FINALLY A REPORT ON THE VACATION/HONEYMOON.
Sorry, its been just nutty at work lately and I haven't until now had a chance to post anything about the trip. So here is a bit about Liz and I’s trip through Cyprus.
After a 2hour bus ride to Montreal, a 9 hour flight to Athens, and another 2 hour flight to Larnaka, Cyprus Liz and I retrieved our luggage (which was all there and not blown up like the last time I flew) retrieved some handy dandy maps at the tourist counter, retrieved our rental car and were off towards our beach front villa. Well our small beach front self-catered apartment.
The first thing you learn about Cyprus is that their motorways are only four lanes wide (two lanes going, two lanes going the other way) and there are not very many people on them. Its an easy drive from larnaka to governor’s beach where our place was. We met Avraam at the cross roads who gave us the keys and showed us where the house was. It was a nice place with a small porch and it was about 100 metres from the beach or less. Unfortunately there was not much else nearby except a few shops a 3 or 4 restaurants.
The following day we headed towards Limassol, a large tourist city. We stopped at the ruins of ancient amathous (which were really cool) and then on to Kilossi Castle which was a very utilitarian crusader castle. During the day we also got a bit lost, ended up a local flea market (where I found a british guy who made his own british pies), took a drive down the akitori peninsula to see the salt lake and the british military base and finished off with the Cyprus wine museum. Which was very boring.
Next day it was off to Ancient Kourion. This has to be one of the most regal and well kept roman/Byzantine cities in existence. The site was simply amazing. Fully formed baths (big ones too), a gymnasium, a massive basilica complex, theatre, and many other buildings. Really impressive. We went down to the beach took a quick swim, saw a few more ruins then enjoyed a nice supper.
On to Nicosia the famous capital of the island an the last divided capital city on earth. This was an experience. The old city is surrounded by massive Venetian walls and aside from a small very trendy tourist/shopping area in the heart of the old city there is not much there. However walking along the green line seeing houses with original bullet holes, UN posts, abandoned houses, the eerie buffer zone, and nice military men with machine guns waving hello, it was quite the experience. Before dinner we stopped at a Lebanese café for greek/Turkish/Arabic etc coffee and shisha. Then for a nice mean down one of the small alleys.
The city of Paphos was up next. This is an extremely tourist town but with lots of fun/cheesy shops and amenities that cater mainly to UK tourists. However Paphos also has the great ‘tombs of the kings’ which is an altogether super impressive site of about 12 underground tombs carved into rock. Picture petra, much much MUCH smaller, underground, and a tomb. It was very cool. There is also a former roman governor’s palace and associated buildings which contain breathtaking mosaics.
After doing yet more archaeology watching we chilled in town for a bit having some crepes, waffles, more coffee and fruit juices. Supper that night was a real treat! We went to George’s seven saint steven’s tavern or something like that. This guy George owns his own resto, grows his own produce and personally selects all the meats from local butchers. The only choice we had all night was ‘red or white’ for the wine. The supper is rotated regularly depending on what George has in stock. It was a delicious Meze (Cypriot Tapas with a main course).
We were sad to leave our little apartment on governor’s beach but it was time to move on. We headed for the mountains. Yes Cyprus has mountains tall enough for hail, fog, snow, and windstorms. We experienced them all including the hairpin turns etc. We did stop in a lovely little mountain village for lunch. It was so adaorable, cobbled streets, a monestary at the centre, tons of lace shops and just a nice small village feel.
At the very top of Cyprus, Troodos (less a town than a market outpost near a mountaintop national park) I purchase the best roasted nuts I’ve ever eaten in my life, along with Cypriot brandy which is very very good. Our stop for the night was Kakopetria another quaint mountain village. It was a bit of an odd place. Parts of it looked quite run down, others the perfect small market village town but across from the small shops and market was a massive outdoor patio (in better weather it is probably a carnival grounds and beer garden). There are also a slew of locally owned small restaurants that are VERY local. There is also a club/café/games parlour which looks very modern and trendy and would look more appropriate in London’s angel district than in a small Cypriot mountain village.
That night we stayed at the old mill. An absolutely lovely place that overlooks the town, has a great lobby and very very comfortable rooms. One of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had with a hotel too!
After our short repose at the mill it was off to the Turkish occupied north! The boarder was easy… reading roadsigns in Turkish… not so easy. I had to use 3 maps and a guidebook to find my way but find our way we did! First stop was an old roman villa on top of a very tall mountain with worse bends, narrower roads and fewer guardrails than we had yet experienced (but not as bad as what was to come!). The view was great but the ruins were poorly kept (thanks Turkey). There were also tons of bees at the top. I hate bees but they were very useful as at one point their constant buzzing just stopped. I said to liz “mmm the bees have stopped… is there a storm coming?” then I looked out over the mountains and the ocean and realized that is exactly what was coming! A massive rain and windstorm. So thanks to the bees we made it back to the car and down the mountain before the storm hit us with its full fury.
After about an hour of driving we had arrived at our destination. The small abbey hamlet of Bellapais. This place is only on the map because of the tourists who come to see the old abbey but it is a nice little place. Finding the hotel was a bit of an adventure between the lack of road signs, the barely wide enough to fit a small European car roads (I talking an inch on either side here!) it was a difficult hotel to find. So we parked the car at the central parking lot near the abbey and walked to our hotel.
It’s a small 2 room B&B run by an expat brit who used to be a flamenco dancer in spain. Liz and I took the studio, a small one bedroom cottage with a small kitchen and bathroom. It was great and came with cats. Seriously, the owner’s very sweet outdoor cats just walked right in made themselves comfortable and wanted us to show them some love. It was really cute. This studio also has the dubious honour of being one of the COLDEST/DAMPEST places I have ever slept. It was freezing! Liz and I made a fire in the fireplace (it was a big fire, very hot) and very little of the heat radiated into the room. Most of it went right up the chimney and much of the rest of the heat was absorbed by the hard stone walls. FREEZING! It also didn’t help that much like everywhere else in Cyprus the sheets were damp/moist. It wasn’t so much a problem in the larger hotels but most of the nice local ones had terribly moist/damp sheets and blankets.
That night was our meal with the most ambiance. We dined in the resto attached to the old abbey which was all lit up at night and we had the entire ‘Turkish Room’ to ourselves. A great little room with a fireplace (that did radiate heat), low tables, floor pillows etc.
Earlier that day we visited St. Hillaron Castle. Again roads narrower, bends sharper and inclines steeper than anywhere else so far. The castle however was something to behold! It was built on three vertical levels up the side of mountain top. Apparently walt Disney used it as his inspiration for the snow white castle although this can’t be confirmed. The place was just spectacular with a Byzantine chapel, royal apartments, lookouts etc. The views were spectacular.
The next day it was off to Kantara castle involving the worst roads and hair raising drive of the ENTIRE trip. The coast road was beautiful but unfinished. There were parts of the road where you had to share space with the construction vehicles currently BUILDING the road. Yes my friends, we were driving on a really really new road. So new that it was still being constructed. At one point it was just a path of mud, at another point the road eneded and we had to go around on grass and dirt. The real road picked up again later.
Then there was the road up to Kantara. This bloody road was about 1.75-2 metres wide, no guardrails at all (except for ditches, large rocks and trees) and twisted, wound, and inclined and angles that would scare a top gun fighter pilot! It was also not a simple terrifying drive up a mountain. Oh no! This drive went up mountain, along the tops of two others, over another, then back, then around, the up another mountain, then through the small village of Kantara, then up the mountain where the castle is continuing to twist and turn with no guard rails. NUTS!
The view of the island from the top of the mountain/castle was very impressive. It made the countryside below look like a topographical map you see at museums (mark remember the one Cartagena with the gay emerald merchange/tour guide? Same thing but real). The castle wasn’t all that spectacular but the view really was.
It was then another bloody awful drive down out of the mountains and on to our final destination of the day on the karpas peninsula.
At this point it is worth noting that our money was running low. There are not many bank machines in northern Cyprus (they only exist in 3 cities I found out later) and the money crunch was to mar what would otherwise have been one of the best parts of the trip. We arrived at our very special hotel on the Karpas. The Oasis at Affilon. It is a VERY basic 5 room hotel situated about 5 metres from an old abbey. The Oasis sits on its own private bay of crystal clear water and the lights get killed at 9pm (that is when the generator is switched off). You then must use the oil or electric lamp in your room until they go out. Its rustic, beautiful, relaxing and private.
The hotel is run by two brothers, or friends and they do whatever they can to make you feel comfortable. The menu at this place is pretty good but after paying for the room with most of the currency we had left we gave the brothers 5 euros, assorted Turkish lyra, and a few Cyprus pounds. This was enough to completely wipe out our money but gave us enough for 1 plate of food and salad each and a coke.
The next morning we awoke to sun shining on the bay making the water look even more blue. We opened the doors and let the fresh air in while admiring the view. We took breakfast on the patio and overlooked the bay again. The breakfast (typical for Cyprus) toast, halloumi cheese and tomatoes, was the best I had while in Cyprus and the sun and blue of the sky and the sea raised our (by this point very) poor spirits.
On the way to our next hotel, we stopped in at a small village on the karpas. Hidden in the midst of this very strung out town was the ruins of Agia Triada (sp?) an old basilica. Liz studied this when she was in school so she really loved it. While not well kept, and with mosaics that weren’t as impressive as others (paphos) but still impressive in their own right, there was more than anything else a presence about this place. More than almost any other ruin we visited. You could feel an energy here. It was a very special place and I hope to return some day.
Then it was on to Bogaz our jumping off point for Famagusta. This hotel was 3 stars. This means the lobby was clean and bright, THEY TOOK VISA! And you got a great sea view room. It also meant that they used salt water in the taps, there was no elevator, and the visa machine was often clogged so it took 2 days and about 20 tries to get my card to work. That said the sheets were dry and the beds very comfortable.
Famagusta is a neat little town. Venetian walls much larger and more complex than Nicosia, with about 7 cathedrals, basilicas etc that when the turks conquered they turned into mosques. Its also a lively university town with many budding trendy restos and shops. Outside of town we saw more tombs and an old bronze aged site that was mostly destroyed and probably not well kept enough to justify the cost.
We ate that night at a very typical local restaurant and it being Saturday there was a live band and many of the patrons (large family groups mainly) got up and danced and sang. It was great. The food was also magnificent and the Crab dish was just to drool over.
The next day we checked out of bogaz hotel, saw the old roman city of Salamis (this place was enormous). Horribly kept except for a few wall paintings but there was still much there. A modest sized amphitheatre an enormous gymnasium, two very large basilicas and an agora the size of 2 or 3 football fields. By far the largest I’ve ever seen.
After this it was back to the south and bank machines!. We crossed the border onto one of the many british bases (which allows through traffic). Then we drove through a large part of the UN buffer zone that cuts the island in half. It was pretty eerie since you’d have hard points, bunkers and machine gun nests on either side of the valley ridge, UN posts in the centre of the valley, and many many abandoned villages on either side of the road. Complete ghost towns!
We went back to limassol to see the carnival but we arrived too late. We did however wander around and see parts of the city we hadn’t seen the first time through. We also had an amazing supper at a south African run restaurant. Just phenomenal ribs, wine and whatever liz had.
The day after it was time to fly home. After a traditional English lunch at a Manx run resto, a few iced coffees and a visit for last minute tourist souvenirs (and a stop at the haagen daas shop) we were back to the airport for our flight home.
We had a 8 hour layover in Athens until the next morning. My friend panos was stuck in traffic and was unable to pick us up so we checked in to the outrageously priced airport sofitel and woke up for our return flight to Canada.
It was a great trip and tons of fun!