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!!!

 

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.

It’s Raining Ice

Androula and I set off for Lefkosia early on Monday morning with a list of people to visit. Up in Treis Elies it has been pretty chilly especially at night, I wish I’d brought my hot water bottle and a few more warm clothes! Down on the low lands though the temperature is about 10 degrees warmer. It was a sunny day and a pleasant drive. Our first stop was my Uncle’s house to collect four boxes of my books, he is kindly storing them for us. After a pleasant turn around his garden where he is growing all manner of vegetables and flowers in pots, we set off again. The next stop was a large bookshop Solonion, one of the first to be established in Lefkosia over 30 years ago with a very large selection of both Greek and English books and amongst them is ‘Androula’s Kitchen’. After a brief chat with the owner we set off again to park in the centre of town so that we could walk to the Turkish side over the Green Line.

By now we were both hungry and in need of lunch so we headed for the Buyuk Han built by the Ottomans in 1572 as a hostlery for travellers, it’s now used as a place of trade for souvenirs and local crafts as well as a few restaurants. We headed for one that Androula frequents and ordered a sort of kofta with salad and rice followed by bourekia tis saatches, delicious.

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We made a few more stops one of them was at a friend’s house in Lefkosia which is an old house built about 100 years ago and the owners have restored it beautifully, re-discovering some of the original features. This was a delight for me to visit as I have long wished to see inside one of these traditional town houses. Once inside the front door you are in the ‘iliakos’ which is a corridor through the middle of the house leading to the courtyard garden. There are rooms either side and around the courtyard, there is an open veranda area  which is a cool, pleasant place  to sit and acts as an outside room. The main room is large and features a huge stone archway as does the veranda area, long windows are either side of the room making this an airy light space. Other rooms line the sides of the corridor acting as bedrooms and studio areas. I was thrilled to have this opportunity to not only see inside the house but learn about the process of restoration. I have taken so many photos of dilapidated buildings it was a refreshing change to see the restored ones. After a few more meetings we next visited another old restored house in a different area of Lefkosia which used to be a village and now is connected to Lefkosia. This house has been added to with new modern areas that are very sympathetic with the design and has a very contemporary feel. This house has a very attractive garden with old date palms in the corner. Now it was time to wend our way back up into the mountains.

We started off in sunshine but soon encountered a violent thunderstorm with heavy rain which turned into huge hailstones. We luckily escaped the hail stones but they lay like a sheet of ice on the road and it was fortunate that another car had gone before us making a pathway in the ice. With the very windy roads and the dark and ice it was a tense journey home but thanks to Androula’s experience in such conditions we arrived safely.

 

Book Signing Event 9th April at Inga’s

My  trip to Cyprus is fast approaching and in the last few days I have now added a book signing event to my itinerary!

As soon as I’d published Androula’s Kitchen people would ask me if I was doing any book signing events. For authors with agents and publishers behind them this is all part of the marketing machine but  I couldn’t think how I was going to organise it on my own a complete unknown with no connections or any idea how you go about such a thing. It would involve advertising and a venue and payment of some kind surely?

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When I had decided to make the trip to Cyprus I thought this might present an opportunity to organise something; what I needed  was a place where I could sit and have a coffee and a chat while I wait for punters to ask for a book and a signature. Preferably it needed to be somewhere with a relevance to the book. I mention a fabulous vegetarian cafe called Inga’s Veggie Heaven that is in the Chrysaloniotissa area of Lefkosia, an area that has seen a lot of regeneration in recent years. Many of the interesting old houses are being lovingly restored and this is turning into an area that is truly a delight to wander through and which  has attracted a lot of artists. I’d happened on it almost by chance on my first visit to this district, it’s the corner building of a craft centre where several artists and craftsmen have workshops set around  a courtyard with a  small garden in the middle. The owner Inga Hadjipanayi is from Iceland married to a Cypriot. She makes her own bread every day and  her food is a truly delicious vegetarian mixture of combined cuisines.

When I returned a couple of years ago for a coffee she remembered me from my previous trip, which I have to say I was truly surprised by as I’d only been there once; we had a nice chat as she was having a lull after the lunchtime rush. My cousin Androula had taken some copies of Androula’s Kitchen there on a sale or return basis so it was a gradual thought process that led me to think this might be the perfect place to have an informal book signing event. Thankfully Inga likes the idea and with a bit of combined networking maybe we can do some good for both of us. I’ll certainly spread the word as much as I can.

In these difficult times where the structure of establishment seems to be crumbling around us it is good to keep planning ahead and focusing on making good things happen together. If you’re in Lefkosia on the 9th April  why not come and say hello and have a coffee and a bite at Inga’s 2 Dimonaktos St. Chrysaliniotissa Craft Center, 1017 Nicosia, Cyprus. The signing will take place between 2 – 4 pm

Travelling Troubles

My departure date for my trip to Cyprus is drawing closer and closer, we are now into March, it’s only a few short weeks before I go and I still haven’t decided where I’ll be when. I have given myself a headache trying to work out the best plan of action. My dilemma arising from the fact that  I will be staying in three locations  during my stay all of which are a fair distance from each other and I need to be at a fourth location on two occasions which is not really close to any of them. I am also trying to do the trip on a very tight budget which means that hiring a car is only an option a part of the time.

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Public transport is fairly sparse in Cyprus and there are no trains. When I first visited Cyprus in the 1960’s buses were the normal transport for most people as few  had cars and these bull- nosed Bedfords used to be ubiquitous over the island travelling to all the mountain villages. As the islanders became more affluent the cars increased and the buses declined. Recently the government has been taking steps to improve the public transport system to encourage more people to use it  with some new super buses being introduced with low fares and you can travel for one euro, in the capital city Lefkosia the buses within the city walls are free.

I am happy to experiment with using the buses, I like travelling as a passenger and viewing the passing landscape and villages at leisure, without the stress of negotiating traffic and finding parking spaces. At home I prefer the train. The mountains which take up a fair amount of the land mass, are not accommodating to a bus network and  at present in Cyprus it isn’t easy to get all around the island without some use of a car even if it is a taxi. There exists a long distance taxi sharing service which uses a mini bus and you can book ahead to reserve a space. These seat about 8 people and run between the major cities but as with the bus service everything stops at 6pm, the witching hour it seems.

I have been invited to give a talk at Larnaka Art College and this is proving to be my sticking point as it is a bit out on a limb from my two main locations although not far from Lefkosia. I have two optional dates that I can give the talk and one of them is on my last Friday which is the one I had originally scheduled for, meaning I can stop off on my way to the airport which is about 15 minutes away. I was happy with this plan until another date was offered when a group of English students were going to be present, unfortunately this does not fit in easily and I am reluctant to let it go. i will have another ponder and make a decision. I’m sure it will all work out fine.

Bring me Sunshine

Bring me Sunshine

Weather is on my mind at the moment as I think I’m suffering from the lack of sunlight here in the UK.

This is a problem they don’t have in Cyprus in fact they have the opposite. In the summer months, July ,August & September, the temperature soars and can vary, depending on where you are, inland or coastline, between low thirties to well into the forties in Lefkosia. In the Troodos mountains of course it is a more bearable temperature and this is where I would flee to in the summer, if I had to live in Cyprus all year round.

Here in the UK, back to reality, I like my summer to be summer with a good temperature of at least mid twenties and above. We, sadly, have had miserable temperatures this year so far on average in the mid teens if we are lucky and a very poor showing of sunshine. If it goes on like this, we will reach winter without having topped up on our much needed energy boost.

It is a proven fact that lack of sunlight affects our mood and our bodily health as it provides us with vitamin D. Many foreigners who come to live in the UK from extremely hot countries, suffer from the lack of vitamin D and have to supplement their diet to counteract this. We natives just get grumpy!

I, of course am tempting fate by writing this. It was only a few months ago that we had talk of a drought. There had been a series of very dry winters with less than average rainfall leaving our rivers and reservoirs bereft of the normal levels of water. There was talk of hose-pipe bans and the possibility that our households would be cut off from water entirely and stand pipes being erected in our streets. The result? Well we have been deluged with rain ever since and widespread flooding has occurred. The water levels surprise, surprise are now back to normal, but rather puzzlingly, we are still on drought alert!!!!!

I wonder if this little blog will have the same effect on the sun? Apparently the reason we are experiencing this rather unseasonal weather is due to the jet stream being stuck much further South than is normal, get on up here JS and behave!!

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Silk in the 21st century

Yet another fantastic video from TED. Silk has been around for millennia and yet now the scientists are coming up with some mind blowing uses for this ancient material in the present day. It seems the uses are endless, throw away cups that are biodegradable, uses for storing information and drugs that can be placed in the body even for making screws that can be used to screw together fractures and then eventually disintegrate. How exciting that nature can provide scientists with imagination, materials that can be utilised in such a diverse way.

In Androula’s Kitchen I discuss the more well known uses of silk as a thread that is woven to produce a shimmering fabric. I live in hope that the once universal cultivation of silk worms, will once again become common in Cyprus to provide a new breed of silk weavers to join Rolandos. On my research trip to Cyprus last year I went to visit him in his studio in Lefkosia, Rolandos has studied the samples of old silk in the museum archives of Lefkosia and made a determined effort to learn the techniques which produced such fine examples. Cyprus was once renowned throughout Europe for its fine silks and the practice has gradually died out, the last time  silk was produced was in 1960’s. Rolandos alone at present is looking to revive this tradition and I look forward to viewing his new creations on my next visit.