Thursday, April 8, 2010

Photos from Cyprus - with music!

So I recently discovered the Windows Movie Maker program that was pre-installed on my computer, and I find not only is it soooooo much better than posting each photo individually, but I can also add music to make the viewing experience should I put it? Like you're there, too? The video is eight and a half minutes long, but I hope you'll watch the whole thing. Make sure you have the sound turned on.

I arrived on Friday night to Larnaca. The flight was strange. I got to the Beirut airport waaaaaaay too early - more than two hours early, and there was no one there. I didn't have to wait in lines, not to pick up my boarding pass, not to go through security, and only had to wait two people to get through passport control. So I played on the internet and drank Almaza, contemplating the vast quantities of beers I've consumed in airports across the world to calm my frantic nerves. Finally, it was time to board, then we were up in the air. Then we were down. The fasten seatbelt sign was off for about five minutes. Note to airport designers - will you stop making runways next to large bodies of water? It's not very comfortable feeling like you're landing in the sea.

It was after 10pm by the time I got to my hotel. I was there for five minutes before heading out to find something to eat. It was Good Friday, so I wasn't sure I'd find anything. I wandered around the darkened streets of Laranca, not sure where I was going, or even where I was, but I eventually found a fish taverna and had fresh red mullet, fried potatoes, and a Mythos beer. It was a lovely dinner.

In the morning I was up to wander around Larnaca for a bit, heading over to the town square where St. Lazarus Church is located, which you see in the video. Everything was quite festive, as Easter is very important to Greek Cypriots (it is, after all, the whole point of Christianity.) I was on the road to Ayia Napa by 11am, checked into my hotel by noon, and on the beach by 1pm after a nice pork kabob lunch (photo in the video). But I wasn't content to just roast in the sun on the beach - I was in a new country, and I wanted to explore. Cyprus beaches are perfect for such exploration, as there are no privately owned beaches and you can walk for miles and miles and miles along the beach - there's even a very nice walking path that connects each beach and each town.

In wandering the beaches, I discovered an archeological site containing tombs used by the ancient Greeks and later the Romans and a sanctuary. For me, this was thrilling - history on the beach? The area surrounding the cemetery consisted of odd rock formations. I wondered if it were an ancient coral reef. Of course, I was climbing all over it like a playground.

Then I hit the white sands of Micronissis Beach, then Golden Beach, then Nissi Beach, then more beaches. It was two or three miles before I hit the harbor of Ayia Napa. Now, you have to understand, walking 2-3 miles is not a big deal - I walk 2 miles to work and 2 miles back several times a week. But walking 2-3 miles on mostly sand is another matter. I was tired. I needed a beer, so I had one before heading back to the hotel through the town, stopping for a dinner of fish and chips along the way. Lots of English on the island, as Cyprus was once a British colony (the fate of so many nations in the world.) They even drive on the wrong side of the road, but they do it in a civilized manner, nothing like the chaos of Lebanon.

It was Saturday, so I wanted to return to the town to find a pub with a dartboard (Amigo still beats me nearly every time, but he now likes playing with me because it's competitive and he never lets me win anymore.) I found out from the hotel bartender that there was a midnight mass on the town square with fireworks, so that's where I went. It was only about 10pm when I got there, so I wandered around for a bit, watching people celebrate Easter with fireworks and bonfires and even the kids were running around at such a late hour. The start of the mass was actually about 11:30pm; I watched men ringing the church bells, hanging on a rope that was connected to the belltower of the monastery which sat next to the main town church, and then I went to the church itself. I've never experienced an Orthodox mass, so I got in line and went into the church with a lit candle like everyone else. The church was full, so those of us in line walked in, set our candles in some sand, and left the church, but for the minute or two I was in the church, I was fascinated. The whole mass is sung (in Greek) by men (priests?) who are sitting down, and it was played over speakers in the square so those who couldn't fit into the church could hear it. It was all quite beautiful.

Right before midnight the priest and other church officials led the congregation to the stage on the main square and finished the mass. At midnight, the church bells rang out and then fireworks were let off. Afterward, I found a great British pub on the square that served...gasp...DRAFT Guinness and Slovakians playing darts. I played them and won.

The next morning I ate my English breakfast and luckily found a bike rental place that was open - it was Easter Sunday, after all. Because it was Easter and the guy would be closing early, I got to keep the bike until Monday morning, all for 4.50 euros. The other great thing about the Cyprus coast aside from the walking path is the separate bike lanes all the way down the coast. It was perfect.

The whole bad world melted away as I rode the bicycle along the coast of the Mediterranean, further and further from the tourist town, past the white sandy beaches to the rocky Eastern coast, all the way to the end of the walking path where the terrain was too rough to walk or ride. Still I continued, pushing the bike across rocks until I couldn't push any more. And then, I found one of the most perfect spots in the entire world, a cove with a flat rock floor where I could sit while having the candy blue waters of the Med wash over me with nothing but the sound of waves to harass my ears. It was total seclusion.

I had to scramble down the rocks to get to this spot. In the video you can see these rocks and the tiny bicycle perched at the top. I spent perhaps an hour there before getting back to the bike, backtracking a bit, and finding the road to the town of Protaras, another 5km away. I took a different way back, going to Cape Greco, riding through a park full of none other than Cyprus trees. I saw birds I've never seen and flowers of divine colors and I kept shaking my head because the blue of the sea is such that you can't believe your eyes. The bike path was high above the sea and everything was so wonderful.

Then the chain came off as I was changing gears.

Good thing I know a thing or two about bicycles. I turned the thing over and put it back on. Grease was everywhere, but I was back on the bike and heading back to Ayia Napa, exhausted but content.

Now, because ethnic food in Lebanon is limited, I was craving Mexican food. You don't know how much of something you take for granted until you can't have it. I hadn't realized how often I eat Mexican food in the US. But I forgot that you should never eat Mexican food outside of the Western hemisphere, because no one knows how to properly prepare it. You don't use kebab chicken for burritos. You don't use ketchup as the base for your sauce. You put hot sauce on the tables, or at least have it available. Margaritas use tequila.

Oh well, at least the guacamole was good. I went back to the hotel after that and went to bed early. Well, to bed, not to sleep. I flipped on the television and found Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on (Johnny Depp version), so I watched that and fell asleep before 10pm. (Give me a break - I haven't been on a bike in a year, and I rode nearly 30 miles in one day.)

English breakfast again in the morning, then off to Nicosia. I stayed at the Hilton, supposedly a five star hotel, but no way it's five stars in the US or Beirut. Sure, it was nice - if I had a bed like that I'd never get out of it - but I couldn't find a difference between it and a Holiday Inn in a smaller city in the US. Still, no complaints, aside from how they charged for EVERYTHING. I suppose that's why the price of the room was shockingly affordable. At least it came with a free bottle of wine - but 15 euro to use the internet for 24 hours? And that burger I had for dinner on Monday? It may have been wonderful, but it was SIXTEEN EURO. Oh well, the things I do for Cincinnati Reds baseball.

It was about 1pm by the time I got to the heart of Nicosia. I wandered around for about four hours - it was plenty of time. I had a whole other day on Tuesday to see everything else. Besides, it was a holiday. No, not Easter Monday (although many things were closed for that.) It was OPENING DAY! I got back to the hotel around 5pm and turned on WLW. The game wasn't to start for three hours, but the festivities were apparent on the radio, even if I did have to suffer through that asshole Bill Cunningham.

Then, the game! And the internet connection was great! It was a disappointing ending, and Dusty Baker lost that one (Mike Lincoln for two innings? Come on.) By the time Molina hit the grand slam in the ninth inning, it felt like Baker had already given up.

Tuesday morning I went to the National Museum. It was truly a great museum. They had stuff in there from 6000 BC and from every interesting archeological period up to the Byzantine era. So much of it was in marvelous condition, as if thousands of years hadn't passed since these things had been created. It was one of the better archeological museums I've ever seen.

After that, I headed to North Nicosia, having to stand in line to get a "visa" to this fake country. (The only country in the world that recognizes the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" is Turkey.) Standing in line felt like I was somewhere in England - everyone there was English. Apparently a lot of them live in Northern Cyprus because it's cheap (the UK is so expensive to live in that this happens in many countries - Bulgaria is one of these.)

North Nicosia is run down and obviously much poorer than the South. As my taxi driver said on the way to the airport, it's like South Nicosia twenty years ago. It had some interesting sites, mostly mosques that used to be churches, typical of the Ottoman world. Mostly it just kind of made me sad. Conflict is so stupid. I especially hate conflict over different versions of the sky genie.

When I had seen everything there was to see in North Nicosia, at least everything within walking distance, I headed back to the south and wandered around a bit. I wanted to find a supermarket to see if I could get a few things I can't get in Beirut, but oddly enough, I couldn't find a supermarket. I walked for about an hour and didn't find one. (Yeah, I could have asked someone, but I kept thinking "there has to be one up here, around this corner, down this street..."

A very odd thing happened as we descended into Beirut. I felt relief. I felt glad to be back in Beirut. I felt like I was going home. I set my things down in my room and headed out to the pub. And then Amigo proceeded to beat me four of six times in darts.

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