Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Mountains

We hired a car for a few days and spent a day in the Troodos Mountains which was really lovely.  We drove over Mount Olympus to Kakopetria and there was plenty of snow up there.  There were children with sledges having a wonderful time zooming down the slopes and the ski lift was operational.  The roads have improved vastly and the driving was very easy.

Kakopetria is a really pretty village, much larger than I remember, with a river running through the middle.  We enjoyed a coffee sitting on an outside balcony watching the river run below us and seeing a waterfall at the far end.   Just as we were getting ready to leave the village the morning service finished and lots of families swarmed all over the street dressed in Sunday best.   For a large village the church looked huge, as though it would accommodate a couple of thousand worshippers.  There were several restaurants getting ready for lunch, one had dozens of chickens rotating on spits and another had a whole lamb turning and being brushed with oil using a rosemary branch as a brush.  The smells were incredible. 

We then drove over the western side of the mountains, hairpin bends and fabulous sights at every turn of the road.  We drove through the wine growing area but since it was Sunday all the tasting places were closed so I never got the chance to try different wines.  We came off the main road and headed for Kolossi since we wanted to see the castle again.  The cafe just outside the entrance to the castle looked a good spot for another drink so I ordered orange juice.  The waiter walked across to the orange grove by the side, picked a few oranges and squeezed them for me.  Quite possibly the freshest orange juice I have ever had.  He brought me a large separate glass filled with ice cubes so I could chill and dilute to my satisfaction, earning a rather large tip in the process.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Kyrenia and The North

It is now possible to visit the north of Cyprus so we took advantage of an organised full day tour, being taken by coach.  We stopped at the border in Nicosia and two Turkish officials boarded the coach and checked all our passports, one of them remaining on the bus and accompanying us all day.

We then drove over the mountains to Belapais where we had a stop for an hour or so and the opportunity to visit the Abbey and get a drink.  The Abbey was a bit of a ruin but there was some lovely fan vaulting and superb views down to the sea.  We ordered a couple of drinks at a cafe by the Abbey entrance, these were accompanied by glasses of chilled water and packets of chocolate biscuits - all for the princely sum of three euros.  The North is much better value than the South and they accept euros and sterling as well as Turkish Lira which is their currency.

I had always wanted to see Kyrenia harbour, I read about it in a book as a teenager and it was described as the most beautiful harbour in the Mediterranean.  I am not arguing with that and I have been to Venice.  There were lots of boats in the harbour, some of them really old but quite a few gin palaces too.  The harbour is surrounded by little cafes and we had a lovely lunch with wine which came in at twenty one euros including tip.  The sun was shining and the view magnificent.  We were even entertained by several begging cats. 

The castle at Kyrenia is well worth a visit, lots of history and a wonderful exhibition of an ancient shipwrecked boat and all the contents.  The Cypriot equivalent of the Mary Rose I think.  The views from the top are absolutely stunning - with binoculars on a clear day Turkey can be seen but there was a bit of a heat haze when we were there so we missed that.

We then had half an hour to mooch around the town centre before returning to the coach so I had a lovely time in a Turkish Delight shop and found a couple of different brandies from the Turkish side to take back to make brandy sours.  Turkey is not in the EU so we were warned about only duty free allowances being taken back - the brandy was within our joint allowance.

All in all a really lovely day.

Thursday, 12 April 2012


I went to Nicosia on the green bus from Limassol which had a bus stop by our hotel.  The bus ride itself is quite an adventure.  The bus was a mini bus with seats for twenty passengers and starts down at the New Port and picks up at four stops in Limassol and then takes about an hour to get to Nicosia, stopping at a couple of places on the outskirts.  The bus was fairly crowded when I got on and the fare was seven euros return so it must be subsidised in some way.  Two of the main stops in Nicosia are the hospital and IKEA and about half the passengers got off at them.

Nicosia was just as lovely as I remembered.  I spent a couple of hours wandering around the back streets and then set off for Famagusta gate intending to take in the market on the way.  The market was fabulous, no proper stalls as such, people had come in from the villages with their produce and it was displayed on upturned milk crates.  One woman had about twenty different types of green leaves, all beautifully cleaned and bunched.  All the bunches were one euro each and she had maybe two or three of each type and since I got there fairly late she could have started with considerably more.  There was one chap selling his olive oil, all bottled up in anything he could find.  There were Keo brandy bottles, plastic water bottles and lots of small plastic Coke bottles.  Another woman had live chickens and was wringing necks to order.  This is exactly my type of market and I absolutely loved it.  It made me long for a kitchen to play in instead of being fed (wonderfully) in a hotel.

I went up to the top floor of Debenhams for a drink in the cafe and the views were stupendous.  The sight of the Turkish side of Nicosia means that there is a ban on photography from the restaurant but the views are engraved on my brain.  I had a little mooch in the foodhall in Debenhams and they were selling Wyke Farms cheddar cheese at eighteen euros a kilo - about three times the price in UK - and that was the best cheddar they had.  I can imagine the expat community being very grateful for any sort of cheddar despite all the lovely local Cypriot cheeses displayed.

When I went to catch the bus back I found quite a queue waiting - some dozen or so black young men who I thought might be students.  I could not understand the language they were speaking so have no idea of their nationality and when the bus came they more or less stormed on taking up more than half the bus.  I got on but at least half a dozen people were left in Nicosia to wait two hours for the next bus, they were not happy and harangued the poor bus driver.  The driver was incredibly polite and stopped at the bus stops on the outskirts of Nicosia to explain that he was full up and could not take any of the waiting passengers.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Changes in Cyprus

There have been many changes in Cyprus since I was last there (30 years ago) and not all of them are for the better.

When we were at AyNic (one of the British Sovereign Bases) we used to go down to a lovely little fishing village called Ayai Napa at the weekends sometime.  There was a beautiful little monastery and a fishing cove with half a dozen restaurants selling wonderful meze meals - no choice, you just sat down and were served what they wanted to feed you and it was always delicious.  We had a hire car for a few days and went across there to have a look around and refresh our wonderful memories.  I almost cried, I did not even stop the car, just turned round and drove all the way back.  It is absolutely horrid, a mass of bright plastic hoardings - a bit like Blackpool but without the class.  The monastery is still there but it has been built all around and is now hemmed in by all the development.

Another thing which struck me was how expensive Cyprus has become.  I think I noticed it particularly since it is our third island holiday this year and much, much, more expensive than the others.   A simple one course meal for two of us with a glass of wine, a coke and a coffee cost around fifty euros and with practical parity that is about forty six pounds. 

Cyprus is a very beautiful island and there seem to be a lot of immigrants.  Lots of Russians who are obviously very well heeled since they drive incredibly expensive vehicles and wear loads of bling.  A Cypriot friend tipped me off about Sunday afternoons in Limassol Sculpture Park when the island's Sri Lankan community all meet up for a big picnic.  The Sunday I went down to have a look was also the day of the Cyprus Marathon so there were hordes of people there.  The Sri Lankans were pretty evident because of their dark skins and delicious smelling foods and there were a lot of them.  Over a thousand at a rough guess.  Apparently they get special seven year visas to come into the EU and work on the land in Cyprus.  They are not very well paid and send most of their earnings back to their families.  There were also a lot of Filipino faces around.  Another Cypriot friend has organised a Filipino maid/companion for her mother and even though it is not very well paid she received over a hundred applicants for the job - all Filipino.

When last in Cyprus houses never seemed to get finished being built.  I recall that until the roof was finished no local taxes were payable even if the property was being lived in.  These days the roofs are all finished and have large white tanks and solar panels on them.  Apparently 99% of the hot water in Cyprus is provided via solar means and the roof needs to be finished for the tank to be fitted.  It would appear that the cost of the taxes is offset by the "free" hot water.  There are also lots of satellite dishes which were never there in the early 80's.

There are a lot of "Supermarkets" in Cyprus.  Most of them are like little corner shops and sell an incredible variety of goods.  There may only be one or two of each item on the shelf but most needs can be met.  The shops will try and provide anything needed - you only have to ask.  That was something which had not changed a bit - the general willingness of people to anticipate every need and to cheerfully offer suggestions of alternatives when necessary.  The lovely sunny nature of most of the people I had dealings with was very evident.

Monday, 9 April 2012


I had chosen to stay in Limassol because of its location - everywhere I wanted to go to was easily reachable.  Our hotel was on the very outskirts but there is a fantastic bus service which covers a loop from St Raphael all the way to the New Port and just goes round in circles at fifteen minute intervals.  A day pass to hop on and off the bus cost only two euros so it was very cheap - much cheaper than paying for parking in Limassol.  A real bonus was that the bus stops at Lidl near the new port so on our way home after a day in town we would just jump on the bus to Lidl, procure consumables and then go straight back for the bus to the hotel.  We had a little fridge in our room which was really good for fresh milk for tea and an ice machine on the corridor to fill the ice bucket and put a bottle of  something white in to chill.

The old town is delightful.  There is a bit of a building site in that a new marina is being built in the Old Port area so that area was very dusty and dirty but there were quiet spots everywhere.  The pavements and streets in the old town were being relaid and repaved which caused a bit of a problem at times but the area is fairly compact so it was simply a case of turning back and finding another way to where I wanted to go.

There is a central market which was a bit too clean and tidy for my liking - no chaos anywhere.  The area around the market is really interesting too, I found a lovely hardware shop and browsed for ages and there is a square with a dozen cafes opening on to it so plenty of choice for a snack or a meal.  There are caged canaries hung up all around the market square and serenading musicians with a begging tambourine in hand.  The atmosphere is very Mediterranean - which is a bit obvious to state but it simply was.

Some of the architecture is really interesting, a lovely Art Deco town hall and a Colonial style building with much wrought iron work houses part of the University.   The Cathedral is lovely and for the first time ever I went in a mosque.  I had to remove my shoes and wear an all covering robe over my clothes to go into the mosque but am really glad I did.  Limassol Castle contains an amazing collection of artefacts, including some carvings of what I think of as the Maltese Cross which were 5th century so predate the Crusaders by a good few centuries.  There are wonderful views from the top of the castle so it is well worth climbing all the stairs.

I really liked Limassol.  It is a genuine living and working town and does not close down in the off season, unlike a lot of the more popular holiday areas.

Shopping in Cyprus

We went to Cyprus with the firm intention of looking at spectacles with a view to replacing them for both of us.  From memory Cyprus was considerably cheaper than UK but since spectacle provision has much improved in England over the past thirty years we were not convinced that it would still be so.  However, the quotes in Cyprus for very stylish spectacles was around a hundred pounds cheaper for each of us so we went ahead and bought them.  They are most comfortable after a little adjustment.

The other thing that Cyprus was good for was leather goods and since I was in need of a new handbag I carefully perused all the sops wherever we happened to be.  I came across the perfect bag in Limassol and at E22 for a good quality leather bag consider it an absolute bargain.  The husband picked up a couple of good leather belts for E5 each so he was pleased too.