I'd never been to Cyprus (North or South) before, so didn't have any preconceptions, and was pleasantly surprised by nearly everything. April is a very good month for going since the temperatures are those of an English summer with breezes on the coast and mountains to keep things cool. It's also when the island is at its most green, with wild flowers at their best. I was particularly struck by the Cistus (Rock Rose) everywhere, since it's a garden plant here, but could be seen growing under conifer trees in Cyprus which indicates how little nourishment it actually needs. There were also more exotic plants like Mandrake and something we never managed to identify, but which looked a bit like Lords-and-Ladies with a red velvet flock hood. On the cultivated side were olive groves and fruit trees in everybody's gardens. The farmers were also doing their grain harvest - I don't know if this is their only harvest or if they get enough rain to do another in the summer.
This leads nicely onto food, which was great! The buffet breakfasts at the two hotels we stayed in were extensive, and as usual, you end up eating more than usual since you just have to try something else! It's lovely to be able to have a dish of fresh fruit with your breakfast, and a less healthy pleasure being able to have a cube of Halva :-) On our longer walks, we had lunch provided by the wife of Mustafa our support jeep driver. She did wonderful salads, both green and pulse, and a more filling dish such as fried potato and onion, or Shepherds Pie made with macaroni. There was tasty white bread to go with the lunch, and we always finished with fresh oranges. At the first hotel we stayed at The Acapulco Beach Club there were buffet dinners in the evening, again with wonderful salads. At the second hotel The Salamis Bay Conti Resort we ate out each evening, and went twice to the taverna just along the beach from the hotel. This involved walking along the beach to get there, which added to the entertainment value of the evenings since it wasn't particularly well lit.
We also had one lunch at the Buyuk Han (Big Inn) which was recently restored and has many interesting craft shops, and was one of coolest places in Nicosia which struck me as a very hot and dusty city. This city is also where the partition between North and South is most apparent with the Green Line dividing the two halves.
I much preferred the other city we visited, Famagusta, which is by the sea - therefore cooler - and had a walled inner city. The walls were built by the Venetians, and were immensely thick, also well preserved which helps to create the historical atmosphere. In this city we visited the Lala Mustafa Pasha Mosque which was formerly the cathedral of St Nicholas. The stained glass and all statues have been removed, in accordance with Islamic tenets, but the main architecture of the cathedral remains undamaged. The carpet in the mosque was divided into oblong patterns which act as prayer mats, allowing worshippers to space themselves out correctly. Entry to the mosque was quite relaxed compared to others I've visited. Shoes had to be removed, but there was no requirement for women to cover their heads or to wear robes. People generally seemed casual about their religion, with no obvious dress restrictions. Still there were minarets in all the villages and towns, and you often heard the call to prayer.
There is still a Greek Orthodox presence in the North, and this was most obvious at St Barnabas Monastery, which has many 18th and 19th century icons which people were kissing as they visited. There is also an underground tomb - reputed to be the tomb of the saint - which has recent flowers and offerings, and the upper room was being cleaned when we were there. The cloister of the monastery has been converted to an archaeological museum. It's quite small, but that has the advantage that you're not overwhelmed with items, and the items that were there were of very good quality. It was a surprise to see so many finds were almost intact (I've been watching Time Team too much!) and this included some quite sizeable pieces of pottery. There were also some good archaeological displays in Kyrenia castle, the highlight of which is this ancient shipwreck which is over two thousand years old. One of my favourite places to visit is the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth, and I've also seen the 'Vasa' in Stockholm, so to see an even older ship than these was a real treat. The amount that has survived is almost unbelievable given its age, and to have the cargo as well gives a wonderful snapshot of life at that time.
The walks we did during the week were quite easy, with the longest being about 10 miles, and, of course, we were always sustained by Mrs Mustafa's lunches! I think the toughest thing we did in the week was during the Jeep Safari when we stopped and took the path up to Buffavento Castle. This takes about 30 minutes and is quite steep (definitely not one to do in wet weather), but you are rewarded with great views along the mountain range when you finally collapse at the top. We also visited Kantara Castle one day, again having to climb up a mountain to get there, but not quite so steep. Although we did have a very exciting drive there, when even the guide thought we'd ended up on the wrong road since the tarmac had been washed away in the lower section!
Other things that stick in the memory: the piano recital in Bellapais Abbey; the cave at Cinarli, used as a hiding place by the local villagers during the troubles of the seventies; the extensive Roman and Byzantine ruins at Salamis; the jellyfish washed up on Turtle Beach, the snake skin found on one of the walks (which made everyone more wary about stepping off the path!) and the always lovely scenery. This is a good site for information about any of the sights, or about North Cyprus generally.
The other people on the holiday were also great companions. There were eleven women, and one man - luckily not the shy retiring kind :-) It was an over 45 age group, and ages did range from the forties to the sixties, but everyone mingled very well. I'd be happy to meet any of them again, and I'd definitely consider another walking holiday with Solos.