Where the hell is Cyprus?
Mistakenly, we thought that if we wanted a Non-Schengen option with beaches, we would have to leave Europe. Then we heard of the island of Cyprus. We knew nothing about it, so we began to research it. Why had we not heard of it before? How did a place with so much to offer escape our notice for so long? The more we learned about Cyprus, the more we realized how much our teachers had failed us. It didn’t take long for us to decide. We were moving to Cyprus and three months was probably not going to be enough time.
That Could Have Gone Better
Here I was, about to drive on the wrong side of the road in a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car. Also, it had been over a year since I had driven. In the history of our clever ideas, this probably wasn’t going to be one of them. When the rental agent asked me if I wanted the insurance, I replied, “Yes. Full coverage please.” laughing to myself at what I didn’t think the agent would find funny at all.
We had been traveling for over a year now and this was the first place that we found it necessary to rent a car to see the things we were hoping to see. Cyprus doesn’t have a rail system because it’s an island and nothing is that far away. Being that it was first supplied with cars by the British, the cars and roads were set up in a way that made sense to people who were from Great Briton. To us, that meant on the opposite side of the road and car from what we were used to in America.
The first road trip didn’t go too badly as long as you ignore all of the times that I scared Mimi with the bushes on the side of the road that I clipped. Apparently, I have tendency to get too far to the left when driving on the opposite side of the car. The perspective is much different from that side and it took some adjusting on my part. Even with all of the bushes I trimmed, we had a delightful drive up the west coast of Cyprus and saw some beautiful parts of the island that we’ll get into later.
The second road trip was more of an adventure. It was my mistake for telling the rental agent where we were going but it was necessary to make sure that the insurance covered us on that side of the island. You see, there is some tension on the island because the northern part of Cyprus is occupied by Turkey. They took it through military action and it has been a sore point with the Cypriots ever since. I could understand their anger, but we just wanted to see that part of the island. I was staying out of the politics of the whole thing.
We had requested a GPS system with our rental so that we wouldn’t get lost. I’ll be the first to admit that I have a horrible sense of direction. Part of the challenge was that the hotel we had booked was listed in two separate locations on the peninsula that we were headed to. Google said it was on the northern side of the peninsula and trip advisor said it was on the southern side. “Winging it” is something that Mimi enjoys immensely, and it was her birthday we were celebrating on this trip, so we were going to wing it. We’d head to location one and if the hotel wasn’t there, we’d continue on to location two. The hotel had to be somewhere.
More difficulty came when the rental agent informed us that the GPS wouldn’t work on that side of the island. She was livid that we were going to visit that side of the island and insisted that nothing electronic would work over there so we should just forget our whole trip basically. I didn’t want to upset her further by pointing out how ridiculous her claim was that the satellites didn’t work on that part of the island somehow. The truth was that the GPS was never programed with the info for that side of the island. They weren’t going to do anything that would help anyone on that side. We couldn’t blame them necessarily, so we just took the GPS to get us to the border of Northern Cyprus and we were on our own from there.
Weird, But Effective
A Different Kind of Island Life
Probably the best thing about the condo we rented in Limassol was its close proximity to the ocean. That was exactly why we picked it and paid more than our normal budget allowed per month. We could see the ocean from our bedroom window. Sure, it was only if you looked from a certain angle, across the alley behind the condo, and past some pvc pipe hanging out of the side of the building, but that still counts, right? I’m guessing that a better view would have cost even more but we were happy just being so close. We could leave our condo and be at the beach in less than a minute. If we walked a little further down, there were beaches with bars. So, there were many times we decided to get our “exercise” for the sake of having tasty refreshments available.
It wasn’t the kind of island life we had experienced in French Polynesia or the Caribbean where everything is in slow motion. Cyprus has those areas for sure but most of the southern part of the island had the energy of people with things to do. Maybe it was because bottles of rum don’t grow on trees, like they seem to do in the Caribbean. Maybe it was a lack of reggae music being played from palm leaf covered Tiki bars. It’s hard to say exactly but we had a lot of work to do ourselves, so it was probably a good thing that Limassol had a pulse.
A Little History
Cyprus has always found itself right in the middle of everything, an innocent bystander at the mercy of history. The first settlers arrived all the way back in the stone age and this small island has kept itself busy ever since. For centuries, the empires and nations of the world have laid their claim and made their mark on this area. Throughout its turbulent history it’s been claimed (either partially or fully) by the Greeks, Romans, Hittites, Ottomans, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Byzantines, British, and Turkish.
Today, Cyprus is divided between three nations. The southern portion is controlled by Cypriots of Greek decent who won their independence from the UK oddly enough. The northern side is controlled by Turkey who invaded (twice) on the pretense of a peace operation. A pretense that might have been more believable if the Turkish hadn’t had tanks and guns, but I digress. Finally, the British control a strip of land between the two sections as well as having two military bases there.
As if this poor island hadn’t been through enough turmoil, we unsympathetically decided to call it home for three months. We graciously shared it with the Cypriots, the Turkish, and about a million cats. The cats were everywhere, and Mimi took it upon herself to feed them all. Every morning we would go into the little yard in front of the condo we were renting, and fill bowls with food and water. Towards the end of our stay, there were usually no less than ten cats waiting for us at Mimi’s Cafe.
We became very attached to one little kitten in particular and it was very hard to leave him behind. We occasionally still try to convince ourselves that we’re not bad people for leaving him. We console ourselves with the knowledge that we took him to the vet for his shots, got him a flea treatment, and fed him all the canned food he could eat to get him bigger faster. Between the canned food and the premium dry kitten food he grew noticeably, and we wanted him to have the best chance possible at competing with all of the other cats on the island. If the airlines allowed more than one cat per passenger, we would most certainly have little Max as part of our family today.
Limassol has a downtown area where most of the cities activity and night life has moved to. This is where the fun is happening. The traditional strip of outdated condos along the beach has fallen out of favor for a more eclectic blend of pedestrian friendly areas. There’s a beach front promenade that connects to another area with restaurants and entertainment centered around Limassol Castle where most people tend to hang out now.
Restaurant bars showing the live football matches (soccer for the Americanos) are everywhere in this part of town. The atmosphere is electric with fans cheering on their team while ordering pitchers of beer. Even if you’re not a fan of any team, or the sport itself for that matter, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment. Just cheer for the team that everyone else is cheering for and you’re bound to make friends.
Cyprus is a great place for a road trip. We found the roads easy to navigate and the cars we rented had a jack for plugging in our phone. With reggae playing, the sun shining, the hills, and the ocean usually off in the distance, it was almost like driving in Southern California. Except that the people in Cyprus actually know how to drive. Personally, I liked that everything was within a few hours away. So, no road trip was ever too long.
Something to keep in mind is that, if you travel to Northern Cyprus, it is a different country. So, have your passport ready and be prepared to pay for what they call “insurance” at the border. We didn’t crash into anything while we were there to truly test out the legitimacy of that, but it felt more like a shakedown to us. It was twenty euro to cross and you literally have to park just past the checkpoint and walk through traffic to get to the window where you pay the fee. Fortunately, the traffic is nearly stopped so it wasn’t too challenging but seriously? Whoever thought of that arrangement was obviously a long-time government employee based on the complete inefficiency and absurdity of that set up.
That was a first
A not so glamorous memory of Cyprus is a topic that’s semi hard to discuss and shall be approached delicately. The plumbing in our condo was obviously somewhat dated because there was a sign on the wall in our bathroom that indicated that absolutely undo no circumstances should we flush toilet paper down the toilet. This was first for us. We had heard of this problem before in less developed or less modern areas of the world but the experience it as a way of life was a whole new way of life for us. Taking out the trash was an everyday occurrence now.
I only mention it to illustrate that even though the travel lifestyle, can seem to be a glamorous lifestyle at times. Especially if your only impressions of it are glamorous, carefully crafted shots on Facebook and Instagram. There are moments of awkwardness. There are moments of discomfort and self-sacrifice. There are moments when you are far away from the comforts of home that you, at one time, took for granted. It’s moments like throwing your used toilet paper in the wastebasket next to you, that the old cliché “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” becomes very real and not as much of a cliché as you once thought.
Cider has always been a favorite drink of mine, but I found a new enthusiasm for Somersby apple cider while living in Cyprus. I don’t like beer, but Mimi does and even she found herself ordering cider most of the time. There’s something about lounging on a beach in the hot sun that makes them taste even better. I always started off by ordering two for each of us because the first one went down so quickly that the second one was still cold when we slowed down enough to sip on it.
While wandering through downtown Limassol one day, we started walking down a street we found for the simple reason that we hadn’t been down that one yet. That’s all the reason we need most of the time. “We haven’t been lost here yet, let’s go!” But this was to be a special occasion. Often, we find ourselves going out for drinks but it’s not as common for us to get drunk so unexpectedly. Ok, so it’s a little bit common but there’s a story here so let’s not get bogged down by semantics.
Peering into one shop as we passed, we saw an old lady selling locally made foods and liquor with piles of goodies stacked up all around her shop. Never in the history of retail has there been a better salesperson than this crafty old woman. She instinctively knew exactly how to sell us half of her inventory. She began giving us “samples” of the different varieties of liquor she had for sale, followed by snacks.
Shot after shot, we sampled almost everything in her inventory. We left her shop with a couple of different liquors that we had never heard of before, and a couple of bottles of wine. After we were good and drunk she started feeding us and we left with a bag of snacks as well. It was a very enjoyable walk back home. Following the shoreline, gazing at the ocean, and slightly wobbly, we walked and laughed about how skilled she had been. We both agreed that after our visit, she closed up her shop and went home for the rest of the week, bills paid.
There was no shortage of good food in Cyprus. Most local dishes are of Greek origin and are as delicious as they are heavy. One meal goes a long way. Special mention should go to The Cabin for having what we felt was the best local food and the friendliest owner/chef on the island. There were times he’d tell us, “I’m making (insert Greek deliciousness) on Tuesday night. You should stop by.” When it comes to good food, we’re smart enough to take the word of an artist like him. We always accepted his invite and we were never disappointed.
The Lighthouse had decent food but what made it special enough to get a mention, was the private beach in front of it. There were many evenings when we finished eating and then stayed for a while to enjoy a few drinks with the view. The wedding we got to witness there one night is a testament to how picture perfect it was.
Well, almost picture perfect. I’ll never forget the image of the guy walking behind the wedding party in his bright red speedo bathing suit, while smoking a cigarette, pushing a baby stroller as they were taking wedding photos. We couldn’t help but laugh at the miserable look on his face as he struggled with the stroller in the sand while his family trailed behind. They casually walked through the shot with arms full of floatation devices, as the happy couple posed in front of the setting sun. If I could find that wedding photographer, I would pay serious money for that shot.
Syrian food was new to us and we discovered a place called the Syrian Arab Friendship Club that made us fall in love with this wonderful new flavor. The patio outside was framed by real grape vines, complete with hanging clusters of grapes, fruit trees, and a fountain. As pretty as the atmosphere was, the food was even better. We ordered hot and cold appetizers like we were at a tapas bar in Spain, for the simple reason of wanting to try everything. A new found love of mezze is now something that makes us seek out Syrian food wherever we are.
Over the Hills and Through the Woods
Our drive up the west coast of Cyrus took us through Pafos, Peyia, and Neo Chorio. They were all close enough together that we easily could have driven through in one day, but we planned a stop in each area so that we could explore more thoroughly. Each stop had something special about it and we were determined to take it all in.
Pafos is home of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tomb of the Kings. And even though no actual kings are buried there, it’s an incredible was to spend a day, wandering through the ancient ruins. It’s the kind of place that you can picture Indiana Jones searching for some lost artifact. Pafos has beaches, a restaurant lined waterfront, and various other historical spots as well but Tomb of the Kings was definitely the spot we were most appreciative of seeing.
Peyia was our next stop on our way to see the Coral Bay Sea Caves. It’s technically still within the border of the district of Pafos but this small town has earned the right to its own identity. The sea caves are a destination in themselves and even if you don’t go down to the water, the view alone is enough to make people drive to Peyia. It’s a bit tricky getting down to the water from the cliffs above where you park, mainly because we couldn’t find the trail. We eventually figured it out after seeing another couple struggle down the path to the water. The water is that beautiful shade of blue that everyone hopes for when planning a day in the ocean and we spent the whole day snorkeling before moving on to our hotel.
Our hotel had a great beach and we spent a lot of time swimming and relaxing before having dinner and frozen margaritas as we watched the sun set. The food was good, but the view and frozen drinks really made it perfect. It doesn’t take too much to make us happy. We’re simple creatures. There’s not much to do in the area except swim in beautiful clear blue water and relax, but isn’t that enough?
Neo Chorio was the grand finale of our road trip and we spared no expense on getting, possibly the best hotel we’ve ever stayed at, outside of the overwater bungalows of French Polynesia. The Anassa Hotel stood out for many reasons. There are the four restaurants boasting world class chefs, there are the comfortable rooms with the views of the ocean, a couple of swimming pools, and there’s the private beach with full food and bar service. But the best quality of the hotel besides the absolute perfection of their hotel was their foolish willingness to rent us a speed boat.
Neo Chorio has some of the best beaches and some of the best snorkeling anywhere in Cyprus, so we took advantage of the boat rental to cruise down the coast and hop into the crystal clear water whenever the urge took us. We dropped anchor and jumped over the side of the boat anywhere that looked like it needed us to explore the underwater beauty below. The hotel even had picnic lunches available to take on the boat. So, we spent the whole day exploring the coast line, only pausing for a delicious lunch with the gentle rocking of the waves to aid in our digestion. With places like Aphrodite’s Beach and the Blue Lagoon, you couldn’t go wrong, no matter where you anchored.
Northern Cyprus was an experience that deserves its own blog and was a very fun road trip that we took in honor of Mimi’s birthday. It’s a very sparsely populated area and had the best beach we saw while in Cyprus despite the heavy competition from Neo Chorio. On our way back, we drove through the touristy area of Fig Tree where we stopped for lunch as we stared at the ocean. It was a beautiful area and we had planned on going back to Fig Tree for a longer visit but it was very touristy, and with time running out on our ninety-day visa, it became a lower priority.
Because it was only an hour flight away, we decided to visit Israel. Politics aside, (we don’t get involved) it is a part of the world that has a lot of history and we weren’t going to pass up that chance. We were able to visit Tel Aviv first and were surprised at what a relaxed and dog friendly town it was.
From there we went to Jerusalem for a couple of nights. There’s no denying the centuries of history here. It’s everywhere you look, and the fervor of visiting religious pilgrims was an interesting sight to behold. After spending a day to explore the old city, we took the next day to rent a car to visit Masada and the Dead Sea. Masada was one of those Discovery channel moments come true for us. We were amazed by what we had seen on TV and we were twice as impressed by what we saw in person.
Let Me Sum Up
For a place that we had previously didn’t even know existed, Cyprus was possibly the most welcome surprise in all of the places we’ve been lucky enough to live in for a time. The history of the island was fascinating, the food better than we expected, and the weather only gave us one day of rain. Something we actually welcomed on the day we found ourselves surprised by the realization that it hadn’t rained yet since we had gotten there.
We also found it a bit disappointing that the locals aren’t more environmentally minded, and we hope that’s something that will change in time. Trash in the water is becoming a problem and the government there has started to allow tankers to dock offshore to drill for oil. There is so much that Cyprus has to offer that we hope they find a way to preserve what they have.
The rest of the world sees Cyprus as a place of military importance and a place to look for oil, but there is so much more to it than that. Cyprus could become a world class destination that people dream of if they can preserve what they have. We feel very lucky to have seen some of the things that Cyprus has to offer. We hope that it can stay the beautiful place that we will always remember.