Category Archives: Greek Taverna

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.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

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

The Durrells of Corfu

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In my opening Corfu post I mentioned that I had prepared for the visit by reading Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’ which forms a sort of Corfiot trilogy alongside brother Laurence’s ‘Prospero’s Cell’ and Henry Miller’s ‘The Colossus of Marousi’  all written about many of the same places, and often the same people, but from very different perspectives.

Read the full story here…

Around the Island of Corfu

Kalami Bay Corfu White House

”…the little bay lies in a trance, drugged with its own extraordinary perfection – a conspiracy of light, air, blue sea and cypresses” – Lawrence Durrell

I have been to the Greek Island of Corfu several times, I have stayed at the village of Kalami (above) several times but this didn’t stop me going again and we travelled on this occasion with our good friends Mike and Margaret.

I first visited Corfu thirty-five years previously and spent a couple of days driving around the island and secretively I had a plan to do so again this time and see what changes there have been over the years.

From the picturesque Kalami Bay we headed first to the north of the island to the fishing village of Kassiopi where we stopped for breakfast by the waterside.  We were following in the footsteps of visitors more famous.  I am not just talking about the Durrell’s of Corfu because according to legend, the Ancient Greek hero Odysseus stopped here for a while, the Roman Emperor Tiberius built a villa nearby and the King of England Richard the Lionheart dropped in on his way home from the Third Crusade shortly before he was captured and held to ransom.

Previous Visitors

In 1984 I had stopped for lunch in Kassiopi and by using the castle as a point of reference I am almost certain that I found the very taverna.  More shops and bars of course but the harbour was the same and the Byzantine castle still stood standing proud above the village.

Kassiopi 1984

After a Greek breakfast we walked along a cliff top path with good views across the sea to nearby smoky Albania.  Below us boats were gently swaying in the whispering breeze and gently resting on a multi coloured sea which was butter milk cream over the wave polished stones, vivid blue over the caramel sand and imperial purple over the swaying weed.

I liked Kassiopi in 1984 and I liked it again today.

A postcard from 1984…

Kassiopi

And a picture from 2019…

Kassiopi 02

From Kassiopi we drove west now along the north coast of the island until we arrived at the village of Roda.  Before the tourist boom I am told that this was a sleepy little place with a cluster of showily brilliant cottages surrounding a tranquil village square but it is quite different today as British pubs and bars compete for business and tattooed holidaymakers decorate the rather untidy beach.

I couldn’t remember Roda especially well and I am not that surprised because to be brutal there is not much to recommend it unless you want an all day English breakfast or a pint of Guinness in the Irish Bar so we didn’t stay too long but continued our drive to Sidari.

A postcard of Roda from 1984…

Roda Beach Postcard

Sidari is famous for its erosion sculptured red sandstone cliffs and I remembered these well enough but even so these looked rather different today from the picture in the postcard below and I couldn’t find this arch anywhere so can only assume that over the intervening years it has been swept away by the sea.

In 1984 Sidari was a quiet, almost remote place, with a dusty main street with only a handful of tavernas and shops off the main road but today it is one of the liveliest places on the island and a favourite with youngsters.

A postcard from 1984…

Sidari

We walked along a beach adorned with white umbrellas like upturned scallop shells each sheltering a pale creature from another land in the north who had come here in search of the sun but now retreating from its remorseless intensity. Someone should have told them to check the weather forecast before renting a sunbed today because rain was on the way.

All along the beach there are tavernas and bars all looking for customers and the good thing about competition is that this drives the prices down so we picked one out and had a very good value beer and a gyros and finished eating just as we felt the first spots of rain.

Rain in Albania

The drive back in the downpour was something of a challenge on a difficult potholed road surface but thankfully I wasn’t in the driving seat and Mike skilfully negotiated the conditions and got us back safely just as the rain was easing and blue skies were starting to reappear.

As the rain cleared the view from the balcony was magnificent, the green sweeping hills, the sea in its multi coloured splendour and the bleached beach, a crescent of sparkling shingle.  We watched as the day visitors packed their belongings and left as darkness descended, the raucous chant of the cicadas was replaced by the spooky whistles of the Scops Owls and the twinkling lights of the sea front tavernas began to illuminate the edge of the beach inviting diners to drop by like candles attracting moths.

We selected a taverna and chose several plates of Greek traditional dishes and sat by the water’s edge next to the sea, lit up now by a copper moon, a bottomless ink black and silent but for the sound of the occasional wave caressing the polished pebbles.

As I looked across to the White House I imagined Lawrence Durrell sitting on his balcony and enjoying exactly the same view while searching for literary inspiration and discovering himself.

larry1

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Greek Islands, Amorgos

Amorgos

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 leather walking shoes with knotted laces and we had inadequate sandals with synthetic soles so we ignored the advice and stuck to the road instead.

Read the Full Story…

Entrance Tickets, The Clock Tower in Rhodes

Rhodes Clock Tower

We walked through arches and buttresses, past turrets and balconies and occasionally here and there a little oasis of green amongst the dusty streets and then interesting narrow roads and every one with a surprise around each crooked turn.

In the late afternoon we walked to the top of the town and climbed to the top of the restored clock tower next to Sulliman’s Mosque for some good views of the town and the harbour. There was an entrance charge of €5 but that turned out to be good value because the price included a drink in the roof top bar terrace where we sat and enjoyed the views.

Read the Full Story…

Rhodes Old Town

Greek Islands, Doors of Santorini

Santorini Blue DoorSantorini Red DoorSantorini Blue Door 2

Greek Islands, Doors of Naxos

Naxos Door 02Naxos Door 03Naxos Blue Door

Greek Islands, Final Days and a Last Walk

cyclades-postcard

“… but God’s magic is still at work and no matter what the race of man may do or try to do, Greece is still a sacred precinct – and my belief is it will remain so until the end of time.” – Henry Miller, ‘Collosus of Maroussi’

Leaving Tinos the Blue Star ferry made its way to neighbouring Mykonos where we would be spending the last two days of our trip before flying home.

Usually we choose to stay in traditional accommodation with average prices but for the last two days we had selected instead to stay at a more expensive boutique hotel just outside the Chora.  Actually, it wasn’t that expensive just a bit more than we like to pay and the result was that we were allocated a very nice room with a balcony and a Jacuzzi and a glorious view over the town and the bay.

Mykonos Street 1

By comparison the mini-bar and restaurant prices were ludicrously astronomical so it didn’t take us long to make a decision to take a walk back into the centre for an afternoon stroll, search for a sunset and then find a reasonably priced taverna for evening meal.

Now at the end of our holiday we challenged each other to record the highs and lows of the three week trip.  We didn’t agree entirely with each other but I think this list of highlights is safe enough to share…

  1. Amorgos was our favourite island
  2. Homer’s Inn on Ios was, as always our favourite hotel
  3. The gyros in Syros was our favourite meal
  4. Mountain tracks on Amorgos were our favourite walks
  5. The seven hour ferry journey from Ios to Syros (Andrew)

We struggled to make a list of low-lights but these were suggestions…

  1. Car hire in Amorgos
  2. Cruise ships in Mykonos
  3. The seven hour ferry journey from Ios to Syros (Kim)

The list complete we thought about our last day and agreed that it might be a good idea to try and break our walking record and see if we could crash through the ten mile barrier so we decided to start early and walk to Ornos where we had stayed two weeks previously and then on to Agios Ioannis and then return.

Walking in Mykonos

So, next day we did just that and immediately after a rather chaotic hotel breakfast we packed our rucksacks and set off.

It was late October now and the scorching summer weather was on the glorious tipping point into Autumn and there was a welcome breeze, well, wind actually, which made it a pleasant walk to the south of the island.  Once there we thought about a swim in the sea but the beach was still crowded with sun-worshippers cluttering up the beach so we passed straight through and on to Agios Ioannis where we stopped to swim for the last time this year and then to have a drink before retracing our steps stopping in Ornos on the way for a light lunch.

The taverna was next to the bus stop and there a middle-aged shabbily dressed American with grizzled grey hair and an extravagant pony tail was giving Greece travel advice to a younger woman who had admiring doe eyes and was hanging on to his every word as though he was Ernest Hemingway or Henry Miller or Rick Steves.  Some of the advice was quite useful as it turned out but it dried up when the bus arrived and they climbed aboard and left.

We left shortly after and walked the two miles back to the hotel where we sat in the sun, arranged our suitcases ready for the journey home and enjoyed some time in the Jacuzzi.

mykonos-jacuzzi

For evening meal we had chosen a beach side taverna a little way out of the town (we needed the steps) and we presented ourselves at the agreed time of eight o’clock.  It was a busy restaurant and we were obliged to share a table with a couple from France who arrived shortly after us and were both clearly very drunk.  They ordered several starter plates and a bottle of retsina and then nibbled at the food and got seriously stuck into the wine.  They were generous with their food and invited us to share but I noticed they didn’t offer any wine.  They ate almost nothing but very quickly ordered a second bottle.

As we ate the American and his adoring companion walked by and although I am certain they had only recently met they were now holding hands.

It was a good meal, perhaps the best of the holiday? I don’t know, I can’t really be sure, but we enjoyed the musicians who played traditional Greek music throughout the evening and the amusing company.  He danced, she chatted, they were clearly local celebrities and when it was time to go we said goodbye and as we left they ordered their third bottle of retsina!

Greek Dancing

We walked back and saw the American and his friend who were now walking arm-in-arm – the old man of the sea had clearly been hooked.  Back at the room we checked the pedometer – 10.35 miles, we had broken our record and we were self-congratulatory about that.

On the final morning I was surprised to see no cruise ships in the harbour or the bay so anticipating that this might make a difference I made a final visit to the town.  It was charming, empty, quiet, unhurried and delightful.  Without hordes of cruiser invaders the little streets of the town had a whole different ambience and improved quality.  I liked it so much I did at least two full circuits of the town and I was so happy to see it like this in the last few hours before returning back home.

We had enjoyed the Cyclades and agreed that we certainly wouldn’t leave it another five years before returning to one of our favourite places.

Ios Unique Restaurant

Greek Islands – Tinos, St Pelagia and Pilgrimage

tinos-pilgrim-statue

“Tinos, where the little hanging offerings of crutches, bandages and paintings, testify to the miracle having taken place, and remind one once again that here, as in the ruined and forsaken shrines to Aesculapius, healing and divination are one.” – Lawrence Durrell – ‘Reflections on a Marine Venus’

The ferry from Syros took us to the intriguing island of nearby Tinos which is a rather secretive place that doesn’t feature very often on holiday itineraries.  As we approached the port we could see that not being a holiday island it wasn’t going to any special effort to become one and the harbour front was rather functional and utilitarian and without the ribbon of colourful bars and tavernas to which we had become accustomed.

Actually, although it didn’t seem a tourist hot spot to us as we approached the harbour, it turns out that Tinos, a large island just northwest of Mykonos, is in fact the most visited of all the Greek Islands.  Not by overseas visitors however because 90% are Greek and since Greeks come looking for an authentic experience even the most tourist friendly places retain a feeling of originality and visiting the island is a more genuine and unique experience than say Mykonos or Santorini.

Greek Doors 2016 (3)

One of the reasons so many Greeks visit Tinos is that it is an intensely religious island famous most of all for the Church of Panagia Evangelistria which holds a reputedly miraculous icon of the Virgin Mary and is the venue for an annual pilgrimage that is perhaps the most notable religious pilgrimage in all of the eastern Mediterranean.

Many pilgrims make their way half a mile or so from the ferry wharf to the church on their hands and knees as an extreme sign of devotion.  It was extremely hot and it was hard enough work just walking up the long hill to the church so I imagine that you would have to be seriously determined to do it on all fours, although to be fair there is a ragged strip of dusty red carpet at the edge of the pavement to stop pilgrims ripping their hands and knees to shreds or getting stuck in the melting tarmac.

On the way to the church there were old fashioned stores selling various sizes of candles to take to the church and instead of postcards there were racks of cards each with a picture of a part of the body.

The shopkeepers could speak little English so couldn’t explain what these were but we eventually worked it out for ourselves.  If you have a bad limp then you buy a leg picture, a poorly arm an elbow picture, a hangover a brain picture and so on.

It occurred to me that if you are going to crawl to the church you will probably need a knee picture.

Anyway, you take this postcard picture to the Church and ask for a cure to whatever it is that ails you and secure it to an icon and when you leave, just to be certain, so that God doesn’t just simply forget about it shortly after you have gone you light a candle to remind him.  The bigger the candle the better and some of these monsters, without exaggeration, were easily four feet tall and a real fire hazard I can tell you!

pelagia-of-tinos

We reached the brilliant white Renaissance style Church, gleaming like a fresh fall of snow and went inside to see the miraculous icon which according to tradition was conveniently found after the Virgin appeared to the nun, St. Pelagia, and revealed to her the place where the icon was buried.

There is a familiarity to these stories that generally include  a simple nun or young children – Knock in Ireland, Fatima in Portugal and even Joan of Arc in France.  The Virgin never seems to appear to a sceptic academic or someone in high office in the Church such as a Bishop or a Cardinal.

By suspicious coincidence the icon was found on the very first days after the creation of the modern Greek State and henceforth Our Lady of Tinos was declared the patron saint of the Greek nation.

Inside the church it was quite hard to find because in contrast to the bright sunshine outside it was dark and oppressive with the sickly aroma of incense exaggerated by the heat of the burning candles.  Eventually we found it, almost completely encased in silver, gold, and jewels, and with a line of people waiting their turn to admire it and place a gentle kiss upon its base.

All of this icon kissing means quite a lot of unwanted spit and saliva of course so to deal with this cleaning ladies armed with spray cleaners and dusters circulated constantly to deal with the slobber and the germs on a continuous and never ending polishing circuit of the church.

After we had seen the church and wandered around the gardens for a while we walked back down the long hill and back to the harbour where we walked rather aimlessly until we came across the best of the bars that we could find and stopped for a drink while we waited for the ferry to Mykonos.

Tinos is an odd sort of island but I am glad that I took the detour to visit it.

More posts about a Marian Apparition…

Montserrat and the Black Madonna

The Royal Monastery at Guadalupe

Fatima in Portugal

The Holy Shrine of Knock