A Bit of Cypriot Wildlife

Aside from being rich in archeology  and history Cyprus is also rich in wildlife. Quite fittingly we discovered that the most ancient of these creatures liked to hang out at the archeological sites that have made Paphos a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Sling-tailed Agama - Tombs of the Kings

Cyprus has eleven native lizard species of which the  sling-tailed agama is the largest, growing to up to 30 centimetres. These primeval looking reptiles can often be seen sunning themselves on the ancient monuments.

Snake-eyed Lizard

The snake-eyed lizard grows to about ten centimetres. It’s one of the most commonly seen lizards on the island and we saw them virtually everywhere. What’s quite interesting to observe in their behaviour is the way they try to regulate their body temperature by raising one foot at a time off the sun toasted rocks.

Rock Dove - the Tombs of the Kings

The rock dove is the ancestor of the domestic and feral pigeon. They are quite rare in the UK so I was quite pleased to snap one at the Tombs of the Kings.

Crested Lark

I shot this crested lark through the chain link fence (hence the fuzzy band) separating Paphos’s main archeological site from the coastal path out by the lighthouse. They were being quite bold in their courtship behaviour and were not in the least bit worried about the people on the other side of the barrier. They are quite rapid so I got lots of shots of tails vanishing out of the frame before I got the one above!

Hooded Crows

These crows were a lot more obliging. Hooded crows are a very widespread species throughout Europe, but rarely seen in the south of the UK where the all black carrion crow reigns supreme.

One of the benefits of visiting the island in the Spring, before the Sun has had the chance to desiccate most of the flora, is the butterflies.

Swallowtail butterfly - Tombs of the Kings

There are many a various. I was particularly pleased with this swallowtail that posed so nicely for me out at the Tombs of the Kings.

 

A Beautiful British Pint – Paphos Cyprus

Our trip into Paphos town centre revealed an unexpected piece of Britain’s colonial legacy in Cyprus.

A pair of beautiful British pints

Not the contents, that was Keo lager the local brew, but the dimpled jugs. These used to be really common in British pubs in the 60s and 70s, but are rarely to be seen in the UK anymore as every different brew seems to have its very own pint pot. So we had a bit of a nostalgia trip sitting on the terrace of the Sovos Tavern.

The centre of Paphos is a €1 bus ride from the tourist part of Paphos at the harbour and one thing that has changed since our last visit is that you can now buy an all day go as you please ticket for anywhere on the local bus network for just €2.

We’d gone into the town centre to pick up a few souvenirs in the covered market.

Inside the covered market note the time saving Christmas decorations already in place for December

This is the best place to pick up things like leather goods, textiles, silver and local food items like Cypriot Delight, there being much more choice here than down by the seafront and the prices are much keener. Two table cloths and some nut brittle later we decided to have a little explore of the town, since the weather was so nice.

Mosque Paphos

One of the highlights is the local mosque, which is looking a lot more healthy than it did back in the 90s. Before the British occupation of the islands, Cyprus was part of the Ottoman Empire and many Turkish people settled on the island, bringing Islam with them. Following the partition of the island after the failed coup and Turkish invasion of 1973, many of the abandoned mosques in the southern Greek half of the island fell into disrepair. However since Cyprus joined the European Union many of these buildings have been refurbished as relations between the two communities gradually improve.

But man cannot live by shopping and sightseeing alone so we returned to the Sovos Tavern for a massive Halloumi and Lountza sandwich

 

All this for €5

 

before catching the bus back to the seaside.

 

Sand Sparrows – Coral Bay Cyprus

Last week we were in Cyprus, very different to the sub-zero temperatures experienced in Tallinn just a few weeks before, but I still found some of these little chaps down at Coral Bay

Sparrows in the sand

Coral Bay is just a €1 bus ride from Paphos and was one of the best sandy beaches on the island until last winter’s violent storms washed much of the sand away.  Sunbeds are €2.50 a day and there is a cafeteria which will hopefully be open again sometime soon. There are also free to pee loos, which would be even better if someone could be bothered to change the lightbulbs in them!

The recession on top of hard winter has been unkind to the island, with a lot of familiar businesses, like the fish restaurant Chez Alex and the Othello Tavern, going to the wall since our last visit, but it was good to see that our favourite restaurant the Georgia Meze House and Chris the proprietor were still there, along with all of our friends at the Nereus Hotel.

Arthur our dedicated apartment moggy.

More on our Cypriot adventures later.

A to Z of Travel ~ Destination Cyprus

Onward to D – Destinations: Favourite, least favourite and Why

I know it sounds a bit whimsical, but I like to think that my favourite destination will be the one I arrive at next. Having said that, the place (not the nation, that would be Spain and its islands if we totted them up) we have visited the most often must be Paphos in Cyprus. Why is that then?

Roman Mosaic Villa of Dionysis, Paphos

Well Mab and I are both amateur historians with a keen interest in the Classical World and the Ancient Near East. Situated in the eastern Mediterranean, the island of Cyprus has been fought over by Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Romans, Byzantines, Saracens, Crusaders, Venetians and Ottoman Turks. It’s also a great jumping off point for cruises to Egypt and the Pyramids.

Ottoman Bath House Paphos Old Town

Cleopatra, St Paul and Richard the Lionheart are just a few of the legendary historical figures who have figured in the island’s history.  Adding to the cultural melting pot were almost 100 years of British administration before the granting of independence in 1960. All of these cultures have left something behind whether it is in the archeology, the food, the folklore or even the odd pillar box.

A tiny bit of Britain's colonial history in Paphos Old Town.

When we first visited the island back in 1989 we stayed at a small family run hotel called the Nereus. Over the next 15 years we probably went back every other year, and almost always stayed at the Nereus because we liked the people who ran it. At times eccentric, they were also really warm and welcoming. George the patriarch of the family would even get up early in the morning to  perform conjuring tricks to amuse the younger guests. Cyprus is a great place for kids and that’s another of the reasons we chose to return because it is relatively safe and hygienic, so less chance of those little tummy upsets that can be so spectacular with the small ones, while my daughter was young.

Me and George 2011

Then there is the food and wine. I suppose after Spanish one of my favourite world cuisines is Greek, although the Cypriot kitchen also has many influences from Turkey and the Levant, making it that little bit more exotic. Humous, Tzatziki, Taramusalata, olives, pickled chilis, Mousaka, Halloummi cheese, Tavas, Stifado, Sheftalia and Souvlaki, it makes me hungry just to think about it and a Cyprus Meze is a great sharing experience with friends and a bottle of deep red Othello wine.

Mousaka

And finally the people are just some of the friendliest and most open in Europe.

As our daughter grew up though we drifted away from the island, going around the world and exploring most of easyJet’s network, but last year we went back. George and the Nereus were still there as were Chris and the Princess Georgia Meze House and the Pinguini Ice Cream Parlour and despite membership of the EU and the Euro pushing up prices a bit, we enjoyed our stay so much we decided to return later this year

OK so where didn’t I like? You know I don’t think there have been any destinations that I haven’t got something positive out of, but some of the hotels we have stayed in have been real stinkers.

I suppose my least favourite holiday would have been the one in Menorca where a weak hotel manager was unable to control his staff. Aside from the broken tiles and paving in the public areas, algae growing up the walls, broken light fittings and lack of towels, I can vividly remember coming back to our room to find the maid wearing my hat. The hot water was so sporadic that it gave up when I was mid shower and the manager was lucky that I stopped to pull on a pair of swimming trunks before, covered in shampoo, I stormed down to reception to tell him that he was running the worst hotel in the world!

But then there was also the hotel in Israel’s Red Sea resort of Eilat where, while we were waiting for our airport transfer, a guest accidentally discharged a revolver in reception. In full view of everyone, he’d been casually swinging the chamber in and out and off it went, taking a huge chunk of marble out of the wall. It’s a wonder no one died. I can’t remember the establishment’s name, but it was a dirty little hovel and as if being next door to an airport wasn’t bad enough, the restaurant staff tried to pull the old trick of adding an extra meal to our final bill and I ended up suggesting that they call the police before they backed down with the obviously forged docket.

And not forgetting the UK, the hotel in Ramsgate where the manager tried to palm us off with a room without an en suite bathroom because he thought we had specifically asked for one without!

Downtown Paphos or is it Uptown?

One of the risks you take with any European holiday in the Spring is with the weather, and we had a couple of days when it was a bit overcast.

Were we downhearted?

No because there are always plenty of things to see. We booked one of Stevie’s cabs (€8) to take us from Kato Paphos where we were staying up to the Paphos District Archeological Museum in the main resideantial area of Paphos town, Ktima. The museum (€1.70) covers the whole if the island’s history from the early Neolithic settlers right up to the Ottoman occupation. Sadly it’s one of those museums that doesn’t allow photography, so I can’t show you any of the interesting stuff inside. We were particularly taken by the Greco-Roman  hot water bottles that were made to resemble the body part they were meant to warm.

Closer to the town centre is the old Ottoman market which is now full of shops for tourists selling lace, jewelry and sorry to say a lot of tat. One thing I noticed was that, since our last visit to the island back in 2005, all of the knock off designer gear, fake football strips and bootleg DVDs that were openly on sale have vanished, a side effect of joining the European Union I suppose.

And so to lunch, we ate here, while the rain hammered down

Sovos Tavern

It’s a busy cafe used mostly by local people using the nearby fruit and veg market and I was really impressed with my Halloumi and Lountza pitta sandwich, which came with a mountain of fresh salad, and all for under €5.

The bus stop for Kato Paphos is just opposite Sovos and the view down to the lighthouse is quite magnificent.

Lighthouse, Kato Paphos

Close to the bus stop is the old Frankish bathhouse, now a cultural centre, but still in use as a bathhouse until the 1950s.

Frankish Bathhouse

Keen to get back to our hotel we gave up waiting for the bus and walked down Apostolou Pavlou Avenue into the town. On the way we passed a car hire company that had some great old Morris and Bedford coaches parked in it’s yard.

Classic coaches

And a couple of rock hewn shrines that are still in use today.

Rock shrine

St Paul’s Pillar Restaurant – Paphos Cyprus

Just opposite the Ayia Kyriaki Church we discovered this place.

St Paul's Pillar Restaurant

This is the St Paul’s Pillar Restaurant and in many ways it was the gastronomic discovery of our trip to Cyprus. It’s run by a delightful woman from the north of England called Gillian and the food cooked by her Cypriot husband is magnificent. We were so impressed by the lunch that we had while out sightseeing, that we went back for an evening meal later in the week.

So what do you get for lunch?

Lunch menu at the St Paul's Pillar

Mab went for the menu shown above and very substantial it was too.

Village specialities

Nick and I went fo the Sheftalia (homemade sausage) souvlaki which was also very substantial as you can see here once several layers of salad are peeled away to reveal the very tasty sausage within.

Sheftalia souvlaki

The pitta was homemade and absolutely amazing. The Powder Monkey had chicken nuggets which she claimed were as good as those from Yates’s Fish and Chip shop in Walton on the Naze, so praise indeed. All in with beer, water and soft drinks lunch came to a very reasonable €35.

The following day we decided to have our evening meal there. I started with grilled Halloumi and Lountza which came with plenty of Gillian’s home-made pitta.

Halloumi and Lountza

Mab had the garlic mushrooms which were really delicious, while Nick had the pitta with taramosalata, tzatziki, tahini and humous and the Powder Monkey tucked into a bowl of chicken soup.

Garlic mushrooms

This was followed with Yemista for me, tomatoes, peppers and aubergine stuffed with rice and pine nuts. The vegetable casings just fell apart in my mouth, fabulous.

yemista

Nick had the Kleftico, the Powder monkey went for  pepper chicken, while Mab had this very generous and quite delicious portion of mousaka.

Mousaka

Complete with garlic bread, water, wine and soft drinks the whole meal came to a bargain €63. Certainly somewhere to remember for the next time we visit the island.

Georgia Meze House – Paphos Cyprus

This is without any doubt my favourite place to eat in Paphos. I think the first time we came here was in 1988 and it’s still run by our friend Chris who named it after his daughter Georgia, who has now grown into a delightful young woman. We ate here on four occasions as we know the food is good and were sure of a happy welcome.

Chris offers a set menu were you can mix various starters, mains and deserts for a bargain €13.40 or you can select items like dolmades (stuffed vine leaves),

Dolmades

dips, steaks, chicken, lamb and pork dishes from the a’la carte menu. My favourites are the stifado (beef stew), tavas (lamb stew) and the lamb kleftico

Lamb Kleftico

Which just fall of the bone. The Mousaka is pretty good too.

Mousaka

Of course no Cypriot holiday is complete without a meze and for our €15 we got:

Taramousalta

Tzatziki

Humous

Tahini

Greek salad

Feta cheese

Olives

Potato salad

Tuna

Beetroot salad

Octopus salad

Halloumi and Lountza

Deep fried Squid

Prawns

Cous cous

Jacket potato

Ravioli

Stifado

Afelia (pork stew)

Tavas

Sheftalia (home made sausage)

Pork souvlaki (kebab)

Needless to say we didn’t leave the place at all hungry

Considering there were four of us the damage was around €70 all in each time we ate there, including wine, water and beer.

Georgia Meze House, Corner of Constantias and Tefkrou

The Delightful Town of Yeroskipou – Cyprus

Yeroskipou is a small town just to the east of Paphos. The first interesting thing about Yeroskipou is the Church of Agia Paraskevi.

Agia Paraskevi Yeroskipou

This five domed Greek Orthodox church was built in the 11th century and still has some of the original frescoes inside. Sadly they don’t permit photography inside the church, which is a real shame as I’d love to show you the fresco of the resurrection. What I found interesting about the artist’s vision of Christ rising from the underworld, was the boatman and two headed dog that remained there. These strike me as representations of Charon, the ferryman who carried the souls of the dead across the river Styx and Cerberus, the multi-headed hound that guards the gates of Hades, from Greek mythology.

Was this pagan iconography adopted into the visual imagery of the church by local Christians to make it easier to understand for the pagan population or was it a careful hedging of belief by people keen not to offend both sets of gods in those early days. As is common practice here, the faithful leave  replicas of body parts in the church in the hope of obtaining a cure for the ills of relatives, which is another practice incorporated from a much earlier belief in sympathetic magic.

The second point of interest about Yeroskipou is that it is the only place in the world with a Protected Geographical Indication ( just like Melton Mowbray pork pies or Champagne) for loukoumia or Cypriot Delight. A fact that royally pisses off the Turks. We bought a couple of boxes from a shop with a certificate from the Guinness Book of records for producing the largest slab of loukoumia in the world.

The easiest way to get to Yeroskipou is by cab, we booked one of Stevie’s stretched Mercs, fare €10 each way.

A Bit of Archeology – Paphos Cyprus

Way back in April, I wrote about how our Cypriot holiday resort of Paphos had in 1980 been declared a World Heritage site by the United Nations because it had so many important historic remains.

One of the largest sites is close to the harbour and comprises of the ruins of a 13th century Lusignan castle Saranta Kolones (Forty Columns) built on top of the remains of a Byzantine castle, the excavated remains of some late Greco-Roman houses, a Greek Odeon or theatre and part of the old city walls.

Remains of Lusignan Castle destroyed in an earthquake in 1222

The French Crusader King of Jerusalem, Guy Lusignan bought Cyprus in 1192 from our own King Richard the Lionheart, he’d conquered it from the Arabs on the way to the Holy Land, but didn’t really want it. Cyprus remained in the Lusignan’s hands until 1489 when the Venetians took control of the island.

The Greco-Roman villas of Dionysos, Orpheus, Aion and Theseus have some really well preserved mosaic floors depicting stories from Greek mythology and are really quite stunning as you can see from these photos.

Mosaic Villa of Dionysis

Peacock mosaic

One of the nice things about visiting this site during April was the profusion of wild flowers.

wild flowers

While a more recent addition is the lighthouse which dates from the British occupation.

Paphos Lighthouse

Admission to the site was €1.70 for adults and free for under 12s. You can easily spend the whole afternoon there like we did, so it’s a good idea to take a bottle of water as there are no refreshments on sale. There is thankfully a toilet though.

Close by is Agia Kyriaki.

Basilca with the church of Aghia Kyriaki

This is a 16th century church built over the ruins of an 11th century church, that was in turn built over the 4th century Panagia Chrysopolitissa, a much larger Byzantine basilica destroyed in Arab raiders in the 7th century. In the church grounds the ruins of the Byzantine basilica have some very fine mosaic floors and we were lucky enough to photograph them after a rain shower, bringing out their colours quite beautifully.

Mosaic Floor from the Basilica

Also in the grounds is the alleged pillar that the Roman governor, Sergius Paulus had St Paul whipped against before his own conversion to Christianity.

St Paul's Whipping Pillar

Although the Church of Agia Kyriaki is a Greek Orthodox Church in 1987 the Bishop Metropolitan agreed to its use by the local Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Maronite and Finnish  congregations.

Icon screen inside Agia Kyriaki

The churchyard is also the last resting place of King Eric I of Denmark, who died in Paphos on pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1103. Eric was also known as Eric the Good, but curiously his pilgrimage was to atone for the drunken murder of four of his own men!

Feral pigeon roost Panagia Chrysopolitissa

Not far from Agia Kyriaki is Saint Solomoni Church. This is in a catacomb cut from the living rock. Solomoni fled from the Holy Land in AD168 and is reputed to have taken up residence here, in a Hellenistic tomb.

Me descending into Saint Solomoni church

After descending the 20 steps into the ground you find a small chapel where there is a spring that is supposed to cure eye complaints. There are also some frescos, although to be honest it was so dark all I could see were the devotional candles left by the faithful.

Devotional offerings Saint Solomoni Church

The most curious thing though is the terebinth tree outside the catacomb, here rags are tied to the tree’s branches to ask for divine favours for sick relatives, which are supposed to be granted as the rags begin to rot, a pagan sympathetic magic practice incorporated into the church perhaps?

The final ancient site we visited was the Tombs of the Kings. This site is a short bus ride (fare €1 adult, child free) from Paphos. This is real Indiana Jones country and we spent most of the afternoon exploring the rock cut tombs, that date back to the 4th century BC.

Tombs of the Kings

The scale of the necropolis is huge, but apparently none of the tombs ever contained a king, just mere officials.

Rock cut tombs

Aside from the tombs themselves the site is a good place to see birds and reptiles as well as lots of wild flowers in the Spring. Admission was €1.70.

Around and About Paphos – Cyprus

As I mentioned before, we were a bit apprehensive about our return to Paphos after five or six years, had the place been ruined by over-development and would the places we knew, that made the place so special before still be there?

Things certainly had changed a bit, but not too much and it was good to catch up with old friends,  like George Panayiotides (the Panayiotides clan patriarch),  of the Nereus Hotel and Chris, who runs our favourite restaurant in Paphos, the Georgia Meze House.

George and me

We first visited the Nereus over 20 years ago, fell into the place’s relaxed happy go lucky groove, and found ourselves going back several times while our daughter was growing up.  Over the years we tried a couple of other hotels in the resort, but none of them had the same atmosphere. So you can imagine how delighted we were to be able to rent one of their two bedroom apartments for just €600 last week. Not bad for four people, especially when it included a proper cooked English/Cypriot breakfast too! Imagine bacon, tasty farm eggs, beans and sun ripened tomatoes plus fresh fruit, yogurt and honey – breakfast heaven even if there was no square Scottish sausage!

With the flights costing in at about £250 each from easyJet and taxi transfers at €30 each way, courtesy of another old pal, Stevie and one of his six door stretch Mercedes limos (It was so cool, just like a work’s outing for Bond villains), we saved at least a grand on the equivalent package deal for four from Thompson or Thomas Cook. Plus none of that hanging about at the airport waiting for people to find the correct coach malarky either.

Nereus Hotel

So what is the place like?. The resort area is more properly known as Kato Paphos and consists largely of the area surrounding the harbour. There is a tiny beach, mind you if you want some good sand catch a local buss (€1) for a day out at Coral Bay. What does make this town so special, is the wealth of history, which is hardly surprising given the island’s turbulent past. Greeks, Romans, Franks, Crusaders, Venetians, Ottoman Turks and the British have all been here and left their marks.

A tiny bit of Britain's colonial history in Paphos Old Town.

So much so that the whole town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but more on the history and archeology later. There are some beautiful churches like Panagia Theoskepasti here. the name means veiled by God and according to the local legend God sent fog to protect the church from Arab raids. The present church dates from 1923 .

Panagia Theoskepasti

There are some fabulous places to eat and others like Ta Mpania here on the waterfront,

Ta Mpania

are just the place to watch the sun go down over the harbour with a cold (if expensive €3.50) beer.

Sunset Cyprus style

It also does a fabulous strawberry and white chocolate waffle for €5.75 and, so I’m reliably informed the best Coke float (€3.50) on the island.

Ta Pania's famous strawberry and white chocolate waffle

At the end of the harbour on the pier the town is overlooked by an Ottoman fort that was later used by the British to store salt, it looks quite spectacular all lit up at night.

Ottoman Fort by night

That’s enough to be going on with, more on the restaurants and history later, but if you fancy paying a visit to Paphos, I do recommend the Nereus (link to the right). For airport transfers Stevie’s cabs operate a fleet of six door Mercedes cabs and can be booked from the Nereus reception.