Cyprus

21-27 December, 2014

Noon easyjet flight from Gatwick to Larnaca. 4.5H in air. slightly delayed. arrived before 8pm at Larnaka. Dinner was sausage pasties and iced tea at the airport while waiting for the Kapnos shuttle to get us to Nicosia. Shuttle was packed. a trio of teens conversed too loudly and took selfies with not a care in the world, they soon attracted the ire of the local passengers. Someone shouted at them, in greek, but they had no clue people were trying to tell them off. Kapnos shuttle doesn’t go as far as far as the old town. So we took a taxi (there are people willing to share), which took around 15mins plus 5 mins walk to the hotel because the traffic was bad.

Settled in at Centrum Hotel. (reminder to self: we need to relearn to make a habit of checking the hotel room first). The old town is buzzing as it’s a Saturday night. It feels like a university town, the bars filled with young people out for coffee or a beer. Nicosia is so close to the Turkish borders, but people don’t shun alcohol here. We settled with a glass of wine and a beer in a bar with their seats and tables strewn in the streets, the bar itself was trying to find space inside the building that looks more of a ruin – i find places like these really charming. It was still a bit warm, I was comfortable seated near a heater with a light jacket on. Groups hang out with their coffee and shared beers, quietly conversing. We were easily the oldest people here, and I was wondering where the older people are in this time of the night.

Monday. We walked from our end of Ledras street to the Turkish border. We had lunch at Pieto cafe, another example of the atmospheric bars and cafes around the town, the cafe is in a narrow alleyway between buildings, strewn with old tables and chairs. Their version of mulled wine is a bit too strong for me so early in the day, but would have been really welcome on a chilly night.

Pieto cafe, Nicosia
Pieto cafe, Nicosia

At the border, you can fill out a form or get a stamp on the passport. No fees. Though I think this place can get quite busy in the high seasons.

We made our way to Büyük Han, the rooms of the old inn were either empty or filled with wares for sale. There is a cafe tucked in the corner. Children with their playful shouts and bird whistles fill the air, which made me think at first if we’ve found ourselves in the middle of a school or a slum. Upstairs, a loom was being built. Blankets hanging out to dry. Vintage shelves and knick knacks gather dust in the hallways, and I am amazed the kids running around have not knocked them down yet. It still feels like a ruin, not completely revived and the locals still quite unsure if they could use it as they see fit.

Büyük Han, North Nicosia
Büyük Han, North Nicosia

We’ve roamed the streets, making our way to Selimiye Mosque and the Bandabuliya (Old Market).

around Selimiye Mosque, North Nicosia
Selimiye Mosque, North Nicosia

Tuesday. Time to pack and make our way to Lernaca. I had forgotten about the bad traffic in the city, and we failed to catch our shuttle back to Larnaka airport in time after taking a leisurely lunch. The shuttle do not run regularly, we were supposed to catch the 12:30 shuttle, but waited out for the 14:15 one.

We were back at Larnaka airport to pick up our hired car. I booked with Europcar in advance, they did not try to sell us any additional insurances, but service was quite slow. We had a light green Nissan Tiida, a slightly bigger car than I expected, but was glad it handles roughly the same as the cars I am used to.

I drove us to our hotel in Larnaka, thankful for the low season, the not so busy streets and the relatively short distance from the airport. it has been a while since I last drove. Hotel Opera is quite a lovely place, immaculate and simply decorated. We had a balcony, with only a view into the side streets below – I did ask for a quiet room and the street fronting the church can get busy. No breakfast, but they had cakes and coffee and tea out all day which more than makes up for the lack of meal options. Free guarded parking right beside the hotel. A few minutes walk to the seaside and the array of restaurants there.

We’ve walked along the seaside, looking for dinner and somewhere to book for Christmas lunch and dinner (just to make sure we’re not going hungry on christmas day). Popular Militzi’s is busy for lunch so we booked for christmas dinner there.

Larnaka seaside
Larnaka seaside

We found today’s dinner at a quiet and ancient-looking bar fronting the seaside. The place is old, cobwebs in the windows, old gas lamps on the walls. I don’t think the decor was done on purpose, it just looked like it hasn’t changed for decades. The owner, well ahead in his years, hobbled to us and said hello. he made his way to straight for the door and closed it (felt a bit like the start of a horror story as we sat and watched him in silence). But he sat down and starts to make conversation, he was only trying to keep out the cold. A friend of his arrived soon after and he started telling him we were pinoys and our conversations centred on that. the few filipinos they knew were domestic helpers, struggling to make a living in cyprus, and he promptly rang his filipino friend and we spoke with her briefly. they were still amazed to meet filipinos who travel and not eking out a living trying to feed their families back home.

Wednesday. We’ve made a breakfast of the cakes and coffee at the hotel and set off for the village of Lefkara at the base of Troödos Mountains.

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Lefkara

Lefkara is a picturesque village – mostly cobbled streets, houses made of stones, a number of crumbling, abandoned houses. It is quiet at this time of the year when there are hardly any tourists about. We’ve passed by the village hotel and found it closed for the season. Found the sign to the Timios Stavros Church and made our way there, inching my way in the impossibly narrow streets, and parked there.

Lunch was at the first open restaurant we found, the Adamos Tavern – empty of customers, but filled with curiosities. Vines stuffed with rice and meat, homemade meatballs, iced tea and local wine. It was a satisfying meal, though I’d rather have a share of the wine too if i weren’t driving. Al was observing the husband and wife owners – the husband lounging around whilst the wife busies herself with seemingly countless things to do around the restaurant.

We asked the tavern owners which lace shops are open and we were pointed to Rouvis and told to go straight there and not to enter any other lace shops. Lefkara is known for it’s lace and silver. Legend has it that Da Vinci visited and purchased lace for Milan’s Duomo. This is where the venetians learned lace making from before they set up shop in Burano. I had resolved to buy lace here after admiring the little I’ve seen in Venice and the simple curtains around Germany and elsewhere.

We saw a woman tatting lace in the sun and she had managed to make small talk and convince us to go into her shop. It was hard to refuse, despite the early warning from the tavern. I did like her work, and purchased a cotton runner and found out more about the dying art of lace making and the state of the village.

At Rouvis, I did not look too much at the silver, as I had no plans of buying. So we went to look at the lace. Mrs. Rouvis herself had shown us how the work was done and gave us pointers on spotting machine-made and hand-made lace. I am astounded at the quality of their work. They have very intricate designs based on Da Vinci’s river patterns. I had only planned on getting linen napkins of varying designs as they were expensive. They were truly a work of art and ones that I hope will last for more than a generation. Mr. Rouvis soon joined in, and we were shown more and more beautiful pieces and the history behind them. We had a rare white linen placemats and a runner made by Mrs Rouvis’ mother who passed away a decade ago. We were also shown a very complicated design made by probably, the town’s most skilled lace maker, her works were intended to be framed. We were shown how the designs were made, the various patterns woven into various combinations.

Lefkara lace
Lefkara lace from Rouvis

Christmas day. Most of the restaurants along Larnaka’s seaside are open. So we’re staying in town for the day. Lunch was moussaka and meatballs at the cafe beside Militzi’s watching the comings and goings of families out for their christmas lunch. We’ve strolled the seaside and mostly spent a very lazy day.

Christmas day, Finikoudes beach, Larnaka
Larnaka seaside

Dinner was at the popular Militzi’s. I had pork roasted on a spit. The serving was huge. And with a greek salad and the accompanying huge potatoes, i can only manage to finish half of it. It was good though, but I think their food is meant to be shared. Or taken home to feed a family. I would be thoroughly happy if I had a quarter of the serving and steamed rice and vinegar. Service, as with anywhere in Larnaca, is bad, so don’t expect much.

Friday. Larnaka is still a pretty much small town. Most of the restaurants and shops here are family-owned. But you can still avail of Movenpick, KFC, McDonalds and TGI Fridays if you are so inclined. The beach is not exactly pretty. Today we’re drive off to Ayia Napa.

Ayia Napa, is a resort town, more resembling Ibiza in the heights of summer as it is favoured by young people out to party. Big 5 star hotels line the beach, but there is no one stirring inside. We stopped at Makronissos beach to see the ancient tombs. A few locals are out for a picnic in the beach. The tombs, roughly fenced off, resembles a construction site more than a tourist spot. But the beach here are more beautiful, fine white sands, deep blue waters, limestone cliffs.

We headed off to Nissi beach to find any place open. The taverna in front of the Nissi beach resort was open, all other shops closed. Food is twice more expensive here. Nissi beach is beautiful, a few more people here as the hotel looks partly open.

Nissi Beach, Ayia Napa
Nissi Beach, Ayia Napa

After lunch, we headed off to Agioi Anargyroi, a small church on top of a cliff. Steps from there lead down to a rocky shore. This is not a place to swim, but it’s worth your while standing near the bottom, close enough not to get too wet nor get dragged into sea by the waves – and hear the sea roar.

Agioi Anargyroi, Ayia Napa
Agioi Anargyroi

Dinner was back at Larnaca at To Sieradiko towards the seaside. We had a meze and probably the only time in Cyprus that I had thoroughly enjoyed my meal. The restaurant was lovely, reusing a lot of gas lamps fitted with filament bulbs. lots of curiosities dotted around and a real fire, where we would be content eating by the hearth, if only they’d allow.

Saturday. Not much left to do, and we practically still have a full day. We checked out at noon and had a leisurely lunch. We drove to the Salt lakes to see the flamingoes. There isn’t a lot of them today and they were too far off from the shore. So we sat around for a bit, wondering how we can entice them with biscuits if we can manage to throw them far enough.

We drive off to see the Hala Sultan Tekke, a beautiful mosque on the west bank of the lake.

We’ve run out of places to see now so headed off to the airport to return the car and catch the flight back home. The airport was quiet, though our flight was still full. We had several delays and only reached Stratford at 3am.

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