A Travellerspoint blog


Feeling History

Getting our start in Cyprus

Finally, after a long travel day, we made it to Cyprus. Ever since we booked our trip in December, I've been anxiously looking forward to seeing this island packed full of history.


During our planning we decided to split the island into four sections - one for each day we have here. Also, since it's a relatively small island, it's easily within driving distance to see most places we had on our wish lists. So, we decided to rent a car and drive ourselves. Mike has done this before, however, this was my first foray into driving on the "wrong" side of the street. With a stick shift no less! Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive but determined. I needn't have worried. Once you get into the groove of it, it comes easily. Sort of.


We set out early to get our first taste of Cyprus. The majority of our time today was spent in the city of Paphos. Think of any beach-side tourist town but with so much more to see and do. Paphos is on the south western end of the island and has some amazing sites. My favorite this day was the Archaeological Site in which they've found some breath-taking Byzantine mosaic tile floors in several buildings. The colors and detail are beyond compare. It is truly amazing how finely the artists were able to present the shading of flesh tones and fabrics. The pictures I had seen before we got here did not do them justice.


As I walked around the area with the deep blue sky above and the just as blue Mediterranean Ocean right next to me I couldn't help but get drawn into a sense of awe. To think of the majesty these homes must have had in their day. Amazing. And each time I thought I'd found my favorite mosaic I saw another more beautiful that took my attention. I usually am one to follow the rules and keep my hands off the antiquities. But this time, I had to touch one of the floors. Just to try and feel a connection to the past.


Also at the Archaeological site is a ruined Byzantine fort and reconstructed Greek amphitheater. It was cold to wander around the fort and try to determine what each area originally was.


The next stop on our western tour was the Tombs of the Kings. They're not sure any kings were buried here but they were fun to climb around anyways. Many were just partial shells but there were a few that allowed one to get a good sense of the layout and how they were used. Unlike at the mosaics, I was not drawn to want to be one of the original occupants!


From here we decided to check out a scenic drive into the northern part of the peninsula. It turned out that the drive TO the scenic drive was more scenic. Figures. Even so, it was a great day for getting our bearings and learning more about this beautiful island.


Posted by Jengt 10:27 Archived in Cyprus Comments (0)

The Long and Winding Road

...will lead you to happiness.

semi-overcast 60 °F

"They" say patience is a virtue. After today, I tend to believe them.

Our day started with another Cypriot version of an English breakfast. Not bad, but I'm not really a fan of fried eggs. Add to that the fact that the hotel has a couple of resident cats who like to beg for food. Have I mentioned that Mike HATES cats? We finished our plan for the day and got out as quickly as we could.

Today was our day set aside for the Troodos Mountain area of Cyprus. Yes! Mountains! (I'm sure you've heard of my love of mountains, and in fact, are probably tired of hearing about it. Too bad.). There are lots of Byzantine era and earlier churches and monasteries in this area with some amazing (or, so we'd read) frescoes. So, into the mountains we went.


Since Mike had pored over the maps to set our course for the day, I got to drive. I'm actually getting quite used to this whole "wrong side of the road" thing. However, when I agreed to drive, I didn't really know what was in store for me. We got a GPS with the car but had been having issues with it. Namely, the writing was in English, but it kept talking in Russian. Having some unknown Russian woman berating you because you made a wrong turn is annoying. Mainly because you don't know why she's having a fit! After much cussing back at her, Mike finally found the right button to push and we suddenly had 'Jason' to guide our way - in English! This was not as good a thing as we thought. But, back to that later.

Our plan for the day was to visit 5 or 6 churches and monasteries. We'd be going in a broad loop. Our first stop was an old church in the town of Pedoulas. We climbed up and around little mountain villages with narrow roads and beautiful views. 'Jason' sent us on a bit of a wild goose chase setting off on a "short cut" which put us more out of the way than we realized until too late. Luckily, Mike is a better navigator than Jason so we found our way to our first stop without too much difficulty. It ended up, finding the town was the easy part. Finding the church was a whole other matter. We found a very nice looking church which was locked up tight. Hmmm. We walked around and asked a gentleman who had the key. He just pointed us down the street. Down the street we went. Where we found the RIGHT church - The Church of Archangel Michael. So named because of the amazing fresco of Archangel Michael. It was a very tiny church but the frescoes were breathtaking. Well worth the extra hunting.


From here we were headed to the monastery of Kykkos. One of the largest and most well known monasteries in the Troodos. As we went along on the twisty, windy roads, Jason began to really get on our nerves. Anytime there would be a tight or hairpin turn, he'd let us know in advance that we should prepare for a sharp right (or left) turn. Right, like I couldn't figure that out for myself. We finally decided we'd had enough of him and put him in the glovebox. So there!

Kykkos was truly a beautiful church and monastery. All of the walls in the dormitory area are covered in mosaics of bible stories. Since we weren't allowed to take pictures in the church, we had to be happy with photos of the outside. Believe me, I was very happy with my choice.


Back in the car and off to Agios Ioannis Lampadistis - another small mountain church with frescoes. More twisty, windy roads up and down the mountains. I'm starting to get good at this! We finally find the village of Kalopanayiotis. By the time we made it here I had just about my fill of quaint little mountain villages with "two-lane" roads that are really one-lane AND people park along the side, making it even more narrow. That's ok. I can drive anything, anywhere. (At least that's what I kept telling myself.). We found the village and a questionable parking place. Now, we just had to find the church. This was turning into a theme for the day. We followed the signs and found a much too modern church. Hmmmm, the guidebooks said it was there. So, we walked a while to the left. Nothing. The guidebooks said it was plainly visible from the village. Why can't we see it. Ok, let's go back and veer right. Walk, walk and FINALLY there it is! It was a beautiful, small monastery with some wonderful frescoes. In all, worth the hunt.


Time is slipping away so it's off to our next stop - the church Panagia Forviotissa outside the tiny village of Nikitari. The guidebooks all said that if you only see one church for the frescoes, see this one. More twisty, windy roads and we're there. It was certainly the easiest to find. Mike and I walked in and there was an older gentleman sitting at a table just inside the door. The guidebooks certainly did NOT lie about this little church. Every surface was covered by frescoes so brightly colored and vibrant that you could swear they had just been painted. Being used to "no photos allowed", we just wandered around in awe of the beauty. And I don't use that word lightly. These were, by far, the most beautiful frescoes I had ever seen.

Eventually, we were getting ready to leave and looked at each other. We both had the same thought at the same time: "Did you see a "no photos" sign?" I offered to ask the gentleman. He smiled and nodded yes! Mike and I were both in heaven! I quickly ran out to the car and grabbed my tripod and we both started shooting every inch we could. What we didn't notice was that it was getting late. Eventually, the keeper of the key decided it was time to go home and asked us to leave. We clicked our last couple of shots and headed for the car. As he locked the gate he asked if we could give him a lift back to town. OF COURSE! How could we turn him down when he had just absolutely made our day?




The drive home was certainly anti-climatic. Who cares about tiny roads? We had just been handed the best gift. I'll remember the other churches we visited this day, but Panagia Forviotissa will stay in my heart thanks to the kindness of that man.

Posted by Jengt 11:42 Archived in Cyprus Comments (0)

Walking back in time

Going back...

sunny 75 °F

As I mentioned to friends and family that we were heading to Cyprus for vacation, many looked oddly at me and asked "What's there to see?" My patent answer was - History! Nearly every ancient civilization went through Cyprus. Either conquering one "gifting" it. Yes, Cyprus was a wedding gift from Marc Antony to Cleopatra. (Don't believe me? Look it up.) Sadly, many others looked at me quizzically and I had to tell them where Cyprus is.

Today was our day to see sites from Neolithic to modern. We had decided to spend today in the southern portion of Cyprus. Mainly in Lemesos and Larnaca. Our hotel is in Lemesos and we chose this city because it's central and makes visiting other areas of the island easy.


Our first stop was the Medieval castle of Kolossi. This is a three-storey castle which is still largely intact. We wandered around, climbing the spiral staircase and looking over the battlements at the countryside. Mike got a chance to give me a minor history lesson explaining why the spiral staircase was set up in the direction it is. (For better defense, of course.). If you want the extra details, just ask. I know now!

We had luckily gotten there just as a young school group was leaving and finished up just as a big adult tour group came in. Perfect timing!


Next on our "to do" list from today was the Archaelogical site of Ancient Kourion. Everything I had previously read about Kourion did not do it justice. Firstly, it was MUCH larger than I had thought. Secondly, it was just plain amazing! It encompasses ruins from the Greek through the Roman period. They have a beautiful theater that they currently use for performances. The audience has a choice of watching the performers or the Mediterranean. Tough choice. We wandered around there for at least a couple of hours before we realized we still had to get to Larnaca to see the rest of what we had planned.


Between Lemessos and Larnaca is a site I was not aware of but Mike had on his "to do" list. It ended up being quite the great find. Choirokitia is a hillside Neolithic site of round, stone buildings. One of the most unusual things about this civilization is that they bury their dead in the floor of their living space. Nothing like keeping the family together! Yikes!


In Larnaca, the main place we wanted to visit was the church of Agios(Saint) Lazarus. Lazarus came to Cyprus when the Christians were being persecuted in Jerusalem. He came here and started a church. His remains were buried in the vault below the church. They still have some of his bones on display in a Reliquary. The church itself is beautiful. Amazingly carved wood work and gold leaf everywhere.


After the church, we decided to wander around the town and see some of the sites. We stopped at the Medieval fort - meh and then tried to check out another museum. What we forgot is that the museums here close EARLY. Since it's still technically the off season, they all close at 4. We had just missed it by 15 minutes. We decided to sit along the beach, relax and sip a beer instead. My plan was to dip my toes in the Mediterranean but then I decided I didn't want sand in my shoes and socks the rest of the evening. The next plan was to dip my fingers in the water. As we finished our beers, we got up and walked away. Forgetting to dip my fingers. Oh well.

Even though we didn't get to see everything on our list for the day it turned out to be even more of a success than I could have imagined!

Posted by Jengt 05:07 Archived in Cyprus Comments (0)

Into the Great Unknown

Or, getting over it.

semi-overcast 72 °F

Have you ever had one of those days that you knew at the start was going to be good? For me, that was our last day in Cyprus.

Mike and I had decided to leave North Cyprus for our last day because it involves crossing a border. That's right. On this small island there are two countries. Southern Cyprus is Greek and North Cyprus is Turkish. When the UN drew up the dividing line, they split the Capitol, Lefkosia, in half. We had decided that we should be as comfortable getting around before heading to the other side. We read up on what we wanted to see on either side of the Green Line and headed off early so we wouldn't get caught with where we wanted to go being closed.

Getting into Lefkosia, we hit rush hour traffic. I'm very glad I had 3 days of practice driving here before getting into that! Although, the drivers here are much more polite than in the States. If someone wants over and there's even the tiniest gap, they go for it - and the other driver lets them - instead of cutting them off or blaring their horn, cussing and "flying the eagle". What a nice change!


We finally found a place to park and headed for our first stop. The Cyprus Museum was written up as the best museum in the country to see artifacts from all over the country and from all eras. They did have some great exhibits. One that caught my eye was a large collection of terra cotta figures. There were several life sized soldiers, miniature chariots and animals. There were well over 100 figures in all. They had all been found in a tomb just as they were displayed. It was pretty amazing. There were, of course, also lovely Greek and Roman statues, pottery and jewelry.


Our next very important stop was to see the Tourist Office. There were details about the border crossing and driving in the North that the other Tourist Offices didn't know. We were both surprised how little the Tourist Offices in the other cities knew about Lefkosia and the North.

With maps in hand, (and I do mean maps), we headed for the border. When you go to North Cyprus you can either fill out a form that you keep with you and turn back in when you leave, or get your passport stamped. I wanted that stamp! The border officer thought that odd but he stamped it anyways. We bought our special insurance which is required when you drive a southern car across the border, grabbed MORE maps and off. I now have been to 11 countries, which seems paltry next to Mike's 81, but it's more than most people in the US.

Looking at the maps we thought we had a long drive to our first Northern stop. Boy, it's easy to miscalculate when the scale keeps changing from map to map. Very quickly we were at St Hilarion Castle which is another Byzantine castle. This one was built on a mountain top overlooking the Mediterranean Ocean on one side and the mountain valley on the other. The mountain tops were misty as we drove up and I was afraid we might get rain. Our weather luck held out for us and it was just a little cloudy. By the way, when I said it was built on a mountain top, you don't get to drive all the way to the top. You park at the bottom of the castle and then have to climb...LOTS of steps. But, I'm so very glad I did. At each turn, there was another, more impressive room or view. This place is huge and just kept on going. It would be easy to lose yourself here for hours and hours thinking back and sensing all of the lives that were spent here. Every so often, I'd stop and just do a 360, taking it all in. We finally made it it the top room - St. John's Room. He most definitely had the best view of the house.


The only thing that detracted from the sense of history was the sound of the UN troops just down the valley 200 or so meters practicing their target shooting. Yes, one of the "lovely" sights from the top of the castle was a UN target range. Nice.


Walking back down, I kept turning around. Checking that we didn't miss any rooms or amazing views. I really did not want to leave. I was in awe of this place. In fact, Mike said this was the most impressive castle he'd ever seen. That's saying a lot when you think of how many castles he's seen in so many different countries.


Our last Cyprus sight was going to be the best. Ancient Salamis is on the west coast of North Cyprus and is, by far, the best ancient city I've visited. Just as you enter the gate you are there! The baths are the first thing you come across. Many of the rooms still have their marble mosaic floors. As we entered the main part of the baths, you enter a doorway and there are lovely marble statues lining the walls! Neither Mike nor I could believe they were still there. It certainly helped me to get a feel for how the room looked when it was in use.


As I continued to wander from room to room, taking photos of everything so I wouldn't forget any of it, I felt more and more in awe of these ancient civilizations. Here the columns stood after millennia. The beautiful, detailed carving on the capitols and the marble mosaic floors are still enriching lives. You can't ask for a better legacy than that.


On the site is a good sized theater. The nice thing about this theater is they have reconstructed it and placed the marble facing to several rows. You can see where many years of "seats" have rubbed grooves in the marble seats. From the top of the theater you have a fantastic view of the ancient city. Have I mentioned yet how great this place is? Mike and I wandered around a little longer, getting all the photos we wanted - even a couple of 'selfies'.

It was time to leave. As much as I hated to leave St. Hilarion Castle, I hated to leave here just as much if not more. I felt drawn to the history here.


Leave we must, so back to the car to get back across the border and to our hotel for our last night in Cyprus. Crossing the border was relatively uneventful. When we handed our passports to the border officer, she asked for the paper. We each had to convince her that we had no papers, just the stamps in our passports. She asked when we crossed into North Cyprus. She looked at us strangely when we said we were only there for the day. I guess they don't get many people day tripping.


As we packed our belongings back in our bags, Mike and I asked each other which was our favorite site. I can't really pick just one. I have several: Panagis Forviotissa for the breathtaking frescoes and the kindness of an old man, both Kourion and Salamis for the ancient history and St. Hilarion for the awesomeness of it all.

Now I'm on my way home. This week flew past so fast. It seems we just got here. We packed a lot in just a few days but there is so much left undiscovered. I feel sorry for the people who come to Cyprus and stop at the Green Line. They are missing so much by being frightened of being off the beaten path. Had we stopped there, I would have never experienced St. Hilarion. What a loss.

If there's one thing I learned from this trip, it's to let go of your fears of something new and different. I used to be afraid of left hand driving. Now, I feel like a pro. Try something new and feel empowered!

Posted by Jengt 16:21 Archived in Cyprus Comments (2)

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