When did the 2000 millennium begin? Officially, the new millennium began at zero hour, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), also referred to as Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), on January 1, 2001. However worldwide celebrations began at midnight on January 1, 2000. Samoa, Tonga and Kiritimati (Christmas Island), part of Kiribati, were the first places to welcome the new millennium. There was universal concern about a Y2K bug, also called Year 2000 Bug or Millennium Bug. A problem in the coding of computerized systems was projected to create havoc in computers and computer networks around the world. Fortunately, the Y2K bug never manifested because the world had prepped for the occasion.
I remember my millennium celebration very well. Working with Pyxis, a company that automated medication distribution, all officers were required to work to troubleshoot customer computer problems as the millennium moved around the world time zones. So while my friends were ringing in the new millennium, I was working to solve problems that never happened. Was I annoyed..no way.. because my retirement was two weeks away and my husband, Charlie, and I had leased our home and planned eight months of travel with no itinerary. The only reservations were our flights to London and a 90-day car rental to be picked up in Amsterdam and returned in Madrid.
With one carry-on bag that allowed us to easily maneuver trains, planes, buses, ferries, we headed out on our adventure to celebrate my retirement. Our travels included Europe, Mediterranean, and Northern Africa.
In this message I will share with you my experiences in Cyprus, Republic and Cyprus, Turkish Federal State, or commonly referred to as Southern and Northern Cyprus. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriot community declared independence and formed the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey. The United Nations resolutions have declared its independence legally invalid and maintains a buffer zone (the “Green Line”) separating the southern areas of the Republic of Cyprus, from the northern Turkish areas.
Three months into our trip while enjoying the beautiful coastal town, Limassol, Southern Cyprus, we learned Charlie was needed back in the states because his sister was not well. The decision was, he would return to the states, I would continue to travel independently, and he would join me as soon as possible. After saying goodbye to Charlie at Limassol Airport, my goal was to cross into Northern Cyprus. Immediately I learned the hatred between the Southern and Northern Cypriots. Locals asked me not to go to the North and not to support the economy there. It was impossible to get information on bus schedules going north. By chance I met a lady from Switzerland who was taking the bus to the capital, Nicosia, which is near the border. We sat together and she shared information on getting into Northern Cyprus. “Simply follow the main road until you reach the border station, show your passport, get a one-day visa and return by 7 pm the same day.”
Confidently I was on my way, following what I thought was the major road north. Suddenly I was approached by a UN guard in the green line and asked why I was there. I had taken the wrong road. After harsh reprimand I was told I was not allowed in the area and to return to Nicosia. By chance I saw my Switzerland friend and she pointed me in the right direction. Approaching the border I was confronted by the widows and mothers of Greek soldiers pleading with me not to go into Northern Cyprus. Continuing on with a sad heart, I passed through customs. The devastation was disheartening. Greek churches, monasteries, graveyards and other monuments suffered much destruction as a result of looting or neglect. Many had been converted to military storage facilities, stables and nightclubs. Homes were in disrepair, the small number of businesses on the main street had little inventory, and few people were on the streets. There seemed an atmosphere of abandonment. It was time to return before the 7 pm curfew. Crossing the border, Cyprus was suddenly alive once again. Brightly painted houses lined the street, children laughed and played and neighbors gathered together on front porches. It was a different world, and I had accomplished my goal of seeing Northern Cyprus and getting a new passport stamp and TCC country.
In Nicosia, I boarded the afternoon bus to return to Limassol and there was my new friend from Switzerland. We shared our day’s adventures, and I learned she was the houseguest of the Director of the Department of Antiquities in Southern Cyprus. A big party was being held at his home that evening and she would ask if I could be invited. Shortly after arriving at my hotel I received a call from the Director inviting me and indicating he and his Switzerland houseguest would pick me up. The evening was true delight discussing the archaeological records and sites in Cyprus and meeting the Director’s family and guests. I was invited to join the Director and his houseguest the following day for a private tour of sites not yet open to the public. It was a bit euphoric following him as he unlocked gates to excavations only accessible to him and his staff.
Traveling independently for the next six weeks, I enjoyed hostel life in Tel Aviv, almost accepting a job in the bakery across the street, a terrifying bus ride from Tel Aviv to Cairo crossing the Gaza Strip, a Nile cruise, and the slower, cheaper ferry from Nuweiba, Egypt to Aqaba, Jordan.
Meanwhile Charlie’s sister’s health improved and we planned to meet in Tel Aviv. I arrived at the airport with a big, new smile; I was missing half of a front tooth, victim of an unexpected date pit. We were excited to continue our travels together and one of the first comments from Charlie after being horrified by my tooth. “I cannot believe you went to Northern Cyprus without me, and I cannot believe you almost worked at a Tel Aviv bakery!”
Footnote: At the end of our 8-month travels the last stop was…you guessed it…. Northern Cyprus.
“If you so choose, even the unexpected setbacks can bring new and positive possibilities. If you so choose, you can find value and fulfillment in every circumstance.”
– Ralph Marston