The many faces of Cyprus

As a book-lover, I rarely give away books and consequently have over-flowing bookshelves; including one devoted to guidebooks: interesting and beautiful places that I have visited and hope to return to some day.  So my atypical decision, in 2004, to throw my guidebook to Cyprus in the dustbin, adamantly proclaiming I would never want to visit the island again, is still a vivid memory.  Fast-forward three years and I found myself packing up my worldly-possessions, waving them away onto a container ship and boarding a flight to what would be our new home;  in Cyprus!  The irony of my former book-throwing decision did not pass me by and certainly filled me with a little apprehension!

So what led to my guidebook fermenting with apple cores and pencil shavings at the bottom of a bin? Was it caused by my heat-intolerance as I doggedly persevered with sightseeing plans: battling against high temperatures and humidity at Paphos Archaeological Park, DSC02387a UNESCO World Heritage Site, wearily placing one foot in front of the other to view Roman Mosaic floors and ruins from Prehistoric times to the Middle Ages? Was it the seering sunburn emanating from my legs and burning through my linen trousers, as a constant and nagging reminder of the perils of not re-applying suncream often enough? Was it the discovery of a box full of bullets in our hired 4×4, having assured my friend’s mother it was just water bottles noisily-pinging around behind her in the boot? Was it the fear-inducing journey as our 4×4 slowly climbed precarious roads and dirt tracks to reach the spectacular scenery of the Troodos mountains?  No, it was none of these! It was simple really; with the exception of daytrips to the Troodos mountains and the busy, tourist attractions of Paphos, we barely got to know the island.   We were in Cyprus for a friend’s wedding and along with the other guests, we stayed in a huge hotel in Paphos, which was pretty much the same as every other hotel packed tightly together along that strip of beach.   And that was our defining image of Cyprus: hotel after hotel after hotel: all catering for us Brits; including menus advertising that well-known Cypriot delicacy; fish and chips!

How little we knew and how wrong we were about Aphrodite’s island!  In the three years we subsequently lived in Cyprus, we scratched beyond the surface and explored the island from tip-to-toe: from the charming, pretty old town of Limassol;

Old Town, Limassol

Old Town, Limassol

Limassol

Limassol

the rugged and wild scenery of the Akamas Peninsula

Akamas Peninsula

Akamas Peninsula

and the heights and temperature difference of the Troodos mountains;

Troodos mountains; January/February

Troodos mountains; January/February

to the less well-travelled and perhaps greener North of the island. The breathtaking beauty of Bellapais, picturesque Kyrenia and a spectacularly long car journey through the Karpas Peninsula to reach Golden Beach at the tip of the island, which geographically points to Syria, captivated us with their natural splendour. Relaxing at Nankomi (Golden Beach), a deserted sweep of sand, backed by rolling dunes,  our experience of Cyprus three years earlier became a distant memory!

Golden Beach, Karpas Peninsula

Golden Beach, Karpas Peninsula

Here is more of our journey – in images – for you.

The Akamas Peninsula:

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The Troodos mountains:

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The Karpas Peninsula, Northern Cyprus:

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Basic beach accommodation, Karpas Peninsula

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Bellapais, Northern Cyprus:

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Kyrenia, Northern Cyprus:

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Fabulous and inexpensive villa

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Larnaca:

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Aphrodite’s Rock:

Petra tou Romiou, Aphrodite's Rock

Petra tou Romiou, Aphrodite’s Rock

 

 

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Confound the senses in Nicosia; the last divided city of Europe

Peering through tiny gaps in part of the barricaded wall that divides Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus and the last divided city in Europe, and apprehensive of being reprimanded by UN security police, I was left aghast by the desolate scene in front of me.  Marking a moment in time and reminiscent of an eerie and sinister movie set,  a deserted street lay just the other side of the wall.  Bullet holes riddled the long-abandoned buildings, and discarded personal possessions lay rusting and sun-faded in the street.  A long-abandoned car, a child’s doll, an iron on its board: overwhelming evidence of a population that must have fled in terror and a visual, stark and hard-hitting testimony of the devastation that divided this ancient city in the 70s.  These deserted  everyday scenes side-by-side with devastation, leave visitors to this day with an enduring, poignant memory.

And so when the United Nations buffer zone, colloquially known as the Green Line, that runs through Ledra Street in Nicosia was opened just a few months later, in April 2008, I was pleased that, as I lived in Cyprus, I could easily explore the northern part of Nicosia during this important and promising moment in history. DSC00525 Making this the sixth crossing point between the North and the South, removing the blockades to re-open Ledra Street held significant emotional value for residents and provides pedestrian access to the north part of the city and indeed the island, which has been divided for nearly half a century.

Walking away from the modern and affluent commercial department stores and art cafes of South Nicosia, we waited in line with our passports; to be issued with a paper visa allowing us to walk into Northern Cyprus.   And it was mind-blowing:  within a very short distance you leave behind the familiar sights of Cyprus and the desolate no-go streets imbetween and enter – metaphorically -Turkey.    DSC00533Strolling through the back streets, which now mainly house small workshops or are derelict ruins evoking reminders of what befell this city, within a few minutes the atmosphere and sights become starkly and culturally different.  From Turkish baths, children running around barefoot and countless small shops selling beautifully-ornate Turkish cushion covers, tablecloths and hand-decorated plates and bowls, you really do feel like you have stepped into a different country; a feeling that is enhanced by the Muezzin’s Call to Prayer. Then there is the amazing, beautiful and imposing architecture that you stumble across within minutes of each other.The Buyuk Han (the Great Inn), built by the Ottomans in 1572, has a mosque with a fountain for pre-prayer ablutions in the centre of its open courtyard.

Buyuk Han, Nicosia

Buyuk Han, Nicosia

Restored in the 1990s, the Inn is now a thriving arts centre; consisting of several galleries and workshops, courtyard cafes and souvenir shops.

Cafe scene at Buyuk Han, Nicosia

Cafe scene at Buyuk Han, Nicosia

Dominating the landscape and emphasising the cultural differences  within the city is  Cyprus’s largest and oldest gothic building, the Selimiye Mosque.  Originally Cathédrale Sainte Sophia, which was built in the 1200s, this was turned into a mosque in 1570; with the addition of two minarets and a complete change to the interior of the building.  Deceptively, from certain angles, the Selimiye Mosque still looks like a Cathedral; until you get close and see the shoes lined up outside or peer into the whitewashed interior.

Selimiye Mosque, Nicosia, formerly Cathedrale Sainte Sophia

Selimiye Mosque, Nicosia, formerly Cathedrale Sainte Sophia

With Turkish Lira jostling for space with Euros in your wallet; Turkish street signs metres away from Greek ones; smells of middle-east delicacies streets away from contemporary mediterranean cafes; and luxury goods on one side to beautiful hand-decorated items on the other, entering northern Nicosia from southern Nicosia is an extraordinary experience that assaults all your senses. If you visit Cyprus, do take time out to visit this beautiful, starkly-different, emotional and unforgettably thought-provoking divided city.

The dependants…

They call us dependants.  This official term for the spouses and children of a serving member is defined in the dictionary as someone who is reliant on someone else: this surely warrants exploring.  I guess to look at, I am small; perhaps even a little fragile-looking to some and then there’s Tina, not quite as short as me, but nonetheless we are officially dependants.

Back to Tina.  Here’s a woman who I hit it off with straight away.  What you see is what you get and then some more! Actually Tina is about the least-dependent, dependant I have ever had the privilege of meeting.  For a special birthday, she asked to be winched into the mediterranean; I am still not sure why…She recently drove a banger through parts of Europe for charity and because it would be a laugh.  And thinking about it, she probably sees more of her dog’s vet and certainly her children’s teachers, than she does her commuting husband.

I can’t boast quite the same adventurous-tales as Tina, but I was quite proud of moving countries by myself, heavily-pregnant and with a young child.  Of welcoming a lorry of possessions from Cyprus, a further lorry of long-forgotten possessions from three-years in storage and then unpacking the 60+ boxes I was surrounded by.  With a year-long weekend-only husband, I have had my share of coping with everything alone and also managed to keep a semblance of work going along the way.

“It’s like gaining an extra child,” another friend exclaimed when referring to her husband’s rare visits home.  Ever-stoical, she even appeared to take it all in her stride when a phone call from her husband was suddenly aborted with the sound of mortar.  He didn’t call back for several days….several days! When moving back to the UK, we were on the same flight, accompanied by her three boys (and no husband), and she then had a seven-hour-plus drive ahead of her to reach home.  Upon commenting on how amazing she was, she calmly told me that her husband had thanked her with a diamond necklace.  I expressed how lovely that was and still chuckle to this day when I recall her closing statement: “Oh, he doesn’t know yet!”

Living overseas, surrounded by dependants, all of whom had relocated countries, left their friends and families thousands of miles away and were totally ready for the next adventure – often with their husbands away for several months at a time – taught me one thing: we may be called dependants, but dependent, we are not!

We would love to hear your stories.

A trip down memory lane

As the rain seeped through my impractical ballerinas and soaked the bottom of my jeans on the school run this morning, I found myself wistfully thinking back to our dry, hot, humid and dusty three years in Cyprus.

My dry and dusty Cypriot garden!

My dry and dusty Cypriot garden!

After a trip down memory lane, I came up with today’s top ten things I miss:

  1. The amazing views of mountains and sea whilst cycling to the beach; particularly when the Red Arrows were on their annual practise overhead DSC_0202
    Tina and I must have been spotted cycling below...

    Tina and I must have been spotted cycling below 😉

    and Tina was alongside me!

  2. Wearing flip flops most of the year.
  3. Lizards scurrying under bushes and the sounds of the cicadas in the trees.
  4. The Cypriots love of children: not just tolerating children in restaurants, but actively welcoming them in, taking them off you to go and tour the kitchen and coming back laden with ice-cream or chocolate pudding freebies; sometimes for the whole family!
  5. Huge blocks of feta and halloumi cheese.
  6. Not having to open the curtains to work out what to wear each morning!
  7. Eating outside – all year round.
  8. The light in the house.
  9. The people and the community spirit on an overseas base.
  10. The huge and seasonal fruit and vegetables: aubergines, artichokes, watermelons and best of all; strawberries in January!

From civvy, to milly, to civvy

Seven years ago, Juliet and I met online desperately seeking answers!  Having just found out that we were moving to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, we were full of questions: what furniture should we take, what would the houses be like, did we need to ship winter coats, should we stock up on anything in case the local shops didn’t sell it…?

Aside from having a marvellous sense of humour, I soon discovered that Juliet is also the master of quotes.  My personal favourite was: ‘Stick a fork in me, I’m done”.  That pretty much summed up the hot and sweaty summers in Cyprus.  Tina came along a year later and I will also never forget my first proper meeting with her as I thought my daughter, who had been playing ball with Tina’s dog in the searing sunshine, had killed said dog from heat exhaustion….

We shared the same horrors of the welcome pack, which detailed such niceties as: what to do in the event of an earthquake and you might find snakes, scorpions, Cyprus widow spiders and processionary caterpillars in your garden, as well as cockroaches in your house!  And boy did we find cockroaches!  To this day, I still remember many stories about them; including one from Ali, who woke up to use the bathroom and found one of the offenders sat on her toothbrush!  Ali, if you are reading this, imagine, if you hadn’t needed a pee that night….or if this was not the first night said cockroach had befriended your toothbrush….!

We shared the same experiences of living on a military base overseas, which was not unlike a colonial lifestyle with plenty of socialising and heat, where pretty much everyone knows everyone and every need is catered for; a cinema, a bowling alley, a school, a doctors, a dentists, a gym, shops, hairdressers, florists etc.  We met teachers, midwifes, doctors and dentists on a professional basis in the morning and then found ourselves rubbing shoulders with them on the beach in the afternoon, or in the Mess in the evening;  dreading the day we needed a smear test or some other personal trial!  We saw and supported our amazing friends who were coping with the worries and physical pressures of being left on their own for months at a time; looking after children by themselves, thousands of miles away from the support of their families, whilst their husbands were serving overseas.

And now, the three of us are back to the rain and normality! Based in Kent, Cornwall and Cambridge we chose to live outside the wire and want to reminisce with and hear from you.  Whether it is about Cyprus, being a military wife at home or overseas, adjusting to life in civvy street, coping for months on your own, or something quite unrelated, we want your comments.   Whether it’s about the Med, the MoD or just plain mad, we want to hear from you!

Louise