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An Introduction to Cyprus

24th October 2017

My Experience of Cyprus

I am sure from the tone of this blog that you will be able to guess that Cyprus is one of my favourite places and it is hard to hide that as I write. It may be difficult to put my finger on one specific thing that makes me keep wanting to go back but it’s just one of those places that makes you feel like moving abroad without looking back.

Maybe it’s the climate or the people or the food, the drink, the air…maybe it’s all of these combined that give you the intangible feeling of belonging.

The island itself is divided into two along a roughly west to east border creating Northern Cyprus (Turkish) and The Republic of Cyprus or South Cyprus (Greek). The border is operated as a UN buffer zone due to the tensions between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus, though in recent years, movement across the border has been possible and there are talks about re-unification between the respective governments.

While EU citizens are able to cross the border, there are differences when moving between the two such as currency, healthcare and insurance that should be taken into account. I will be focusing on the Southern, Greek area as I continue.

The History

Cyprus is an island with a lot of history and you won’t be short of things to see. As I have already mentioned the island is split in two – the result of a disagreement over the division of power after attaining independence in 1960 culminating in a Turkish invasion of the north in response to a military coup on Cyprus which was backed by the Athens government (heavily simplified version!).

The partition (or “Green Line”) is patrolled by United Nations troops and can only be crossed at designated zones.

While this shapes Cyprus today, the real history starts much earlier. There is a strong link to Greek mythology and as with most Mediterranean islands due to the strategic positioning for both Europe and the Middle East it has been heavily contested throughout history. If you travel around the island there really is a lot to see. Historic sites and museums sit alongside stunning landscapes and newer developments.

Highlights in the Paphos (Pafos) area are the Archaeological Site (Nea Pafos), Tombs of the Kings, Hrysopolitissa Basilica & St Paul’s Pillar and Pafos Castle.

Around Limassol there is Lemesos Castle, Ancient Kourion and Amathus.

If visiting Nicosia (Lefkosia) you can explore this unique capital and pay a visit to the Cyprus Museum. You can cross into North Nicosia and experience the divided capital from both sides.

There are many other sites and places to visit and explore such as Agia Napa, Larnaca and into the Troodos Mountains. If you do venture to the North side of the island, you should consider the Kyrenia (Girne) and Famagusta areas.

People & Culture

Southern Cyprus is part of the EU and you do sense more of a European rather than Middle East feel. Having said that the culture is different from other Greek islands you may have visited, perhaps because of its location and varied past. You can really tell that Cypriots value family and although they can come across reserved, this is quick to dissipate if you take the time to have a conversation.

One thing that is apparent is the child friendly nature and locals are very friendly and quick to talk to children. You can expect big smiles, tousled hair and a lot of fuss made of young children. Do not be surprised if they offer children small gifts or items of food and drink, particularly in restaurants! Do try to accept at least a little of what is being offered as it is considered polite to receive hospitality.

The Cypriot way is very laidback and you should expect things to be done at a leisurely pace. Whilst you can rush if you want to, to experience the real culture you need to embrace long meals, relaxed days and a slower informal way of life. Having said that, Cypriots can be quite formal in their traditions, for example binge drinking and losing control in public is not seen as desirable behaviour!

Due to the years as a British colony (and the British military bases still on the island) English is widely spoken, however not everybody is fluent especially in the smaller villages. Greek is the main language in the South, though the Cypriot dialect does differ from orthodox Greek. The locals do really appreciate you trying a few words of Greek; a “hello”, “goodbye”, “thank you” will be warmly welcomed.

Learning a new language is not easy and Greek is a difficult language to learn, however like all languages picking up key words is possible and can be extremely useful. Like all languages it is possible to learn and you should not be deterred if you are thinking of moving to or spending long periods of time in Cyprus as being able to practice will help immensely.

The majority of Greek Cypriots are Greek Orthodox Christians though religious observance is varied and there is complete freedom of religion on the island. In urban areas attendance at religious services is less frequent and many people practice their faith at home with rituals, adoration of icons and festivities in the Orthodox calendar. When attending any church you should expect to have to cover your shoulders and not enter with shorts or very short dresses.

Food and Drink

To really experience the food of Cyprus you should make yourself comfortable and order a Meze. This is a selection of small hot and cold dishes that showcase the best of Cyprus’ culinary delights similar to the Spanish tapas.

Most restaurants and tavernas will offer a meze in one form or another and can range in the number of dishes included. Many places will offer their own specialities which can vary by season. Typical dishes you may be served are Halloumi cheese, Souvlaki (meat on a skewer), Dolma (stuffed vegetables), Falafel, Spicy lamb & beef sausages, Tzatziki and olives.

Outside of the meze and still on a savoury theme, traditional Cypriot dishes are quite similar to Greek favourites. Some examples include Kleftiko – a traditional lamb dish, Sheftalia – Cypriot sausages and Moussaka – minced beef or lamb in a tomato sauce layered with aubergine and bechamel sauce. Due to it’s island nature there are plenty of seafood options as well with many coastal restaurants offering freshly caught fish.

If you’re looking for something sweet then you have a number of local treats including Baklava and Kadeifi – sweet cakes made with honey, Finikia – walnut cakes and Loukoumades – sweet Cyprus style doughnuts with honey. Also there is a large range of fresh fruit which is often served as dessert, plus the traditional Greek yoghurt and honey combination that is ever popular.

Cyprus brews its own local beer, Keo that is very good and many bars will serve imported beers. Cypriot wine is readily available on the island and most wineries have tastings (there is also the Cyprus Wine Museum if you want to learn about the wine and the history). They produce a range of reds, whites and rosés and a sweet dessert wine Commandaria.

The famous aperitif Ouzo, with its distinctive aniseed flavour is well worth trying. It’s a very strong taste so adding water and ice is a good way to start and will not be frowned upon by the locals. There is also zivania which is even stronger and Cypriot sherry and brandy.

My favourite thing when in Cyprus is the coffee. Served in small cups you will find strong black coffee which is specially brewed and when ordering you select how sweet you would like it: glykos – sweet, metrios – medium or sketos – unsweetened.

It is a small drink but you can ask for it to be larger (like ordering a double espresso!). Do watch out for the grounds at the bottom of the cup and try to remember its Cypriot coffee and not Turkish!

The Landscape and Climate

Cyprus is very diverse with fantastic beaches, holiday resorts, clubbing, history, quiet towns, farming, mountains and skiing all within easy reach on the island. Areas to explore include:

Paphos – engulfing the west side of Cyprus the district of Paphos is itself very varied including a fantastic coastline, beaches, vineyards and villages. The resorts in Paphos town where UNESCO World Heritage sites sit alongside bars and restaurants contrast to the quieter town of Polis and the forests of Tilliria. In the south the airport that brings in thousands of visitors sits by the sea and allows easy access to popular resorts such as Paphos, Coral Bay and Limassol.

Limassol – with its traditional villages, archaeological sites and large hotel complexes there is plenty to do in this area. In the south and west, you will find it quieter, but heading east there are amusement and water parks and an ample amount of hotels. In contrast, heading to the foothills of the Troodos there are vineyards and pretty villages.

Troodos Mountains – if you tire of the beaches, then heading up into the mountains will really show you just how diverse Cyprus is.

The Troodos National Forest Park contains four specific nature reserves, hundreds of plant species and is home to the mouflon (wild sheep)! Ideal for hiking and even skiing the higher mountains reward you with fantastic views and cooler, fresh air. The village of Troodos surrounds Mount Olympos, the island’s highest peak.

The climate can be very different here – one minute we were meandering our way up the scenic roads in the sunshine, the next minute we were driving through hailstones, trying to figure out how to stop the windscreen from steaming up! There are several places worth stopping if you are driving through and which the coach trips favour such as Kykkos (for the monastery) and Omodos (a beautiful village with souvenir shops around the square).

Larnaka – although offering a combination of attractions, beaches, hotels and restaurants this area is often overlooked. To the west of Larnaka is an area of villages and small harbours home to the Neolithic sites of Tenta and Choirokoitia as well as the lace-making village of Pano Lefkara. In the east, Agia Napa and Protaras provide bars, restaurants, amusement parks and nightlife alongside blue flag beaches and historical architecture.

While these areas have received a certain reputation, as with many clubbing type resorts in Europe there has been a lot of work to minimize the anti-social elements that have stereotyped the resorts and the balance between holiday goers and the towns is a little more harmonious these days. Of the two Protaras is the more family friendly resort with many child-orientated attractions.

The climate in Cyprus subtropical which means that it can feel quite humid especially during the summer months (Jun-Aug) when temperatures can reach up to 40˚C and sunshine is all but guaranteed. In March to June and September to October, the temperature is slightly lower but you can still expect good weather and temperatures in the 20’s. With fewer crowds, this time is ideal for outdoor activities and exploring the island.