Or, getting over it.
Have you ever had one of those days that you knew at the start was going to be good? For me, that was our last day in Cyprus.
Mike and I had decided to leave North Cyprus for our last day because it involves crossing a border. That's right. On this small island there are two countries. Southern Cyprus is Greek and North Cyprus is Turkish. When the UN drew up the dividing line, they split the Capitol, Lefkosia, in half. We had decided that we should be as comfortable getting around before heading to the other side. We read up on what we wanted to see on either side of the Green Line and headed off early so we wouldn't get caught with where we wanted to go being closed.
Getting into Lefkosia, we hit rush hour traffic. I'm very glad I had 3 days of practice driving here before getting into that! Although, the drivers here are much more polite than in the States. If someone wants over and there's even the tiniest gap, they go for it - and the other driver lets them - instead of cutting them off or blaring their horn, cussing and "flying the eagle". What a nice change!
We finally found a place to park and headed for our first stop. The Cyprus Museum was written up as the best museum in the country to see artifacts from all over the country and from all eras. They did have some great exhibits. One that caught my eye was a large collection of terra cotta figures. There were several life sized soldiers, miniature chariots and animals. There were well over 100 figures in all. They had all been found in a tomb just as they were displayed. It was pretty amazing. There were, of course, also lovely Greek and Roman statues, pottery and jewelry.
Our next very important stop was to see the Tourist Office. There were details about the border crossing and driving in the North that the other Tourist Offices didn't know. We were both surprised how little the Tourist Offices in the other cities knew about Lefkosia and the North.
With maps in hand, (and I do mean maps), we headed for the border. When you go to North Cyprus you can either fill out a form that you keep with you and turn back in when you leave, or get your passport stamped. I wanted that stamp! The border officer thought that odd but he stamped it anyways. We bought our special insurance which is required when you drive a southern car across the border, grabbed MORE maps and off. I now have been to 11 countries, which seems paltry next to Mike's 81, but it's more than most people in the US.
Looking at the maps we thought we had a long drive to our first Northern stop. Boy, it's easy to miscalculate when the scale keeps changing from map to map. Very quickly we were at St Hilarion Castle which is another Byzantine castle. This one was built on a mountain top overlooking the Mediterranean Ocean on one side and the mountain valley on the other. The mountain tops were misty as we drove up and I was afraid we might get rain. Our weather luck held out for us and it was just a little cloudy. By the way, when I said it was built on a mountain top, you don't get to drive all the way to the top. You park at the bottom of the castle and then have to climb...LOTS of steps. But, I'm so very glad I did. At each turn, there was another, more impressive room or view. This place is huge and just kept on going. It would be easy to lose yourself here for hours and hours thinking back and sensing all of the lives that were spent here. Every so often, I'd stop and just do a 360, taking it all in. We finally made it it the top room - St. John's Room. He most definitely had the best view of the house.
The only thing that detracted from the sense of history was the sound of the UN troops just down the valley 200 or so meters practicing their target shooting. Yes, one of the "lovely" sights from the top of the castle was a UN target range. Nice.
Walking back down, I kept turning around. Checking that we didn't miss any rooms or amazing views. I really did not want to leave. I was in awe of this place. In fact, Mike said this was the most impressive castle he'd ever seen. That's saying a lot when you think of how many castles he's seen in so many different countries.
Our last Cyprus sight was going to be the best. Ancient Salamis is on the west coast of North Cyprus and is, by far, the best ancient city I've visited. Just as you enter the gate you are there! The baths are the first thing you come across. Many of the rooms still have their marble mosaic floors. As we entered the main part of the baths, you enter a doorway and there are lovely marble statues lining the walls! Neither Mike nor I could believe they were still there. It certainly helped me to get a feel for how the room looked when it was in use.
As I continued to wander from room to room, taking photos of everything so I wouldn't forget any of it, I felt more and more in awe of these ancient civilizations. Here the columns stood after millennia. The beautiful, detailed carving on the capitols and the marble mosaic floors are still enriching lives. You can't ask for a better legacy than that.
On the site is a good sized theater. The nice thing about this theater is they have reconstructed it and placed the marble facing to several rows. You can see where many years of "seats" have rubbed grooves in the marble seats. From the top of the theater you have a fantastic view of the ancient city. Have I mentioned yet how great this place is? Mike and I wandered around a little longer, getting all the photos we wanted - even a couple of 'selfies'.
It was time to leave. As much as I hated to leave St. Hilarion Castle, I hated to leave here just as much if not more. I felt drawn to the history here.
Leave we must, so back to the car to get back across the border and to our hotel for our last night in Cyprus. Crossing the border was relatively uneventful. When we handed our passports to the border officer, she asked for the paper. We each had to convince her that we had no papers, just the stamps in our passports. She asked when we crossed into North Cyprus. She looked at us strangely when we said we were only there for the day. I guess they don't get many people day tripping.
As we packed our belongings back in our bags, Mike and I asked each other which was our favorite site. I can't really pick just one. I have several: Panagis Forviotissa for the breathtaking frescoes and the kindness of an old man, both Kourion and Salamis for the ancient history and St. Hilarion for the awesomeness of it all.
Now I'm on my way home. This week flew past so fast. It seems we just got here. We packed a lot in just a few days but there is so much left undiscovered. I feel sorry for the people who come to Cyprus and stop at the Green Line. They are missing so much by being frightened of being off the beaten path. Had we stopped there, I would have never experienced St. Hilarion. What a loss.
If there's one thing I learned from this trip, it's to let go of your fears of something new and different. I used to be afraid of left hand driving. Now, I feel like a pro. Try something new and feel empowered!