Sunday, June 18, 2006

A trip to the North

Since we seem to be over half-way through the packing, we didn't do much more on Sunday. Instead we sorted through a lot of old paperwork, retrieving the few important receipts and other items which we needed to keep, and putting all the rest for recycling. Richard packed some more of his tools, and I packed a box of empty box files and jiffy bags.

In the afternoon the three of us had agreed with some friends from our housegroup to drive to Famagusta, in the North of Cyprus, to attend a lively mostly African Anglican church whose (English) minister we know. The service starts at 5,30 approximately (African time is even more flexible than Cyprus time!) and the journey is about 45 minutes, so we left in a convoy of three cars at 4.30pm. Despite living here over eight years, I had never before been to Famagusta. It's only in the past few years that it has become relatively easy to visit the North, but as the closest checkpoints are three-quarters of an hour away, it's quite a drive, so not something we would tend to do often.

Unfortunately there was a lengthy stretch of road on which we were all stuck behind a rather slow driver, so by the time we reached the border it was 5.20pm. There was no queue, but since we don't go regularly to the North we had to buy car insurance for the day - a hefty £15! A whole year's insurance for travelling in North Cyprus is only £45; the two other cars with us go more often, and had taken out annual policies. Had we thought about it, we could have squashed into one of the other cars for the extra five minutes' drive on the North side. Oh well. It only took a couple of minutes.

I was interested to see two flags waving at various places around the checkpoint. One was white star and moon with a red background, the other red with white background, exactly the same but in reverse. Apparently one of them is the Turkish flag, the other the flag for North Cyprus.

At least the visas were free - just a routine stamp on a piece of paper for Brits. Although as we bought the insurance, a coach pulled up with 35 passengers, and the driver got in front of us to get all the necessary stamps. Moreoever there were four students who had come in the other cars with us, one from Cameroon and three from Nepal, and their visas took slightly longer. So by the time we finally left the checkpoint, it was about 5.35.

Still, we only had a few minutes' more driving to get to the church, and then a couple of minutes' walk. We got there just before quarter to six. The church was originally Greek Orthodox, and was comandeered when the invasion happened in the North in 1974. It's now owned by the Anglican church, and is a peaceful place. Not that it seemed peaceful when we went in, since there was a fairly loud African singing group accompanied by keyboard and drums, heavily amplified, singing some worship songs for which I simply couldn't work out either the rhythm or the words. Tim wished we had arrived earlier since he loves that kind of music, but as the volume was almost at my pain threshold, I was rather glad we didn't! There was about ten minutes remaining of this music - and then an informal fairly typical Anglican service, with the singing group leading quieter songs from 'Mission Praise'.

We spoke briefly to a couple of people we knew there on the way out, then went with the friends we had come with, to a restaurant, about five minutes' walk away. I was interested to see that Famagusta looks like any tourist resort, with a mixture of old buildings and modern shops and banks. The Northern part of Nicosia (where I have been previously) looks very run-down.

I had expected the restaurant to be inexpensive - where we had been previously in the North, food was extremely good value. We hoped we could buy a sandwich or something, as Tim had cooked us a full roast meal at lunch-time. But, alas, this restaurant had discovered tourism and the ability to charge high tourist prices. It looked lovely - very modern and with good service, and I was impressed that glasses of fresh water were given to everyone at no cost. But we decided to eat when we got home rather than pay over the odds for a large meal we didn't want. Some of our friends had ice cream or other drinks but we didn't stay long.

Returning was quicker - just a couple of minutes at the checkpoint to show our visas and passports, and no slow drivers to delay us. An interesting experience, but I don't think we'll be going often. Some of our friends in Larnaka go to this service a couple of times a month, but driving for nearly an hour to get to church seems rather extreme to us.


Steve Hayes said...

When we go to St Nicholas Church in Brixton, Johannesburg, it's nearly an hour's drive, and so is our Tembisa congregation, after we've picked up all the people who want lifts. Our

Mamelodi congregation is closer - only 20 km, but there are a lot of speed humps in the road, so it takes half an hour, and when we take Mamelodi people to St Nicholas it adds an hour to the journey each way.

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