I hadn’t been outside Georgia since April 2017 (seventeen months), and my feet were getting decidedly itchy. I used to travel abroad, every three months or so. Money was quite tight, so I was looking for somewhere relatively cheap, some friendly travel agents I know recommended Hungary, Poland or Cyprus. All these options were tempting, I’d visited all these countries previously, I chose Cyprus because I wanted to enjoy some Mediterranean sun in late October. I had visited Cyprus once before in 1995, then I stayed with my first wife in Limassol and we toured the Republic in a hired car. I also experienced my first earthquake. This time with my Georgian wife, we stayed in Larnaca and took a couple of excursions, one to the Kykkos Monastery and one to the North of Cyprus. In 1995, it wasn’t possible to cross from the Republic to the North, but they relaxed the rules in 2004 and now there are many excursions available from the south to the north.
We flew with Wizz Air from Kutaisi to Larnaca direct. Usually from Georgia we take flights from Tbilisi and have to change in Istanbul for the flight to our destination. Wizz Air is a budget airline operating from Kutaisi, Georgia’s second city. The journey from Tbilisi to Kutaisi is long, around 4 hours in a coach, it was tiring and by the time I reached Kutaisi I felt a cold coming on, not the best start to a vacation. The flight is just two hours, and from Laranka Airport to our hotel was about 3km, so we were able to catch a local bus for just 1.50 Euro.
Cactus Hotel wasn’t as prickly as its name suggests, it is located in a residential district between the airport and the centre of Larnaca. Mackenzie beach is 10 minutes walk as is the Salt Lake. We chose the hotel for the location and were not disappointed. Walking to the centre of Larnaca took us around 15 minutes, there were plenty of restaurants along the seafront to choose from. Although for three nights of our week’s stay we chose to eat our evening meal in the hotel. The staff were friendly and accommodating to our needs. Breakfast was plentiful. The room was clean but a little small and the view over the street was not the most scenic. If I visit Larnaca again, I’d happily return to Cactus Hotel.
On our first day we just walked along the promenade into the town, and had a fish platter with cod, calamari, prawns and octopus. It was good to have fresh seafood; Tbilisi, our home is far from the sea and seafood is usually cooked from frozen. The cuisine in Cyprus is understandably influenced by Greek cuisine with classic Greek dishes like moussaka, kleftiko and souvlakia on many menus, we ate well during our stay.
Larnaca is the third largest city on Cyprus, it is built on the ruins of ancient Citium and has a claim for being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The Church of St Lazarus founded in the 9th century is impressive. In biblical times Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus and fleeing persecution in Judea came to Cyprus. He was appointed Bishop of Kition (present day Larnaca) by Paul and Barnabas. In the Republic of Cyprus there are many Orthodox Churches. In the North many of the churches have been converted to mosques or used as stables for livestock.
We were in Larnaca at the time of the Biennale Larnaca 2018 (17th October – 30 November 2018), the city’s municipal gallery had an interesting display of artworks.
Larnaca made for an interesting base, we were able to go to the beach and swim in the sea, enjoy the cuisine and shop for souvenirs but the highlight of our trip was the excursion we took to North Cyprus.
We chose an excursion, which included the ruins of Salamis, St Barnabas Monastery, Famagusta and Varosha “The Ghost Town”. At the border our passports were screened as we entered North Cyprus a “country” only recognised by Turkey. In Georgia we have two similar “countries” Abkhazia and South Ossetia (Tskhinvali Region). These disputed territories have been in a state of limbo for many years, North Cyprus unilaterally declared its independence on 15 November 1983 under the name of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, it is not recognised by the UN or the Republic of Cyprus. It has been possible since 2004 for tourists to cross the Green Line dividing the island.
Salamis was an ancient Greek city state, earthquakes in the fourth century destroyed the city. There are very extensive ruins. The theatre, and the gymnasium have been extensively restored. Numerous statues are displayed in the central court of the gymnasium most of which are headless.
Close to Salamis is St Barnabas Monastery and Icon Museum. The Monastery of St Barnabas is very important to the Orthodox Church, and is considered a place of pilgrimage. Since the troubles, the monastery has become a repository for the icons of other Orthodox churches in the north of the island. The rooms of the monastery have become an archaeological museum, I particularly like the terracotta figurines from 750 to 600 BC on display with their miniature vehicle (I collect diecast cars and have another blog for that passion: Diecast Car Collector).
Next stop was the Famagusta old Town Centre to see the Venetian Walls in the old part of the town and visit the Gothic church of Saint Nicholas and Othello Castle.
The church of St Nicholas was converted into a mosque in 1571 after the Ottomans captured Famagusta. Othello’s Tower was built by the Lusignans in the 14th century and may have inspired Shakespeare’s naming of his tragedy, Cyprus is mentioned in “Othello“. The tower, however, is named after a Venetian governor not Shakespeare’s Moor.
The last stop was the beach located right next to the “Ghost Town” of Varosha, a long stretch of golden sand with crystal clear water.
We swam in the crystal clear waters before returning to the bus and the Republic of Cyprus.
Our second excursion was to Kykkos Monastery and the pretty village of Kakopetria.
Kakopetria has quaint medieval streets but when we arrived, the heavens opened and we got soaked. Then it was onto Kykkos Monastery, the biggest and richest monastery in Cyprus, near Throni at Kykkos Monastery is the burial place of Archbishop Makarios III, first president of the Republic of Cyprus.
The rains filled the salt lake at Larnaca and the flamingoes arrived, unfortunately they chose to congregate on the far side of the lake, so I needed my zoom on maximum to get a picture.
One week in Cyprus gave us an enjoyable break, if we visited again we would go on more excursions.