Category Archives: Greek islands

Thursday Doors, Syros in the Greek Islands

Syros 08

As we walked we passed one hundred year old villas and mansions in various states of disrepair that are too expensive to renovate because restrictive planning laws insist on exact restoration due to their historical and cultural importance.  Instead it is cheaper to build new properties so these neglected fine buildings steadily decay and collapse.  One day they will be gone and that will be a real shame.

As the day continued to get hotter, shutters were thrown back like butterfly wings basking in the sunshine, washing hung steaming from open windows and every doorstep had a sleeping cat for decoration.

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

 

Cyprus, The Archaeological Site at Paphos

Paphos Mosaics 01

On the last day the weather was fine, we had put the coach trip mistake to the Troodos Mountains behind us and we took a final walk from our hotel to Paphos along the sea front, a very pleasant stroll of just over three miles.

My plan, but not Kim’s was to visit the UNESCO archaeological site.  We walked around the perimeter fence which was broken down in places and some people were avoiding the entrance fee by climbing through.  Even free entry could not persuade Kim to make the visit so we walked on past the castle and through the harbour area with its persistent waiters inviting us to sit down and eat and then to the seafront café that we had taken a liking to.

As we sat in the Spring sunshine we debated an option to rip up our return airline tickets and stay in Cyprus a while longer but came to the conclusion that this would be rather reckless so we abandoned the idea.

Paphos 14

We went our separate ways now, Kim took the bus back to the hotel to go the spa and I went to the archaeological site which was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 1980.

The World Heritage list has been around for over sixty years as a consequence of events in 1954 when the government of Egypt announced that it was to build the Aswan Dam, a project that proposed to flood a valley containing priceless treasures of ancient civilizations.  Despite opposition from Egypt and neighbouring Sudan, UNESCO launched a worldwide safeguarding campaign, over fifty countries contributed and the Abu Simbel and Philae temples were taken apart, moved to a higher location, and put back together piece by piece.  At last the World was collectively protecting its treasures.

The site was good value at €2.50 (seniors rate) and I spent over two hours going over about a two thousand five hundred year old city  which turns out to be the most important Greeko/Roman archaeological site in Cyprus.

Paphos Postcard

After the Greeks came the Romans and they adapted the city to their own style and and here I walked around the remains of the Forum, the Temples, the Amphitheatre and sections of the old city wall and inside these the public baths and the once grand villas of the city patricians.  It wasn’t on the scale of Pompeii or Herculaneum of course but as only an estimated 20% of the site has been excavated then who knows what treasures lay buried under the parched dusty fields.

The site was only discovered in 1962 so having lay undisturbed for hundreds of years a lot of treasures that might have been lost to looters is still there, especially the very fine mosaic floors which in turn are being restored and moved to a vast indoor exhibition hall.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

After the Romans left the city was used by the Egyptians, Arab caliphates, the French Lusignan dynasty and then in the Middle Ages it began to be dismantled and used as a quarry and a convenient source of building materials for new towns and villages along the coastline.

We often think that development is all about continuous progress but that is quite wrong.

This is something that has always perplexed me. The Romans built a great city with roads and aqueducts, fresh water and sewage and waste disposal systems, grand villas decorated with mosaics and statues and then medieval man came along during the dark ages and tore them down – not to build something better but to construct something significantly inferior.

I would like to have overheard the town planning debates and the rationale applied to do this. “We don’t need stone roads”, they’d probably say “a muddy track will do just as well.” “We don’t need all these fancy sewers, we’ll dig a hole in the garden!” “We can’t really see the point of all these aqueducts and fresh water filtration systems, we’ll just drink the dirty river water!”  “And finally we don’t need all of these fine villas with air conditioning and shady gardens, we’ll take them down and use the stone to make the foundations for some mud huts!”

I spent a couple of hours at the site and could have stayed much longer but it was late afternoon by now so I left and took the three mile walk along the coastal path back to the hotel.

For our last evening we dined at the cheap kebab restaurant and were entertained by a British ex-pat explaining how good life was and his Russian companion who had clearly overdone the vodka.  We had walked nearly twelve miles today.

We had enjoyed Cyprus and once again contemplated stopping longer but by next morning were ready to go home.  We actually got to stay a few hours longer in Cyprus than we had anticipated however because a fault with the Easyjet plane led to a five hour delay.

The compensation came in handy!

Cyprus Postcard

Cyprus, A Tedious Day in The Troodos Mountains

Cyprus Postcard Map

The tour bus left the village of Omodos just as another coach tour pulled into the vacant parking spot, this is obviously a slick operation which keeps the souvenir shops busy and the tour operators getting their percentage.

It carried on now climbing into the Troodos mountain range, up and up and up through a succession of tight hairpin bends and narrow roads which I have to say quickly became tedious.  There were frequent stops to admire the repetitious scenery but after four hours or so I was completely bored and regretting the decision to sign up for the trip.

The Forest went on and on for mile after mile, a forest it seems to me is much like a desert or the Antarctic and becomes boring after a while.  Actually very quickly.  The tour promised a visit to Mount Olympus but apparently (or conveniently) the road was closed because of snow so the bus just relentlessly carried on.  Our next stop was the burial chamber and tomb of Cyprus independence hero Archbishop Makarios but without any real explanation that was closed as well.

So we drove instead straight to the monastery of Kykkos which was supposed to be the highlight of the tour.  It was alright but not especially spectacular – just a regular Greek Orthodox Church as far as I could make out.

Kykkos Postcard

I had travelled today in shorts which I had suspected early on might be a mistake and now I understood why.  Another man had also travelled in shorts.  Suddenly the tour guide said that we couldn’t enter the church because we were inappropriately trousered.  This seemed absurd as women were wandering around in dresses and skirts that displayed far more leg than I was showing off.

The other man, who’s shorts were similar to mine in terms of length, was shooed off but suddenly I was reprieved and allowed to stay.  I think this was because he was over six foot tall with big long legs but I am a lot shorter than that and having little legs my short trousers were longer than his and therefore considered suitable.

An interesting visit if you really force yourself to be interested but not really worth the long tortuous drive through the mountains to get there.

The Monastery is most famous for an icon, one of three icons attributed to Agios Loukas the Evangelist  (the Apostle Saint Luke). The icon – covered in silver gilt – is in a shrine made of tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl that stands at the front of the church.  It is considered so important that it is an icon that has served as a basic template for many other paintings depicting the Madonna in eastern Orthodoxy that most people will be familiar with.

According to legend it is apparently dangerous to look at the icon and its top half remains hidden behind a protective covering as it is said that whoever looks at it will be blinded. Well, Cor Blimey! –  interestingly Cor Blimey is an English slang expression which translates as God Blind Me.

The icon is rarely uncovered, although this does happen when considered absolutely necessary.  And here’s a thing.  In recent years there had been a drought affecting Cyprus in response to which the monks of Kykkos Monastery took the icon to Mount Olympus and whilst looking away from the uncovered icon (a very sensible precaution) read a special plea for rain.

The winter of 2019/20 was subsequently the wettest on record in Cyprus and the reservoirs are now full and Cypriots are complaining about how wet it is.

Cor Blimey, sometimes you have to be careful for what you wish for!

Maybe there is something in it but there again the Winter of 2019/20 has been the wettest on record in the UK even without the intervention of the icon.

These are some pictures of copies of the icon.  Do not make eye contact whatever you do…

There isn’t a lot to do at the Monastery site but we had two hours in which to do it.  There were souvenir shops selling crap and a small restaurant also selling crap so we found a seat in the sun and had a moussaka, which happily turned out not to be as crap as it looked and a beer which is happily never crap and waited for the joyous moment that we would be transported back to Paphos.

This took another laborious two hours including a stop at the village where Archbishop Makarios was born where the museum was closed and then a third monastery where the café was closed and most likely had been for the past six months.  Turned out that today was a bank holiday so lots of places were closed all over the country.  No one warned us about that when we booked the tickets.

I was so glad to get back to the hotel and enjoy the last few minutes of sunshine on the balcony with a glass of wine.  It had been a wasted day really and I vowed never to go on a coach trip ever again, I can think of much better ways of wasting a day.  I am not even going to renew my free bus pass now this year!

After sitting for several hours on the coach we only managed six and a half miles walking today.

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Thursday Doors, The Village of Omodos in Cyprus

Omodos is a village in the Troodos Mountains in Cyprus and it has a fine collection of doors…

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Cyprus, A Stormy Day in Paphos

Paphos 05

On Saturday morning we woke to blue sky and sunshine but the weather forecast was pessimistic, promising storms and winds by lunchtime.  The weather seemed so good that we thought surely they had got it wrong so after breakfast we set off for the three mile walk to the harbour.

We stopped on the way for a haircut for me that I thought was unnecessary but Kim insisted.  It was a bit untidy I confess but it now seems that I will never be allowed to grow that pony tail!

Along the way we stopped at the Catacombs of Agia Solomoni, a gloomy and overrated underground tomb and sanctuary with catacombs with supposedly magic water.  I hoped the magic water would keep the rain away so I made a wish.  We didn’t stop long but passed by to the twelfth century church of Agia Kyriaki which turned out to be well worth the visit.  Among the excavations are some Roman columns, one of which is called Saint Paul’s pillar.  It seems that Saint Paul visited the island to preach Christianity but the Roman Governor took exception to this and had him flogged.  Poor old Saint Paul seemed to spend a lot of his life being flogged it seems.

Paphos 04

A lot of the walk into Paphos was completely dull and uninteresting along a strip of charmless grey car hire offices, car parks, travel companies, estate agents, every so often an Irish Pub and a modern but  unfortunate McDonald’s restaurant.  There is always a McDonald’s restaurant.  But closer to the harbour and the older sections there was a more interesting mix of history and styles.

Paphos 11

As we walked we strayed away from the main streets into backstreet areas where some people hang to the old ways like stubborn barnacles clinging to a rock.  Houses from the past which take up space that modern developers would love to get their hands on but people will obviously not give them up easily.  Mostly old people of course and I imagine that once they have gone their families will happily sell up and cash in.

I had to include a door of course…

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Our plan was to walk to the sea front and stop for refreshment in a place that we had found and liked but we didn’t get all the way to the harbour because as it turned out,  despite my reluctance to believe them, the weather forecasters knew better than us after all so at about the half way point and with angry grey clouds building ominously above us we did the sensible thing and turned around.

Paphos 06

Back at the hotel I sat in the last of the midday sun and with head down reading a book failed to notice the approaching storm.  Suddenly the shrapnel rain hit the balcony like the unexpected Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and I had to make a dash to the room.  That was it then for the remainder of the afternoon.  Two hours stuck in a bedroom watching afternoon TV and every now and again optimistically peering out of the window into the murky gloom as storm clouds swept in relentlessly from the west.

Luckily there was a small shop in the hotel and we had some wine to share.

After a couple of hours the storm passed, Kim went to the hotel spa for a massage and because I am not keen on body massages administered by a stranger I went instead for a walk along the coastal path in an invigorating force seven gale. The gale force wind gave me all of the massage that I needed!

Later we debated dining options.  There were more storms so should we risk the walk to the nearby restaurants about a mile away or settle for the hotel dining room.  Kim wanted to take the risk but I was a lot more cautious and advised against it.  We chose the latter option which turned out to be a bad mistake, my mistake of course, a poor menu and tables of seriously unruly Israeli families close by.  I was obliged to agree that we should have taken the storm risk, like I said before I sensibly leave restaurant choices to Kim.

Despite the bad weather we had surprisingly managed to walk just over ten miles today.

Storm Ship

Cyprus, The Tombs of The Kings at Paphos

Greece Coffee Time Cafe Taverna

After we had approved of and settled in to our room we sat for a while on the sunny balcony before going out, walking from the hotel along the seafront and then back to the busy road to look for restaurant opportunities for later.

Kim as an uncanny knack of good restaurant selection and today was no exception.  She found a promising looking Greek Taverna with blue and white chairs and tables and pristine check table cloths, also blue and white and declared it the place to eat later.  I always leave restaurant selection to Kim.

Cyprus is not Greece, it used to aspire to being part of Greece, but not any longer, both Greece and Cyprus are members of the European Union and for Cyprus this is the next best thing to political union.  Cyprus is more prosperous than Greece so is not going to step into an economic crisis over issues of nationality. Even so, most places fly the blue and white flag of Greece in preference to the official flag of Cyprus.

Flag of Greece

The Greek flag is called “Galanolefci” which simply means “blue and white”. Originally it was blue with a white diagonal cross.  The cross is now situated in the upper left corner, and symbolizes the Christian faith.  Blue is the colour of the sea, and Greece being a seafarers country it could hardly have any other colour. Blue is also a lucky colour, which will ward off evil according to superstition.  White is the colour of freedom, and that is something the Greeks hold very dear after years of enslavement under the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The nine stripes each symbolize a syllable in the Greek motto of freedom: E-LEY-THE-RI-A-I-THA-NA-TOS, which translates into the bold statement – Freedom or Death.

Cyprus is one of only two countries in the World (and the first) which has the map of the country on its flag, the other by the way is Kosovo.

Cyprus Flag

We ate in the Greek restaurant later, Kim had beef stifado and I had Greek chicken with orzo and we drank some house wine from a chipped jug and it was very, very good!

The next morning we ate breakfast in the hotel dining room which was just short of OK!

Mid morning and we took the walk to Paphos seafront and stopped on the way at the archaeological site ‘The Tombs of the Kings’, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  A very impressive place as it turned out with unrestricted access to all of the site and the ancient burial chambers and tombs.

Nothing in them of course because anything of value has long since been removed and robbed.  The main culprit of this was an Italian/American consul to Cyprus (1865-1877) called Luigi Palma di Cesnola who carried out unauthorised excavations which resulted in the discovery of a large number of antiquities which he stole and tried to ship back to New York.  The ship he commissioned to transport an estimated thirty-five thousand stolen items was sunk in a storm and the plunder remains lost.

In Cyprus he is considered to be a villain and his actions are still considered to tantamount to looting.

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I mention this because several years ago I visited the Acropolis Museum in Athens which is a contentious site because of the missing Parthenon (Elgin) marbles.

The blood-curdling descriptions of Lord Elgin as a looter and a robbing pirate seemed especially designed to stimulate a reaction from visitors from the USA who were encouraged to gasp in awe that an Englishmen could have done such terrible things.  One man said that he would promptly write to the British Prime Minister to demand their return. If I had known about the American looter at the time I would have tapped him on the shoulder and told him the thieving story of Luigi Palma di Cesnola.

I liked the Tombs of the Kings almost as much as Pompeii and Herculaneum  in Italy, except for a few information boards there is no attempt at restoration or interpretation and I think it is better for that.  Interesting also that although there are no restrictions or security guards there is no damage or graffiti.

We left the site and continued our walk towards the harbour of Paphos where we had to run the gauntlet of restaurant sharks trying to lure prey towards their waterside tables.

At the end of the harbour was a small castle, the entrance charge was €2.50 which seemed like a lot for such a small castle but I can never resist a castle so paid up and made the five minute visit to the top. To put things into perspective it had been the same charge at the Tombs of the Kings and we had spent almost two hours there and could have stayed longer.

Away from the harbour we selected a small bar for a drink and then in the early afternoon strolled back to the hotel and wasted what was  left of the afternoon sitting in the sunshine on the balcony of our room. Later we returned to the same restaurant for evening meal. We had walked twelve and a half miles today.

Paphos 02

Cyprus, Preparation and Arrival

Cyprus Postcard Map

I was tired of the long dreary English Winter, especially this Winter with almost two months of continuous wind and rain I was in need of sunshine so cheap flights to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus at only £45 return were just too good to turn down.

I had been to Cyprus before in 1998 but that was a family holiday spent at the hotel swimming pool and on the beach at the Olympic Napa Hotel close to the noisy resort of Ayia Napa and I rather foolishly neglected to see anything much of the country on that occasion so this time I thought that I would put that right.

Ayia Napa has a reputation as a sleazy sort of holiday destination so as this time we were to be staying on the opposite side of the island I had no plans to return there on this occasion.  In a 2017 survey it was in the top ten of European destinations that are spoiled by boozy Brits.  The others (in no particular order) were Kavos in Corfu; Red Sea resorts in Bulgaria; Magaluf, Barcelona and Benidorm in Spain; Malia in Crete, Riga in Latvia and Hvar in Croatia.  Such surveys make me ashamed to be British.

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In preparation for travel I carried out my usual research and used my favourite benchmarks to try and understand the country that I was visiting.

I started as usual with the Human Development Index which ranks countries by level of ‘human development’ and the statistic is composed amongst other criteria from data on life expectancy, education and per-capita gross national income. Cyprus is ranked thirty-first, out of one hundred and eighty-nine, one place ahead of Greece and which is regarded as quite high.

Next I look at the Europe Happiness Index and it is rated at only twenty-second out of thirty which is not so good.  Finland is the happiest and Albania (no real surprise) the least jolly.

The Country has three UNESCO World Heritage Sites including the entire Paphos region which is where we would be staying.

Paphos 04

Cyprus is famous for its Mediterranean beaches which stretch for roughly four-hundred miles and along this coastline are sixty-five Blue Flag Beaches which means an award winning beach every six miles or so.

My next measure is always the Eurovision Song Contest and Cyprus has participated in the annual contest thirty-six times since its debut in the 1981.  So far it has failed to produce a winning entry and the best performance was to finish second in 2018.

Cyprus is the third largest island in the Mediterranean Sea after Sardinia and Sicily and together with Malta one of only two independent European countries. Both were previously ruled by Great Britain and as a consequence drive on the left hand side of the road and have a UK electrical system which means no need for European adaptors.  This would later be an inconvenience but I will come to that.

Every Greek Island has its own special Deity and Cypus has Aphrodite who it is claimed was born in the sea close to Paphos.  In Greek mythology Aphrodite was the Goddess of Love and Beauty.  She was married to Hephaestus but was frequently unfaithful to him.

In truth she was a bit of a slapper –  in the Odyssey, she is caught in the act of adultery with Ares, the god of war. In the First Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, she seduces the mortal shepherd Anchises. Aphrodite was also the surrogate mother and lover of the mortal shepherd Adonis and along with Athena and Hera, she was one of the three goddesses whose feud resulted in the beginning of the Trojan War. She was also the patron goddess of prostitutes.

Aphrodite 01

In 2019 I visited Berlin in Germany twice.  Berlin was once a divided city and I saw the remains of the wall.  Cyprus and its capital Nicosia remains a divided city, the last divided city in Europe (for the time being because history teaches us nothing).  After visiting Berlin I was interested to visit Nicosia and if possible cross the Green Line between Cyprus Greece and Cyprus Turkey.  I will come to that later.

We arrived in Cyprus early in the afternoon and a complimentary taxi transfer whisked us the ten miles or so to the Capital Coast hotel, just a short drive north out of the city.  A 1980’s hotel in need of some refresh and attention but we didn’t complain because we were given an upgrade room to a sea view (I had only booked a cheaper garden view) so we unpacked, settled down, sat on the balcony in the sunshine and opened a bottle of Cyprus beer and popped the cork of a bottle of a local wine.

This was light years away from the wind and rain and late winter gloom of the east of England.

Paphos 01

Thursday Doors, Amorgos in the Greek Islands

Amorgos 09

After walking around the village we set off back to Aegiali and came across a group of walkers who enthusiastically showed us a short cut but it was down a tricky path and they had stout walking shoes with leather non-slip soles and knotted laces and we had inadequate synthetic sandals with dodgy Velcro so we ignored the advice and stuck to the road instead.

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Postcard From The Greek Island of Thassos

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“Thassos is a handsome, romantic little island, named after a grandson of Poseidon, with an atmosphere of calm beatitude which makes one’s sleep most deep and refreshing, the nights being blanket-cool, though windless, not too hot…. In the calm vernal glades of Thassos you feel that the ancients had a simpler, better way of living…” –                  Lawrence Durrell

I am by no means sure how we managed to choose the island of Thassos for a holiday.  Not being one of the most popular holiday islands it was not somewhere that I was especially aware of or had any mad desire to go to so I can only assume that it was the end of season bargain price that settled the selection decision.

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Thassos 16

Thursday Doors, The Greek Islands (2008)

Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).