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Cyprus 2005 Mails English

Following is the full text of all English emails we sent during this trip. The texts are original copies, shown here as sent: typos, errors, warts and all (the same in French).


Subject: Cyprus

Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2005 11:38:56 +0100

Dear all,
after a long silence, here's another short mail from Vero + Thomas. We
have spent a rather nice, if somewhat cool summer here in England and
Wales. (In fact, we're just returning from a few days' hiking in the
Brecon Beacons and though it was Wales it didn't rain. Very strange.)
The next thing on the list is Cyprus: 2005 is clearly our Middle-Eastern
year. We will stay there for about four weeks, although many of our
British friends (mostly those who have been on the island already) doubt
that we will find enough things to do and see to fill four weeks. (Booze
being the big exception and the main reason, it seems, why so many
people fly to Cyprus.) We'll see and report... if we're not too tipsy.
We will fly out of Heathrow next Tuesday afternoon and (via Frankfurt)
land on Cyprus in the middle of the following night (literally: 2.20).
So that looks like a most promising start; but perhaps we can nip a
short nap between changing planes.
Depending on what we actually decide to do (no sightseeing plan in force
as of today: we've been very lazy on the guide book front) and how easy
it is to get online we'll try to send an email every seven to ten days
or so, like we did in the Middle East. All those mails will eventually
be stored on our travel blog (see http://tvtravel.blogspot.com) as well,
though we will be able to do this only after we're back.
Then we'll also put up some photographs because this time we do take a
camera with us! (Amazing what we (avowed minimalists that we are) have
to lug around in the way of gadgets nowadays: a digital camera, an MP3
player (perhaps even two, if we can't agree on what music to take:-)),
portable speakers plus earphones, batches of rechargeable batteries, a
charger. Plus memory cards, USB sticks, cables... Well, Thomas insists
on his music and Vero on the photography: there you have it.)
Take care, have a nice time and we'll be in touch!
Vero + Thomas

Subject: Cyprus - the North

Date: Wed, 12 Oct 2005 09:20:41 +0200 (MEST)

Hi folks,
we had a nice and more or less safe flight with more than 2 hrs delay (a
bird had flown into one of the plane engines which meant an unscheduled
change of craft) and we finally landed at around 5am: not too bad.
We spent three days in Nicosia (or Lefkosia, as the locals call it): the
Southern part (especially the old city) is almost empty, either rather clean
or dilapidated, completely bereft of kids and, so it seems, life itself. The
Nothern part is much more lively and smelly and more dirty and there are
about a zillion kids about. Easy to infer which part we enjoyed more!
Sightseeing-wise there was a very nice museum in the South and a good few
converted churches (into mosques, that is) in the North. Plus the usual
assortment of mansions, city walls (Venetian), covered markets...
One thing we found peculiar is the strange UN buffer between North and
South. Again and again we walked around a corner and there was this
unmistakable grey, dirty, dusty barrier of tyres and barrels and barbed
wire. Plus soldiers of course. A bit depressing, the whole lot, and perhaps
not unlike the Berlin wall.
After 3 days we rented a car in North Nicosia and now we drive through the
countryside, working our way from west (the hilltop palace of Vouni) to the
east (Apostolos Andreas monastery). The impression so far is very mixed:
some parts, especially in the Kyrenian mountains, are enormously beautiful,
but the plains are semi-desert (and mostly semi-deserted), full of rubbish,
ruins, military camps, dead sheep and other unsavoury things.
We liked Famagusta with its many churches either in ruins or converted into
mosques, St Hilarion castle (a crusader castle if there ever was one), the
harbour of Girne (though Girne itself is one huge tourist trap) and the
settings of some abandoned Greek monasteries and churches, in the middle of
the mountains. The latter are almost invariably defaced and all the frescoes
are destroyed. Sad but that seems to be a way of life here. (The Southern
Greeks did the same to the mosques in the South, so this statement is no
judgment on either side.)
What we disliked was the built-up coastal areas, so ugly and full of rubbish
that we can't imagine anyone would actually pay money for the privilege of
living in one of the houses and villas on display. But people obviously do
because there is an enormous construction boom.
Today we'll do ancient Samalis and then we'll continue eastwards to the
Karpas peninsula and Apostolos Andreas monastery. In four or five days we'll
switch back to the south, so the next message will come from there.
Other than that all is well; we camp wild and up till now always found very
nice places (high up in the mountains or, last night, near St Barnabas
monastery: a treat).
All the best to you and we'll be in touch!
Vero + Thomas

Subject: Cyprus - (you guessed it) the South

Date: Tue, 25 Oct 2005 10:18:56 +0200 (MEST)

Dear all,
we are now in the Southern republic and we're sorry that it took so long to
write again. Well, after crossing from the North we immediately drove up
into the Troodos mountains: lots and lots (and then some!) of Byzantine
churches, almost all adorned with the most amazingly beautiful frescoes...
but as usual we're getting ahead of ourselves.
So after Famagusta (definitely one of the highlights of the island) we did
the Hellenic/Roman ruins of Salamis which were perhaps a bit less evocative
than our ever optimistic guide book had suggested. It was a worthwhile
stroll through the ruins, for sure, but the site is smaller and less well
presented than many we saw in Syria or Turkey. (Speaking of presentational
matters: perhaps someone should tell the Cypriots, North and South, of the
recent invention of roadsigns -- finding sites and things, if they are not
very, very, very much on the tourist trail, is an adventure in itself.)
Then we did the Karpas peninsula, compared to the building excesses around
Girne (Kyrenia) completely unspoilt, with some old villages and nice sandy
beaches where we camped (camping in the wild is actually one of the joys of
this trip as we have found some truly magnificient sites). Back to Girne,
its castle (not very convincing, we found) and another highlight: the abbey
of Bellapais, a Gothic wonder, half in ruins and sooo romantic...
Unfortunately many tour groups thought the same, so it was good that we
returned for a late evening re-view and even found a perfect camping place
about 50 (vertical) metres above the abbey. Sitting there, sipping Cypriot
wine, chewing the local Halloumi cheese and looking down on the illuminated
ruins...
There were also two castles we did en-route: Kandara and Buffavento. The
first is often visited and maybe a bit disappointing, but the latter,
reached after 6 km on a really dirty dirt track (Thomas feared the worst for
the tyres though they survived), is a treat. Nobody there in the extensive
ruins, incredible views to the north and the south, and really Buffavento
buffeted by the wind.
Well, then we drove back to Nicosia, swapped rental cars and went on right
into the Troodos, the central mountain massif in the South. The highest
point is Mount Olympus (1952m), and it was very, very cold up there. In
fact, all our five camping nights in the Troodos have been, shall we say, on
the fresher side.
The scenery is amazing as this is a real mountain range, not a simple chain
like the mountains at Girne. We drove up and down and up and down and...
well, you can imagine. There are dozens of churches hidden in those valleys,
from the outside looking like barns, but with frescoes inside to make your
eyes water. Some of them reminded us very much of the Cappadocian rock-cut
churches (there are in fact a few rock-cut caves and dwellings of hermits
with frescoes almost a thousand years old which could come right from
Cappadocia).
Then we drove down to Polis in the west, where we still found no Internet
cafes, but many beaches and hikes, and further on to Pafos where we are now.
They have extensive Roman mosaics here but as in so many other places they
are dusty and the colours often don't spring out as they could (and should).
 Sometimes, when no guardian is about, we do a bit of cleaning (with our
precious drinking water!) and then they look completely different. Once
again: a bit more presentational zeal on the side of the Cypriots would be a
rather nice addition.
In effect, we found the people (on both sides) enormously friendly and
helpful, but the way tourism is supported by the authorities seems not
always to be up to scratch. There are moments where you could be forgiven to
think they (the authorities, not the people) wish you would rather stay at
the beach or your air-conditioned hotel than visit this church or that
castle.
The weather has been very kind to us so far, we have sun almost all the
time, though night-time temperatures drop alarmingly the higher we get. But
we have our faithful Nepalese sleeping bags and our trusty storm-proof tent,
so whatever the conditions, we're fine (the Cypriot red wine does help, as
you can imagine). The night sky up here is almost on a par with the
Himalayas, especially the extensive views of the Milky Way.
So, that's it for the time being; we may get in touch one last time from
Larnaca or even from Boringstoke. We'll see how it goes.
All the best to all of you, and keep us up to date with news!
Vero + Thomas

Subject: Cyprus - wrapping up (warning - long)

Date: Wed, 02 Nov 2005 12:37:52 +0000

Dear all,
we are safely back in the UK since Monday, though still slightly tired:
catching planes in the middle of the night is always a recipe for a
post-flight afternoon of heavy yawning and red, swollen eyes. But after
another full night's good sleep, let us take this opportunity to wrap up
the Cyprus business and also perhaps try to give a more balanced view of
what we saw and experienced there.
After Pafos and its nice mosaics we continued to tour the coast towards
Limassol with regular side trips into the foothills south of the Troodos
massif. These foothills are perhaps the nicest landscapes we saw during
the whole time: there are conifers, junipers, even the odd Lebanese
cedar, all that contrasted by a black volcanic earth; ancient orchards
with gnarled olive trees, full with black ripe olives (not edible
though, as checked by a Doubting Thomas: they have to be pickled first);
deep valleys with vineyards left and right and, with autumn upon us, all
that in the most flashing colours: tender green-yellows, dark-browns,
screaming reds and everything in between (think of the forests of New
Hampshire and you're not too far off). Plus the grapes were just being
harvested and we simply loved driving through these lively, fertile
landscapes. What a difference to our impressions from the North! (But
see later.)
We found Limassol itself to be not nearly as touristy as we thought (but
Larnaca later made more than up for that); in fact it was a rather
likeable small town... but then again we avoided the long strip east of
Limassol which seems to be one big lump of
hotels-cum-casinos-cum-bordellos (literally). Perhaps this is the time
to lose a word about the many Russian ladies in very, ah, interesting
garments we saw prowling the streets in most bigger towns and cities:
here, very much like in Turkey, they are called Natashas and they have
taken over the horizontal business lines in such a complete way that
even respectable hotels are nowadays forced to accept their custom, to
make up for dwindling tourist numbers in the low season (and it's all
our fault, as we camped out almost the whole 26 days).
Beyond Limassol there was Kourion and Kolossi: the first a relatively
well-preserved and reasonably large Roman site on top of a cliff, with
extensive Byzantine additions; the latter the (rather small, we found)
headquarter castle of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem (also known as
Hospitallers), before they moved operations to Rhodes in 1309.
Then came Larnaca: with the exception of the St Lazarus church, where
the remains of that lucky (if grim-faced) guy were found in a small
crypt, a complete and utter disappointment. The less said, the better.
In fact the whole district is almost totally devoid of interesting
things: there were some minor churches and the rather modern monastery
of Stavrovouni (where a piece of the True Cross is THE relic to see --
though it's hidden in a reliquary: could as well be just a dried-up
olive inside).
By the way, Stavrovouni strictly follows Athonite rules, so women have
to stay outside -- poor Vero waited on the parking lot. She was
recompensed by the vistas, though: the monastery sits on top of a
prominent mountain, with views extending in all directions. (The monks
take their security very serious indeed: all possible entries are
surrounded by masses of barbed wire, which makes the place look somewhat
like an army camp in the mountains.) Incidentally, the (modern) frescoes
in the monastery's church show many beautiful women, quite a few even in
rather tight-fitting dresses -- not exactly the most consistent
approach, Thomas felt.
We then returned to the Troodos for a couple of days: to visit a few
churches we had dodged the first time round and to re-visit three we had
already seen and found so enchanting that we simply had to return for a
second viewing: Asinou, Ayios Nikolaos tis Steyis (near Kakopetria, in
itself a lovely little village) and Panayia tou Araka (near Lagoudera).
Especially the first is a marvel. Asinou lies in the middle of nowhere
and from the outside just looks like a simple barn (and not a big one at
that). In fact, as it was the very first of the frescoed churches we
visited in the Troodos mountains, we mistook it for a simple side
building and wondered where the famous church might be. But what a
wonderful shock awaited us upon entering that simple barn-like
structure: inside every square inch is covered with the most colourful,
vivid frescoes imaginable. The style and imagery is clearly more
advanced than what we saw in the Cappadocian rock-cut churches (most
frescoes in the Cyprus churches date from the 11th to 15th century
whereas most of the Cappadocian stuff is some three to four centuries
older) but the similarities by far outweigh the differences. Absolutely
recommended.
On balance we would say that the island has definitely enough to offer
to keep one occupied for three to four weeks (depending on how many
Byzantine churches one can stand). And we mostly avoided the beaches
(Vero swam five or six times, Thomas managed an (for him) amazing three)
and of course we tend to have very full days. So on that front it was a
rather worthwhile trip. We should, from a strictly touristical point of
view, have only stayed seven days in the North instead of nine, and done
some more walking in the Southern mountains; on the other hand, the
North, despite its war-zone like appearance, the rubbish and the
building boom, does have a certain strange attraction. Difficult to
explain.
A warning though: without a rental car most of the really good stuff
(North and South) is definitely out of reach -- public transport on
Cyprus is okayish between big towns and non-existent otherwise. But with
a car there are many, many things to do and see a package tourist never
even knows exist. (We found the sheer number of tour groups difficult to
explain: Cyprus is such a safe and easy (and friendly) country to travel
through, so why give up the flexibility of doing things under one's own
steam for the rigidity of a tour group? We still wonder. By the way, the
North is dominated by Brits, there are just a few Germans around and
absolutely no French. The South, on the other hand, is brimming with
German and French groups. The Brits are much less conspicuous there --
probably we were only looking in the wrong locations:-).
Here is our subjective list of the things not to miss, first for the
smaller North part, then for the South (all, as usual, in chronological
order):
1. The Selimiye mosque (the ex-cathedral of Ayia Sofia) in North Nicosia
2. The recently paved road between Kozan and St Hilarion which rides the
ridge of the Kyrenian Mountains and has views to die for
3. St Hilarion crusader castle
4. The walled city of Famagusta and its ruined churches
5. Golden Beach (Karpas peninsula)
6. Bellapais abbey
7. Buffavento castle
1. Cyprus Museum in South Nicosia
2. Asinou and the two other churches we already mentioned
3. The walks on the Akamas peninsula
4. The trek up the Avgas gorges
5. The Pafos mosaics
6. Ayios Neofytos monastery and cave
7. The Limassol foothills, between Ayios Nikolaos in the west and
Arakapas in the east
8. The hike along the Madari ridge
The best thing, however, was the ability to do and see interesting
things more or less until dusk, then pitch the tent somewhere nice (we
always found interesting, even fascinating places) and let the day pass
over a picnic or some simple cooking: no searching around for a decent
hotel, no complicated menus to study (we had some typical dishes
though), instead nature, starry (if cold) night skies, simplicity: we
were in the sleeping bags by 8.30 or 9 latest and got up even before the
sun (never have we seen so many sunrises in such a short span of time as
on Cyprus!).
To conclude here are a few observation of a not strictly touristical
nature. One feature that makes Cyprus special is the separation into the
Turk-Cypriot North and the Greek-Cypriot South. We found both sides very
warm-hearted and amiable, as long as we didn't talk about the "other"
side. But if we did (and we did quite often, being curious), it was a
sad but edifying spectacle to witness the reactions: people in the North
were mostly willing to accept that some sort of solution (read
compromise) must and will be found and that they will have to pay a
price for it. They are simply fed-up, exhausted and want to return to a
normal lifestyle. (A guy we spoke to in North Nicosia has a mill for
sesame seeds to produce tahine and he gets his raw products from India:
but since North Cyprus is not a recognized state, he has to go through
incredible logistical loops to get the stuff actually delivered. These
things sound really ridiculous in 2005 but they show how far we in the
EU have progressed over the decades and how we take a lot of things
simply for granted these days. The Turk-Cypriots sincerely hope that at
some point they will be able to share, if not in the EU's wealth and
stability, then at least a certain level of normality.)
The South was different: the Greek-Cypriots simply hate the North and
all things Turkish (one statement of many as an example, from our car
rental agency guy in Nicosia: "Petrol there [in the North; they avoid
words like Turk-Cypriot or the North] may be a bit cheaper than here but
of course the quality is much worse." Delivered with a disdainful grin
that implies that in these barbaric places everything is worse.)
When we say "hate", that is of course a general statement: not all
Southerners are full of hatred or even resentment, but the feeling was
so pervading that the word seems warranted. However, the younger ones
(on both sides) seem to realise that hate and violence is not the best
way out: they simply wait and hope that the problem finds its usual
biological solution before something bad happens and wrecks their hopes.
We found the North really puzzling. For all the countries (or cultures)
we visit we try to crystallise their uniqueness, their way of life, the
bits and pieces that make them to what they are into something we can
take home with us. And up till now we've always succeeded -- even in
difficult countries like India or Algeria: it just takes a bit longer,
requires a bit more patience, some further reading between the lines, as
it were. Not in Northern Cyprus though: this place remains a mystery to
us.
We can see why, though: the people there have always been a despised
minority in their own country, most have been (are still) less well-off
than the Greek-Cypriots, despite growing numbers of flashy Mercedeses.
They share many cultural traits with the Greek-Cypriots but they also
have to cope with their Turkish heritage. They have been uprooted so
often and so much more violently than the Greek-Cypriots, and they had
to absorb many immigrants from mainland Turkey (who were themselves not
exactly well-off or well educated). And somewhere in that muddle of war
and fight and violence any sense of what it feels to be a Turk-Cypriot
must have been lost... or at least been transformed beyond recognition.
The Northerners do have their peculiarities but they left us with the
feeling that they don't know where they belong: to the Greek side of
their heritage? The Turkish? The Cypriot? The Muslim? A sad, a confused
people in a way, though as individuals we found them invariably friendly
and more than happy that we actually took the trouble to explore "their"
run-down villages, "their" bit of Cyprus.
By contrast, the Southerners often came over as righteous bullies. They
are the good people (and they know it), what they do or don't do is
clearly morally justified (and they know it), and anyway they have
re-built their lives after the 1974 disaster, unlike the crappy guys
"over there". While some of this talk is justified, after a while it
gets quite tiring to be reminded at every corner, every turn how good
"we" are and how bad "they" are. The Greek-Cypriots have drawn up
detailed balance sheets: how many of their people were killed or
tortured, how many churches have been destroyed, how many villages they
lost -- and they really seem to believe this proves that the "others"
are the sole villains of the play.
The fact is that the attitude of Greek-Cypriots towards the
Turk-Cypriots (once again: this is a general statement) is (and has been
for a very long time) so poisoned by their hatred of all things Turkish,
is so relentlessly negative, almost racist, that we couldn't help it but
feel a certain sympathy with the Turkish-Cypriot underdog. This doesn't
excuse any of the excesses of the Turkish side (and there were many),
but it goes a long way of explaining why both sides are where they are
now, feel what they feel now. Sometimes it felt not unlike Israelis and
Palestinians, locked in their own struggle.
One thing is sure: the North is ready for a settlement and the South is
not. The South still wants bloody noses more than reconciliation. They
already got themselves a bloody nose with that strategy in 1974 but it
seems they want another one. Perhaps, being such upright Christians,
they should study their bibles and read a few words of Gandhi's on power
and violence. A bit of magnanimity, a sense of humour and, dare we say
it, self-irony might come in handy.
To sum up, Cyprus was a great experience, though in many ways completely
different to what we expected. A paradise-in-waiting with a few
unmistakable dents.
Pictures and some further travel information will follow and be found on
Thomas' website: it'll take a while, however, and we'll keep you updated
as to when there will be something to see or read.
All the best and do take care... and sorry for the long post.
Vero + Thomas


$updated from: Cyprus 2005 Mails English.htxt Sat 18 Jan 2014 13:14:23 thomasl (By Thomas Lauer)$