THE STREETS OF NOSTALGIA
It’s daybreak in the Old Town of Nicosia, or as mythology would have it, in the city that used to be a siren, a creature whose enchanting song trapped unsuspecting travelers and made them forget their initial destination… And this is how I feel. “Trapped” within the Venetian walls of the city. I do not want to leave. I want to stay and collect pictures, memories and feelings of past times. I stand in front of the Famagusta Gate with its impressive façade, the prettiest Gate of Venetian Nicosia, I gaze upon at the houses with their traditional balconies and imposing doorways and my footsteps lead me to Othellou street, right in front of a well preserved old mansion. There lies one of the most famous Nicosian tsipouradiko, Tsipouraki-Mezedaki.
Walking up to Chrysaliniotissa, the oldest church within the walls with its barrel-vaulted dome. Making my way a bit further up Dimonaktos street, I find the Handicrafts Center, a complex of workshops built around a central courtyard, designed according to traditional architecture, where several artists handcraft traditional artifacts. My next stop is Ermou street, yet another masterpiece. I am told that in the past this street housed the shops of goldsmiths, ironmongers, cobblers, fabric merchants who sold Cypriot linen, English cotton, Bursa and Parisian silk. I sneak inside the workshop named Scrap Metal Arts. The owner of this art workshop is Sotiris Sevastides, a real artist who collects scrap metal, who then uses his imagination to create impressive works of art that “travel” around the globe. On the same street I gape, like a little child, at the café named Kafeneion Odos Oneiron, a dollhouse with wooden structures on the tables and a small attic filled with vintage objects, and at Vagabond, the cutest little store with handcrafted items, whose motto is “Being creative requires you to leave a little bit of your heart in every object that you make...”.
Ermou street used to be home to goldsmiths, ironmongers and fabric merchants offering linens from Cyprus and silk from Paris.
I make a stop at the coffee shop called To Apomero, a traditional establishment on a small alley called Polyviou street. Miss Androula treats me with ice cold water, spinach pie, cheese pie and olive pie, all made with her own handmade phyllo pastry. “You have to try some orange pie or baklava, I made it myself. You shouldn’t leave on an empty stomach!” she says, laughing.
Strolling down to Archbishop Kyprianou Square, in front of the Archdiocese, I see a two-storey building of the neo-byzantine period, home of the Byzantine Museum and the Library of the Archdiocese. Further down, I find myself starring in awe at the mansion that belonged to Kornesios Hadjigeorgakis, which is a prime example of 18th century Cypriot urban architecture.
Once again I am wandering through the alleys and time is no longer of importance to me. I just wish that I never have to leave this “other era”. Apparently my wish is granted, because at the corner of Soutsou and Peiraios streets, right behind the famous Hamam Omerye, I stumble upon Kafeneio 11, a picturesque little café who’s décor resembles that of ’60s train stations, filled with objects the owners picked up themselves from the streets of Nicosia. A couple of steps away I come across a small tavern called To Tavernaki tou Nikola, that looks like it popped out from a photo scrapbook.
Walking down Trikoupi street, I see one of the prettiest spots in the Old Town called Laiki Gitonia (Traditional Neighbourhood), whose heart beats in Aristokyprou and Praxandrou streets. Everything around it is bursting with life. Houses with cobbled courtyards, cultural hang outs, taverns, restaurants, traditional coffee shops, workshops, antique shops, stores and a paved square, that altogether create a picture of a neighborhood that “screams” tradition and looks like a carte postale. I purchase laced and embroider fabrics, taste some pasteli and spoon sweet preserves, stuff my bag with herbs and essential oils, and spend time at the Leventis Municipal Museum, a complex of three traditional buildings showcasing the history of Nicosia, from prehistoric times until today. A cluster of little traditional coffee shops (kafeneia) tha also serve hookah, catches my eye.
It’s almost noon and I snatch a table at the renowned for its casseroles tavern of Mathaios, on 28th October Square to watch Cyprus’ culinary tradition parade in front of me in plates filled with koupepia kolokasi, quails with pilaf and calf stifado au vin. My journey through the magic world of taste continues at Lemonaris Pastry Shop 1952, just a stone’s throw away, inside the courtyard of Panayia Faneromeni’s church, with saragli, kazan tipi, mahaleb and ekmek competing with each other in a race of pleasure and flavors. I was told to “Absolutely taste charlottes at Melissa pastry shop and the top almond croissant by Hurricane! Both pastry shops are situated in the old town! It’s a must!”. And I didn’t forget. The only thing I forgot was the present, for nostalgia had completely taken over me.
It’s evening. Within the walls, in a city that never felt so familiar as it does now, as the lights turn on and music gets louder, memories become even stronger in Zanettos, one of the oldest taverns of the Old Town. In here, you don’t just order your meal, but rather surrender to an orgasm of culinary hospitality. The owner “a young, tall, blonde, a multimillionaire bachelor” Panayiotis –as he always introduces himself in a fit of laughter– welcomes me with rosewater, treats me to as many plates as can fit on the table (!), shares stories from the past and I promise him to visit again. I once again make my way to the streets of the town. It is late but I’m not sleepy. I will always remember this day, so I never have to feel nostalgic about it ever again…
Cobbled courtyards, and a paved square, create a picture of a neighborhood that "screams" tradition and looks like a carte postale.
A window with a view of Nicosia, up on the third floor of a city hotel. Loud, full of life and tall buildings right next to small houses, with cars driving on the “wrong” side of the road. The smiling faces out in the streets sport a relaxed attitude, making this a city you would love to live in. After one last sip of coffee, I lock the door behind me and my acquaintance with Nicosia starts with a loud “good morning” and her promise to unveil her urban profile, similar to that of every other European capital. I have the feeling that in every corner of this city something new is going on, the future is approaching at a whirlwind pace...
Once I find myself outside, on Pindarou street, the smell of freshly ground coffee is captivating and the one responsible is an espresso bar called A Kxoffee Project that makes, according to most, arguably the best coffee in town. And I concur! Further down the street, at the Ayios Antonios market, I stumble across two of the most famous restaurants of Nicosia. The first one is Limoncello Deli-Bar, straight from Italy, whereas the second one, I Stoa tou Dimitri, has been the absolute meeting point of the city’s food fanatics for decades.
I arrive at Stasandrou street, a by-street of Leoforos Makariou, which recently has become Nicosia’s hot spot with an abundance of choices when it comes to good food, drinks and entertainment. Artnaldas Concept Experience definitely stands out amongst the rest. I approach Eleftherias Square and Jean Nouvel Tower 25 demands my attention, a 62 metre tall building whose vertical volume contrasts completely with the horizontal line of the medieval walls and the submerged moat surrounding the Old Town. And it isn’t the only one. Nicosia is going through construction frenzy wherever you look around you, it’s being reborn. I cross Eleftherias Square, which is currently reconstructed based on the architectural design of late Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, and find myself on the famed pedestrian street Ledras. I walk slowly so as to observe the people, the traffic, the stores and imported cafés, old pastry shops, picturesque taverns and the smiles on people’s faces. They are not rushed, they walk. Time is not running, it flows. On my right is Klokkari arcade with the romantic café Pieto, which serves the best milkshake in town (try the mastic flavor!).
I climb up Siacola Tower, the tallest building within the walls of Nicosia. The Ledra Observatory is housed on the 11th floor, and with the use of state of the art interactive media I observe the monuments of Nicosia, while the city is sprawled at my feet like a colorful magic carpet. Making my way downstairs and back on to Ledras street, my steps are abruptly halted at a gate that leads to the occupied side of the city. Suddenly I am faced with harsh reality that I am actually visiting the only remaining divided capital of Europe and I turn towards Onasagorou street, one of the largest commercial streets of the Old Town, second only to Ledras. I head to Faneromeni, one of the most visited spots within the walls. I admire the majestic church and the imposing building of the Girls Only School, then sneak into the arcade called stoa Papadopoulou with the outdoor cafés and take a peek at the ambient bar-restaurant Balcony with the inner yard and arched domes.
It is almost noon. I am sitting at one of the tables of the famous D.O.T., a former workshop turned into restaurant, enjoying my lunch and thinking about the ideal pairing of vintage and modern design, traditional cuisine and the latest culinary trends. Next stop NiMAC, the oldest and largest Nicosia Modern Art Center, housed in the former factory of Electriki, the first power station of Cyprus. Modern art exhibitions with the participation of renowned artists from all over the world are taking place in this unique cultural center, which has also been awarded a Europa Nostra prize.
By now it’s almost afternoon and I decide to continue my journey through Nicosia on a bicycle, which you can easily rent at various spots in the city and circulate safely on the dedicated bike lanes. I reach the Pedhieos River Linear Park and discover an oasis. I pedal my way on a pleasant bike path that passes through a scenery of eucalyptus trees, accompanied by lush vegetation and the river banks. I leave my bike and think about dropping by the Nicosia Mall, an impressive 82.000 sq. meter shopping mall, which includes various shops, recreational restaurants and facilities and has rightfully become the talk of the town.
Night comes and the city is filled with lights, a sequel to a day that no one would want to end. All I crave is to sit in one of the city’s restaurants with a glass of wine in my hand and reminisce over the hours I spent there. My options are countless and the classy, Italian style Bottega Amaro as well as the ambient, London calling, quirky Skinny Fox are the strongest candidates. I am feeling like one more drink. There are several interesting nightlife spots and bars to choose from. Amongst those are, the always busy Notes and Spirits, the Silver Star Wine Bar which carries a variety of over 400 wine labels, the notorious Granazi and the Lost+Found Drinkery, which has made it to the Top 50 cocktail bars of the world. I choose the latter and raise my glass high, toasting to beautiful Nicosia...
People here are in no rush. They walk. This is not running...it flows.
PATHS OF LUXURY
It’s morning time, on a working day. I twirl around the faces of the city, as if moving in a revolving door with glass facade. Suddenly, a blinding light floods the city. This is the face of Nicosia I want to get to know. This is where I want to “go”. Right in the middle of the glamorous face of a city that, like a fairytale heroine, managed to escape from the financial crisis prison and regained its personal sovereignty once more. Nicosia gives me her hand, beckoning to me to join her on a ride unlike any other. She is beautiful, well dressed and sparkles like a diamond under the blinding light of her sun. I take her hand and our wandering into the dream begins...
I am at Vasilissis Sofias, a bystreet of Themistokli Dervi street, in the heart of new Nicosia, at the most beloved food spot of the capital called Zest, a place filled with simplicity, full of natural light and warm smiles. I order a coffee and some granola while staring at the warm cakes and awesome salads parading on a white surface and think that there couldn't be a more stylish place. I arrive on the main road called “Makariou”. This is a busy street full of shops. I am enjoying a bit of window-shopping and try on some clothes and shoes. I’m told that this area has always been connected with luxury shopping and that nowadays this fashion fever has “spread” to Stasikratous street, Vassilissis Frederikis, Mnasiadou and the nearby streets. I sneak inside and observe the “good life” propped up like a doll in the windows of the stores, where well-dressed ladies of all ages do their shopping, as dictated by the latest fashion trends. Nearby, I come across some exquisite jewelry shops, impressive art galleries, charismatic Cypriot designers and some of Nicosia’s most cosmopolitan resto-bars.
I make a stop for a quick coffee and dessert at the much-discussed Pralina, an all-day experience, decorated with works of art and sculptures. I surrender to the excellent flavors, all created by Lefteris Lazarou and bow to his aesthetics, which make me feel that I am visiting a capital, with real European style and flair. I take a taxi and the glowing face of Nicosia scoots over the seat, pointing outside during the ride, saying repeatedly: “Look here! Look over there!”. I do look and I find myself surrounded by asymmetrical towers and huge skyscrapers that seem to touch the sky. I get off at Omerye Hamam, a vivid example of the rich culture and diversity of the city, a stone building that has won an award by Europa Nostra. Optimal wellbeing is king here. They serve me water flavored with lemon blossoms and I indulge in a relaxing massage, lying down on the marble slab of the hamam, under a stone sky, with carved with star-shaped openings that allow the sunlight to diffuse around me and over my body. Feels like I am in a dream and I don’t want it to end anytime soon. Then I hear Nicosia whispering in my ear: “It will not be over”.
It’s almost noon. I head to the famous Gym, an old house that the owner’s taste and artistry have transformed into one of the most elegant city hangouts. A glass-covered well and wonderful items displayed on the shelves, a courtyard filled with flowers, great food and impeccable service complete the backdrop of an all-day bar-restaurant that you want to revisit soon. I track the city’s art lovers and find myself standing in front of Leventis Art Gallery, that harbors real art treasures inside. I start by roaming through the ground floor, which holds the Cypriot collection, where the painting named “The World of Cyprus” measuring at 17,5m. and depicting 67 different characters, stands out. The latter was created by one of the most prominent Cypriot artists, Adamantios Diamantis. A little further down I come across some of the most unique pieces of artwork by Greek and foreign artists. The magical journey through the arts is now being continued at the Art Museum of Loukia and Michael Zambelas. This museum is housed in a unique architectural structure, where the permanent collection of the Zambela family is exhibited. The collection consists of a large number of Modern Art pieces. I let my eyes get lost in the pictures, feeling really full and truly rich.
The dusk is near. Glamorous Nicosia is all dolled up and holds a list of the city’s most sophisticated restaurants. The two on the top of the list are Domus, at the center of Old Town, across from the Pancyprian Gymnasium and the Archdiocese and Bastione at Famagusta Gate. I choose the first one and –all of a sudden– I find myself in a dreamlike neoclassical building with wonderful dishes and fairy-tale atmosphere. I do not want this night to end either. Next stop, the Moon: a unique place, resembling an interesting mix between a New York bar and a French bistro. I order cocktails, I sing “Fly me to the moon”, sotto voce with Sinatra and dawn is but a few hours away. Nicosia, thank you! You are a real lady.