It’s difficult to write a blog on Cyprus from a traveler’s perspective given I grew up here, it’s also harder because things have changed so much since it was my home, I tend to focus on the changes rather than what it has to offer but I will do my best to paint a fair and true picture. There are some things about the island which despite having grown up here I am discovering for the first time, for example I never gave much thought to Cyprus’ history before as it lacked much of the heroics of Greek history whilst the food, the weather and the beaches were all taken for granted. Now armed with a bit more worldly knowledge and 43 extra years experience, plus a hint of bias and am ready to tell it all. So here is my full ‘Kardashian size’ exposé.
Coming here was an easy stop especially having mum’s flat to use as our base and her car for getting around. From Larnaca, which is a small town on the south coast where my mum lives, we have easy access to almost anywhere on the Greek Cypriot side of the island. What used to be a sleepy town with a name that in classical Greek means ‘coffin or sarcophagus’, was never of much interest because of its quiet disposition, but since the Turkish invasion of 74 it’s gained prominence and now it’s perfectly located for trips to both the East and West sides of the island, plus the town has grown and a few trendy bars and nice restaurants have sprung up in the town centre.
Old town Nicosia the back streets of my youth
Larnaca was previously called Kitti and like the rest of Cyprus has hosted marauders and invaders as far back as the Achaeans in 1,200 BC who were the early Greeks. Then came the Phoneticians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Alexander the great, the Ptolemaics, Romans, the Byzantines, the Crusaders with king Richard the Lion Heart, the Knights Templar, the Knights of St John, the Francs, the Venetians, the Ottomans and up to the time I was a young boy the British to mention but a few, but the list on Wiki is almost as long as your arm. Some ruled the island for a few years some for hundreds but they all left a small mark on its food, its culture and language, so despite its small size and location it is quite different from any of its Middle Eastern or European neighbours.
Out for a bite with mum
I love the Cypriot food, but then I am biased towards anything cooked on an open charcoal BBQ, starting with the totally healthy Cyprus style Kebabs, Souvlakia and Sheftalia, bbq pork chops and spit-roast chicken or lamb souvla all with their own unique smoky and herb flavours. Love the preserved meats and sausages which are soaked in red wine with coriander and then smoked, then there is the home-cooking range of foods covering a variety of pulses and vegetables some stuffed with mince and herbs, some stewed or cooked all oozing flavour from whatever produce they came from plus the herbs and broths that went into making them. Some small lunch time restaurants still serve up these tasty “home cooked” dishes but for tourists it’s harder as they don’t stand out as interesting places to eat, unless taken there. Then there is the Hallumi, no need to say anything about this Cyprus cheese as it’s now available pretty much all over the world, but the range available here is huge, hallumi alone is not bad but neither is it a true reflection of the range of tasty foods Cyprus has to offer.
I’ve noticed through my travels that Greek and especially Cypriot food does not travel well or can’t be reproduced as well so most meals in restaurants overseas bare little resemblance to the tastes of Cyprus. So best save judgement until you get a chance to try it on home turf, although that sounds like such a cliche. No matter how good the restaurant the flavours are just totally un-achievable, unlike my other favorite food, Indian curry, which would definitely hold it’s own in London or Bradford.
Thanks to my love of Cyprus food I stacked on about 4 kilos despite running round the salt lake four times a week, but it’s worth every morsel. I can loose those kilos anywhere in the world but can only eat like this here, so I went for it. Just glad it wasn’t 10 kilos, willpower and restraint had a role to play too.
I haven’t even started on the sweets and the pastries yet. There are bakeries that look like temples dedicated to some god or another operating all year round and around the clock. You will never find yourself more than a five minute drive away where you can stock up on freshly baked goodies, either large or cocktail size pastries both savoury or sweet, for something more traditional try the middle eastern style cakes with pistachio, cakes with syrup in filo pastry, cream cakes, chocolate deserts, baked sweets both hot or cold, breads, pitas, it’s a full-on sensory assault making it impossible to walk out with only a loaf of bread under your arm. There is also my childhood craving, locoumades, which are hot syrup covered puffs of heaven. My father left me to stuff my face when I was about 2 years old thinking I would get sick of them, how wrong was he! And there is so much more but just thinking about it makes me hungry.
I should mention the weather in Cyprus, temperatures don’t fluctuate from one day to the next or from week to week but either slowly rise to super warm or slowly drop into the cooler months. There’s not much need for the weather forecast because you can bet that tomorrow will be a lot like today. It gets hot in summer and many people complain about the heat but, having traveled much of the world, the truth of the matter is it has one of the best climates in the world. It has 4 seasons including a short winter, spring is beautiful and in summer the beaches are perfect, the sea is warm from June to October, the evenings are balmy perfect for alfresco dining and the temperature even in November is between 20 and 25 degrees.
Cyprus never has bad storms like cyclones or hurricanes but if there was one wish most locals would ask for would be for a little more rain in winter. It snows on the mountains each year and it has a ski resort believe it or not. It’s possible to ski and go to the beach for a swim in warm water all within an hour’s drive at about March time. But let’s not kid ourselves, despite my feelings for the place Cyprus has negatives too as do all places.
Unfortunately it’s always been dominated by politics, Cypriots are obsessed by it and combined with other financial problems either self inflicted or just part of the global situation stress levels have increased. It’s reflected in many people’s attitudes and no better example than in their driving habits. Driving is very aggressive plus, as a friend put it, there are only “six” traffic cops on the whole island, one in three drivers is on the phone, smoking, eating or doing all three whilst trying to manoeuvre the old town narrow lane-ways. The simple village life has gone to a great extent and along with that much of the warmth and patience, despite all this people are still friendly and welcoming so maybe it’s to be expected in today’s modern western societies.
I would not classify Cyprus as “cute” like the Greek islands, Sicily or Italy, much-too-much has changed and much has been built and modernized to capture the tourist euro, but you can easily make allowances for all that with the beaches, the mountains, the weather and don’t forget the food. The sea is calm and warm, definitely not for surfers and if you are look hard enough you can still find a beach a bit more secluded and less busy.
That was the intro!! We spent two months here staying in my mum’s flat which overlooks Larnaca salt lake, it’s a great spot for an impromptu jog or walk and to see the flamingos that come here for a salty meal of algae and little creatures from the lake bottom and you never know they may even fancy the odd tasty morsel from Zorba’s bakery.
In January 2016 mum moved to the Terra Santa Retirement Home home, 5 minutes away, we have seen lots of her since we arrived and have taken her out for meals by the sea which she loves. She is in a great space mentally and at 92 hasn’t got a care in the world and that makes her great fun to be with, she can burst into song at any time or come back with an unexpected witty remark but the funniest comments are always related to her poor hearing and short term memory. On one occasion she asked Tyson, Elli’s partner, “do you mind if I have one of your cigarettes”, ten minutes later, “would you like another one” asks Tyson? “A cigarette? Oh NO” says mum, “I never smoke”. It is the same with food, “I never eat much” as she is on her 5th helping, however she does admit to having a big soft-spot for chocolate and will have a mid-night snack on most nights. She is happy and we couldn’t ask for more. Whilst here an old family friend Joan from the UK came for a stay which added to mum’s delight.
We beached it a fair bit with my old friend Mon but as the air and sea cooled down we lost interest and put our effort into other past-times, like meeting up in the capital Nicosia or joining her and friends at the water front or the mountains for a stroll and the inevitable big lunch. We caught up with Mon and Belly (another friend from late teens) as much as we could and it’s funny to see how none of us have really changed. I have known them for 45 years or more and Mon is as easy going now as she’s ever been and Belly has the same lame and yet very witty and cutting sense of humour as always, as for me I am still king when it come to eating locoumades.
At one of Mon’s exhibitions, and me with Belly looking conspicuous in the background
We caught up with Chris Turner, another friend who like me has spent time in different parts of the world, he has always been a good business man and a few years back he finally moved all his work to Cyprus from London and is now settled in Limassol with his wife Valentina and daughter Natalie. We had a great day with them and indulged in a seafood lunch right on the sea’s edge, it was scrumptious, we ate oysters, crab, lobster and for me the tuna tartare was order of the day washed down with surprisingly delicious local wines. Yes Cyprus wines are now up there and taste second to none. We spent the night with them and explored some of the city’s night spots, the next day Chris and Valentina gave us a tour of the harbour, I could have been in a totally different country things have changed so much.
Later caught up with Glafco whom I’ve known since elementary school, he’s now retired and has done up a traditional village house in a stunning way, with both him and his wife Gloria being architects it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Amongst other stuff Glafco spends his time making wooden door locks based on old designs from around the world, it’s the kind of thing you’d expect if you knew Glafco, boyish, clever and very warm hearted, had a lovely time with them both and will see them and all their pets again soon.
Finally I got back into jogging again and Malene found herself a small yoga studio which went by the name of Bare Knuckles, but despite its name it was the real deal and the price didn’t have that Australian sting. It made us both feel nice to be back in our old routine. Must say Cyprus is looking good as a second home, so who knows, summer and autumn in Australia then summer and autumn in Cyprus, presto no more cold winters.