Paphos re-born

 

Nicosia 1

Nicosia

I have just returned from another trip to Cyprus spreading the word and distributing copies of Androula’s Kitchen to some new outlets. It’s now on sale at a traditional bakery and cafe based in an old watermill near Polis, an arts and crafts centre called Exhibit @Polis in the centre of town and in a centre called ‘The Place’ in old Paphos where it will sit very comfortably among the arts and crafts on display. This centre was opened last year in an old converted warehouse, it now houses many examples of traditional wares and demonstrations with  some of the artisans working on site on certain days. There is a display of the shadow puppets with a small theatre for occasional performances as well as a weaver, a potter and various other activities on display along with goods for sale like glass art, pottery, wine and some foodstuffs. Altogether a very attractive place to visit.It is right in the heart of the old town which when I visited  was in the grip of an upgrade in true Cypriot style. The roads and pavements torn up and no clear signs as to how you can access the shops just a sign to say ROAD CLOSED which was pretty obvious. I fear the shops will have lost a great deal of business from the passing tourists.When it is finished the area will be pedestrianised and should be a pleasing place to stroll around.

Next year, 2017  Paphos will be the city of culture so it is all systems go to get it ship shape. When it was first announced there was quite a bit of astonishment as the poor old town had seen a severe decline over recent years. Many of the traditional eateries have disappeared and shops lay empty and dusty while along the main road near the market many tourist cafes have sprung up. Paphos has two Malls on the outskirts which have played their part in taking businesses out of the old town, these mainly house the chains and clothes stores. The town gave an appearance of a shambles approaching from certain directions, with a jungle of hoardings and signs and odd extensions attached to some buildings but with a fresh approach the Mayor has been getting illegal hoardings and extensions removed with most of the businesses co-operating. This should make the whole town look neater and more coherent. I had often wondered at Cypriot planning regulations regarding buildings and  indeed if there was any city & town planning, as there are so many ugly buildings erected that do nothing to blend in with original existing buildings or add anything to the area. When I heard of the work to upgrade Paphos my immediate thoughts were that the municipality would be knocking down any old buildings and making everything the same as everywhere else i.e knocking any character out of the place. But after hearing a friend tell me that she was allowed to view an area under restoration, we were quietly hopeful that this may turn out well.This area was being reconstructed using old plans of how it was, creating a small friendly place including a bakery and cafe and an open air theatre.

Graffitti art in Paphos

There are some parts of Paphos that  have  attractive old buildings and I have noticed one or two have been renovated , if this was made a policy so as to give cohesiveness as they have done in Nicosia on the Green line , it would make a huge difference. In Nicosia many of the owners of old and in some cases derelict properties,were given an incentive to renovate which has resulted in a transformation of what was only a few years ago a run down area.This has encouraged young designers and artisan back into the newly renovated spaces, giving a good lively buzz. I was impressed by the refurbishment of the old power station in the back streets of Paphos which now houses the Cultural Centre which bodes well.

One of the saddest things that has happened with Paphos becoming such a tourist area, extending to Polis and beyond is that where the cafes and restaurants catered for the Cypriot local workers and families who love to eat out, they have now just set their sights on the tourist. Just a few years ago I remember having a great choice of eateries in the Polis area that did good local food at very good prices, sadly these have one by one disappeared. In the back streets of Paphos there is an area of workshops whose occupants, in some cases have been working there for many years,some their whole working lives, I hope these have also been given consideration in the up grade and not forced to vacate the area, taking with them the working heart of Paphos. This is a common problem not just in Cyprus, often the areas that house workshops and artists’ studios are by their nature in the cheaper end of town in old buildings, if the area gets “smartened up” it usually means the rents go up and out go the occupants.It also means much of the character goes with them.

I feel there is a gap in the market for some local producers to step in, I don’t mean traditional  either, I mean artisan. A good delicatessen type shop would be great selling all the best of local Cyprus produce , great olives and olive oil:an artisan bakery selling some organic breads using the old strain of wheat. I miss the bread of Cyprus that used to taste so good like many of their foods. An artisan cheese maker producing not just halloumi, anari and feta but some soft goats cheese, a hard sheep’s cheese or maybe even a blue cheese. In other European countries there are so many varieties of cheese produced. I love kefalotiri which is produced in Greece, but there is no reason why it could not be also produced in Cyprus. The major cheese producers in Cyprus seem to be  focused on exporting huge quantities of halloumi across the globe but in Cyprus there could be outlets for the small individual and specialist dairies.There is a growing interest in authenticity and quality, there is a definite place for it in Cyprus and more farmers should look towards growing organic which is not only where good health lies but profitability. Slowly I have seen more interest grow in this area in Cyprus and there have been several regular Farmer’s markets popping up over the island where small organic producers can sell there produce. Another need is for some organic chicken producers as much of the chicken sold has no flavour and no provenance, not long ago pork and chicken in Cyprus had a superb flavour, how are the farmers rearing their animals now? There is a wealth of old recipes that are mostly forgotten that in some small quarters are being revived by young enthusiastic chefs, I am looking forward to a renaissance in local cooking and the rejection of those ubiquitous oven chips that are creeping in. Vive la chip!!!

 

Camera Lights Action

B-Peace_Yiolanda-Christodoulou_2

I have been back in the UK now for a week after my long stay in Cyprus, February until Late July, it has been a bit of a shock climate wise as the temperature is virtually half it was in Cyprus when I left and it feels like Autumn if not quite Winter. At 39 degrees centigrade in Cyprus when I left it was uncomfortable for me but now back in the UK I feel like getting my boots and scarf out and turning the heating on at 17 degrees…in July? and it’s raining!

There has been a fairly long gap between posts here as I did not have the time to write the last few weeks before I left and since I have been back my priority was catching up. I now have a bit of a backlog of topics to blog about but that is good as it will keep me from focusing on the weather hopefully.

Before I left I was invited to the theatre, I am a theatre fan and in the UK live near the Chichester Festival Theatre, in fact when I returned I was invited to accompany some friends to see Mack and Mabel there which made a very nice homecoming. The theatre excursion in Cyprus was very different as firstly it was outside and secondly the play was performed in an ancient amphitheater The Odeon at Paphos, and no it’s nothing like the one on the High Street. The only similarity to Chichester Festival Theatre is the seating design as  it too has an apron stage with seating rising on five sides. Arriving in Paphos, the backdrop was pretty spectacular as the sky was alight with a glorious sunset of purples and pinks with the silhouette of the lighthouse in front. We crossed the open  stage covered in loo paper and with a toilet placed centrally on the stage, to reach our seats which were the stone steps,I had duly taken a cushion.

Every year for the past eighteen years in July the Festival of Ancient Greek Drama takes place and performances are given at three venues Curium, The Odeon and a new amphitheatre in Lefkosia, The Skali, We went to see a play called Peace by Aristophanes and performed by the  Cypriot company Yiolanta Christodoulou Theatre Group. Presented in contemporary dress with subtitles displayed on a screen above the stage, this play is a comedy that had much that was visually funny even if you couldn’t follow the fast dialogue. In true theatrical tradition some male parts were played by women and the female parts by men .Lea Maleni ,who played the lead role of Trygaeus was superb, conveying with her body language the portrait of a man even though she was a small framed woman. She very much resembled Charlie Chaplin with a small moustache attached to her upper lip. Many years ago I remember seeing Macbeth performed by an English company at Curium, a fantastic experience as the setting is so atmospheric. If you get the chance do try and see at least one production as even today these ancient plays resonate with present day situations.

In a different setting but with the same gorgeous sunset as backdrop, I visited The Anassa hotel at Latchi on my last evening in Cyprus. There was much controversy when the hotel was first built as the owners managed to get permission to build on the precious Akamas, the wilderness that is supposed to be protected from development. I went with a friend to enjoy the music of a young Greek pianist  Vaya Nassi who accompanies a Greek singer Anthi. The setting was truly spectacular as the sun set lazily behind the hills in Polis bay, the sky turning from the soft mauve and peach to a fiery red as it sank into the sea, We also had the privilege of watching a sliver of moon aligned with Venus and Jupiter as that too sank behind the hills. We lounged on the sofas and chairs on the terrace enjoying our cocktails and the great musical accompaniment to the show that nature provided.

Kalavassos and Lefkara

I made my first trip to Kalavassos last Saturday 27th June. I had booked myself into a village guesthouse part of agrotourism, called The Art Deco house. Parts of this house date back 350 years and it has remained in the same family all that time which is quite impressive in itself. It is tucked away in the sleepy back streets and the only part visible from the road is the beautiful  blue hue walls and large wooden double doors which open onto an inner courtyard which surprisingly houses a jacuzzi for the guests use. I was on the first floor in the Superior suite accessed by stone steps from the courtyard which took me up onto a delightful terrace with wicker chairs under a shady vine. My little abode for four nights was a whole self – contained unit of large bedroom come sitting room small kitchen and bathroom, all furnished beautifully with many personal pictures and ornaments making it feel very much like you are staying in someone’s home. All is immaculately clean and well maintained. Fruit and wine are left as a welcome with some home-made desserts in the fridge. Breakfast which is included in the price, was plentiful and varied and in fact more than I could usually eat so part of it I kept for later in the day.The hosts George and Eleni were helpful, welcoming and truly hospitable in the very Cypriot way and yet left you to your privacy without intrusion.

The village itself I found one of the prettiest I have seen in Cyprus with all the streets paved with stone, most narrow but passable by car. The square like many at the moment was undergoing some improvement. Many narrow and steep side streets with some unusual details that I hadn’t seen before, all the houses are made from limestone. Kalavassos although easily accessible from the main Limassol /Larnaka /Nicosia road is slightly elevated at the height of about 80 metres and is not greatly developed with new housing although there is a good sized population. It has a rich history with an important Neolithic site being excavated nearby called The Tenta as it has an enormous wig – wam like construction protecting the site, this can be seen clearly from the main highway. There were five mines in the region but they are now abandoned although in their lifetimes they were  rich providers of copper and pyrite. Evidence of mining in this area dates back to Phoenician and Roman times. The Romans mined extensively on the island and their skill was remarkable as even now with modern techniques the mining companies cannot access or replicate the tunnelling techniques of the Romans who managed to reach very deep levels.

Tenta Kalavassos

On my first day I took a leisurely drive around the area and at George’s suggestion I visited the Ayios Minas  convent a very peaceful and pretty place to spend awhile with plenty of their own products on sale, then on to Lefkara village by the old road. I have visited Lefkara on many occasions but on this visit I took several hours to explore its side streets and visit the church. I stopped to have some lunch at Tasties which I had seen on Facebook and was not disappointed. Although busy I was lucky to get a space and sat to cool down with a beer while waiting for my order of oven cooked calamari. It was plentiful and well cooked but I would have preferred a little more seasoning. I was full but knew their cakes were good so ordered a slice of carrot and walnut cake for later and this was scrumptious. The decor is worth a visit by itself as it is a beautifully restored traditional house built around 1850, all the work was done by the owners Marie Cousins and her husband who were antique dealers in London in a former life which shows in the eclectic mix of furniture and knick knacks which fills the place. The atmosphere is a mixture of London town house and Victorian conservatory with a very welcoming Maria who bade me farewell like a long lost friend with ‘Yasou Agapi mou” goodbye my love and a kiss – that’s a first from a cafe owner!!!

Replenished and rested I carried on my exploration and being one for looking down side streets I saw a sign for the Alley Shop so pottered along to find the walls and exteriors of neighbouring houses adorned with pieces of embroidery and crochet along with tablecloths and  clothing but there was no visible shop. I knocked on the door of a house and asked if I could buy a couple of pieces I had seen which were a very cheap price as they had been reduced by 50% but this was a neighbour only and she kindly offered to telephone the owner who was having her midday siesta very sensibly. A few minutes later Mrs Christala appeared and opened up her shop for me. She spoke very good English and we had a lovely chat where I learned a few things about Lefkara lace I didn’t know as well as some of the technical names of the techniques used. Sadly as she explained the young people don’t want to spend hours sitting doing needlework for peanuts when they can go out into the cities and earn better money. This of course is entirely understandable but does pose the question of what will happen to the tradition of making lace in Lefkara? I hope to visit Mrs Christala again someday as we past a very pleasant half hour chatting. There was a sign close by which was for the embroidery museum and Mrs Christal recommended a visit, this took me up some very pretty side streets that were full of flowers and plants and nooks and crannies ( this has to be a Scottish word surely? ). I eventually came to the museum which was open but in true Cypriot style I was told I was not able to see anything as the electricity was off due to repairs which begs the question of why it said it was open!!! Nevertheless I saw some lovely back streets which I might not have otherwise explored.

Before regretfully leaving Kalavassos for Nicosia,  I wanted to pay a visit to an artist I had been told of by a friend, called Michael Mozaras. He is also a friend of George and Eleni so she kindly telephoned him to see if he was at home in his workshop. Unfortunately I had timed it badly as he was in Limassol that day but told Eleni she could take me to his garden where he has his workshop so that I could take photos. Michael Mozaras is a musician as well as an artist and is well-known in the area, he writes and performs his own songs and Eleni tells me his voice has a soporific effect. He has also opened a small gallery in the village square with some of his work for sale but the garden was far more interesting to me as  it was full of stones he has collected from the beach over time. Some he sculpts and creates pieces of art many into angel sculptures and is known locally as the Stone angel man. Many were just laid out into probably future creations and some were already constructed, it was a fascinating visit, I will obviously have to return at a later date to meet and talk with the man himself and hopefully hear him sing.

 

 

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.

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 cousin 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.

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.     

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.

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.  

I Missed It!

This weekend has been a holiday time in Cyprus. The Saturday and Sunday saw many carnivals taking place around the country the biggest being in Limassol. For various reasons I sadly missed this gaiety and a great photo opportunity if ever there was one. Instead I was enjoying a glorious day and a seafood lunch at Latchi, I even wore my sunglasses for the first time but from what I hear a good time was had by all…. even me. On the Monday generally all Cypriots gather with their families and celebrate Green (or Clean) Monday the beginning of Lent. This is marked by eating a meal based on vegetables, salad and shellfish or octopus. Often picnics are taken out to the countryside on the Monday and kites are flown. I was greatly looking forward to seeing this but sadly the weather was very wet and cold, unusually so for this time of year and most were staying indoors in the warm. I saw one brave sole trying to fly his kite in very poor conditions but bravo for the spirit of the thing..

Today I have been helping my good friend Elena of Orexi fame in her kitchen bottling up some of her delicious preserves in readiness for the monthly event of The Farmers market at the herb garden at Pano Akourdalia which should be very busy as it usually is and a great social gathering in a beautiful spot. On my way home from a productive morning I decided to travel a different route taking the long way round and went through Kato Arodhes an adjacent village to the one  in which I am staying in so doing I passed some amazing scenery looking down to the sea with lush green everywhere. I thought I’d share the pictures.

Smoke Gets in your Eyes on Thursday

I can’t believe that nearly a week has gone by since my last post. To borrow a phrase from a well known Christmas song “The weather outside is frightful” and we have had everything this week from dramatic thunderstorms to buckets full of hail  and even snow here and there. The sun, thank goodness came out on Thursday and this afternoon just to show us that it is still there, so hopefully things can only get better. The countryside is looking tremendous at the moment with very green lush fields, the trees foliage is all very fresh in their greys and greens with the dramatic contrast of huge wet ochre coloured boulders of rock striated with black  thrusting out up the hillside road.

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Even though to me it seems like Easter is a long way off the preparations are beginning now with the run up to Lent and Green Monday when everyone starts the 50 day fast, celebrations and frivolity pave the way. Starting with tzuknopempti which roughly translated  means ‘Thursday when the air is filled with the smell of meat cooking over charcoal’. I was lucky enough to be invited to a big extended family gathering where the sheftelies and souvlakia were cooked in abundance by the men, local mushrooms which grow at this wet time of year were picked and cooked with onions by the women and bowls of salad, laid out together with lountza a smoked loin of pork. Pittas were toasted on the charcoal along with some local halloumi and a truly delicious meal was followed by sweet pastries and cakes. Brandy, beer and wine were drunk along with the usual Coke for the children. Much animated discussion took place during the course of the meal, the focus being politics as Cypriots have been following closely the Greek elections and post election discussions concerning the European Union.

Then it was time for the singing, at the head of the table was the patriarch, father and grandfather of the family who was looking very smart and well groomed for the occasion. He started off the proceedings with renditions of what sounded like very melancholy songs that could have dated back hundreds of years. There is also a tradition unique to Cyprus I am told, whereby two people sing a two line verse they make up as they go  and the second person answers it with another two line verse, a bit like a rapping duo I guess. The mother and father gave a grand rendition of this art and were greatly appreciated by the gathering and even though I may not have understood the sentiments I too appreciated the performance. Then it was the turn of the daughters to sing some traditional Laiko songs with everyone clapping along in that off beat rhythm that is so distinctive. Next of course it was the turn of the children and a young girl produced her guitar and music stand and gave us a touchingly beautiful rendition of a traditional song, her brother followed suit in a brave attempt to match his sister. Finally they turned their attention to some pop songs of the moment including ‘Wrecking Ball’ the hit of Miley Cyrus which seemed to go on forever but was very funny to watch how much they enjoyed  themselves particularly with the chorus when they could let rip.