Monday, September 26, 2011

Cyprus in the Blink of an Eye

So, we all sailed off to Cyprus. It was on a whim actually – needing to get away, anywhere, anyhow, for even the briefest of breaks, Marlyn and I – and our close friends, Lynore and Neil Blum – decided to take a weekend cruise to Cyprus. It was one of those absolutely-not-to be missed deals, priced at way less than you can get a "tzimmer" in the north, and with the promise of being "chutz l'aretz" (overseas) that enticed us to book.
To make it a real adventure weekend, we decided to take a train from the Hod Hasharon station near our home to Haifa port. Good decision, we felt, because we got off the train almost at the gangplank; well, except for negotiating check-in, passport control and the duty free shops.

And there she was, waiting for us, moored to the Haifa dockside, our splendid craft and home for the weekend, the Golden Iris run by Mano Cruises. At just under 17,000 tons, not the hugest of ocean liners, but neat enough. Of course, Marlyn and I couldn't help initially comparing it to the Caribbean Princess on which we spent a week swanning about the Caribbean on a gifted holiday in 2007. 
But comparisons are odious. The Caribbean Princess was 10 times the size, three times the height and carried nearly four times as many passengers and crew. But then, what to do you really need for an overnight float across a short expanse of Mediterranean blue? Believe me, our Golden Iris was more than up to the task. Very comfortable air-conditioned cabin ( give it the correct term); excellent meals, and all the shipside diversions and entertainment normally associated with "cruising" – if you like discos, rather over-loud and quite honestly, mediocre cabaret, a raucous and smoke-filled casino and a crowded duty free shop somewhat like an Israeli supermarket just before a "chag". Did I mention that the ship was full? One thousand Israelis of all shapes, sizes, persuasions and origins; English-speakers, Russians, Israeli Arabs, Israeli Israelis...French-speakers, Spanish-speakers...just the sort of ethnic mix you would encounter anywhere in Israel. We were a floating microcosm of Israel, sailing off to experience a microcosm of Greece... 
The pleasure of the cruise for us was sitting on deck, in the glorious moonlight, cruising along at a decent clip on a glassy, smooth almost unruffled sea. We didn't get entangled with a single Gaza-bound flotilla, never encountered the Turkish navy, nor got within eyesight of an Israeli-Cypriot drilling rig. The balmy night air, the hypnotic view of the wake thrust aside by the ship's prow, the throb of the engines and an ever-so-gentle swaying put us in the mood for a good night's sleep. Early the next morning, we entered Larnaca harbor. My immediate reaction on viewing it out of the porthole was that we had turned around during the night and sailed back to Bat Yam...but that's a tad uncharitable. Larnaca, it turns out, was a somewhat pleasant enough city, gently laid back on a Saturday morning, with not too much traffic in the streets; which it turned out was a good thing because driving in Cyprus – courtesy of its colonial heritage – is on the left, like in South Africa and we had decided to hire a car for the day. 
Actually it only took a few minutes for us to do the "mind switch" and revert from left-hand drive to right-hand drive and call on our early driving education (sitting on dad's knee steering his enormous old Chevy...) But don't be fooled – driving in Israel for more than 20 years has left its mark – our car was a manual model and more than once I found myself trying to shift the door handle into third...
Once we collected our vehicle we met up with friends of the Blums', Sharon and Frank, who had moved to Cyprus from Durban 10 years ago. They offered to show us around the island for the day, and off we trundled, following them along the main highway up into the hill country towards Nicosia, to the village of Lefkara, famous for its fine filigree lace.
Lefkara Lace

The view from Lefkara to the sea

Believing that traveling independently of the guided tours ensured we would not be crowded out by the unwashed hordes, we found Lefkara charming, quaint and very quiet – until the tour busses loaded with our shipmates all sporting their red Mano Cruises baseball caps, arrived! So, we beat a hasty retreat from Lefkara back to the coast. On the way we took in the view from the heights down the valley towards the sea. Lefkara sits in a landscape much like the Jerusalem hills. The terrain is very similar to Israel (well, it's only 260 kms away...almost part of it, you might say) and the temperature was about the same – HOT!

Driving down the coastal highway we passed through Limasol, taking a brief glance at the beachfront residential area – looks like a great place for an extended stay – and headed for Aphrodite's Rock – a legendary tourist  attraction almost at the far western end of the island. In mythology this is the birth place of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, beauty, and sexuality, (know by the Romans as Venus) and is the stuff of legends and superstitions. According to our guides, this was the ancient forerunner of Viagra; it is claimed that any man swimming around the rock, will be bountifully endowed. Neil, Frank and I agreed that none of us needed to take a swim, and off we went for lunch...
Aphrodite's Rock
Overlooking Aphrodite's Rock from an airy restaurant on the hill above the beach, we tucked into a delicious local lamb stew (at least we were told it was lamb, and we took their word for it, ignoring the goat herds in the vicinity...). Soon enough it was time to make our way back to Larnaca, return our car, and board the ship for the overnight trip back to Haifa.
It had been a magical day in Cyprus, and we had only one glitch – that was when we stopped for petrol right next door to a local branch of Marks and Spencer's - BIG MISTAKE. Marlyn and Lynore leaped out the car, with promises of "Just fill up and we'll be back..." The car was filled and the clock was ticking as we hung about for what seemed hours, waiting for the wives. The garage attendant started giving us strange looks and I swear she was on the verge of calling the local constabulary to check out these two weird looking guys, hanging around the gas pumps.  
Neil decided to mount a one-man search party and resolutely plunged into the store. I know what you're thinking – why not just call them on a cell phone? Well, it turns out that none of us had thought of setting up international calling facilities, so we had no reception...and besides, Marlyn had left her phone in the car. Eventually Neil staggered out of the store, totally bewildered. He had searched all five floors, and nary a sight of the girls. Had they been abducted by M&S staff, intent on holding them hostage until they bought thousands of Euro worth of goods? So, we waited – and I had visions of us missing the ship, being incarcerated in a Cypriot prison as illegal aliens, trying to explain to the children how their mothers had been engulfed in the bowels of M&S, when they appeared, smiling and – joy of joys – not a package between them (credit cards had been mercifully left in the car!).We made it back to the ship in time, took a nap, met for dinner and then settled in for the night cruise back to Haifa.

We arrived early Sunday morning, having been away for around 48 hours – and as we stepped off the Golden Iris and headed for the station and the train to take us back to Hod Hasharon, it really felt like a week. Until we got on the train – remind me, never, ever to take a train from Haifa (or anywhere in the country for that matter) between 7:00 and 9:30 in the morning. It was already packed with commuters and soldiers heading back to their bases – so full in fact that Neil and Lynore sat on the steps and I stood the entire 1½-hour journey home....still, we'd been to Cyprus, we'd been "chutz l'aretz" for the weekend– albeit in the blink of an eye – and it was worth every single micro-second – even standing in the train all the way home.


danvalley52 said...
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Anonymous said...

You raise a lot of questions in my head; you wrote an excellent post, but this post is also mind provoking, and I will have to think about it a bit more; I will return soon.

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