CYPRUS JUNKET

I truly, truly enjoyed my Cyprus junket. This was back in November 2014, while I was with The Edge.

It was my first time being assigned to cover a non-Corporate story – this was for the Options section specifically. You’d think that I’d be more relaxed, writing a travel piece, but I think I placed more pressure on myself as it was something out of my core role as a business journo.

A huge, huge thank you to my then company for sending me to this trip, Qatar Airways for flying us to and fro Larnaka (& for hosting us at your kick-ass Al Mourjan business lounge… seriously guys, I can still remember the experience), as well as Cyprus Tourism Organization (CTO) for arranging the on-the-ground tour.

A special shout-out to Siow May (from Qatar), for not just doing what you do – watching out for us from the media – but also by just being your awesome, sincere and easy-going self. Most of my solo pics during the trip were taken her! And to Zenonas Zenonos (our guide from CTO), for sharing us with us your sparkle and joy for Cyprus and life in general.

My main story that was published:

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If you’ve followed my blogs and posts previously you’ll know that I love writing about my experiences in life, that which includes my travels. But it’s all my own musings. I’m glad I got a non-business story published in print!

For your ease and reading pleasure, I’ve attached below the story I sent in, unedited – got it from my word file as I’m too lazy to correct my grammar mistakes etc in the printed version haha. But it’s by and large similar thankfully. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it 🙂

Have slipped in a picture or two when necessary to give the story more colour.


CYPRUS; the unassuming Eastern Mediterranean gem

**unedited version

MY favourite moment in Cyprus has got to be sitting in a jeep, riding along (rather nastily, but with so much character) bumpy coastal roads of Akamas Peninsula – located in the West of Cyprus – stopping every now and then to take in the Mediterranean sea view. Each time we take a pit stop, I find myself asking: How is it possible for the view to be so breathtaking from all angles?

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Olive, pomegranate, and mandarin trees greeted us throughout the journey.

Along the way, we stopped by St Georges Cathedral, a small Greek Orthodox Church; and Lara Bay Turtle Conservatory Station, said to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Cyprus.

As the jeep took us up towards the mountain hills, we visited a farm where I got to taste raw aromatic herbs plucked from trees such as thyme, carob (pic below), bay leaves, and aniseed (used to make ‘ouzo’ or absinthe); as well as witness meandering goats, sheep, and pigs amidst the wilderness.

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A stop at “Vasilikon” winery in Kathikas village for some wine tasting was mandatory, before heading for lunch at “Yiannis” tavern in the same village itself.

The jeep excursion, albeit lasted only a few hours, to me encapsulates what Cyprus has to offer – nature in its best form, the scenic coast, its historical remains, tantalizing food and wine.

A major plus point was that the weather was perfect, sunny in a slight autumn chill of 22-24 degrees.

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Note that Cyprus is almost sunny all year long! It’s no wonder smiles are seen everywhere we go, which I shamelessly attempt to greet people with a ‘yah-sou’, which means ‘hello’ in Greek, prevalently spoken in the South of Cyprus which is the Cyprus today. The Turkish troops still illegally occupy the North of Cyprus.

It did not take me long at all to learn that Cypriots are open-hearted, friendly, and generous people.

I, too, make it a point to wish our tour guide Zenonas Zenonos and the driver ‘Kaliméra’, which means good morning; and thank them with ‘Efharistó.

In the four and a half days spent in Cyprus, organized by the warm hospitality of Cyprus Tourism Organization (CTO), I had the privilege of visiting four cities: Lefkosia (Nicosia), Lemesos (Limassol), Larnaka, and Pafos (Paphos).

With the cities inter-connected via the motorway, spanning across 9,250 square metres, the best way to travel in Cyprus is by renting a car. There are no toll charges.

Melting pot of long, rich histories and cultures

Cyprus, the third largest island in Mediterranean – after Sardinia and Sicily – may only house 750,000 in population but its history dates back to as far as the prehistoric age of 8,200 BC or 10,000 years ago.

Having been through the Classical, Hellenistic and Roman periods (480 BC – 330 AD), Byzantine period (330 – 1191), Frankish period (1192 – 1489), the Venetians in Cyprus (1489 – 1571), Ottoman Empire (1571 – 1878), British rule (1878 – 1960); all of which has left their marks, Cyprus today as described by many is truly “a real haven for archeology lovers”, and “a place where history seems to be suspended in time”.

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One is able to feast his or her eyes on prehistoric settlements, to Greek temples, Byzantine churches and monasteries, to mosques and British colonial-style buildings.

What I find intriguing is that every historical site we visited had a story behind it, and I’m particularly drawn towards those of ancient Greek world – its myths, Gods, and Goddesses.

In Pafos, you have to visit Petra tou Romiou (Aphrodite Rock), where Aphrodite – the Greek Goddess of Love, Beauty and Sexuality – is said to have been born. If you have the chance, drop by both in the morning and evening, as it exudes a different kind of beauty. Magical, nonetheless.

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Meanwhile, at the Pafos Mosaics is where I truly opened my eyes to the ‘basics’ of some of the oldest Greek stories, as we wandered through each ‘room’ and ‘designs’. My favourite is the love story of Pyramos and Thisbe, where both’s love for each other and death is somewhat similar to that of Romeo and Juliet.

Pafos town is part of the official UNESCO list of cultural and world heritage.

On a side note, many of the English words we use today hail from Greek. For example, ‘narcissism’ came from the representation of Narcissus, the son of a river-god and a nymph.

In Limassol, I fell in love with the Kourian ancient site, housing the Kourian Theatre and House of Efstolios.

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The view from the top of the theatre overlooking the sea, and from the bottom of the theatre looking up towards the thousands of seats was a stunning moment stood still in time. Today, the theatre is used as platform for music and theatrical performances during summer.

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There is also the Sanctuary of Apollon Hylates, god of the woodland and the protector of Kourion. These sacred places will satisfy a photographer’s appetite, that’s for sure.

In Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, we visited the Cyprus Archaeological museum, Saint John’s Cathedral and the House of Kornesios, where the rich representatives of the Ottoman Empire lived.

While it helps to read up a little prior to visiting these sites, it is not necessary if you have a knowledgeable tour guide.

Food that awakens and delights taste buds

In Cyprus, most of the meals we had were in taverns, or ‘taverna’; outdoor cafés where people gather to eat and drink.

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The culture practiced while eating in a taverna is: “to think of your neighbour”, where one passes the food around as it’s simply all self-service.

Every meal in Cyprus starts with a generous bowl of fresh salad – with feta cheese in it – and a plate full of warm pitta bread served with various dips that awakens your senses. The dips common served are: Tahini (sesame seed paste), Hummous (mashed chickpeas) and my favourite, Tarama (fish roe).

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These are the ‘constants’ in every meal and enough to make you full. The ‘meze’ is next served – little delicacies or dishes in one platter – ranging from meat, seafood such as octopus, squid, mussels, spoiling us with choices.

Every meal I had in Cyprus was a delight.

However, if I were to name one dish that I’ll remember (possibly forever) from the island, it has to be the goat cheese ‘Halloumi’, best served grilled. The first bite was enough to knock me off my feet. Halloumi tastes good accompanied with grilled aubergines (brinjal) and even on its own.

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Other dishes I’ve got to savour include ‘bulgur’ which tastes like rissoto (Cypriot’s traditional carbohydrate other than bread), baked moussaka (casseroles), sausages, and ‘souvla’ (large chunks of meat cooked on a spit).

Pair these delicacies with red or white wine, or the local ‘Keo’ beer which I like as it’s so light and easy to drink! Or, join the locals to have a tiny glass of ‘ouzo’ (tastes like absinthe), before or after a meal.

Ya mas’, as they call it, which means ‘cheers to your good health’.

Lest not forget ‘Commandaria’, the first wine in the world that had a name and enjoyed by Richard the Lionheart. I was sure to buy a bottle back home!

For desserts, as I’m not so much of a sweet tooth, the ‘glika tou koutaliou’ (preserved fruit in syrup) did not appeal as much to me as the ‘Bourekia’ (traditional baked or fried handheld pies with sweet or savoury fillings inside – including Halloumi!) did.

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Have these with aromatic Cypriot or Turkish coffee, served in small cups.

Each taverna we dined in was unique, but the most memorable ones were: “Stou Kyr Yianni” tavern and “To Hani” tavern in Limassol, as well as “Pelican” fish tavern in Pafos.

Golf, yacht, and diving to drive tourism

Tourism accounts for most of Cyprus gross domestic product or economy. [Yet to include this in when I was drafting my piece]

According to the Statistical Service of the Republic of Cyprus, tourism revenue grew from €1.55 billion in 2010 to €2.08 billion in 2013. Tourist arrivals rose from 2.17 to 2.41 million in the same period.

Up until Sept this year, the number of tourist arrivals stood at 2.05 million, already accounting for 85% in 2013. Most of the tourists hail from Europe, with very minimal – almost negligible – from Asia.

The peak season to travel in Cyprus falls between May to October, with ‘Euro’ used as the main currency, as Cyprus became a member of the European Union in 2004.

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According to Zenonas, the CTO is bumping up efforts to attract more tourists to come forth for golfing, as well as to attract people – who is heading to the Mediterranean – to park their yacht and holiday in Cyprus.

In Pafos, we visited the Aphrodite Hills Golf Club, one of the four international standard 18-hole golf courses in the island. The sunset view from the third hole overlooking the sea was a beauty, while the buggy ride down the seventh hole was steep and thrilling.

Water sports such as diving and windsurfing is also popular in Cyprus.

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We stayed at the Leptos Coral Beach Hotel in Pafos and the Royal Apollonia Hotel in Limassol. While the stay was superbly comfortable, the swimming pools and ocean view sealed the deal. I would not in any normal occasion wake up at 5 30 am to catch the sunrise, but I did so right in Cyprus.

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If you opt not to stay in a hotel, there is the Cyprus Traditional Villages (Ltd) or agro-tourism resorts, which has cosy houses in villages of Tochni, Kalavasos and Psematismenos – centrally located halfway between Larnaka and Limassol – for you to live in.

Concluding words

It is hard not to think of anything but peace, and to experience nothing but delight in Cyprus. The island is unassuming, genuine… truly a gem in Eastern Mediterranean.

As how Zenonas puts it, “There is something for everybody in Cyprus, whether you like nature, history… One minute you are at the coast, and in the next 30 minutes you’re up in the mountains.”

[END]


Take-away thoughts:

Selecting these pictures from my Cyprus album (wished I could have included more!) – I feel so fortunate to have traveled to a place not as commonly-been-to as the island.

Though realistically, what you see from the pictures and words, that’s just one part of the job. What you don’t see is also me transcribing in the plane, airport, ensuring my other corporate stories (core role) are also in good shape. I’d like to think, if I did not put in these prior ‘sweat’ for my other pieces, I would not have been able to see Cyprus, would I?

It’s my first travel piece, and I admittedly don’t read a lot of travel stories, hence I can’t benchmark this story against others. Though, I attempted: I took notes during the trip, consolidated info from brochures, booklets and stuff online; ensuring that I covered aspects that I believe were crucial – from the culture, local delights such as food, and of course, the most commonly used phrases in its local language (what I love the most when I travel!!), etc. I hope I did okay! If not, let me know in what areas I should improve on? Hehe.

I also submitted 2-3 supplementary stories on Qatar Airways, Al-Mourjan Business Lounge and Hamad International Airport; and it’s a pity they were not published (during my time there). I’d like to believe it’s some miscommunication with the editor in charge (despite me arranging for an exclusive interview, and following up with the editor thereafter over and over). I hope the team followed up with the company with a write-up in the end, anyhow.

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