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As the first new country we have visited in almost exactly 2 years, Cyprus was targeted as our wind-down destination after a fairly busy return to travel this fall. While the things we saw and did in Italy, Spain and Greece were all fun new adventures in new regions of familiar nations, finally we stepped off a plane into completely uncharted territory again.
Uncharted for us, of course, not the thousands of European tourists who are obviously also quite capable of studying climate charts to determine that Cyprus is one of the few European destinations with great weather in December.
While most of the other mild European hot spots can, at best, claim “not terrible” weather as winter kicks in, Cyprus actually still felt like summer for most of our visit. Daily highs of 20 or so, a couple of windy days, two days of rain, but otherwise shockingly pleasant. Incidentally, late November and early December was probably, for us, much preferable to what must be practically unbearable heat in mid-summer in Cyprus.
Anyway, while you certainly couldn’t call it busy around Cyprus, there is still a pretty strong tourist contingent compared to the resort areas in Crete that were virtually abandoned by the time we left at the end of November. A few Cypriot restaurants and hotels were closed down, although definitely not the ice cream truck near the popular sunset spot overlooking Edros III shipwreck. No, buying soft ice cream out of a pink trailer is clearly a year-round passion in Cyprus, much like smoking in restaurants and lukewarm showers.
The other big draw for us was the fact that while Cyprus is a member of the European Union (using the euro and complaining about Greece, just like everyone else), they are not included in the Schengen Zone. Now, considering how much the Schengen has impacted our travel decisions over the past 5 years, I should probably understand it better than I do, but the basic gist is that it represents a group of countries that limit foreign visitors to staying anywhere within its member states to 90 days out of each 180.
Why some countries are in both the EU and Schengen and others just in one or the other? No idea. But it’s probably something to do with the fact European drain plugs never fit right.
What I do know is that because Cyprus isn’t part of the Schengen, we could spend time there without going over our 90-day limit this fall (leaving us with 4 nights to spend in Rome, plus one just to be on the safe side, in case of COVID restrictions, delayed flights or unexpected panini accidents).
Anyway, back to Cyprus. In general, Cyprus is a fascinating, divided country full of contrasts and oddities. There are also fantastic beaches and the traditional food in Cyprus is truly outstanding. Big picture, Cyprus is formerly British, Turkish and Greek, just to name their most recent political daddies, Cyprus is now an independent nation on the third-largest island in the Mediterranean. It is tucked into a little corner basically equidistant from Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
The British influence is obvious in everything from driving on the left side of the road (never my favourite, although the swapped signal lights and windshield wipers cause me the most trouble, which is at least just embarrassing rather than overly dangerous) to the numerous sports pubs showing Premier League matches to, well, all the British folks.
I won’t get into all the gory details of Cyprus’ contentious history, the 1974 coup or the very current political divide between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The latter of which is only officially recognized by one other nation – any guesses which one? Yep, it’s Turkey.
We had really hoped to visit both sides of the border, partially out of curiosity and partially because the north has some pretty compelling tourist sites, but new COVID rules scuppered our plans. Between facing two border crossings, a new rental car (insurance from the south is voided upon crossing) and 2 separate PCR tests, it no longer seemed worth it for a 3-night visit to see a couple of castles and a very pretty harbour. Next time, hopefully.
For now, we settled for a few days in Larnaca, a week in the western resort city of Paphos, known as a tourist hotspot thanks to the wealth of Paphos excursions on offer, and then replaced Kyrenia/Girne with a few nights in the tiny fishing village of Zygi before finishing off with one final night in Larnaca before flying to Rome.
We highly recommend renting a car so it is easier to explore Cyprus and set your schedule. We found that Discover Cars had the best deals in the area.
Anyway, as often happens, it appears my prelude has kind of gotten away from me. Now, on to some of the actual stuff we did, saw and learned while in Cyprus.
Impressions of Cyprus
Arriving to Larnaca, one of the larger cities and well-established tourist towns of Cyprus, our first impression was basically “shabby tourist shopping beach town with a bit of friendly charm”. It probably didn’t help that we chose location over quality, choosing one of the cheapest apartments very close to the main beach (Finikoudes).
Then, after spending 5 weeks in Crete immediately before arriving in Cyprus it was inevitable we would immediately compare the two:
First off, all the homey Greek tavernas were replaced by international fast-food chains. Which I share as a negative, despite the fact our very first meal in Cyprus was at the McDonald’s right next to our apartment. The lure of the arches…
With no large supermarket nearby we found ourselves scuttling from one small market to another to find everything we needed/wanted/craved and, even then, prices were noticeably higher than in Crete.
While Cyprus is closest culturally to Greece (the southern part of Cyprus, anyway), the British influence is apparent everywhere as well. Plus, based on all the English football matches I’ve watched online lately featuring ungodly amounts of rain, snow and sullen African players sitting in the stands dressed like North Pole adventurers, it isn’t that surprising that so many Brits have fled the UK for a relatively warm Cypriot holiday.
Which I suppose at least partially explains why the tourist shop near our apartment only sells two kinds of hats – England caps and those straw cowboy hats that middle-aged people wear to the beach so everyone understands that even though they have kids waiting for them back home they are still seriously down for tequila shots.
After the rugged terrain and steep cliffs of Crete, Cyprus seems intensely, almost aggressively, flat. There are some hills in the centre of the island that can be seen off in the distance from pretty much everywhere but to call those a “mountain range” seems optimistically hyperbolic. Like saying the Oilers “might actually be good”.
After the controlled chaos of Crete, we found the driving on Cyprus weirdly organized, almost formal. Even on the double-lane highway they seem reluctant to pass, brushing past front bumpers in their haste to get safely back into the slow lane (left in this case). Most people actually signal when they make a turn (at least 55%, up from 5% in Crete) and the steady stream of roundabouts are generally calm and controlled. A lot of people still park like dummies, though, so at least that part felt familiar.
Boardwalks on Cyprus
Definitely the best part of Larnaca, the wide, pleasant malecón is lined with pubs and fast-food restaurants, features an impressive fortress, loads of volleyball courts and, oddly, the main bus station. There is also a giant fake Christmas tree so, yeah, bonus.
Paphos has a smaller but more atmospheric boardwalk, lined by nice resorts, several of the best beaches in Paphos, many good sunset spots and, eventually, its own fortress and an excellent set of ancient ruins.
In Zygi, there is precious little “boardwalk” but an extensive and fascinating breakwater encircling a little harbour full of traditional fishing boats (and the occasional grossly extravagant yacht).
All three were very unique but easily the highlights of their respective destinations.
While not quite “ancient”, the Skala area of Larnaca has an interesting back story. Mostly abandoned in 1974 when the Turkish residents were “relocated” to the north, a lot of the buildings sat empty for years. Now it has mostly been revived but the old styles and architecture remain. Along with the dick graffiti.
Then there is the relatively spectacular ancient Roman aqueduct sitting out in the Larnaca suburbs, without fanfare or crowds or even a desultory info plaque, as though it is no more important than the adjacent muddy soccer field.
Along the way to Paphos we stopped off at a pair of important sites:
Kolossi Castle – very square, very neat and very tidy. And apparently completely mesmerizing to the cruise ship tour group that arrived just as we were leaving (at least once they all got finished destroying the public toilet).
Ancient Kourion – mostly crumbling walls and columns, but very spread out with nice ocean views.
Paphos Archaeological Park – another good forum but with a lighthouse in background for good measure and some nice mosaics carefully protected in a rather incongruous building that looked oddly like a mountain hut in the Alps.
The Tomb of Kings, also near Paphos, had some pretty cool spots, including a mostly intact courtyard lined by stone columns (obviously enhanced by the scantily clad mother-daughter pair taking sexy photos and capping things off with some 60’s style arm dancing). It was only a little bit disappointing to learn that there weren’t actually any kings buried there, just a bunch of rich people.
The Larnaca Salt Lake was half-dried up, being late in what has apparently been quite a dry year, but there was still enough water to get some great photos of the migratory flamingoes high-stepping it across the reflective water with the evocative Hala Tekke Mosque in the background. With no one else around for miles, we decided to take our chances crossing the precarious mud flats to get a closer look.
Before you know it, though, we were joined by dozens of other tourists gingerly slipping and sliding out as well. Still not sure if our potentially foolish decision was epically trendsetting or if some tour groups just happened to show up but, either way, my white shoes got pretty dirty.
The sea caves of Ayia Napa were among the highlights of Cyprus for us, especially watching people from across the bay stand directly above the most famous cave/arch, staring around in confusion, unable to see what became so obvious from the slightest distance. Exactly like we had been doing 10 minutes earlier.
The Blue Lagoon, however, may have been setting the bar a little high with the name, considering both its rather plain appearance (a somewhat rocky bay, no exactly unique in these parts) and the fact there is already a much more famous Blue Lagoon on the other side of Cyprus. Neither of which is followed by Brooke Shields on Instagram.
Aphrodite’s Rock (Petra tou Romiou), on the other hand, was terrific. Nice views, big-ass rocks to climb and a great backstory as the place the goddess Aphrodite emerged from the sea to kick off her rampage of chaos and boning. I guess if I had one complaint it would be that it was more “windy” than particularly “arousing”. Although we didn’t happen upon any erotic deities, which probably would have changed things a bit.
Hiking Avakas Gorge transported us back to Crete (mentally, not physically, obviously). And, much like the superb gorges in Crete, Avakas had a good mix of tall cliffs, narrow canyons, green forests, easy trails and occasional scrambling. The jeep tour groups monopolizing the best spots for their Instagram feed was new, though (and inconvenient for my own Instagram photo dump).
On the way back to Larnaca from Ayia Napa we stopped off at a Sculpture Park and while I parked in a bus stop and waited in the car, Laynni rushed around for a quick look. The verdict: “Some nice ones but mostly crappy or dumb. Meh.”
The Edro III shipwreck leans awkwardly just off the shore north of Paphos, providing an outstanding prop for those famous western Cyprus sunset photos.
Mimi’s Tavern just off the highway near the Paphos airport had the most local feel of any of our restaurant meals – very busy, very smoky and a lot of people drinking heavily at 12 pm on a Sunday.
After our epic tour of Crete it was nice to focus on just a few spots in Cyprus, each spent in a self-catering apartment (our default accommodation preference these days). Now that I’ve gotten a taste of what it’s like to travel with cereal for breakfast everyday, I’m completely ruined for typical European included breakfasts (instant coffee, some type of pastry in a plastic package, a tiny packet of jam).
Anyway, our place in Larnaca was old and odd and the fridge stood all alone in a far corner of the room but the central location was tough to beat – 100m to the beach, 50m to McDonald’s, 20m to an empty lot full of cats and as much free broken glass as you could carry.
Our place in Paphos was much newer and nicer and boasted okay street views… as well as views of another empty lot, obviously. We were just a short walk from the malecón and beach and the bedroom was blissfully dark, which helped me get past the fact that in order to do dishes I had to haul hot (nay, warm) water from the bathroom in a popcorn bowl.
We had a nice terrace where we spent a lot of time getting caught up on blog stuff, as well as watching the world go by. Such as the two girls dressed in sweat suits looking rough and tired returning from a big shopping trip with a dozen litres of bottled water and just as many rolls of toilet paper before heading back out shortly after in skimpy sundresses and considerable makeup. I can always admire planning.
Finally, Laynni chose our place in Zygi almost exclusively based on the views – amazing scenery out over the ocean from floor-to-almost-ceiling windows in both living room and bedroom, plus a nice little terrace.
The “beach” was fully just a rock quarry but it felt good to go for a dip one morning and we got to enjoy the view all day long, especially the time it stormed.
We had gotten a little spoiled in Italy and Spain, where seemingly the entire populace followed the rules and courteously masked up in public (even outside most of the time), leaving space when possible and just generally not acting like dicks. Which is reflected in their overall infection and vaccination rates.
In Crete things definitely felt a bit looser, although some of that was the fact we spent a lot of time in slightly remote areas and always were able to eat outside in restaurants. But you could tell they weren’t as keen to inconvenience themselves over it. Almost every restaurant asked to see our Safe Pass, then never believed us that our Canadian QR code wouldn’t scan and trying it anyway, then after it inevitably failed (no, not the bad beep!), sighing and reading through some of our vaccination info before losing interest and waving us in.
Cyprus then felt one step more haphazard again, with restaurants and even grocery stores diligently enforcing the Safe Pass but far more people pushing the rules when they could. In fairness, it is pretty hard to smoke with your mask on. And I’m sure these Middle Eastern noses aren’t the easiest to trap under a mask.
But things didn’t get really chaotic until the airport for our flight to Rome via Athens, which happened to coincide with a flight to Serbia that appeared to be entirely filled with enthusiastic soccer fans travelling for the big Famagusta vs Belgrade European Conference League match that night. Mainly big groups of young guys, dressed in their finest team sweats, masks tucked under their chin as they crowded around, blocking aisles, plugging up queues and just generally acting like assholes. So, soccer fans, basically.
Of course, no sooner do I go praising Italy then we go get stuck sitting behind a pair of truly moronic Italians on our flight from Athens to Rome who removed their masks altogether as soon as we took off. They then spent the entire flight carousing and play fighting like 8-year-olds (despite being in their mid-30’s) and either watching TikToks with the sound on loud or filtering videos of themselves driving a Ferrari (or some similar vessel of insecurity). Meanwhile, the Aegean Airlines flight attendants somehow managed to pretend none of this ever happened. Most irritating – as soon as we landed they put their masks back on because they obviously know that shit doesn’t fly when they’re at home.
The rest of the passengers were lovely, though.
Cyprus was a nice, relaxing place to spend our last significant chunk of time before making our way home. While it was more expensive than Crete and didn’t compare for scenery and natural attractions, at least the weather was great and the driving was easy. It would have been nice to be able to compare and contrast Northern Cyprus with the south but it just got too complicated and will have to wait for another visit (it might actually be easier to manage from Turkey).
Overall, though, Cyprus served its purpose, letting us get a bit caught up on the blog, sort out the details of our December travel plans and generally just unwind a bit before going airport hopping again. Now we’re back in Rome, doing lots of aimless wandering, which is definitely the very best thing to do in Rome (Coliseum, Shmoliseum). We’ll keep you posted.
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