Northern Cyprus – Part 5

The hotel bar was hot with talk of rebellion. The insurrection even had a figurehead and she was busy whipping up support for a boycott of tomorrow’s excursion, all because Tunç had decreed another 8 a.m. start. Sensing that he was about to tarred and feathered, he had very wisely grabbed his bag and fled to his room as soon as we arrived at the hotel in Kyrenia.

This place was a lot better than the previous hotel, mainly because it wasn’t falling down and the sea view wasn’t marred by a stinking bog. There was also a better dinner on offer, plus a proper bar. The lack of a casino was the only disappointment, but given our dwindling funds this might have been a blessing.

“Well we’re not going tomorrow if it starts so early. We’re supposed to be on holiday!” snapped the rebel leader. Her quiet, hen-pecked husband – who wore the look of many years’ silent suffering – nodded sadly in agreement behind her. She claimed to have already enlisted the support of most of the group and now she was about to confront Tunç. He was sat well away from us, playing backgammon with the other tour guides and clearly not wising to be disturbed, yet still she marched up and gave him a broadside. Unsurprisingly, Tunç didn’t care and carried on with his game. The bus was leaving at 8 a.m., with our without the rebels.

Early next morning the bus was full and Tunç couldn’t suppress a smug grin when Rebel Leader and husband climbed sheepishly aboard. Thankfully everyone had seen sense and turned up, though the scene at breakfast was like something  from “Dawn of the Dead”, with fifty moaning OAPs rattling at the locked dining room doors at 7 a.m, before a truly bloodthirsty fight over the food. Captain Birdseye (see Part 4) was in spectacular form, shouting “spoons!” and “fried eggs!” through the kitchen door until terrified staff brought him heaps of both these items. His poor wife watched him eat his eggs with great interest, no doubt hoping that he would choke on them.

The fine, early morning weather did much to quell any remaining unrest in the group, as did the gorgeous views as the bus climbed up into the mountains above Kyrenia. We stopped first in the affluent mountainside village of Bellapais, where the rich and powerful of Northern Cyprus have their holiday homes. The president’s mansion could be seen jutting out from a rocky precipice, all plate glass and infinity pools. We walked on a short distance, passing the kinds of houses you’d gladly murder someone for. Up here, away from the noise and dirt of the city, the air was purer and softer somehow. I was delighted to learn that the writer Lawrence Durrell had lived here in the mid 1950s, spending his days writing and drinking coffee in the cool, sea breeze. His house can still be seen, as can “The Tree of Idleness” mentioned in his book Bitter Lemons. While sitting in its shade, the locals had warned him, all thoughts of serious work would evaporate into idleness.

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Bellapais Abbey

Soon we reached the 13th century Bellapais Abbey, which was so heart-achingly beautiful I went into some sort of daze. At its centre stood a peaceful cloister, around which we paced reverently, gazing up at the four mighty cypress trees dominating its lush garth. Huge Roman sarcophagi of gleaming, chipped marble, once used by medieval holy men as gaudy sinks, added further, macabre decoration. The church was dark, sombre and (like any good Orthodox building) was filled with countless stern-looking icons of long-dead saints. Somewhere under the flagstones here were supposedly buried Lusignan kings and the aura of royalty was truly imbued in the very walls of the place. We clambered up narrow, crumbling staircases, descended into murky, vaulted undercrofts and gazed over Kyrenia and the endless sea from atop this clifftop paradise. I wandered alone into the Chapter House and perched where many holy rumps would have sat long ago, feeling a great sense of peace. We had been here less than half an hour and already I felt that I never wanted to leave. Bellapais (“The Abbey of Peace”) was perfection.

But in one moment it was ruined forever. My repose was shattered by the arrival of the odious Captain Birdseye. My eyes had been closed up until this point – lost in happy reflection –  but now they opened at the sound of this ogre’s arrival. He ignored me, parked his bum on top of a fallen column and let out the longest and most appalling fart I have ever heard. Not only this, he accompanied this rectal fanfare with a self-satisfied grunt. I was too stunned to even move and unwillingly witnessed several more short bursts emanate from him before quiet descended once more.  Either he wasn’t troubled by my appearance or he was totally oblivious to me. So there he sat, eyes closed and and delighted with himself as I made my escape.

Despite the unwelcome old man flatulence, I and everyone else was in high spirits following Bellapais. There was a feeling that maybe Tunç wasn’t such a bad guy after all and that getting up early had been well worth the trouble. Riding high on this success he should taken us somewhere of the same calibre, but instead we ended to another bloody warehouse. My heart began to sink as we crossed the mountains once more, back towards Nicosia and the (frankly) crapper part of the country. The little we had seen of Kyrenia so far had been a refreshing change from the dust and dereliction of the east coast, so to now be heading back that way filled me with a grim sense of foreboding. The Bellapais smiles pretty quickly turned to into barely concealed rage as Tunç revealed that, once again, we would be invited to empty our wallets inside a windowless retail dungeon.

Our destination this time was an enormous jewelry emporium, where we were shown around by a smarmy, suited salesman who tried and failed to charm us, despite the supposedly generous discounts on offer. We ended our tour in an enormous showroom bursting with emeralds, rubies, sapphires, diamonds and pretty much anything shiny and expensive. Here more greasy sales sharks waited to pounce, whispering in each other’s ears and pointing out the easiest targets. None of them came near us. I didn’t know whether to be relieved or offended by this as we headed swiftly for the exit. Here we found, like in the carpet warehouse, a cafe filled with more irate British and German tourists.

“The British don’t like being given the hard sell. Someone needs to tell them!” wailed a heavily perspiring, visibly shaken man. He had obviously been heavily mauled by the sharks and somehow had escaped with his life savings intact. He was not the only one: Brits and Germans alike shared stories of beating away the slimeballs inside and how this sort of thing really wouldn’t do. The few people that did emerge clutching purchases were regarded as traitors and roundly shunned by all.

Back on the bus the mood was toxic. Tunç kicked the wasps’s nest further by admonishing us for making so few purchases:

“Only one couple bought a carpet yesterday, and today only one of you bought jewels. You British people, you must buy something and help the North Cypriot economy, please!”

We were willing to help the economy, but not  fund the whole thing single handedly. He seemed to forget that this was a budget holiday and that we were mostly all from Yorkshire. Taking us to high end shopping outlets was only ever going to end in failure. It was at this time that we noticed Tunç had a “minder”, a big bloke who looked like a heavy from The Godfather, who was whispering into our tour leader’s ear. Tunç looked very uncomfortable at whatever he was saying. Perhaps he was under pressure from local mobsters to generate sales on these tours, and his failure to do so would mean him being tied up in a car boot and driven into the Med.  The Rebel Leader was loving this.

The bus was silent as we headed back over the mountains to Kyrenia,  apart from the frequent shouts of “asbestos!” from Captain Birdseye whenever we passed derelict buildings. I really did hate that man.

It was approaching lunchtime and everyone was starving. As our driver, Murat, negotiated the busy city streets, Tunç had good news and bad news: the good news was that we were going to another old ruin, Kyrenia Castle, after which we would have some free time; the bad news was that later we were going to another warehouse. I had expected mass hysteria at this announcement, but instead it was met with hard-faced, British stoicism. No one, the mood suggested, was going to spend a penny at whatever snake oil sale had been planned for us. Tunç seemed to turn pale at this realisation, while “The Minder” looked him in the eye and cracked his knuckles.

The sun was on fine form in Kyrenia as Tunç led us inside the imposing ruins of the 16th century castle, which is vast and still largely intact. The Venetians knew how to build their forts big and strong and this one commanded a fine view over the harbour and surrounding coastline. Ironically for such an impregnable building, inside it was a death-trap. Up on ramparts there were sudden, hidden drops and rickety old bridges that a breath of wind could have destroyed. I swear I saw a man fall into some sort of  deep, dark crevice. He’s probably still there. Maybe he ended up in the dungeon, which contained some of the most awful mannequins you will see anywhere – all bulgy eyes and bad wigs. Most of them were shown in various stages of torture, but the fact they were also naked was perhaps their most disturbing characteristic.

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Another tourist pays the price for not aiding the Northern Cypriot economy

The view of the harbour from the castle walls sold us on the idea of lunching down by the water. Here we ate a hearty meal, drank some beers, enjoyed the sun and generally felt that this topsy turvy trip had tipped in our favour once more.

We ran into Jill and Phil by the harbourside. They had heard a rumour that the afternoon warehouse visit was to some sort of leather emporium; others claimed it was a belt factory and one or two swore it was some sort of fashion show. Whatever it was we had little stomach for it. Sue and Mike had wisely found a taxi to ferry them back the short distance to the hotel. Why didn’t we think of that?

Back on the bus I had a nasty feeling I had spotted our destination earlier in the day. It was another huge, windowless building and, to make things more sinister, it had some sort of strange fashion manifesto in massive letters on one side of it. Presumably this was so that passing motorists could read it as they whizzed by, though its length and nauseating message could only have the effect of causing a major road accident:

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This alone should have had us hailing a taxi straightaway, but before we could protest we were again being marched inside by Tunç and the Minder. We found ourselves in a room with two tiers of seating and a long catwalk/stage. Uh oh. I made sure that we were sitting as far away from that bloody stage as humanly possible. We were sat next to Captain Birdseye and already he was going mental, but for once I couldn’t blame him. With the last of us inside and the door sealed shut a man walked onto the stage. He was in his 40s, wearing a blue tweed jacket and with silver hair tied in a ponytail. I bet his name was Bruno.

“Hi everybody! Welcome! My name is Bruno.”

Oh Jesus.

“Today we are going to put on a great show for you! We have some some beautiful, professional models at our company, who model our fantastic leather goods” he beamed. “Unfortunately they cannot be here today, so please be kind!”

What the…

The stage went dark, then aggressive hip hop blared from the speakers at an ear-bleeding volume. The stage was suddenly illuminated in a shade of garish red often seen in Amsterdam windows and a very nervous-looking woman tramped onto the stage. She was wearing a disgusting leather jacket, which she tried to display in a provocative manner by twirling it around, but succeeded only in looking like she was having a fit. Poor woman; Bruno must have enlisted members of office staff for this fashion show and it was obvious that her heart was not in it. Next a little old man hobbled out in another vile leather jacket. This one could be worn inside out, as a scarf, a thong, just about anything you wanted. It was difficult to see exactly what he was doing through the strobe lighting. Was this really happening? Even without the strobe I felt on the cusp of a seizure myself.

“Make it stop, please” I whispered to Lisa. She had tears in her eyes; Jill and Phil were open-mouthed; Captain Birdseye, unbelievably, was asleep and snoring happily.

The little old man returned in a 70’s football manager jacket with a woman on each arm, the rascal. He then beckoned a bloke from the front row, a friendly Scouser with whom I had exchanged a few jolly words with at the jewelry place. The old man dragged him up on stage, put the jacket on him and made him parade up and down with the other “models”. It was mortifying and exactly the reason why I had insisted we sit on the back row. By now Lisa was howling.

It went on and on and there seemed to be no end. Phil especially was vocal in his disapproval of the show:

“Now that is just bloody awful” he groaned as an enormous woman lurched onto the stage wearing an ill-fitting jacket. It got worse: next a shifty middle-aged man in shades appeared. Who was this guy?

“Please welcome our designer!” shouted Bruno.

All that I could think of at that moment was that this man should be ashamed of himself for  bringing us all here and creating this appalling spectacle. He tried to get the crowd going by starting one of those cringe-worthy, arm-swinging, hands-over-head claps, and we all meekly obeyed. More awful jackets followed, more bashful warehouse workers strutted and the more I hoped for someone to actually keel over dead and end this horror.

It did end, thankfully, and I got to my feet shakily. Inevitably we were all then shepherded into a sales room, but not before Lisa and I had a go on the stage ourselves once everyone had gone. A sales shark sniffed us out and aggressively pursued us as we looked in vain for the exit. Thankfully Lisa shot him down quickly and he begrudgingly showed us to the cafe. Others with no interest were likewise being shown the door in gruff manner. Tunç was crapping himself.

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We survivors gathered at the outside cafe and calmed ourselves with beers and coffee. Amazingly, five purchases were made by our group, and these chumps clutched their purchases in shame as they emerged from the exit. The earlier stoicism had somehow deserted these unhappy few and their shell-shocked faces spoke of regret and impending bankruptcy;  the cheapest jackets were going for around £500.

The only person with a smile on their face as we left was Tunç, who wouldn’t be getting shot in the knees this week at least. Perhaps he was on commission and had pocketed a share of the takings. He certainly seemed a lot happier all of a sudden, perhaps because he now had a few extra Lira to enjoy himself with, and boy did he do that…

 

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