Archive for July, 2019

Cyprus has a foot in both camps.

Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

March 14, 2019. Corfu, Greece to Larnaca, Cyprus. 

Our flight to Cyprus, with a three hour layover in Athens, was at 9:30 am. 

We had left the car in the city car park and had to wheel our luggage there, which was about 200 metres away. 

That was easy, the hardest part was taking our cases the two floors down from the ‘Cute house in old Corfu Town’.

The stairs were steep and narrow. 

Once we were at Athen’s airport there was plenty of time to get some breakfast and a coffee. 

The coffee in Greece has been, on the whole, very good. A double espresso gets us the required quantity and strength. 

For me, Cyprus meant a new country. Thea visited there back in 1971. 

Because of our long layover our bags must have gone into the Larnaca flight first – as they came off last. 

Again our room was in the old part of the town but it was in a contemporary building. 

There was even a lift. 

We were staying in the heart of Larnaca’s tourist town and surrounded by Yankee fast food establishments. 

Littered along the waterfront, just near our apartment, were testaments to America’s bad culinary tastes. There was a McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut and Starbucks. 

What has the rest of the world done to be subjected to such crap?

Luckily we did manage to find, Ocean Basket, a good seafood restaurant for dinner. 

Saint Lazarus Byzantine Church and Museum (9th Century)

March 15, 2019. Larnaca, Cyprus. 

The good weather from the previous day had turned sour and the sky was leaden. There was also periodic rain that was sometimes heavy. Once it seemed to have subsided we ventured out. 

As a large poster on a public building boasted. 

“Larnaca, city of Lazarus. 

One of the world’s 20 most ancient, continuously inhabited, cities for the last 4,000 years.”

Lazarus is certainly the local hero In Larnaca as we were to discover. 

Just down the beach from the ‘Avenue of Fast Food’ was the Medieval Castle of Larnaca, built in 1625 over a site that was first settled around the 14th century BC.

During the British rule the fort was used as a prison and the gallows still remain just inside the front entrance.

The last execution took place in 1945.

It now houses a small museum.

Just next door is Kebir, the Grand Mosque of Larnaca. It was built over the site of the 16th century Holy Cross Latin Church in 1835-1836.

There are still a few of the flying buttresses remaining from the original church.

A mosque with buttresses is a strange architectural mix.

Just a little further in from the coast is the Saint Lazarus Byzantine Church and Museum.

This has an interesting story to tell, as I found out on PlanetWare ‘Things to do in Larnaca’ site.

Below is a quote from the site:

“After Lazarus rose from the dead, he lived here in Larnaca (then known as Kition) for another 30 years and was ordained as Bishop of Kition. When he finally died – this time for good – he was buried here, where the stately Agios Lazaros (Church of St. Lazarus) now stands. The church was built in the 9th century by Emperor Leo VI and was faithfully restored in the 17th century.”

Dodging the rain we found the Archeological site at Kition, the original settlement from, 707 BC, which eventually became Larnaca. The actual site was closed but there was an open air display of a number of artefacts.

In the evening we ignored the suggestion of the bookings.com host and looked beyond the fast food strip. 

Surprisingly, just around the corner from our apartment was a group of bars and restaurants that were much more appealing. 

The Hipsters were there and in large numbers, all smoking and therefore sitting outside. 

I didn’t envy them in the least, as the temperature had dropped and we were much cosier indoors. 

However our presence did raise the average age by about 20 years. 

It was a good meal accompanied by a thumping soundtrack. 

Aphrodite’s Rock

March 16, 2019. Larnaca to Paphos via Limassol, Cyprus. 

There has been human activity in Cyprus since the 10th millennium BC. It was then inhabited by Mycenaean Greeks, who came in two waves in the 2nd millennium BC.

The island occupies a strategic location in the Middle East and has been of interest to many conquering races.

Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians have all laid their claim at some time. In 333 BC it was seized from the Persians by Alexander the Great. Both the Classical and Eastern Roman Empire called Cyprus home, as well as Arabs, French and Venetians. This was followed by three centuries of Ottoman rule between 1571 and 1878.

Cyprus was placed under the UK’s administration in 1878 and was annexed by them in 1914.

We were back into another rental car for a four day drive around southern Cyprus. 

The big difference, I was now back driving on the left – another legacy of British rule.

Another quirk of the British rule is the Powers points. They are Pommy points but most have adaptors for EU plugs. 

Again the rental company was Avis. The car was handed over to us by an American, with a broad southern accent. 

He carried our bags to the car with the words: “Let the nigger carry those bags.”

His words, not mine and yes, he was African American. 

We wondered why certain vehicles in Cyprus had red number plates. Once we reached the Avis lot it was obvious, as we were greeted by a sea of red. 

All throughout our afternoon drive, from Larnaca to Paphos, there were red plates everywhere. 

This south western part of the island must be full of car hiring tourists, just like us. 

The skies were still dark when we arrived at Limassol and in the midst of our morning coffee the rain came thundering down. Fortunately we had seen the rain approaching and chose to sit inside.

Unlike many, who were dining alfresco. There was then a rush as everyone tried to squeeze into the rather limited cafe interior.

On the way to Paphos was Aphrodite’s Rock, a place Thea had visited all those years ago. She had actually slept on top of the rock, so it was only natural that we had to climb it.

I am sure it was a lot easier when we were in our twenties than seventies.

We made it and it was worth the effort.

Aphrodite’s Rock or Petra tou Romiou, (Rock of the Greek) is attributed as the birthplace of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. There are many other legends but this is the one that gives rise to the name.

It was late in the day by the time we reached Paphos and after settling into the Hotel Kirinas we wandered around the town.

Being off-season there wasn’t much open in Paphos, so we opted to eat in the hotel. The specialty of the kitchen was Moussaka which was ok but I have had a lot better.

The first poppies of the season

March 17, 2019. Paphos to Nicosia, Cyprus. 

After a good coffee at the Urban Coffee Company, which was just around the corner from our hotel, we headed to a UNESCO World Heritage Site near the coast. 

The Tombs of the Kings is an archeological site containing many underground tombs dating back to the 4th century BC. The tombs are hewn out of solid rock and believed to be the burial sites of Paphitic aristocrats.

No kings were actually buried there, the name comes from the magnificence of the tombs with many featuring Doric column and frescoed walls.

Excavation is still continuing today.

Then if was off for a day of driving towards to Nicosia, via route 88, up to Troodos near Mount Olympus. 

At Troodos the last of the winter snow was clinging on and people were still skiing and snowboarding. 

On the drive into Nicosia red number plates were everywhere. The tourist season has started early in this part of Cyprus.  

Once in Nicosia we went for a walk. There was a large number of Filipinos women around Ledra Street, in the old part of the city. Also quite a few Africans as well as Indians and Pakistanis. 

At the reception desk of our hotel we asked why?

The Filipinos are employed as nannies for the Greek Cypriot middle class and they work flat out for six days and get Sunday off.

Many are devout Christians and after church they wander in groups through the streets.

The government guarantees a good wage and holidays so there are many of them living in the city. In fact they make up 18% of the Greek Cypriot population.

We were also told by reception that the Africans, Indians and Pakistanis were there to study at shonky private universities, that offer degrees with very little work for rather large fees.

From our hotel window, on the Greek side, we looked into the Turkish part of Cyprus. And just to make sure that we understood the politics, there was a large Turkish flag carved into the facing hillside.

In the 1950s Cyprus was divided and a Turkish state created in the north of the island. There was a time when the Turks wanted to annex the north and considered it part of Anatolia, a state in Turkey.

Meanwhile the Greek Cypriots wanted union with Greece.

In 1974 a coup d’état was staged by Greek Cypriot nationalists. This then led to a Turkish invasion and the subsequent division, displacing over 150,000 Greek Cypriots and 50,000 Turkish Cypriots. 

A separate Turkish Cypriot state was established 1983 and is still a matter of ongoing dispute.

Even now the Turks, under the ‘dictatorship’ of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are illegally drilling for oil off the Cypriot coast.

The Turkish flag on the ‘other side’

March 18, 2019. Nicosia, Cyprus. 

This was our day to explore the Turkish side of Nicosia. 

As we walked to the checkpoint area, Ledras Street was devoid of the Filipino nannies we saw the day before. 

It was Monday and they were obviously back, hard at work. 

Once we went through passport control, I had a Turkish Coffee at David People, a trendy little establishment near the Kumarcilar Han Caravanserai. 

Remembering not to drink down to the ‘sludge’, brought back memories of our times in Turkey and Greece.

Of course It would have been a Greek Coffee on the south side of the border.

For 4,500 years Nicosia has been continuously inhabited and since the 10th century it had been the capital city. 

Thea had done an excellent job of researching the top spots to see in the city.

It was all within walking distance of our hotel which was good as it gave us a great opportunity to explore this unique place and get some exercise as well.

We visited two Ottoman era Caravanserais then went to the Selimiye Camii Mosque which in a former life was Saint Sophia Cathedral built between 1208 and 1326. Again the flying buttresses were a giveaway to the original architecture. 

Just inside the entrance to the mosque was a white board. On it, written in English, was a simple explanation of Islam. 

A sign of the times, given the tragedy in Christchurch NZ just days earlier. 

One of the most interesting sites for me was the historical houses of Samanbaçhe. This was an Ottoman council housing project built between 1918 and 1925. 

We walked down to Kyrenia Gate. This is the northern city gate built, in by the Venetians in 1562. 

We then walked back through Turkish Nicosia, through passport control again and then down to the Famagusta Gate, the southern gate, built in 1557. 

This was another Venetian gate but on the Greek side of the city. It was originally called the Porta Giuliani after its designer and restored by the Ottomans in 1821.

Having spent the best part of a day in the Turkish side, I had a feeling that it was a bit more ‘down to earth’ and less ostentatious than Greek Nicosia. There were none of the American fast-food chains and the atmosphere seemed to be a lot more authentic.

In the evening we discovered that there was another Ocean Basket restaurant in Nicosia. We also discovered that it’s part of a chain and a very good one at that. The food was excellent and the staff attentive.

Citroën C3 and the Hala Sultan Tekke

March 19, 2019. Nicosia to Larnaca, Cyprus. 

On the drive back to Larnaca we stopped at Lefkara the home of lace and silver in Cyprus. Lefkara lace is unique and in 2009 was included on the UNESCO List of Intangible Heritage Items. 

There were Nonas outside every shop, hoping you would buy from them. 

Lefkara lace also caught the attention of Leonardo Da Vinci, who visited the village in 1481. He was so impressed that he took some home to Italy to be used on the altar of the Cathedral of Milan.

After a bit of searching we found the Heritage Museum. This was in a restored house and on two levels and full of the famous lace as well as other historical artefacts.

We were given very strict instructions to close the door, when entering and leaving. 

Apparently the pesky swallows have a habit of flying in and trying to nest. 

Our last stop for the day was to the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque on Larnaca Salt Lake. 

Built in the 18th Century over the tomb of Umm Haram, foster mother to the Prophet Mohammed. 

Consequently this is one of the most holy places of Islam. 

We had booked a hotel very near the airport. So to save time I wanted to fill the car up before we went there in the morning. 

This wasn’t easy. 

The petrol stations were open, but for some reason, they were only operating on ‘automatic’. 

This meant we had to risk using, and possibly losing, a credit card or pay cash into a machine. 

A machine that didn’t give change, only credit – credit we couldn’t use. 

Our hotel was right on Mackenzie Beach, so, at dusk, we went for a walk along the front. 

In the evening we found Kellari, a tradition sea food taverna. 

The food was simple, rustic and very tasty. We even completed our Cypriot experience with an after dinner Ouzo. 

One between the two of us, as we were up early for our flight to Berlin the next morning.

Corfu is Greek and a little bit British as well.

Sunday, July 14th, 2019

 

It’s the start of the ‘Wedding Season’

March 9, 2019. Saranda, Albania to Corfu, Greece.

The ferry to Corfu wasn’t until 1pm, so we spent some time walking down into the town centre of Saranda again. 

The weather was certainly improving, with blue skies and sun that had some warmth in it. 

The cafe on the front was full, especially all the seats facing the water. 

We had a coffee then returned to the hotel. 

The hotel owner kindly drove us to the port. 

Not wanting his generosity to go unnoticed, he urged us to put a good word in on Google. 

Once aboard the Kristi, we left the Balkans and were now headed for the Ionian Islands. 

Part four of our adventure. 

The route took us down the straight between Albania and Corfu and past Butrint, where we had been the day before. 

We caught a taxi from the port into Old Corfu Town, there we were to meet the host of our AirBnB.

We waited and waited but she never turned up.

Eventually we came across a guy who seemed to be looking for people. We put two and two together and realised that his guests had probably gone off with our host.

Sure enough, after a phone call, our host returned to the meeting place and took us to our accommodation. 

Then there was a swap of guests.

I get the feeling that the other couple might have ended up winners.

‘Cute house in old Corfu Town’ was the way our accommodation was described.

Sometimes marketing people need to answer to their over-sell. 

‘Small and cramped’ would be more of an accurate description. 

Admittedly it was a short walk to the centre of the old city, but still an over-sell.

Cute’ is a way of saying it has lots of issues, therefore forgive it’s short comings.  

This was an apartment, booked through bookings.com and should have had far more amenities than were provided. 

It also had some idiosyncrasies.

The water from the washing machine had to be drained into the toilet bowl.

Too bad if you needed a poo while it was draining.

You had to turn the water heater off in between using it, or else it would overheat.

The smoke detector ‘chirped’ so it had been turned off – maybe a new battery was in order. 

The key had great difficulty actually opening the front door and had to be replaced.

In the evening we went for a wander around the old town and discovered ‘Diver’ a Beer Restaurant that has outlets in both Athens and Corfu. 

Much to Thea’s delight they also have wine as well. 

They had five beers on tap, which is rare, and 50 beers in bottles, which in this part of the world is unheard of. 

Craft beer is certainly catching on – even in Greece. 

 

The Corfu cricket pitch

March 10, 2019. Corfu, Greece.

As it turns out we were in Corfu during a carnival long weekend. 

The origins of the word carnival come from the Latin: ‘carn’, meaning flesh and ‘levare’ to put away. So in essence carnival was a food festival, as it was the last time to eat meat before the 40 days of lent.

The reason for the celebration and public holiday was for Clean Monday. 

Also known as Pure Monday, Ash Monday, Monday of lent or Green Monday. This is the first day of Great Lent, a popular festival with the Eastern Catholic churches.

On the Sunday, as part of the carnival, there were processions through the main street in the old city. Apart from the people in the parade, many locals dressed up. 

There were children dressed as police, super heroes and in army fatigues. 

An angel and devil duo was very popular with the teenage girls while ‘Anonymous’ was the favourite with the boys. 

We spent most of the day just wandering around enjoying the festive atmosphere. 

In the evening we returned to the main city centre and dined at one of the local restaurants. 

It was like being back in Albania – the place was empty. 

As the waiter explained, it had been a big day for most, and the majority had gone home. 

By 9 pm a few people started to drift back into town.

 

The Old Fort (Mainly Venetian 1386-1797)

March 11, 2019. Corfu, Greece.

The earliest mention of Corfu relates to the Mycenaean Greek word, meaning Man from Kerkra, in 1,300 BC. Some scholars believe that it was mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey.

Old Corfu Town is a classic Venetian city, with a old town and stylish colonnade along the front that overlooks the green expanse of Spianada Square. 

The colonnades are full of cafes and restaurants and everything faces the water. 

Spianada Square is the largest town square in Greece and right in the middle is a cricket pitch. Corfu is the only place in Greece where cricket is played. It was introduced to the island during the British Protectorate that followed the Treaty of Paris in 1815. This was a time of prosperity with new roads, improved water supply and the construction of the first Greek university in the Ionian Islands.

During this period the Greek language became official in Corfu.

We were not surprised to find this relic of British colonialism, as we were pre warned by Alex, the Zimbabwean/Dutchman, we met at the Blue Eye in Albania. 

Kite flying seemed to be a part of Clean Monday. 

After a coffee we returned to the town centre and there, on the cricket pitch, families were trying to get their kites airborne. 

There were a few ‘professionals’ and they had no trouble. Their kites seemed to be soaring hundreds of metres into the blue Corfu sky. 

Custom has it that the higher the kite flies the closer you get to God. The Greek mathematician and engineer, Archytas (440-360 BC) first started to fly kites around 400 BC. However the ancient Chinese were flying kites well before that in 1,000 BC. 

Their desire was similar, in that they would write messages on their kites, in order to communicate with the gods.

We walked the few hundred metres, past the park, to the the Old Fort. This is mainly Venetian in design and built between 1386 and 1797.

Again there were kite flyers in the central courtyard. 

After wandering around the township for some time we eventually found the New Fortress. Only to discover that it was permanently shut due to safety reasons. 

Compared to the previous day Corfu was dead. Admittedly it was a public holiday but the streets were empty and most businesses, except in the centre, were shut. 

Everywhere we go we hear songs that are sung, either by Justin Bieber, or someone who sounds just like him, or his female counterpart, Justine Bieber.

It’s all Bieberish to me.

 

The Triumph of Achilles 1892 by Franz Matsch (1861-1942)

March 12, 2019. Corfu, Greece.

Having spent three days wandering around Old Corfu Town we hired a car and headed out to explore the island.

We needed something small, considering the narrowness of the streets and parking spots.

The VW Polo suited the task.

We had the car for two days so planned to head south on day one and north on the second day.

Our first stop was the Achillion Pallace and Museum, built in 1890 for Elisabeth, Empress of Austria and Hungary. It was designed by the Italian architect, Raffaele Caritto. 

While we were inside, it started to rain, which stopped us exploring some of the gardens.

Elisabeth purchased all the land between the house and the sea. This 80 hectare area contained gardens plus walking and riding tracks.

She was a great lover of exercise and would walk and ride around her beloved Achillion.

The name ‘Achillion’ came from her love of Greek mythology, especially Achilles, for whom she had a deep affection.

The house, now museum, is full of Greek statues.

After her assassination in Geneva in 1898, by the anarchist Luigi Lucien, the house remained closed for nine years.

Since that time it has been owned by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, been a hospital for French and Serbian troops and then taken over by the Greek State.

During the Second World War it was used by the occupying Italian and German forces and then again it reverted back to state control.

For a period it was a casino, the first in Greece and was featured in the 1981 James Bond Movie, For Your Eyes Only. Then in 1994 it was restored and used for the European Union Summit in Corfu.

From Achillion we then drove to Lake Korission, a coastal lagoon of 427 hectares that drains into the Ionian Sea

Continuing our drive around the south we ascended up route 25, where we got some great views of Corfu. We found that from that aspect we could see another angle of Achillion.

We then visited Mon Repos, the house where Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh was born in 1921.

The house was originally built for Frederick Adam, the British Lord High Commissioner of the United States of the Ionian Islands in 1828. After the union with Greece in 1864 the villa was granted to King George I of the Hellenes.

He was the grandfather of ‘Phil the Greek’

This was yet another attraction that wasn’t open. It would have been interesting to see inside.

The area where the house is located overlooks the coast and is also a public park.

Many runners and walkers enjoy the solitude and verdant green forrest that surrounds Mon Repos.

We were the only tourists.

 

A telescope at Bella Vista view point

March 13, 2019. Corfu, Greece.

It was a beautiful blue sky day for our drive around the north of Corfu. 

This part of the island seems to be much more affluent than the south. 

However everything was still shut, the ATMs, currency exchanges and even the traffic lights don’t start working again until spring. 

In the south many places were in disrepair, while in the north construction and renovation was everywhere.

The north even appears to have better landscape.

The rolling green hills, dramatic rock escarpments and small villages tucked into the hillsides, all added to a great drive.

At one point we drove along the ridge road between the villages of Troumpetas and Agia Anna (Saint Anna). At times we could see both sides of the island.

Near the village of Almyros, in the north east, we got a great view over the Ionian Sea to Butrint and Saranda in Albania.

We continued driving in an anti-clockwise direction and came across Angelokastra Castle. This Byzantine fortress sits at 305 metres on the highest point in Corfu. Built in the 13th century it never succumbed to attack.

It was a great day of driving. Perfect weather, good roads and courteous drivers.

We returned back to Old Corfu town and parked in the city car park, which was adjacent to the cricket ground.

It was a good spot to park, with decent size car spaces, easy access and only €3 per day.

We had picked up the Polo from the airport and were going to drop it off the next day. This was to catch our flight to Cyprus.