Dove’s passport arrives around noon. By the evening we had tickets booked to Cyprus.
“Why Cyprus?” friends would ask?
“Easy. It’s the only country we haven’t been to that will also let us in!” was our usual fun response. In seriousness, it was a new country for me, a beautiful Mediterranean country no less, one steeped in history, and also one that I pondered visiting in 1996 when I was in Israel, but never happened. There was a subtle motivation in play as well, as I was trying to hit 100 countires this trip.
Our flight had a 17-hour layover in Zurich, a place I also hadn’’ been, but current covid news research suggested we wouldn’t be allowed to leave the airport. The reason: Switzerland was closed to Americans. Imagine that. Was the last time this Switzerland was closed to Americans in WW2?
Some other pre-departure planning: Because our flight had two stops, one in a non-EU country, and two in the shengen region, there was ambiguity and a lot of immigration and airport transit research to do. Even though we had been vaccinated a few months back, the rules weren’t entirely clear for a third county persons, as we were called. But one thing was clear, we weren’t entitled to ‘free movement’ as the rules stipulated, a privilege only granted to citizens of the precocious mentioned Shengen zone.
“So what’s the diff between shengen, euro zone, EU?” I asked a fellow traveler one day. In a strong accent he tried to explain it all to me, with little success.
“It’s kind of like a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not always a square.” From this moment on, I knew it was going to be an adventure.
Tuesday, June 15 — Flying
We Lyft to the airport and arrive about 3 hours early. The check in is slightly frustrating because the clerk simply says, "I can't check you in." which cause my heart to skip a couple of beats. A supervisor comes over. We show our passports, our vaccination cards, our CyprusFlightPass which gives us clearance to fly. We even show a rapid antigen test we took a day before as a backup. I soon realize the problem is not with us, but with a lack of clarity on all ends as to what protocols are in places for traveling in times of covid. This will become a continuing them through our journey, one that is revisited time again, and with always a tinge of uncertainty. At the end of the day though, it's best to have a paper, any paper really, when one is asked for. The worste result, as alays when traveling, is to come up empty handed when a paper is asked for, even if it isn't necessary or needed. Just give them a piece of official looking paper, keep calm and carry on.
Turns out the United Polaris lounge is closed, and will continue to be so for the rest of 2021. Huge bummer as the lounge is new and fantastic! We head over to terminal 3, and use the only open lounge, which is nice enough. We grab some nuts, and other snacks and try and relax a bit.
We board Swiss Air flight LX 39 and our Boeing 777-300ER takes off from SFO at 7:55pm. It is a wonderful flight, in all regards, especually in the Swiss chocolate realm, and like many things, ends a wee bit too early.
Wednesday, June 16 — Flying
We exit our plane reluctantly and wander aimlesly around the Zurich airport. With Switzerland being closed to Americans, we are forced to stay within the confines of the secure part of the airport; a strange time indeed. After some time, we board Aegean Airlines flight A3 853 and our Airbus A321-200 takes off, on time, at 6:35pm. It is on this flight we discover the navy blue masks the flight attendants are wearing, and ask for several, to replace our black masks, which are becoming quite commonplace. Some two hours later, we land in Athens and transfer to Olympic Airlines flight A3 7910. Upon boarding, we ask the flight staff for more of those navy masks, as we are really beginning to like them. Our Airbus A320-200 takes off at 11:15pm. We land in LCA Larnaca International Airport some 90 minutes later, thrilled to finally be in Cyprus. Getting off the plane is a bit confusing, and there is a long line forming on the skyway. Certain people are going to one place while we are ushered somewhere else. I ask one guy what's up and he says the other group is not vaccinated and getting covid tested and going in quarantine until their results arrive. We are a bit more lucky, as we breeze right through immigration, we grab our bags, slip through customs unmolested and are no sooner met by a man holding a sign with my name. We zip off into the Cypriot night towards our digs for the next day and a half, the Les Palmiers Beach Hotel.
Thursday, June 17 — Larnaca
We land at Larnaca International Airport LAC at 12:44am. Upon exiting the plane, a staff member asked to see our Cyprus flight pass. Apparently, people who are not vaccinated must go down to the apron cement and take a rapid covid test and await their results.
We grab our bags and are met by a nice driver holding a sign with my name. We load up into his Mercedes van and drive to the Les Palmiers Beach Hotel. We check into room 501.
Jet lagged, I wake at around 4am, lie about a bit in bed but eventually muster up the motivation for a morning walk around the deserted neighborhood.
Afternoon at the beach
Dinner at Psarolimano Tavern consisting of swordfish kebab, grilled octopus, Cyprus salad, and grilled haloumi cheeses with tomatoe marmalade.
Plateia Faneromenis - cafe scene in Nicosia around church of Panayia Phaneromenis
Friday, June 18 — Nicosia
Early Morning walk around the old city with dilapitated buildings. Great breakfast of farmers cheese, feta cheeses, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermellon, yellow mellon, havla, apricots, scrambeled eggs that are so fluffy, milky oats, beans, cappuchino
Visit the Agios Lazaros churhc and the Castle of Larnaca
We check out and roll over to the
Catch Intercity bus 42 to Nicosia. The hour bus is nice and various passengers from all over the world get on and off at various stops along the way. At the final stop at Dionysios Solomos Square we exit, grab our bags and head to the Centrum Hotel.
Dinner at Piatsa Gourounaki (which translated as the place where little piglets meet and greetzincluding). We ordered a mbougiournti with mboukovo (Roast feta cheese with tomatoe, spicy peppers and gouda cheese), chicken kebob, lamb kebab, olives,
Saturday, June 19 — Nicosia / Lefkoşa
We cross the green line and wander around
Turkish coffee at Simit Dünyası
We cross back into Cyprus proper and I stumble home, exhuasted
Meze dinner at Ορφέας Kafestiatorio Orfeas (aka Orpheas Taverna) near the Fumagusta gate
59GC+GGJ, Αθήνας, Nicosia, Cyprus. We ordered the meze which came with olive paste, lamb orphan, eggplant sauce, etc.
Sunday, June 20 — Lofou
We stumble down to a so-so breakfast of packaged yogurt, fried eggs, cold oats & milk, chocolate waffers, and coffee. After a deep research, we check out and walk to the bus station. We catch Intercity bus #25 at noon and head toward Limassol (Lemesós). There are two Nigerian students sitting in front of us. We have a qucik chat. After about an hour we arrive to the ocean and see about 10 cruise ships anchored off the coast. Apparently they are sheltering there until cruising begins again. Some moments later we get off at the Georgiou 'A bus stop. A stroll west and find the Europcar rental. After an insightful chat with the worker (who kept the location open later on our behalf) we roll out in the latest rental, an automatic Nssan March.
We drive up to Lofou, really enjoying the freedom of our own wheels. We wind up road B8 and into the surrounding hills. Interestingly, Google maps takes us through a stone village with an extremely narrow passage. I putter through the passage of about 75 meters, going very slowly. We nail a bougainvillea growing above but manage to not hit the stone walls of the passage. Some minutes later we find Lofou and even some parking next to the Agrovino Lofou rooms, where we'll spend the night.
We are not sure where to check in, so we venture into the adjoinging restaurant; the scene is straight out of a movie. At the entrance, there is a chef BBQing some meat on a charcoal grill. Music is playing, diners are reveling, the entire courtyard, even though it has no roof, is surrounded by the same wall of stones like the buildings. We continue through to another room where there is a busy bar on the right, a table in the middle of the room with kids eating, watching TV and playing video games. All around the the tables are diners, family members, kitchen staff, etc. moving about in what seems like complete randomness. Someone spots us, checks us in and give us an old-school room key for Romm #4. Room 4 is a restored traditaion room, with an stone arch in the middle supporting the roof. A kitchenette is off to the right and the a king-size bed flanks the back stone wall. It is heaven, especailly for an American who seldom gets an experience like this
We wander around the stone village for an hour or so
For dinner we head to the guesthouse restaurant named Lofou Taverna. We meet Zara's professor Nicos and his wife Clair. We order beef stifado, a Cypriot stew made of beef chuck stewed in a gravy with carmelized onions, tomatoes, cummin, red wine and other spcies. We also had trout, small mezes, potatoes and a bottle of sauvignon blanc from Oenou Yi.
Monday, June 21 — Lofou
Slept ok, still jet lagging a tad. We woke and had a nice breakfast in the Lofou Agrovino of fried eggs, homemade green olives with marinated lemon and peel, black olives, olive bread, very ripe and wonderful dark plums, greek yogurt, pomogranite marmalade, coffee, meats, yum.
Today is Whit Monday, a n national holiday, so after a deep-dive research project, we had out on our Troodos monastary tour, expecting some scheudle irregularities and maybe some crowds enjoying their Monday off from work and life. Our first stop takes us to the the 11th-century Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis (Ιερός Ναός Αγίου Νικολάου της Στέγης). On the way it begins to rain a bit, and then very hard. We arrive to a parking lot with a sign that interesingly says closed Monday, but, as luck would have it, they are open. "You are very lucky as I had some work here today," said the attendent at the souvenir kiosk. We enter the ancient, stone monestary, and see gorgeous frescos painted all over the walls and ceilings. Many of the paintings are nearly 1,000 years old. It's mesmorizing. Sevaral signs say "no photos, even without flash" but the attendant still gives me permission to take photos because "there is no one else here."
Next we head to Panagia Podithou (Ιερός Ναός Παναγίας της Ποδίθου). Again it starts pouring rain but when we arrive, the rains ceases. This 16-the century monestary is defintely closed Monday, and even if it wasn't Monday, we'd still need to call a number pinned to the door to have someone come down to open the church. I wander around the perimeter of the church, checking to see if there is any way in, but to no avail. Still, the setting is beuatiful. The church is down a semi-dirt/paved road, lined with olved trees. There is an aromatic sage plant growing near the churhc giving the whole area a fresh scent. After some time we head on.
Our next stop, another 25 minutes north, takes us back down the mountain and into dry, flat land. Again, a torential rain hits us. We briefly get lost in Nikitari town, but eventually localted the Panagia Forviotissa, aka Church of Panagia tis Asinou. The door is open and we are the only ones inside. The caretaker lets us take some photos while enjoying the 12th-century frescos. the monestary is amazing. As we exit, the sun comes out in full, letting us take some amazing shots of the outside of the structure. The whole time, we hear some live music coming from a nearby taverna, so head across the street to check it out. The menu outside looks great, so we sit down, have some mezes, and enjoy the live music. I order a lamb lamb kleftiko, which soon arrives. It is very tender, and served with olives, potatos, orza salad with olives, red pepper, a really nice village salad with an excellent olive oil dressing. The musician is playing classic Cypriot songs, and at one point, a staff member gets up and sings. We server gives us a small shot of a local 50% liquor, and then another.
After lunch, we meander back towards Lofou and stop at the Ayia Mavri winery. The owner, an elder man, gives us a great tour. He teaches me that grapes are picked when their sugar content is around 13%, 14%, 15% etc. When the grapes are crushed and fermenting, the natural yeast that grows on the grapes eats the sugars and converts the sugar to alcohol at a rate proportional so that 13% sugar becomes a 13% alcohol wine. 15% sugar becomes 15% alcohol. Interestingly, if the sugar content is above 15%, the yeast eat the sugar and convert it to alcohol until the wine reaches 15% alcohol, but then the yeast die (becaus the alcohol becomes to strong), the sugar conversion ceases, and the remain sugar remains in the wine. For intance, graps picked with 20% sugar, turn into wine with 15% alcohol and 5% sugar, a semi-sweet wine. Yum!
For dinner we head to Olmodo, but by chance pass by the Oenou Yi wiery, whose wine we enjoyed the previous evening. Though the tastking counter is closed, the staff let us wander a bit to enjoy the early evening view. Whoever owns this place has a lot of dough because the modern architecture works perfectly somehow with the ancient landscape that surrounds. There is also a selection of Land Rovers of various age parked in the parking lot, perhaps to escort customers around the vineyards. We continue onto the Ambelothea Tavern, one of the few places open on this holiday. We meet Nicos (Zara's professor) and Clair for a round 2 dinner epic of meze tahini, traditional Cypriot talatouri sauce (tzatziki), village salad, zucchini, griled tender chicken and super yummy potatos fried in oil. We pair with a red Ktima Gerolemo wine made from maratheftiko (mαραθεύτικο) grapes which are an ancient grape variety indigenous to Cyprus. After dinner, we have a nice windy drive home in the dark, with the windows down, passing ancient villages. It is lovely.
Tuesday, June 22 — Paphos
Early morning walk around the village, a nice breakfast in the courtyard of fried eggs, cyprus yogurt with pomegranite jam and local honey, homemade green olives with lemon, kalmata olives, haloumi cheese, coffee and milk. One our clothes dry, we reluctantly check out, but for a soft-landing back to reality we make a game-time decision to visith the Vlassides Winery near Koilani village. The idea pays off as we are rewarded with sweeping views of vineyards and terraced fields on the opposing mountain side. I can't believe the ancients terraced the entire mountain side. We sample some local Cypriot white wine made from Xinisteri grapes, as well as a red blend made from local agiorgitiko grapes and mataro grapes from the Peloponnese region of Greece.We also try the locally-grown sauvignon blanc, dry shiraz and cabernet sauvignon.
We continue our drive, heading down the mountain passing terraced fields supported by ancient stone walls; it is truely an amazing site that no one seems to notice or even care about. I wonder how old the stone walls and terraced fields are, and what they planted there eons ago. About an hour later we arrive to the Helios Bay Hotel, check into room 110 and chill for a bit enjoying the sea breeze. We head down to the local Kotsias Beach, which is a blue flag beach, but sadly there are a ot of plastic bits on the beach and seaweed and plastic in the water. It's not so bad if you swim out a bit, and as the blue flag suggests, at least the water is clean from industrial waste and sewage.
For dinner we head to highly-rated Psarou fish taverna. For some reason everyone is parked on the sidewalk, so I also find a spot on the sidewalk just in time to force some pedestrians to walk in the seat. We seat on the patio and order a phenominal fish meza, which starts with fish roe dip called Taramosalata, which is made of fish roe from carp called tarama, onion, soaked bread, olive oil and lemon. We also have a nice garlic tahini and a cheese dip, olives, Cyrpus salad, some type of pickled local plant that is similar to rosemary, and of course olives. The meal continues with grilled tender octopus and squid. We are then treated to fried prawns and kalamarakia tiganita (fried squid, aka calamari in Italy), a seafood risoto of mussels and fish, baby red snapper and a local fish similar to sardines, and then a grilled seabream. Watermellon in season for dessert. What a lovely meal. After dinner the waiter gives me a glass of dry sauvignon blanc which.
Wednesday, June 23 — Paphos
I wake early morning walk along the the beach path. I realize that if will be in our best interest to wake early to enjoy the cool weather, take a mid-day hiatus, and then continue on in the afternoon when the sun and heat settle. Anyhow, I head for quick breakfast or large, black olives, greek-style yogurt, and halved apricots. I decide to extend the room and the hotel owner complemnts my accent, to which I jokingly tell him I have none. I drive to Tombs of the Kings (Τάφοι των Βασιλέων) and tour the site for two hours. Tomb 3 is impressive with the detailed doric columns. Tomb 4 is more eroded but still nice. I missed tomb 7, so I walked back out and got a view of Venus Beach, a popular spot with the Russian set. The suggestin to go early in the morning paid off, because it got hot fast.
After the morning touring we chill in the room. Head to Coral Bay beach. Dinner at Argo, we order beef stifado, grilled sea bass, stuffed tomoato with rice and minced meat inside, and a Cyprus salad. We paired with an ouzo.
Thrsday, June 24 — Lemesos (Limassol)
Toured Nea Paphos (Paphos Archaeological Park) in the morning. After researching next steps, we book Beach Park Hotet and drive east. On the way we stop at Petra tou Romiou (Rock of the "Roman in English) or Aphrodite's Rock beach. It is a lovely place, but being midday with the strong sun and no umbrella, and with more driving ahead of us, we only spend enough time here to skip some flat rooks, of which there are many on the beach, and to snap some shots.
We continue east and take a windy side road for about 15k and pass a military installation of some sort. We take a quick stop at Kourion Archaeological Site. For tour the close pavilion and the restored amphitheatre, the views are amazing.
We finally arrive at Park Beach hotel, but there is no where to park, so we navigat around the busy blocks for another take. We end up in a random parking lot, but finally find a spot to drive up a step driveway to the recpetion. We check into room #522 with a nice seaview and breeze. We have a nice early dinner at To Kokoraki, the chicken place next door, including grilled chicken, pork gyro, salad, and ouzo. After dinner we take a long walk along the seafront into the marina in town. At one point I get so tired I nearly pass out.
Friday, June 25 — Ayia Napa
Breakfast in the hotel courtyard and we chat with a Russian family about their covid experiences. Like Americans, some Russians are afraid to take the vaccine becuase little testing has been done. To travel, Russians test before they leave, then they test again when they arrives. When the return home, to Moscow in this case, they test twice.
We research Ayia Napa plans, check out, the car rental guy arrives at the hotel, at which point I realize I have lost my watch and cannot find it. We rent a car and drive to Ayia Napa and check in to the Nissiblu Hotel, room #513. It is very nice. We do a late-afternoon swim at Nissi Beach.
For dinner, we head over to Taverna Napa and have an absolutely wonderful seafood meze with fish spread, tahini, hummos, ovlies, octopus with fava bean spread (amazing), sardines with prawns, a cured fish, maybe red mullet, fried, then cured in vinegar. It was very tasty. Grilled sea bream, grilled squid, mussels, pasta with grilled prawns, rice with grilled prawns, and paired with a brandy sour and ouzo. All served with whole wheat pita. God, we were full. Afterward, we walk two miles around the bar scene of Ayia Napa, it is insane! So this is where all the young Euros go to party! Reminds us a bit of Miami Beach, Khao san road and Mexico bar scenes all in one/
Saturday, June 26 — Ayia Napa
We awake and have a great breakfast at the buffet. It is a bit overwhelming bedcause there is so much food, and a lot of poeple, some not wearking masks, but the windows are all open and we end up eating outside. We chill by the pool all day and I snorkel from the rocks beyond the hotel over to Nissi Beach. There is a green algae-like seaweed that is floating all through the water. It is a bit concerning. In the evening we take a stroll by the neighboring Nissi Beach hotel. There is a wedding going on in the lobby. The hotel has a beautiful Mediterranean-style botanical gardens in back and a beautiful pathway underneath a tunnel of flowering plants. We continue on down Nissi beach to the Adams Hotel, explore the proptery and walk to the Latchi Adams Beach out front. The little cove is beautiful and free of seaweed. I wish I had my swimt trunks on. We stroll back toward the NissiBlue Hotel. By this time the wedding reception from the Nissi Beach hotel has moved out to the lawn and people are in a festive mood.
We continue walking along the volcanic bluff as the sun sets. At one point I find a marker sign with distances to remote cities pointing in all directions. For dinner, we hit a local Italian called Atlas Restuarant. We get a grilled sea bream, a rocket salad and are comped some epic mashed potatoes, which I don't want to eat, but I do anyhow because they taste so darn good. "It's becuase the potatoes are from the local village," informs the staff, who I assume is part of the owenership. She is very kind
After dinner we stroll around the hood and find the Sacramento Restaurant! Back at the hotel, there are poeple partying, but interestingly, they don't stop partying all night, and at one point about 5 in the morning, our neighbor decides to start shouting in the hallway and then in his room for next 30 minutes. I don't know what language he is speaking, but Zara peaks her head out and said the guy looked scary, so we just let him be/
Sunday, June 27 — Protaras
We relax in the NissiBlue hotel during the day. I take a walk over to Nissi Beach and take a swim in the Adams Beach. In the aternoon we drive over to Protaras and check into the Blue Ivy hotel, room 422. It's a nice enough hotel, but a bit of a let down after the nice time at the NissiBlu. In the late afternoon we head over to the Sea Caves for an excellent early evening swim and exploration. We meet some great expats living in Nicosia. We have chicekdinner in town at the Andama Taverna. The waiter was excited to see Americans and chatted with us a while about our journey here and his experiences visiting New Jersey and Los Angeles.
Monday, June 28 — Protaras
Today it is going to be hot. We have a nice breakfast outside. The waitress is suprised we are from San Francisco, she said we are the first ones visting from that far. It is fun being unique.
Drive over to Konnos Bay for a nice beach umbrella day.
It is here that I see the Russian guy with two models finagle his way out of paying for his umbrella, "[with a strong east Euro accent] please, please, we will only be here for 15 minutes. Please no pay." He then gives the girls a big wink. What a master negotiator.
After some hours we head over to the Blue Lagoon for an early-evening swim. The limestone juts into the sea making a perfect massive pool for swimming. There is a ladder for some people to lower in, but I just do a swimmer diver (belly flop) and swim for some time. This becomes my favorite spot. After some time we had 300 meters further south, to the gates of the lighthouse and British radio monitoring station. We check out the water here, it's just as nice, but not quite as accessible. We make a note to return tomorrow.
Drive by the Grecian Sands Hotel to find the Secret Sea Caves. It is really serene and sadly we are running out of time. Anothe note to return tomorrow!
Dinner at ?: Tomato soup
Drinks at the bar with the band doing wonderful covers of Kings of Leon, Lionel Richie, etc.
We walk around the club scene at Ayai Napa.
Monday, June 29 — Protaras
After a typical breakfast, we get sorted out. The waitress is suprised we are from San Francisco, she said we are the first ones visting from that far. It is fun being unique.
Chill in the room for a bit to sort out our flights and covid rules to Malta
Head over to the Blue Lagoon for a midday swim. The water is perfect and absolutley free of garbage. 100% visibility.
Drive the dirt road over to the Blue Holes, but can't really find them. The sea is more rough, but I take a quick swim. There is plastic in the water.
Drive up to the Monument of Peace for a great afternoon view. Sadly there are some Russians up there who are talking up a storm.
Pizza and drinks at the Grecian Sands Hotel (also use their wifi to sort out our Lebanon trip.) Afterward I take a swim in their wonderful pool and then we visit the Secret Caves
Fig Tree Bay for sunset swim.
Dinner at Traditional Cyprus Tavern Protaras, we orde the classic Cypriot dip taramosalata, made of fish roe from carp called tarama. Also ordered a fish.
Completely full, we walk around a bit, decide against the hooka bars but instead settle at the wondeful Waves bar to watch the second half of Sweden vs Ukraine. We order an ouzo and water, pay the 5 euro (what a damn good deal!) and watch the rest of the game in, what has to be, the best sprots bar on earth: perfect weather, plenty of space, many TVs, indoor/outdoor, nice service, cheap prices. What more could I possibly want?
Monday, June 30 — Flight to Beirut
The power goes out this morning, which is converning because we have to lug down all our luggeage in the mid-morning heat, which is approaching 30°C with high humidity. To make maters worse, the water is out, so no chance to take this last-minute, pro-airport dump because the toilet won't flush. Luckily though, in the last minute, the power, water, A/C and civility all turn back on. We freshen up, check out and drive to the airport.
The car rental drop off is a breeze. They barely check the car or the fuel, and the drop off is a baseball throw away from the international terminal. Another plus for Cyprus, what a wonderful, civilized country! We pass through immigration and board Cyprus Airways flight CY120. At 3:50pm our Airbus A320 takes off for Beirut