A Travellerspoint blog

On the Trail of Makarios

sunny 23 °C

As Mel Brooks said, “If you've got it, flaunt it,” and Cyprus has taken that motto to heart. It has sun, sand and endless blue seas, so its ragged coastline is a hotchpotch of development, (and over-development), that tries to give everyone a piece of the action.
However, in the mountains, far away from the $7 cappuccinos and constant whiff of sun-tan lotion, there are ancient villages where rural life has changed little over the centuries. Herds of goats forage for leftovers in the olive, carob and citrus groves, while locals flag down passing tourists in the hope of flogging a few figs or a cup of Nescafe. One innovative villager entertained us by feeding his cats cucumbers...
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There are hundreds of miles of tortuous mountain roads and gravel tracks and our GPS was determined to keep us on the narrowest and most treacherous of ledges as we climbed six thousand feet, high into the cedar forests, to get spectacular views...
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But our goal was the tiny village of Pano Panayia, birthplace of Archbishop Makarios. This is the room in which he was born...
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One man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist, so opinions of Archbishop Makarios and his attempts to shake off the yoke of colonialism are varied. The British eventually exiled him but, following independence in 1960, he returned and was elected President. He then found himself at war with Greek nationalists. After four failed assassination attempts by the Greeks, Makarios was ousted in a coup in 1974. The Turks invaded almost immediately, the Greeks retreated and Makarios found himself back in power in the Greek area. Following his death in 1977 Makarios was entombed on a mountain peak near the monastery of Kykkos where he had spent his early life...
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Our time on Cyprus is coming to an end and we are still ambivalent about its virtues. For sun-worshippers who enjoy the nightlife and the razzmatazz of holiday theme parks, this is certainly the place for you...
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It is also an easy place for English speakers and those used to British roads – they still have Belisha Beacons at pedestrian crossings...
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There are also places for those seeking a quiet seaside holiday in relatively quaint towns like Polis on the north coast...
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This is the pristine undeveloped beach at Polis...
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Polis is also the place where legend says that the beautiful goddess Aphrodite used to bathe naked in this spring-fed pool...
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And that, dear blog reader, is a most romantic notion on which to end our Eastern European odyssey through fifteen countries from Estonia to the very edge of the Middle East. Next stop - London - where we will be cooling off in preparation for our return home. Thanks for coming along for the ride and we hope you will join us next time on our Blissful Adventures. For now, Avrio from sunny Cyprus
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Posted by Hawkson 07:14 Archived in Cyprus Comments (5)

Cyprus's Great Divide

sunny 24 °C

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Day after day the aquamarine seas meld seamlessly into the clear blue sky and we bask in the warmth of the Mediterranean sun. But Cyprus is an enigma in so many ways. It is an historic land that has been submerged under a thick veneer of concrete. It is a land of all-inclusive resorts, British pubs, fish and chips and 'Kiss Me Quick' hats. So, for us and our friend Christine, it is far from paradise island – although there are some pretty sights...
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Cyprus is at a maritime crossroads; surrounded by countries who cling to their guns and religion with as much fervour as middle Americans. Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Israel and Egypt are all within missile range - and they all have missiles to spare – but Cyprus is not new to military conflict and the struggle continues. For instance; this is the south end of the main street in Nicosia, the capital...
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And this is the north end...
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Spot the difference? One end is in the Greek area of Cyprus while the other is in the Turkish area. One end has Christian churchgoers ringing the bells while the other end has Muslim muezzins blaring out their calls to prayer from the many minarets...
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The language, the money, the music and the food, are all miles apart, yet we only had to show our passports and walk a few yards across a heavily defended no-mans land to reach the other side. This is a Turkish bakery in the north...
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The conflict which has divided the Cypriot people and their island rumbled for decades before it came to a head in 1974 when the Turkish Army invaded from the north and sent 200,000 people fleeing from their homes. Since that time the feuding islanders have been kept apart by a UN patrolled fence. We cannot show you the fence without risk of being jailed, but it is an ugly reminder of what can happen when xenophobes take control.

Nicosia may once have been a beautiful capital, but the fence and other barriers across the old walled city has ripped its heart in two. Little ancient architecture remains beyond the once magnificent Venetian walls, but they are now car parks, garbage tips. and a handy place to store concrete paving blocks...
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We have now moved to the western end of Cyprus, to Paphos, in order to explore the Troodos mountains and visit the tomb of Archbishop Makarios - more about him later. In the meantime, here's a peek at his enormous palace in Nicosia...
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Posted by Hawkson 12:01 Archived in Cyprus Comments (4)

Adrift in the Eastern Mediterranean

All at sea in Cyprus

sunny 22 °C

Despite numerous pleas for us to return home to British Columbia to help build an ark we've decided to put up with the relentless sun on the beaches of Cyprus for another week. This is Larnaca beach at sunset...
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The island of Cyprus is like a giant ocean liner - an outwardly peaceful and prosperous mega-ship adrift in the Eastern Mediterranean sea. Around us the seas are calm, clear and warm, and for the past week there has barely been a cloud on the horizon. But all is not well below decks. However, let's first take a tour of the first class accommodation.

There are many interesting things to see on board: Byzantine castles from the 13th century...
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Three thousand year old temple ruins...
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Century old British Colonial buildings...
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And for the religiously inclined there is a wide choice of ancient Christian and Muslim monoliths...
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Our fellow passengers come from far afield but the Good Ship Cyprus is particularly beloved by Russians, Ukrainians and Brits, so almost everyone speaks some English. Navigating is easy as the Cypriots stick to the left, (like the Brits), and most signs and menus are in our native tongue. The food is excellent and inexpensive- especially the souvlaki...
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Inboard, away from the casinos, night clubs and restaurants that are strung along the outer decks, are the crumbling homes of the steerage passengers and crew – ordinary Cypriots who still work the land and grow dates, olives, grapes, pomegranates and carobs under the blazing Mediterranean sun...
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Like many great ocean liners, Cyprus has had a number of owners since its launch as a Neolithic colony some twelve thousand years ago. The Mycenaeans boarded from Greece four thousand years ago and then the Assyrians, Egyptians and Persians all trooped up the gangplank at various times. Alexander the Great seized the helm in 333 BC, but the Romans, Arabs, French and Venetians all took turns at the tiller until the Ottoman Turks grabbed the wheel in 1571 and held on until 1878. Britannia steered HMS Cyprus from 1914 to 1960 when the Cypriots were left in command – and that's when the trouble started below decks. So stay tuned for the dramatic part 2 of “Adrift in the Eastern Mediterranean.” Coming soon to a computer near you.

Posted by Hawkson 03:00 Archived in Cyprus Comments (4)

Bucharest's Potato on a Stick.

snow 0 °C

After a half a century of wars followed by decades of tyrannical rule under the egotistical despot Nicolae Ceaușescu, Romania was on its knees. Ceaușescu developed a cult of personality and bankrupted the country in the 1980s with self-agrandising mega-projects like the world's biggest parliament building in the capital, Bucharest. But his starving people revolted in 1989 and he was executed along with his wife. This 'unusual' potato on a stick monument in Freedom Square is a symbol of that revolution...
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Bucharest may be the closest we come to Asia on this trip but it has more of a French feel than its ex-Eastern Bloc neighbours. In some ways, and in some areas. Bucharest is as elegant as Paris. It even has an Arc de Triomphe at the end of a wide boulevard, and the old city is full of majestic buildings and grand hotels...
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There are truly beautiful buildings like the University Library...
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A splendid arcade of coffee houses...
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A magnificent national bank...
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It even has several branches of our favourite Parisian baker – Paul...
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Bucharest, in its day, was one of the great capitals of Europe but, like any fading Grand Dame, it could use a hefty dollop of make-up and some new togs to make it presentable. However, Bucharest was just a one night stand on our way high into the Carpathian mountains to Transylvania to visit Bran castle, home of another of Romania's despotic rulers, Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Count Dracula. In the middle of the 15th century Prince Vlad III had anyone who upset him impaled on a pikestaff so that he could enjoy watching them die from his castle...
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Whoa...Hold your pikestaffs a moment. This castle doesn't look anything like Dracula's foreboding fortress in the gloomy Transylvanian mountains - blue skies and palm trees; really?

Confession time: It started snowing on our way to Bucharest airport to pick up our hire car and some of the mountain roads were closed – so we walked straight past the car hire booths to the airline ticket office and jumped on the next flight to the sub-tropical island of Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean. So, dear blogwatcher, don't worry if you don't hear from us for a week or so. We are just chilling out in balmy Larnaca where the sandy beaches are awash in sunbathers and the fishermen are out catching our supper in the bay.

Posted by Hawkson 08:31 Archived in Romania Comments (5)

Veliko Tarnovo's Big Surpise

sunny 15 °C

In view of some recent disturbing developments you might be looking for somewhere well off the radar to hunker down for awhile, and northern Bulgaria might be just the place for you. This is the scenic mountain city of Veliko Tarnovo not far from the Romanian border...
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Wages are poor by European standards but the resultant cost of living is low. Houses can be bought for less than 10,000 euros with fully furnished villas going for less than 70 grand, ($100,000.Cdn). Retired north Europeans can snap up a bargain here and live well on an Old Age Pension. It is true that Bulgarian is not the easiest of languages, but most of the youngsters speak some English and almost everything in the shops and on restaurant menus is as British as Fish & Chips. This is a clip of menu from Hadji Nikoli Inn – a Venetian style palace built in 1856 that is now a great restaurant...
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Veliko Tarnovo, the ancient capital of Bulgaria, is not the easiest place to get to, but we took a very comfortable 3 hour minibus ride from Plovdiv for just ten Euros (15 dollars). Although the highway was busy with the latest models of trucks and cars we saw occasional glimpses of a recent past when we zipped past horse-drawn wagons laden with vegetables heading to the markets. The leeks are truly enormous - so long you can buy them by the foot..
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However, in general, city dwelling Bulgarians are bang up to date and wouldn't look or be out of place in Vancouver or London. But we're not here to see smart modern apartment blocks, multi-lane highways and teens in jeans. We are here to see history – and there is plenty of it...
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This is the 900 year old castle of Tsarevets which is too big to get into one photo – so here's another...
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The cathedral like monument replaced the original great cathedral which was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1393...
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Velika Tarnovo and its castle of Tsarevets was one of Europe's cultural strongholds after the decline of the Byzantines, but its history goes back nearly five thousand years. The city lies at a crossroads between Europe and Asia with Turkey and Ukraine on one side, Greece to the south and Hungary on the other. Bulgaria has been conquered many times and signs of previous civilizations are everywhere. The fortress in Velika Tarnovo contains old tombstones taken from Roman graves that were already a thousand years old when these walls were built...
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Despite thousands of years of conflicts and 50 years of communist rule Bulgaria has a lot to offer. Most tourists head to the ritzy all-inclusives that line the black sea shores, but we prefer the real thing – Veliko Tarnovo.

Posted by Hawkson 11:49 Archived in Bulgaria Comments (4)

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