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Phil’s Travels – Cyprus (08.23)


Phil’s Travels – Cyprus (08.23)

Our month of digital nomading began with a day-long session of pick-on my wonderful wife. It started as soon as we arrived at Heathrow for check-in. The check-in clerk had the temerity to ask my wife if she had a visa for Cyprus. This was too absurd for words as my wife is Cypriot and has a Cypriot passport (in addition to her UK passport, which she had used for the booking). And yet with my booking and my UK passport there was no query for a visa. BA have truly lost the plot.

Having argued the visa issue with the check-in clerk, it then turned out that I had Fast Track but my wonderful wife did not, despite her being the Silver Card holder (I am only lowly Blue). What was going on? The irritation levels were rising fast by this stage. This was beyond incompetence and BA pendantism. There was no one of relevance around to respond to our ire.

Post security, we decided to calm down over a civilised breakfast and Ramsey’s fare was tasty and comfortably quick.

Feeling more relaxed and slowly getting into the holiday vibe, we boarded the plane with pleasure, only to be hit with more BA ineptitude. We had been booked into the middle seat (for me) and aisle seat (for my wonderful wife, which is her preference) in a bank of three seats. Having settled into our allocated seats, some 10 minutes later a very nice man arrived carrying a 10-month old baby. BA had allocated him our row’s window seat, despite him having pre-booked an aisle seat at the very back to allow him easy access to the bathrooms. The BA crew said they could do nothing to fix the situation as the flight was full. So, I moved to the window and my wonderful wife took the hated middle seat. The dad was super nice about all the upheaval and the baby was a joy to travel with. It could have been a lot worse, especially on a 4.5hr cramped flight in an aged aircraft. [Note to Avanti: check out BA seats, as they are way more comfortable than yours; I landed each time without any back aches.]

When my wonderful wife flies, she settles in and spreads out like a bower bird moving into a new home. Stuff everywhere. This means that on landing it can take her a while to gather up her belongings. To be fair, when she has an aisle seat, she has been known to put some stuff away in advance. This time, being in the middle, no advanced action was possible. Consequently, the massive volume of stuff to be gathered and packed away was so great that she completely forgot her laptop in the seat back. Fortunately, she realised she was missing something as we walked along the jet-bridge and left me to swelter in the angle-joint of the bridge whilst she fought the advancing tide of disembarking, semi-comatose passengers. Needless to say, the recovery took a while and I broiled in the humid, stagnant air of the bridge’s joint. My wonderful wife is only little and many of the disembarkees were big and intimidating units. Consequently, we were one of the last to arrive at passport control.

Larnaca passport control picked up where Heathrow and BA had left off. A series of their weird passport readers (the ones that print off an image of the passenger and you still have to visit a passport officer – what is the point?) decided to repeatedly reject her passport. Mine worked instantly. These various delays meant that we missed the shuttle to Nicosia and had to wait for an hour for the next one.

After a challenging outbound, we finally arrived at Yaya’s house in Nicosia and settled in for our month of sun and fun. Albeit with quite a bit of work too. Already the following day I had multiple conference calls with Cameroon, London, Tajikistan and Florida. Thank goodness for Teams.

I met The Creator a few times for coffee and a dinner during our stay (a very good friend who originally introduced me to my wonderful wife and is deemed a deity by my darling daughter, for without his creative talents she would not exist). Whenever we meet, like all good friends, we try to fix all the world’s ills with lots of clever ideas and completely unrealistic solutions. However, this time The Creator had something completely off-piste to offer. He was convinced that in 2027 he and I will be having coffee with an alien. Yes, a little green man from outer space. Watch this space and for the Cyprus blog summer 2027 (only four years away) – either The Creator will have been locked away or I will be eating much humble pie.

One evening we took Yaya (85 years old) and the girls to a ‘bar’. Yaya was not keen but agreed to the adventure, only to resist at the bar’s entrance. The smooth and encouraging words of her granddaughters eventually persuaded her to go in. The bar was a converted old townhouse, simply decorated, extremely elegant and with a pleasant, relaxed vibe. Not a noisy teenager drinking hole. We had a lovely time and proved that no matter how old you are, you can still go out and enjoy something new. The bread that came with the food was the most amazing bread we ever tasted – a cross between the cheesy rolls at Gaucho (without any cheese) and a freshly baked croissant. Each slice had a crispy outside and a moist, doughy, sweet inside. Utterly moreish and we had three baskets between five of us.

One of this summer’s greatest events was the battle between Pink and Bombs. Two major movies came to cinema and we saw both. Oppenheimer was intense, well done, an excellent watch and Mr Shelby will surely win the Oscar. Barbie was appalling and dull drivel, saved only by Ms Robbie (even though it was the Barbie loving girls that wanted to see it, I was the only one, the only male in our group, who wore pink – after all, if you are going to going to see something so culturally significant, you have to get into the grove, baby). So, in the battle of Pink v Bombs, who won? Well, the Barbie auditorium was much busier, so amazingly, I would have to conclude that Pink won. Perhaps as it should be. Peace man!

Although we spent most of our time in Nicosia, we did get some chances to explore a bit. Together with my brother-in-law’s family, we hired a 3-bed villa in Protaras for eight of us. It was pretty much on the beach (Polyxenia Beach), separated only by a public car park. Shortly after arrival my lovely wife and I hit the beach for a swim and some sun therapy. Fortunately, whilst applying sun cream, a little boy came rushing out of the water and asked the beach lounger controller chappie for a net to fish a very suspicious object. We made for the water’s edge and saw a huge circle of water with no swimmers in it (as if some kind of sea monster had approached the shore). At its centre was a significant brown sausage-shaped object. Definitely of adult manufacture and not of child origin. Needless to say, we did not enter the water. We told our late arriving daughter of the incident, but she did not believe us and decided to paddle anyway, only to come rushing back out moments later. We moved to the adjacent cove, Pernera Beach, and avoided Poo Beach for the rest of our stay.

We spent a day at Nissi Beach, Ayia Napa. Nissi Beach is perhaps the most popular beach in Cyprus. Despite all the attention it has received over the last 50 years, my wonderful wife found it had not changed much from her childhood. Sure, there were many more people and a huge floating water-sports station, but fundamentally the water was still crystal clear and the sand a consistent shade of off-white. The beach was packed. We arrived at a time we thought was early, 09.20 and yet we struggled to find any available umbrellas (in fact the last one was let before 10.00). It was a noisy and cramped place, with music blaring from the multiple bars that line the length of this lengthy cove. It was a hot day and the sun relentless – we made some serious tanning progress.

We performed our annual pilgrimage to our favourite hotel in Paphos for a few nights (our 20th stay in its 21-year existence). We arrived at the hotel just in time to see England ladies lose to Spain in the World Cup Final but missed that infamous kiss. Shame our ladies could not keep the momentum going. Maybe next time. The hotel is still a strong favourite but this year we did notice some signs of stress. For example, the breakfast buffet was much less bountiful and there was no wine gift in the rooms on arrival. That said, the staff were still terrific (Yiannis and Marina competed well in my game, Luigi was ever the darling and Marios was once again the heart and soul of Cyprus Night and the breakfast kitchen). We heard that times are tougher than before, particularly in F&B as there are fewer Russians. In the old, pre-Ukraine, days, Russians bought expensive foods and wines. No more. Those few Russians that do still visit come from Dubai and do not spend in the same way. The big influx of Israeli tourists that has largely replaced the Russians, was helping the Rooms side of the business, but they spend much less on F&B.

After driving our son back to Larnaca Airport for his earlier return to London, my wonderful wife entertained my wanderlust for seeing the new and we detoured via Limassol before heading home to Nicosia in order to see the new City of Dreams (COD) hotel, the first casino resort on the island. There were plenty of road signs for COD coming from Larnaca (makes sense owing to airport being in Larnaca), but there were none from Paphos (and yet Paphos has an airport too). Maybe Paphos flights are not highbrow enough for COD. The sense of arrival to COD was not promising. It is sandwiched between industrial warehousing on one side, the island’s key industrial port on another, a shopping mall and the UK Sovereign Base Area of Akrotiri. As such, the views from the bedrooms did not hold much promise, particularly as the nearest beach is over a mile away! Still, given casinos do not want guests to be distracted from gambling, maybe this layout works for COD. I am very curious to see if there are enough dedicated gamblers to fill COD’s 500 rooms 365 days a year.

Further comments on COD: the steps up from the car park were very monumental (like those of an ancient imperial palace); façade was simple and not remarkable (definitely not Las Vegas or Macau outrageous); the WCs for the ballroom were very small, the soap dispenser broken already (clearly more snagging required) and paper towels cheap; there was a weird cold meat fridge in an open kitchen next to the lobby bar (closed off and very incongruous); interior architecture was cold and hard edged, but spaces were grand and with lots of high ceilings; the large multi-pool area in the grounds was sunken, so no sign of the industrial surroundings; the restaurants and bars were empty at 12.00 noon; the vast casino space, at the heart of the building and full of flashing lights and Muzak, was equally quiet. Conclusion, it claims to be a city, but for now it is simply the largest car park on-island with an elevated pyramid to one side. I was fascinated and wish it very good luck.

During our drive from COD to home, we dropped into our favourite hotel’s sister property in Limassol, called Amara. It was interesting to visit. The lunch was good and service equally competent. However, it feels as if the developers tried to squeeze in too much on a tight site. Whereas the Paphos property feels expansive and natural, Limassol feels urban, hard and squished (forced design over function). I also noticed the sun loungers around the main pool were bigger than most four-poster beds and heavier than many planets. How on earth one could practice umbrellogy protocols with these behemoths was beyond little, old me. I think we will be returning to Paphos.

My wonderful wife had a busy time of it during our stay. In addition to launching multiple new ventures, she also found time to enjoy some road rage again: (i) she drove down a newly designated bus-only road and was hassled big time by a bus driver, he even left his bus and banged on our car and pulled open the passenger door to have a good go; (ii) she saw a driver trying to park with a frightened kitten underneath his car and she told him to be careful, the driver told her she must be certifiably nuts to bother him with something so insignificant and she called him a donkey. What with such a busy mind, it was not surprising that she also lost track of some things, most notably a favoured necklace and some new handbags. After much name calling, stress and turning Yaya’s flat upside down several times, naturally, all items were found again in time, each in wifely logical safe places.

How are things economically in Cyprus? The streets of Nicosia are lined with an increasing number of empty shops and offices. The vacancy rate in Nicosia must be well over 30% (best guess). That said, coffee shops still proliferate and seem to survive. There were more ‘bars’ and just as many gas stations, the electric revolution has yet to arrive on-island. That said, the government is now offering incentives to homeowners to buy solar panels for personal electricity generation. A good sign and way overdue, especially in a country with as many as 340 days of sunshine a year. This summer was particularly sunny and hot. In July, Cyprus hit 45C+ for a number of weeks. However, the island escaped the fate of much of Southern Europe, which seemed to burn endlessly, many of which were man-made events (79 arson arrests in Greece alone). Cypriots are far too sensible to set fire to their own country.

This August was a special month. It was literally a Blue Moon month. In fact, it was a Blue Super Moon month, even more rare than a Blue Moon (next Blue Super in 2037). Two evenings before the rarest moon, I went to the recycling station and noticed a biblical storm brewing over the Turkish Occupied Area. To the north was a perpetual display of lightning, flashing lights and clashing clouds. To the south, clear skies, a nearly full moon and a panoply of stars. I got home and a few moments later the heavens opened, the lightning came down all around us to the theme tune of ear-shattering thunder. A genuine Zeus tantrum. My darling daughter was at a cousin’s that evening and their parents refused to drive her home in such torrential conditions. So, I jumped into Old Faithful (yes, our 27-year old Rover 214 was still going) and recovered the poor dear. After nearly four weeks in Cyprus and driving around the dusty island, Old Faithful finally got a good washing. The next day she truly glistened in the sunlight. As good as new.

We flew home a couple of days after the torrential downpour. Good timing as the clouds started to appear with increasing frequency. At Larnaca Airport we noticed things were starting to fray. Two out of three urinals were broken, most of the boarding pass scanners were broken, the parking payment machines were broken and on a previous visit to collect our son the entire car park was blocked off. This is the gateway to the island and COD. Maybe COD could fund a few upgrades in time.

Our flight home was on a Thursday and on the previous Bank Holiday Monday NATS crashed, resulting in some 1,500 cancellations in the UK and more than 1,700 across Europe. The ripples of chaos were still being felt three days later. At Larnaca we were told we could board and so we had our documents checked and headed down the jet-bridge. We did not get far. The queue in the hot, airless jet-bridge did not move. Why? As per most airline’s protocols, Business Class boarded first. These passengers got to their seats and discovered the typically vacant middle seat was to be occupied. Outraged, the privileged few started arguing with the crew and in the process blocked the entire plane from further boardings. After lengthy and heated discussions, Business Class finally figured out how three people can fit into three seats and took their seats and so the rest of us could board. I cannot blame the Business Class passengers as they had paid for space and privilege, only to find cramped conditions. Why did this happen? The captain, who sounded very cheesed off with the reason for the delay, explained that such approach was to make up for those passengers stranded after the NATS crash. Fair enough, but then BA should have pre-advised its BC passengers and thus allowed for smooth boarding. BA’s lack of strategic planning, expectations management and customer service are becoming legendary.

The flight itself was smooth and on time and full of kids and babies. Welcome to the end of holidays and life as a digital nomad. That said, the hot weather and sunshine of Cyprus seemed to follow us, as the week after our return summer finally arrived in the UK and London baked in 30C+ as your blogger blogged his blog. Be careful out there and remember the sun cream.

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