A 7-Day Adventure in Cyprus
Day 0 — Kneecapped
Apart from a 6-hour drive, 2-hour flight and crushed kneecaps, Tommy's arrival at Stansted airport was without incident and we sped off through the English countryside in a bright yellow sports car as dusk merged into darkness en-route to Bedford. A quick stop for flowers and Jack Daniel's and 10 minutes later we were safely indoors.
Day 1 — Fried Red Tomatoes
"Already," was as coherent a response as Tommy could manage when I woke him at 5 the following morning. An empty bottle of JD sat smugly amongst the debris of the night's enthusiasms.
The 5:30 taxi saw me still packing and sipping hot tea. The Indian driver found it quaint, amusing and typically eccentric that I should offer him a cuppa and commented such to Tommy, already seated in the back of the cab — I was simply stalling for time. Nevertheless, we met the London train with time to spare. So began day 1.
Tommy's first holiday romance began unexpectedly - well, at least for him - and ended just as abruptly after I'd snapped a delightfully smiling young lady and watched her train pull out from St. Pancras station.
We headed across London to Kings Cross Thameslink for the final leg to Gatwick airport. Prior to September 9 this additional luggage humping would have been unnecessary but Thameslink's program of redevelopment offered Tommy his first fleeting above-ground glimpse of London's grubby transit buffer zone and ensured all southbound trains, including our Gatwick Flyer, were grounded at St. Pancras. The walk prepared him for basic survival skills such as Look Left once we arrive in Cyprus. Having been reliably informed by rail staff of a 35-minute journey, time dilation kicked in and we stumbled out onto the Gatwick concourse an hour later at 9:10, albeit covering the final gallop at impressive speed.
We were due to pick up our tickets at the airport but a fact known to all except Flightline, the Internet issuing agents, is Cyprus Airways, Cyprus' national airline, does not have a desk at Gatwick. They also have an 's' in Airways. Enquiries ensued with growing apprehension from desk to desk until we met a Maria Magdalene, not a friend of Christ's but a saviour nevertheless, who just happened to believe me when I mentioned they were Cyprus' national airline since she was Cypriot born. Further visits back to her beleaguered desk prompted by-the-hand delivery to the now renamed EuroCypria desk, a wholly owned subsidiary of, yes, Cyprus Airways. A silent prayer, explanations and passports produced two tickets and after checking in we settled down to breakfast at a cafeteria equally versed in communications challenges.
We stood waiting to be seated and were told we must first order our meal at the bar area ... which we tried, but were informed we must first have a table to which would be delivered our food. You see, without a table, with a number, we could not order. Stealthily avoiding the waitress I sat Tommy at a table, made note of its number and returned to order drinks and a substantial English breakfast. We concluded our meal, each leaving two large fried tomato halves on our plates. Synchronicity kicked in as we simultaneously offered them to one another.
Across from us was seated an American who I overheard mention he had a cure for vertigo. Intrigued, I enquired after the solution. "Jump out of an aircraft at 20,000 feet" left me wondering which is worse, vertigo or hitting the ground at terminal velocity.
In the departure terminal we entered the big boys sweet shop and I stood bemused as Tommy's knowledge of single malt Scotch unfolded at mesmerising speed before a bewildering array of cased and naked amber tinted bottles. Talisker of some 10 year's pedigree was his eventual choice, a blend of lust and financial constraint. I picked up a litre of Jack Daniel's and we headed off to pay. It was at this point that two curious things happened and the workings of karma were laid clearly before me: we were beckoned to a newly manned till with no queue and I was not allowed to purchase Jack Daniel's. Cyprus' accession to the EU in May of this year meant we would be flying within the Union and therefore my litre of JD must be destined for climes elsewhere beyond our little European self-help club before it could contribute to general liver failure. Bugger. Without explanation we left for the departure lounge where, surprisingly, nothing happened within the environment of unease and anticipation gripping some 200 people.
Passport control offered an opportunity for fate to deal a dodgy hand when I set off the walk through security gate alarms. "Steel toe caps," I volunteered as I was patted down by an amiable male security guard. He simply nodded and requested I show the soles of both shoes. His colleague, a woman in her late 50s, was not so charitable and seemed obsessed by the idea of wearing steel toe caps to Cyprus. "They're comfortable and cost 30 quid," I informed her. "But why steel to caps?" she responded. "Because they're cheap and comfortable," I restated, rearranging the sentence in hopes of clarifying but she persisted with "But you're going on holiday with steel toe capped boots." 'Alright, it's a fair cop, I'm off to kick someone's head in' would not have been the best move even though it would have made her evidently boring day, discretion being the better part and all that.
But once on the delayed though scheduled 11:40 flight (we took off at 11:40 — beats me, too) the departure lounge respite suddenly recognised nature's abhorrence of a narrative vacuum and a fight broke out in the seats behind me. Five variously sized Greek and Turkish lads, one of whom I'd not like to take a hook from as he was equally as wide as tall and melon-armed decided that the woman in front, Mandy, was an old bag which, in truth, was untruthful because I'd been chatting to her and her partner John for over half an hour and had found them thus far fun and willing to participate in air travel outtake banter.
There was no denying the blast of alcohol as they squabbled over the window seat when making themselves comfortable for the flight. "Oh God," Mandy prayed when she recognised her immediate rear companions, prompting a smile and "Yes" from me as a prelude to communication. They were the last group to board since numerous concerned officials - who no doubt factored left hook into the equation - had spent some time assessing them for airworthiness. It must have been an extremely borderline decision and one they may later regret due to the number of promised complaints to the ground crew.
There's an adage that luck favours the brave, although I felt neither fortuitous nor brave as I stood up, faced behind and asked the more vociferous unguided combat mechanism what was up. "Look at me!" baffled me for a moment, since I was, but further inspection revealed he'd either had an unfortunate accident or had spilt a large quantity of fluid in his lap. Which amounts to the same thing, really.
It was at this moment I noticed Tommy, who sat in the isle seat opposite me, turn around. One against 5 are pretty unfair odds but once recalibrated to one plus one very big Swede against five pissed blokes the opportunity for conflict becomes more of a probability due to the laws of alcoholic stupidly. Luckily the adage proved true and I was asked to sit down by a member of the cabin crew while the co-pilot explained that any more trouble would result in the flight returning to Gatwick and their arrest. Human nature being what it is, the results of the timely warning were not lost on Mandy who fired a final fusillade at the subdued protagonists, "Should never have been allowed to board." Her partner made valiant attempts to gag her ... and so it began again. This time, though, I had a rare moment of sober thought: "Can I get you a towel?" brought forth a look of confusion that halted the old bag tirade mid-sentence. "No, it's alright," Ahmed said, offering me the opportunity to get into the typical 'It's no trouble' arbitration, whereupon peace broke out.
As Ahmed and I spent much of the remainder of the flight in friendly chat, the more acceptable in-flight video entertainment constantly had to be restarted. I have no idea what the film was but it starred Bruce Willis wearing a really silly hat (an example of which Tommy was later to buy to protect himself against the mercenary Mediterranean sun and upon which I made no audible comment) but many people were heard to be asking for reimbursement of their two Cyprus pounds for the dinky earphones.
We left the remainder of the passengers of flight CY1787, including five guys sleeping it off and a more relaxed Mandy and John, to the final 10-minute hop to Larnaca and exited into 30 degree sunshine, the Fahrenheit equivalent of which being bloody hot. Tommy descended the motorised stairs while I hung about for a quick chat with the flight crew who had dealt with the fracas. After a short wait mutual thanks were exchanged along with a handshake and I turned to find the ferry bus disappearing along with Tommy's dwindling face towards the terminal building. At least he knew the name of the hotel.
I waited for what I imagined would be a return trip especially for me and was surprised to find a wheelchair-bound traveller with a few friends and ground crew waiting to board. I spoke with the elderly occupant and could see she was in considerable pain but brave-facing it. As she was helped on board and reseated in her chair I asked of her predicament. A combination of sciatica and arthritis had resulted in her almost unable to walk and fed on a diet of inadequate painkillers. Doctors had recommended the climate. It was her first trip to Paphos. I hoped it would not be her last. It makes you wonder when we can stuff 142,500 pounds of 737-400 into the blue yonder why we are unable to relieve the suffering of such common ailments.
I wished her well and wandered into baggage reclaim, man and machine vectoring an intercept path to my black leather holdall. "That's the third time it's been around," muttered a relieved Tommy. "Sorry, mate, missed the bus," I replied, scooping up my bag and heading for passport control.
Once outside the air-conditioned terminal the early evening heat reasserted control and we began sweating profusely. Tommy permitted the obligatory Smile, You're In Cyprus and I wasted a lot of ram on a statue waiting for 'smile' until I realised I'd flipped the digicam into video mode. A quick reset and check to see I'd not lost any earlier frames resulted in a non-smiling statue.
Now, getting a taxi is dead easy outside Paphos airport; what is not so easy is getting one after you've wound up 15 or so drivers through haggling the price to the hotel. In an attempt to defuse an increasingly heated debate involving the escalating cost of living, government tariffs and one man's wife who spends his money as fast as he can make it, I settled on the evident comedian of the group, perched my Panama hat on the top of his head and, along with his companion, asked them to smile as I raised the camera. Instant control. Now all were laughing and joking and we soon had our ride.
It's a strange thing but the likelihood of somebody finding it funny raising their arm and mounting two fingers above and behind their companion's or indeed anybody's head, regardless of nationality or class or cultural upbringing, is extremely high. I know, I have about 8 of these cheeky little chappy shots. It evidently does not take all sorts, just cretins, whether sober or not.
Half an hour discussing the recent ruling by a judge concerning the rights of the original northern Cyprus Greek owners to reclaim their once beloved property and we had arrived at the Hotel Apollo Paphos. We actually paid the guy not the agreed 15 but 20 Cyprus pounds, the equivalent of 24 pounds Sterling. Then Tommy asked about my hat. It was no doubt still worn by Rabbit Fingers at the airport. I asked the taxi driver to keep a look out for it which he promised to do and if found asked it be delivered to the Apollo soonest. We thanked him and entered the hotel.
"Mike, what are you doing here?" does not inspire confidence, even when uttered by Vanya, an old friend and somebody who I knew would do the best she could to locate Petros, the manager and seek an explanation as to why we had not been allocated rooms during the peak season. What, I wondered, had become of the email I sent 7 days earlier confirming our reservations for two single rooms. A quick glance at the Spartan guest boxes offered hope neither way since the few remaining keys could indicate either unallocated rooms or guests out. But Vanya had evidently located Petros and after a brief conversation cradled the receiver and to our collective relief offered up two sets of keys on solid oblong fobs. We had arrived.
Once unpacked, we agreed to meet at the small 3-sided bar near reception. I was down first and to mutual delight met David, a northerner from Derby with whom I'd tossed a few shots on the same stools a few years back. We're both regulars to the Apollo but had passed like ships in the intervening years. Tommy arrived shortly and I made the introductions: "Tommy, David, Pat, David's wife," and we ordered a round of JD and caught up on a little history.
An hour or so flicked by and Tommy and I excused ourselves to head for the Moorings, a busy restaurant on the harbour promenade. Our first evening fell mid-week and I found myself pleasantly surprised the evening was in full swing and the restaurant alive with the buzz of conversation and laughter. I caught the eye of a waiter whose broad grin heralded recognition. We pumped hands enthusiastically and while I introduced Tommy, Costas steered us to a table sufficiently distanced from the live Bulgarian band as to make conversation a viable exercise. We decided to forego food as the in-flight meal had been both edible and filling and opted for a couple of large Keos, the local light, dry lager brewed in the capital city of Nicosia. It's very refreshing and leaves little aftertaste on the palate so complements a variety of cuisines.
Shortly before midnight and after Tommy had taken the opportunity to introduce a few key concepts of website accessibility to his captive non Swedish-speaking Bulgarian bouzouki-playing audience, we headed back to the Apollo to find David and Pat had returned from dining, along with others I'd not met before. We exchanged greetings and ordered a couple of large JD from Vanya whose duties now included the graveyard shift once it was confirmed the Apollo would close the end of October and staff were shedding for work within the abundance of hotels on the island.
Having enjoyed a great night, the bar crew split up and headed for their respective rooms. Tommy and I decided upon a nightcap. We'd crack the Talisker. It was now one o'clock and we parked on his first floor balcony listening to the sharp, shrill chirrup of cicadas. The cacophony or row, dependent on your perspective, is produced by organs known as tymbals whose internal muscles contract and relax causing them to flex and emit a sound pulse. There are numerous species of cicada worldwide, ranging in size from about 2 - 15 centimetres. One species can emit its mating cry at an astonishing 120 dB, approaching the human hearing pain threshold. I imagine it was hunted to extinction, at least in Cyprus (a pity this cannot be said for the Errant Time-Zone cockerel, of which more later, or earlier, if you see what I mean). Those that inhabit Paphos have yet to be seen by tourists. They can be heard, sure, but seen in the flesh, nah. I imagine there are cicada nursery schools dedicated to the identification of tourists, with a 4-winged, 6-legged matriarch tapping a whiteboard with a feeler issuing repeat after me 'Funny hat, shorts, camera, possibly sun glasses ...' I say this because it is entirely possible to vector in on the sound of a single insect and, indeed, observe Cypriot natives wandering tantalisingly close to the beast responsible. However, any movement to similar proximity by a tourist, vis-à-vis Tommy and me, results in abrupt silence. A little tip to reduce global tension levels: do not, for photographic purposes or otherwise, bother to hunt cicadas. You will die from frustration.
We broke the seal and Tommy poured two delicate measures into small clear glass tumblers, adding a drop or two of water to 'release the flavour', as he put it. I rarely add water to whiskey because, for me at least, part of the pleasure lies in the immediate kick it offers the tonsils but in fairness Tommy's suggestion worked a treat and released all sorts of vapours, including that of tar, no doubt offering workers in the petrochemical industry a sense of profound well-being.
We chuckled through the events of the day and a half bottle of malt while the myriad stars above pin-wheeled lazily towards dawn and the moon, close to full, cast its eerie silver light on the marble and stone-walled balcony, our warm fuzzy feelings of camaraderie isolating us from the rest of humanity. Peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Except one, who rose like a disembodied grey apparition from behind the partitioning stone wall and scared the living shit out of us as it uttered, "It is 3:30. Would you please mind being a little quiet as I am trying to get to sleep."
Continue to Day 2.