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Two People, Fourteen Months, One huge world!


CYPRUS | Friday, 15 April 2016 | Views [963] | Comments [1]

If there is a land that I have been exposed to most without ever having visited it must be the tormented paradise of Cyprus. Tamara is one quarter Cypriot and her Yaya (Greek for grandmother) is a passionate full blooded Cypriot. In addition my cousin-in-law is an equally passionate Cypriot. I should correct that; no Cypriot outside of Cyprus ever seems to describe themselves as Cypriot. The ones I have met would always say "I am Greek Cypriot", others that I had not yet rubbed shoulders with would doubtless describe themselves as "Turkish Cypriots" a distinction that underlies the tension that is always present in Cyprus a land of great strategic importance at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East.

My other experience of Cyprus was a slightly surreal one. During my time practising architecture in England a passionate Cypriot man had walked into the practice one day full of hopes and dreams for an extensive wildlife park in the Troodos mountains. Many months of imaginative work later there were no more funds and yet another Cypriot dream died.

So, with a number of pre-conceived ideas, I stepped off of the plane, eager to explore and to finally see the reality of the ethereal vision conjured up by many a relative's visit.

First night - Balkan dancing 

First night - Balkan dancing

First stop - Paphos. We had selected our accommodation to be an easy walk to the Tomb of the Kings (no kings present by the way, now or ever - clever marketing!). It was also a fairly decent walk via a coastal walkway to get to the centre of the town with its old port and attendant cafes and restaurants. We went in search of one particular restaurant - The Castle Taverna as that has been a port of call on all of Tamara's visits as well as her Yaya's. Yaya got talking to these people back in the 80s and they have been firm friends ever since. When we walked in we were recognised by the waitress Olympia which led to unheard of happiness, hugs and selfies as she instantly remembered Yaya and started asking after our daughter Skye who she also thinks of as her daughter! It turns out that the owners were no longer there, they had set up a new taverna some way from there and so we drove off to track them down. We arrived just on lunch time (not entirely a coincidence) and were the first to be seated but not before the waiter Philipus* showered us with welcomes and reminicences. If we consider that we have had some tough experiences his recent one may take the cake as this year his son got married at a cost to Philipus* of more than 30K euros. In Cyprus you do these things once and you do it well eh? Unfortunately not. Within two weeks the bride absconded with another man and the marriage was over. A tragedy for all concerned, not least Philipus*. 30K of savings on a waiter's salary is nothing trivial. When the owner Spiros arrived he again was delighted to see Tamara again and to meet me. Before we knew it the meal and drinks were on the house. Yet another example of generous hospitality that we have experienced on this trip such as our hosts in Agia Napa who kept piling more and more culinary delights in front of us until we could eat no more then upgrading us from a studio to a one bedroom apartment with balcony for no charge and for no reason other than that we seemed a lovely couple!

Castles in the clouds 

Castles in the clouds

As usual we had a game plan to explore the whole country and in a hire car we set off twowards the western tip of the island exploring Aphrodite's grotto and enjoying a long walk in the surrounding national park before winding our way up through narrow and steep lanes up into the foothills of the Troodos Mountains. These mountains are not the highest in the world but they form a resolute backbone to the island and are responsible for moderating the climate and condensing clouds to provide the water supply. From the Troodos range one could look south from whence we had come or look north across the area of Turkish occupied northern Cyprus. We visited a reservoir in each location. The one in the south virtually empty as very little rainfall has been received this springtime. The one in the north much fuller. How can this be? Is there no population pressure in the north perhaps? The actual reason was a fascinating one which demonstrates the level of commitment that Turkey has shown to the northern territory. The reservoir is fed from the highlands of central Turkey itself via a massive 200km long floating pipeline which is suspended beneath the surface of the sea before making landfall to the west of Kyrenia. It is an extroadinarily creatandive and bold solution to a very real problem.

While in the Troodos area we were able to visit the monastery at Kykkos which is well endowed with very artistic mosaic wall panels, many of which shimmer with gold leaf to give a good lustre. It was fun to identify the biblical scenes depicted in each panel. We stayed a couple of nights in Christy's Palace as guests of the Pedoulas town mayor. The hotel owner is rather proud of his part time job and will cleverly slip it "humbly" in to any conversation that offers an opportunity. We took advantage of his position to lobby for some more control on the shabby town roofs which are a massive feature given the steep site. In almost every town in Cyprus there seems to be some control of the building materials used. In Pedoulas though every time a tile roof comes to the end of its life it is replaced with nice freshly painted corrugated iron which a few years later becomes tatty, rusty corrugated iron which now dominates the view. "I agree" said the mayor "and we have enacted this rule but then the people come to me and say "Mr Mayor, I can't afford a tile roof" and I know him so I let him put on a metal roof". Such is life!

Modern Ruins - Look carefully and you will see that they are abandoned. 

Modern Ruins

Take it for granted that we went to see a lot of ancient ruins in Cyprus, whether in Paphos, Kolossi or Kourion. While interesting there was little to define these from other areas around the Mediterranean and so I will not regale you with all of the minutiae again dear reader. What Cyprus has that are not so common elsewhere are modern day ruins, the sad product of the four days of fighting that followed the Turkish invasion {Greek version} or intervention {Turkish version}. No matter the rights or wrongs the Turkish now inhabit an area above an arbitary green line struck by the British administration with the Greeks restricted to an area below that well reinforced border. The UN also patrol this border though what that small force would do if either heavily armed side decided to start a battle is anybody's guess. In one area the Turks advanced beyond that green line and were told in no uncertain terms by the UN that they were not to occupy it. Rather than withdraw and return that land to the south the Turks have simply kept the front line where it was and left that area of Famugusta as a ghost town. The area is still as it was on the day of the battle in 1974 with abandoned posessions in the same place and many a building destroyed by fighting.

Barricades Forming The Front Line 

The Front Line

Crossing the front line between the north and the south in the capital of Nicosia was a very surreal experience on Tamara's last visit with a genuine "no mans' land" where it seemed anything goes. There was graffiti and couches and a very odd feel. This time it has all been much more cleaned up but Nicosia remains a divided city. You are walking down an innocuous street, turn the corner and find a barricade or an army post. At every location there is a sign ordering no photos to be taken but sometimes the camera went off by accident and we are left with the evidential results! The last time Tamara visited was with her Yaya on a mission to return her to her childhood home of Rizokapaso (renamed by the Turks as Dipkarpaz). This was successful although they were not able to locate the exact house that she was born or brought up in. The closest was bumping into a very old man in the Greek coffee house who remembered Yaya's family. A long chat ensued in Greek which was not translated for Tamara but it seemed that the house had been knocked down several years previously.

In the meantime Tamara had carried out a lot of research to try to ascertain whether there is still family land in the occupied zone. On this visit we pushed much harder to get to the bottom of the story, including visiting the land registry in Limassol and following a trail of breadcrumbs through a beaurocratic nightmare which eventually proved fruitless. Every time we thought we had come to the end of the search a bystander would seem to have another good idea and we would shuffle off to explain our story to yet another helpful but largely powerless official. In the end we were able to have an informal database search carried out for three names (Yaya's, her mother's and her father's) with no positive result. It really was like looking for a needle in a haystack with a blindfold on and no certainty that there was ever a needle. The database had been put together since the invasion by Cypriots who turned up to the office with a copy of their deeds so it is anything but complete and could never have included Yaya's family who were overseas at the time. In addition there was a family rumour that the land had had to be given to a doctor to pay for Yaya's childhood medical bills.

Stone Arch House Bedroom 

 Stone Arch Houses

In Rizokapaso we stayed in some beautiful stone arch houses and the lovely owners were fascinated to hear the story of Tamara's family. Rizokapaso is unique in that it is the one area of northern Cyprus where Greek families remained and to this day live peacefully alongside their Turkish neighbours like our hosts. Before we knew it we were being taken on a tour of the neighbours, first to visit an old Greek priest who was not quite old enough it seemed. He knew of some Kourtoulou's however who were still living in Rizokapaso so we hopped in a car and cold called on a family who were very guarded and closed at first, eventually the penny dropped and they realised that the family in question were living next door so off we went to cold call again. This time we struck lucky but no one could make the link so it was back to the last family for tea and biscuits while everyone talked around in circles. Tamara did her best and her preparation meant that there was always just enough to go on to keep people interested but in the end it was to no avail.

An ancient olive mill - now a restaurant 

Ancient Olive Mill

With one last throw of the dice we headed to the Greek coffee shop the next morning to try to talk to the old man. We were sad to hear that unfortunately he had died two years previously but, "you could talk to the registrar of births and deaths, he has an extraordinary memory". We did. It turned out that he did too but not good enough, he was able to send us to another final contact though - would this be the key? Once again we were driven by two local men to a private house, they knocked on the door which was opened by a very grumpy woman in the middle of cooking. A brief conversation and Tamara was introduced - to no interest at all. The new lady bustled off to rescue a pot that was on the point of boiling dry but then left us at the door for some time while carrying on her life. Tamara attempted to bring her back to the conversation which prompted a stream of invective and had Tamara struck and all four of us chased off from the house! At that stage it is fair to say that the trail went cold and we do not expect to ever find the truth of the Kourtoulou land.

Kyrenia (Girne in Turkish) home of Tamara's Great Great Grandfather 


The northern part of Cyprus is by far the most beautiful in my opinion and has not been ruined by unfettered investment in bulk tourism. Kyrenia is its gem and we opted to break from our norm and book a wonderful hotel directly overlooking the old harbour. As we sat on the balcony and watched the hustle and bustle of the waterfront below or gazed across at the illuminated walls of the castle which dates back in time to the pre-crusader period it was good to reflect on the island that we were visiting and the tensions that have torn it apart. What is the solution? Could there be a solution? Some say that one is on the horizon as it is dirty laundry that Turkey needs to address before any entry to the European Union could be countenanced. I would say that a very good start would be to demilitarise the island with the outside armies of Greece and Turkey simultaneously returning to their homeland - both northern and southern Cyprus each have separate armies from their mainland counterparts. On both sides of the island we met many people who identified as Cypriot rather than Greek or Turkish. The Turkish Cypriots were scornful of the Turkish settlers which they use as labour while retaining ownership of the businesses. The Greek Cypriots appear equally disappointed with the results of the investments coming from mass tourism which are all too rapidly sullying many of the island's more beautiful locations. Who knows if reconciliation is possible? Many would say "no". I would be only slightly more positive as so many people on each side have living memories of poor treatment from their opposites. On the other hand many people could never see a workable solution for the Northern Ireland troubles either and great progress has been made there so......?

View From The Hotel Window - Kyrenia Harbour 

View From The Hotel Window

Enough of the politics - more of the festivals! We counted ourselves incredibly lucky that our visit to the Kyrenia region coincided with the annual asparagus festival. Who could resist celebrating the harvest of this flacid green legume? We certainly couldn't so jumped in the car to see what the festivities could possibly look like? A street market basically, in which we were the unwitting centre of attention as a result of being the only outsiders to grace the festival with our presence. Nevertheless great fun was had by all and we got to tuck into a variety of street foods representing the northern Cypriot culture.

Embracing the spirit of the "Tree of Idleness" made famous in the book "Bitter Lemons". 

Embracing the spirit of the "Tree of idleness"!

Well that was it, a very thorough examination of the delights and frustrations of this legendary eastern Mediterranean island. It lived up to the hype in most ways, fell flat in some but overall combined to make a very interesting visit as a result of all the family connections and the hard work that Tamara put into the preparation for the visit.

Until next time.....

*name changed to protect privacy

Tags: culture, cyprus, genealogy, generosity




I am not sure how I missed this one, but what an amazing family story.

  Frances May 31, 2016 10:44 AM



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