No, this ain’t yet another division line in the tiny island that Cyprus is although I wonder naming “it” the blue line was in some way taking a dig at the Green Line that divides the Republic of Cyprus and the occupied Turkish part of the island. Also known as the Nicosia trail, “it” actually is a 4.5 km long physical blue line painted on the streets of Nicosia, or rather should I say Lefkoşa, to lead tourists to the main attractions in the city.
We hitchhiked from Girne (Greek name: Kyrenia) – which actually is quite easy – and got dropped off Girne Gate at the massive statue of Atatürk (seriously, I can’t seem to get rid of this guy), behind which the tourist office is located. Amongst the remaining Venetian structures, newer buildings had been erected over time but it still felt to me that time had somewhat stopped. You definitely notice it more if you’ve been to the Greek side, which feels like leaping through a time warp into modern period.
We went inside the tourist office, which is the actual Girne Gate to find a very helpful lady who highlighted everything that was a must-see in the capital. When I mentioned the blue line, she said that it was probably better to follow the map than the actual line, which is flaked on some parts as it is quite old and also tended to run through old small streets and residential areas. She did mention however that in the case that we got lost, then following the blue line would probably be the best idea. Which we ended up doing because apparently between the two of us, we couldn’t even read a very simple map – also some places, such as the Armenian Church, was off-limits because it was now considered a military zone, something not mentioned on the map.
We made a quick stop at the Mevlevi Museum (The museum of Whirling Dervishes) but only looked around the courtyard where different Ottoman tombstones were on exhibit. We kept on walking until we reached the Judicial Building, a beauty on its own, which served as a good rain cover for us as we wandered around its corridors. We were not having the greatest luck with the rain that week (I’m a bit unlucky in that department – says the geographer). We even ended up at an organic cafe at some point where we played some tavla (backgammon) whilst waiting for the rain to pass.
From the Judicial Building we made our way to the Büyük Han (The Great Inn), which definitely is my favourite spot in Nicosia. It was built back in the 1500’s when the island was seized by the Ottomans, then became the first city prison under British administration, after which it was converted into a hostel for poor families. Now, local artisans use it to showcase and sell their handmade artwork and souvenirs.
Just behind the Büyük Han is the Büyük Hamam (The Grand Turkish Bath) where I had my horrible embarrassing but amazing hamam experience, which I can’t wait to repeat.
Our next stop was Selimiye Mosque, which was a cathedral converted into a mosque by the Ottomans – as they do –, next to which was the St Nicholas Church now used for Whirling Dervishes performances.
And that’s when we started going in circles as well a little bit off the tourist path – which lead to the “Can you spot the blue line?” game.
Despite everything, I quite liked getting lost in this small divided city. It does get tiring sometimes to just run from one attraction to another, so yay for freestyle sightseeing. We navigated through some neighbourhoods, some as dodgy as they get, and ended up at the most southern point of Lefkoşa, where the Greek flag could be clearly seen.