Phil's Travels - Digital Nomad, Cyprus (08.22)
Phil’s Travels – Digital Nomad, Cyprus (08.22)
Given the way our cookies crumbled this year we decided to book Cyprus for near as darn it five weeks and to try the ‘Digital Nomad’ lifestyle. We left under the diesel power of a most chatty taxi driver, who led a double life as an engineer in the Middle East and was soon to depart for Qatar to oversee some major electrical installation. Lovely chap and clearly very flexible by way of lifestyle. Perhaps the original Digital Nomad? All I do know is, he certainly did well by us that Saturday morning, the day when the Heathrow Express, Elizabeth Line and Piccadilly Line were all down due to strike action. His fair on a normal day would have been around £55 in these inflation-fuelled times. However, on this occasion and for our travelling pleasure on that strike ridden day, he charged us £110. When will this chaotic world come to its senses and allow inflation to fall, fuel to become reasonably priced again and for employed folk to become less radical? No time soon it seems.
Heathrow First check-in was busy (lots of Avios points being redeemed on much needed holidays), the lounge was packed to the rafters (standing room only) and the wider terminal was heaving with blanched bodies seeking the sun. We took-off late, landed on time and caught the shuttle service to Nicosia after a tour of the airport (not sure why; driver must have lost his sense of direction for a moment). The drive to Nicosia was under a stunning sunset, highlighted by a bright sickle-shaped moon (all very spiritual and nomadic).
Only when we reached Yaya’s apartment did anyone break the devastating news to me. One third of the holy trinity of Nicosian food providers was recovering from open heart surgery and thus could not provide us with our habitual first and last suppers (and often many in between too) – Pikis Kebab was down. Thankfully the other two legs of the three-legged stool were in full operation, namely: Pixitha and Miligis. Hallelujah.
The old Hilton, now Landmark (or at least last summer that was its name), was closed owing to major redevelopment of the site. The old hotel building appeared intact, but the car parks out front were huge holes in the ground. I suspect the parking will drop into those huge holes and above will become new real estate, with new skyscrapers to join the old Donut Stack (Jean Nouvel design), Stark Tower and the new X-Men Tower. As a result, we had to seek a deal with the new Hilton Nicosia (formerly the Hilton Park – all very confusing I know, but that’s Cyprus for you). The new Hilton’s pool was much bigger than the old Hilton’s, lovely landscaping and extremely pacifist sun loungers (unlike the hunter-killer loungers of the old Hilton, which I did not miss). However, service levels not so good: no table service, no poolside cleaning, inert lifeguards and over-the-top security measures (including a fractious incident between a police motor-biker thug and my wonderful, but takes no crap, wife). We even had members of the old band come back together, with the Stick, the Hairless Wonder and Moonwalker all having transferred their residency to the new Hilton. We did, however, miss Dolphin, Mr Hotspur and, of course, the Tricoteurs (although the latter perhaps not missed that much, to be honest).
Our first big family meal was held under another stunning sickle-moon-sunset on the day that England won its first football trophy in 66 years (well done ladies and thanks a million for bringing it home). We celebrated with wines from Syria, Snoop Dog and Kylie’s rose (timely as the last episode of Neighbours aired just the week before).
My first few weeks were characterised by lots of Digital Nomading at all hours of the day, with multiple calls and model making for projects in Africa, Caribbean, CIS and UK. However, at the weekends we did get out and about a bit. One day we took Old Faithful (our 26-year old Rover) to Protaras from a day by the sea (the lountza sandwich lunch took me right back to the 1990s when we used to visit the beach more often). Looking north from a good swim out from the beach, we could see the latest marina project (Paralimni Marina) under construction and driving through the British Base area of Dekelia we saw the soon to open Ayia Napa Marina. So much real estate investment in Cyprus. Who is buying? The sea on the east coast is very special. Lovely sandy beaches and lots of close to shore dive sites (including sunken artwork, colourful fish colonies, interesting rock formations and gentle currents). Great place to learn to scuba-dive if that’s your thing. Very popular with locals too. So popular in fact, nearby our loungers on the beach a huge family had created an entire village under a plethera of umbrellas: loungers, chairs, freezer box, taverna, bar, disco, games room, crèche, majlis – the whole lot!
This summer I had a few games of tavli (aka backgammon) to test my skills against the gifted locals. I lost three double-points games in a row to my darling daughter’s godfather (when he wasn’t throwing doubles, he was always throwing ‘Les Dés Justes’ to escape my clutches). It was disconcerting. His skill with the dice was uncanny. It was like playing a computer version of the game on Grand Master setting. Fortunately, I also played my godson and won our summer-long contest. I shall have my just revenge with Mr Dés Justes next summer.
In Old Faithful we did get around town a bit. Many of the old streets have been re-scaped into new thoroughfares (many have been made one-way and without obvious logic, even the locals cannot fathom the new imposed routes into and out of the centre). The new look Makarios Avenue looks lovely but remains shopperless. The main square (Zaha’s temple to concrete, on which believers of the great concrete faith may sacrifice themselves, yes, I do believe that is what the fathomless concrete surfboards are for) was still a cold and featureless eye-sore on an otherwise historic landscape.
When my darling daughter heard that one of her heroes had opened a bar/grill in Nicosia, we just had to go. The Garrison Bar & Grill is based on Peaky Blinders, with quotes and images from the series throughout. Not sure if the BBC is aware of the Shelby’s brand extension, but the steak was definitely tougher than Tommy and more tasteless than Oswald. The Garrison is right bang in the middle of a new student housing complex. I had not realised until this visit just how many universities there are in the city: 9x universities (according to universityguru.com and surely the highest number of universities per head of population anywhere in the world). In hindsight, perhaps this is no surprise. Cyprus has a very highly educated population (degrees are de rigueur here) and yet there are few well-paid jobs on offer, thus plenty of spare brains to teach instead (it seems at least one member of any given family is a teacher/lecturer).
A popular topic of discussion across the dinner tables was the simmering passport scandal. Cyprus had a very popular and highly remunerative Citizenship By Investment Program until a certain politician was stung by Al Jazeera. He was caught on video promising political influence in exchange for payment in order to secure a new passport. When asked if this was proper, he said, “This is Cyprus!” – which was the catchphrase du jour across the island (usually paired with a copy of same politician’s exaggerated wink).
Other trips undertaken included a day trip to Spilia, birthplace of Yaya and a spiritual home of EOKA. There, we played some tavli in the old family home, visited two ancient churches (including one developed by a relative) and savoured a Mountain Man’s lunch at Chrysanthos Café (comprising wine sausages, fried eggs and chips, with a side order of BBQ goat – manly and delicious). Our little car coped well with the mountains and was tested later with its longest drive, to Paphos, for our annual pilgrimage to The Elysium.
The Elysium was as good as ever: superb, consistent staff and wonderful facilities (but still suffering from its last dodgy interior design makeover). Highlight meal was dinner in Bacco. Fish at the usual place in the old harbour was a very oily affair, devoid of flavour and heavy on the tummy. New venue next year, please. Last supper was an awesome short rib, impeccable steaks, tasty pasta, generous salads and more halloumi than you could shake a sheep at (I am told it was top drawer too).
I hooked up with Yianni a few times for morning coffees and konushma (and met Big Phil again after more than 20 years, albeit online only). The Costa coffee shop he frequents was surrounded by failed bars and coffee places. The heart of Nicosia is well and truly being carved out. Is it perhaps all the malls around and about the city that are wielding the knife? Or has C19 truly killed off the high street here too? I had another coffee appointment one day in the Old Town (also a mess of empty shops) when I met Glenn crossing the Green Line from the north (sshh!). Good to catch up, matey.
Our last few days on-island were unusually cloudy and it even rained for 10 minutes on one day, just as my wonderful wife was putting Old Faithful through its paces and the left-hand windscreen smearer made a successful bid for freedom. Unable to see through the monsoon, she manfully manoeuvred our baby to a garage and bought new wipers (€15). The windscreen was never so clean. Why did we not invest such a vast sum earlier, instead of suffering smeared views at 1am trying to clear the night-time dew on our drives home from family events? Lesson learnt.
BA cocked-up again on our flight home. This time they failed to arrange our seating properly for us to sit with our darling daughter. Apparently, she is too old to be allocated a seat with us at the time of booking, but too young to be checked-in online when we could find three seats together. BA is a good proxy for GB generally at the moment. After an argument with the check-in folk and being told to come back later as BA only checks passengers in 1hr 50mins before take-off in Cyprus, we finally made it to passport control. There, the chatty passport chappie accused me of not having been in Cyprus, despite the fact I was standing in front of him in flesh and blood format and not as a hologram. He could not find the entry stamp on my new GB passport and could not find me as having entered the country on his system. He was kind enough to stamp me anyway and was gracious when I showed him the entry stamp in question. If this is the level of security and thoroughness, no wonder ‘This is Cyprus!’ seems so appropriate as the mots du jour. None of this would have been an issue without Brexit, but that is another topic.
After the chatty, but somewhat inept, passport chappie I then had an encounter with a security lady. It was truly an afternoon of ‘pick on yours truly’. As I passed through the metal detector it beeped, even though I had thoroughly de-metalled myself. The lady pulled me aside and asked to wipe my hands (top and undersides), and then asked to wipe my crotch, well my naked waist anyway. I think she was looking for gunpowder and not seeking to admire my six-pack. After our habitual good-bye pizza and cola, our split-seats-flight brought us back to Heathrow on time and a black cab brought us and our extensive and very weighty luggage home for way less than the outbound fare.
So how was the Digital Nomad lifestyle? It was like working from home, only cooler (Yaya’s AC is excellent). But it was also more expensive than working from home (expenses included pool membership fees, going out, petrol for Old Faithful and gifts to be taken to serial family dinners). Would I do it again? Absolutely. If I could continue to afford it.