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Tuesday Travel Diaries: Cyprus

01 May 2012


I'm Tara and I blog over at Penniless Socialite.  I'm not an adventurous traveler, but I've gotten myself hooked up with a Scot who loves to travel, so off I go to places I would NEVER travel.  

Back in October I journeyed (literally) halfway across the world for my boyfriend's sister's wedding in Cyprus. Don't know much, if at all about Cyprus?  Neither did I before I went.  It's an island nation located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea north of Turkey and West on Syria. It's an incredibly interesting place with a fascinating history.  At different times it was occupied by the Ottomans, Greeks, Persians and a litany of other civilizations, giving the island a rich history.  Cyprus experienced long periods of Greek rule, giving much of the island a distinctly Greek feel.

Cyprus is an independent nation, having been occupied by the British until gaining independence in 1960, but there is a section in the north referred to as the Turkish Republic of Cyprus and controlled by Turkey.  However, only Turkey recognizes this separation.  See?  I told you, interesting.  So, there is a mixing of the cultures of the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, as well as British culture.  I recommend reading up on it. I don't think there's enough space in the Tuesday Travel Diaries to give you a full history lesson. Start with Wikipedia. 
So, now that I've given you a little primer on Cyprus, here are the deets on a Cyprus vacation.

How the heck do you get there?
In a nutshell, not easily.  I never would have gone if my boyfriend's sister wasn't getting married there; and I am so glad she did! Cyprus is not an easy place to get to from the United States.  The boyfriend's family is from Scotland, and so it's only a 5 hour flight for them. We took an 8 hour flight to Italy (with a 3 hour lay over) and then a 5 hour flight to Cyprus, and then a 2 hour car ride across the island from the airport in Larnaca to our hotel in Paphos, the birthplace of Aphrodite.  I will spare you the details of my trip home, but I will say it involved 33 hours of traveling and a freak October snowstorm.  

Where do you stay?
We stayed in Paphos because it has beautiful beach resorts that are perfect for weddings.  However, I've heard that Limassol and Ayia Napa have a more active city nightlife, in addition to beautiful beaches. 

This was the view from our hotel room.  Well, actually it was our first hotel room.  We paid for an upgrade to a room with a queen sized bed because the first room's "queen size" bed was two twin beds pushed together.  After a night of falling into the crack between the beds, my back was killing me!

The city of Paphoa has a beautiful harbor with tons of restaurants and some good shopping.  The boyfriend made fun of me for being excited about seeing a Debenhams and a Peacocks, because they are the Kohls of the UK. I did not let his mockery dampen my shopping spirits. I bought 3 dresses, a necklace and a headband. If it wasn't for those damn baggage weight limits I probably would have bought more...haha.



Did you encounter anything unexpected?
Although the official languages of Cyprus are Greek and Turkish, everyone in the tourist areas speaks English because the island really caters to British tourists.  Seriously, every restaurant offers an "English Breakfast" and our hotel primarily served British food.


Also, one of the first things you will notice about Cyprus is the huge amount of stray cats!  Now, they're not like we think of stray cats (i.e. scrawny, diseased and cranky).  They are beautiful, friendly and healthy.  It seems like cats are sort of like community pets.  I was not afraid to pet any stray cats I saw and most will come up to you purring.




Were there any must see’s?
Paphos Harbor: In addition to the shops, restaurants and gorgeous views, at the end of the harbor lied Paphos Castle.  It was originally built as a Byzantine fort to protect the harbour.  The fortress has been destroyed and rebuilt and changed hands several times.  Throughout the ages it has seen many uses: a fortress, a prison and a warehouse for salt.  Now, it's just a tourist attraction.


Paphos Castle

Troodos Mountains:  We planned a bus tour of the Troodos Mountains.  The Troodos Mountains are known for their geology and Byzantine monasteries.  We stopped first in Omodos, which is famous for its wine.  Seriously, I think everyone in this village makes wine in their bath tubs.  You can get pretty buzzed wandering up and down the streets trying some free samples.

Street in Omodos
The monastery was absolutely beautiful and the church was the gaudiest thing I'd ever seen.  Those Byzantines really loved gold chandeliers.

Me at the Odomos Monastery
Photography was not allowed inside the church, so I was respectful and followed their directions.  We drove up the Troodos Mountains, to the highest point in Cyprus, Mount Olympus.  You can see Turkey on a clear day!  Unfortunately, it was a little foggy during our trip.  

Our second stop was the most famous monastery in Cyprus, Kykkos Monastery.  The monastery's fame is tied to its icon, which is a religious painting on wood, of the Virgin Mary holding Christ as a child. The icon is said to be painted by the Apostle Luke and it's kept behind a curtain because the last guy that dared to gaze upon it went blind.  I'm pretty sure this legend arose because someone lost the painting.  But, you can get an idea of what the painting looks like because souvenir shops have plastered it on shot glasses and candles that are for sale. This was also the first I heard of Cyprus's most revered leaders: Archbishop Makarios III, who studied at Kykkos Monastery as a child.  He was elected as the first President of Cyprus after he played a key role in Cyprus's struggle for independence.  And he's so important that his burial site comes complete with three armed guards and a GIANT bronze statue.        

The Tombs of Kings:  There is an emphasis of the plural here because there are a TON of tombs.  The name is deceiving though, as no kings were buried here, just run of the mill rich people.  The tombs are pretty impressive: carved out of solid rock and adorned with columns.  



Kourion Archaeological Site:
The Kourion Ampitheater
For our last full day in Cyprus we rented a car and ventured out to Limassol.  If you don't plan to stay a resort with lots of planned excursions, I recommend renting a car while in Cyprus.  Limassol is home to several amazing archaeological sites.  We chose Kourion for our day of exploring and it is a must-see.  The admission fees to the archaeological sites are no more than 5 Euros and you get your money's worth.
Kourion was an ancient city that persisted until the Middle Ages.  The ruins are a bit confused because the city went through a Hellenistic, Roman and Christian period.  The city has a large marketplace, Christian Basilica and public baths.  The most spectacular site in the city is the large amphitheatre. which looks out over the ocean.   Gladiator games were held in the theater, therefore in the city there is Palestra or a training place for gladiators. The whole city has beautiful floor mosaics found in the House of the Gladiators, the House of Achilles and the House of Eustolius.

A mosaic in the House of Eustolius.  The woman depicted is holding a measuring stick for a Roman foot and is labeled as KTICIC, short for the Founding Spirit.

Christian Basilica at Kourion
Our last stop of the whole trip was the Sanctuary of Apollo, the god of the woods.  It was one of the main religious centers in Cyprus and sits up on a hill overlooking the ancient cities of Kourion and Paphos.  The main feature is the Temple of Apollo, which was destroyed in an earthquake in the late 4th century.  The partial reconstruction gives you an idea of just how majestic this temple was.  At one point it is rumored that the sanctuary became so popular the resident priests were secretly throwing away worshipers offerings of food and pottery.  It was also legend that those who were not members of the priesthood and dared touch the altar were flung into the ocean.  You will be glad to hear that the boyfriend touched the altar and managed to avoid a flinging and made it home safe and sound. 

Temple of Apollo

Most importantly, how was the food?

In the hotel? It was terrible because it caters to British tourists.  I was going to barf if I had to eat one more grilled cheese sandwich.  On our second night in Cyprus I was really craving a traditional Cypriot meal.  We went to a restaurant on the main drag in Paphos that advertised a "traditional vegetarian Cypriot meze."  When doing my food research for the trip....yes, I make sure to research the food.  Who cares about the history and culture and blah blah blah, I want to know what I will be cramming in my face.  Anyways, the meze got me really excited.   It is basically a meal of appetizers!  You can have hummus and other assorted dips and cheeses.  However, Cypriot mezes are a little heavy on the meat for my vegetarian taste, so I was psyched to see a vegetarian version.  I had visions of pita, hummus, cheeses, and fresh fruits and veggies.  What I got was half a traditional meze and whatever the chef had left over from lunch (i.e. canned peas and carrots, french fries and spaghetti with what I can only think was ketchup on it).  The first half of my meze was AMAZING.  It started off with some of the best hummus and pita I have ever had followed by delicious grilled vegetables and then some grilled haloumi.  Haloumi, a mild salty goat cheese found only in Cyprus, is a gift from the gods  And apparently having a funny American accent in Cyprus gets you free drinks. 

I also can't say enough good things about Haloumi.  One night we we broke off from the hustle and bustle of the boyfriend's large family and had dinner at a quiet little restaurant called Taverna.  We pretty much had an entire meal of cheese and wine.  We had a bottle of local red...and a bottle of local white, which is why I have no idea what either was called.  We had some camembert, but the star of the show was a haloumi appetizer that came with roasted vegetables and pesto.  Yeah, I am back to the haloumi.  This was not only the best thing I ate in Cyprus, but one of the best things I have ever eaten.  If you are ever in Paphos, go to Taverna, next to the Debenhams.


I am a vegetarian and I have to say, overall, Cyprus is not very vegetarian friendly, which was surprising.  Cyprus grows all of it's own produce.  Cyprus actually has laws that prevent it from importing any vegetables or fruit, so I was expecting a vegetarian paradise.  I think it's because it's so centered on British tourism.  You would think the guy that drank his weight in whiskey would be the sick one, but no, it was the vegetarian that mistakenly ate some sort of fish paste..and then later on ate a beef-laced vegetarian mousaka.  Yeah, it was not pretty.

So, you went there for a wedding, how was that?
On the day of the wedding, we didn't do much except enjoy the gorgeous views from The Annabelle Hotel and eat and drink.  The wine (and haloumi cheese and baklava was endless).  It may have been the best wedding I've ever been to. 

And I knew you wanted to see someone in a kilt.  The boyfriend did not rent one for the occasion because , apparently, they charge you a ton to rent it for a week and bring it on vacation.  However, his dad put on his Scottish best for the wedding.
Any regrets?
Yes, I didn't get to see more!  The one thing I wanted to do was take a tour by jeep of the Akamas Penninsula.  It's supposed to be one of the last unspoiled places on Earth...and there are sea turtles.  Unfortunately, we were there in the off-season and it's super expensive to just take two people out. 

Would you go back?
YES!!!  I highly recommend a vacation to Cyprus if you can stomach the arduous journey there and the price of the plane ticket.  Fingers crossed that it becomes a more popular vacation spot for Americans and plane tickets get a little cheaper because I want to go back!

____________________________________

Tara, thanks so much for sharing this trip!  I was clueless about Cyprus and loved learning more about it.  Readers, if you enjoyed this post, please go say hello to Tara at Penniless Socialite.



If you'd like to be featured on Tuesday Travel Diaries, please email me at emmyjuneborninmay{at}gmail{dot}com

Tuesday Travel Diaries

7 comments:

  1. If I go home tonight and tell my husband I want to travel to Cyprus - he's going to be so impressed. Thanks for sharing this amazing trip.

    p.s. that gang of cats - my heart just skipped a beat and I think it sealed the deal.

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  2. It looks like an amazing trip, Tara! I will not get on a plane more than 6 hours though so I'll just live vicariously through your photos :) I LOVE the maxi dress you wore to the wedding, it's gorgeous!

    -Sharon
    The Tiny Heart

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  3. it is seriously my dream to be invited to a destination wedding! this trip sounded incredible, and I loved learning a little more about cyprus!

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  4. What a great post. Sounds like a dream location!

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  5. Thank you so much for sharing your travel experience in Cyprus. Those pictures are so lovely and I really love reading your blog. This makes me wanna crave for luxury Cyprus holidays.

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  6. Very informative post! There is a lot of information here.

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