Cyprus is the third-largest island in the Mediterranean, sitting at the crossroads of three continents, attracting somewhere around 2.4 million vacationers per year. Hundreds of poker pros will be gracing the Mediterranean shores of Cyprus this month for the 2010 Merit Cyprus Classic. I was lucky enough to join them last year on a trip I’ve ranked as one of my favorite on my busy PokerNews schedule, so I’m here to fill you in on my tips and adventures before you head over for the return of the event next week.
The Important Stuff
- Language: English is widely spoken across the island, but Turkish is the main language in the northern Turkish-Cypriot community where the tournament is held.
- Currency: Turkish Lira is used in the north of the island. We were able to exchange our dollars hassle-free at the venue’s casino cage.
- Tipping: While tipping is always appreciated worldwide, a 10 percent service charge is applied in all hotels and restaurants, so you won’t be chased out the door if you don’t tip.
- Weather: Cyprus is in its heart of summer right now so prepare for dry Mediterranean heat. What more motivation do you need to wake up early everyday and jump in the ocean? The average sea temperature climbs up to around 27° C, so it may take some serious self-control to drag yourself out of the water and into the casino every day.
- Electricity: The power voltage across the entire island is 230 volts, so all you North Americans should save the appliance disaster and space in your luggage by leaving your blow dryer at home.
- Legal Age: You must be 18 to gamble in Cyprus, but if you’re 17 you’re free to slip in a few alcoholic drinks while watching your friends on the rail.
Without delving into a touchy subject, there is a strong division between the Greeks and Turks on the island of Cyprus. The international airport is located in the south of the island, occupied by the Greeks. To get to the venue in the north part of the island, you must cross the border into the Turkish occupied area. If the change of language on the road signs isn’t enough of a distinction from one side to the other, then perhaps the gigantic army barracks and heavily armed guards surrounding each side of the border is enough of an indication.
Foreigners can freely cross the border. If you have a taxi driving you through, the driver will assist you with passport control. If you’re considering hiring a car, however, be sure to rent the car from the south (at the airport), enabling you to drive it to the north. If you hire from the north, your insurance coverage will not allow you to drive it to the south.
The luxurious five-star Merit Crystal Cove Hotel & Casino sits on its own private beach in the north of the island, offering everything a poker player needs for their dream getaway, from all-inclusive buffet meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, traditional entertainment at night, crystal clear beaches, and of course, the Grand Casino Club. So if you happen to find yourself eliminated early, look at the bright side: you get to spend more time on the hotel's private beach with free (strong!) cocktails and a buffet feast by the water.
Check out last year's tour of the venue.
See the Sights
Although the resort has everything you need, if you can spare a day to drag yourself away from the beach, or the felt, you should take a 20-minute drive into the town of Kyrenia, surrounded by the calm Mediterranean Sea to the north and greenery of the Besparmak Mountain Range to the south, offering some of the best scenery on the island.
Within the town is a small harbor framed by the Kyrenia Castle, home to many historical artifacts and is the current resting place of the world’s oldest shipwreck. You can visit the harbor to relax and soak up the 6,000 years of history, have a bite to eat alongside all the yachts, or spend an afternoon shopping.
Into the Night
I’ve had quite a lot of Chinese meals in my day with such a strong Asian influence in Australia, but I can still easily claim that one of the best Chinese feasts I’ve ever had was in Cyprus atThe Dragon, located at the Rocks Hotel & Casino in central Kyrenia. If you don’t believe me, ask Gus Hansen and Huck Seed, who also dined there at the same time.
For some traditional food, hit up Niazi’s, one of the most popular restaurants in Kyrenia. It’s situated by the water and offers all sorts of food, but you’d be crazy not to order their trademark “Full Kebab,” with charcoal-grilled kebabs and accompanying Meze, a traditional Middle Eastern cuisine full of dipping sauces and breads. I walked out feeling six months pregnant.
For an after-dinner-digest, walk along the Kyrenia harbor through the night markets. It was here that I purchased some of my favorite jewelry, hung out with some stray dogs, and then stopped by one of the harborside bars for a nightcap and Hookahs.
Coverage of the 2010 Merit Cyprus Classic starts next week and the PokerNews Live Reporting Team will be bringing you all the action from the felt and as always follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute news.