Day trip to the Ancient Kingdom of Kourion, Kolossi Castle and the Troodos village of Omodos

After a walk around the castle we bought freshly pressed orange juice from oranges grown in the fields around the castle at the nearby kiosk before enjoying the view of the castle from the shade of a pepper tree.

During our third day in Paphos I had booked us on a bus tour to see some of the surrounding area. Without a car it seems our only option, especially during Easter when very few local buses are en route, is to join the charter tourists on a well air-conditioned bus driving us to tourist hot spots along side dozens of other tourist buses.

We were picked up at the hotel before the bus took us down the coast towards Petra tou Romiou. It was early in the morning and I was looking forward to a bit of sleep on the bus, but it seemed our guide had other plans as she continuously told us about not only our destination but also ridiculously irrelevant facts about upcoming Cypriot tennis players and pilots who hopefully would make it to Formula 1.

The Ancient Kingdom of Kourion

Despite our friendly guides constant chatter, the tour was okay or as good as any bus tour can get. After Petra tou Romiou – the birthplace of Aphrodite – we journeyed to the Ancient Kingdom of Kourion, where we enjoyed the rebuilt Kourion Theatre and the nearby House and Baths of Eustolios which offered the earliest Christian symbols in Cyprus in the form of birds and fish mosaics.

But we were far from alone as tour bus after tour bus was driving in and it was hard to hear our own guide over the noise of the others. This phenomenon seemed destined to follow us all day.

The Crusader stronghold – Kolossi Castle

Our next stop was the romantic yet dangerous crusader’s castle Kolossi. Again I had to compare it to our travels in Jordan and the magnificent Kerak castle. But while Kolossi lacked the size, it stood beautifully in the landscape, and I was quite caught by the place despite the tour busses rolling in.

The present castle is from 1454 and built during the Crusader Kingdom of Cyprus, but the original castle was highly likely built around 1210.

I never really new much about Cypriot history before and must admit that I am quite fascinated with the role of Cyprus during the crusades.

The island was conquered by Richard I of England in 1191 by a matter of chance and pride. Due to ill treatment of his men, sister and bride-to-be by the local emperor, Richard decided to conquer the island and then selling it to the Templar Knights. During his six to eight months reign of Cyprus he married his bride Berengaria of Navarre.

Richard’s conquest of Cyprus led to 400 years of western domination of Cyprus and changed the previously free island into a feudal society under the rule of the ousted King of Jerusalem Guy of Lusignan and the following House of Lusignan.

Kolossi Castle was built by Hugh I of Cyprus grandson of Guy of Lusignan and given to the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, who also rebuilt the current structure, which in my opinion as absolutely gorgeous.

After a walk around the castle  we bought freshly pressed orange juice from oranges grown in the fields around the castle at the nearby kiosk before enjoying the view of the castle from the shade of a pepper tree.

Lunch was our next stop and according to the constantly chatting guide it was a remote and special place which was impossible to find. However, when we arrived we discovered that even here we were not alone as another tour bus had already claimed the outside tables.

We were referred to the inside of the tavern and while treated to a pleasant lunch, it did not seem the special place the guide had rambled on about. However I did feel a spark of pleasure as the rain started pouring down outside leaving the people on the other tour bus in the middle of what seemed a thunderstorm. At that point I was mighty pleased with our indoor seating.

Omodos

The rain stopped before we reached Omodos and it seemed as if the sun caught up with us through a hole in the sky as we pulled in to Omodos. Quite fortunate, something I have to admit we have been throughout our visit to Cyprus. It has been cloudy and rainy but only shortly has it been directly above us.

Omodos is a picturesque little village in the Troodos mountains and one of those places I would have preferred to stay in overnight in order to experience it without the rest of the tourists tagging along. We were by no means the only tour bus at the parking lot, and the place was buzzing with tourists who enjoyed a coffee at the main square or shopped local delicacies at the many stores catering to the day tourists.

I was saddened that we only had an hour and 20 minutes to explore the village and it became a run against the clock to both see the place, manage to take some photos without brightly coloured fellow tourists and shopping. But we managed. However, unlike many of our fellow passengers on the bus we stayed in the village until the last minute and since our bus was one of the last to depart, we managed to experience just a taste of the real Omodos as the locals began to gather at the square for a coffee and the shop keepers took a breath of fresh air after rush hour. Not having the option to sleep over this small glimpse of the real Omodos was the next best thing

Reaching the bus one minute to departure time we settled in for a thankfully quiet ride back to Paphos knowing that we had all of Sunday to soak up the last of the sun before returning home.

Zofka

Relaxing in Paphos

It was such a beautiful walk and with the wind cooling us off, we didn’t realise that we had turned into boiled lobsters.

Paphos is the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2017, but it is hard to recognize any culture apart from posters claiming the title and a simple sculpture near Paphos Fortress. Now I haven’t yet seen the rest of Paphos but as for the nondescript tourist strip at the harbour and seaside known as Kato Paphos there is not much culture. I’d dare say the most culture I’ve seen is British in the way of all out British pubs.

Kato Paphos is not an interesting town, and there are Made in China souvenirs all over the place. It is evident that they cater to young people and groups of friends as some of their items include hand carved wooden penises – made in Cyprus. Considering how hard it is to find Cyprus made souvenirs, I wonder why they have to chose to make something that tacky on the island. At least carve a wooden Aphrodite since this place according to the myths is her place of birth.

Yes, Kato Paphos is a tourist resort town on the dramatic Cyprus seaside. The inhabitants I imagine live inland and far away from the lobster coloured tourist crowds.

We are some of these red-coloured tourists staying in our own hotel apartment at a large hotel complex and while I might find the experience as bland as the buffet of our resort hotel, I enjoy it after our busy days in Larnaca. While I wanted to see the rest of Paphos and discover more of the area, I have fallen to the enjoyment of reading a nondescript and easygoing chicklit or two.

It is Easter in the Greek Orthodox world (and the rest for that matter) which means that much is closed down while the Greek Cypriots are celebrating the resurrection of Christ. And yes, I know we should have taken part in what apparently is an amazing experience – the Easter celebrations in the Greek Orthodox church. But we have been so deadbeat every evening returning home that getting up to find a church in this tourist area has seemed too much.

You might wonder how we can be deadbeat from doing nothing, but well we have been around the area.

Days in Paphos

On the day we arrived we hadn’t much energy after countless nights on a stone madras in our boring Larnaca hotel. Reaching our new place of residence in Paphos had us pleasantly surprised as the rooms are so much more warm and friendly in their blue and beige colours and with the sun easily reaching the inside of the hotel. As a Scandinavian I appreciate light and three days in a dark and grey hotel room has been like a prison sentence.

This new found freedom and the fact that the sun was shining despite weather reports claiming rain and thunder had us enjoying the pool area for a large part of the day.

We made it to the harbour and up Leoforos Poseidonos in search of the Tourist Information which we found closed for Easter. We also made it to the ruins of an early Christian Basilica and the St. Paul’s Pillar Chrysopolitissa which we can see from our balcony. But in comparison to our usual travel routines we didn’t manage much.

Tombs of the Kings and a seaside walk

On our second day, we went for a walk starting at yet another ancient ruin namely the Tombs of the Kings. It has nothing to do with kings and is mainly the necropolis of higher ranking citizens from Hellenistic and Roman times. After visiting Petra most necropolises seem unimpressive, and this was not much more than a few holes in the ground and loads of British tourists having their cultural activity for the day.

However, the archaeological site lies with views of the dramatic coastline and energetic sea. With two kilometres back to Paphos the coast offered a gorgeous walk.

We began with a small picnic in the shade of a palm tree before starting out on what will be my best memory from Paphos.

What I like about this place and which I feel saddened is not happening all over the world is that even with resorts stretching down to the sea, it was possible for people to walk the entire stretch of the coastline. And what views it offered. Not only of the violent waves as they crashed towards the rocky cliffs of the coast, but also of the thousands of wild flowers covering the ground in yellow and purple with small flashes of red.

The walk took us all along the outer rims of Kato Paphos and the main archaeological park to the harbour area. It was such a beautiful walk and with the wind cooling us off, we didn’t realise that we had turned into boiled lobsters until we reached our hotel room and could see our reflections in the mirror and feel the burn on our skin. I seriously need to cover up both against the sun and against the laughing recognition from other tourists.

Cheers

Zofka

Daytrip: Northern Cyprus

The small delicate platform at the very top seemed to be strung up only by a few metal lists and it was rocking in the wind. I was basically crawling around on the top of the mountain breathing in heavily while attempting to take pictures.

At the hotel we’d been told that it was easy to find and join a tour to Northern Cyprus, but once we got into the details about it we quickly realised that it was both expansive and full of weird stops in Medieval Amusement Parks. Thus, we decided to visit Northern Cyprus on our own.

We got a bus early morning from Larnaca to Lefkosia from where we made our way through the Ledra Street border crossing and unto the place from where we could catch a bus or shared taxi to Kyrenia – or Girne as it is known in Northern Cyprus.

Unlike in the southern part where busses run on a simple schedule which basically only informs you of the departure time from the first stop and the approximate duration of the bus route, in Northern Cyprus busses and shared taxis (both known as dolmuş) only leave when full. I definitely prefer the Northern Cypriot way of handling public transport and it took us only ten minutes and a chat with a local guy before we were pushed into the first available dolmuş in the direction of Girne.

The minivan was old and the highway bumpy and it took us some time to stop fighting the constant jumping around in our seats. Once we’d accepted the bumping it felt like a roller coaster ride. After 25 minutes north we arrived in Girne.

Walking around Girne

Walking around the city, I can understand the comparison to Chania in Crete, but Girne is much more chaotic in the centre and the old town is not as well maintained. However, the city is charming and full of life.

As always we tried to find a local place to eat far away from the general tourist traps which seemed to dominate the harbour area. We came across Halil İbrahim Sofrası which was a no-nonsense Turkish place serving the generic kebab, but also offered a lot of other Turkish dishes. We got a Turkish pizza called a pide and a firin beyti – both of which tasted marvellous.

Lunch well over we were ready to find our way to Saint Hilarion Castle and the Bellapais Abbey.

We found a taxi for around 145 Turkish lire which would take us to Saint Hilarion and wait for us for an hour before dropping us off at Bellapais Monastery. We might have found it cheaper, but with limited time we were eager to get going.

Saint Hilarion Castle

This magnificent castle on the top of the mountain range with stunning vistas of the North Cypriot coast has without a doubt been the highlight of out trip to Cyprus. The massive construction seems to grow from the rock of the mountain with towers extending the height of the mountain peak.

Should I do it all over again I would skip Bellapais Abbey which is a pretty but not extraordinary ruin and instead spend more time breathing in the hard winds from the top of Saint Hilarion. One hour was just about enough to reach the very top and find our way back down. One hour of terrifying heights and marvellous view points.

The castle was originally a monastery built in the 10th century, which the Byzantines began to fortify in the 11th century. Along with the lesser known Kantara and Buffavento, it protected the Northern coast of the island from Arab pirates until the Venetians took over the island and dismantled large parts of it while focusing their defence on the coastal castles such as Kyrenia and Farmagusta castles.

I can only imagine how magnificent it used to be before dismantlement. Even now in its crumbling state it is a terrifying sight balancing on the mountain top.

On the other hand I was mighty pleased when we turned around after an hour because while I might have been fascinated with the views front eh top of the castle, I was also freaking out due to my fear of heights was by all measures was put to the max. The small delicate platform at the very top seemed to be strung up only by a few metal lists and it was rocking in the wind. I was basically crawling around on the top of the mountain breathing in heavily while attempting to take pictures. Not my finest moment, but I got the shots.

Bellapais Abbey

After a run down the stairs from the castle to our taxi, we headed off towards Bellapais Abbey. It is a prettily situated ruin of an old abbey which was built in the 13th century by Canons Regular of the Holy Sepulchre – an order which arrived in the area after having escaped Jerusalem when Saladin conquered the city in 1187.

The abbey is nicely situated with views over the coast and sea, but it seemed a let down after the magnificence of Saint Hilarion and with only a few walls left standing it didn’t take long for us to look through the place.

At the tourist information we’d been told that we could walk back from Bellapais, but the drive from Girne had seemed rather long, so we were a bit apprehensive as we started our descend towards the city.

After a beautiful, but not overly fantastic walk along the main road, we decided to try our luck hitch hiking. We were fortunate that the first car we saw decided to stop and bring us along to the centre square from where we got a dolmuş back to Lefkosia.

You can read about Lefkosia in my blog with the very original title: Lefkosia (Nicosia).

Zofka

Lefkosia (Nicosia)

There was something so very peaceful about sitting there on a bench outside Büyük Han soaking up the sun without a care in the world and I shall take it with me as one of the best memories I have of Cyprus.

In Berlin the place where the old wall ran is shown through the streets and neighbourhoods of the city as a line of stones. It is simple and beautiful and speaks of the unnatural division of the city through 28 years.

I wonder how some hopeful day in the future the border between North and South Lefkosia will be memorised. The border runs as a wound through the entire inner city with all north-south bound roads being cut short on each side. At its most narrow there are only 3 meters between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

It stretches beyond Lefkosia and covers from east to west 3.5 % of the island. But nowhere – I imagine – is it as imposing and real as through the old city of Lefkosia, where sandbags and old tin barrels are stacked at the end of each north-south road. On the Southern side, the border areas are painted in bright blue and white colours to show off not the Cypriot – but the Greek flag. A strong reminder that the issue which forced this situation in the first place, the wish of the majority of the Cypriots to enter into a union with Greece, is still lingering.

On the North Cypriot side the border region of the old city centre is much more derelict and ghostly and no colours are shown but grey. Yet, the feeling of being caught in time and space prevails here and there is something haunting about the crumbling yet stunning houses.

Lefkosia is an ancient capital of a proud island and the many foreign influences are evident in the charming houses which dominate the old town and which have been predominantly built from the end of the 18th and 19th centuries. They are a mix of both the East and the West of the Greek, French, Venetian and Turkish roots of the city. All of it making Lefkosia both a melting pot of foreign styles and yet so very Cypriot.

The old city centre is encircled by an impressive Venetian fortification. It seems a much more natural demarcation of the city than the border which splits it in two. But while in ancient times it might have held meaning, today the reference is to the new border. Nothing beyond this new wall exists. You will not find a tourist map with street names laid out for the entire city. That which lies on the other side is merely a ghostly network of streets which no one refers to until the island and capital are once again unified.

In this way the border seems to be unnoticed by the people and the other part forgotten. As in a fairy tale where that which lies beyond the enchanted forest is unknown and irrelevant to anyone but the hero of the story.

Yet, at the same time throughout the last many years the border has been demilitarised and – unlike only a few years ago – Cypriots and visitors can move unhindered through the border control at Ledra Street by only showing their ID or passport. It seems there are many heroes in this story attempting to reach that which is beyond the enchanted forest, but for now it is simply there somewhere in the consciousness, in history.

I fell in love with Lefkosia the moment we arrived and it grew into a full on love affair by the time we’d visited the city a second time. Not only because it is fascinating to experience a capital divided, but also because with or without that border the city is absolutely beautiful. A perfect romantic spot with so much to discover within the Venetian walls.

I’d planned to make a blog which included both our visits to Lefkosia and our trip to Northern Cyprus, but I can see my written ramblings have taken up space, so perhaps it will turn into two.

Northern Lefkosia

Our first impression of Lefkosia was a run through the border and on to the bus area for the dolmuş. Though only briefly checking out Ledra Street it was clear that this was a city worth exploring.

We returned from Girne and the surrounding area the same afternoon and spent the following hours walking around the Northern part of Lefkosia. We began in the western part walking towards and through the picturesque neighbourhood Arab Ahmet. Passing the Armenian church we suddenly found ourselves shot off from going further. We’d reached the border which seemed obvious in the state of the houses here in comparison to only a small walk in the opposite direction.

Crossing into what seemed a very poor area lying close to the border with much more ramshacled houses than the well maintained Arab Ahmet we moved on towards the renovated Büyük Han. After a short visit inside this medieval caravanserai, which was built by the first Ottoman governor of the island in 1572, we sat down to enjoy the afternoon and a coffee at a café on a small square next door. Close by a group of artists were finishing up and celebrating a new piece of street art.

There was something so very peaceful about sitting there on a bench soaking up the sun without a care in the world and I shall take it with me as one of the best memories I have of Cyprus.

After feeling rested we walked further down to gaze at the Selimiye Mosque and Bedesten. Selimiye Mosque has as so many others been a cathedral before. However, here the evidence is obvious as it seems as if the mosque has risen from the ruins of the church with half destroyed vaults still visible.

Southern Lefkosia

After spending an entire day in Northern Cyprus and most of that afternoon in Northern Lefkosia, we decided to return to the capital on the following day to explore the southern parts of the city.

While the northern parts hold much of the attractions, the southern part of the city has a fantastic vibrancy of life.

We began our walk through the city with an early lunch at the Market Company. While the place according to online reviews is nearly always packed we found ourselves the only guests this morning. We ended up with a few dishes including grilled halloumi in honey, fried squid with sweet chili sauce and some of Cyprus famous potatoes.

It was probably not the best dishes for 11 am, and I find it hard to understand why Cypriot potatoes are better than average, but then again I am native to a country which prides itself on its own potatoes, so perhaps I am biased or simply used to a high potato quality.

But despite the food experience not living up to our expectations, it was marvellous to soak up the sun in this quiet side street with a massive wall mural on the opposite side of the small street.

After lunch we lazily walked through the city ending up following the wall east. It was surprising to see how well maintained even the houses closest to the wall are. Furthermore, we ran into several Cypriot soldiers guarding the border from the southern Cypriot side.

Most of them were young and simply sitting there looking out from balconies amongst sand bags and tin barrels. Everywhere it stated that photography was not allowed, but no one stopped us and the signs seemed from a forgotten time. At one point where a small guard house was bunked in between a café and the wall a large group of tourists on tour were blatantly taking pictures of the guard from only a meter away despite the signs.

Lefkosia

Should I ever return to Cyprus, it would be to enjoy the atmosphere of its capital. Both sides offer a southern charm and down to earth feeling that the modern man can not get enough of. I would love to spend my days drinking coffee and exploring the hidden treasures of this particular city.

And why do I use Lefkosia rather than Nicosia? Because it is the old name of the city and used locally in both Turkish and Greek. The city decided back in 1995 to adapt to using only Lefkosia, but in 2017 all maps still hold a parenthesis with Nicosia because in English the change has never been approved. But if there is something which both sides agree on, then who am I to call it something else.

Zofka

Larnaca Days

I feel as if we got to experience a small slice of the real Cyprus that evening.

Cypriots love music and they love to play it loud!

On our first day in Larnaca as we were checking out the beach promenade and enjoying a sandwich, an old couple next to us were enjoying the view of the sea and a newspaper while they had the speakers of their smartphone cramped up on loud playing folk music for the entire restaurant to hear.

At the hotel I have had to call down to the reception every night to tell them that the music they are blasting in the entrance hall can be heard all the way to the inside of a room on the third floor.

This is not to mention that every bus driver is having his stereo on loud.

And the music played is Greek.

Apart from the nightly music at the hotel, I don’t mind. I find it fascinating and it adds to the experience. It is just one of those things that make you realise that you are in Cyprus exploring a different culture.

Days in Larnaca

We arrived in the early morning hours to a very grey and sterile hotel room in the centre of Larnaca. Thus, our first day started out lazy with that sandwich at the beach promenade and getting familiar with the city.

With a long afternoon rest at the rooftop pool and lots of little breaks at local hangouts we were well rested for an evening stroll all along the coastline. We ended up at a small fishing hamlet just before Kastela Beach.

The walk was quite magical with the evening sky and the airplanes descending towards Larnaca Airport to the south and the walk home inland gave us a brief meeting with the residential parts of Larnaca, where tourists rarely visit. By accident we ended up on the other side of the city centre in desperate search of food at the charming Art Café 1900.

It is a pleasant place with so many trinkets and knick-knacks. Photos from the first half of the 20th century and paintings all over. The food was excellent and locally inspired with the owner chit-chatting with the guests. In contrast to the many tourist restaurants with laminated menus that we have seen around the beach promenade this seems so intimate.

Hiking in Cape Greco

Not far from Larnaca lies Cape Greco National Forest Park which offers hiking trails full of pretty beaches and dramatic coastlines. On our first full day in Larnaca we took the bus northwest through Agia Napa to Konnos Beach, from where we began a long but beautiful hike through the Cypriot landscape.

We began with a bit of lunch at the turquoise Konnos Beach before a short walk to the pretty Agioi Anargyroi. The walk was marvellous and offered beautiful views of the coast and millions of wildflowers in yellow, red and purple.

Agioi Anargyroi is a small chapel situated dramatically on a small stretch of rock along the coast. The view of the chapel from the hiking trail was beautiful, but unfortunately a large truck in the colours of the Bulgarian flag was parked just beside the chapel offering refreshments to the guests and destroying the view.

After a small reprieve at the chapel we moved onwards all along the coastline, cutting across inlands where the narrow Cape Greco peninsula jugs out from the coast.

The most magnificent part comes as we move past the large flat hill which dominates the area. Looking back towards the hill there is something decidedly lonely and hauntingly beautiful about this place with the wide upon stone field, the coast to the south and the hill taking up the landscape. We only slowly move away from this beautiful place moving towards the famous sea caves

The sea caves are beautiful and so oddly cut into the coast. It seems the sea has constructed a massive sink hole making the ground disappear and showing off the beauty of the rocks below. It makes an intake on the land, which is dramatic and surprising. But the sea caves while beautiful are nothing without all the rest, and I pity those who only travel to the sea caves not caring for the rest of this marvellous stretch of coast.

The day ends with a six kilometres long walk into Agia Napa, where we are refreshed by sinking our feet into the sand at the public beaches, enjoying the cold water of the sea. But before long we have to find our way to the last bus towards Larnaca.

We end the evening at another great restaurant full of young locals. If you ask me the name I will have to draw a pass since it was only offered in Greek letters.

Thoughts on Larnaca

If ever I returned to Cyprus, I would not choose to stay in Larnaca though I’d take it over the resort town Agia Napa any day. While we had a pleasant few days, the city is far from the most interesting to visit and tourist-wise it seems more of a shopping daytrip from Agia Napa than a place which caters to tourists on its own.

While it offers some sights and local spots, it is not enough to return. I’d much rather stay in Nicosia or attempt a stay at Limassol which we unfortunately did not have time to discover.

However Larnaca has charm and we were lucky with the places we went to eat. The best experience was at a small and very local tavern next to the Church of Saint Lazarus. At Stoa Restaurant we were met with friendly locals watching a local football match. Not only was the atmosphere amazing with all the old men enjoying a drink while discussing the game, but the mezes we ordered tasted fantastic and just kept on coming until I am not sure how I was able to rise from the table. I feel as if we got to experience a small slice of the real Cyprus that evening.

After eating we headed on towards the beach promenade which in the day time is full of tourists. But at night the locals take over and places such as the Meeting Pub are full with the local youth. At least on a night when the Champions League Quarter Finals are on –  a fact that had also drawn us to the pub.

Zofka