Everywhere is packed in Cyprus in August – except for Nicosia

Everywhere is packed in Cyprus in August – except for Nicosia

Irish Times
Aug 20, 2004

Cyprus Letter/Michael Jansen: August is the month for staying home in
Cyprus. It is almost impossible to leave the island. Airlines are
overbooked and Larnaca’s little airport is awash with waves of
tourists who arrive white-skinned and leave, at the end of their
holiday break, a rich red brown colour, with sand in their hair.

There are no rooms at hotels in prime tourist areas. Beaches become
no-go areas, packed with foreigners and Cypriots who take their annual
holiday during the second and third weeks of the month. The soiled and
rumpled sand is far too hot to trek across to the warm, salty,
shimmering sea.

Shops in the tourist areas are besieged by foreign bargain- hunters
scanning displays of lace umbrellas, boxes of Turkish Delight, crude
pottery and tacky mementoes.

Seaside restaurants are packed with families consuming mounds of fish
or calamari from the North Sea, chips and huge bowls of village salad
garnished with fresh coriander, feta and olives.

Prices skyrocket. Knots of French, Italians, Irish and Russians in
crumpled T-shirts, skirts and shorts are dragged by guides speaking a
babble of tongues through cool museums and simmering ancient sites,
pausing at kiosks to buy ice cream and postcards.

Highways are crowded with hire cars steered by people who normally
drive on the opposite side of the road. Red licence plates warn
cautious Cypriot drivers to keep a wide berth.

Fortunately, Nicosia, where I live, is not a major tourist
destination. We have the Cyprus antiquities museum, the icon
collection attached to the Archbishopric of the Greek Orthodox Church
and the 16th century palazzo of an Ottoman dragoman.

We have Ledra Street, dubbed “Murder Mile” because of Cypriot attacks
on British soldiers during the anti-colonial struggle, but it is a
pedestrianised shopping district these days.

But we have no sea. Holiday- makers here for sun, sea and sand are
bused in for a few hours to glimpse relics of the island’s 10,000
years of history before returning – bleary-eyed with culture – to its

I love Nicosia’s emptiness in August. Life is easy. There are few
traffic jams and no lines at supermarkets. However, repair shops of
all kinds close, so one hopes that the car, air-conditioner or
television do not break down, although it is usually possible to find
someone prepared to step in in an emergency.

The pool where I swim is lovely at nine in the morning. I am almost
always the first to arrive and usually manage to finish two-thirds of
my daily ration of lengths before the first papa and child trail in
and begin to splash in the shallow end. Cypriot papas are very good
with their children.

I stroke back and forth in the sparking azure water beneath an
impressionist canopy of grey- green olive trees, dusty junipers and
pines, and wide white umbrellas against the serene blue sky.

Refreshed, I return home, switch on the air conditioner in the study
and boot the computer. News is never on holiday.

The other night I went with friends to Plato’s pub in a handsome old
Cypriot house located on a narrow street within the thick walls built
by Venetian conquerors in the 16th century. Outside August it is
necessary to book a table well ahead but we found only two or three
occupied. Plato’s spirit and wine list is long, its rooms are cool and
its jazz is hot.

The menu has only half a dozen items, cooked nicely by the Armenian
owner’s mama. Prices are modest. The tourists have not yet discovered

In Cyprus, the family remains the foundation of society, the
administration, and many small businesses. Cypriots can always rely on
a strategically placed close or extended family member to help out
whenever needed, particularly in a crisis.

Neighbourhood groceries set their opening and closing hours to suit
customers and assemble and deliver orders to homes. Doctors still make
house calls. Neighbours greet one another when they meet.
Relationships are conducted on a personal basis. People keep an eye on
each other and an eye out for each other.

Nicosia, with a population of just over 200,000, is just a big small
town one can cross by car in 12 minutes when there are no jams.

It is a grand place to bring up children and to reside in retirement,
a comfortable retreat from covering the political squalls and storms
of the Middle East. Especially in empty August.