by Emily Millett
While the newly appointed government of Cyprus struggles to save the island's economy with another bailout plan with the EU, deep in the heart of the tiny capital of Nicosia, a pulse still beats loud and strong. Pounding to the rhythm of determined non-conformity and anti-establishment nonchalance, this energy fuels the campaign for urban revitalization and cultural evolution, helping to make Nicosia a strangely unique yet rewarding city to uncover. Here are just a few local spots to get a taste of this rich city.
In Cyprus socializing is sport, from the small packs of old men sitting outside picturesque, Greek style café,s smoking pipes and sipping mud-thick coffee to the younger set who replace the pipes with organic tobacco roll-ups and insist on the more sophisticated blends from modern spots like Kala Kathoumena. Serving cold beer alongside hot and ice-cold coffee, the quaint, vine-covered nirvana gathers writers, poets and backgammon enthusiasts who come to while away long muggy afternoons and stay through the evening. Everything on the menu costs 3€ so order yourself a Zivanomelo (local Cyprus Zivania wine with honey) and kick back for an evening of serious people-watching.
There is something undeniably seductive about run-down old buildings. Through the grime of peeling paint, repossessed furniture and graffiti-adorned walls they almost glow with the tempting radiance of hip urban subculture. Perhaps it's this aura of ramshackle mystery that has helped New Division maintain its long-established position as one of Nicosia's most popular night spots. Ask any of the faithful clientele found propping up the bar, though, and they'll probably tell you it's the warm welcome, the wallet-friendly prices and the guarantee of great music that keep patrons coming back. Open every night, New Division is best on Fridays when the crowds come out in throngs to celebrate the weekend.
Berlin Wall II
In Nicosia locals and tourists alike are constantly embarking on a quest for the best Souvlakia. As the island's national dish, the race for Souvlakia stardom is a competitive one, yet the aptly named Berlin Wall II—located right on the infamous border that divides the city—outstrips fellow contestants in atmosphere, location and food quality. From the outside, Berlin Wall II may look like little more than a glorified shack, but it has earned itself institution-style status among the city's residents thanks to consistently excellent food served by an amiable staff. Order a mixed Souvlakia with Sheftalia, grilled mushrooms, Hallumi and a Greek salad.
Laiki Agora Farmers Market
The best way to truly absorb local Nicosia culture comes from a trip to the vibrantly Mediterranean Laika Agora market at the Oxi Roundabout on the walls of the old town. Each Wednesday and Saturday the bazaar comes alive with loudmouthed traders bellowing out their lowest prices in a constant cacophonous crusade to lure you towards their precariously balanced pyramids of fresh fruit and vegetables. Here is a rare glimpse into another facet of Cypriot culture, a rural village culture presided over by sun-weathered faces and mud-stained fingers, and oozing with a simple yet open-hearted hospitality.
A little haven of Zen-like peacefulness ideal for post-market recalibration, Utopia Shop welcomes visitors for lunch or tea among shelves of delightfully packaged, traditional Cypriot products. Wild honey, freshly pressed organic olive oil and a myriad of different herbs and spices are among the stuffs grown and sold by Dino and his Collectiva crew, who base their ethos around the idea of collaborative consciousness and raising community engagement and awareness. The little shop also provides a space for social and environmental activism by holding lectures, workshops, screenings, fairs and yoga lessons.
The Weaving Mill
Late afternoon sunshine streams in through the glass window-pane facade of The Weaving Mill, casting shadows over tiled floors and book-lined walls, warming age softened brown leather sofas and dancing through cigarette smoke curling up from forgotten ashtrays. The café bar, cultural center and occasional cinema carries an intrinsic charm matched by the magnetic charisma of the owner, Leonidas. An oasis of tranquil concentration for freelancers in search of inspiration during the day, the Weaving Mill becomes a hub of social activity at night, humming with the sounds of animated conversation and lively games of pool.
The Shoe Factory by the Pharos Arts Foundation
Located right next to the buffer zone, in a part of town whose current phase of revitalization seems to be driven by a new thirst for art and culture, The Shoe Factory is run by the Pharos Arts Foundation as a venue for unique performances, events and concerts. The space is worth visiting purely as a spectacular example of how the ubiquitous crumbling old buildings that populate Nicosia's old town can be so lovingly and artistically restored to surpass their former glory. Plus, the program of events deserves a serious look for the great taste and desire to engage wide and diversified audiences on which it's built. Keep an eye out for the free documentary screenings on Wednesday nights.
Images by Emily Millett