access to the northern part of Cyprus. Here is a completely different world and seems like you are stepping back into 1974, when the Turkish invaded Cyprus. The history of this beautiful island is incredible and you can see it throughout the country.
An important aspect of what makes this country beautiful is also the people who are friendly and welcoming.
One of the biggest selling points for Cyprus is the weather. How is it?
Very hot summers and mild winter. Sand storms are also common in late summer, early autumn (like in Dubai). Over the past few years, certain nights of winter have reached 0 or 1 degree Celsius. However, living in Cyprus, you come to expect beautiful blue skies for 10 months of the year. The weather is so good in Cyprus that in 2013 and 2014 I went to the beach in late October! Simply amazing.
Mmm, sounds amazing! So, which neighbourhood of Nicosia did you live in?
In seven years, I have lived in Makedonitissa, in the district of Engomi (considered to be the ‘in’ area amongst the locals) and also in Kato Lakatamia, in the district of Lakatamia (for one year).
In Engomi, my family and I lived in a beautiful house, with the local stadium south of the house (literally across the street) where the big football events used to be held on the island.
Kato Lakatamia is considered to be ‘far from the city centre’ (it is only a 20min drive… with traffic!) and where I lived for my last year in Cyprus, one my family had already left.
These are both suburbs so none of these offers anything touristy but if you are considering living in Cyprus, they are both worth looking in to.
For friends and family visiting us in Nicosia, we always suggest the Hilton Park, in the Engomi district. It is a great place as you are not too far from the city enter and you are surrounded by great local and international restaurants.
Brilliant, you’ve lived all over! What are your favourite things to do in Nicosia?
In Nicosia, the best past time is to go somewhere with a group of friends, drink coffee and play tavli or cards, while smoking a sheesha.
In summer, you are always out of Nicosia. You either go to one of the many amazing beaches or head to the mountains in Troodos for a walk and some rest-bite from the heat of Nicosia (often hitting 35-38 degrees).
I have written on the beaches before and I have been to all of them, on the Greek side. I also went once to the Northern part of Cyprus and the beach there was also incredible. White sand, clear blue water (as with 90% of the beaches) and the only thing on the beach was a shack where you could purchase ’turkish cola’ and fresh fish, which the owner would go out at midday and fish personally, to then cook his catch on a home made barbecue. It is safe to say that every beach in Cyprus is clean and absolutely beautiful.
Just to understand how spectacular these beaches are, the EU has awarded Cyprus with the cleanest beaches in Europe for the 10th year running in 2015!
As a local – tell us what things people absolutely shouldn’t miss when they visit Nicosia…
The walk through downtown Nicosia is a must – Ledra is such a great experience and its completely pedestrian so it is a pleasant stroll, maybe with a frappe in your hand :)
While you are there, make sure to cross the green line. Even that is an experience in its own right. You will need to bring with you a passport or if you are from the EU, a drivers licence or ID card will work just fine.
The Makarios monastery is also a very important part of Cypriot history and a must visit, along with the Shacolas Tower Museum & Observatory and the Famagusta Gate, for those visiting Cyprus for the first time.
Many Cypriots will also tell you to walk in any orthodox church you come across, as they are very beautiful and rich in history, especially those in ‘Old Nicosia’ (Ledra street).
And what food shouldn’t they miss?
In cyprus you are now able to find anything from sushi to traditional Cypriot taverna. In Cyprus, the locals will have Souvlaki at least twice a week – souvla on the special occasions. Meze is also a great way to taste all the mouth watering delicacies of this amazing island – this coming from an Italian!
Of course, one of my favorite pass times, was go to a taverna with friends or a bouzoukia (live Greek music shows and dance – a must try!).
I love Cyprus so much that recently I did a post of ‘Drinking and Eating in Cyprus’ – make sure to check it out!
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a trip to Nicosia?
One thing I always recommend all friends when visiting Cyprus is to rent a car. Public transport is hit and miss, more often than not, and getting outside of Nicosia by bus is unheard of, unless you need to get to the airport with a Kapnos Shuttle (highly recommended if you are leaving your rental car in Nicosia on drop off day).
The mountains or villages are a great way to experience local cuisine at its finest (only meat though! fish in the coastal towns). The two towns I would highly recommend if you only have a short time in Cyprus (so many to mention) are Kalopanayiotis (Good Panayiotis) and Kakopetrias (Bad Rock). Since you are in the area, make sure to stop by Caledonian Waterfall (more for the hike than the waterfall itself :) )
Apart from that, the island is there for you to discover and if you have a couple of weeks, especially in summer, make sure to hit all the beaches from Paphos (west) through to Agia Napa (east). You will not regret it!
And now for some questions about you Valter! What’s your favourite travel read?
In general, I am a big fan of biographies and real life stories. Not a huge reader of fiction, unless they are from John Grisham (don’t judge!). Apart from that, in the last few months, I have had the pleasure of reading: Princess – A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia by Jean Sasson, a recommendation from my mother (like the good Italian that I am), Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis and Larry Sloman, and I’m currently finishing Brad Stone’s The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.
Finally: what do you love most about travelling?
The excitement of exploring a new place, meeting new people, trying new food and wines, and really try delve into the local way of life as much as possible. Travelling offers such unique sensations and when done with a real passion to explore and discover, it can open up your mind to other cultures and people. Travelling is simply an amazing privilege and we are just thankful to live in a country that allows us to see so many different places.
NB – All images are owned by Valter.