January 13, 2005

Christmas in Cyprus

melissa bundled up for the amsterdam weather
Greetings from Tennessee!

Well, it's been quite a while since my last update and I just got back from a fun trip to Cyprus. Before going to Cyprus I visited my girlfriend's family in Arizona for Thanksgiving and then again for a couple of days on our way to Cyprus. I enjoyed getting to know them and had fun playing miniature golf, tennis and basketball there.

In between the two Arizona visits I took a quick trip up to Ohio where I spent the weekend at a state park with some family from Maryland and Michigan. We chose a location that is roughly in the middle for all of us to meet up and enjoy a weekend together.

On the way to Cyprus we had a stopover in Amsterdam for a few hours. After getting boarding passes for our flight to Cyprus we still had plenty of time so caught a train to downtown Amsterdam. The weather was cold and rainy but that didn't stop us from walking around for a couple of hours. We arrived quite early in the morning so most of the businesses
rainbow and view at st. hilarion castle
weren't open yet but we enjoyed watching schoolchildren hurrying to class and other early morning sights. Eventually we found a bakery that was open and sampled several items for breakfast. After eating we walked to the Ann Frank house which has been turned into a museum. We enjoyed going through the house and seeing the famous Hiding Place where Ann Frank and her family were hidden during the war. It was my second visit to the museum but they have done some remodeling and expanded it since the last time I was there. From the museum we headed back to the train station and then back to the airport to catch our flight to Cyprus.

In Cyprus we were met at the airport by my parents and sister. My parents have lived in Nicosia, Cyprus for about 3 years now and this was my 4th visit to the island. This visit was unique though because we had several other extended family members visiting for the
cloudy weather at the top of st. hilarion castle
holidays as well. It was really fun to spend time together with everyone (we had a maximum of 13 people in our group). When we got to my parents apartment from the airport we had supper, visited some and then headed to bed to catch up on our sleep.

The next morning (Thursday) we split into two groups for the day. The first group went shopping while the second group (which I was in) headed down to Larnaka for some sailing on my parents sailboat. The wind wasn't very strong but we still enjoyed getting out on the water for the day.

Friday we drove to the northern part of Cyprus. The island of Cyprus has been divided since the Turkish army occupied the northern part in the 1970s. Currently relations between the two sides are better than they have been in a long time so the border is much more open now. This means that it's easy to visit the northern part of the island for the day, or even for a few days. In the past it has been much more difficult so this was my first time to visit the north.
this dome with mosaics was part of the ruins at salamis
Our first stop of the day was at St. Hilarion Castle. When we arrived the weather was cloudy but dry for the most part so we started exploring the castle ruins. We enjoyed some panoramic views of the ocean far below in the distance and even spotted a rainbow before it started to rain. Unfortunately we were nearly to the top of the castle and as far as possible from the cars when the rain hit so by the time we got back we were all quite wet. We still enjoyed seeing the castle though and decided to continue to our next destination in spite of being wet. The harbor town of Kyrennia was our next stop
ancient roman toilets
where we walked around a bit before retreating to the cars for a picnic lunch. We decided to cut the afternoon activities a little short on account of the rain but still enjoyed a drive along the northern coast before returning to Nicosia.

On Friday night we enjoyed a nice Christmas Eve service at our local church and then on Sabbath morning we had a Christmas church service as well. After church we enjoyed a picnic lunch in the car on our way to see some more sights in northern Cyprus. Along the way we took a few secondary roads which took us through some small rural villages.
this cathedral has been converted into a functioning mosque
It was fun to get off the main drag. Our first major stop was at the ancient coastal city of Salamis. Salamis is the town where Paul landed in Cyprus during his first missionary journey and its ruins are quite extensive. We enjoyed exploring the ancient baths, gymnasium, amphitheater and other ruins. From Salamis we drove further south to Famagusta. This has a large collection of beach front hotels which have been abandoned since the 1970s when the UN buffer zone
avakas gorge
was set up. Unfortunately this stretch of beach and hotels fell within the buffer zone so they now sit empty. In Famagusta we also visited the harbor and climbed the old city wall before ending our tour for the day at an old cathedral that has been converted into a functioning mosque. It isn't very often that you see a mosque with this sort of architecture!

Sunday we headed to the Akamas Peninsula in the eastern part of the island. Along the way we stopped in Paphos for a picnic lunch before visiting Avakas Gorge. The gorge is a very narrow canyon with a stream in the bottom of it so we were glad to have sunny weather without any rain to swell the stream. From the parking area we hiked up the river and into the gorge where we enjoyed some breathtaking views of the towering canyon walls. After we finished exploring the gorge we drove further along the peninsula to a small restaurant which was closed by the time we got there. The area was full of cats, which were fun to play with. We enjoyed the view of the beach and stayed long enough to watch the sun sink into the
sunset on the akamas peninsula
Mediterranean Sea. On the way back we stopped in Pafos for supper and planned to get our first taste of the very good PAHIT ice cream. Unfortunately the ice cream shop closed while we were eating our supper next door so we had to wait another day to get our PAHIT ice cream.

On Monday we had planned to go sailing but since the wind wasn't very good we ended up doing some shopping in Nicosia instead. For lunch we enjoyed sandwiches made from fried Haloumi cheese which are a specialty in Cyprus, followed by some PAHIT ice cream for dessert.

Tuesday we visited Cape Greco in the eastern part of the island. Our first stop was at some sea caves where we posed for pictures with the aqua blue water in the background. A few of us also wound up jumping off the cliffs into the water which was about 63 degrees
tom jumping off the cliff
Fahrenheit. The air temperature was probably in the low 70s so it was a bit cool for swimming but not too bad. Our next stop was at the top of a bluff where we enjoyed a short walk and more spectacular views. Before stopping for a picnic lunch we also visited a natural arch, a small church and a cave. After lunch we spent some time on the beach at Fig Tree Bay and then headed to Larnaca where we visited the Greek Orthodox church of St. Lazarus. According to tradition this church was founded by Lazarus after he was resurrected by Jesus and had to flee from persecution. They say he was originally buried there before his remains were later moved to another location.
In the basement of the church they have discovered several burial sites including one which they believe was the site where Lazarus used to be. After visiting the church we went to an ice cream shop where we got some more of the excellent PAHIT ice cream before heading back to my parents' apartment.

Our first tour stop on Wednesday was at Kolossi Castle near the town of Limassol where we enjoyed exploring the castle keep. This was our first day
gladiator mosaic at kourion
with the full group of 13 people so we also enjoyed visiting with each other along the way. Our next stop was at a large complex of ruins called Kourion. These ruins include elaborate mosaics from bathhouses where the remains of the plumbing and water heating systems are still intact. There is also an amphitheater and the ruins of several other buildings in this area, all of which are overlooking a gorgeous view of the coast. Some of these ruins date back to around 500 BC. From Kourion we headed into the Troodos mountains of Cyprus where we visited a waterfall for a picnic. After lunch we drove up Mount Olympus which is the highest point in Cyprus at 6,401 feet. The very top of the mountain is fenced off with a couple of communications installations, but we got pretty close to the summit. Near Mt. Olympus we spotted a few skiers and snowboarders using the local ski lifts which were open for business. Next we stopped at the burial site of the first leader of modern day independent Cyprus. The site is located on top of a mountain with some very good views. Our last stop in the Troodos area was
we used creative picnic tables for several of our lunches
at Kykkos Monastery. The monastery was founded around the end of the 11th century and is home to an icon of Mary which according to tradition was painted by the apostle Luke. The monastery is situated in a scenic mountain location and is a popular tourist attraction.

On Wednesday evening we finally had the whole group together so we celebrated Christmas by opening presents. Since we were busy with sightseeing during the day we postponed our traditional Christmas meal until Saturday night. This year we didn't necessarily celebrate everything at the 'right' times,
scenic overlook above aphrodite's birthplace
but we still had a lot of fun and enjoyed having lots of family together for the holidays.

Thursday morning we headed towards the coastal city of Paphos for some more sightseeing. On the way we stopped to admire the view along the coast and then spent some time on a pebble beach at the traditional birthplace of Aphrodite. The sun was shining and the water was the typical bright aqua blue of the Mediterranean so it was hard to leave the beach to continue the day's activities. Our next stop was at the Tombs of the Kings which is an archeological site where no kings were buried. As it turns out the burial chambers actually belonged to wealthy citizens of Paphos who were buried between 3 BC and 3 AD, but no real kings were buried there. The tombs are carved out of solid rock and are very elaborate. They often contain several rooms with ornate carvings, pillars and other decorations. After exploring the tombs we headed into Paphos where our first stop was at a pillar at which Paul was flogged by Romans, according to tradition. In the same area we visited an old church and spotted a wedding party posing for a photo shoot. Next we drove down to the waterfront
walking on the beach at fig tree bay
area of Paphos where we visited another large archeological complex. The ruins there are primarily of villas from the 3rd to 5th century AD, most of which have remarkably well preserved mosaic floors depicting scenes from Greek mythology. From the ruins we walked along the Paphos waterfront area which is lined with cafes and shops. We arrived at the end of the pier just in time to watch the sun sink slowly into the ocean. On our way back to the car several of us found another place to get some PAHIT ice cream which tided us over until supper.

Friday morning we visited the village of Lefkara which is famous for ornately carved silver and intricately woven lace. We were able to see how these things are made by hand and of course there were many shopping opportunities. For lunch we had a picnic on a hill overlooking the village and then we headed back to Nicosia. Our first stop in Nicosia was at a handicraft center where more purchases were made. Next we visited some of the main tourist sights in town including a freedom monument and the ruins of an ancient aqueduct. Finally, our last tour stop was at Ledra Street which is a pedestrian only shopping street inside the old city walls of Nicosia. Besides shopping we also visited the end of
sunset at the ruins in paphos
the street where you can climb some stairs and look across the border into the UN buffer zone and beyond to northern Cyprus. According to the onsite information Nicosia is the last remaining divided capital city. The wall is similar to the one that used to separate East and West Berlin. The empty, run down buildings of the buffer zone stand in stark contrast to bustling Ledra Street with it's many shops and cafes. On the way back from Ledra Street several of us stopped at a couple of grocery stores to pick up some supplies for the weekend. With so many people to feed the refrigerator seemed to go from full to empty in no time. In the evening we had a New Years Eve program at the church. The program was organized and put on by our family members and included a quartet, special readings and a singing group.

fort on the waterfront in paphos
On Sabbath after church most of the group went sailing for a couple of hours. It was fun to get out on the boat again. In the evening we had our big Christmas dinner and then opened some presents in a white elephant style gift exchange. After the gift swap we also celebrated several anniversaries and birthdays before finishing up our packing and heading to bed.

On Sunday Melissa and I traveled back to Tennessee where we have been getting back into the routine here. Unfortunately we both got sick towards the end of our trip, but we are on the mend and feeling much better now.

Well, I think that's about it for now so I'll end this and start looking for some pictures to include.

Until next time,


Many more pictures here.

Posted by andrew on January 13, 2005

Beautiful pics, Drew - new camera?

Posted by: master of all he surveys on January 13, 2005

... not that your old camera didn't take nice pictures =) Just sayin' - there are some really gorgeous photos in here...

Posted by: master of all he surveys on January 13, 2005

I'm still using the same clunky old camera although in this update the pictures *of* me were taken with other cameras by relatives. -Andrew

Posted by: Andrew on January 13, 2005

wow! amazing pictures and great descriptions of your holiday. i learned alot of interesting history. you've got a great way with interweaving facts and pictures to draw people in. are you sure you don't want to be a travel writer? :)

Posted by: Jen on January 24, 2005

Awesome pictures...I'm jealous of your travels.

Posted by: laurens sister on March 22, 2005