On This Day – Crossing The Green Line in Cyprus

This is quite recent, the last time I travelled to Europe before the pandemic locked us down. In February 2020 I qualified for my State Pension and I spent the first month’s payment on a trip to Cyprus. On the 28th February I visited the capital city of Nicosia.

One of the places that I was determined to visit in Cyprus was the capital Nicosia. I thought I might hire a car and drive there but I changed my mind when I saw daily coach trips advertised as a much cheaper option. With an eye for a bargain I signed up for the tour.

What a mistake that turned out to be. One of the first to be picked up we spent a tedious hour driving around Paphos collecting up everyone else. Why they can’t have one or two convenient pick up points is a mystery to me but I suppose being picked up at the hotel is a selling point.

Eventually however we hit the highway and were on our way. The coach had an informative guide who entertained us with a commentary about the history of Cyprus which came to the story of the Turkish invasion and the current partition of the island into Greek South and Turkish North.

I wanted to see Nicosia because only recently I had visited a previously divided city – Berlin. It is said that Nicosia is the only remaining divided city in Europe but I am not certain that this is true because I recalled visiting Belfast in Northern Ireland which has a massive wall dividing Catholics and Protestants, Unionists and Nationalists and the gates are closed every night to keep people apart.

Berlin…

Belfast and that is what I call a wall…

We arrived in Nicosia about mid morning and I was immediately disappointed. I am not sure what I was expecting but this wasn’t it.

It is a grubby sort of place, grey, boxy and falling apart and in need of a lot of attention, an awful lot of attention. Anything worth seeing is neglected and deteriorating. A bit like Coventry. In 2017 Paphos was awarded European Capital of Culture status and I wondered why not the capital city, ten minutes into Nicosia and I understood exactly why.

We made straight away for the border where we needed passports to cross to the Turkish side. Not so long ago it was said that if anyone visited Northern Cyprus and had their passport stamped then they would not be allowed to visit the South or anywhere in Greece ever again or at least until getting their passport renewed. I don’t think this is the case anymore but I was relieved when they didn’t stamp the passport because later today I rather wanted to return to Paphos without too much fuss and bother.

Kim at the border crossing…

Stepping over the border there was an immediate change of culture which was impossible to miss. It was like moving into a different time zone. From modern Europe we passed into Asia with minarets, souks and bazaars, a constant call to Muslim prayers and a completely different atmosphere. The border is called the Green Line and this is because green is a neutral colour, not the blue of Greece or the red of Turkey. That is how sensitive people are about the partition issue. I understood straight away why the Cyprus problem is so difficult to resolve.

The Green Line is rather like the London Underground District (Green) Line that separates north London from the South, keeping apart the red of Arsenal from the blue of Chelsea.

An example. The city map that we had been given in the south had no street details for North Nicosia. We got hopelessly lost and I showed the map to some local people who claimed complete ignorance about their city geography and refused to help. I think it may have been because the Greek Cypriot map referred to it as an area under Turkish occupation.

Not very smart of me to show it to them and expect any sort of assistance because they are a bit touchy about their status. The postcard at the top should have given me a clue – no recognition of Southern Cyprus at all.

We groped our way back to the border and stopped for lunch before crossing. It seemed to me that most people in northern Nicosia were not especially happy people.


52 responses to “On This Day – Crossing The Green Line in Cyprus

  1. I seem to recall a tv programme where Simon Reeve visited and made pretty similar observations.

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  2. https://poets.org/poem/mending-wall

    I recall my reaction to the Berlin wall when I first went there in 1971 on a US Army photo job was to recall this Robert Frost poem on the mending of a stone wall knocked down by unknown forces: “Good fences make good neighbors.” (Why “fences” when speaking of walls, but that’s what he wrote!) Another line pondered whether making the repairs was to keep someone in or someone else out, which brought to mind the propaganda of the DDR, which assured the world it was to keep everyone else out of their people’s paradise, not to imprison their own people. Time rewrote that notion, and one can only hope the same happens on Cyprus.

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  3. One of many conflicts not really told around our world and will continue as no action by anybody. Life is a beach!

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  4. You’ve been disappointed by coach tours before … but still you succumb…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There’s always something special about border crossings, don’t you think – whatever form they take. That one sounds fascinating. By coincidence we were crossing from Thailand into Laos on that very same day, a year ago today. That was an experience too!

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  6. Intriguing Island, one for the list I think.

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  7. OK, so the Greek part of Nicosia is looking shabby, but the Turkish people in the north aren’t happy?

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  8. Our first trip to Cyprus was before the last 1974 division and the border was different. We stayed in Famagusta and crossed daily into the Turkish area which was more interesting, and met Turks who were terrified of their neighbours and Greeks who were equally terrified of the Turks. All very sad. Last holiday was in Limassol (2005) and like you, we took a trip to Nicosia to note the changes. It wasn’t as broken down as you describe but heading that way and lots of the places I wanted to see were in the Turkish area and we weren’t encouraged to go there. Had a brilliant holiday though, as we hired a 4WD and one of our travelling mates just loved driving and did all the hard work up and down mountains. I went back alone in 2010 and loved Limassol although it was full of loud Russians who all seemed to be talking on their mobiles at the same time. I’d still go back as it’s such a beautiful island.

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    • Thank you for adding these memories.
      I first went to Cyprus in 1998 on a family holiday so we didn’t travel too far. I do remember a lot of military personnel in the resort , most likely on leave. I enjoyed returning in 2000 and learning more about the country.

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  9. I think it’s best to get out of the resorts. Like most tourist places, inland from the coast is another world and the people who live in the mountain villages are very welcoming. I remember one little cafe stop where my husband was invited into the kitchen to show them how to make the fried-egg sandwich he wanted. They thought it a very odd thing to eat but the whole family came to watch the preparation!

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  10. Thanks for enlightening me on your oberservation from country to country. I was surprised that Ireland had a wall separating beliefs, sad.

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  11. Ah, yes those coach pickups…
    As for divided cities, isn’t Jerusalem divided by a big wall too?
    And thank you for helping me to cross off Nicosia from my list. Oh, wait a minute, it wasn’t ON my list!

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  12. Informative blog. Great observation from country to country.

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  13. Your last image is to die for “NO PHOTOS.” Ha!! Your experience of people refusing to help you find your way reminded me of the same thing in Athens. I was alone and it was my first day and all the intersections looked alike. I had a map and knew I was only a short way from the intersection I wanted, but I didn’t know which direction to go. The Greeks I approached all refused to help me. They feigned total ignorance of what I was asking.

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  14. Wow, I had no idea Cyprus was split like this… very interesting. And also sad to hear about the state of things there.

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  15. Thanks for informative article

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  16. The best way to get around seems to be by rental car or bus. Never been there myself but interesting to read and hear stories from people who have come from the Island.

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  17. I was in Nicosia a couple of years ago, I really liked both sides (not getting political, just my experience of the locals was good). I think I crossed through the border several times in a day, it’s that easy (with my Passport anyway) – but I was worried they would remember me and wonder why I was crossing so much.

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