A glance at the map of Cyprus will reveal that it is split into two areas: the Republic of Cyprus occupies the southern half of the island whilst the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus occupies the north. I'm not going to get into the politics of the division: it's been the case for over 40 years now, had a long history before that and despite ongoing talks, is likely to be the situation for the foreseeable future.
Our villa is in the Turkish north but we regularly have trips into the southern "Greek" side and the presence of the two cultures offers a unique interest to a visit to Cyprus. The border is open and can be crossed at 4 or 5 different places. For citizens of the EU, the process is completely straightforward and a brief pause for passport stamping is all that is required. If you are taking your hire car from the north to the south, you need to buy an extra insurance at the border in one of the booths there. It costs about 25 euro for 30 days cover.
The southern part of the island is very Greek in style, uses the euro and is quite heavily developed in places hosting popular resort towns like Limassol, Paphos, Agia Napa, very popular with European package holidaymakers. It also contains the beautiful Troodos area where traditional villages and monasteries exist in a manner unchanged for centuries. There are also wonderful ancient sites to visit reflecting the island's Roman and Greek past.
The northern part of the island is far less developed and is reminiscent of the Mediterranean twenty or thirty years ago. It has a traditional Cypriot culture overlaid with a Turkish influence. It has to be said that the Turkish Cypriots are very relaxed in their religious beliefs and no one need worry that normal holiday activities will be frowned upon. The currency is the New Turkish Lira (YTL) and this means most items are cheap in comparison to the Euro zone. The northern sector contains the jewel of Kyrenia, one of the most beautiful harbour towns in the Mediterranean, plus the walled city of Famagusta and the natural wilderness of the Karpaz.
The two societies meet in the divided city of Nicosia (Lefkosa or Lefkosia) which is divided by the Green Mile. There are car and pedestrian border crossings here and the one most holidaymakers use is the Leda Gate which divides the "town centre" area of the city. Nowhere is the difference more perfectly illustrated. On the Turkish side, the old golden city remains, hosting quiet squares, a traditional market and a bustling bazaar area. On the Greek side, you emerge fro the crossing into a high street that resembles those found throughout the UK complete with Debenhams, McDonalds, Starbucks and Mango. In the streets behind Leda Street is a warren of small side streets hosting tavernas offering traditional Greek Cypriot food.
So, enjoy the difference as we do. Most ordinary Cypriots regret the division but on the other hand seem in no hurry to make the compromises that would be necessary to achieve re-integration. In the meantime they and holidaymakers alike move back and forth in a manner that has been normalised by the passage of time.