Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Few Days Out

The Xynisteri vinyards around Laneia village where grapes for Commanderia wine are grown.

As we left the house heading for the mountain rather than coastal road to our rented villa, Sophia said “You realise that this will be our last family holiday?” referring to her leaving for school in England in September. But she was wrong. Our last family holiday was two years ago when we went to Italy – and this time was not all the family was present anyway. Best Beloved was away on a week's jaunt visiting friends in Berlin and London, and Alex 'didn't want to come.'

Family bonding over a game of Monopoly -- in Greek.  Sophia trounced us.

Realising that I would be working in the house, field, and garden without BB for the first few days of the Easter holidays, and knowing that I would also be fending the Littles off permanent computer time, I visited the websites that we had used to rent self-catering accomodation overseas to check what Cyprus had to offer.  I eschewed the plethora of seaside villas with pools in Paphos, and chose a three-bedroom house in Lania, a hill village not far from Limassol. A quick call from the owner in response to my email confirmed that it was available for three days, and we left as soon as school was over last Friday.

Lania is an artists' roost and a stop on the tourist trail. Every street and lane in the village seemed to have a studio or gallery, but despite the Easter preparations, the narrow lanes were very quiet and we wandered for a while. Sophia and Leo soon got fed up and went back to the house, but Zenon and I explored the playground and the cemetery ('Let's see if we can find the oldest person buried here, and the youngest!' -- we did), and found the rough and ready football pitch.

The trail-head... Not realising that there was so much snow, I had planned a hike... Oooops!

The next day I gave them a choice of driving up to Troodos or over the hills to the village of Lefkara, and they unanimously chose Troodos. I planned to walk the circular trail around Mount Olympos, but we found the trail-head under a metre of snow. “Can we hire snowboards at the club, Mum? Can we, can we!” Sophia groaned – she was wearing three-quarter shorts and hadn't brought a jacket – but when I said yes to the boys, she shrugged and grinned and said “Guess I have to get used to this snow stuff, huh?” and proved adept at jamming feet into boots and doing and undoing bindings.

Leo got the hang of snowboarding quickly.

Nobody takes snow sports seriously in Cyprus. People hit the slopes for the novelty of it without proper gear (yes, you can see women teetering along the slushy paths in stilletoes and we parked the LandRover beside a pair of elegant leather brogues either forgotten or ruined and discarded) or any idea of how to use their rented equipment, and we were no exception. Few people shared the piste with us: Cyprus has had so much snow this year that the novelty has worn off, and even a brilliant Saturday tempted few punters.

View from the top.  The slopes were empty, considering that it was Saturday.

The boys took a while to get the hang of snowboarding, but they stayed for hours with only a short break for an overpriced lunch at the cafe. We would have stayed longer but I took pity on Sophia for her barked shins and sopping feet, and we left at about four. Leo went down from the top of the slope and came to grief through no fault of his own when a skier fell in front of him, but Zenon was more cautious, and having seen the view from the top, opted for a lower starting point.

Zenon's descent from near the top.

On top of Olympos.  Sophia was not the only one unsuitably dressed for the snow.

The next day we went to Lefkara by backroads. I had printed a map from the Internet and traced the line linking the villages through which we had to pass. Handing it to Sophia, I said “Shotgun? Navigator!” and she replied after a quick look: “That's easy, turn right at Trimiklini and keep going...” I kept my own counsel, but thought it might be a bit harder than that.

Heptagonia cemetery.  We stopped here because the church roof was tiled in the old style, and I wanted a closer look, but Zenon found the grave of a very old man.

A few kilometers out of Trimiklini, we passed a turn to Kalo Horio. “Do we go there?” I asked. “No,” she replied. “We go straight.” I told her to check again. “No! We need to turn! Go back!” What looks straight forward on Google maps translates differently in the Cyprus back-country... In fits and starts, asking directions in coffee-shops and with several wrong turns, we found Lefkara two hours later. I had wanted to show my children something of the reality of their country, away from the touristic and Anglicised conformity that characterises Paphos, and the drive to Lefkara – over gravel roads and through a quarry (“How many of the machines from Giant Earthmovers can you identify there, boys?”), through villages were two cars cannot pass the roads together and where happy locals are sipping Zivania long before noon, stopping to visit a cemetery where Zenon found the grave of a 116-year-old – did that. It reassured me that the country that I had criss-crossed alone on a dirtbike twenty years ago was still very much alive in its idiosyncrases despite induction into the EU and Eurozone, and when I met Chrystalla Komodromos, the lacemaker whom I had interviewed twenty years ago in her Lefkara shop for an article in the Cyprus Airways in-flight Sunjet, I felt that a circle had somehow been closed.

Chystalla Komodromos's handmade lace and Lefkaritiko at her Alley Shop in Pano Lefkara.

The children were a little grumpy by the time we found Chrystalla. A snack had revived them, and the village's twin crafts of fine needlework and silver smithing had caught Zenon's fancy, but many of the shops and all of the metal workshops were closed and tramping the steep cobbled streets was fraying their nerves. Leo didn't let me chat to Chrystalla for long – he kept fiddling with her display – but I decided to come back for a longer visit soon, and to bring my mother's silver hairbrush for repair in a workshop there.

We were all hungry by the time that we reached Maria's restaurant on the road to Vavatsinia, and we were the only customers in the huge, airy room that could easily seat 200. Lunch was fresh, local, and delicious, served by Maria herself, and we spun it out over a leisurely hour and a half enjoying the view over the valleys and lighthearted banter with the family.

Lunch at Maria's on the way to Vavatsinia.

The road home was a little faster as we knew the way, and the boys headed to the football pitch for a kick-around after sitting for so long in the car.

The local football pitch.

I had planned a visit to Limassol for the third day: a visit to the castle and the Turkish Quarter where I used to live in a cheap hostel, a walk along the water front and the old shopping street of Agios Andreas, but Sophia and Zenon were desperate to try ice-skating at My Mall, and, once there, I could not face the battle through town traffic again. I caved and we spent two-and-a-half hours at the mall. A leotard-and-floaty-skirt-clad ten year old (“I'm here skating for hours every single day!”) took all three under her wing, dispensing instructions and admonitions with pursed lips and plenty of head-tossing, and by the time we turned in the skates and headed for lunch, Sophia had mastered turns and skating backwards, Zenon was whipping around the rink – comfortable going forwards, but not yet able to turn, and Leo was fairly proficient. All three had a liberal ration of cuts and bruises, Sophia the worst off – a skate blade had cut her leg quite badly and she had also managed to run over her own thumb.

Skating at My Mall.

This little girl, fluent in Greek and American accented English helped Sophia, Zenon, and Leo to master their skates.

By the time we went for lunch, Sophia was getting pretty good and the others were comfortable.

We weren't sorry to get home later that afternoon. The holiday had served its multiple purposes – a break from routine, a celebration of the end of school – for now, a visit to hitherto unknown parts of the country. But plants needed to be watered and Alex had reported that the dog had been depressed since we had left. Time had come to pick up the threads again and begin the run to the Easter celebrations and Zenon's twelfth birthday.


  1. Good to know someone's still making lace! And that country life has not changed much. Some of the best times we had in Cyprus was going with people we met in Nicosia to their villages or to some of the country restaurants they knew. The food was always wonderful and it was good to get out of town!

    Good for you for hauling the family out in search of the good stuff (they will thank you someday!) and thank you for rekindling fond memories.

  2. Glad you enjoyed the memories :) Any chance that you'll make it back here some day?

  3. Just loved reading this post. Shorts in the snow, the headstone for the very very old man, the little bossy skating instructor; lots to make me smile.

    1. Thanks for visiting, Trish, and taking time to comment. It was a wonderful three days. Just long enough for a complete break and plenty of new things to see and do.

  4. Thanks for the ice rink photos! That is a really cool rink, and I love the animal skate walkers. Looks like you had a lot of fun, too. I wish more malls here in the US would have little rinks like that.

    1. Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, marizel. How did you find me? Apparently there is a rink just opened in our town -- have to check that one out, too :)