Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Crossing the Border & A Restoration of Faith in Humanity

Cyprus is a country split by a border: the south is home to the Greek side, or the Republic of Cyprus, and the north is officially called the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Historically there is a lot of turmoil between the Greeks and the Turks, and it wasn't until 2003 that crossing points were established at the border. Now you can cross at two points on foot or at five points by car. I was wondering what it would be like to cross the border, imagining quite a tense encounter. I was incredibly wrong. My new friend from the U.K. and I decided to adventure to the North for a day trip. He is learning Turkish and wanted to practice with the locals and I really wanted to see Kyrenia, a harbor town founded around 1200 B.C.

When we got to the border checkpoint via Google Maps, the guard informed us that we were at a walking checkpoint, not a driving one. He said Google Maps often brings people here, when the driving checkpoint is actually only five minutes away. He has taken the liberty of making a hand-drawn map to help people find their way. We followed it and found the driving checkpoint, where we handed over our passports. We were chatted up by very kind guards who welcomed us and even offered us coffee. No guns, no hostility, no questions, only smiles and laughter. If only passing through immigration at the Philadelphia airport were as pleasant as crossing the Cypriot border, the world would be a better place.
We saw this Mosque from the road and decided to stop in. I am so happy that we did because it was a truly memorable experience.

Admittedly, I am not a terribly religious person - I try to live by the golden rule. I treated other as I would like to be treated and try to let kindness guide me throughout life. However, I have always been fascinated to see how people practice religion in foreign countries. In Sicily, Mexico and Nicaragua I have had memorable experiences in churches and I decided that Cyprus wasn't going to be any different just because people were practicing Islam instead of Christianity. Curiosity always gets the best of me, so I covered my head with this beautiful scarf, put an equally beautiful skirt over my jeans and headed inside.   
The service was very peaceful and the Mosque was lovely.  Afterward, the Imam, who leads the ceremony, welcomed me into the Mosque as a Christian and as an American.  He shook my hand and introduced me to his brother in law and nephew who were visiting from Turkey. He thanked me for being a teacher and told me I could take as many photographs as I wanted to. He encouraged me to come back anytime, reminding me that all are welcome. When we asked him how to get to the harbor, he told us he would just drive down and guide us and that we could follow him there.
There was a modest table outside of the Mosque, and the Imam told me that people often gather before service to share tea there.
I found these trees outside of the Mosque next to the little sitting area where then men drink their tea. The sign says the this is an olive tree that is 800 years old!
The Kyrenia Harbor (or Girne, in Turkish) was like stepping back in time. There was even a castle built by the Byzantine's in the 7th century to protect citizens from frequent raids by the Arabs. The boats were so unique and I really felt like I was in a whole different world. I wanted to see the harbor so badly and I'm really thankful that we made the trip.
A bad day fishing beats a good day working, especially on the Mediterranean!
A beautiful day to be on the water
Next, it was time to eat! We avoided the touristy places near the water and walked into town to look for a spot where people didn't speak English and there were lots of locals. We definitely found the right spot. There was Turkish pizza, which was thin yet crispy and incredibly flavorful. 
There were also grilled sausages, kabobs, vegetables and salads of romaine and cabbage with a tasty dressing that was very acidic, which made me very happy. We were given tea and yogurt drinks, too.
There are many stray dogs in Kyrenia, none of whom were starving by any means! They all had fat bellies and were rolling around, hamming it up for the tourists. One came up to greet me, and all of his friends followed. They were really nice and I think they wanted me to join their pack and the trotted alongside me while I walked down the street for awhile.
It was raining when I got back to Larnaca so I stumbled into this little restaurant near my hotel. The staff was so nice and they were clearly humbled by the gratuity that I left them.
Over a meal of huge mussels with tomato, feta and oregano, accompanied by lamb chops and a dry Cypriot house wine, I reflected upon my day. Crossing back onto the Greek side of the island at a different checkpoint had been just as nice of an experience as crossing into the Turkish side. The men were so kind and asked me about my photography before shaking our hands and sending us on our way with big smiles. I had been granted the opportunity to draw my own conclusions about a group of people who are looked down upon in my country right now, and I believe that my inclination has been right all along. There are extremists of every faith, many of whom put people's lives in danger, which I do not condone and saddens me deeply. But there are also kind hearted, welcoming people of every shape, size, faith and color all over the world and I am grateful that over the years I have been welcomed to observe and partake in their cultural customs in order to be a more well rounded human being. Kyrenia and the Turkish people showed me a side of the world that I have never seen. Cyprus has been such a breath of fresh air. It is a place that I can walk alone freely, without worrying about being robbed of my camera or being subjected to even one nasty remark or catcall from men. It is all sunshine and smiles here. I had a feeling I would really like Cyprus, but the people have made me fall in love with it.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Cyprus, You Are Lovely

I met a new friend at the airport who is from the UK but with Cypriot roots. He helped me find Hotel Opera, which has this lovely little terrace for morning coffee.
Though I wasn't planning on staying in Larnaca, it seemed like the right thing to do after arriving to Cyprus later than anticipated. I was starving and found the pork souvlaki upon my arrival. It was messy and awesome! 
This is the view from my hotel balcony at 6AM, when the church bells woke me up. What a beautiful view! This church is 1100 years old and Saint Lazarus's tomb is inside.

After a long day of traveling yesterday, I started my day by wandering down to the ocean and into the Grand Mosque. I learned that the structure was built in the 16th century as a church and was later converted into a mosque. It is now the spiritual home to Larnaca's Muslim community.
It was a very peaceful place and after I covered my head and took off my shoes, I was welcomed by some friendly gentlemen who were happy to let me bring my camera inside and offered to take my picture.
Next, I walked right from the mosque onto the sand and watched some sailboats pass. A handful of people were swimming, as it was about 70 degrees outside, but the water was too cold for me!
I kept walking toward the marina to check out all of the boats.  Even though the sign said that only authorized people were allowed inside, the guard saw my camera and told me to go look around.  I later met a cafe owner named Stavos who told me I was welcome to walk all of the docks and stop in for a Turkish coffee anytime I wanted to.

It was mostly a quiet day on the marina, but some people were painting hulls of boats or doing repair work.  Just look at the scale of those boats compared to the truck and the people! Walking those docks made me think of the docks at Charleston Lake in Canada where my Dad, Grandfather and I fished when I was little.  It was very comforting to be there with the sun on my face and the smell of the ocean all around me.
The hull of a boat, full of color, age and wisdom
Cypriot Street Art

There are many shops with handmade things, this one was full of copper
All that walking made me hungry so I stopped into a little restaurant. The nice man working there made me one of his favorite dishes, which was a pita stuffed with spicy meatballs, cucumber and tomato. A squeeze of lime made it absolutely perfect. I also had my first Cypriot wine, which was a dry red that was light in body and tasty.
The nice man also brought me some sausage on the house that tasted like it had cinnamon in it. It was fresh off the grill and quite a treat. I was so full but I ate the whole thing. The people here have been so nice! Someone find me a job so I can stay for awhile!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Another rainy day in Madrid forced me to bundle up and buy an umbrella! I wasn't sure where I was going, but then I saw a sign with the magic word..."MERCADO"

Charcuterie Heaven
I'll take one of each, please
Mom, there were more boquerones here than even you could eat! 

Salmonettes, a little fishy I've never seen in the States

And now, ladies and gentlemen, the culinary highlight thus far.  Sometimes the simplest things are the best things.  This baguette was perfect, with Jamon Iberico and Olive Oil. If I die on this trip it's fine because I ate this sandwich. Seriously!

Who figured out how to treat pigs like royalty so they taste like this?!

After the market, I kind of just followed my heart and eyes, walking the cobblestone streets and constantly looking up.  This view just doesn't get old.
Much to my surprise, I stumbled across this exhibition! Only one of my favorite photographers EVER! A wide smile spread across my face, I couldn't believe how good Madrid was being to me.
This exhibition covered Bruce Davidson's work from 1955-1963, including many images of the Freedom Fighters, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights movement.  These images seem especially telling considering our current political climate.  Seeing images of the KKK marching in 1961 made me shudder and cringe, as I am a person who rallies for equality.  I am so happy I got to see this show. The prints were so fantastic with detail in the shadows that one can only hope for from perfect negatives.  Thank you, Bruce, for giving a voice to the voiceless.
I saw this building from across a large avenue and had to get closer.  As I sat quietly while the statues stared at me with a fierce gaze, I felt very grateful for the opportunity to return to Madrid after 17 years.  I could live here in a heartbeat, and someday I will return.  For now, it's onto the next adventure: Cyprus. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Rainy Day in Madrid = A Day of Museums and Mind Blowing Art

 I started my day at El Museo del Prado.  For those of you who don't know, The Prado was built in 1785 and is neoclassical masterpiece.  Originally, it was the palace of King Fernando VII, and in 1814 he decided to use it as a museum.  It is home to some of the finest artwork in the world and today I saw paintings that I never dreamed I would see in person.  The paintings were so huge and so well preserved that I definitely teared up a few times while I was there. I have been known to cry tears of joy when I am happily overwhelmed, and The Prado certainly had that effect on me. Check out some of the illegal pictures I took in spite of all the swarming guards.
A room full of Goya's black paintings...cue the tears

Self Portrait because why not

Velazquez's Las Meninas circa 1656. Never thought I would see this in person and it would be this perfect

Stopped for and ensalada mixta and some swordfish at this cute little spot...
And then moved onto Centro de Arte Reina Sofia!
Angelés Santos
Picasso's Guernica shot from the hip so that lady on the left didn't beat me up
Richard Serra
Salvador Dalí
Man Ray (Philly, represent!)
Ramon Gomez de la Serna
Proper Propaganda (Yes that is a Dilated People's reference for those of you who remember Expansion Team)

After a long day and walking 5.5 miles, I decided it was time to eat!
Jamón croquetas and razor clams
The "Baby Jar" - Egg, Potato, Truffle, Cream and an Albariño
Beef Cheek with Rioja