Cyprus 2010

Travelling while listening to CBC and BBC podcasts makes about as much sense as the average game of Scrabble/Upword – weird words that are esoteric: travelling informs, peak oil is near; relating to people is uniting, too many ecotourists destroy their destination; existentialism and scepticism (philosophy and logic downloads) versus British political comedy. Or was that just the Global News? And I’m loving it all.  

En route I spent an afternoon walking around central Luxembourg city — lovely, and I visited the municipal art gallery where Roman mosaics challenged early Picasso and Gauguin, and later, two glasses of excellent beer prior to boarding the bus to Saarbrucken, Germany. My fleeting impressions were that much of Europe is under flight paths and has become multicultural with the young people, thankfully, becoming oblivious to race and background noise.

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Kirsten, Kevin and their four cats welcomed me into German culture with a visit to a lovely Japanese garden, a kitschy pumpkin festival, a hike through vineyards and wonderful vegetarian meals.

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Cyprus: hot, 30°C and the hottest summer on record — no complaints from me in October. English is widely spoken, fluently, with various British and colonial accents. There are many, many Brits living and visiting here (and I’m not talking about those on package tours, which I don’t meet or see).  Rash generalization alert: middle aged, sun-parched skin, large bodies with thin legs, insufficient clothing, and smoking. Oh the smoking; much more common here than in France or Egypt, and everywhere — in restaurants (now illegal), in cars, inside homes, at work, walking along the streets, all the time, everywhere.

Cyprus has a water shortage and currently uses five desalination plants to supply the cities and tourist resorts. The countryside at this time of the year is dry and dusty, with everything being a tawny brown, even the limestone houses. The economy is doing fine with European prices. The beer is good; the wine so-so. Salads with toasted goat cheese and olives are wonderful. Also tzatziki with warm pita slices punctuated with some local wine that tastes better with food and the second glass. I visited a couple of interesting archaeological sites in the blazing sunshine, and several churches which are more interesting from the outside unless one is fascinated by icons. The buses are efficient and cheap, but leave when the driver so chooses with no correlation to the schedule. Those few that leave ‘on time’ actually depart 10 minutes early.

I rented a mid-sized Honda after a taxi driver wanted to marry me. Driving on the left with some vague directions for getting out of the city of Limassol required strict attention and concentration. Staying on the left was not the problem, it was not driving too close to objects on my left that was my challenge. However, my feet were delighted as they had blisters from the 10 to 15 Kim a day that I had been walking; thank goodness for my floppy hat, bottles of water and iPod.

The Troodhos mountains are limestone, dry and dusty awaiting the winter rains, steep and terraced for vineyards, goats and nearly abandoned villages. The latter saved only by English retirees enjoying the dry heat for their arthritic aches. After I had wandered around a few small villages, a couple of Greek Orthodox churches — icon infested, black-robed priest on his cell phone — and a winery, I arrived at the Donkey Sanctuary in Vouni. Managers and married couple, Richard and Judy welcomed me into their home and work for two days. I learnt about donkeys, petted donkeys, spent a morning shovelling donkey manure (takes me back to my student days working with horses in the Snowy Mountains of Australia), visited the donkey holding farms, met their vet, and embraced taverna evenings. This was such an interesting time and I learnt so much about life on Cyprus, not to mention petting the donkeys.

After walking across The Green Line into Turkish Cyprus, being lost in the old city of North Nicosia and finding a share taxi, I reached Kyrnia, or Girne, as it is now called. Tourists and touristy, mainly Russians and Turkish conscripts with a sprinkling of Brits, but the old port area and huge fort are lovely. My chosen hotel was full as were plans B and C, but the owner of Hotel Elizel, feeling sorry for me under my backpack, allowed me to stay in the “Penthouse Suite.” This is a room added onto the roof, surrounded by windows, single bed, a fan, toilet on a pedestal and the 15th Century mosque minaret close by — the muezzin call to prayer, five times a day started at 5:30 am, loud and clear — no alarm clock supplied or required.

I found a lovely restaurant down a lane, run by a family, tables under shady trees, quiet, local clientele, free Wi-Fi, spiced olives, beer, Village salad with cheese and all for about C$12. Great on Saturday evening but closed on Sunday — what’s with that, they’re Moslem? I learnt disregard the usual local advice, from ‘it’s too far to walk’ to ‘you’ll have to take a taxi.’ Everywhere is ‘too far to walk’ but I did have to take a taxi up to Bellapais, the village in which Lawrence Durrell lived and wrote ‘Justine.’ ‘You’ll only require an hour’ said my taxi driver. I requested three and had only just settled beneath ‘The Tree of Idleness’ when he arrived to take me back to Nicosia. Lovely village but now too pretty, too touristy, too Turkish and way too British. LD would be horrified; I was both enchanted and dismayed.

I spent Sunday afternoon on a bus to Famagusta (‘You’ll need a taxi’) to walk to the old city surrounded by impressive Venetian walls, and the dramatic Gothic Cathedral of St Nicholas which is now the Lola Mustafa Pasa Camil mosque — a minaret on a tower and the interior bereft of decoration, as is the Islamic style. The total lack of adornment enables the marvellous Gothic architecture to shine. No icons. It was dramatically elegant.

Back in Greek/South Nicosia, I found a lovely hotel then explored the old city and its museums. Conclusion: I think much of Cyprus is closed, and often rude, tempered by acts of kindness. The Ethnographic Museum was closed (Monday) and I chose not to visit the ‘National Struggle Museum.’ The Cyprus Museum was closed (Monday) and the ‘State Gallery of Contemporary Art’ was also closed as half of their collection was on loan. I decided to visit the ‘Archbishop Makarios Cultural Centre’ filled with religious art and icons (go figure) – an overabundance of Virgin Marys looking perplexed and ironic while holding baby JCs whose hair was often fair and curly, and whose face was adult and either vacant or amused, while his body was rotund and demurely naked with his brother alside. In mid afternoon I gave up on cultural gratification and elected gastronomic satisfaction — a salad and a beer, or two.

I think Cyprus is rather like Winnipeg: a great place to live but I’m not sure why people visit. For me, an interesting ‘hot’ spot with an intractable conflict and a literary resonance.

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