Finally the world seems to be opening up again and I have been able to confirm travel plans to Egypt & Madagascar, however the planned stopover of two weeks in Ethiopia en route to Madagascar has been cancelled as the travel compamy decided it was still too great a risk to take people there because of the civil unrest and fighting in Tigray.
Ethiopians in that area are really suffering and having a struggle to find food & stay safe. Sadly they have experienced suffering in many different forms over the years. In the early 80s East Sussex County Council acted as hosts to some Ethiopian visitors who worked in Local Government there, as part of an Aid Programme. One man was placed in accommodation in Eastbourne and as I commuted from there each day, I gave him a lift and we had fascinating chats during the drive although I sometimes had difficulty understanding his English. One morning I was surprised to hear that many people in Ethiopia owned ships. That was NOT the image I had in my head! Remember this was not long after the Biafra famine. I tried not to
sound too shocked and asked more questions until all became clear. The ships turned out to be sheep and my brain stopped spinning. He was a lovely man who left me with postcards of the Coptic Christian treasures of Ethiopia which triggered my interest in visiting.
There seems to be so much turmoil in many parts of the world at the moment and of course it is always ordinary people who pay the price of decisions taken by people in power, as is so evident in Ukraine. But if I go down that line of thought there is no end, so I shall leave the philosophy and continue being a nomad.
In the last blog I did say I wouldn’t return to North Norfolk, but I did, back to Sutton Staithe Hotel, where, despite starting to get busy, the reserves were still fascinating as the good weather triggered early spring behaviour. Walking along the path by the side of a stream in Sculthorpe Nature Reserve I heard what I thought was a motorbike in the water. As there was a deck jutting out into the stream I peered
over to find it wasn’t an engine but I huge number of frogs mating. The noise was tremendous and more and more frogs were heading in from all directions. It was obviously the only party in town and they all wanted to join in!
At the same reserve, following directions from a very helpful lady in reception, and by standing in silence by the stream for 15 minutes, I spotted a water vole. It brought back happy memories of reading The Wind in the Willows, and performing the play at school when I was the policeman trying to apprehend Toad. At that stage I was tall for my age which is why I was the police constable. Sadly, I just didn’t grow any more!
Back at Kingfisher Bridge in Cambridgeshire I came face to face with a stoat for a couple of minutes. I love surprise viewings like that, they make my day even if the bird or animal doesn’t stay long enough to pose for a photo. The reserves in Cambridgeshire and North Norfolk really helped me cope with the difficult winter months which I find so depressing.
I am lucky to be in Cyprus, staying with friends Barry and Carolyn who have been coming to the Island for many years and who loved it so much they bought a house in 2004, in Polis, on the coast to the north of Paphos. The weather so far has been perfect, rising to mid 20s during the day but cooling down enough to need a sweater at night. By the end of May that might not be necessary as we move into full summer.
The flight out was early, so a taxi arrived at 4am. That was painful enough but on arriving at Gatwick our hearts sank on seeing how crowded it was. Queues of people wound around everywhere, being shepherded by numerous EasyJet staff. We joined on the end with thoughts of having our planned peaceful breakfast before boarding fading quickly. Then we realised that the queue moved constantly, walking round & round but with a sense of momentum and the whole system was so well organised with lots of check ins, security staff etc that in no time at all we were through to Departures and I was drinking tea and eating a bacon
bun. Well done EasyJet! That was something I never thought I would hear myself saying.
The first couple of days passed in a flurry of eating out and meeting people. By the third day we decided to have a rest and eat less! The food has been very good. I particularly like the sliced courgettes cooked with scrambled egg. Might sound weird but it is delicious, as are the dolmades and kevstedes (meatballs), but I still have many more dishes to test. The house is in a small town or large village, locals haven’t decided which. It is a few minutes walk from the sea and has been surrounded by orange and olive groves although many of the orange trees are being replaced by avocados as growers can’t get a reasonable price for the oranges. Many are left to rot on the ground which is a great shame as they are the most delicious I have ever tasted. Every night the frogs serenade us loudly, if not musically!
On the fourth day we planned to go and visit Paphos by bus, aiming to catch the 9am. I had a shower at 7.30
to make sure I was up and ready then had a small hiccup. The bathroom door wouldn’t open. I tried wriggling the key, lifting the door slightly, pulling forward, pushing back etc but eventually gave up and tapped on the door for help. Barry & Carolyn came quickly and I passed the key under the door so they could try from the outside. Still no success so after ten minutes they called the locksmith, who was out walking his dog. By this time it was after 8am. Never mind we thought, there is a ten o’clock bus.
To help pass the time, I sat on the floor, with back to wall, and Carolyn slid articles from the newspapers that she had brought with her under the door so the next hour passed quite quickly and comfortably until I tried to stand up! Having achieved that eventually ( not easy when you have set into position on a tiled floor) I did a few exercises. By this time my hair had dried unaided but in a style demonstrating its displeasure, but on the positive side, I did have a nightdress on ready to meet the locksmith when he
freed me. He arrived at 9, so I thought I would soon be released. He worked on it for 15 minutes and found that a piece of the metal had broken off and was blocking the mechanism. So he went for his drill. After another 15 minutes he went for a more industrial drill. Meanwhile I felt as though I was in the dentist chair but thankfully without any pain. Eventually after 2 hours I was very happy to be released, have a cup of tea and breakfast, and we postponed Paphos until the following day.
B&C kindly took me on an ‘orientation’ visit to Paphos as I have booked a hotel and plan to stay there a couple of nights. We inspected the hotel which looks fine, then had lunch. Paphos was ‘City of Culture‘ in 2017 and has had improvements to its infrastructure, especially pavements and pedestrian areas. It has a very attractive harbour and lots of archeological sites to visit.
B&C always use the same local car hire company, which usually provides an oldish Ford Fiesta but this time it was an Opel waiting for us. Neither B or C could
make the driving position comfortable, so after a couple of days the company replaced it with a Fiesta, which B & C recognised and welcomed as an old friend. Then we set off to visit the Troodos mountains for an overnight stay and to see the .painted churches.
We set off and started to climb almost immediately when that old saying, ‘be careful what you wish for’ came to mind. The Fiesta has clearly had a hard life since last being hired by B&C. Carolyn was driving but the Fiesta was resistant to being driven. It coughed, spluttered and tried half hearted kangaroo jumps until disciplined by Carolyn with extra revs. Barry was concerned that something serious was wrong and feared being stranded high up in the hills. However we struggled on, as Carolyn developed coping strategies to manage the bucking bronco behaviour of the car.
We climbed slowly up into the Paphos Forest, realising that like the rest of us, the Fiesta was going slower as it aged, and it refused to go higher than second gear on any road that was steeper than flat! Thankfully it did go downhill speedily, with obvious
A place full of riches & opulence
relief. But we made it to our first stop at Kykos Monastery, an extremely opulent place where the gold, silver and bejewelled caskets etc could have paid off the Greek national debt, or reduced poverty for millions without making a noticeable reduction in their treasures. It was founded in the 11th Century by Byzantine emperor, Alexios 1. It suffered severe fire damage so much of it was restored around 1830. Unfortunately any kind of photography is forbidden within the monastery.
We next went to visit two painted churches in Galata, dating from 1514. The churches covered in frescos were established from the 11th Century into the16th Century and flourished particularly in the Byzantine period. Unlike Kykos monastery they are not opulent. A number are UNESCO listed but many more can be found with the largest grouping in the Troodos area.
They are small, often looking like barns, and difficult to find, but fascinating. They provided the method by which the Greek Orthodox Church communicated with its mainly illiterate people. Inside, the walls are covered with paintings depicting the life of Jesus, his family and stories from the bible, and symbols and
The Two Roofs painted church
Extra roof added on to protect paintings
icons that form a language for worshippers. The style and enthusiasm of the works ranges from primitive to complex & highly skilled and also reflects local life with, for example, children climbing a tree while a religious ceremony is taking place. So they bring human touches often missing from Roman Catholicism. Again no photography is allowed inside.
When we reached the first church it was locked as is usual but there was a phone number which unfortunately didn’t work but within a few minutes a truck drove up. The key holder had arrived to allow entry to a German tour group so he took us inside while he waited for them. We were so lucky. He was very knowledgeable and explained the history & symbolism represented in the paintings and also who had paid to have the work done, usually a wealthy person or family. That information can be found in most of the churches.
When the German group arrived, they only stayed a matter of minutes and didn’t bother to go in the smaller second church. We waited for the key holder, (sadly we forgot to ask his name), and he took us
Galata painted church
You can see how churches look like barns for protection during Byzantine period
the few yards down the road to the second church and gave full explanations there too. We were very grateful to him as having someone knowledgeable makes the paintings come to life. He was very chatty and didn’t seem to want us to leave but eventually we made it back to the car and drove on to Kakapetria,
Kakapetria is a small mountain town, which welcomes people in the winter who come to the area to ski and see snow, and in the summer to walk the mountain trails and visit ‘old Kakapetria’. It has an alpine feel to it with traditional houses of wood closely packed together with steeply pitched rooves to cope with winter snows. The sound of flowing water is a constant background sound.
We had pre booked accommodation at the Hellas Hotel. There was not a lot of choice as the traditional hotels are in inaccessible areas without parking. We went for a safer option of a hotel on an ordinary road but I have to say it probably falls in the worst 10% of places I have stayed, partly because we seemed to be the
only people staying there ( there were only a handful of visitors in the whole town), and because it appeared that no updating or maintenance had been carried out since the 70s. The family running it were very friendly and did their best but the lack of hot water, poor plumbing, worn carpet etc meant that one night was enough! When we arrived a very elderly lady, probably the granny, was ensconced by reception in a special chair with wheelchair and walker to hand, and close by was the baby walker, cot etc for the youngest member of the family. It is the way families manage work and family commitments and not unusual in Cyprus.
That evening we walked up the steep path through old Kakapetria where the wooden houses were a real surprise to me, very close together, made pretty by the hanging baskets and plant pots. We also spotted a Lesser Grey Shrike just above a house. Then we had a delicious meal with far too much food including the foliage of the caper plant (quite prickly), and kleftico, a lamb dish cooked slowly all day and is very similar to the Italian stincotta.
Building covering some of the mosaics, to show size of site. Outside mosaics many times the size of indoor ones
On the return journey we stopped at another church on the edge of Kakpetria which has a double roof, the second being added later to give extra protection to the frescos.
So we did manage to return safely to Polis much to our surprise, but it was only achieved by a great deal of coaxing and cajoling on B&C‘s part to get the Fiesta to rattle home. Then I think it gave a big sigh and I have yet to hear if it moved again.
While in Polis I had spent a lot of time wandering around by the stream to try and catch sight of birds, often accompanied by my hosts. We have seen delightful flocks of bee eaters, up to 20 at a time sitting on the overhead wires but without fail they sit with their backs to me so I haven’t managed a good photograph yet! I was surprised to spot a Squacco heron one day, and a Wagtail standing on a yellow surface. It was a grey or yellow one, can’t remember at the moment and not with the book in Polis to check. On a walk back
in the evening from Latchi we heard a Skopes owl. Another day I visited Polis Museum which had a very good collection of pottery/ceramics going back to the Bronze Age.
After a couple of days recovering from our trip to the Troodos area I set off for Paphos and the Kiniras Hotel. It proved to be very pleasant, basic but comfortable with good food. However the real joy here are the Archeological sites, one absolutely jammed packed with wonderful mosaics, which I discovered by a farmer in 1962, and the other called the Tomb of the Kings, which dates from the Hellenistic to the Roman period, from the 3rd Century BC to the 3rd Century AD ( or NCE) although in fact it is more of a necropolis used for the elite of the time, not just kings. The mosaics date from the Roman period but reflect Greek mythology in great detail. I won’t say more as if you are interested you can check out the Archeological sites in Paphos online.
On my last day, after walking 13k round the Tombs I stopped for a drink when an unexpected customer turned up
- see last pictures!
I am now in Famagusta and have a lot more to add but to prevent the blog getting too long I will sign off now. I have just remembered that Jim used to re-size the photos before posting the blogs. I d know how to do that. I will try and learn before the next one but hope it doesn’t cause problems in the meantime. Until next time, Sue
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