So from Tel Aviv it was just an hour flight to the city of Paphos, on the far West side of the island. To be honest, I didn’t know much about Cyprus. I had only learned last year that most of the island was Greek while the northeast part of the island is occupied by Turkey. Although as a tourist you can move freely between the sides. That’s important because I wanted to get over to the Turkish side to see how the poker games were! As for Paphos, I knew absolutely nothing about the city itself, except that it would have beaches. And sometimes it’s kind of nice to travel like that, not exactly knowing what to expect and just figuring it out as you go. It turns out that Cyprus isn’t particularly cheap, so I booked a hostel for the first night.
Getting through the Paphos airport was extremely easy. The swiftness at which the immigration guys were stamping passports was impressive; you’d almost think they were racing each other. Quite the difference from Israel! Once out of the airport they had a clearly marked bus stop, with a timetable even! The taxi guys around didn’t even try once to convince us that the bus wasn’t running! I liked Cyprus already. The bus was 1.50 euro and once in town I walked the 10 minutes to my hostel. What I didn’t realize was this was the type of hostel with no real reception. There was a number to call, but I just arrived and didn’t have a SIM card. Yarrgh.
To my surprise the door was unlocked and I was just able to walk right in. I found a guy staying there who told me the owner of the hostel also owned a restaurant, so that’s where I might find him. Alrighty then. That would be helpful to include on the sign outside! I found the restaurant, asked for Christos, and sure enough he came and out and got me set up in the hostel. As I would find out, Cyprus isn’t a big backpacker destination and running a hostel there is a very laid back affair! It’s basically just homeowners putting a bunch of bunk beds in a house or apartment and being like, ok, you can sleep here. They give you the key and then you’re on your own! That’s fine with me.
Paphos is an interesting little town. It’s very British! It reminded me a lot of one of the beaches in Goa that was popular with the British pensioners. Lots of pubs, older feel good music (they kept playing Build me up Buttercup by the Foundations!), soccer matches on all the TVs, and signs advertising full English breakfast, bangers and mash, and Sunday roast specials and the like. It seemed like a pleasant place. Although as a travel rule of thumb, towns that are popular destinations for retirees are generally not where I want to spending extended periods of time!
I got in a bit late so I had a gyro and a beer and went back to the hostel. The two guys in my room turned out to be British Ministers doing a quick religious holiday in Israel, Cyprus, and Turkey. They just had a wonderful day following in the footsteps of some saint that I can’t remember the name of. One of them noted that British tourists here were just absolutely dreadful! I couldn’t help but laugh at how he said it. Just so British. I wondered what they thought of my gambling related reasons for coming to Cyrpus! But they very nice guys. It did seem a bit weird they were staying in a hostel though.
I had seen some shops that rented out scooters, which I was pumped about because I hadn’t been able to rent one this entire trip. And there were supposed to be some nice, deserted beaches up the coast. I guess Sunday is a bad day to try and rent scooters because the first few shops I had found were closed. I was beginning to see a trend about Greeks, err Cypriots, and how they run their businesses… I finally found one that was open and he said I couldn’t rent one without a valid motorcycle license. Fortunately I had passed my motorcycle class in the US and my license says D (for car) and M (for motorcycle), but he only knew British and European licenses, not American ones, so he was worried if I got into a crash that he’d still be liable. So he wouldn’t rent me the stupid scooter. Not even a 50cc one! Agh. Stuff like this is why I like traveling in SE Asia! I would have been in and out of that shop in 2 minutes all set to cruise. I still could have rented a car, but that’s boring and a little expensive for my liking, so looks like I’d have to share the local beach with the dreaded Tourists. UGH! I’m kidding, but only slightly.
The nice thing about Cyprus is besides from the beaches there are lots of historic buildings around. Forts, castles, churches, monasteries, there’s that sorta stuff in or around every city you go. Paphos had a big Roman amphitheater, plus various other crumbling piles of stuff. But at this point in the trip I was pretty burnt out on ruins, so I gave them a pass. I’m sure they were lovely though! The beach was nice enough, nothing amazing, the water was blue etc. I’m kind of just going through the motions at this point. I went out that night with a massive Aussie guy and a little French girl from the hostel, but decided I wasn’t gonna stick around much longer.
In the morning I was eastbound on a bus for a few hours and ended up in a city called Limassol. Where Paphos was a resort city, Limassol was more of a real city city, but it didn’t exactly have a lot going on. The hostel was once again a bit weird, basically just some guy’s house with bunk beds in the rooms, mostly empty. A Dutch guy and I went to the fort which is like the main thing to do in town, but it’s not very big and you can’t even go in it, so it’s pretty lame. The waterfront promenade was nice I guess. The highlight of our night was the local meat place. My meal was just a pile of sliced pork with raw onions, tomatoes, tzatziki sauce, and fries. Basically a gyro with out the pita. The Dutch guy had similar, but his was in a Cypriot pita, which is thinner, crispier, and much bigger than a Greek pita. It looked spectacular!
I was off again the next day, this time to Nicosia, the capital, where I could walk across the border into the Turkish side of Cyprus. The city of Nicosia is somewhat interesting, the old town is basically split right down the middle by a wall, separating the two halves. In one spot you can cross on foot from one side to the other. I guess back in the day this wasn’t so easy, but nowadays the border completely open. You don’t get stamped in Turkish side. The one caveat is that you have to fly in or out of whatever side you came in on, so you can’t fly into the Turkish side and leave through the Cypriot side. The Turkish side only has flights to/from Turkey because technically Turkey is the only country in the world that formally recognizes that Turkish Cyprus exists!
The crossing was easy, I meandered the streets on the Turkish old town a bit, noting the considerably lower prices, and found my way to gate where the buses hang out. I’m very glad to be traveling so light this trip, it makes things like this soooo much easier than if I were lugging my big ass backpack! I hopped on the bus to Kyrenia, which is where most of the casinos are in Northern Cyprus. I walked 15 minutes and found my hostel, which AGAIN was just a dudes’ house turned into hostel. This one was even sillier, as the dormitory area was basically just bunk beds on either side of the living room with some curtains drawn across for some privacy. And in this case the guy and his brother lived there together as well, so you’d wake up every morning to them chatting over breakfast in the kitchen which was adjacent to the “dorms”. It definitely felt more like crashing on someone’s couch as opposed to being in a hostel.
No matter though, I was only there for the poker! The main casino for poker, which hosts big tournaments every couple of months was the Merit Crystal Cove. I had heard some good things about the cash games here, so I was looking forward to this. It was a bit outside of town, so I hopped in a dolmus (Turkish minibus) and took it up the main coastal road to the entrance (well 15 min walk to the entrance). (Only $1 for a bus ride vs $12 taxi!) When I found my way to the poker room things didn’t look so promising. There were absolutely no cash games at all! The only thing running was satellite tournament to win an entry to some sort of tournament in Bulgaria. I bought some chips and waited at the cash game table for a good two hours before calling it quits. Yeesh!
I took a taxi to another casino that I heard had poker, but I couldn’t find anything. I came all the way to Cyprus for this?! The next day I went back to the Merit casino and we ended up getting a game going 5-handed. It was an incredibly boring game, just some poker regulars who were only playing in the hopes that the new guy (me) was a fish. I ended up getting unlucky in a few spots and was a loser for the night, so I guess I was the fish! But it was certainly not a game worth sticking around for, so I left the next day.
I booked myself a flight to Bangkok, but I had two nights to kill before that, so I headed to another beach resort type city called Ayia Napa on the SE corner of the Cypriot part. This was supposed to be the big party place on the island, but October is getting into off season, so it was pretty chill. I was the only person in my hostel. Another day of hanging out at the beach by myself, yay! This was the Russian hangout, it certainly felt similar to Goa! I spent two extremely uneventful nights there and then flew to Thailand via Bahrain. So that was the anticlimactic end to my whirlwind week in Cyprus. It really wasn’t my favorite place, although I was definitely feeling some travel burnout, and more or less bee-lining it to the get the poker games. So my somewhat negative opinion isn’t completely fair. Plus the best way to do Cyprus is to rent a car and circumnavigate the island, because there’s lots of cool places around that you need your own transportation to get to. So now I know for next time! I’d spend one night in Bangkok and then back to Cambodia to start making some money, hopefully!