Tuesday, August 19, 2008

All Greek to me

Beloved Wife and I are now back from a week in the birthplace of Aphrodite. After a pleasant and uneventful Gulf Air trip to Cyprus via Bahrain, we picked up the rental car and headed off down the motorway from Larnaca towards Limassol. We both tried to get used to bilingual road signs in Greek capitals. A very popular destination is ΕΞΟΔΟΣ. By a staggering series of fortunate guesses, plus having checked the location on Google Earth and selected the correct εξοδος, I drove pretty much straight to the hotel, We checked in before showering and heading into town in search of pork and beer.

The two-star hotel was fully booked, so it was futile to complain about the air conditioning in our room. Unfortunately all the A/C's efforts were going into making itself sound like a small, unsilenced motorcycle instead of having any meaningful cooling effect. We also had to ask that the mattress be changed, as the original had all the support and texture of a marshmallow. Still, the hotel did have a reasonable swimming pool. It was not permitted to cut through the dining room to the pool, so everyone had to parade out of the hotel front door and down the street in their Speedos and thongs if they wanted to go swimming.

Aphrodite's birthplace, at least according to local legend

It rapidly became apparent that, apart from us and a Bangladeshi waiter, the entire staff and guests of the hotel were Russian. Yet I'd booked the hotel on line, using a UK-based website. No matter; there was somewhere to sleep, somewhere to have our disappointingly Spartan breakfasts, and even somewhere in the shade to park the car.

Ah yes, the car. Ian The Dog had tipped me off that especially up in the mountains we might encounter unmade tracks. I upgraded the rental car to a small 4x4 in an attempt to get more ground clearance and to minimise the likelihood of chassis damage. The Daihatsu Terios was apparently powered by a sewing machine engine. Perusing the manual, I was forced to conclude that it must have been the 1300cc version. The relative powerhouse of ponies, the 1500cc 100BHP version, was clearly not in evidence. It was of course relatively easy to wind the vehicle up to the maximum legal 100kph speed limit on the motorway, but the poor thing had enormous trouble with anything resembling a hill. Commonplace gradients of 8% to 12% and an asthmatic Shetland pony under the bonnet do not match well with an automatic gearbox either. This minuscule car was however easy to park, and its equally minuscule engine returned around thirty miles per Imperial gallon. This was just as well, given the rather frightening €1.12 per litre (Dh29 per gallon).

It appears that Cypriot petrol stations have a 24-hour system for automated dispensing of fuel. You select the pump, insert cash or credit card, and then pump gas. After filling up, you go back to the money machine and re-insert your credit card. The computer recognises the card as the one that just paid for petrol to, say, Pump No.2 and spits out a paper receipt. All instructions, including the ones to get the machine to display instructions in English, are in Greek. Rather alarmingly there is at no point any requirement to enter a PIN. This is probably just as well as I couldn't remember my VISA card PIN, but it does mean that nefarious types could potentially gas up with anyone's card.

We both rather like Cyprus. After many consecutive months in the Land of the Sand, it was refreshing to see that, despite no rain for 14 months, there was still some greenery around. We were repeatedly told that it was usually a lot greener than this, and also sorry about the appalling heat and humidity. Frankly, after August in Dubai, 30°C was surprisingly refreshing. Up in the hills, above about 500m the temperature was a couple of degrees cooler. On the coast it was even possible to sit outside (in the shade) without impersonating the Wicked Witch of the West. So of course Beloved Wife and I both accidentally overdid it at the hotel pool one day. Whoops.

English is widely spoken in Cyprus, although bilingual signs become scarcer the further one ventures into the boondocks. There is definitely a need to read Greek, and some ability to speak it would also be good. At this point it's worth quite emphatically pointing out that the indigenous Greek Cypriots are not Greek, even if that's the language they speak.

The village of Laneia

On our travels around the said boondocks we looked at various plots of land and even some houses for sale. There are developments all over the island, but Beloved Wife is allergic to living on a postage stamp in a housing estate. We found some massive plots of cheap agricultural land on which it would be possible to put a single house on typically 6% of the total plot area. But these were invariably miles and miles up mountain switchbacks and several kilometres from the nearest power and water supplies and civilisation. Certainly not the same as living on a housing estate.

The tower of Omodhos monastery

Given that we ultimately want an ecologically sensitive house, the concrete-and-blockwork-with-not-a-scrap-of-insulation buildings generally on offer in Cyprus, and indeed Dubai, do not interest us. The Crumbling Villa costs a fortune to keep cool during the summer. The A/Cs pump the heat out and more radiates in through the walls. It's like pumping the bilges of a sieve.

Most Cyprus homes seem to have solar panels for water heating, but it's becoming possible to get electrical power from the sun. We're advised that it's even possible to flog unused electricity back to the power authority. And grey-water recycling - using shower waste to flush the loo - is also becoming such a popular water saver that the Cyprus government offers grants to build it into houses. These systems are difficult to retro-fit into existing buildings, meaning that we're starting to look at a self-build house with lots of insulation too. By the way, this is sooo much not yoghurt-knitting bunny-hugging, and sooo much keeping the household bills to an absolute minimum without having to live in a shoe box in t'middle o't'road.

Some of the older property that we visited dates back many centuries. I've never seen proper, authentic ancient classical ruins before. Beloved Wife used to live in Naples so has seen Pompeii and Rome, and has also visited Athens. So she was mildly surprised at my enthusiasm for a very small archaeological site near Limassol.

The remains of a Byzantine church at Kourion

Amphitheatre at Kourion. Bring your own cushion

The House of Theseus. He of the Minotaur, the labyrinth and the ball of wool

I must admit that the ruins and mosaics on display at Pafos and at Kourion were much better. The mosaics even gave me an opportunity to demonstrate my somewhat haphazard ability to transliterate ancient Greek text. For all the sites, we left our visits to the late afternoon in order to avoid the seething mass of οι πολλοι. And with the sun lower in the sky, shadows make photographs more interesting, and the temperature's a bit lower too.

The journey back was mostly without incident. Mostly? Well, on the Bahrain to Dubai sector the aircraft got clearance to take off, the pilot went balls to the wall and there was an immediate horrendous series of mechanical clangs from somewhere beneath the wings. We stopped, turned off the main runway and sat in the dark while presumably someone got out and looked at the undercarriage or leaned out of the door with a mirror on a stick. Our Captain declared that all was well and the Airbus still possessed the requisite number of wings, wheels and engines, so we trundled around to the end of the runway and had another go. Same mechanical clanging, but this time we got into the air. Obviously, we also landed safely in Dubai. Perhaps the noise was someone's luggage rolling around in the hold.

It snows up here on Mount Olympus, although not in August

As for return visits, we've been advised that February is the coldest month, so a visit then will reveal Cyprus' other temperature extreme. I spotted a ski resort 1900 metres up in the Troodos mountains, so it presumably gets seriously chilly. I wonder if I can get the leave?



nzm said...


We've only landed at Larnaca and stayed on the plane while in transit to and from Athens, and we always aimed at visiting Cyprus one day.

Maybe that day will come.

alexander... said...

Unlike the Spanish pilot that aborted, came around and took off again yesterday...

Nice you're back safe!!!

Mars said...

i want to go cyprus so bad...

Anonymous said...

Went to Pafos at New Year three years ago and it was lovely! Temperature was between 20 and 25C. It was colder in the mountains so we did need a winter coat there, but the coast was very pleasantly warm. We'd definately go back again

Ian the Dog said...

Glad you enjoyed it! Our alleged 4x4 was a Honda HRV (hormone replacement vehicle) with CVT. CVT means that when you press the loud pedal, loud is all you get. The engine revs frantically, unaccompanied by any discernable acceleration. However it got us all over the Akamas so I shouldn't grumble.
Shortage of water and general expense of everything (cf Spain)puts me off living there. Nice place though.

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