Had Five Minutes to Leave When Turkey Invaded 

May 28, 2024

In this episode, I delve into the captivating tale of Varosha, a once-thriving tourist hotspot on the northern coast of Cyprus, now an eerie ghost town frozen in time since 1974. Elina, a proud Cypriot, shares her personal experiences of fleeing Varosha as a young girl, given only five minutes to pack before the Turkish military invasion that divided the island.

Welcome back to Cyprus and my walk and talk with Elina. She’s a proud Cypriot with a deep understand and love for her country and its people on both sides of the Green Line – the border and buffer zone that divides this island.  

We’re going to be talking about when she was four and the Turkish army invaded, and their family only had five minutes to pack and leave their home on the coast of Northern Cyprus – never to return. Varosha is now a ghost town – having been abandoned for 50 years.  

But we’re starting inside the buffer zone heading towards the border control and entering The Republic of Cyprus.  

She’s a proud Cypriot with a deep understand and love for her country and its people on both sides of the Green Line


Please spend five minutes taking a the survey – tell me a bit about who you are and what you would like more or less on here on The Radio Vagabond.


Cyprus is full of fruit trees. Elina tells me that she never had to buy lemons

As we get to the Greek side, we pass the parking lot where my rental car is parked. And we meet Mr. Bambos who is head of the people looking after the cars. 

Had Five Minutes to Pack when Turkey Invaded 

During my walk and talk with Elina, we started talking about the city of Varosha on the eastern coast of Northern Cyprus where she lived with her family when she was a little girl. It’s like a snapshot frozen in time from 1974.  

Varosha on the eastern coast of Northern Cyprus is now a ghost town.

Back then, it was the place to be – think bustling streets, swanky hotels, and beaches packed with tourists soaking up the sun. It was basically the holiday hotspot of Cyprus, drawing in everyone from movie stars to regular people looking for a little luxury. But then, in 1974, things took a dramatic turn. After a coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece, Turkey invaded the north of the island. Everyone in Varosha, ran for their lives, leaving everything behind.  

The Turkish army sealed off Varosha, and no one’s been allowed back in since. Imagine leaving your house one day and never returning – your coffee cup still on the table, and your book left open on the last page you read. If you look for it on Google Maps, it’s called “Ghost Town Palm Beach.” 

Even though Elina was only four years old when they had to flee, she still remembers a lot. 

Varosha is Now a Ghost Town  

The once glamorous hotels are crumbling, nature’s taking over the abandoned shops, and the beaches are eerily empty. It’s off-limits, guarded by the military, and stepping into Varosha is like walking into a movie set where everyone suddenly disappeared. As Elina describes it: 

“This place has been closed for almost 50 years. So, when the borders opened in 2003, unfortunately that area of Varosha, it’s called Varosha, it’s within the Famagusta area, was actually closed.”  

Despite being a relic, Varosha hasn’t been forgotten. It’s often brought up in talks about resolving Cyprus’s ongoing conflict, but reopening it is a touchy subject that sparks a lot of debates. Elina cautions that you should be respectful: 

“You always have to keep account that when you go there, it is not a film set and it is not a theme park. This is where people lived.  

It stands as a reminder of what once was and what could have been, all wrapped up in an overgrown beach town that time forgot. 

Imagine leaving everything behind and just leaving

“I can clearly hear today that knock on the door where it was our neighbours who knocked on the door and they said you have five minutes to pack, we need to leave,” 

Elina recalls from when she was just 4 years old. It’s something that reminds us about what the Ukrainian people must be going through. 

Visiting Varosha 50 Years Later  

As of recently, parts of Varosha have started to be opened to the public by the Turkish Cypriot authorities, and that’s a major change since it was sealed off in 1974. But the majority of the area is still under military control and is not accessible. The opening has been met with international criticism, especially from the Republic of Cyprus and the United Nations, who feel that the decision violates agreements and UN resolutions regarding the status of Varosha. Now it’s possible to go to a small portion of the beachfront and some streets, but the core of the ghost town, where the abandoned buildings and overgrown avenues lie, is still off-limits.  

“And this is what makes it even harder because you’re not allowed to go inside. Nobody’s allowed.  

I didn’t go over there – but if you do, it’s important to be aware of these restrictions and to respect the legal boundaries that are in place, as the area is still a sensitive and politically charged topic. So, if planning a visit, it’s best to stay informed about the current status and any changes in access rights to Varosha. 

Want to Learn More? 

Here are two interesting videos about Varosha and the conflict in Turkey in general –from two of my favourite YouTubers, Johnny Harris, and “Yes Theory” 

Johnny Harris: This Ghost Town was Sealed for 50 Years 

Yes Theory: Inside the World’s Most Luxurious Abandoned City (never seen before) 

Smuggling Hendrix  

Elina recommends a movie called “Smuggling Hendrix.” It’s a comedic film from 2018, set right here in Nicosia, and revolves around Yiannis, a down-on-his-luck musician planning to leave Cyprus for a fresh start in the Netherlands. But his plans are hilariously disrupted when his dog, Hendrix, escapes and runs across the buffer zone into the Turkish-controlled side of Cyprus. 

Nicosia is full of cosy shopping streets

Desperate to retrieve his beloved pet, Yiannis finds himself navigating the complex, often absurd realities of the political division of Cyprus. As he tries to smuggle Hendrix back to the Greek side, he gets help of a motley crew including a Turkish settler, and a Greek Cypriot who has his own reasons for crossing the border.  

Throughout the film, the characters face a bunch of comedic situations that highlight the absurdity of the political and cultural barriers that divide the island.  

The movie uses humour to explore themes of belonging, identity, and the silliness of bureaucratic divisions, making it not only funny but also a thoughtful commentary on the Cypriot geopolitical situation.  

As we’re walking, I notice some migrants with small tents against the wall of the buffer zone. I sit down on the ground with two of them. It’s Efte and Abdul from Somalia. They are here in hope of finding a better life than the one they had in Somalia. So far, it’s not going well. Now they are homeless, just waiting for a solution.  

The meeting with the Somalia guys and a picture of Pope Francis reminds Elina of a story.  

It was such a pleasure walking and talking with Elina. She had so many great stories and we talked for hours and hours, so I could have made these episodes much longer. But that’s what we have time for, and I hope you found it both entertaining and maybe even a bit educational.  


If you like it, it would be great if you told a friend. It’s kind of a win-win for both of us. I get a new listener, and you get a thank you for giving your friend a good tip.  

Again, thanks to Elina from WalkTalkCyprus.com for taking the time to go for this walk with me. Find the links on where to find her in the episode notes and on theradiovagabond.com – where you can also see pictures and videos.


On Saturday, I have a different and special Vagabond Shorts for you – it’s one of those ten-minute episodes that you’ll get both as a podcast and a YouTube video.  

In that one we’re taking a look at the top 7 adrenalin filled adventures in Asia. I’ve done a few of them myself, so if you want to see and hear me scream … look forward to Saturday’s episode. Flashback Friday is from when I visited cities in China with one of my kids: Hong Kong, Ningbo, Shanghai, and Beijing. Plus, a Forbidden City. And next Tuesday we will be back in USA.  

My name is Palle Bo, and I gotta keep moving. See you.


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