March 15, 2020
When we arrived in Cyprus, I would have never guessed we would still be here, two months later – not to mention, in the midst of global pandemic – with no departure date or future destination in sight.
The decisions we made, which brought us here, along with our concerns at the time, seem so distant— like light years away. Isn’t it amazing how everything can change in a snap?
In mid-January, after years of nomadic life, Matt and I were finally enjoying a true nesting phase in Italy. We had finished renovations on our apartment. House Hunters International had recently been to Lucca to film us for an episode. We had hosted one festive gathering after another. We were even making significant progress in learning Italian. Then, as day #90 of our visa limit approached, a decision was forced.
It was time to move on…
Although many options were floated, no place seemed to grab our imaginations, or hearts. Should we embark on an adventure some place new-to-us? Or, should we take comfort in more familiar territory?
It had been a cold, rainy period in Tuscany so we yearned for warm temperatures and sweet sunshine. We’ve learned we are happiest in environments safe for cycling and running, offering artistic pursuits and – perhaps, most importantly – allowing us to live easily via walking and public transit. While renting a car occasionally to explore farther afield is fine; we have come to realize for us, a place where driving is essential is our no-go, not-gonna-do-it, never-again zone.
And, of course, we needed to find a spot outside Europe’s Schengen Zone.
What is the Schengen Zone?
During “normal”, non-global-pandemic times, this refers to an area in Europe with open transit between borders for EU citizens and those who qualify for travel visas. For instance, as US passport holders, we can travel freely within the zone for up to 90 days at a time, within a 180-day period – but, not a day longer. Currently, there are 26 countries within the zone, including Italy.
These are the European countries currently not within the Zone:
Albania, Andora, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Georgia, Ireland, Kosovo, North Macedonia, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Vatican City.
We approached the “where next?” decision like it was a House Hunters International episode.
We narrowed down our options to three choices – Uruguay, South Africa, Croatia – then discussed pros/cons of each…until our heads ached.
Then, a random flight search introduced a wildcard. Thirty-five dollar flights, along with a forecast of warm temps, bolted Cyprus to top of list. But, there were reservations.
Tensions between Turkey and Cyprus were escalating over maritime oil rights. The situation in Syria and throughout the region was getting worse with Russia, the US and Turkey amping up dialogue and action. Would Cyprus be safe?
Plus, we have been to Cyprus once before and left uninspired. It was a short visit, returning from a trekking trip in Jordan last year. In fairness, after the other-worldly beauty of Petra and Wadi Rum, any destination would likely have fallen short. Still, we were put off by the party vibe where we were in Paphos. Karaoke bars and neon-shot specials had little appeal. Would Cyprus really be our scene?
We took a low-commitment route: one-way flights and six-day apartment rental.
We told each other, after a week, it might be time to keep moving on…
It’s the third largest island in the Mediterranean, at 225 km long and 97 km at the widest point. Cyprus is not a Greek Isle, as commonly thought. It’s an independent republic, with a modern existence as complex and fascinating as its ancient history.
In 1974, after an invasion by Turkey, a third of the island became partitioned (illegally) and that northern area is often referred to as Turkish Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots fled north while Greek Cypriots fled south. Today, a UN-monitored Green Line divides north and south, including partitioning the capital Nicosia – the world’s only divided capital city.
The island is located about 75 km south of Turkey, 100 km west of Syria and Lebanon and a bit farther north of Israel and Egypt.
It’s thought to have been inhabited since the 10th millennium BC and currently has a population of just over 1.2 million.
It didn’t take long. Within days, we began to glimpse the tranquil beauty of Cyprus in off-season.
With gorgeous coastline, rugged olive and carob-tree-studded interior, fascinating history and wild, artistic spirit, we scratched our heads about how there could have been any other choice.
Our base in Larnaca, the island’s third largest city, and a real working town, offered the right vibe.
We began learning about local wine culture and visiting wineries. I participated in everything from halloumi-making classes to archeological tours. We were out and about exploring, at every opportunity – the very opposite of social distancing (weeks before we knew this term would soon come to define life, nearly everywhere).
And, we realized any safety concerns were completely unfounded. Cyprus is one of the safest places we’ve ever visited or lived.
Beach to ourselves. Cyprus in off-season.
Solitary running route, Larnaca Salt Lake
Apartment Hopping, Cycling Accidents, Mafia Connections – Our Life in Cyprus, Thus Far
Seven weeks later, here we are, still. And, like waves rolling onto the sandy beach outside my window, the days flow by.
Perhaps the best way to describe our life here is through the quest for an apartment. (House Hunters really should follow us around permanently). Through a mix of stupidity, stubbornness and just bad timing, we recently moved for the forth time in just 60 days.
(Keep reading below).
What’s Happening Now in Cyprus with the Coronavirus Global Pandemic?
As of today, Sunday 15 March, there are 21 confirmed cases on the island, 7 of those are from the same family. It should be noted that testing seems to be widespread. Many of these cases have been identified by on-sight testing at the airport’s arrival zone.
Beginning today, only Cypriot citizens, residents, third party nationals working in the Republic, diplomats and their families are allow entry onto the island.
Beginning tomorrow, for the period of at least four weeks, all stores, cafes, coffee shops, bars, gyms, cinemas, theaters, libraries, museums, casinos, barbers and hairdressers must close.
Beginning tomorrow, all hotels must close until at least April 30.
Grocery stores will remain open but must adhere to the rule of not more than one person at a time within an eight square meter space.
Pharmacies, open air markets, gas stations, and bakeries can remain open.
The island has set up two emergency hotlines (1450 and 1420). Anyone with symptoms should call one of those numbers.
Living life nomadically makes your requirements different – and more demanding – than those of typical travelers. We’ve learned what works best for us through staying in all sorts of places, all over the world. Budget, comfort and style are key, yet location aces all.
Our first apartment, presented like a dream in photos. In person, the space was cavernous, cold, poorly outfitted and littered with kids’ toys (holy, germ fest)! And, though it wasn’t far from the sea, our edge-of-city-center location, wedged between dodgy Russian market, mechanic shop and kebab joint was far from inspiring. Time to move on…
Our neighborhood, McKenzie Beach
That week did give us an opportunity to pinpoint the neighborhood we wanted as our own. I turned daily running routes into opportunities for scoping apartments. We briefly considered an oceanfront flat smack in the center along a lively, palm-lined city beach. The problem was the view. There were waves of blue, but also arches of gold. McDonalds as ground floor neighbor. I couldn’t see how that would work or smell well for us. Time to move on…
We both gravitated toward a seafront neighborhood over a mile from the center. We’re told this area surrounding McKenzie Beach is nightlife central in season. Luckily for us, the half-mile stretch populated by coffee shops, gelato stands, seafood taverns and pubs is completely chill in off-season. There’s also a cycling and running path, plus local buses, connecting to the center. Getting anywhere – from the grocery and veggie market to art class, means walking along the seafront.
Out running one day, I met George, a Greek Cypriot with apartments above the diving shop. A few days later, we moved into apartment #2, a tiny, yet stylish and gloriously warm space. George’s flat even featured a small balcony and “side” ocean view.
Musical apartments #2.
We’ve had suitcases bigger than that kitchen, still the space felt like a home. We messaged landlord-George two days later to say we would like to stay longer. Too bad he was by then on-vacation-George and pounding vodka shots in a Russian mountain town. Another booking came in before he could block the dates.
So, two weeks after arriving, we were faced with yet another decision.
Is this sign we should leave Cyprus? Should we simply find another apartment? Is it time to move on?
This lifestyle is a privilege we never take for granted. Still, deciding which road to take at every turn can be exhausting. We always feel like we’re scanning the horizon for signs.
“I’m waiting for clarity,” has become one of my favorite decision-postponement phrases.
Clarity came in beautiful and not-so-beautiful ways. I took an art-themed walking tour and met several local artists. One of which – the lovely Christiana – invited me to join weekly studio sessions to work on sketching.
Meanwhile, Matt had a cycling accident. A slow-speed wreck due to sewer grate sent him over the handle bars and smack onto the pavement. As his bronchitis was nearly clear, he now suffered from a mild concussion.
We took these significant developments, paired with small pleasures like discovering a spot (which many locals don’t even know about) mere yards from our door to buy fresh catch from returning fishermen, as signs we needed more time in Larnaca.
“George, I know you are in Russia, but is there a chance you know anyone else with an apartment for rent in the building?” was my next text. Being a good guy and consummate-opportunist, George said, “Let me make some calls.” He then found us another apartment – twice as big – in the same building, for the same weekly price. There were a few catches, naturally.
The place wasn’t quite ready for rental, George said. Electricity in the kitchen may or may not work, TV definitely did not work, basic supplies (think: broom, lamps, a single knife, coffee maker…this list could go on and on) were nonexistent and there wasn’t much furniture. What it did have going was sliding doors opening directly to the ocean. “Who needs furniture? We’ll take it!” we chimed without hesitation. (Because no one can ever accuse us of being practical). Learning from previous mistakes, this time, we committed to one whole month. That would give us six weeks total in Cyprus. Surely, we will be ready to move on.
The month of February began racing by as we settled in next door to our new landlord. Jonny, we would soon learn loves to sing in lung-bursting style very early in the morning. Mind you, it is not that he’s an early riser. It’s more that he’s a late-night partyer and self-admittedly goes on multi-day benders.
If we saw him at the pub, he bought us rounds. If he saw us on the terrace, he brought us bottles of wine – and, entertained us with stories. What you might call colorful tales like…that time he robbed a casino and the mob was out to get him. Or, those times he visited his father in prison and got to the know England’s most famous mafia figures the Cray Brothers. Or, the books he’s been featured in because of his exploits.
We’ve learned not to ask too many questions in these situations. “So, you’ve robbed a casino. Who hasn’t really?!”
Is this a sign we should leave Cyprus? Or, should we just find another apartment? Is it time to move on?
As news of the coronavirus began to sweep through Europe and, in particular the news from Italy became more frightening on a daily basis, we felt it best to stay put, if we could find yet another apartment.
I connected through Airbnb with a Nicosia-based architect who is renovating the apartment which was his childhood home. As soon as I caught sight of the paddle-board-turned-LED-chandelier – not to mention, the view – another rush of clarity washed over me.
This is a place we can ride out this wave.
A perfect place to ride out this wave. We are grateful.
And, that brings us to now.
We will be here for another month, minimum, and will likely apply for permission to stay longer – as our 90 day limit here is up next month. (Nobody said nomadic life was easy, right?).
Matt and I are self-isolating so that we don’t risk picking up and spreading the virus to anyone around us. Fortunately, from this very tranquil – drama-free new apartment- we have one small, yet well-stocked neighborhood grocery and two convenience stories within walking distance, and of course, the fisherman by the harbor.
It’s amazing to score fresh catch from just outside our apartment.
Of all the places we could be in the world right now, somehow we were fortunate to have stood at crossroads, time and again, and to have chosen Cyprus.
This time, we aren’t moving on. At least, not for awhile.
Wishing peace and good health to you and yours, friends. Stay safe and keep shining and sharing your bright light. Sending much love your way!