Short trip to North Cyprus -- treasuring the romantic
By Rumana Husain
The other evening, on a boat ride with our friends in the Karachi harbour, we were discussing the life of boatmen and fisherfolk living on nearby islands, and the conversation drifted to our own visits to different island countries in the world. I recalled my short trip to North Cyprus some years ago, where I accompanied my husband who had to present his master-plan of a new airport at Nicosia, known locally as Lefkosia, the capital city of Northern Cyprus.
The city, divided between two states, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) island and the remaining Greek-dominated western part known as the Republic of Cyprus, had large coils of barbed wire laid for this division instead of a wall dividing the city, like post-war Berlin.
We drove up along the ‘Green Line,’ to see the heavily guarded area on both sides. Perched on a piece of high ground, we could see the ruined houses, empty buildings, wrecked cars, sandbag barriers, and tall weeds growing everywhere. It was a depressing sight and I wanted to get away from it as quickly as I had been keen to see it.
Other than this divide, the island charmed me. I realised that unlike many other cities that have grown on the mouth of the sea or along a river, and the way their people relate with the water at all times, Karachi remains isolated from the sea in many ways. Our metropolis spreads far and wide; away from it, and out of the 18 million people of Karachi, only a fraction of the population encounters the sea on a daily basis. In Cyprus, the relationship with the sea was a constant.
Due to the political situation on this Mediterranean island, the two communities in Cyprus -- Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots -- faced the second half of the last century in the light of growing tensions, which erupted into demonstrations and violence, first by the Greeks against the British and then between the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots. This continued until the Turkish intervention in 1974 and the subsequent division of the island. Since then, there has been no serious outbreak of inter-communal violence on either side. This was also because, after 1974, Turkish and Greek Cypriots had no connection at all other than the meetings and talks between their top-level politicians in search for a political solution. What remained were only the good memories of the old days, until the relaxation in 2003.
We were in the town of Famagusta (called Gazi Magusa in Turkish), on the east coast, at a hotel right on the beaches of the Mediterranean. It was winter time, and instead of the beaches full of sunbathers, it was all quiet and very peaceful.
Normally, one imagines the Mediterranean Sea as a placid body of water. There was a thunderstorm just before we arrived so the weather was slightly chilly. We enjoyed our dinner with some local friends, at a small seafood restaurant near the lagoon, not too far from the hotel. Some crispy fish, tasty squids, and snails served in great style on special ceramic platters with a depression for each snail made up a substantial part of the meal. Large, leafy rhubarbs and fried cottage cheese was also served with loaves of bread. We marvelled at the appetite of our Cypriot friends as dinner lasted for nearly two hours.
The town of Famagusta is locally called Gazi Magusa. We loitered around in the old city area, which is enclosed in massive, fortified stonewalls. We walked in the cobbled streets, climbed the 17-metres-high and 9-metres-wide walls for viewing the harbour and the rest of the city and also the new city, outside the walled area.
The best preserved relic of Famagusta is the St. Nicholas Cathedral erected between 1298 and 1326, which became the Lala Mustafa Mosque in the 16th century. The inhabitants of Famagusta had made 365 churches (perhaps to avoid God’s wrath each day of the year!).
Inside the Cathedral there were no structural changes in the building and very little seemed to have been altered. This is an imposing building in yellow stone. We were told that the huge fig tree in the plaza outside is believed to be as old as the building itself!
Famagusta was founded in 300 BC. Its importance increased due to its natural harbour, and the walls that protected its inner town. In the 13th century its development accelerated, as it became a centre of commerce for both the East and West.
During the Ottoman period the commercial activity of the island shifted to Larnaca and Famagusta became a ghost town. In the British period, the port regained significance. The Turkish population generally settled in the inner town while the Greek population settled outside.
Towards the end of the British period, together with the socio-economic developments, new housing, commercial and recreational areas were built. In 1969-1970, as a result of Beirut losing its appeal due to the war, Famagusta became one of the world’s best-known entertainment and tourist centres. Its buildings represented the characteristics of British colonialism, as well as contemporary architectural trends.
Corn and other grains and vegetables grow in this region, while the country is also famous for its olives, figs and oranges. On our left, the Kyrenia (‘Girne’, in Turkish) mountain range was our companion to the north.
After having been in Famagusta for a few days, enjoying the beach, checking out new dishes, marvelling the historical sites and new buildings, browsing in the quaint little shops located along cobbled streets in the old city, and making daily trips to Nicosia, we visited Salamis, which is only a few miles north of Famagusta. The ruins of antique cities always leave me with feelings of melancholy, and a visit to Salamis was no different.
Earthquakes often interrupted the development of Salamis, but the history of the city goes back to the 11th century BC. The most impressive remains of this large complex are the theatre and the gymnasium. The theatre originally consisted of 50 rows of seats and held 15,000 spectators. We were amused to see that some of the front rows were topped with marble, while the rest were all in ordinary stone. After all, no age was devoid of the VIP culture.
The amphitheatre continues to be used for musical concerts and other performances, and we marvelled at the fact that the audience must enjoy the glorious setting of the place. However, it was sad to think that, sooner or later, more and more stone and marble would crumble as the sand and wind surrounding it would completely ravage what remains after over 3000 years.
We returned treasuring the romantic memories of lovely beaches, fragrant flowers, fascinating antiquities, flavours and aromas.
At the former Portugese and the only European colony in China the choices were numerous
By Saadia Haseeb
Macau is the latest entrant on the World’s must-visit destination list. The city has something to offer for all age groups -- from luxury shopping to fine dining, history and culture to extreme sports, and of course, gambling.
According to Wikipedia, "Macau is the former Portuguese and the first and the last European colony in China. Portuguese traders first settled in Macau in the 16th century and subsequently administered the region until the handover in December 1999."
Along with Hong Kong, it is one of the two special administrative regions of China. Under the policy of "one country, two systems," the PRC’s Central People’s Government is responsible for the territory’s defense and foreign affairs, while Macau maintains its own legal system, police force, monetary system, immigration and customs policy.
Once we arrived at the Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong, our transfer to Macau was seamless. Passengers can transit in or out of Macau via Hong Kong International Airport without going through HK Customs and Immigration formalities and also without the hassle of carrying their luggage to the ferry terminal.
After arriving, one has to ignore the immigration control and head towards the Macau ferries ticket counters. As you buy the tickets, you give the luggage tags to the staff and it is transferred to the boat. Simple as that.
Impressively, after checking in the luggage at Islamabad International Airport, I saw my bags at the hotel room in Macau.
There are several ways of getting to Macau from Kai Tak; one can either take a helicopter, catamaran, jetfoils or ferries along with many other options. The airport train shuttled us to the sky pier, which is at the other end of this colossal airport building divided into two terminals. Kai Tak, designed by Sir Norman Foster, is the most expensive airport project ever, according to Guinness World Records. Construction of the new airport was voted as one of the ‘Top 10 Construction Achievements of the 20th Century’. It’s an airport with every facility conceivable.
The train shuttled us to the Sky Pier, we grabbed refreshments from a coffee shop while waiting for our jetfoil to arrive. You can take boats either to Taipa (the Cotai strip) or to Macau. We took the Taipa Cotaijet, as our destination was the Venetian Resort.
After a 45-minute choppy ride, we landed at the Taipa ferry terminal. The first thing to greet us was water, water and more water. The ferry terminal is adjacent to the Macau International Airport. Standing there, it seems as if the planes are landing on water. Thankfully, there were virtually no lines at the immigration so in five minutes we were out and about…
A Muslim representative of the resort greeted us with salaam and ushered our bags into the coach. Another five minutes and we arrived at the very grand Venetian. It’s a destination within itself. With a 3,000 all suite property, they have tried (and tried very well) to recreate Venice complete with canals, gondolas and the eternal Venetian twilight.
Talking about looks, much of the time my gaze was skywards, as it takes a while to grasp in all the beauty that the ceilings present. The place is chock-a-block with beautiful art and paintings. Wherever one looks, one finds mesmerising murals.
Primarily, this being a gambling resort one can find many colossal gambling floors with full activity on the tables with blackjack, baccarat and roulette 24 hrs of the day. And for the light-hearted people like us, there is always the slot machine. As the international rule of entrance for 18 years and above implies here too, kids have plenty to keep them occupied.
The Cirque du Soleil’s ZA?A is a 90-minute splendid extravaganza highlighting dance, movement and aerial acrobatics, which leaves the kids and adults spellbound alike. There is a children’s activity centre called the Qube, it’s a 9,000sq/ft children’s playground with a six meter high multi-climbing facility with a free fall slide, rainbow slides, a V-Net bridge, over and under barriers, zigzag net climbers and more. And a Manchester United gaming/shopping arcade for the football fans.
The Grand Canal Shoppe claims to be Asia’s most unique and opulent shopping experience with more than 330 outlets set in cobblestone walkways, perched by the canals and Italian gondoliers, the serenading, the guests and the beautiful sky. From the high end Chanel, Cartier and Chopard, Longines and Tiffany to the middle range Bossini, Baleno and my girls’ favourite Sasa, I guess all the labels worth a mention have a presence here.
For the gourmands, from the fast food chains to fine dining, the options were endless. The choices were so enormous that I for one could not figure out the total number of food outlets. The complementary buffet breakfast was offered in four different restaurants on four different levels of the hotel. Talking about number four, there were four swimming pools and a golf course all outdoors and with the temperature outside this time of the year at 7 degrees Celsius we dared not have a plunge. The locals were claiming that this year the winter is much harsher!
The resort also offers promotional deals for excursions and tour buses leave every few minutes packed with tourists heading to Macau or Zhuhai (in Mainland China). If you are heading towards the Mainland, the bus will whisk you across this beautiful bridge and drop you in the middle of the city at a nondescript large block of a building. Climb to the first floor along with your luggage, get in line to get your passport stamped, climb down still stowing the luggage, walk a few steps, get into another building, onto another line, more stamps on your green book, get out of the building on the other end and you are in China, which is a completely different world but that some other time.
Back to Macau and the Venetian, once you’re done with the eternal Venetian twilight, it’s time to step out of this dream world to explore the colonial Portuguese architecture, Michelin star restaurants, bungee jumping from the tall Macau tower. But as we never could (or wanted to leave the Venetian), that is all we accomplished on this weekend trip. We savoured the famed egg tarts as many as we could and left the Michelin stars for the next visit.