Driving around the island with the Med as our backdrop
06.03.2010 - 20.03.2010 20 °C
Cyprus, Cyprus, Cyprus... What a sunny and aquamarine island thee is. We landed in Larnaca airport very early in the morning after a 45-minute flight from Beirut (a 45-minute flight that we had to get up at 4:30am for.. painful!). We arrived at our waterfront hotel, which we'd booked via email, and were pleased to encounter a spacious room with a balcony, kitchen and good views of the water. The "but"? The whole hotel was in the process of being swathed in building mesh and scaffolding for exterior maintenance. We still had a view, albeit a meshy one. Jac managed to haggle the rate down 15% as a result, but we were secretly pleased to have a kitchen to make our own food in. Steak! Pasta! Chalky's Mexican Chicken! After three terrific months in the Middle East, we'd unfortnately grown tired of rotisserie chicken, skewered meat, flatbread and a lack of vegetables.
We chilled out in Larnaca for five days, wandered the town and seafront and practised our meagre Greek. We also ummed and ahhed over whether to buy some of the many huge shells on sale and subsequently encourage the destruction of our world's waters for the sake of our mantlepieces (but hey, it turns out the EU has recently banned any more shell dredging so we're just getting rid of old stock!). We spent a lot of time in a Greek Cypriot restaurant adjacent to our hotel, as we discovered that after scaffolding prep comes drilling. A lot of hours of very noisy drilling. However it gave us plenty of time to catch up on our very-overdue blog and also sample many European wines. Including one, "Oneipa", which was a wallet-saving €1.80, and a tasty wee number considering its grape variety went unmentioned except to say it was the "Product of several EU countries". Hmmmm, liquid left over in the catch-pan from numerous wine-producers all over Europe, all collected, combined and bottled especially for hard-up afficionados like us!
We decided to hire a car and drive around the Greek south, as the entire island was only about 300kms wide (if that) in the south. Also they drove on the 'correct' side of the road, which was a bonus. We decided to drive to Lemmasos, which was only about an hour away. We drove the slower, scenic coastal roads rather than the highway, and tried to veer off several times to the beachfront, but a lot of the turn-offs were to residential areas only. Lemassos was a little bigger than Larnaca, a little less charming in our opinion, and very tourist-orientated. Still, the walk along the waterfront was pleasant, with the grass verges hosting art structures. And the town also had a café with the best salads we've ever had.
Next was Paphos, but on the way we stopped at Aphrodite's beach, which was stunning, with clear water and smooth pebbles all shades of grey and eggshell white. Not far away was Paphos itself, which our guidebook described a bit like "...being in Britian although it only got sunnier". Which... was a pretty harsh (if kind of truthful) critique! Actually the three towns we visited were pretty touristy and catered to British tastes, with English breakfasts; fish and chips with mushy peas; and Guinness advertised - fair enough given it's one of the playground of vacationing Brits. Still, the beautiful harbours, buzzing boardwalk and gorgeous shoreline more than made up for it! Paphos had hosted some Roman ruins and also the remains of a castle. Both of which we struggled to rouse interest for, given the sights we'd seen in the Middle East (!) so we spent our time doing long walks along the water.
We decided to drive to the mountainous region Troodos, which pretty much in the centre of island and hosts several UNESCO World Heritage Byzantine churches. These churches were built between the 11th and 15th centuries, as a result of the repression and discrimination of the Orthodox Greek Cypriots by the French Catholic Lusignan dynasty. Tired of paying homage to a Latin Catholic administration, Greek clerics, along with artisans and builders, quietly retreated to the mountains and built private churches. The churches are remarkable for their frescoed interior, which are apparently unique in their clarity, detail and preservation of their colours. Some frescoes resemble ecclesiastical cartoon strips, to perhaps teach illiterate peasants of the time the rudiments of the gospels.
The drive up to Troodos was fairly easy, although long and windy, however once in the region it turned a little rough for our little hatchback. The peak of Troodos itself resembles an alpine village, and Mount Olympus can be spotted, if only by the giant golf-ball-shaped sattelite that sits atop. We only managed to visit two churches, as they were fairly spread out and the routes weren't direct between each. Oh and also because the one that we drove two hours to reach was closed, which Jac had failed to read in the guidebook! The first church we saw was Archangelos Mihail church, in the village of Pedoulas (which coincidentally was on the other side of the mountain to the closed one). It was more of a small barn than a church, and had a large, steeply-inclined gabled roof, which was meant to adapt to heavy snow. Inside, the richly-painted frescoes showed the Archangel Michael, the sacrifice of Abraham and a unique baptism scene where a naked Christ emerges from the River Jordan, with fish swimming at his feet.
The second church we visited was Panagia Forviotissa (also known as Asinou), which like Archangelos Mihail, was built in the 1400s, but interestingly, contain frescoes that span several artistic generations. Unfortunately the caretaker wouldn't allow photos (but Jac sneakily snapped a few) and we couldn't stay long, as a huge coach-full of German tourists arrived and flooded the tiny church. So after about 8 hours of driving (we kid you not!) we only saw two churches for an average of 10 minutes each, but it was so worth the effort.
All up we were in southern Cyprus for a very chilled out fortnight. We had a lot of time up our sleeve, as we had a good three weeks before we had to be in Istanbul to meet up with Jac's friend Lisa, who was joining us from London for two weeks. We returned to Larnaca after Paphos to return the car before heading to the Turkish North.
Giant clam dredged up for sale
Agios Lazaros Church, built over the tomb of Lazarus
The view from our hotel room, before the scaffolding reached our side of the building (insert deafening drilling noises here)
A local fishing boat
Near the harbour
Stony beach on the way to Lemmasos
Chalky along the waterfront
Lemmasos' art along the waterfront parks
Taxis in Cyprus are unlike ones at home
The best salad in the world!
En route to Aphrodite's beach
Chalky and the Med
The beautifully clear Med
Aphrodite's beach from above
The scenic stony beach
Us on the beach
Road hazard ahead!
Driving up and up to Cyprus' tallest point
Archangelos Mihail church
Interesting baptism scene with Christ emerging out of River Jordan
Panagia Forviotissa (Asinou)
Cheesy driving photo
Old olive groves alongside the highway
Epsilon Xi Omicron...
Our time in Cyprus wasn't a particularly dry one...
Ouzo kept right next to the pure alcohol
Oneipa wine... the product of 'several EU countries'
Raising a glass for St Paddy's day
Chalky tackles the one litre monster (back up beer in hand)
Jac manages to mix ice cream sundae and house white
Blogging with the help of some ouzo