Day 1 - Turkish Occupied Northern Cyprus
Shades of light and dark pink and white oleander and bougainvillea line the roadway, welcoming us to Larnaca on the island of Cyprus. Mimosa trees, brought from Australia by the British, dress up the roads, as well. I see olive, fig, and cypress trees. There are a very few fields of crops in my eyesight. Hayfields are to my left, and rocky hills are on my right which remind me of mainland Greece. Despite the green trees and crops, most of the land looks dry. It's already summer here.
We arrive at a seaside restaurant. Because we eat with the sea in our eyes, I order the fish, not knowing how it's prepared but hoping for a local specialty. It arrives with the eyeballs intact and is sweet and delicious. I avoid the bones and the eyeballs but tackle the rest.
Ancient Salamis is our next destination. Paul, John Mark, and Barnabas were in this Roman city. Wandering through the agora, the theater, and the baths, I wonder at the splendor of this city in ancient years. Imported white marble from Greece and Italy must have gleaned. This city was as American cities are today - impressive, plentiful, abundant. The witnesses were brave. They shared Jesus with people whose earthly needs appeared to have been already met. Perhaps it was difficult for people of that time to become dependent on Jesus, just as it is for us Americans today. We sometimes seemingly need nothing...until we realize we are empty without Him.
Two minutes down the road is the Monastery of St. Barnabas. In the front of every Greek Orthodox church is the alter room, entered into only by the Greek Orthodox priest. At the side entrance in a corner, a painting explains how the tomb of St. Barnabas was found. Icons, which are picturesque of saints, are hung on the walls, but the white ceilings and most of the walls remain unpainted - an unusual sight in a Greek Orthodox church building. Our guide explains the icon altar wall pictures as they are set up in each church.
Our last stop of the day is the Cathedral of St. Nicholas which is now a mosque. It favors Paris's Notre-Dame; we learn that they were designed by the same architect. All Christian signs are removed from the building; there are no statues or crosses. It's prayer time, which means that we are forbidden to enter because we do not share the same faith. The Arabic call to prayer rings through the air. We pause a moment to listen to this dedicated prayer time call. Men wash themselves in the designated fountains as they cleanse before entering to pray.
We pass through the place that used to be Famagusta, a ghost town today because of the 1974 war between Greece and Turkey. The Turkish forces still occupy the northern part of the island, but a "green line" separates the island from the two populations. The people on both sides long for peaceful, daily co-existence, even taking the time and effort to learn each other's language. Often times in this land, as well as in most countries on earth, the everyday people must wait for politicians.
Day 2 - Paphos Area, Southwestern Cyprus
Our day starts at the Tombs of the Kings, used during Hellenistic and Ptolemaic periods. We learn about the architecture borrowed from Alexandria, and get the chance to explore the tombs, used as catacombs for some early Christians. Crouching through the tunnels, I attentively avoid any spiders. The students love the free time.
Under the pistachio trees, we look at St. Paul's Pillar that stands in the shadow of the early Christian Basilica of Chrysopolitissa. Tradition holds that Paul held this pillar after he was arrested and beaten here in Cyprus. Sitting in the shade, we read from Acts 13:6, discuss Paul's journey over from Salamis to Paphos (Pafos-modern spelling), and continue reading and discussing with whom Paul came into contact and Paul's interactions with powerful and not-so-powerful people there. From 2 Corinthians 11:21, we read about Paul's claiming the heritage of the Jews, his work for the Kingdom, his suffering for the sake of Jesus (tradition says that one of the listed beatings was about twenty feet from us), and the dangers that he faced. Then we discuss John Mark's departure back to Jerusalem and why he might have left Paul and Barnabas as they travel on into modern-day Turkey to continue to share with more people his testimony of the Jesus he encountered. What bravery. What influence. Thank goodness Paul allowed himself to be used. May we be actively listening to God for His use of us in His plan.
We feast on a traditional Cypriot lunch which is Greek, of course, perhaps with different spices. We are full again. The Greeks serve portions like the Americans do - always too much. We are more than satisfied.
A two thousand year old house was found in the 1960s. Called the House of Dionysos, its floors are preserved almost perfectly. A structure was built to protect the floors that are designed with mosaics using stones the size of a fingernail telling stories from Greek mythology. Nearby, the House of Aion has mosaics with stones about a quarter of a fingernail size, allowing for even more details of shadow in each portrait and story. These works are truly impressive.
The Rock of Aphrodite, her traditional birthplace, is just a twenty minute ride away. Limestone quarries, olive and citrus trees, and oleander color the landscape in this region of Cyprus. We round a corner and the blue ocean dominates the view. We are on the southwestern shores. Swimming around Aphrodite's rock is supposed to ensure one's youthful appearance forever. Photographs taken now can help us judge the truth of the legend in the future.
It's only been a week since we were in our hometown, but already we want Mexican food. We wander down the street to get our fill and know that we hit the bullseye when the food gets to the table. Ice cream finishes off the meal perfectly.
Day 3 - Larnaca, Southeastern Cyprus
Cyprus is now a tourist destination, especially among the Russians and Israelis, and we learn about the growth of the Paphos area since the 1974 destruction of Famagusta, the result of the war between the Greeks and the Turks, on our way out of town. The day begins with a bus ride toward the east coast of the island. We pass more citrus trees, more hayfields, grapevines, and windmills. Energy is costly here, so most European countries take advantage of their natural resources for their energy use. Rosemary, thyme, and oregano dot the ground among the rocks pushing out from the hillsides.
We stop about midway to Larnaca at an ancient Stone Age village, a Neolithic settlement, dated from 8,000 BC when the average lifespan reached 35-years-old. Whew. We see a reconstructed circular, one-room house from the age. I also notice lilac-colored flowering trees and wish I knew the name of them, geraniums as tall as I am, purple petunias that my mother taught me to pinch after the mistake I made confessing my boredom when I was young (I quickly learned to avoid that word in my parents' house), some sort of potted plant with delicate upside down pink blooms, and substantial lantana that our northerners sometimes think is a weed. I suppose that the coastal air and the lack of cold winter months allow this type of continued growth.
Hala Sulton Tekke is a mosque in the area. We slip off our shoes, wrap scarves around heads and shoulders and knees, and enter inside. The interior is stark. No images are inside any mosques. Circular frames with Arabic writings are inside and near the ceiling. A balcony is for the women at worship time. Red carpet with a floral motif helps denote where prayers should position themselves at the five designated prayer times throughout the day. After a few minutes, we exit and slip our shoes back on our feet.
St. Lazarus Cathedral contains baroque style icons that overwhelm my simple-auditorium-or-gymnasium worship style background. The gold ornamentals cover almost every surface. An elderly lady painfully walks, almost kneeling, to each icon to offer her kiss. Her reverence is touching. The chandeliers draw my eyes upward. There is much to entertain my dancing eyes in this church. We sit in the pews and review who the icons picture and whose bones are in the front silver box; we then read from John 11:1-40 about the story of Lazarus' resurrection.
Coffee, milkshakes, and appetizers are a fun early evening treat. Food is abundant. We arrive at the airport and claim a spot to reflect on our beginning trip together and the Lord Himself; then we pull out a deck of cards to pass the remaining time until the flight. It's been a great first HUG trip on this semester-long adventure. We feel blessed already.