Cultural Delights of Larnaca

I’m on my travels and Monday I paid a visit to Larnaca. One of the many places I had wanted to see was the Hala Sultan Tekke a famous and important pilgrimage sight for Muslims. It is said that it was built over the tomb of Mohammed’s foster mother. I had seen it many times from afar across the salt lakes coming from the airport, it is one of the iconic scenes of Cyprus. On Monday I got up close and personal. The surrounding area looks very lush with Palm trees and greenery and looks very much like an oasis set as it is in the flat landscape with salt lakes around. There isn’t much to see inside as with most mosques it is very plain with no decorative adornment, there were however a few bids flying around the ceiling, swallows and pigeons and an immaculate fitted carpet throughout.The scenery around the mosque is unique  and spectacular set as it is amongst water with the crusty salt deposits gathering on the shores where the water laps into the grasses.

From there I continued on into Larnaca town where I was to meet up with my sister-in-law for lunch, as she had just popped over from the UK for a brief visit. After a leisurely and delicious lunch at Militzis looking out to the sea, we sauntered along the sea front in search of the Municipal Art Gallery. This we found near  Finikoudes opposite the wooden pier, A group of old warehouses built in the time of British rule have been turned into a very contemporary space and serving as Larnaca’s cultural centre. There is a very interesting ceramics exhibition showing until the end of July with 22 Cypriot ceramicist’s work on display which intrigued and delighted us in turn. We also had the extra entertainment of the attendant as he kept popping in and out with remarks and comments on the exhibits. He was clearly delighted with them and finds inspiring the artist’s excursions into fantasy . These cultural gems which I am often delighted by are not very well advertised or shouted about enough in my opinion. George Georghiadhes of Lemba pottery  told me  that he was exhibiting here and that is how I knew of it.The gallery is not well signposted and there were no posters nearby that I saw telling you of this exhibition. It must cost money to put on so why not spend a little more for a few posters or a little effort to put a list of events online? I couldn’t find any exhibitions listed on any site mentioning the gallery only where it was why is this?   In a conversation with a friend who lives in the Paphos area he remarked that a leaflet is regularly produced with the list of events for the month but that half the month is gone before the list gets circulated. Clearly there is a detrimental time lapse which means that those who want to know and possibly attend events are getting missed. There are few enough cultural events in the area so those that take place should be better organised with their networking which in turn will make them more profitable.On looking through the photos I took it appears I didn’t take many of the exhibits which is a shame as they were varied and unusual it seems I was enjoying myself so much I forgot.

Music Museums and Motivation

This week I managed to get to see some live music at last as I have been missing seeing any live performances since I’ve been here. In Paphos at the Technopolis 20 culture centre they have a full programme of events for June with some classical recitals as well as Jazz, the performance I went to see on Thursday evening however was rembetika the Greek blues. A group of musicians playing bass, bouzouki, guitar and fiddle entertained us for more than two hours in the garden under the stars, with a collection of nostalgic music. Many of the songs were well known to the audience who sang along and on occasions got up to dance. Some songs have a very compelling rhythm and you can’t help but want to get up and strut your stuff, I did manage to resist however as the fear of making a fool of myself was stronger than the compelling music. In true Greek style drinks and nibbles were available and the audience were seated at tables café style, often chatting throughout the performance some more loudly than others!

Unlike Sunday when I attended a Charity Garden Party arranged by Janet Robinson of Nitbats in her very own garden around the pool which had live music throughout the afternoon. Performed by a mixture of singers in different styles from rock to blues to pop this time I couldn’t resist, this was another kind of nostalgia as I was transported back to the seventies with the same footwork to match!! Janet was raising funds for a local Hospice for cancer patients as well as a cancer charity and did a terrific job organising a very entertaining event, as well as the music there was a fashion show, a raffle and several stalls selling this and that including me of course tucked away under the arch near the loos with my books. Elena of Orexi brought along some of her delicious food for sale which went in a flash and there was of course a bar. A very jolly time was had by all and so far she has managed to raise a goodly sum of 1300 euros.

I took advantage of my time over Paphos way as I stayed overnight with a friend and went to visit the church and Folk museum at Yerroskipou on Friday. I have just finished reading a book called ‘A Walk with Aphrodite written by Peter Breakwell describing a mammoth walk around the thirty seven villages of Paphos over very rough terrain, with the aim of raising money to buy a vital piece of equipment for the hospital in Paphos. He undertook this walk in the 1990’s and there have been many changes since that time but he records the churches he visited and historical landmarks nearby which made it a very interesting read as well as his encounters with the various Muktars and generous offers of a bed for the night. One of the churches he visited was the old church Ayia Paraskevi in Yerroskipou centre which has five domes. I didn’t remember ever having been inside although I probably have but took the opportunity to have another peep. Inside there are a few remains of some of the painted frescoes that once covered all the walls, evidence that they had been either plastered or painted over at some stage as there were signs of heavy chisel marks where the covering plaster had been removed. No photographs were allowed unfortunately and there was rather grumpy looking priest on guard so I couldn’t even sneak one in.

I had long wanted to visit the museum and was not disappointed. A very large house and a nice example of its kind. It was evident from the abundance of rooms and layout as well as architectural refinements that this was the house of a wealthy man. The British consul lived here from 1800 to 1864. The best part was a room where there were some very fine textile examples including a very lovely piece of Fythkiotika and a beautifully unusual runner which looked like chenille work, with vibrant colours. To top it all off I was invited to watch a short video on how olive oil was made using the huge hand press that was in an outbuilding.Very interesting and as I spoke to the attendant  in Greek when I first entered and established after enquiry that my Dad was from Cyprus I didn’t have to pay, bonus.

Saturday morning saw me take part in yet another different past time, helping a volunteer group  ACT to pick up rubbish on the beaches of the Akamas. Keith Watkins along with his wife Wendy, have so far organised 16 clean up excursions to the beaches of the Akamas over a few years, they occur every couple of months. The members number around 60 altogether. My friends took me in their truck, the roads being mostly unmade and often badly rutted so the journey itself is quite an adventure. Sitting in the back was reminiscent of a roller coaster ride, the scenery though is splendid with views of a rugged coastline. It is along this coast on one particular beach at Lara bay where the turtles come to lay their eggs every year and although it is supposed to be protected you still get ignorant people setting up their umbrellas and picnicking on these sensitive spots.

Keith organises these excursions with military precision, doing a recky beforehand taking many photos of the rubbish strewn about either by careless visitors or washed up from the sea. He divides the area into sections so that they work along the coast leaving each beach pristine…. until the next time. I was astounded at the amount of rubbish, between us, there were about 10 or 12 of us, we collected 65 large garden refuse bags as well as a large haul of larger items of plastic pipe, wire and large containers and cans. These are all deposited in one spot and the Forestry commission informed, always enormously grateful who then come along and dispose of it. I could have filled one sack alone with shoes of all kinds, flip-flops, sandals trainers all sizes, I even found a back pack half buried in the sand. The coast line has a lot of low-lying bushes and debris gets tangled in the branches and caught underneath, the road to the beach was particularly bad with bottles of glass as well as plastic. On the shore there were large piles where the rubbish washed in from the sea had all tangled together with seaweed, in these there were hundreds of bottle tops and disposable lighters, in one of the gullies I found a whole carton of cigarettes saturated with sea water, apparently this is a common sight, it is suspected it could be contraband discarded before the coastguard catches them.

Keith should be given a medal for his initiative and effort as he is at least saving some of this plastic from degrading even further and getting eaten by the fish as well as keeping the coastline clean. I would nominate him myself if there was such an award available in Cyprus. After a few hours we all sit down and enjoy a snack often provided by Wendy washed down with a beer supplied by Keith although each person brought their own, except me. It was a great way of seeing a part of the coast I otherwise don’t have access to and doing something worthwhile in the process.

I hope I will have the opportunity to participate again on another trip.

Rubbishrubbish 2rubbish3

New for Old

Another busy week it seems has passed and now I find myself looking ahead as the time is getting closer when I will have to leave this lovely island. I am trying to fit in a trip to Larnaca area and join up all the other little trips I need to do before I go. So I will probably be on a round road trip stopping at Kalavassos for a few nights then on to Nicosia for a final visit with relatives and then coming across to visit Androula in Treis Elies for a few days before returning back to Polis for my final week. It doesn’t seem possible that the time has gone so quickly.

On Sunday my cousin Androula celebrated her 60th birthday by organising a wonderful get together at Platania picnic site in the Troodos forest. It is fairly close to Nicosia taking about 45 minutes to drive. For us coming from Polis it was a longer journey of two hours. I went with my cousin Nicos and some friends followed us. We all took something to eat and drink and Androula organised the meat for the souvlakia. At these designated picnic areas there are tables and an area for cooking the souvlakia which of course is the men’s domain. Nicos took a big crate of his home grown cucumbers and a basket of lemons from his tree as well as kieftedhes,-little pork rissoles. Cherries were brought from Treis Elies as now is the season. A huge water melon also in season of course was another essential for any summer party, was supplied my Michael. Koupebia were brought and another friend brought a huge dish of Pastichia the Cypriot version of Lasagna. This is my favourite and sadly as I was so busy talking and taking photos, I missed out on this. Cakes and puddings of various descriptions were brought and the tables were positively laden with delicious food of all descriptions. family and friends were all invited and we all had a very enjoyable couple of hours in true Cypriot tradition. Bravo Androula!!

On Wednesday I had a different day out with a friend who wanted to revisit some old haunts of hers in the Ayia Marina area close to Polis. If you take the road out of Polis travelling towards Pomos the road runs along the coastline and eventually you will hit Pyrgos  where the Turkish occupied area checkpoint is . Here the shore is very rocky with only a few areas where you can find a spot to lay on the beach or swim. In the past there were mines along here for copper. On the land side the Paphos forest rises up the mountain so it is avery dramatic coastline in parts. It is also an area of agriculture and is dotted with farms and orchards. Pomos has a lovely small harbour where the fishing boats are safely gathered in, right on the promontory of this spot is situated, of course, a large restaurant that specialises in fish where we had a delicious leisurely lunch. What a vista to eat lunch by.

After lunch on our way back we saw a sign to a village called Nea Dimata where we decided to explore and came across avery curious arrangement of brick built houses. In Cyprus you very rarely see houses built of brick, they are usually stone or nowadays many are made with concrete, unless you travel to Troodos particularly around the Platres area you may see some. These are usually left over from colonial times when the British were on the island and I guessed that the houses in Nea Dimmata must have been built by the British as even the style of house looked different and they all had chimneys which is another feature you don’t often see on houses here. Indeed bricks are not readily available here and these bricks look like they were hand made as they were smaller than usual and a bit irregular. The houses have  suffered quite a lot with water damage on ground level probably as they didn’t have any damp proofing or air bricks. A few we noticed had been built with a stone foundation layer and these had air bricks, so maybe a later version. Even a brand new house had been built with bricks so as to blend in we assumed. The roof tiles were even unusual as they looked like a flower pot cut in half. After a bit of research I found that indeed this whole village was built by the British when the villagers were moved out of their original houses in the old village, I’m not quite sure why they were moved but I may find out later. There is always something unusual to look at around the corner. This whole area has so much to explore and if you are a keen walker there are many lovely trails.

Tonight I’m off to a falafel fest as today is International falafel day.

The priest at Inia

Words and Pictures

It seems like ages ago but it was only last Friday 29th May that I gave my talk at Droushia Heights hotel about the making and publishing of Androula’s Kitchen – Cyprus on a Plate.. To say I was nervous would be an understatement but in fact I was very happy with the presentation once it was over and felt a great relief that it was no longer hanging over me. Like all these things it may seem very simple, the talk only lasted 45 minutes but it took several hours of preparation. There were 475 photos being played on the screen as I delivered my five and half thousand word talk, thereabouts. Another experience under my belt.

We had another holiday here in Cyprus this last weekend as well, it was Kataklysmos. Now this has several  connections. Like many religious festivals it is tacked onto an existing celebration that dates way back in the mists of time. In the Orthodox calendar it marks 50 days after Easter as well as marking the time of the Great Food in the Bible. So this day is celebrated by all things water related; going to the beach and possibly taking your picnic,swimming or generally playing games with water and this includes for children of course, water pistols. But this festival also relates way back to the celebration of Venus who it was said rose from the foam at Petra Tou Romiou near Limassol, the worship of Aphrodite on Cyprus was  a major cult and was an important centre with many large temples dedicated to her. Whatever the origins everyone embraces the holiday and it certainly was a very busy time around the area where I am staying which is close to the sea and saw a large influx of families and  people taking advantage of the long weekend. I myself enjoyed a very relaxing time with family and of course this involved a lot of eating as with all holidays here but definitely no water pistols!!!

This week I am doing an intensive photography course with Andrea Christofi a professional photographer who lives close by. We are covering all the basics of photography taking me back to the days when I used an analogue camera, we are learning how to get the most out of our digital cameras using many of the same techniques plus the advantages of a digital camera. The digital camera makes it very easy to be lazy and just use the auto setting which generally produces a good photo but you can get so much more out of your camera if you take a bit of trouble to use the many other options available which can help you produce more interesting photos as well as getting some more fun out of photography. Andrea also has a regular photography session with a small group of people every Wednesday when they venture out and about taking photos with a specific theme and then later looking at the pictures they have taken and discussing them. This Wednesday we went to an abandoned village nearby called Theletra. This has some lovely old houses now sadly in ruins except for one or two that have recently been renovated and lived in. The village was abandoned after an earthquake when there was a lot of movement of the surrounding rock face creating a very unstable environment. The residents moved up to the top of the hill where there is now a relatively modern village although the church in the old part has now been restored and is in use. Some of the houses still contain clothing and the whole place has quite an eerie feel to it with some great photo opportunities. I can’t wait to go back though and use some of my new learned techniques and compare the photos.

Last week we went down to the beach and played around with using a large aperture and slow shutter speed to get some interesting effects when shaking the camera about. I am now finding out the limitations of my ‘bridge’ camera compared to a proper SLR. The other participants all have much more sophisticated and in there read ‘expensive’ equipment, with extra lenses, tripods and so on so were able to get some extraordinary results that were works of art in themselves. They also were able to produce a double exposure effect which is taking two different photos on one picture so that one image is superimposed onto another, which I didn’t think was possible with digital cameras. In the days of manual or analogue cameras this was all too possible and could cause some interesting results – usually by accident.Tomorrow is our last morning and we are putting it all into practice and playing about with composition which should be fun.

Furry Fun Photos

Continuing the animal theme from the last post I’ve posted a few photos taken on a meandering morning around Paphos with friends. As I mentioned I was taking part in  photomarathon the first of its kind to take place, organised by the Cyprus Photographic Society and with an eye on 2017 when Paphos is to be the city of culture. It started at the old electric powerhouse Pallia Ilectriki which has been beautifully converted into a cultural centre with requisite restaurant attached. There was a good number of people taking part not just locally but a whole contingent from Limassol photographic club came. We were given four themes and we could go anywhere in Paphos district to take photos. The themes were Water, People at work, Illusion and Encounter which gives you a pretty wide scope. We didn’t venture very far as it turns out and wandered around an area, I would say of about a quarter of a mile square  which proved a rich vein of subject matter from which to gather some gems. There were certainly plenty of people at work as this quarter contains the old workshops of the town. There was also a fantastic fresh fish shop with a huge array of unusual fish with wonderful names like , scorpion fish and swallow fish, pity I wasn’t going straight home because I would have loved to have bought some. I did fulfil my desire to consume something fishy later however as  I eat some delicious fish soup at the restaurant at Pallia Ilectiki. We seemed to spend quite a time in the fish shop, one of my  companions who is a professional photographer and has a serious camera wanted to get the perfect shot but eventually we made our way down the street.  Looking for some water we spotted a bucket which contained some and then noticed bales of grass outside the shop. Venturing in and asking what the shop was about we discovered a whole plethera of furry friends. There was a hare, baby turkeys,chicks and pigeons all in large boxes and cages ready to sell on. This was indeed a strange encounter. Just on the other side of the street was a small bar out of which came a man with a couple of dishes of mahalepi. This is a real treat in the heat made with rosewater and cornflour it is very refreshing, I don’t know where he was taking them but he disappeared around the corner. Next door to the bar was a small workshop with a whole stack of new chairs, traditional ‘karekles, ready to be have their seats rushed, the rushes sitting in the top half of the shop. The shop was unoccupied when we first spotted it but soon a man appeared and welcomed us and showed us how he makes the wooden spindles onto which the rush is woven.It turns out he had been doing this job for 60years and in that very shop for 50, it didn’t look like he was ready to retire any time soon either by the stack of chairs there.

We remarked at the end of the day how friendly and welcoming all the people we met were and so accepting of us taking endless photos. We all had name tags and the area had been full of photographers that day so by the time the morning was finished everyone was very laid back about it. It was a real slice of Cyprus at its best

Birds and Banter

Courtesy of Cyprus Traveller website

Courtesy of Cyprus Traveller website

Well I am of a few days back in the driving seat as it were. I’ve enjoyed my break but shopping was a bit inconvenient. I’m looking forward to a trouble free stay now and want to  make the most of my time here.

During my stay so far I have been very aware of all the birds around although there are many I don’t recognise. Cyprus is a ‘birders’ heaven as there are a huge number of migratory birds come here from Europe and Africa, there are over four hundred species  either resident or passing through.  I have a family of swallows next door that have been resident since I arrived and the babies have hatched and are at the moment practising their swoops and dives, some of them very close. It has  been a real pleasure to watch their aviatory skills – and if there isn’t such a word there should be!!

My favourite bird ‘though is a permanent resident in Cyprus, the Scops owl. I heard it every night regular as clockwork as soon as it was dusk, until the warmer weather arrived. It has a rather melancholy hoot, Scops owls are not easy to  see in the day as they sit very still in tree hollows or empty buildings and are well camouflaged.  There is a belief in Cyprus apparently that the Scops owl is the oldest bird in existence, there is reference to them in a mediaeval folk song suggesting they were there at the dawn of creation. There is a story attached to this birds haunting hoot,of course there is, in Cyprus almost everything and everyone eventually gets a story to explain their existence. Cypriots love to weave tales a bit like the Irish. According to legend a man after realising that his brother was dead after sending him out on a dangerous mission, asked Artemis the goddess of hunting and the forest, to release him of his torment so she turned him into an owl to wander forever calling ‘Ghionis’ his brother’s name. A nice tale.

I plan to pootle around locally for a couple of weeks while planning a long trip over Larnaca way, where I will explore the East side of the island a bit more. and not venture too far afield as I realised I have only skimmed the surface on my own doorstep. There are many small villages with interesting features that I haven’t captured with my camera, so lots of photo opportunities and fabulous views.

On Saturday I’m going to  take part in  photomarathon as it is called, in Paphos. Organised by the Cyprus Photographic Society, we are given four themes and we have to go off and find relevant subjects to take photos of and then the best photo wins a Leica camera, sounds good to me. It will be a great opportunity to wander around Paphos and poke about in parts I haven’t seen before. I’m going with a professional photographer so there will be no hope for me winning but something like this certainly sharpens your observational skills.

Talking of which I have noticed a few things lately as I have been wandering around; why do young men with nice cars presumably with air conditioning, have the window wound down and the right arm hanging limply outside in the air? It’s an attitude thing right, driving with one hand and sometimes talking on the phone at the same time while going around a corner! Talking on the phone while driving is illegal here, but someone has to catch them first and so many young women drive holding their phone to their ears and blithely taking a right turn across busy traffic. There are many bendy roads out here in fact the only straight ones are the motorways and you invariably see Cypriots just cut off the bends and drive a straight line, does this save time, energy, clearly it’s easier than turning the steering wheel? Driving in Cyprus certainly keeps you on your toes.

Life’s Ups and Downs

There has been a bit of a lull in my blog posts as last week I had an unfortunate accident that has left me in a state of musing and shaken but nothing is broken except the car. Being without a car temporarily is rather relaxing and I have discovered the joys of getting around on foot and by bus. There is a bus stop very close which has a small minibus that runs between Polis, the nearest town about 5 minutes away, and Latchi which is further down the road. It runs every hour so very like my home village in the UK. It is possible to get around the island between the main towns by bus now, as the government in an attempt to get the Cypriots from behind the wheels of their beloved cars, set up a public transport network much needed on the island, there are no railways. It is mostly used by foreigners ‘though as even in Nicosia my relatives prefer to use their cars, most Cypriots find it strange if you want to walk anywhere rather than going by car. The buses are also very cheap compared to my local buses in the UK  as to go from Polis to Paphos a 40 minute journey it cost 5 euros. I have local shops close by where I can get most things and one is even in reasonable walking distance. In thirty minutes I can also walk to a very nice beach with facilities of a cafe and showers on a lovely quiet road through the fields with plenty of interesting things to look at on the way. In fact it is one of the nicest beaches in the area as it is  sandy. Of course as everyone else has a car I have had plenty of kind offers of lifts and assistance in shopping etc but I am by nature an independent person I always like to find out what I can do for myself.

I took the bus into Polis on Saturday and walked to the supermarket and while walking around town. I passed the museum a rather pleasant looking building which I had never visited and always wanted too so this was my opportunity. Needless to say there was no one else there, it was small but well presented and there were some interesting pottery pieces. There was no restriction on photographs so I snapped away happily. The best exhibit for me was a massive pottery figure that was found close by to Polis. It had been made in sections the torso parts being thrown on a potter’s wheel which then slotted together. It had a very contemporary look to me the way it had been exhibited like some modern installation piece. I find that these ancient pieces can be very inspirational especially the pottery designs and decoration. I read a very interesting article recently by a fellow blogger on WordPress  Anna Reeve who is a student of classics, a resident in Leeds who is very interested in ancient Cypriot pottery. She had just received a copy of an article published by the National Museum of Denmark which she had been wanting to read for some time which compares some of the ceramic work of artists such as Picasso with ancient Cypriot pottery pieces. It turns out Picasso worked with a fellow artist for a period Suzanne Ramíé and she derived a great deal of inspiration from Ancient Cypriot ceramics , some of her pieces echo the shapes of specific pieces exactly. Here is the article well worth a read.  

Coffee Cake and Cattle

Tuesday 28th April

Today saw the arrival of Summer after April teased us with showery days followed by sunny ones and temperatures rising and falling, today it reached 28 degrees. Gone are the gentler cooler days with fluffy white clouds, socks and vest were discarded in favour of sandals and short sleeved tops. I had a very relaxed afternoon, my morning’s work completed I headed into Polis and Tina’s Art cafe for a frappé and a piece of her delicious strawberry yoghurt cake. Tina is German and a wizard with cakes, I go there when in need and she never disappoints. It is a very pleasant shady corner to pass the time and chill, newspapers and magazines at hand to catch up on the local news. Lots of plants and trees and a picturesque ruin next door as a backdrop to some metal art work. Tina and I it turned out are vaguely related we discovered a while ago; now you have to pay attention here as it gets complicated; her husband is a cousin to my cousin’s wife. This is how it goes in Cyprus with large families.

Feeling nicely chilled I then headed out to a little village called Giolou close by, to wander around and take some photos and after I headed on up another hill in the golden light of the afternoon to Lasa. The air is thick with the scent or orange blossom and Jasmine now as the heat intensifies all the aromas, flowers are blooming everywhere creating a vibrant contrast of purples,scarlets, pinks and reds. I passed through Drymou and stopped as the scene was like paradise unfolding. The rich landscape of trees and fields stretching out before me on the hillside; harvesting has begun leaving a patchwork of golden yellow and green, the early Spring grasses gradually turning pale although the poppies and yellow daisies are still everywhere.

As I parked the car below the church to take some photos I saw what looked like a wild man disappearing around the corner with very long hair and unruly beard, stopping briefly to see who the stranger was that had parked probably outside his house. As I gazed at the scene and drank it in I noticed some cows grazing just below, a rare sight in Cyprus and to me they looked like Jersey cows with that lovely soft caramel colour hide, most cows are kept under cover as there is not enough fresh pasture for them to feed on.  As I was taking the photo I heard someone approach and guessed it was the ‘wild man’. He greeted me in Greek and we chatted, it turned out the cows were his but they weren’t Jersey cows but an old village breed, probably oxen, as he said they were used in the fields to work. After he had ascertained I was alone had no family, meaning husband and children in Greek speak, he invited me for coffee but I declined. In Cyprus it is common hospitality to invite strangers for coffee,but call me suspicious, that line of conversation always makes me nervous. A single woman travelling alone I sadly sometimes miss the opportunity to talk to strangers, well men anyway, as coming from London originally I have an in built caution. Under all the hair he was a relatively young man, relative to me that is, and pleasant enough but my Greek is limited and conversation can get difficult. It was time to make my exit.     

The Avakas Gorge

Yesterday I went with a friend to visit the Avakas Gorge on the Akamas. It is a spectacular place to visit with huge pock marked  rock formations on your approach to the gorge and beautiful panoramic views  of cultivated land with a variety of trees in various shades of grey green and greens and the beach behind you. The approach is gentle enough once you get near the trail and very shady so extremely pleasant when the sun is fierce. As you go further along the rocks get higher and higher on either side reaching as high as 30 meters and start to close in over the top. The  pathway runs alongside and sometimes requires crossing the river bed which in the high summer is often dry but this time of year has water and the stones get slippery. As you travel along the river bed the boulders get larger  and more difficult to navigate as you get nearer the exit it is more challenging. This limestone gorge was hewn by a torrent of water over aeons but the water that runs through it now is barely a trickle although about a foot deep in places. There was maiden hair fern growing from the rock face and many large lizards scurrying past as we approached. This area is said to hold  a multitude of flora and fauna and a particularly rare specimen called the Centauria Akamandis with purple flowers, sadly we didn’t notice any as we were too busy chatting.There are several benches dotted along the way to sit and take in the atmosphere. If you are visiting in the summer it would be advisable to go early in the day as the approach is very open and dusty and when the sun is high it is relentless. High up on top of the cliff top sits a cafe called The Last Castle that does spit roasted kebabs over charcoal  either lamb or chicken. You have to book in high season as it is so popular and has marvellous views from its high spot, over the sea. You can sit under a shady vine on stone seats and sip a cool beer while admiring the view after your arduous adventure. We went back along the road to The Searays cafe to have a drink and relax while admiring the view.

Travels Around the Island

It has been a busy and mixed time since my last post. My Uncle died very sadly on Good Friday eve and because it was Easter the funeral didn’t take place until the following Tuesday in Lefkosia. It made the Easter celebrations bitter sweet but in a strange way very apt as it’s a time of death and rebirth. Nearly all the family were at the funeral some  relatives I hadn’t seen for many years. There is a tradition of inviting the mourners to take some bread, olives, cheese and wine at the cemetery. There is a  special area set aside for the relatives to cater for this in the cemetery where my Uncle was buried but my Father was buried in a small village cemetery and we had to make do as best we could. Also food is provided for those mourners who wish to go back to the house.

When my Father died he was buried the next day which is the custom in Cyprus, being a hot country there is sense in expediency. We went to my Dad’s garden to collect flowers and leaves from his bushes to put in the coffin with him which I thought was a very nice idea, much more personal than buying them and he did love gardening.

I stayed with a cousin in Lefkosia for a few days and took the opportunity to visit a shop called Faneromeni 70 near Agia Faneromeni church in the centre. A friend had told me about this shop which features solely works by Cypriot artists or artists connected to Cyprus in some way. It is a non profit organisation run by a group of professionals among them anthropologists and geologists, and the money from the sales goes to help the unemployed. A fascinating shop full of quirky things.The shop is surrounded by cafes and as the sun was out and the weather warming up these cafes were full of young people as there are also several small colleges and universities close by. At night I can imagine that this area is very popular as a meeting place for young people to sit and chat over coffee.

I went straight from Lefkosia to visit my cousin Androula and spend some time with her in Tries Elies. People come here to walk, rest, enjoy the countryside as it is so tranquil, surrounded as it is by a variety of blossoming trees and at this time of year wild flowers, some very rare, with a river running through by the footpaths and trails all year round. Being such a tiny village in the Troodos mountains you would imagine that there is not a lot going on here. I have to tell you that the few days I spent here were some of the busiest so far in my stay, with people from many different parts of Europe crossing my path. On arrival an old friend had arrived for lunch with her partner from Greece. Then some guests arrived the following evening from Switzerland. On the Monday a Frenchman stopped by to meet the Swiss couple. Next door to Androula now live three young people, an Hungarian, a Belgian and a half Cypriot, half Irish young man; more of these and an exciting eco venture in another blog. On past visits I have met a Japanese couple, British, Russian, Turkish and American. All with interesting stories to tell.

The Frenchman’s name is Dominique Micheletto he is a master beekeeper, he has many hives all over Cyprus and spends his time tending to them and giving talks on bees and honey, which was why the Swiss couple had come to Cyprus to meet him and learn about the bees. He won two gold medals in the Apimondia International Federation of Beekeeper’s competition in September 2009. I had wanted to meet him after reading about him in the book ‘Cyprus – a culinary journey’ and here he was without any effort on my part. The conversation between us all was in French, Greek and English, Dominique can speak all three fluently.

During my stay with Androula we also visited a friend who lives close by in Pedhoulas and she and her husband are from Israel so yet another nationality to add to the mix.

One of my days spent in this beautiful area I visited Platres which is about 20 minutes away by car, it is the largest resort of Troodos and although its origins are very old it became popular as a summer retreat away from the heat, when the British took control of the island in 1858 and quickly a network of bars and hotels to cater for their needs were established.  Here is a long established chocolate workshop. The owner John Adams, is English married to a Cypriot lady Praxi, they have lived in Platres since the early 1980s. John trained as a chocolatier in both France and Venezuela many years previously and when he moved to Cyprus found an outlet for his love of chocolate by developing unique recipes combining the flavours of Cyprus. With pure dark chocolate, very little sugar, no dairy and a little vanilla and Cyprus Royal Jelly, these chocolates not only are delicious and unique but healthy as well. The chocolates  flavours are  based around the tastes of Cyprus varying  according to season and John is always coming up with new combinations. Comanderia, kitrilomilo glyko, brandy sour, zivania these are the flavours many know as Cyprus. John together with his assistant Rocky, have come up with yet another unique range based around the herbs of Cyprus such as Lavender and lemon geranium and I can tell you that they are superb. These bespoke hand made chocolates are different , as well as unique and delicious. www.cypruschocolate.com 

On my way back from the mountains I visited the very picturesque Lofou  village on the way down to Limassol. This village must have once been quite a large and wealthy one, as there are many good size stone houses and the streets well ordered, many now deserted but being restored. All on a hilly slope, with little streets branching off it is a lovely place to explore with great views of surrounding countryside all around.  Ancient Amathus was my next stop, the archaeological site spreads over an extensive area. Amathus is one of the most significant ancient city kingdoms which dates back to1100 BC. Similar to Kouklia this site saw the important cult of Aphrodite – Astarte flourish here. This is why Cyprus is known as the island of Love.

Since I’ve been back in Prodromi I, along with many of her friends, went to cheer on my friend Elena Savvides of Orexi Cyprus fame, last night as she took on the daunting task of giving an hour long talk at Droushia Heights hotel. She was amazing and the story she told was not only full of interesting detail and mouthwatering photos of some of the food she has cooked for events and suppers but was exceptionally touching and had a few of her friends a little bit choked, with emotion I might add not the food. Elena had also prepared some delicious bits to eat so it was a very satisfying evening on all levels.

Feast and Frolics

The big celebration is gradually dissipating now, although it is Tuesday the holiday continues as some shops are still closed and the supermarkets are open reduced hours.The flaounes are gradually getting eaten. I went to the large church in Polis to experience the evening service on Good Friday.I was lucky to get the last seat as the church gradually filled with more and more people after the service had started they even lined the balconies. Throughout the service the congregation one by one went up to the Epitaphos to kiss it. The service lasted two hours during which time the helpers read in a chanting  voice from the scriptures, hymns were sung but in a repetitive chanting style. Some of the congregation had an order of service which they were following and joined in refrains at certain points.

I don’t follow any particular religion myself and was not able to understand what was said so this may have  effected  my perceptions but I didn’t feel any particular spiritual upliftment coming from the service as it seemed very much done by rote. There didn’t seem to be any sermon or special thoughts offered by the Bishop or priest on such a special date in the Orthodox calendar. There was more depth of feeling coming from the congregation than the men of the church although some of the congregation treat the church as a meeting house and gossip through the service.

I didn’t venture forth to witness the unveiling of the iconostasis on Saturday night or join in the lighting of a candle to usher in that “Christ is Risen – Christos Anesti“. as it was very cold on Saturday night. I instead joined in a feast at my cousin’s table on the Sunday lunchtime. I was eager to witness the lighting of the ‘fourno’ in the morning to cook the meat and potatoes and arrived at 9.30 am ready with my camera only to find that my cousin had decided to cook the meat the night before and I’d missed it. I had to make do instead with the lighting of the fire to cook yet more lamb on the spit using a type of fire that my cousin had seen when in Crete. He made his own in his garden and you can see how the meat cooks with the skewers resting on a central rod from the photos. It took 4 hours to cook and I  cannot describe to you how good that meat tasted, I have never tasted such flavour and such succulence. The whole day was a delight spending leisure time with cousins and sons and daughters of cousins and even a son of a daughter of a cousin.Food was delicious and company delightful. Christos Anesti!!!

Flowers, Flaounes and Fire

Easter is upon us in Cyprus and the decorations have come out in force in the towns and villages. Huge chickens and rabbits have sprung up everywhere some looking rather menacing, with rusty red coloured eggs dotted about all very kitsch and often looking a bit tired and in need of a make over. Here Easter is celebrated with the same zest as Christmas in the UK. The flaounes, the delicious cheese, egg and mint pies have been made by the cart load in every home on the Thursday preceding good Friday in readiness for the hoards of relatives and friends that will descend over the holidays. Large stacks of wood have been collected and assembled outside the churches in readiness for the bonfires that will take place at midnight on Saturday.

All around the island the churches are filled with busyness as young girls decorate the Holy Sepulchre – Epitaphios – with elaborate flower arrangements which will be the focus of tonight’s service. Processions will take place through the streets. I hope to catch some of this activity and look forward to taking part.

The Crafty Side of Life

I am lucky enough to know some very talented people here in Cyprus, Elena Savvides – Doghman and her husband Bassam Doghman to name but two. Elena is a the daughter of a Cypriot father from Droushia and a Finnish mother. Born in the UK she studied at Goldsmiths then at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies UCL doing a Master’s in Russian and European Culture. Her family came to Cyprus on their holidays but she was not interested in living here then and yet here she is married to Bassam who is Lebanese and they have three beautiful children. She is a woman of many talents and worked latterly  in an Italian restaurant in London where she honed her not inconsiderable talent for cooking and managing to cater for large groups of people. She has since put those skills to great use and has added to her enormous repertoire of culinary skills which she shares with a wide group of diners on her supper club evenings.These are themed and can feature Italian, Finnish, Lebanese or Greek cooking or anything else she that takes her fancy. Last week she cooked a fabulous array of Finnish dishes for a select group of diners, the dishes included, a herring dip,a very tasty raw beetroot and horseradish salad, egg butter and rye bread, stuffed cabbage leaves covered in cheese, wild Finnish mushrooms, a mashed swede dish, mashed potato with a wonderfully rich venison casserole, to round it off we had a bilberry tart made with wild bilberries picked by Bassam in Finland. In the warmer months the suppers are held in the garden and can include many more people. Elena caters for many events and also makes a wide variety of preserves and pickles which she sells along with many tasty savoury morsels  at the monthly farmer’s market in the Herb Garden at Akourdalia,

Bassam is also multi-talented and can turn his hand to most things, he is known for his stone and woodwork. From a large array of olive wood in his store he carves platters and plaques which make beautiful additions to any home or restaurant.  At the moment he is working on making a large door for a renovated mosque in Kato Arodhes. 

My cousin Nicos is another multi talented man and also can turn his hand to most things. He has created a beautiful garden in his home in Goudi with a lot of stonework surrounding the garden, the paths are decorated with mosaic work. In his spare time he sculpts stone figures.He is hoping to hold an exhibition soon.

Just down the road also in Goudi Kate Fensom lives and works. An artist of only a few years she has developed her own unique style since living in Cyprus, painting magical images full of symbolism and mysticism. She has many keen followers of her work and is at present holding an exhibition in Bellapais Abbey near Kyrenia. It is many years since I have visited Bellapais and I would love to see her work in this setting as the abbey and its surrounds hold their own special enchantment. She first came to stay in  Cyprus in the North as a friend of hers invited her for a holiday, she felt very at home there and has an affinity with the place. As she lives only down the road from my cousin I paid her a visit a few weeks ago and spent a very interesting couple of hours chatting. It is always fascinating to hear people’s journey of discovery of Cyprus and once discovered it seems to somehow to hook them and they want to stay.

Some  of the things that hook me are the wide open sky with clear light and the wild and wooly landscape. On Tuesday I went for a short excursion up on a different part of the Akamas just outside Inia following the road to Lara. I parked the car on the top road and walked about a mile or so of the Lara road on foot as it is only best navigated in a four wheel drive vehicle. The road is unmade and often has deep ruts where the rain runs off so it needs careful navigation. The wild flowers are at their best here right now and the wild irises and sweet peas are out in force, dotted with vetch and mustard mixed in with poppies and daisies and the occasional hyacinth. Although it looks wild up here it is in fact cultivated in patches and it looked like wheat was growing, the wind making it move like water, swirling around the lone carob tree. The day had turned cloudy but I could see over in the distance Lara beach where the turtles come to hatch every year. There was some interesting rocks up here and not being informed enough to tell you what sort I have taken photos instead. It looked like it might have some ore in it and when I first saw it, looked strangely like it was covered in seaweed but of course this is far from the sea, unless it is fossilised? I came across a very interesting video some time ago explaining the geology of the island as it is much studied by groups of geologists from all over the world. Also on my walk I came across a whole writhing bundle of caterpillars in the road where did they come from and what will they be? Later on looking more closely at a photo I took, I saw a huge one of the same variety making its way through the flowers.There is always something to marvel at.

Down but Still Out

Even though I have been stricken down with a nasty sore throat and cough for the last week and moved down from Pano Arodhes, where I have been staying, to Prodromi a bit prematurely, I have still managed to fit in several events and all with their own spectacular views and settings.The weather is still very changeable and my last day in Pano Arodhes saw more hail stone showers and the temperature dropping which is what finally decided me, especially as I was feeling unwell, to move down to Prodromi which is several degrees warmer. Obviously as the weather warms up it is an advantage to be that much cooler in the foothills, by then ‘though I would have been moving on anyway so there was no advantage in me waiting. I am now staying in a tiny house which belongs to the family nearer the sea and with lovely views from the balcony of both sea and hills. During my stay here I am taking the opportunity to do a bit of decorating.

I attended a birthday bash in Paphos last week which was held at the Muse cafe/restaurant, a very contemporary building perched right on the edge of a promontory looking right over Paphos and out towards the sea. Apparently at night it is a favourite hang out of the young and trendy whereas at lunchtimes there is a completely different mix of people, many business lunches were going on I could see. There was a wide variety of people attending the bash made up of several different nationalities. This is a lovely spot to hang out and have a drink with friends.

The following day after a brief visit to Fyti to say hello to both Mr and Mrs Mavrelis at the museum and then Irinou at the Voufa co-operative I made my way down to Lasa to meet a friend and see her beautifully restored house which she told me had been a ruin when they bought it, now a cosy home full of interesting art work. She took me for a short walk nearby down an old donkey track to see what remains of an ancient oak woodland. These are Syrian oaks ”Quercus infectoria” to give them their Latin name, with a more delicate look to them than our English oak, the leaves being much smaller, these are indigenous to Cyprus, Turkey and eastward to Iran. They were much more abundant in days gone by, the forests in Cyprus were full of them but when the Venetians ruled Cyprus they cut many trees down to build their ships, decimating the forests and quickly the faster growing pines took their place. The scenery here was again breath-taking in the soft light of this Spring afternoon and the oaks gave it a whole different feel. The scenery is very picturesque with many ruined walls of houses now  overgrown and evidence of a long past farmed land.

At the weekend I attended a Craft Fair at the Paradisos Hills hotel, another place perched right up high in Lysos overlooking a beautiful valley with the sea beyond. Even though the weather has been changeable these events all were held on beautiful sunny days. I took part in the fair and had my book displayed on a table ready for me to sign for the willing purchaser. It was pretty slow going but the time passed and I was pleased to take a well earned small Keo and sit outside on the terrace to take in the view when it was over.

The third event was a visit to Koula’s farm near to Droushia which I have visited a few times before however I still managed to get lost, I went down every track with no luck but with the help of a very lucky meeting with a stranger when I was just about to give up being literally a minute from the farm, I met up with my friend Elena who was taking a small party of people to visit and see how the cheese is made. Koula produces her cheese, both halloumi and anari in the same way her mother and grandmother before had made it. Her equipment is more modern; a stainless steel cauldron heated electrically instead of a copper one heated by a wood burning fire, plastic baskets to strain the cheese instead of the traditional ones made of rushes and grasses, talaria, but the techniques are time-honoured. Koula runs a relatively small operation and wants to keep her methods traditional. The farm is set in some more of that spectacular scenery so prolific in Cyprus with views of fields and hills on all sides.

En route back to Elena’s for one of her delicious lunches we stopped at a small disused monastery set in the midst of olive and carob trees with the wild iris and marigolds speckled throughout the grass and further up the road a whole host of poppies were scattered in the field, it was pretty as a picture. Everywhere now the wild giant fennel is in full bright yellow bloom.

These days are the best for travelling around Cyprus as they are cool and mostly sunny. This is why I am busy doing my networking now as in not many weeks time it will be more uncomfortable to travel unless early in the morning or late afternoon. The now lush green landscape will soon become parched and brown and will have more the feel of a lunar landscape.  Then will be the time for me to relax. Back to the decorating for now.    

Steni

On Sunday I made a trip to Steni, a well placed village that claws its way up the hillside on the road from Polis Chrysochous to Lysos and beyond to Stavros tis Psokas. The countryside up here is breathtaking, the village is pretty large with a good sized population. Recently the village centre has had some money spent on it like many others in Cyprus since the joining of the EU, with newly made and repaired stone walls and a new village centre with a large communal open square where a brand new museum also stands. I was very impressed by this small museum because of the variety of artefacts on display and how well laid out it is. I suppose because it is new it also lacked that dusty unkempt look that many small museums seem to convey. I have a sneaky feeling that some of the wooden items have been cleaned up and sanded down( sharp intake of breath) but hey I guess that is how they would have looked when new, right? They seemed to have lost a bit of patina in the process ‘though.

The main appeal for me was that they had  really good examples of traditional hand woven textiles. The beautiful example of sheeting  used for the hangings on the bed, reminded me of the sheets my Aunt used to weave on her loom in the village of Yerolakkos. These looked like they had silk woven in to them, very common back then as most villagers kept their own silk worms. On display was a huge cross section of implements used in every day domestic life as well as farming. Well worth a visit if you are in the area and it’s totally free. The mayor Elias Lambidis was very helpful and has taken some of my books to put on sale, so if you haven’t already got a copy here is a chance to get your hands on one. There is a list of other outlets where you can get a copy in Cyprus, on the page About the book.