Our Cyprus holiday was only travel in so much as it involved taking a plane to a foreign destination. Like most people visiting Cyprus, we were going for a little winter sun and relaxation. The primary aim was to read and write, which we did to great satisfaction around the pool. I’d taken three novels. One a safe bet I’d read before, ‘Tortilla Flat’ by John Steinbeck, definitely a warm weather read. Secondly, ‘In Evil Hour’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; I’ve read and enjoyed other Marquez works but never got round to this one, the hot weather suited this as well and it became unputdownable. Thirdly, a recommendation from a friend, ‘The Boy Made of Blocks’ by Keith Stuart. I prefer to avoid saying, “that’s not my genre,” as it excludes you from picking up so many great works. Often the greatest satisfaction comes from where you least expect it. This was certainly the case in this instance. Why remain in a narrow corridor of possibility when there is so much out in the wide world, if I just step out of my comfort zone? Anyway, enough of the books, I’ll review them elsewhere, this is supposed to be about our experiences on the charming island of Cyprus.
We stayed at ‘The Great Constantinos.’ It was a grand hotel, by the sea with pool and palm trees strategically placed to exploit the sun. February actually falls in the middle of Cyprus’ close season. Our hotel seemed to be the only one open and besides a supermarket and a coffee shop, everywhere else was boarded up, wrapped in plastic and covered in cement dust, a by-product of the ubiquitous building works. To give you an idea how quiet it was, even McDonalds, Pizza Hut and Costa declined to open. This suited us fine, especially as the signs for Karaoke Bars, English pubs and all-night clubs, told us we’d avoided the crowds and noise. We would have struggled to cope had we come during the peak months.
The place is very popular-culture anglicised. The Flintstones, Only Fools and Horses and Stonehenge all have bars here where you can watch the football over a pint and a full English breakfast. Elvis and Don Corleone also get a look in.
Whilst the main intention was to soak up some sun, we did have a short list of other goals. A constant priority is to sample the local cuisine. This was harder to achieve than might be expected with everything closed down. Eventually we found a restaurant in Ayian Napa to serve us Mezze. Friends in England had informed us about this meal. It’s a stream of dishes that just seem to keep coming, “But don’t worry, they are only small,” was the constant reassurance spouted by our friends. The waiter warned us to take it slow, there’s over 20 dishes and then dessert. Well, small is a relative measurement. I soon remembered it was all my fat mates, who had given the assessment. Bulging at the seams, approaching belt-loosening territory, we began to wonder fearfully, how many dishes were still to go. Clare was hoping the dips counted towards the total. They did not. In the end, we had to leave an inordinate amount. Whilst it was a thing to do, a bit of Greek tradition, the final feeling was that it was pointlessly over indulgent. The food was Ok but the promise of what was lurking in the vine leaves was better than the reality, which turned out to be bland nothing much. The various meats, as I have found wherever I’ve eaten in Turkey and Greece, were overcooked and too dry for my taste.
Part of the joy of travelling is the people you meet and the different nationalities you’re able to converse with. Unfortunately, whilst the hotel was truly cosmopolitan everyone seemed determined to live up to their stereotypes. Tony and Amanda were fun but hailing from Essex they appeared intent on confirming as true, the perceptions the rest of us have derived from jokes and television. I know it’s a reputation a large percentage of Essex fight to deny and they were letting the side down.
It was pleasant listening to the vodka raddled Russians on the balcony next to ours crooning along to their balalaika infused folk music in the evening; it was different, an experience you’re not going to find too readily on the streets of Northamptonshire. However, the degeneration to loud arguments, door slamming and even what sounded like fighting, as the drunken night progressed was not what we felt we’d paid to endure. Fortunately, they were gone the next morning before we were able to voice our distaste and commence the new cold war, which in my fatigue, I was bursting to declare. They were replaced by more Russians, equally vodka soaked but respectfully quieter.
The French family were lovely although I couldn’t resist a smile at their opening gambit, a complaint about the poor hotel fare. As an Englishman, I felt unable to criticise, after all, the first discussion with Tony and Amanda was fine, hot weather related and how lucky we were to have avoided Storm Doris raging through Britain at the time. Besides which, I had to agree with the assessment of the food. It was massively samey every night, the cheese was dismal, the meat overcooked with simply a different vague sauce applied each night. The desserts were pretty colours but mostly different arrangements of whipped plastic cream and taste-devoid sponge cake. Although it was a cliché-ridden conversation, they were right, after a couple of days the menu palls. We began to wish more local restaurants were open to supply variety.
On day five of our stay the sun declined to shine as brightly and this offered the ideal moment to take a walk along the Cape Greco as we’d promised ourselves, in search of the endemic fauna of the island. We had a checklist of lizards and birds we were hunting. Unfortunately, it being a bank holiday, for some reason the road to the cape was closed, the bus could only take us so far. It didn’t matter, a clamber back along the craggy sea cliffs would suffice, the views were fantastic and there was just as high a likelihood of finding the creatures we sought. That is until we encountered the charming German couple who insisted on teaming up with us for the walk. Whilst lovely, polite, and anxious to display the extent of their knowledge of the island, they too seemed determined to present themselves as the archetypal Germans, you don’t want to meet on a holiday hike. Lothar particularly wouldn’t stop talking with a decibel level normally associated with those telling stories in a crowded bar. He insisted on telling us how beautiful the views were as though we were struggling to appreciate the landscape for ourselves. The irony was, whilst rambling on about the beauty he missed most of what was before him. We quickly dismissed any chance of identifying any of the birds, they disappeared before we got within a hundred yards, due to Lothar’s professions on Brexit, Trump and Angela Merkel. I told him three times we were there to spot birds but the message seemed to evade him, and he stuck to his assumption I’d come to a cliff top in Cyprus to debate world politics.
He wanted my opinion on whether Germany should also leave the EU. Why? What possible significance could my opinion be, if I had one? He didn’t consider for one moment that I could possibly not have one either. The birds were lost to us due to the inane political chatter but the lizards were still a possibility. Suddenly, I saw a large Agama basking on the rock face. The Germans had walked straight past it, as usual declaring how beautiful everything is, then not noticing it, when it’s right before them. This suited me fine, I fumbled for my phone to grab a photo but Lothar had sensed we were no longer behind him and turned to crunch back along the path spouting details of Angela Merkle’ immigration policy. He was oblivious to my raised hand, which I understood to be the universally recognised sign for ‘Stop!’ Perhaps I should have accompanied it with ‘Halt!’ As the shushes and hushes were clearly lost in translation. The Agama understood though and scuttled into a crevice, not to return. Photo opportunity gone, so the one accompanying this article has been gleaned from the internet. My blood was beginning to boil and not as a result of the glaring sun. I was beginning to understand why we’ve had regular wars with the Germans.
We did manage to register a Sardinian Warbler before they scared it away but the Hoopoe and Bee Eater, so common and easy to spot according to the hopeless app we downloaded (which listed 21 birds only, one of which was a feral pigeon and another the house sparrow,) were nowhere to be seen.
In their ongoing quest to appreciate the nature around them the Germans walked past a writhing mass of caterpillars, as pictured, the only photo I got! I don’t know which butterfly or moth they will metamorphose into, but so many in one place was a wonder to me that far exceeded the machinations of Trump or any other world leader.
As the great peel began on my forehead and the bulb of my nose, we came to the end of our stay in Cyprus. Having a few hours to kill before our transfer to the airport we retired to the Greenery Pub, which advertises itself rudely throughout the region as somewhere that’s always open. Adorned with clover leaves and promising all sorts of food and beer, this pub has every angle covered. It’s English, it’s Irish, it’s Greek. It’s whatever you want it to be. Moreover, it hasn’t seen a makeover since the 1970’s. The floors are vinyl, the ceiling wooden slats and there’s the tattered remains of the decorations of many years of celebrations hanging from pins on every surface. The place has seen action and could probably tell of some good tales. The locals which, included many expats, lounged round a wood burner, smoking, drinking and playing cards as if it was still 1975 and we were in a workingmen’s club. The atmosphere was pleasantly soporific in a grimy, nostalgic sort of way.
I enjoyed Cyprus immensely, we went for sun and relaxation. Next time though, I’d choose to stay in a villa or small hotel removed from the main tourist areas. Hopefully, we’d find more characters and fewer caricatures.