Famagusta a City frozen in time

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Another day trip in Northern Cyprus to Famagusta,Salamis and St. Barnabas Monastery.

Famagusta

Starting in Famagusta

Famagusta or in Turkish Gazimagusa was one of the most visited touristic resort on the east coast of Cyprus. Luxury apartments and hotels owned by Greek-Cypriots and foreign investors. It all changed after the Greek military coup in 1974 and the Turkish invasion to restore order and protect the Turkish Cypriot minority living in the old town of Famagusta what is nowadays known as the walled City with the Venetian walls.
The UN tried to find a solution, but since the area at the beach where the foreign investors had their hotels and resorts has not be given back and with no solution in sight this whole area with a big part of the beaches on the Famagusta coastline was sealed and became a nomans land. This is why Famagusta is called the ghosttown. Some areas are given free and some new activity is coming back to the once very touristic city, but still there is a long way to go, and the empty concrete buildings that were once big resort hotels are just standing there frozen in time and some of them not even finished as the conflict started when some of these hotels were in the middle of construction works.

There is this nice hotel though from where you can go to the balcony and see a part of the beach and the empty resort hotels and from here you can take pictures of these ghosttown resorts that are in the sealed areas. These areas are no go zones and so you can’t take pictures off, but there is a way around that from the balcony of that brand new hotel which name I will not mention.

View from a hotel balcony on the abandoned resorts

 

After that I got to the Venetian walls which encircle the entire ancient city, the Byzantine Cathedral of St. Nicolas which is now the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque. All belonging to the historical and cultural heritage of Famagusta.

 

Venetian walls

Entrance gate to the Ancient city

Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque

 

Salamis

To the South of Famagusta are the ruins of Salamis, one of the ancient City kingdoms of Cyprus. It’s Roman period gymnasium, amphitheatre and baths are fascinating.

gymnasium

Baths with the Roman heating system

Roman tile

Roman Fresco

Roman Mosaic

Roman mosaic telling a tale

Roman amphitheatre

Roman amphitheatre of Salamis

and the crowd goes wild 🙂

the site of Salamis, the passage to the Arena

 

St. Barnabas Monastery

 

The last place for me to visit was the St. Barnabas Monastery and church.
St. Barnabas is one of Christianity’s most important saints and the found of Christian church in Cyprus.
The church was renovated and houses a rich collection of icons of the 18th century.
The rooms of the monastery were converted into a museum of archeology.
Next to the Monastery there is a small mausoleum with the tomb of St. Barnabas containing his remains. The mausoleum has been built on the spot where his remains were discovered.

St. Barnabas Monastery

Inside the church

The collection of icons in the church

paintings inside the church

The archeological museum

The mausoleum

The tomb of St. Barnabas

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Daytrip to Kyrenia aka Girne

While in Cyprus I didn’t just stay in the capital, there is more to see outside the capital of Nicosia, specially in Northern Cyprus.
So I decided to do a sightseeing day tour to Kyrenia aka Girne (in Turkish language).
In the morning around 8.30 I crossed the border again at Ledra street to be picked up at the North side by my driver and guide for the day.
The sightseeing tour would take me to St. Hilarion Castle,Bellapais Abbey and Kyrenia.

Saint Hilarion Castle

Saint Hilarion Castle lies on a mountain range and before this became a Fortress or Castle there was originally a monastery with church. It started with a monk who settled at this place on the mountain for his hermitage. It really is very similar to the story about how San Marino started, only difference is that San Marino became a country, Saint Hilarion not, it became a strategic place for the Byzantines who came there around the 11th century and expanded the place with more walls and lookout posts, so it became a Castle from where they could defend themselves against the Arabian pirates who came from over sea to the coast.
You can have great views from the Castle walls over the mountainous area and the city of Kyrenia (Girne) on the Northern Cypriot coastline.

Saint Hilarion Castle

Saint Hilarion Castle

View on Kyrenia

Saint John Tower

What’s left of the Byzantine church

Me standing on the Fortress Walls

 

Bellapais

Bellapais abbey situated in a town with the same name, is a Augustinian monastery that has been partly destroyed by earthquakes, but it’s still beautiful with the arches around the cloister and the views over the nearby coastline.

Bellapais Abbey

Arches at Bellapais Abbey

 

Kyrenia or Girne

This seaside town with its harbour is a nice place for a quick stop, to have lunch in one of the many restaurant places around the harbor. I went for a little walk around town, walked a little bit over the sea promenade, toward the Ataturk Monument.
The most important place to visit is the Kyrenia Castle the Castle saw the Romans, Byzantines and the Venetians over time and it was the Venetians who made a big fortress out of it by expanding it with adding more walls to the Castle. It’s only 2,50 euro entrance ticket and definitely worth the visit.

Kyrenia Harbour

Ataturk Monument flanked by the Turkish flag and the Northern Cyprus flag

Kyrenia Castle entrance gate

Kyrenia Castle walls

 

Nicosia the divided city

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Just like Berlin after the 2nd World War was divided in two parts by a wall untill 1989, Nicosia in Cyprus is still divided today with no unification in sight despite many attempts. It didn’t start after the 2nd world war but in 1974 being the last divided Capital city in the world. It’s not only the capital that’s divided but also the Country. You have a South part of Cyprus which is just called Cyprus or Greek Cyprus as some say and there is Northern Cyprus or Turkish Cyprus which declared its independence in 1983 not recognized by anyone but Turkey. The flag of Northern Cyprus is very similar to the Turkish one.
In Nicosia it’s possible to cross from one part of the country into the other part on foot, at Ledra street, bring your passport !
You will not get stamped but you need it to go to Northern Cyprus. There is no other way to get around, all the other streets have blockades, fences with barbed wire, barrels, walls with graffiti on them.

Greek Cyprus side of the border at Ledra street

Border crossing at Ledra street, going to the Turkish side

Border seen from the Turkish side

The blockade with barrels on the Greek side

More barrel blockades with barbed wire in different streets dividing the city

Wall with graffiti, blockade on Turkish side

Turkish side with the flag of Northern Cyprus next to the Turkish flag

 

I stayed at the Greek side of Nicosia in a hostel close to the old centre and the border.
On the Greek side you can see the Venetian walls, Famagusta gate, the Archbishop’s Palace,Byzantine museum and Liberty monument just to name a few.

Venetian walls

Here I am at the Venetian walls

Famagusta gate

Archbishop’s Palace

Byzantine museum situated next to the Archbishop’s Palace

Liberty Monument

The North side of Nicosia you got Ataturk square with the Venetian Column, Buyuk Hamam which is a caravanserai,Kyrenia gate, the old market, the former Cathedral of St.Sophia which is now the Selimiye Mosque and many more other less bigger mosques.

Venetian Column at Ataturk Square

Kyrenia Gate

Selimiye Mosque (The Cathedral of St. Sophia)

The old Bazar market entrance

The old Bazar market

The Great Khan (Buyuk Han) Caravanserai

2nd floor of the Caravanserai Buyuk Han

overlooking the place

 

 

2 Days in Foggy San Marino

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San Marino, the oldest republic in Europe, a tiny mountainous nation would unexpectedly become my next country to visit after I also totally unexpectedly found a very cheap flight (20 euro return) to Ancona in Italy. A train ride to Rimini and a one hour bus ride later from there, brought me to Foggy San Marino. Yes there was a lot of fog up mountain Titano where the old town is situated that after all I was lucky to spend there 2 days. Cause the 2nd day and even on the third day when I would be leaving back to Italy again, the weather did clear up. Imagine doing it on a half day trip like some people do from Rimini or even a full one day trip and you only got fog, not able to see the view from the mountain towards the rest of the country down below or not even to see the 3 towers the Country of San Marino is famous for.
Well after not seeing much on my first day, I eventually got to see all I wanted to see in San Marino and returned with a happy feeling back to Italy where I would also stay 2 days visiting Ancona and Rimini.
In any hotel in San Marino they should give you at the check-in a San Marino tourist card, the tuttosanmarino card, with that card you go to the tourist information office and it will give you a discount on any ticket pass you want to buy. I bought the Multi-museum pass which is normally 10 euro, but with the tuttosanmarino card it was only 7,50 euro to obtain a scancard to have access to the most important sightseeing. Included are the First Tower and the Second Tower which are situated on the same mountain range and access to the Saint Francis Art Gallery, The State Museum, The national gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art and the Public Palace at the Piazza Della Liberta.

Holding the flag of a micronation – San Marino

Piazza Della Liberta

Public Palace with the Flag of San Marino on top

 

Inside The Public Palace

 

The National Guards

Inside the Public Palace

The Parliament

Parliament of San Marino

Nice Wall Decorations

The 3 Towers of San Marino in the National Emblem

The Public Palace is a town hall and also has a Parliament at the 2nd floor where political meetings are being held and on these days it’s not open to the public. Only on the last day I could use my scancard again to enter the building and visit it when no political meetings took place. I used my San Marino card to the fullest.
Besides purchasing this card at the tourist office , you can also get your passport stamped which is a nice souvenir for passport stamp collectors.

Tourist office to get your card and Passport stamp

Police at the entrance gate of the old town

Walking around the first day in the narrow streets of the old town with the fog as my companion

Cable line in the fog

Part of the cable line in the fog

This was the next day when it cleared up

View over San Marino when the fog pulled back a bit on the 2nd day

The 3 Towers of San Marino

 

The First Tower Guaita

The 2nd Tower Cesta Fratta is situated on the highest peak of Mount Titano

The 3rd Tower

View from the first tower on the 2nd Tower

View from the 2nd Tower on the First Tower and the Old Town with the Public Palace (still foggy)

View from the 2nd Tower towards the 3rd Tower

The Third Tower is not surrounded by Castle walls

The path to Tower 3

In the 2nd Tower there is the Museum of Ancient Weapons

I like the details on this hunting weapon, dog chasing a fox

Some more ancient weapons

Entrance of the Old Town

Piazza Della Liberta @ night

City walls

View at night over San Marino from Mount Titano

 

 

 

My visit to the Crazy town of Vank

A crazy town in an unrecognized country that’s Vank. The crazy thing about this town laying in a valley surrounded by the Caucasian mountains and forest, is all the random objects that are put there by a former Russian-Armenian oligarch Levon Hayrapetyan who’s motivation it was to invest in the town of his birthplace. The man died a few years back and since then the town is also slowly dyeing. He wanted to attract tourists to Vank, for example to the Eclectica Titanic looking hotel that he build, which is now becoming more of a ruin. Not many people stay at the hotel anymore, the water reservoir next to the boat representing a river or the sea as you will, is now just completely dry. The terrace on the first floor has a swimming pool but not filled with water. Besides the hotel there are some statues in town like the flying donkeys, a big pirate ship, a replica of Michelangelo, some cars on poles , a Volga toilet, American eagle or maybe its the eagle of the emblem of Nagorno-Karabakh, a crocodile in a pond, a big Lion head that used to roar cause there was a sensor when you passed by that made the lion roar, but now its broken. Also the Azeri licence plate wall is pretty unique, cause now everybody in Nagorno-Karabakh drives with Armenian licence plates.
You don’t expect to see all these wacky stuff in a little mountain town in the middle of nowhere in Nagorno-Karabakh aka Artsakh. However for backpackers it’s a nice place to hang out.

Eclectica hotel

the front of the boat hotel

only half of the water reservoir with the small waterfall is left

where did the water go ?

The empty siwmming pool

Inside the nose of the boat

The bar with aquarium in the common room

Me in the mirror of the common room

The toilet with the Volga car on top = Volga toilet

Cars on poles

The Crocodile in the pond up close

The crocodile in the pond

The Eagle of Vank

Michelangelo statue

Me in front of the Azeri licence plates wall

The licence plates wall

Flying donkeys

The Pirate ship of Vank

The Lion of Vank

Me standing on the lions claw

The flags of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh on the wall of a school in Vank

Weird statues at the kids playground in school

The other place worth seeing is the 13th century Gandzasar Monastery with its old graveyard in front of it.
It’s the most important Monastery in Nagorno-Karabakh from what I’ve heard.

 

The Gandzasar Monastery with the old graveyard

The town of Vank seen from the Monastery on a misty afternoon

 

It’s up hill and from here you can see the town of Vank down in the valley. If you visit Vank, it’s easy to check out the Monastery aswell as it’s about 3km away.
There is no entry fee to visit the monastery. Just outside the complex there is a museum with some old religious books, only here a small entry fee aplies. I took a picture from outside cause inside it was not allowed to take pictures of these old books.

Gandzasar church

The courtyard of the Monastery

 

Gandzasar courtyard

The old wooden door of the Gandzasar church

The altar inside

The Museum

Gandzasar book museum

 

Welcome to Stepanakert the capital of Artsakh

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Artsakh what ? If you never heard of it then just relax don’t worry about it cause you might have already heard about Nagorno-Karabakh a disputed region in the Caucasus, a region claimed by Azerbaijan and Armenia. Armenia is controlling the region of Nagorno-Karabakh which nowadays looks like an Armenia enclave in Azerbaijan but really it has an independent status, just not recognized internationally just like the other breakaway republics like Transnistria and Abkhazia.
In the 90ies there was the war for Karabakh between Armenia and Azerbaijan and the Armenians won. They control it now and you can travel to almost the whole country of Nagorno Karabakh except to Agdam a city very near the border area with Azerbaijan.
I didn’t go to Agdam because I heard that taxi drivers who took curious tourists there got arrested and had o pay fines, the tourist go free after leaving their names for identification for whatever reason. There are already travelbloggers who have been there anyway and pictures of Agdam got on the Internet, so with a little research you will see that the place isn’t that great to walk around since the whole town of Agdam is destroyed, besides the Armenian army and some Azeri snipers there isn’t anybody there. Sometimes incidents happen, the last one was a year ago. Other than that it’s calm. I wont be writing too much about this place since I have not visited it only know the info from others and from what I have read about it. I will stick to the places I visited which is what my travelblog stands for (The places I visited).

My Nagorno Karabakh journey started in the capital Stepanakert.

The thing i can say about this city is that its way better than I expected, for a country that doesn’t exist and is not recognized they have a very nice capital city with nice shops, bars, cafĂ©s, pizza places. Its clean ! Not like in Western Europe where cities like Brussels the capital of my country where it’s dirty. People who want to argue about it save yourself the time and energy I know what I’m talking about, I go to Brussels every day and as a capital of not only Belgium but also Europe they should be ashamed that the streets , parks etc,… are full of dirt. Not like this in the unrecognized capital city Stepanakert of Nagorno Karabakh aka Artsakh.
I came at the Armenia and Nagonro Karabakh border in the late afternoon showed my passport they gave me a paper that I needed to fill in and with another paper in my passport I had to go get my Nagorno Karabakh visa in Stepanakert at the Ministry of Foreign affairs. The visa office is only open until 6pm and I didn’t make it in time, but that’s not a problem you can just go the next day and collect your visa. If you stick this visa into your passport you can’t go to Azerbaijan anymore on that passport cause they will not let you in as they see it as you entered their country illegally. I don’t care anymore about that I have been to Azerbaijan on my old passport about a year ago. So I got the visa in my passport, but you can choose not to if you want to go to Azerbaijan.

Border crossing between Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh with the flags of both countries behind me

 

Stepanakert

I just walked around and visited the War Memorial, the museum of the fallen soldiers with a lot of photography on the walls of the Nagorno Karabakh war and weaponry on display.  Checked out the football stadium of Nagorno Karabakh.  I passed the Parliament building and the cathedral. Stepan Shahumyan statue, that’s where the city got its name from. Stepan was a hero to the Armenian people, he was a revolutionary politician from the Caucasus within the Soviet Union.

War Memorial

War Memorial

War Memorial

Outside the War Museum of Fallen Soldiers

Inside the museum

weaponry inside the museum of Fallen soldiers

Picture in the museum of the Military Parade in Stepanakert

War Photography Artsakh war

War photography

bazooka

AK47

knives and pistols

National Assembly building

Parliament building

Cathedral of Stepanakert

Stepan Shahumyan statue

Stepan Shahumyan statue

Me with the Stepan Shahumyan statue

Football stadium of Artsakh with the seats in the colors of the Nagorno Karabakh flag

seats also in the color of the Armenian flag

They just signed a Belgian goalkeeper 🙂

Military propaganda on the buildings

Military propaganda on the buildings

Military propaganda on the buildings

Military propaganda on the buildings

Armenian & Nagorno Karabakh  propaganda

Old Russian car Wolga

 

Little bit outside the city centre I visited the “Tatik Papik” stone Monument which means “we are our mountains” although that’s not  literally translated. Its’ grandma and grandpa and it represents the people who live in the Mountains of Nagorno Karabakh which is obvious since it’s a Mountainous country.

We are our Mountains

Tatik Papik Monument

With the Nagorno-Karabakh flag at a souvenir stand near the Tatik Papik Monument

 

Believe it or not, Nagorno Karabakh also has a non operational airport, the building looks nice but no commercial flights. You can rent a small plane or a helicopter but thats about it. Most of the time not much flying going on there.

Artsakh airport

 

 

 

 

From Khor Verap to Goris and Tatev

Armenia is the land of Monasteries and churches, there are just so many of them and if you are only for a few days in the country like I was, it’s impossible to visit them all.

From the Capital Yerevan I did an excursion with a friend to the Khor Verap. The church of Khor Virap built in th 5th Century is a place of pilgrimage. To the right side of the altar there is a ladder leading down to a pit where according to legends Saint Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 14 years. He survived it and to the king Tridas the 3rd who imprisoned him that was a miracle and because of that he decided to be Christian just like Saint Gregory and decided that the whole nation of Armenia should be Christian and so Armenia became the first Christian nation in the world.
It’s a great story with no religious violence involved.

Khor Verap church

climbing down the ladder to the pit

Khor Verap Monastery

I also went down into the pit to see it for myself and its crazy that someone could survive for so long in this dark place deep in the underground of a church. Not even thinking how horrible it must have been during the wintertime.

Later that day I got to the town of Goris which is surrounded by mountainous area with limestone spires with caves carved into them. This is the old Goris where people used to live in these caves untill the 18th century which is not that long ago. So it’s not only something that dates back as far as to the medieval times.
You can hike there and maybe some dog from town will follow you from the town centre to the caves. I hiked a bit and passed a graveyard where cows were eating the grass from between the gravestones.

Limestone spires

Cave city of Old Goris

another picture of this superb place

The dog that followed me

the cows on the graveyard

Goris itself was very calm, not many cars as I was walking sometimes in the middle of the street. Its like live stood still.
The reason why I came to Goris was not only to see the caves and different rock formations but also cause its close to get to the Tatev Monastery.
I got there with a driver who had an old lada, and in Goris I saw quite a few lada’s.

Goris

Central square of Goris

not many traffic in the streets besides some old lada’s

one of the nicer houses in Goris with the Eagle of the Roman empire

Once you get to Tatev you will see you not the only tourist there, buy a ticket and go with the longest cableline in the world (6km) up to Tatev which is on top of a mountain plateau overlooking the area. Most people buy a return ticket also. I didn’t cause my friend who was with me on this trip had been before to Tatev and there is a secret way to get out of the Monastery by a hole in the ground that eventually leads you out to a whole in the side wall of the Monastery. Once we got out by this secret passage, we hiked down, crossed a little river and hiked up another small hill back to find our driver and his Lada.

Tatev

Chapel at the Tatev Monastery

old bell at the Tatev Monastery

Tatev Church

view over the area

the hole in the side wall of the Monastery, from here I got out and hiked my way out of the area. Saved me some money on the retour ticket for the cabelline

I got out and this is the view

another closer view after I got out by the secret passage

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Armenia Day in Yerevan

It’s always great to be in a country or city where some festivities and activities are being held. I didn’t know that the 21st of September is Armenia’s Independence day and that on this day I would be in Yerevan and witness the celebrations during the day and at night on Yerevan’s Republic square.
After doing some research it’s the day Armenia got it’s freedom and independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 on the 21st september, 27 years ago.
Early that day I was outside the capital city visiting the Geghard Monastery and the Garni Temple. When I came back to Yerevan I saw that the streets were crowded and someone at the hostel told me it’s Armenia day and festivities were going on in the city. Some roads were cut off from traffic and stages were set up with dj’s and performances by local artists. The most people came to Republic square to listen to music, to play games, to taste the Armenian folklore. Some food stands and tents with local products were present aswell. People wearing traditional clothes from different parts of the country or just the national flag around their body.
Everywhere Armenian flags which is common on Independence days in every country. I remember Albania day a few years ago which I also attended by coincidence, not in Albania but in Pristina the capital of Kosovo.
In the evening music was played and the water fountains where moving to the rhythm of the music just like in Las Vegas at the Bellagio hotel. Spectacular fireworks where the end conclusion of what was and is a great day for all Armenians.

This girl has a traditional Armenian outfit – Armenia Day

Girls in uniform

Girl waving proudly the big Armenian flag in the middle of Republic Square

Concert and other performances on stage

Kids having fun with different activities and games organised for them

Even Transformers on Armenia day doing a dance

Me almost all by myself at the Republic Square in Yerevan , days before Armenia Day

Republic Square very calm few days before Armenia day

This is me in earlier that day at the Garni Temple in Garni

Mountainous landscape in Garni

Geghard Monastery

Geghard

Geghard Monastery

Me at the Geghard Monastery

Inside the Geghard Monastery church

Fireworks at Republic Square

Fireworks at Republic Square

Fireworks at Republic Square

Fountains at Republic Square

Daytrip from Antigua to Lake Atitlan

While I only had a short stay in Guatemala’s city of Antigua which is a touristic place I wanted to do a trip not so far away. The capital Guatemala city didn’t really interest me that much, however Lake Atitlan with its tiny towns around the lake and its surrounding volcano’s was worth a visit. Continue reading

Daytrip from Sliema to Gozo & Comino Islands

Just a cross the street of my hotel “The Sliema Marina” where I was staying I saw these boats leaving everyday with tourists to Valletta or to Gozo and Comino Island bringing them back in the evening when it was already dark. Around 6 or 7 pm. Since I have been in Malta in november this means it’s already dark around 5 pm in this time of the year. To complete my Malta trip I had to visit those Islands even if it would be for a short time and just to go out there and see something. Continue reading