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  1. All the shops in Lefkosia seemed to be closed this morning, so we ended up navigating to a drive-through McDonalds a few miles away from our apartment for breakfast. Once we'd eaten, it was back to the apartment to pack before we set off for our ultimate destination of Larnaca. Larnaca is located on the southern coast of Cyprus, about 37 miles south of Lefkosia. It's a fairly easy drive to get there, mostly along a series of motorways. When planning the route I'd chosen a slightly scenic variation, which would take us past Larnaca's Salt Lake. We found the lake without too much difficulty, but it wasn't immediately obvious where we could stop to look at it. Eventually Tim caught sight of a small car park on the lake shore, and we were able to get out to explore. It was a rather strange place, but quite picturesque. The ground really was completely covered in salt; Tim tasted some of it to double check Once we'd finished admiring the lake, we continued on into Larnaca. It was only a couple of miles further on. The first thing we caught sight of as we parked the car was a minaret in the distance. This is thought to be the first Ottoman mosque which was built in Cyprus. It's a really pretty building. We'd driven through this archway, which is attached to the side of the mosque, on the way to park our car. A bit further up the road from here, we found Larnaca's main church. This is the church of Saint Lazarus, believed to be the burial place of the biblical Lazarus (when he died for a second time). It's a really lovely church. From here it wasn't far to the sea, so went for a stroll to look at the beach. I'm glad we didn't spend our entire holiday here There's a large promenade, lined with palm trees, which runs along the sea front. The promenade came to an end beside some government buildings. We'd covered most of the town's main sights by this point, so it was time to get some lunch. We found a restaurant right outside the church We decided to have chicken souvlaki for a final time. Unfortunately this time they unexpectedly came in a pitta bread with lots of tomato and cucumber, which we had to scrape out. The meat itself was tasty though, and we also got a final serving of baklava Then it was time to head back to the car park and make the short drive to the airport to hand back the hire car. We've had a really great week in Cyprus and seen some really beautiful scenery; I think it's fair to say that it's a country which has exceeded our expectations
  2. When we went outside on the balcony of our apartment this morning, we realised we were so close to Northern Cyprus that we could see it. The flag painted on the mountainside looks a bit blurry in the picture below, but we can see it quite clearly in real life. That was fitting, because our plan for today was to cross into Northern Cyprus again, this time by car. The border crossing of Agios Dometios is only a couple of miles from where we are staying, so that was the first place we navigated to. Because its in the middle of Lefkosia, this is a busy border crossing and so we had to sit in a queue for a while. No one wanted to see our passports on the Greek Cypriot side, but we had to show them to the Turkish border police again. It's permitted to take a hire car from southern Cyprus into northern Cyprus, but car insurance purchased in southern Cyprus doesn't cover you to drive in northern Cyprus, so we knew that we would have to purchase Turkish car insurance at the border. My research indicated that there was going to be an insurance booth to do this at the border crossing, next to the passport control booth. What my research didn't indicate was which lane we needed to be queuing in to be able to do this. There were two lanes for passport control and, in the absence of any signs, we'd ended up in the left hand one when the insurance booth turned out to be in the right hand one. Oh dear! We showed our passports to the Turkish border guard and he asked to see our car insurance. Tim explained that he wanted to buy it, so the guard told him to park the car to one side and go to the insurance booth to make the purchase. Meanwhile he was going to hang onto my passport for security I may have been regretting this adventure slightly at this point, but luckily it all turned out to be fine. Tim successfully purchased the insurance, which turned out to only cost €20, and showed it to the border guard, who promptly returned my passport. In possession of an insurance certificate written entirely in Turkish, we drove across the border and onto the main road towards our ultimate destination of Girne. First impressions were that everything felt a bit more foreign on this side of the border. The signs were mainly just in Turkish (whereas on the other side, a lot of signs are bilingual in Greek and English) and the standard of driving seemed a little bit worse (though not as bad as Sicily!). There were lots of Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags everywhere, and we drove past what looked like an enormous mosque being constructed on the outskirts of Lefkoşa. The reason for today's excursion was that some of the top sights in Cyprus are on the Turkish side of the border and there were two in particular that I really wanted to see. One was Saint Hilarion Castle, which our guidebook described as being the best castle in Cyprus, and the other was the town of Girne (or Kyrenia, in Greek), which was described as having the most picturesque harbour in Cyprus. Girne is located less than 20 miles from Lefkosia and Saint Hilarion Castle is on the way, so both are easily doable as a day-trip from the capital. It felt like we hadn't been travelling for long when we saw a sign indicating the turn-off for the castle. From the main road, you have to drive a few kilometres uphill on a small road which takes you through some stunning mountain scenery, with great views up towards the castle itself. Unfortunately, this road is owned by the military (there seems to be some sort of army base on the hill) and so there are big signs telling you that it's forbidden to stop and/or take any photos here. That didn't seem to stop a couple of other cars of tourists from doing just that, but we definitely weren't going to risk it! At the top of the hill there's a small car park, which was overflowing with French tourists who had just got off a coach. Tim managed to find a space and we walked up towards the castle entrance. It only cost €2 each to get in, which seemed like a bargain, and luckily they did accept Euros in cash. From here we were allowed to start taking photos of the views This was the road which we'd been driving up to get to the castle. We could see all the way down to the sea; the town on the coast is Girne, where we were heading later. It looked quite built up from here and I was starting to wonder whether it would really be as attractive as the guidebook had promised. Once we'd finished admiring the views, we turned our attention towards the castle. As with everywhere here, the castle had its two flags proudly flying. A series of steps took us uphill towards the lower part of the castle. A castle was first built here in Byzantine times, to help defend the coast from attacks by Arab pirates. The castle was later upgraded by the Lusignans, who ruled Cyprus until the end of the fifteenth century. The upgraded castle was used as a summer residence by the Lusignan kings. Once the Venetians took control of Cyprus, the castle began to fall into disrepair. It is still, however, the best preserved of a number of castles in this part of Cyprus. We'd climbed a fair way uphill by this point, overtaking most of the elderly French tour group, and we were now a long way above the entrance gate with its flags. There were still more steps to go, though! Eventually we got up to the middle part of the castle. Here there were various rooms that we could go into to explore. This one used to be the kitchen. There were some bits of the castle ruins that I didn't really feel like exploring; that ladder looks rather scary! We did, however, intend to climb a bit higher, to the top level of the castle. Although when I suggested it, I hadn't realised quite how much further there was left to climb It turned out there was a long way! Another series of stone steps took us upwards, but the stone had worn smooth and was extremely slippy. Not anticipating this, we were both wearing our trainers (despite having our walking boots in the back of the car down below), and so we found it a slightly challenging climb at times, despite the fact that several Russian women in high heeled sandals seemed to be managing it just fine The saving grace was that there was a series of strong metal railings all the way up to hold on to. At last, we made it to the highest tower Or, at least, the highest tower that you can climb to; this one was higher. It was a long way down to the car park from here on one side... ...and a long way down to Girne on the other side. It had been a tiring climb to get up here, but now that we'd made it the views were incredible. Now there was just the small matter of getting down again! It was a little nerve-wracking in places but we managed it and soon we were able to look back up towards where we'd been. Phew Now it was time to get back in the car and continue onwards to Girne. The guidebook had recommended a parking place not too far from the harbour, which we found without any problems. As we parked and started walking into the town centre, we were somewhat surprised to find that the first thing which confronted us was an English pub. Not quite what I expected when I thought we were having an exotic adventure Although it was lunchtime by this point, we definitely weren't going to get lunch from an English pub. We continued on through the town, passing a ruined tower... ...and a pretty white church. Then we found the sea The mountains made a really beautiful backdrop for it; it reminded me a bit of Montenegro. This part of the seafront didn't look quite like the pictures I'd seen in the guidebook though, so we needed to explore further. It turned out we'd walked along the sea front in the wrong direction. If we'd come out of the town and turned right instead, we would have started walking towards Girne castle. There's a long promenade here which enables you to walk around the harbour. These were the views that I'd seen pictures of We could see the castle, and the minaret of the town's oldest mosque. The water was beautifully clear and we could see lots of little fish swimming in it. We walked around as far as we could, admiring the views. The town is definitely a lot prettier from here than it looks when you are on top of the castle. The huge castle here was built by the Venetians in the sixteenth century. It later surrendered to the Ottomans, who continued to use it as a castle. During the British administration of Cyprus, it was used variously as a prison and a police barracks. Today it is a tourist attraction, but we decided that climbing up one castle was enough effort for today so we didn't pay to go inside Instead, we walked back around the harbour, towards the centre of town. There were lots of restaurants around the waterfront, so we soon found somewhere to get a belated lunch. Tim ordered a chicken kiev, which looked enormous when it came. I order something which was described as "chicken meatballs". They turned out to be pieces of grilled chicken with herbs mixed through them; delicious but definitely not meatball-shaped For pudding, Tim had ice-cream and I tried a Turkish desert called kadayifi ekmek. It tasted a bit like tiramisu, without the chocolate and alcohol. I also had a coffee, which came with this rather peculiar carton of water, the size and shape of a yoghurt pot. I'm guessing that the tap water isn't drinkable here, so they have sealed cartons to serve with coffee rather than glasses of tap water. By the time we'd finished eating we were absolutely stuffed. The entire meal came to 193 Turkish Lira, which is less than €30, so it felt like good value It was only a short walk back from the restaurant towards where we'd left the car. On the way we passed the mosque whose minaret we'd seen from the harbour. The car parking cost €2 and they let us pay in Euros, which was good. Then all that remained was a drive back along the motorway towards Lefkosia, where we had to go pass back through the border control. Our passports were checked on both sides of the border this time, although only briefly, and there were no complications with insurance in this direction It's been a really exciting day and we've seen some beautiful places. Tomorrow afternoon we will be flying back to the UK from Larnaca airport. We should have time to see some of Larnaca in the morning, though not sure how much there is to see there! I don't think it will beat today for scenery, but we've had such a great holiday that we can't really complain
  3. Today it was time to leave Platres behind and travel to our final destination for this holiday: Lefkosia. Or maybe Nicosia. I have spent the holiday in a state of some confusion about what the capital of Cyprus is actually called, because personally I have always been fairly sure it was called Nicosia (and, indeed, this is what my Cyprus guidebook and the English Wikipedia call it), but all the road and other signs here refer to it as Lefkosia. As far as I can tell, the city is called Λευκωσία in Greek, which transliterates as Lefkosia. Historically the city was called Nicosia in English, although it was still called Lefkosia in Greek, and in 1995 an official decision was taken that Lefkosia would be the official name in English too. It doesn't seem to be a decision that has caught on internationally, but given that everything here is labelled as Lefkosia, we're going to use that name for today's blog Lefkosia is about 90 minutes away from Platres by car and it was a fairly straightforward journey, which only required use of the satnav for the final 10 minutes or so as we made our way into the city centre on the hunt for parking. The old town of Lefkosia is surrounded by thick defensive walls which were built by the Venetians in the sixteenth century. The guidebook had recommended a car park just outside the walls and Google maps surpassed my expectations, taking us there on the first attempt The carpark seemed to be in a sort of moat outside the walls. Once we'd parked, we climbed up a steep staircase to the level of the rest of the town. Almost immediately, we found ourselves in a very touristy quarter called Laiki Geitonia, whose narrow streets were full of people trying to entice us into their cafes and restaurants. We didn't take any pictures, because we were too busy trying to evade them and track down the tourist information office, which was signposted somewhere in this warren of streets. We eventually found it and acquired a map of the southern part of the city. The man in the tourist information office even circled the main sights for us, which was helpful, because our first impression as we started walking around Lefkosia was that sights were few and far between The first photogenic building which we came to was the Faneromeni church, which is the largest church within the city walls. It was interesting to see that it had a Greek flag flying on the back of it. The church is in a square, opposite the Faneromeni school, which was the first school for girls built in Cyprus in 1857. A bit further on, we found the Ömeriye mosque, which is the most important functioning mosque in the Greek Cypriot part of the city. Unfortunately, everything in Lefkosia seems to be so built up that it was difficult to get a good photo of it from up close. We walked down a pretty little street... ...and found we had a better view of the mosque from a distance There were some interesting streets in this part of town. Some of the buildings had enclosed balconies, which reminded me of those we'd seen in Malta last year. Not far from here we found St John's Cathedral, which looked quite small for a cathedral in a capital city. The cathedral is close to the Archbishop's Palace. This is the official home of the Archbishop of Cyprus. By this point we had walked horizontally across the city and were almost at the edge of the Venetian walls. Here we found the Liberty Monument. This was built in 1973 to honour the fighters who fought for Cyprus's independence from Britain. We walked along the edge of the walls for a while, which was quite pleasant They look like really solid walls! By walking along the walls, we came to the Famagusta gate. This was the main gate into the city in Venetian times. From here we walked inwards back into the city. On the way we passed this tiny mosque with a very short minaret. We were walking towards Lefkosia's main street, Ledra Street. Ledra Street is home to one of several checkpoints where you can cross from the official Republic of Cyprus, where we have spent our week, to the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) which covers the northeastern part of the island. The TRNC came into being in 1974 when Turkey, concerned that Greek Cypriots were planning to officially unite the island with Greece, invaded the parts of Cyprus which were inhabited by Turkish Cypriots. The conflict has never been resolved, despite the fact that Cyprus is now a member of the EU. Turkey is the only country which recognises Northern Cyprus as a country, and so to the rest of the world the territory, which includes half of the capital city, is viewed as being under illegal occupation. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Lefkosia has been the last divided capital in the world. Tensions are, however, lower than they used to be and the Ledra Street crossing was opened in 2008 to enable pedestrians to pass from one side of the city to the other. Crossing the border is a slightly strange experience. First of all you have to queue to show passports to the Greek Cypriot police, who admittedly didn't seem terribly interested in them. They were much more interested in opening the bags of people who were crossing back in from Northern Cyprus, to make sure they weren't importing illegal amounts of cigarettes. Then you walk through a no-man's-land kind of area, before joining a queue to show passports to the Turkish Cypriot police. They seemed more interested in them and put them through a scanner, although they didn't seem to stamp them at all. The queue for the Turkish passport control was quite long, but they have built a covered wooden walkway for people to queue in, which at least meant we were in the shade while we waited. Once we'd had our passports checked, we were officially in Lefkoşa (a third name isn't at all confusing ), the capital of the TRNC. Somewhat unexpectedly, the first thing we saw was an off licence. In general, many of the streets were lined with shops selling knock-off designer clothes. There had been a sign at the border warning people that bringing counterfeit clothing back across was an offence. There were some more attractive buildings too though... ...including some attractive porticoes... ...and pretty much everywhere we looked we could see minarets on the horizon. The highlight of this part of the city is the Büyük Han, a historical inn built by the Ottomans in 1572. During the time of the British administration of Cyprus, it was used as the city prison. Today it has all been beautifully restored and is used as an arts and cultural centre. It's also a popular tourist attraction and there were several shops and restaurants in the courtyard. We decided to stop at one of the restaurants and get lunch. The prices on the menu were all in Turkish lira, which is the official currency in northern Cyprus. We had to do a bit of careful googling to check the exchange rate (careful, because I'd had a text from EE warning me that if I accidentally connected to a Turkish mobile network while in Cyprus, I would be charged some pretty expensive rates!). The prices seemed pretty reasonable though, so we found a table and sat down The menu consisted of variations on the theme of grilled meat (although pork was notably absent). Tim experimented with a mixed grill, while I played it safe with chicken. Both meals came with pitta bread, chips and beautiful sticky rice. I had a glass of Turkish wine, Tim had a Turkish beer, and all in all the meal came to 133 lira, which was €20.50. We didn't actually have any Turkish lira, so Tim paid on his card. Interestingly, they would have accepted cash payment in Euros, but the Euro amount quoted on the bill was €24, so it wasn't a terribly favourable exchange rate! Service over lunch had been a bit slow, so we only had a little bit more time to explore before we needed to get to our apartment to check in. I wanted to track down a big mosque, whose minarets with Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags flying we'd been able to see even from the Greek side of the city. This is the Selimiye Mosque, formerly a Gothic cathedral, which was converted into a mosque during the Ottoman period. It's very clear that parts of it used to be a church. With that our time was up and we had to head back across the border. There was less of a queue this time and so we made it to our apartment in good time. It turns out to be another spacious one. We've got a comfy living area... ...a good kitchen... ...and a nice bedroom. There's even an office if Tim wants to catch up on some work All in all we've had another very interesting day in Cyprus
  4. We discovered last night that there is only one tiny shop in Platres - and it doesn't have a huge selection of food to choose from - so we had a rather limited breakfast of toast and honey this morning, before setting out on our first adventure of the day. The guidebook had listed multiple walking trails starting from the vicinity of Platres, two of which led to waterfalls. I decided that we should start the day with a walk to the Millomeris waterfall, which was described in the guidebook as being an "easy" hike of 1.5km. The path started not far from our apartment. As we walked along the main road towards the centre of Platres, we passed the village church. A little further on from there, a signpost pointed us towards the waterfall trail. The path led us steeply downhill, which didn't feel like a good start, because this wasn't a circular route, so we were going to have to climb back up here on the return journey. Once we got to the bottom of the descent, we found ourselves next to a small river. A bridge led us over to the opposite side. This is the only river which we've seen so far in Cyprus. The path led along the side of the water for a while. It was quite narrow in places, though. After a while we started climbing uphill again. Tiring, but we did emerge to some scenic views. No sooner had we finished climbing uphill, then the path started taking us downhill again. This was on a gravel road, which was a bit slippery. We were getting close to the waterfall now. When we paused and looked up, we were surprised to be able to make out the village church at the top of the hill above us. We had come down a long way! Finally, we climbed down a steep stone staircase and we were at the waterfall We hadn't met anyone else while walking on the nature trail so I thought we might be the only people here. Turns out that you can drive here, so that wasn't the case; there were a couple of groups of people in flipflops Never mind, it was still a beautiful waterfall. Once we'd admired the waterfall for a while, it was time to start the long climb back uphill to the village. It was hard-going in the sunshine, but eventually Platres started to look a bit closer. Just one more bit of uphill to go! We got there in the end and went back to the apartment briefly to recover and stock up on some water. That was definitely not what I would describe as an easy one-hour return stroll! The walk to the second waterfall outside Platres was described as being more difficult, so I decided that we should give that one a miss! Instead, we drove about 10km on an uphill road, towards the village of Troodos. Troodos is located about 250m below Mount Olympus, which is the highest mountain in Cyprus at 1,952m. A path called the Artemis trail leads around the mountain at an altitude of around 1,850m and was described as being a mostly flat, circular route. It sounded promising so we decided to give it a try The walk starts from a car park a few hundred metres up the road from the main village of Troodos. We didn't have to walk far before we started getting great views. The path lived up to expectations and was reasonably flat, although parts of it were quite rocky. It was also pretty well signposted, with visible arrows and markers to tell you how many kilometres you'd walked. We were slightly confused by this direction with an arrow and a cross though! A lot of the walk was through the forest, which meant it was cool and shady. Every so often we emerged into a clearing and could see the views There were little signs giving the names of various types of tree and stone that we passed. I was particularly excited when we passed this one and realised it was a Cyprus Cedar, like the ones we'd seen in Cedar Valley yesterday There were lots of interesting trees along the route, some of which looked pretty old. There were a number of benches along the route, where we stopped for water breaks. Despite the fact that it's October and that we were fairly high up, it was still really warm. We didn't meet anyone else the whole time we were walking, so it was very peaceful. A few kilometres in, the path started leading downwards to cross what may once have been a stream, but was completely dried up today. Then it was back up the other side. As we got further around the mountain, we could see further afield. This next part of the walk turned out to be particularly rocky. Although the path was quite narrow in places, it wasn't as scary as it looks; all the rocks were quite solid, so you never felt in danger of slipping. And the views were really wonderful As we walked further on, we could see down towards one of the villages. After another corner... ...we could just make out a splash of water in the distance, which looked like it might be a reservoir. We turned another corner... ...and now we were far enough round the mountain to be able to see the sea. (It hasn't come out very clearly in the photos unfortunately!). Unbelievably, Troodos is actually a ski resort in winter and towards the end of the walk we passed some ski lifts. Once we'd got to the end of the walk, we were able to drive slightly further uphill to a restaurant which seems to serve skiers in the winter. Although we'd missed lunchtime by this stage, they were still serving food I may have had chicken souvlaki for the third day in a row, and then we finished up with some chocolate cake. The second walk was definitely a lot more fun than the first one and the views were really amazing Tomorrow we are leaving Platres for Lefkosia, where we may have a less active day than today
  5. This morning it was time for us to leave Paphos behind and travel inland to our next destination: Platres. Today was going to be all about the journey, because I had planned what I hoped was going to be a very scenic route to Platres through the Tilliria forest. We checked out of the apartment at around 10am and began driving towards the small village of Lysos, which is located about 25 miles north of Paphos. Once we'd left the sprawl of Paphos behind us, the road took us up into the hills and we soon had some beautiful views Lysos was a small place, but it had a pretty little church... ...and we could even see all the way back down to the sea. From Lysos, we followed a small road (F723) towards the forest. The Tilliria forest is very remote and some of the roads which cross it are only dirt tracks. My research on the internet had suggested that the F723 was a proper tarmac road, so it was a relief to get to it and see that it was The road soon began climbing higher into the mountains. Every so often there were little laybys where we could pull over and admire the views. The road took us deeper into the forest. The guidebook had warned that there were no petrol stations once you were on this route and no shops either, so we'd made sure we were well stocked with both petrol and water. We were driving towards a small hamlet called Stavros tis Psokos, which seems to be the only habitation within the forest. It was only 12 miles from Lysos, but it probably took half an hour to get there because the road was so steep and winding. Once we arrived and parked we were confronted with a sign which warned that the risk of forest fires was high today. Not surprising I guess, given how hot and dry it is. The main reason for stopping in Stavros tis Psokos is to see the mouflon. These horned sheep are a national emblem of Cyprus. There is a small path you can follow around the mouflon enclosure. The sheep themselves are behind a high fence; apparently someone who got inside the enclosure and started goading the sheep was gored to death The ones we saw seemed quite timid though; the younger ones ran off when they heard us walking around. Apart from the sheep there isn't much else to see here and so we were soon on our way again. We stopped at several viewpoints outside Stavros tis Psokos and came to one which seemed to be the start of a short signposted walk. We decided to give it a go. The path was a bit narrow in places, but overall a lot easier to walk on than yesterday's. We soon had some lovely views The start of the path was quite uphill, but the higher we climbed the further we could see. It was all so beautiful that it was hard to stop taking photos After a while we realised we could see one of the little roads cutting through the forest. Partway through the walk we came to a crossroads with several possible directions and we didn't have a clue which one was correct. After looking at our photo of the map, we eventually realised that the scratches on this sign post were showing us the way to go. It was quite a sharp turn (we'd come from the wider track and the arrow was pointing up the narrower path). We could easily have missed it and gone the wrong way! The next part of the walk continued to have some amazing views. It hasn't come out very clearly in the photos, but at this point we could see the sea in the distance The narrow path eventually took us back to where we had started. Then it was back in the car again, towards our next destination. Our next destination was a place called Cedar Valley, described in the guidebook as being one of the most picturesque places in Cyprus. We found it about 15 minutes further on and parked in the small car park. It wasn't immediately obvious what there was to see, so we started following the only signposted footpath which we could find. The path led uphill through the forest. Finally we started to see some cedars! They have a rather distinctive shape. They were growing in amongst lots of other trees though, so sometimes we had to look quite carefully to be able to pick them out. I had thought the walk was just going to be a stroll, but it ended up taking us quite steeply uphill. We could look down towards the road we'd been driving on. Unbeknown to us we were climbing to the top of Mount Tripylos. When we finally got there, there were some great views though Then it was time to head back down towards the cedars again Once we got back in the car, we started driving towards Platres, our destination for the evening. On the way we passed the Kykkos monastery. This is apparently the richest and most famous monastery in Cyprus. From there it wasn't far to Platres. We found the village without any problems, but finding the correct address for our accommodation was a bit more challenging. We got there in the end though and found we've got quite a spacious house for the next two nights. In addition to a nice living area with a kitchen... ...we've got a bedroom with a four poster bed... ...and a spare bedroom in case we fall out We've also got an outdoor area... ...with some nice views. We were pretty hungry by this point, so we walked uphill into the centre of Platres to find some food. We found a nice restaurant, where I had chicken souvlaki again and Tim had a chicken schnitzel. He didn't get to eat all of it himself though, because he made a new friend Afterwards we had more baklava and coffee. Tim ordered something which on the menu was called "Cyprus coffee". It turned out to be very similar to Turkish coffee. The sun was just setting as we made our way back to the apartment. It's been another lovely day, and we're looking forward to exploring more of the region tomorrow
  6. We had a leisurely start to the morning in our apartment before getting in the hire car and driving north from Paphos, towards the town of Polis. The route took us through the built up coastal area outside Paphos, before turning inland and taking us through increasingly hilly countryside, towards the island's northern coast. As we drove along we saw fields of rather unusual trees by the side of the road... The fruit was mostly wrapped in blue plastic, presumably to protect it, so it took a while before I realised they were banana trees Once we reached Polis, we turned left along a pretty coast road. Our destination was the Akamas peninsula, a small peninsula sticking out into the sea at the northwestern corner of Cyprus. The peninsula is protected as a nature reserve and has escaped the sort of development which has taken place along much of the island's coastline, because until 2000 it was used by the British army as a shooting range. There's no shooting these days, but that history, combined with the remote location, mean that there are not even any tarmac roads on the peninsula. The coast road eventually comes to an end at a car park, and you can only travel onwards by foot or on a jeep tour. A lot of people who come here don't, in fact, intend to go very far at all, but have come to visit a tourist attraction called "The Baths of Aphrodite". This is a pool where legend says that the goddess Aphrodite used to bathe. From the car park, a well-signposted path led uphill towards the baths. When we got there, I think it's fair to say that we both found it a bit underwhelming It looked like quite a dark, dank pool and it smelled a bit funny. There was some water dripping down from the rocks, which was quite pretty, but we didn't linger long. Fortunately, we hadn't just come to Akamas to see the baths There are several signposted walks on the peninsula. I had been considering doing the easiest one, which is a flat 6km walk along the dirt road you can see in the photo below. In the end we decided against it, because I realised this was the same road that the jeep tours go down, and having dust blown in our faces by passing jeeps for 6km didn't sound like a very attractive prospect. Instead, we opted to follow another signposted walk, the Aphrodite trail. This one was described by the guidebook as harder, and I knew it definitely wasn't going to be flat. We were soon climbing high above the dirt road. The path was quite relentlessly uphill at the start, but the views were spectacular. In one direction we could see the sea and the northern coast of Cyprus... ...while in the other direction, we could see the forested interior of the peninsula. There were a few other people on the path, but it wasn't busy by any stretch of the imagination. We were soon so high above the parking area that we thought we must nearly be at the top. The path led us through a bit of forest... ...and then flattened off for a while. I'd read that the route was about 7.5km. After over an hour, we figured we must be almost halfway round. Haha, no We passed a marker telling us that all our exertions so far had taken us a mere 2km. And it soon became clear that there was a lot more uphill to go! Could this be the top? Nope! The path was extremely rocky in places and I was very glad that I'd managed to fit my walking boots into my carry-on sized suitcase. There's no way we could have done this in trainers! We found a bench for a much-needed rest Not long afterwards we came to a flatter path through the forest, where there was a map showing the route. We were doing the Aphrodite Trail and had come from the small red dot at the Baths of Aphrodite to the other small red dot labelled Pyrgos tis Rigenas. So there still seemed to be quite a lot of the trail left to do! The good news is that the rockiest part was now behind us. The next stage of the walk was easier, although still uphill, along a forest road. Brown metal signs with arrows cut into them showed us the way. They were actually quite hard to catch sight of, often camouflaged into the surroundings. The highest point of the walk was ultimately just below the rocky outcrop which you can see on this photo. A bit further up the forest road... and then we were there We really could see for miles along the coast. But I didn't realise that the best views were actually about to come as we started to descend. Wow. We could now see all the way along the peninsula and it was really beautiful I couldn't devote all my time to looking at the scenery though, because parts of the walk down were a bit challenging! The path zigzagged its way down the hillside. In some places it was quite narrow, in other places it was covered in rather slippery gravel, and in some places it was both. In other places there were big rocky steps to negotiate. Overall, probably a walk which would have been better with a pole. But I definitely couldn't have fitted that into my suitcase The path descended quite quickly and so it wasn't long until we were quite far below the rocks. And of course, as we got lower we were closer to the wonderful views of the sea. It was such a beautiful shade of blue Eventually the narrow path began to come to an end... ...and we were walking on part of the flatter forest road which we would have taken if we'd done the other walk. There was a bit more uphill involved here, as the road wound its way around the hillside. Now that we were lower we had a better view of the cliffs. The peninsula definitely has a very rocky coastline. There wasn't much further left to go now. We did get passed by a couple of jeeps en route which, as predicted, blew a fair bit of dust into the air, but apart from that it was a pleasant end to the walk. Bizarrely we did also get passed by someone who was trying to drive a small Kia rental car along the track as well, despite this sign! It was a really spectacular walk but quite tiring, so we were both pretty hungry by this stage. Tim drove us down the coast a bit to the small town of Latsi. It was around 3pm by this point, so past the traditional lunchtime, but we found a restaurant by the sea that was still serving food Tim had beef stifado, which seemed to be like a Greek beef stew, while I had chicken souvlaki. We shared some baklava for pudding (well, I may have eaten most of it!) plus an iced coffee for me and milkshake for Tim. It was really pretty on the beach... ....and we could look back towards where we'd been on the peninsula. Overall it was a really great day and we've had a brilliant time so far in Cyprus Tomorrow we will be leaving Paphos behind and travelling on to our next destination: Platres.
  7. We had a relatively early start this morning, because we needed to be at the airport for 10am to collect our hire car. When I was initially planning the holiday, renting a car from the airport seemed like a good idea compared to trying to find our way to some random other place in Paphos to pick up a car. At least we knew where the airport was and that there would be a bus to it. I hadn't realised though that the buses to the airport are so infrequent, which meant we needed to leave the apartment at 08.45 to get to the airport for 10. And I also had no idea that Paphos is absolutely bursting with hire car agencies. Our apartment is literally next door to one and on the walk from there to the bus station we must have passed about 20. Never mind, I will know if we come again We got to the airport without any difficulty and waited outside departures for someone to arrive with our car. We had to wait for 15 minutes or so, but when the guy turned up it was the most informal car hire in the world. The man didn't mark the location of scratches on the rental agreement or even want to see Tim's driving licence. There was a fair bit of damage to the car, so Tim made sure to take a video of it before we drove off. Our destination for today was the archaeological site at Kourion, about 40 miles to the east of Paphos, near the town of Limassol. It was a pretty straightforward journey, although navigating on this holiday isn't going to be quite as smooth as I'd hoped because, unlike cars we've rented in Sicily and Iceland, this one is quite old-fashioned and doesn't have any USB sockets. We were planning to plug my phone into a USB socket and use it as a satnav, because we couldn't get a map of Cyprus for our actual satnav. We can still do that to some extent, but using the phone to navigate kills the battery pretty quickly, and it definitely wouldn't last for an entire day of driving. So we may have to do some more old-fashioned navigating at times and save the phone for trickier parts of our routes Kourion is located within the British Overseas Territory of Akrotiri, which is one of two bits of the island of Cyprus which Britain retained when Cyprus gained independence in 1960. There are some large military bases here and as we got close to Kourion, we passed lots of buildings protected by high fences, as well as roads with names like "Isle of Wight Road" and lots of signs forbidding any photography. Once we got to Kourion, it cost €4.50 each to get in. The site is on a hill overlooking the sea and just from the carpark we had a great view There was a town here until around the 4th century, when it was destroyed by earthquakes. The first sight we came to was the remains of a large villa, whose floor was decorated with mosaics. A large TUI coach had just been leaving as we were arriving and it was much quieter here than it had been around the mosaics in Paphos yesterday I'd managed to pick up a map in English today and we followed that towards the next attraction, which was an ancient theatre. It was in a beautiful location, overlooking the sea. Apparently it could sit 3,500 people, but it didn't feel anywhere near as big as the theatre we saw in Plovdiv last month, so I was brave enough to climb down to the bottom of this one Again, this was quite a large site and so we had a bit of a walk uphill towards the rest of the sights. This was signposted as the "Earthquake House". The house was originally built in early second century and destroyed by earthquakes in the fourth century. We climbed higher towards a viewpoint. From here there was an even better view of the sea and we could see some amazing cliffs. We were walking towards the ruins of an early Christian basilica. We could make out some of the arches which had once formed part of the church. There were some very pretty columns too. As you can see from the photos, there weren't too many other people here and we were able to explore in peace Moving on, we came to the remains of the town's thermal baths. There were walkways here around the floors, but they weren't quite as impressive as the mosaics we'd already seen. We continued to walk around the site, getting some even better views of the cliffs. We came to the remains of a villa known as the House of the Gladiators. From the mosaics, it was obvious why We'd reached the edge of the site by this point, so it was time to retrace our steps back to the car. We'd only been driving for a couple of minutes when we saw a sign which looked like it was pointing towards another archaeological site. This was the sanctuary of Apollo Hylates. The remains here date from the first century AD. If Kourion had been quiet, this place was practically deserted and we were able to explore almost completely on our own The most striking ruin is the temple of Apollo. There's just enough of it left to give a tantalising glimpse of what it would once have looked like. Apollo was worshipped here as early as the 8th century BC, although the ruins today mostly date from the 1st century AD. It was a really pretty place to visit anyway and the benefit of hiring a car is being able to make spontaneous stops like this Tomorrow we plan to do some more exploring, this time in the northwestern part of the island.
  8. Clare

    Day 2: Paphos

    It was a beautiful sunny day when we woke up in Paphos this morning, and after nearly 10 hours sleep we were feeling a lot more awake. We had a relaxing breakfast on the terrace, before setting out to explore the town. Before I started planning our trip to Cyprus, my assumption had been that Paphos was just the sort of place people come for a beach holiday. Once I started reading the guidebook though, I realised that there were several archaeological sites around the town, and that was what we were hoping to see today. Our first stop was the ruins of the Chrysopolitissa basilica. These are the remains of an early Christian basilica, built in the 4th century AD, whose floor was entirely covered in mosaics. You can still see a bit of them today. Within the ruins are the remains of a pillar (the one on the right), known as St Paul's pillar, which tradition says that St Paul was tied to and beaten during the course of a missionary visit to Cyprus. There is also a smaller church, called Agia Kyriaki, which was built around 1500. It was a really pretty place to walk around And there weren't too many other tourists, which was good. From the church, we walked down towards the seafront. We wanted to see Paphos castle. Originally built as a Byzantine fort, it was dismantled by the Venetians in 1570 but later restored by the Ottomans. It's a very square castle, so it was difficult to take a good photo of it! There were some nice views of the sea from the rocks beside it though. Not far from the castle is the entrance to Paphos Archaeological Park. It cost €4.50 each to get in, which felt like a bargain, because the park covers quite a large geographical area. The main attraction of the park is the remains of four Roman villas. They all have beautiful mosaic floors, which are very well preserved. The most elaborate mosaics are in covered areas to protect them, but there were some that we could just wander around outside and look at too That turned out to be a blessing, because there were some tour buses here, and some of the areas with covered walkways were incredibly busy if you had the misfortune to arrive at the same time as a tour group was being shown around. We managed to push our way around a little bit to see some of the most impressive mosaics... ...but one villa in particular was so busy (with a group that looked like they had come off a cruise ship) that we had to give up and go back outside. Happily there were plenty of Roman remains to see outside too And away from the mosaics, the park was almost deserted. We caught sight of a white lighthouse in the distance and decided to walk towards it. While there are tonnes of British tourists in Paphos, the second biggest group of tourists here appears to be Russian. There are Russian signs everywhere; on estate agents, car rental agencies and restaurants. I'd even accidentally picked up the Russian version of the free map for the archaeological park and so I was able to learn the word for lighthouse: маяк The lighthouse is comparatively modern, built in 1888 when Paphos was occupied by the British. When we were walking towards it from the middle of the park it gave the bizarre impression of being inland, but once we got up closer we could see the sea It was also nice that we could see inland a bit towards the interior of the island, which looks quite hilly From the lighthouse it wasn't far to the remains of the Roman theatre. The large flat space in front of the theatre is where the Roman forum once was, but there isn't much left of that now. Beyond the forum, the far end of the park was really deserted and it was less clear what the various ruins were. We did find an enormous cactus though As we walked back towards the centre of the park, we found what looked like the remains of a castle. These are the remains of Saranta Kolones, a ruined fortress. It's thought that it was built in the 7th century and was destroyed by a strong earthquake in the area in 1222. From here we had a lovely view back towards the lighthouse We'd seen the majority of the park now so we went outside, drank a very large bottle of water, and then started walking back in the direction of our apartment. Paphos' other main archaeological attraction is not far from where we are staying and has a rather ominous name: the Tombs of the Kings. This slightly strange place is a world heritage site, consisting of a collection of underground tombs, dating back to around 4 BC. This is where the aristocrats of ancient Paphos would have been buried. The whole site is on a beautiful location by the sea. It was quite breezy here, which was nice on what had otherwise been a very warm day. I thought better of sitting on the wall though once I saw the size of the local lizards You could probably have stayed here a lot longer if you were interested in tombs. We may only have stayed for about 20 minutes, before going back to the apartment to cool down for a while In the late afternoon we went out again and walked in the opposite direction to normal, climbing uphill towards the higher town of Ktima Paphos. The guidebook had said that the old town here was interesting, but we failed to find it very photogenic. The most attractive building was this enormous mosque, located in what was historically the Turkish part of town. The mosque was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, on the remains of what was a Byzantine church. Once we'd seen the mosque, we walked back down the hill towards the lower town. We had dinner at a restaurant not far from the apartment, which involved some rather impressive desserts Tomorrow we're picking up our hire car and looking forward to exploring some more of the island
  9. Even by our standards it was a very early start this morning, with a 07.15 flight from Gatwick. We'd booked some cheap airport parking at a small hotel, which turned out to only run a shuttle to Gatwick twice an hour, so although we were technically booked into it for 04.30, we were aiming to arrive by 04.15 to make sure we had time to hand over the car keys etc before the 04.30 shuttle. Counting backwards, that meant we needed to leave Nuneaton at the incredibly early hour of 01.45 Normally when we leave home at about 03.00 to catch early flights, we see lots of taxis around Nuneaton bringing people home from nights out in Birmingham. But today we were too early even to see that; everywhere was completely deserted. We got to the parking for 04.15 and checked in with plenty of time for the shuttle. This was another one of those low-budget affairs where the same person is manning the reception and driving the shuttle, which I guess is why it only runs twice an hour. After our horrendous experience checking in at Gatwick with Thomas Cook on the way to Burgas, I was a little bit apprehensive about checking in today, but it turned out that the Easyjet check in couldn't have been more efficient. There were no desks - just a huge row of self service baggage drop machines - and we barely had to wait any time at all. That meant we had plenty of time for breakfast in the airport, which was good because it was probably going to be early evening before we got any more food. The flight to Cyprus is quite a long one, at 4.5 hours, and there is a two-hour time difference to the UK. That meant that although it felt like we had a really early flight at 07.15, it was going to be 13.45 by the time our plane touched down in Cyprus. Luckily for such a long flight, the plane turned out to be quite nice and it wasn't 100% orange inside, which is always a concern with Easyjet I think I fell asleep during the safety demonstration (I have no recollection of take off!) and I woke up properly a couple of hours later when the pilot made an announcement about the flight path. We were flying over Belgrade at that point, which he said was the midpoint of the route, before carrying on across Sofia and Plovdiv, into Greece and then across southern Turkey towards Cyprus. Unfortunately, the whole of Europe seemed to be covered in cloud today and so there wasn't much of a view. The cloud only began to break up as we flew over Turkey and the sky didn't become completely clear until we were flying over the sea towards Cyprus. Passport control at Paphos airport was rather unusual. We had to scan our passports at a small machine, not dissimilar to the sort of check-in machine that prints boarding passes, and then look into a camera. The machine took a photo of us, which it then printed onto a slip of paper, together with our names, passport numbers etc. We then had to walk past a man sitting at a passport control desk, who just collected up the slips of paper without looking at them. Never seen a system quite like that anywhere else! When I was planning the holiday a couple of weeks ago, I spent quite a lot of time trying to figure out how to get to Paphos from the airport. The airport is less than 10 miles outside the main town, but the airport buses run really infrequently. The first bus I found, which runs from the airport to quite close by where we are staying, only runs four times a day for example. Eventually I found another bus, the 612, which runs once an hour or so to the main bus station in Paphos. The next one was due at 14.35, so we had a bit of time to kill in the airport. When we got to the bus stop, there were only a handful of other people waiting for the bus. It seems to be one of those airports where almost everyone is getting onto a tour operator coach or taking a taxi. When I'd researched taxis online, it seemed like they cost around €30, while the airport bus only cost us €1.50 each It was a slightly bumpy ride though and it seemed to take quite a roundabout route, taking around 30 minutes to cover the fairly short distance to the centre of Paphos. Once we got off the bus, we could see the sea straightaway. Probably the best view we've ever had from a bus station It was a walk of just over a mile from here towards our apartment. We found it without too much difficulty and the owner met us outside. It turned out to be much bigger than I was expecting, with a bedroom and outdoor terrace... ...kitchen with another terrace... ...plus a living area. It seems like really good value for €50/night. There's a clear British influence on Cyprus; we'd already been surprised to find out that they drive on the left hand side of the road here, and we were even more surprised once we'd settled in to the apartment and found that all the plug sockets were British too and we didn't need our adapters! Some things felt very reminiscent of Greece, though! Despite the extra sleep on the plane, I was still pretty tired and definitely needed a nap by this point. I slept for about an hour, so it was around 17.30 by the time we left the apartment and started walking back into the centre of Paphos. We passed what looked like an interesting building... ...and turned out to be a slightly bizarre Roman-themed hotel. Soon we were back near the bus station where we'd got off the bus earlier in the afternoon. One consequence of going away in October is that, although somewhere like Cyprus is still really warm, it starts getting dark pretty early. The seafront area is pedestrianised, so we had a little stroll along in the sunset. I'd booked an apartment away from the centre of Paphos in case it turned out to be full of drunk English people, but so far it seemed pretty quiet We stopped at a restaurant by the sea to have dinner. The main courses were a bit mediocre, but we had delicious baklava for pudding. By the time we'd finished eating, it was completely dark. Tonight is definitely going to be an early night, but we're looking forward to exploring more of Paphos tomorrow
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