My friend and our church’s head chef for the Greek Festival is a treasured volunteer and cantor in our Greek Orthodox community. He is from Cyprus originally and travels back annually to visit his homeland and family. This magnetic and charming person shared his information and recommendations about Cyprus with me.
What inspired you to travel to Cyprus?
I was born there. However, having lived as many years in Cyprus as in the US, I almost feel like a tourist when I visit the island these days.
What did your trip itinerary involve?
Tulsa to a major US airport (Chicago) to a major European Airport (London Heathrow) to Larnaca (island’s largest airport).
What excursions or museums do you recommend?
Cyprus has a very rich history dating back thousands of years. You can easily spend weeks just visiting museums and archeological sites. In the island’s archeological museum in Nicosia (Lefkosia), you can find information and exhibits from the first settlements dating back 10,000 BC to the most recent history. You can observe the historical findings and see how Cyprus evolved.
If you are visiting Lefkosia, the island’s capital, you can observe the Venetian walls surrounding the old city. The regional Renaissance fortifications are preserved here. They are a major tourist attraction. You can also visit the Choirokitia archeological site, southern part of the island, where you can find one of the most important and best preserved prehistoric sites of the eastern Mediterranean (Neolithic era, 7 millennium BC). The evidence of an organized society is found in the form of a settlement.
An excursion to the western part of the island is a must. On the way there you can stop by the “Petra tou Rwmiou” (“rock of the Greek”) and enjoy your coffee on a café overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the birth place of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. A few more miles to the west, you can find the place -that as the legend has it- Aphrodite used to take her bath with her lover Adonis. This is very near a national park in the most Western peninsula where you can find wild life (preservation area for a unique sea turtle species caretta-caretta), a sea wreck and an ancient theater by the sea. The major city of the western part of the island is Paphos where you can find the “Tombs of Kings”, a well preserved necropolis where they used to bury the aristocrats of the area back in 4 century BC. You may also want to visit St Paul’s Pillar in Paphos where in the year 45 AD the local Roman ruler tight St. Paul and whipped him 40 times.
I would also highly recommend a trip to the Troodos Mountains where you can find several beautiful Greek Orthodox Monasteries dating back from the early years of Christianity to the Byzantium era. Just to name few: Panayia Trooditissa, Kykkos, Ayios Panteleimon etc. You can relax, observe the beautiful iconography and listen to the monks’ chanting. The temperature between sea level and the Troodos mountains may be as much as 20 C (around 36 F) degrees cooler.
What hotels and restaurants do you recommend?
There are not many hotel chains but the “Hilton Nicosia” and the “Hilton Park” are among the two best hotels in the capital. There are also several hotels and all-inclusive resorts in the coastal areas ranging from five-star (The Grecian – Ayia Napa Area, La Meridien in Limassol and Elia Village in Latsi – Paphos) to more modest depending on your budget. Pricing is always dependent on the season with the months of June-August being the busiest. In terms of restaurants, you should visit one of the local “tavernas” where you can sample local traditional food.
How would you describe the perfect Cypriot meal?
A perfect meal should include all local delicacies and there is no better way of doing that than ordering the traditional “Meze” plate. These are numerous dishes that keep coming to your table that contain samples of everything from local wine-sausage (loukaniko) to the traditional Cyprus Cheese (Halloumi: The Cheese you can Grill), to stifado and souvla… It is very similar to the Spanish tradition of Tapas except there is tons more of food. You can have meat, fish or a combination “meze”. To wash everything down you can order the island’s local beer (KEO) or you can taste some of the islands most renounced wines (several world-wide awards). I would recommend the white “Arsinoi 62”
Describe the vibe of the culture?
Cyprus culture is pretty laid back. People are truly happy even though they suffered a lot over the years (400 years of Turkish occupation, 70 years of British ruling, Turkish invasion in 1974, and recent financial crisis). They are friendly and welcoming to strangers. It is not unusual for people to invite you in their homes and offer you coffee or deserts, especially if you are visiting remote villages up in the Troodos Mountains.
Describe the physical terrain.
The terrain varies a lot. The southern coastal areas are mainly flat while the western part of the island is more mountainous. The tallest mountain peak is Olympus at 6000ft+. The northern part of the island (now under Turkish occupation since 1974) has the second tallest mountain “Pentadaktulos”. Pentadaktulos actually means “five fingers”. As the legend has it, one of the islands Byzantine hero Digenis Akritas’ hand gripped the mountain to get out of the sea when he came to free Cyprus from its Saracen invaders, and this is his handprint. (Interviewer’s side note here is that there is a similar mythological story found in my blog posts Gibraltar and Morocco.)
Describe a custom that you observed there. Did you incorporate any of their customs back home?
Were there any challenges in getting to your destination? What was the flight like?
No particular challenges. You typically need 3 flights to reach Cyprus from the US, one is domestic, the other is transatlantic but usually 7-8 hours and the last one is around 3-5 hour from a major European City. It would be ideal if you can check in your bags to your final destination.
What did you learn about yourself from this trip?
That I still love this place and still call it home.
How did this trip enrich your life? Describe any experiences that made you grow spiritually.
Spending few days in a Greek Orthodox Monastery is an experience that made me grow spiritually. Away from any distractions and from our fast pace of life here in the western world, a Greek Monastery provides you the opportunity to recollect yourself, mediate, set your priorities straight and emerge as a new human being.