Driving from Nicosia, Cyprus’s capital, along a straight road ascending the Kyrenia mountain range, you arrive at the pass and there spread before you is the little city of Kyrenia…
With its fishing harbor, Venetian castle, and the Mediterranean Sea…
On a clear day, you can see all the way to Turkey’s Taurus Mountains across the water…
But more of that anon.
How I Ended Up In Cyprus
I wouldn’t say it was as soon as we entered Turkish airspace that we realized that this was a strange place, but it was very shortly after. We were picked up by our boss-to-be at an airport frozen in the 1960s and taken to our allotted house above the small town of Lefke (or Lefka for the Greeks) in the foothills of the Troodos Mountains.
Our boss departed, and we went out onto a large terrace and looked down upon avocado and citrus trees, bright red geraniums, and I thought, “This’ll do.”
We found a cool box with some provisions and a couple of beers. There was a strange, hard white block in a vacuum pack called hellim that rather foxed us. We left it alone.
Getting To Know Cyprus
The next day we went into town and headed for the nearest grocery shop.
“Welcome, Mr. Robin,” I was greeted.
“What?” I thought. “How could he know my name? I arrived last night!”
I nodded and smiled and asked him his name. At this point, I didn’t inquire after his parents’ health, and that of his cousins… that very Cypriot custom would come later.
We were sat down for the almost compulsory Turkish coffee and bought our provisions. The gentleman who owned the shop gave us some items for nothing, and we wondered if we were being fattened for a big chop… but 30 years later that still hasn’t happened.
The boss took us to lunch at a fish restaurant nearby on the north coast the next day. Fish and meze, the Eastern Mediterranean’s equivalent of tapas. Dishes of hummus, aubergine (eggplant) mash, yogurt with cucumber or carrots, feta, salad and olives, particularly cracked green olives in olive oil and coriander seeds called chakistez.
We were also served fried slices of hellim, which solved the mystery of the white block in our welcome basket. Hellim, or halloumi as you might know it, is a Cypriot cheese that doesn’t melt when grilled or fried. And it’s really rather good.
Little did I know of the importance of this cheese at the time. Just recently, in fact, the tussle over the ringfencing of this unique Cypriot cheese and the legal challenges to those making it in other countries came to a head.
Just like champagne, strictly speaking, hellim must be made in Cyprus to earn its name… otherwise it’s a knockoff that should be labeled otherwise. A lawyer friend of mine periodically goes to Strasbourg to fight for hellim, which is the principal export of Northern Cyprus.
The bill came, and they lifted the equivalent of three pounds, or five dollars off each of us. “We’re sticking around,” think we. Of course, it’s not quite so affordable these days, but anyone with a harder currency than the Turkish lira will still find costs here very reasonable.
When we started to explore, we first headed for Kyrenia. The fishing harbor is lovely, with its brightly colored boats and sandstone causeway baking in the sun. The entire wharf is lined with restaurants, and the fare is much as our first meal out was… just not as ridiculously cheap.
As it is forbidden to turn one’s place into a disco bar or light show, peace reigns. Foreign residents loll around drinking the ubiquitous Turkish Efes beer and for them the atmosphere is casual… but it’s actually rather a catwalk for the Cypriots. Above sits the crusader castle St. Hilarion where Richard the Lionheart hung out before he had a bigger fish to fry (in the form of Jerusalem).
Let me plug my favorite kebab restaurant in Kyrenia: Niyazi’s. Established in Limassol on the south coast in 1949 and relocated during the troubles, this is certainly the best kebab place I have ever known. And having lived in the Med for more than a third of a century, I’ve known a few. It is situated a few minutes’ walk from the harbor opposite the British colonial-era Dome Hotel. Meze is served, and then the various forms of kebabs grilled in the center of the dining area come at exactly the rate one might eat them, with perfect timing and military precision.
What is remarkable is that 30 years on, the food is as good as ever and completely unchanged. Niyazi is reliable.
Real Estate In Cyprus
Back in Lefke, it’s time to buy a property…
We have toyed with the idea of buying on the Greek side of Cyprus. A close friend of mine was at the fall of the Berlin Wall with tears in his eyes. We had a similar experience when the Green Line that divides the two parts of this island opened and people who were supposedly at loggerheads, as in Bosnia, fell upon each other in delight. As did we.
That same evening we were (predictably) in Niyazi’s, and it was full of Greek Cypriots with their Turkish Cypriot friends whom they had kept touch with down the years. A few days later we went to a party on the Greek side of Nicosia, and the house was full of Turkish Cypriots.
For me, though the heart of Cyprus resides in the Turkish side and the Turkish Cypriot community. I have to say, I fell in love—not just with my Turkish Cypriot wife, but with the entire culture.
We’ve since bought a cottage in the Lefke area in a valley full of olive trees and eucalyptus.
We renovated our little house made of mud brick and wood, planted citrus and olive… and lived happily ever after.