The sun continues its inexorable whitewashing of Cyprus as another day greets us on this tiny island of history, mystery and magic.
Cyprus is a tiny dot of an island in the Mediterranean whose capital, Nicosia, is the last divided capital in Europe (under Cypriot and Turkish control, marked by a border crossing that splits a major shopping avenue). The island has been occupied by the likes of Mycenaean Greeks, Alexander the Great, Ottomans and, most recently, the Brits, whose administrative oversight lasted from 1878 until 1960.
The former left behind ancient ruins and infused the culture with influences that show up in the food, music, language and politics of Cyprus. The latter – some of whom remain, either as languishing pensioners or military staff – left behind many a British pub, an enormous military base and decent fish and chips in most tavernas.
The island – at 3,500 square miles and 1.1 million people – is the third largest and third most populous island in the Mediterranean. Perched 47 miles south of Turkey and within half an hours’ flight from Lebanon and Syria, Cyprus has long been a coveted strategic outpost. Hence the 1974 conflict with Turkey that resulted in the island’s partition.
Cyprus’ cobalt waters, near the beach city of Agia Napa.
It is an island of brilliant blue skies and cobalt waters, endless rolling hills of brown and grey sand and stone dotted with scrub and olive trees and splashes of purples and blues from the bougainvillea and oleander that flourish in abundance. The island is largely flat, but features mountain ranges to the center and north of the island that loom over the countryside and form natural strategic barriers. The faint odor of cows, goats and sheep that graze in open spaces all around the island floats in the breeze which seems to ramp up each afternoon, building to a steady blow and then easing off around dinnertime.
Greek-speaking Cypriots are warm, engaging people who offer refuge to sun worshippers from around the world, notably England and Russia. The UK seems to have deposited half of Essex on the island’s shores in an exodus of expat pensioners bent on absorbing enough of the sun’s heat to make up for lives spent in England’s endless drizzle. Head out to Lithos Grill, as we did one night to hear an appalling opening duo challenge listeners to stick around for a serviceable Roy Orbison tribute act, or to The Only, whose name is far from the truth but offers up a decent coffee and pints to the crowd that gathers from breakfast to closing, and you’ll hear more Britspeak than you would in the East End.