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Travel and Photography by Burt and Evelyn Johnson

Cyprus 7 – Final Sunsets

Cyprus Sunset Tractor

Our last two nights exploring Cyprus included two final sunset photography ops. First, we had read about a shipwreck very near shore that looked like it would provide an interesting foreground.  We drove up and down the coast north of Paphos, asking people  in English where a "shipwreck" was located, and nobody seemed to know.  In our drives down small dirt roads to check yet another section of beach, we came across an old rusted tractor sitting in a banana farm field.  That was too colorful and interesting to pass up (above)...

Cyprus sunset shipwreck Edros III

Finally, we brought up a photo we had seen of the shipwreck on our iPhone, and showed it to a cafe waitress who had just told us there was no "shipwreck". She looked at the picture, and immediately said "Oh that.  Over there." and pointed down the beach about a mile.  We never figured out if they call it something else or what the communication issue was, but we found the ship easily enough after that.

The Edro III ran aground in 2011, and can be seen just a few feet off the shore. The ship is badly rusted (upper left), which adds color and character to the wreck.  Just as the sun was setting, two powered paragliders came flying over (middle row). As I was watching them, I was wondering where I could rent such a cool way to see the coast...

Sunset Latsi Latchi Cyprus Boats Harbor

Tonight was our last in Cyrpus, and we went to a small village inn that had been recommended for dinner.  While we were eating, clouds rolled in and rain threatened for a couple minutes before passing by.  We finished dinner about half an hour before sunset, and asked the waitress where the best sunset could be seen.  She pointed to the sky full of clouds and said "no sunset tonight."  "But where would you go if there was a nice sunset," we insisted.  "Latsi Harbor" was her reply.  We thanked her and drove off in that direction, not expecting much.

As we approached the harbor, the sun peaked through some clouds on the horizon and color began to form.  We rushed to Latsi, grabbed our cameras and tripods, and started running towards the harbor, stopping every few yards to snap another photograph of the rapidly changing sky (upper row).

Once the sun had set, we began to photograph in earnest, with tripods, as the harbor lights came on (lower right).  As the blue hour arrived and the sky turned that deep blue that only happens shortly after sunset, we grabbed as many more harbor images as we could (middle left and lower left).

When the light finally faded, we grinned at each other, and were rather happy to end our Cyprus trip with a light show like this.


Cyprus 6 – Evelyn’s Birthday

Cyprus Goat Herder

Today was Evelyn's birthday, and it turned out to be quite eventful (but remember that we never ask a woman how old she is...).  As we were driving from the village of Vouni to Paphos in Cyprus this morning, we saw some goats in a field, and decided to stop to photograph them.  Every time we approached, they would run away, so we were not having much luck.

An elderly man then drove up to Evelyn in his beat-up pickup truck.  Evelyn feared that he was going to chase her out of his fields for trespassing, but instead the man said in broken English  "get in and I drive you (to the goats)."  Evelyn was then able to capture the goat images above.  After photographing for awhile, the man offered her to come to his home and join them for some Turkish coffee, picking me up along the way.

We then spent the next two hours sitting in the home of George and Nicoletta Mouzourou (center image). George went to University of Romania, where he met Nicoletta, and they were married in 1970, with one ceremony in Romania for her family, and a second in Cyprus for his family.  The dashing young man in the lower right photo is George shortly after they were married.

They settled in a village in the Karpaz Peninsula, in the northeast part of Cyprus.  After graduating from the university, he was assigned there by the government as a veterinarian and she as a doctor. In addition to their professional duties, they raised sheep. When the Turks invaded the island in 1974, the couple was given one month to leave and go to the South, with all other Greek Cypriots.  When I asked George where his parents were born, he replied Cyprus.  Grandparents? Cyprus.  Great-grandparents? Cyprus. Four generations in Cyprus, yet he still identifies himself as a Greek Cypriot, as does the Turkish government.

When they arrived in the South in 1974, they were refugees. One day they were traveling in the countryside and saw a sick sheep.  Being a veterinarian by training, he went to care for the animal.  A Greek soldier saw what he did, and told him "this is your new home," giving them the house and land that had been vacated by a Turkish Cypriot that had similarly been forced to relocate.  That is the house they still live in now, and where we met and talked with them.  Nicoletta is  still actively working as the village doctor. She learned her English treating tourists who were visiting the island that needed medical help over the last four decades.  (English is the lingua franca that is common to most visitors from both Europe and Asia.)

George repeated over and over in the two hour conversation that "We like everyone. Germans, Russians, Americans, Turkish. They are all our friends. It is only the governments that cause trouble.  They do not care for the people. They only want our land." George told us that the original Turkish Cypriot owner of their current home visits about once a month for a weekend.  When that person comes, George and Nicoletta vacate the home, so the original owner can spend time in the home where his father was born and died.

George also had some interesting comments on modern life. At one point, he lamented "Things are too complicated now.  In the old days, two men would stroke their mustache (he demonstrated by stroking his), then shake hands.  That was all that was needed for an agreement. Now they want you to sign all these papers. No more trust between two men."  I smiled and asked how women made agreements, to which George responded very seriously "Women could not make binding agreements, since they had no mustache."  I still don't know if he was pulling my leg with that comment...

I could go on for pages just relating their life story and our conversation, but we need to move on.  George is now 77, and fears he will never see "his home" in the North again, where both his father and grandfather were born.

Cyprus Paphos Segway

Later we  roamed Paphos on a Segway tour, visiting some of the ruins, the harbor, the lighthouse, and learning the history of the area.  Callum was our guide, and told us many little known factoids, such as real meaning of the thumbs up and thumbs down in the gladiator ring. He claimed that the movies have it backward. In Roman times, a thumb-up gesture meant to "run him through with your sword" while a thumb-down indicated "drop your sword and let him live" -- the opposite of what Hollywood shows.  (With later research, I find his account of thumbs-down seems accurate, but the "let him live" gesture may have actually been a fist, with the thumb hidden?)

As we paused in front of Paphos Castle, he told us that at one point, it had been used for storage of salt. We learned that salt was considered more valuable than gold, and that soldiers often received part of their pay in salt (salarius), which became the basis for the term "salary" in current English.

When we asked him where we could best see the sunset, he told us to walk about a kilometer down a path behind the castle to an overlook on the beach.

The sky was bland with no clouds, but we decided to head out to the point anyway.  Less than an hour before sunset, a few clouds started forming on the horizon, and a little color began to develop.  We feared that the only foreground available was a set of three concrete blocks of unknown origin (top right).

Then, a little before sunset, a romantic young couple came and sat down right in front of me and took a selfie.  Great foreground! (middle left)  They then got up to leave, and I called to them to sit back down, which they did. We talked for the next hour or so as the sky developed more color, and they posed for more photos (middle right).  Abel and Hiwat are IT professionals on vacation from London, who helped make the evening and the photographs more interesting.

After the sun set, we walked back towards town.  As we passed the small Paphos Castle at the entry to the  harbor, there was another photo op of a romantic couple in silhouette (lower left).

As the full moon rose (lower right -- yes, it was shot on that same night), we went to Gabor, a fabulous French restaurant in town, where they treated Evelyn to a special dessert, complete with painted plate (upper left) and song. When we returned to our room, a bottle of French champagne was waiting, compliments of George, the owner of the hotel where we were staying.

Overall, a memorable way to spend "another turn around the sun."

Segway Cyprus Burt Johnson Evelyn Johnson Us

Addendum: Above photos were sent to us a week later by Callum, the guide from the Segway tour.


Cyprus 5 – Troödos Mountains

Vouni Cyprus Doors and Windows

We spent the last couple nights in the South Central mountainous wine-making region of Cyprus.  We had chosen a small lodge in the town of Vouni, to be near a village where we could walk and explore.  When we arrived, there was no reception desk, and no hint of a hotel other than a phone number on the stone wall...?  Fortunately, we had gotten a Greek Cypriot SIM card for our phone, and called the number.  The woman said "Your room is upstairs. The key is in the door. My father will be at the tavern in the morning. Could you please pay him then?"  Yep, we were in a small village all right!

As we walked around the streets, I kept thinking "there should be a photo here, but I am not quite seeing it."  Fortunately, Evelyn has a better eye for capturing these street scenes.

Vouni Cyprus streets

With old stone buildings lining the narrow cobblestone streets, we felt like we were living in the past.

Voiuni Cyprus People

Evelyn tends to rise earlier than I do, and always likes to start the day with a cup of coffee.  When she went to the local coffee shop, she found several village elders there wanting her to join them at their table and to just talk

Cyprus Monastery of the Holy Cross Church

During the day, we drove through the mountain region, until we came across the Stavrovouni Monastery of the Holy Cross, a 4th century Greek Orthodox monastery in the village of Omodos, which is considered the oldest monastery in the world.  A small tour was underway (upper right). The guide sang softly, and her sound carried with a beautiful tone throughout the chapel. We tasted local wineries throughout the area.

Panagia Cyprus Painted Church

Another stop in the Troödos mountain region was to the Panagia Painted Church, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985.  There are a total of ten such world-famous Byzantine churches in the region on the UNESCO list, each with nearly intact coloured frescos and icons.  These were easily the most vivid ancient images we found on Cyprus.


Cyprus 4 – Art, Donkeys, and Ruins

Cyprus - Nicosia, Greek North, Art Murals, Street

We have now transitioned from the Turkish-occupied North Cyprus to the "Republic of Cyprus," often referred to as "the Greek side."  I'll let you read the linked Wikipedia article if you want to know why.  Our first shock was that all the signs were suddenly unreadable, in a non-Roman alphabet script -- though usually followed by plain English translations (upper left with our Cyprus host and I walking under a "pelican crossing" warning sign).

Murals are not as common in Cyprus as they are in Latin America (Ecuador and Colombia murals were shown earlier), though there was one street in Nicosia that had some interesting street art (top row plus center). Later on our travels around Limassol, we came across a small wine museum (bottom row), and did free "testing"(their term for "tasting") of some local wines.

Cyprus - Donkeys Golden Donkey Farm

Donkeys are a big thing in Cyprus.  Wild in the North, and domesticated in the South. Cody (a friend from Cuenca now working in South Cyprus) joined us for a drive onto the Karpaz Peninsula. She warned us that wild donkeys would walk down the center of the road, then turn sideways to block any oncoming car, waiting for a car window to roll down, so they could stick their nose in for food.  Sure enough, exactly as she had described, a donkey did just that (upper images).

In the South, donkeys are still domesticated, so we made our way to the Golden Donkey Farm, to see "more than 200 donkeys" and taste some of the products made from donkey milk.  The way was well signed, with a full sized golden donkey statue at every major turn (top middle right), until we arrived.  They had a couple of small museums with wax figures in poses of typical historic daily life (lower middle row), and plenty of curious donkeys (lower row).  The farm was rather a disappointment though, and not really worth the drive...

Cyprus - Leventis Gallery art

In Nicosia, we also visited the Leventis Art Gallery, which just opened in 2014.  Created entirely from the private collection of A.G. Leventis, it had an impressive collection of more than 800 pieces of Cypriot art, both modern and classic, as well as paintings by European masters.

Cyprus - Kolossi Castle

Our drive south took us to the Kolossi Castle, in the city of Kolossi on the Southern coast of Cyprus. This castle dates back to 1210, and was originally a center of production of sugar, using the local sugarcane. A small, but interesting, castle, it was currently displaying modern art banners (upper row).

Cyprus - ruin Kourion

Our last stop on this segment was the Kourion ruins. This site has origins that date back more than 2000 years, yet many of the original tiles are still intact (most images).  Starting in 1975, after the Turkish invasion and resulting embargo prevented further international support for the Salamis excavations, those teams moved here and began work on this site. They covered the site with sweeping roof structures to keep out the weather (upper left) and elevated walkways to keep tourists off the ancient floor tiles.  Of course, everywhere you go now, there will be someone (or two or more) taking selfies... (lower right)


Cyprus 3 – Salamis and Famagusta

Cyprus - Salamis

We got up early this morning to photograph Ancient Salamis, a 3,000 year old ruins on the East coast of Cyprus, in the Turkish-occupied portion of the island. The site does not officially open until 9AM, but we arrived at 8AM and were allowed in. Being that early, we were the only visitors, giving us access to all parts of the ruins without other tourists in our viewfinders.

This area was excavated from 1952 until 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus.  At that point, all restoration work stopped, as the international embargo prevented international groups from continuing their work. Unfortunately, all further excavation and maintenance apparently stopped at that time too. There were bushes and trees growing in the rocks in various places, and the entire site is quickly deteriorating. Visitors are even allowed to walk onto the delicate tile work.

Cyprus - Famagusta ruins

Our next stop was to the historic city center of Famagusta, surrounded by walled fortifications, which was a real delight for us. It is a city dating back to 274BC, when a major earthquake leveled Salamis, and some of the stones from Salamis were used to build Famagusta.  It is also known as "the city of 365 churches" owing to the legend that it had one church for every day of the year, at its peak.  Today, many of the churches still stand, including the elaborate Gothic Cathedral of St Nicholas (center image), which was converted in 1573 to a mosque.  It is the only Gothic mosque we have seen in our travels thus far.

Cyprus - Golden Beach

At the end of the day we drove to Teko's Place Golden Beach, a funky little set of bungalows on the far North-East corner of Cyprus, where electricity only runs from 7PM until midnight each day.  Stepping out of our bungalow to head to the beach, we were faced with the ominous warning sign (left).  We ventured forward in the overcast weather, only to discover the only nude sunbather being the little guy who followed us (right).


Cyprus 2 – Kyrenia

Kyrenia - Dock boats water

We spent the last couple days around Kyrenia, on the North coast, in the Turkish-occupied section of Cyprus.  This is a small, picturesque town with some excellent restaurants, surrounding a small scenic harbor and ancient castle.

Kyrenia - castle shipwreck museum

Kyrenia castle, a 16th-century castle built by the Venetians, overlooks the harbor (upper two images), with a small shipwreck museum that contains a remnants of the oldest recovered shipwreck (upper middle two images).

A short distance away is Kantara Castle, a fortress located on the Kyrenia Mountain range (lower two images).

Kyrenia - dock harbor boats sundown

Returning to Kyrenia, we enjoyed a scenic sunset.


Cyprus 1 – Keep to the left!

Cyprus - resort pool keep to left

We are now in Cyprus.  The first shock was that these people drive on the left side of the road.  We have rented a car to travel around the island, and I keep having to tell myself to "Keep to the left" -- particularly when I approach a car on "my" side of the road!

After a couple days of driving the island -- and driving myself crazy -- we stopped for a night at the Salamis Bay Conti resort.  Think Club Med and you have a pretty good idea of what this is like. Unlimited desserts. Unlimited beer and wine (though mixed drinks cost extra).  So give a little extra credit for me being able to write this after a day here...

Cyprus Kyrenia port

We spent yesterday in Kyrenia, a cute little port town on the North coast of Cyprus.  There is a small castle here, but the real treasure is the port and the food. We had some of the best seafood here since we have come to Turkey (and far better than anything in Cuenca, Ecuador!).


Turkey 17 – Historic Churches

Istanbul Churches - Christ in Chora

We also visited three other famous landmarks in Istanbul.  They had been built more than 1500 years ago, converted to mosques 600 years ago, then two were converted into museums, while the third remains as an active mosque.  The image above is the central dome from the church of St. Saviour in Chora.

Istanbul Churches - Chora

Chora is the most completely restored historic church we have seen, and is home to one of the world's finest collections of Byzantine art, with more than 100 mosaics and frescoes.  Originally built in the 4th century AD (1700 hundred years ago!), the city was conquered in 1453, and turned into a mosque 50 years after that.  Fortunately, the Muslims did not destroy the original artwork, but only placed a layer of plaster over it.  Restoration work began in 1948, removing the plaster and exposing the gold mosaic tiles of the original art.  The lower right image above shows one of the mosaics still partially covered in plaster.

Istanbul Churches - Eyup

Eyüp Sultan Mosque was initally built as a monastery in the 5th century AD, and the village is now a place of pilgramage for muslims from all around the world.  Eyüp was conquered by the Crusaders in 1204, sustaining very little damage.  It remained a monastery until 1581, when the Ottoman Empire prohibited Christians from living in the area, and converted it into a mosque.  It is still an active mosque, and chosen as a burial site by the elite with their mausoleums lining the  streets surrounding the mosque.  The courtyard was also great for people watching.  The boy in the lower left image had just taken part in a circumcision ceremony.

Istanbul Churches - Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is another historic Christian church, built in the 6th century AD (note the progression here, of roughly 100 years between each of these three being built).  It had the largest dome in the world for 1000 years, until the 16th century, having been converted to a mosque a century earlier.  The building is now a museum, and under active restoration (middle left shows scaffolds).

Istanbul Churches - Hagia Sophia Tombs

Of course, anywhere photography is allowed these days, selfies are sure to follow (upper left and upper center)...  This is still considered a highly religious site by both Muslims (upper right) and Christians.  Outside the church walls, the tombs of numerous sultans are free to enter and view (bottom row), and were built with intricate tile work as you might find in jewel boxes.


Turkey 16 – City Views and Lights

Istanbul Grand Bazaar Rooftop - mosque

Mehmet, the leader of our photographic tour of Turkey (www.fantasticphototours.com), took us on an afternoon walk around parts of Istanbul today.  We wandered around parts of the Grand Bazaar again, and then up a hidden set of stairs.  He talked to a guard, who at first insisted we could go no further.  As usual, Mehmet convinced him otherwise, and soon we found ourselves through a secret door, and up on the rooftop of the Bazaar.

Istanbul Grand Bazaar Rooftop - city views

The views were mesmerizing, and we couldn't stop shooting more and more photos. This site was higher than any other location we had found to photograph the city skyline and the major mosques of the area, with views of the Süleymaniye Mosque, the New Mosque, Galata Towers, the Bosphorous and the Golden Horn inlet.

Istanbul Grand Bazaar Rooftop - weaving and Muslin pots

The path up to this hidden gem was down a corridor (upper right). As we were getting ready to leave, the guard showed us a side room with an ancient rusted weaving loom (center, plus lower left and lower center), sitting on a floor of broken tiles.  After leaving the roof, and walking back towards the street, we spotted a workshop making items to sell at the Bazaar.  Brass pots with typical Muslim crescent moon symbols were in various stages of production, and the workers welcomed us in to photograph.

Istanbul - Eminönü Pier at night

After dinner, we stayed to see the night lights at the Eminönü Pier, on the European side.  As the sun set, the lights of the floating restaurants and vendor carts were turned on and we could enjoy seeing the colors of the busy waterfront, as well as the "blue" hour, which occurs shortly after sundown.

Istanbul - Eminönü Pier Mosque at night


Turkey 15 – Museums and Mosques

Instanbul Museums and Mosques - outside

We have spent the last couple days seeing various mosques and museums.  Both are ubiquitous in Instanbul, with 2,944 active mosques, and (it sometimes seems) almost as many museums.

Instanbul Museums and Mosques - domes

Most mosques are topped by a dome that looks ordinary from the outside, but is elaborately ornate on the inside.  Many are painted, others have frescoes, and the most elaborate have tile patterns.

Instanbul Museums and Mosques - stained glass

Many of the mosques and churches also include elaborate stained glass windows, and often exotic tiles and scripts on their walls.

Instanbul Museums and Mosques - Topkapi Palace

One of the most famous palace museums is the Topkapi Palace. The palace housed a sultan with over 4000 of his people, so the grounds were immense.  Unfortunately, many interesting displays of ancient artifacts were behind very poorly lit glass, where a person had to press his nose to the glass to see anything.  Since it was crowded, that meant you saw nothing unless you were willing to go at a snail's pace with the other tourists to view some of the jewelry.  No thanks...

To add insult, there was no photography allowed.  Why?  It was allowed up until 5 years ago, when the director of the museum released his own book with photographs of the artifacts.  He then banned photography.  You can make your own conclusion on that timing...

Instanbul Museums and Mosques - people

People watching is always fun around the public areas of any of these mosques and museums.  Most people are friendly, and willing to smile for the camera.

Instanbul Archaeological Museum - statues

Our last stop for the day was the Archaeological Museum, which was one of the best we have seen throughout out travels.  We have visited museums though out the world, but have never seen such a large display of nearly intact ancient statues, as shown above.

Instanbul Archaeological Museum - sarcophagus

The collection of sarcophagi was particularly impressive.  We have never seen more than one or two reasonably intact sarcophagus at a time, yet here were many dozens of them,  each more elaborate than the last, and all in excellent condition.

Instanbul Archaeological Museum - tomb details

Some of the details of the sarcophagi can be seen here.  Definitely a "must see" for anyone visiting Istanbul!


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