Saturday, July 11, 2015

Visiting the beach

After we had been living in Cyprus for a couple of years, a friend in the UK commented that we must have a wonderful life, going to the beach every day. I replied that we didn't visit the beach very often despite living only about a mile away from the sea. I explained that living here is very different from being a tourist, and that we'd acclimatised to the extent that, unless we had guests staying, we only really considered it 'beach weather' from June to September.

Now we've been here nearly eighteen years, we don't go to the beach other than during July and August. Indeed, I'm not sure that we really go 'to the beach', as such; we like to cool down in the water, perhaps to swim a little. But we have no wish to sunbathe, or build sandcastles. We only go when it's shady, not before about 5.00pm.

Last year, I didn't go to the beach at all. Not once. That's mainly because I was in the UK from the end of June until mid-August, but if I'd wanted to, I could have gone. I did walk, a few times, along the sea front, and we drove past the beach a few times. But I didn't get my feet wet in the sea; I didn't take my shoes off and walk along the beach. We didn't spend any evenings there at all.

But this year, after much discussion, we and our closest Cyprus friends decided that we'd get together at the beach yesterday evening, to swim and then have a picnic. So I cleaned out our cool box (not used for nearly two years), chopped salad vegetables, and cooked some halloumi; Richard delved into our storage closet (which is technically a shower, but that's another story...) for our beach chairs and mats.

beach in Larnaca, Cyprus in July

Then, after changing into swimsuits, we drove to our favourite spot, perhaps three kilometres away. I expect it's quite crowded during the main part of the day, this being high season, but there weren't many other people around at 5.30pm; most of those had gone by 6.30.

Tim and I went into the water along with most of our friends. It wasn't quite as warm as I remembered from previous years, and there were some quite chilly spots as we waded out, but it wasn't  unpleasant. We managed to swim a little. Neither of us is very good at swimming, and we won't put our heads in the water, but it's good exercise, and fun in a strange sort of way, although it was windy and the waves were bigger than we liked.

Then we had our picnic, and chatted with our friends, and decided that it was relaxing and enjoyable being by the sea, even if it was rather sandier than any of the adults liked.

by the beach in Cyprus, July

We might even go again next week.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Rules as 'suggestions' in Cyprus...

Last night, around 9.00pm we went for a short walk to deliver some DVDs to a friend. Even at this time of year, it's totally dark by that time, but still warm, now that Summer is well and truly here.

Visitors have regularly commented that crossing main roads in Cyprus (or, at anyrate, in Larnaka) is not an enjoyable experience. We've got used to it now; when traffic is coming in both directions, the secret is to look for a gap on one's own side of the road, and then cross to the middle. It feels very precarious at first, balancing on a white line while cars whizz by both behind and in front. However, the ones in front almost invariably stop when they see someone in the middle of the street, and cheerfully wave them over.

Indeed, it's often safer than crossing at an official pelican or other crossing where there are traffic lights. In most of the world, a red traffic light means 'stop' while amber means 'slow down if you can'. In Cyprus, an amber light apparently means 'speed up', and red means, 'you might be in trouble if you run someone over, or crash into another car, but if you can get through safely, go ahead.'

This is bad enough at major sets of traffic lights, although most cars do, eventually, stop for red lights, which allows careful pedestrians to cross. But at pelican crossings it's far from certain that anyone will stop. Sometimes I have pressed the button, and watched cars continue to whizz past as the lights turn red, then back to green. The little green man flashing to tell me it's safe to cross is not correct.

I haven't crossed at this particular crossing for some time, but I wasn't surprised to see this as we approached:

You might think that photo shows cars driving past, despite the light being red. But further examination will show that there are no lights on in the cars. And most people in Cyprus do, at least, use their headlights after dark, and rear lights too when they're not broken.

No, this is yet another example of the law (and there are official Cyprus rules of the road) being treated more as a suggestion than a serious rule. Policemen are unlikely to be about at night, so cars park almost anywhere, including the sides of the crossing.

But what amused us was what happened after we pressed the button and the traffic light turned red. A green man started flashing... but the red 'stop' man was still showing too, directly above:

It was a useful reminder that, even though it was theoretically safe to cross the road, it was a good idea to check first, and remain 'stopped' unless we were quite certain. And, indeed, a couple of cars sped by before we were able to cross.

I suppose this would be a good point to link to a post I thoroughly enjoyed writing, nearly nine years ago, about the vagaries of the Cyprus rules of the road

On a somewhat unrelated note, we were also amused to see this labelling and contents in our local small grocery shop earlier today:

Surely, in any other country, the Trades Description Act would have something to say?!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Summer in Cyprus. Again.

It's over a month - almost six weeks - since I wrote about the approach of Summer in Cyprus. It hasn't been the inexorable march that some of us expected; instead, it's been a slow and steady approach. The daytime shade temperature now, as we near the end of June, has been around 28-30C, but that's nowhere near as bad as it sometimes is by this time of year.

Richard was away during most of May and the first week of June; he visited seven different countries for work purposes, and was on a total of sixteen flights, if I remember correctly. I don't mind being on my own for extended periods; I did a few summer-preparation tasks such as washing all the curtains and windows, and cleaning most of the air conditioners. I sorted some cupboards, too, and washed all our winter jackets and fleeces, moving them and other winter clothing to the closets on our upstairs landing.

One thing I like about the approach of summer is the soft fruit that starts to appear in the local fruit shops. I have a Lakeland shopping trolley (a cool one, I'm told) and got in the habit, while Richard was away, of filling it each Friday with enough fruit and veg for the week. I didn't need a lot for just me - here's one week's selection:

Some people claim that it's expensive to eat in Cyprus, but I paid a total of €14.40 (just over £10 sterling by today's exchange rate) for that trolley's worth of fruit and vegetables, and I wasn't being particularly frugal. I included 500g strawberries and a pineapple, which are considered luxuries by many.

Cleo, our 17-year-old cat, who seemed even more frail than usual during the winter, always gets a new lease of life during the summer. She walks better, she sleeps less, and she loves to sit outside in the sunshine.

The kittens Alex and Joan, however, are finding it rather too hot...

On the second Monday of June, the local Christian writing group had our annual potluck lunch after our last meeting before September, with lots of good food:

Great company, too. It's not a big group, but we enjoy our monthly meetings.

A few days later I was privileged to be invited to our small friend E's fifth birthday dinner:

Our grandson in the UK is now a year old. I know it's a terrible cliché, but I really don't know where the years are going.

We've used the air conditioning for an hour or so in the bedroom most nights for about ten days, now. It reduces the humidity and makes it easier to get to sleep; there's a fan that runs all night to circulate the air, and it keeps it cool. The cats are not allowed in the bedroom at night now, after one of them started catching unmentionable large insects outside on the balcony and bringing them into the room.

I've stopped walking in the mornings; without the cats in the bedroom, I'm sleeping longer, and by 6.30 or so it's too hot to walk, despite it being cooler than usual (or so it seems) for the time of year. But although we cleaned the air conditioning in the main part of the house on Friday, we've only used it once, so far; for a couple of hours on Sunday when our friends were here for a game and cold meal.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

After the fire on the Larnaka Salt Lake trail

A few days ago, there was a fire near the Salt Lake in Larnaca. We saw smoke from our house, and heard sirens. I gather an arrest has been made, and that it was most likely bored teenagers; however it's also been said that it was possibly deliberate, in the hope of destroying mosquitoes. The latter seems rather unlikely, but perhaps we'll never know.

I took my camera when I walked with Sheila a couple of days later. I'd seen a few photos of the fire itself, and the various vehicles that arrived to assist in putting it out. But I wasn't really prepared for the extent of the damage:

Just a couple of days earlier this area had been mostly green, overgrown after the extensive winter rains. Some of the grasses were beginning to turn brown as Summer approaches, so they were ripe for burning out of control once a fire was started.

Salt Lake trail fire in Larnaca

While ash is a good fertiliser, and weeds will no doubt grow even faster next winter, some trees are unlikely to spring back into life. This one, surrounded by white ash, looks almost like something out of a stark winter scene, not the end of May in Cyprus:

There was one place - on the other side of the trail itself - where there was still something smoking. We watched for a while, wondering if it was dangerous. Sheila said that, the day before, there were several such smouldering piles but the fire fighters were keeping an eye on them. That didn't stop one of them bursting into flame later on, but we thought this one was probably safe enough:

One of the reports said that an area of around two hectares was destroyed by this fire. Hectares sound to me like imperial units, but apparently a hectare is 10,000 square metres; two hectares, in units that might be more familiar to some, is around five acres.

Thankfully there was still plenty of beauty in the rest of the shrubbery and wild flowers by the trail:

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The approach of Summer in Cyprus

I don't know why it surprises us, every year, that April is still mostly spring-like as far as the weather goes. The sun was warm during the middle part of the day, but the evenings and nights were still fairly cool. As May began, the weather became warmer; a pleasant 23-25C [that's around 73-77F] in the shade during the daytime, but still 13-15C overnight. I didn't switch to our medium-weight duvet until the start of April, and then moved to the thin one early in May.

It's still cool enough to need a thin duvet at night, which is just as well since our kitten Joan has a tendency to attack feet - or anything she sees as an intruder under the duvet - when she wakes up in the morning, usually around 5.00am. With a thick duvet, this wasn't a problem. With a thin one, it's uncomfortable. I don't want to think about what will happen when there's only a sheet covering my feet.

Alex and Joan celebrated their first birthday on April 4th. At that stage they were still mostly indoor cats, going out on the balconies but no further. Well, not unless they escaped when we opened the front door.

A week later, Alex discovered how to get down from our utility balcony (which has a cat flap into the kitchen). The first couple of times, we brought him back in the house; then he learned how to reverse the process, which requires quite a jump up, and there was no stopping him. Once or twice I wondered if he had gone for good, particularly when I got up in the morning and he was nowhere to be seen.

But apparently he was venturing further and further afield as he explored our neighbourhood. Since then I've spotted him on roofs of houses on a street parallel to ours, and in some waste ground about a hundred metres away, on yet another street.

After a couple of hours or more he usually comes into the house, has a quick snack and a long drink of water, and then flops on the beanbag:

A couple of weeks later, as the weather warmed still further, I realised I couldn't keep the windows and doors closed all summer. I switched from trainers to sandals, stopped wearing a sweatshirt, and started washing our jackets and fleeces. We opened the windows in the daytime and started to let Joan out too. She didn't go as far as Alex at first, but now she, too, goes off exploring and often stays out for an hour or more.

Last weekend we were invited to a friend's 50th birthday party, which was a barbecue at a national park up a hill not far away. It was a warm day, but there are shady places to sit and an amazing view over Larnaka:

I started using the ceiling fans in the warmest part of the day. Shade temperatures were approaching 28 or even 29C. Then, just as I was thinking it was time to put my jeans away for the summer, and dig out my shorts, it got cooler again. So much so that, whereas Alex and Joan had been spreading themselves out on the tile floors to cool down, I found them a couple of days ago sharing a seat, almost as curled up together as they were when they were little:

May seems to be racing by; I will clean the air conditioners soon, although, as ever, hope not to turn any of them on until at least the start of June.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Birthday Blogpost

It happens every year. I can't pretend that I'm not expecting it, because the date is consistent - but as the years pass, it seems to approach more rapidly than ever.

I speak of the anniversary of my birth, and my increasing incredulity that I can be, as one of my small friends put it, such an 'old lady' when I still feel about 26 on the inside. It's a shock, sometimes, to realise that my younger son is, currently that age.

Cake, at least in our culture, is usually a mark of a birthday. And since our closest friends in Cyprus were due here Sunday afternoon, I decided to bake a chocolate fudge cake a day early, so as to share the feast with them. I used a slightly runny icing and then decorated it with seasonal strawberries, and some American style chocolate chips which some visitors had given us last summer:

Nobody doubts my ability to bake and even decorate a cake, so long as nothing artistic is required. But in general I am not permitted by my family to cut a cake, particularly not with our large and rather sharp knife. However, given my advancing years, Richard and Tim felt that perhaps - with supervision - I should be allowed to try:

After all, as Tim kindly pointed out, it might not be many years before my hands become too shaky to use a sharp knife...

I succeeded in dividing the cake into twelve reasonably even pieces, without cutting myself at all. Pieces were passed around the table, served with fresh fruit salad which I had also made earlier in the day:

Katie enjoyed hers very much:

We didn't have anything much planned for the following day, which was the actual birthday. So I got up early and read for a while, as usual, and did my normal Monday blitz around to dust/vacuum/mop the house before Richard got up. Then I opened some presents: books, DVDs and some fruity teas from Richard and two of my siblings who passed their gifts to me when we saw them back in February.

Richard was working in the morning, so I pottered a while, read email, caught up on Facebook - including about thirty 'Happy birthday' messages which I responded to briefly - and a few other things on the computer.

Since there were ten people present for Sunday evening, there were two pieces of cake left for us to eat after lunch. Afterwards we went out to the PO Box where I found three packages awaiting, one of which was addressed to Tim. The other contained some books from another of my siblings.

I'd also wanted to buy a few flowering plants to put in the planters outside my study window, so we visited a plant shop too to spend a little of the birthday money I've been given. I thought I'd branch out from my usual petunias and geraniums, although I've no idea what I actually bought.

I planted them out soon after we got back.  There are two of this pretty purple thing:

and two of each of these plants:

Our Christmas poinsettia is still looking reasonably good, but with both Easters (Western and Eastern) past, and the weather warming up, I decided it was time to move it from the living room to the outside planter:

Then I couldn't resist a few more geraniums and a couple of petunias, as they do so very well in Cyprus. Most of them will go downstairs on the outside patio area:

Tim arrived about 6pm, tired after his first day back at work after the Easter break. The parcel addressed to him was in fact his present to me, which was a new and smart-looking chocolate-coloured case for my Kindle, as my old case had almost disintegrated.

And since I'm often asked exactly what my gifts were, here they are in collage form:

I had already decanted two of the boxes of fruity tea into jars and cut out the box fronts to label them before I thought of taking a photo. I've tried them both already, and they are extremely good.

Richard had asked if I'd like to go out for a meal in the evening, but we've been out to eat at restaurants four times in the past six weeks and I couldn't think of anything I particularly wanted to eat at a restaurant. About four times a year is more normal for us.

So I decided to make my current favourite meal of spanopitta, and just have Tim over to dinner. He then mentioned that he still had some pecans left from his last trip to the UK, and they needed to be used.. so he would bring a pecan pie for dessert. I wasn't entirely sure whether a pie following a pie would be a good idea, but was quite prepared to try.

Spanopitta isn't difficult, now I've realised that it's not necessary to cook the chopped onions before mixing them into the feta and hard goat's cheeses, along with eggs and spinach, but I wasn't sure if we'd eat more than one - and liked the idea of having some extra to freeze for a future meal - so I made two:

.. served with two of my favourite vegetables: roasted tomatoes with basil and garlic, and baked mushrooms:

I'd thought about doing some other veg, but didn't want us to be too full before the dessert, which looked good and tasted delicious:

We had played Settlers of Catan on Sunday afternoon, and we were all tired, so I suggested we play 'Kingdom Builder', a game that Tim bought us for Christmas, but which we haven't played very often. I like it very much; it's not too demanding, and doesn't take more than about half an hour. We played a couple of rounds:

However by about 8.30pm Tim was yawning after his early start (he has to get up at 6.00am in term time) so he went home, and I went back to my computer to find yet more birthday greetings on Facebook. By 9.30 I was almost asleep myself, so I went up to read in bed.

Having stretched out the celebration over two days, I thought that would be the end of it. Then this afternoon I had a message that it was a good time to phone Daniel, Becky and David who are at present on the Logos Hope in Malaysia. After several failed attempts, we got through on a reasonable line via the UK and USA, and I was wished Happy Birthday yet again. We chatted for about forty-five minutes, and were pleased to discover, on hanging up, that it had cost us the vast total of about 40 pence (sterling).

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Coffee at Al Dente on Greek Good Friday

For perhaps the first time ever, we've had coffee out for two weeks in a row. That's three times so far this year - more than I think we've ever had coffee out in the space of four months.

We parked at the music school on Friday morning and wondered how many shops would be open, as it was a religious holiday for the 'Eastern' Good Friday. The local population are almost entirely Greek Orthodox here, and while for many of them it's quite nominal for most of the year, they make a big effort on the special and most holy days.  As we passed St Lazarus Church, we saw people emerging, dressed in black; presumably from a service to mark the day.

It was quite warm and sunny, and by the time we'd walked down to the sea front and past several restaurants, I was feeling already as if I'd been for too long in the sun. So we stopped at the first suitable looking place we came to.  Al Dente is an Italian restaurant, with photos outside showing, among other things, pizza and pasta dishes:

In between the restaurant buildings and the main part of the street, are more temporary structures where people sit to eat or have coffee; there are several of these, with plastic 'windows' that will be removed when the weather gets warmer:

We went inside and sat down at a comfortable corner table. Nobody else was there, and it felt quite peaceful despite plenty of noise in the areas outside. There was gentle romantic music from the 1970s coming through the speakers in the ceiling, but it was quiet enough that it was not at all intrusive, and we hardly noticed it, other than when we recognised songs from our teenage years.

A waiter brought us a menu; there were various coffees and frappés available, mostly at €2.90. Richard decided on an Americano hot coffee, and I opted for a frappé as I was still feeling quite warm:

We liked the fact that they came in a real mug and glass rather than plastic disposable ones. We also liked the comfortable, if slightly odd decor:

So on all aesthetic counts, we liked this place rather more than last week's Coffee Island. It was more comfortable, much less crowded, played quieter, more pleasant music, and had soft furnishings to improve the acoustics. It was nice to be waited on, too, rather than having queue; then again, we were paying almost half as much again.

Unfortunately, the drinks were not as good as those of Coffee Island. They were nice enough: we appreciated the break, and the caffeine boost, and there was nothing wrong with either the coffee or the frappé - no bitter or strange taste.  But nowhere near as good as last week's.

We sat in comfort for maybe half an hour, and one or two other customers wandered in.  When we left it started spitting with rain, and I felt quite chilly after my iced drink.

As we walked back to the car, past St Lazarus Church, we saw a queue of people - mostly locals, again - waiting to go in by a side door. The larger windows had been covered so it must have been very gloomy inside. We don't know if they were waiting for another Good Friday service, or perhaps going in to light candles and pay their respects to the ikons.

The banks and post offices were closed, but all the shops were open.  For most people, it was simply a day off work.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Frappés at Coffee Island

It's two months since I wrote about our morning coffee at Gloria Jean's. We decided to try different places in Larnaka for coffee, every Friday morning, when doing our 'house admin'.

The following Friday we were about to fly to the UK, and were frantically catching up with things we needed to finish. Then the next two Fridays we were in the UK. After that, we had a friend here, doing the accounts for Richard's organisation - they worked hard, and there was no time for a morning doing house-related work. We did do one or two jobs - and some shopping - on a couple of Fridays in March, but Richard was away for the other one.

And we forgot all about our coffee experiment.

However, last Friday, I wanted to go to the PO Box and we decided to have another coffee break. This time we opted for Coffee Island, another popular place with young people. We had heard that the coffee was good, and the prices quite reasonable, by comparison with other sea-front places. Several Coffee Island cafés have sprung up in the last few years, but the one we decided to visit was near the Post Office, on a corner of Larnaka sea-front near the fort:

It's a nice location, and it looked very busy - though mostly with young adults, late teens and early twenties, at a guess, mainly male. There's an outdoor 'bar' with stools, and a few outdoor seats too, but it was a sunny day so we decided to have our coffee inside.

The first thing that struck me as we went in was that it was extremely messy! Some of the decor was nice - there were coffee bean machines, and coffee grinders, and other interesting paraphernalia. But there was also a central long table which we had to walk around, which contained an apparently random selection of objects, from jars of honey to small coffee machines, and even a mostly-empty bottle of blue spray cleaner:

We decided to order frappés; there were only a couple of people in the queue but the staff were busy at another window so we had to wait awhile.  Still, once we reached the front, we were served quickly: one with milk and no sugar for me, one with sugar and no milk for Richard.  The cost was two euros each, which we thought quite reasonable for a large drink, even if a lot of it was ice. Definitely better value than Gloria Jean's. 

We thought of sitting in the outer of the two indoor areas, until we realised that people were smoking. 

It's not really allowed in any indoor areas, but many restaurant owners seem to get around this by claiming that their 'outer' areas are temporary rather than truly outside, as the doors will be removed when summer starts. And since ashtrays were provided on the outside tables, it's evidently acceptable. 

So we sat in a smaller inside area, which was reasonably comfortable. The frappés were good, too. This is the one with sugar and no milk: 

The taste was smooth, with no bitterness, and I enjoyed mine very much.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of noise in Coffee Island. Music was blaring through speakers, some of them apparently in the roof, so there was no getting away from it. It wasn't particularly unpleasant music, but was highly distorted, and with the Cypriot-style lack of furnishings, quite echoey. It made conversation difficult, so much so that Richard had to sit right next to me in order that we could hear each other.

Add to that almost continual sounds of clattering and banging, ice being crushed and poured, beans being ground... and I was feeling quite overwhelmed with the noise by the time we had been there about ten minutes.

But we did enjoy the frappés.

Perhaps we should try a different branch, or find a quieter time of day.