Kristine wanders

The musings of a wanderer......

Month: March 2015

Updates

So I’ve been posting far less than I’ve been wanting to, but rest assured I’ve got loads to tell you about, and a bunch of blog posts on their way. This last 6 weeks have been a real whirlwind of sorts. In early February I spend 12 lovely days in Cyprus, and then had a couple really busy work weeks immediately following. Then I moved out of my shared housing into private housing. Once I eventually get everything into its place I’ll do a blog post on it…..just don’t get too excited. It’s a studio apartment. Literally from my couch I can almost reach out and touch my bed, bathroom, and kitchen. But it’s all mine, and that’s really all that matters!

Mid March I traveled to Scandinavia for 16 glorious days on a mission to see the Northern Lights. My mission, FYI was successful!! My kiwi sidekick and I visited Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. I can’t wait to tell you all about it and show you the photos over the next few weeks. I’ve currently just come off a set of nights and my body really wants to sleep in the day, but I can’t since I’m back to day shift tomorrow. The next week is going to be busy as I’m studying for a course for work involving Neonatal Resuscitation, as I work with very freshly made babies. It’s proving to be more studying then I was expecting, So wish me luck on my test next week. Inshallah, I will pass!!

The other major thing that has been going on here is that there are more security related concerns. While I was in Finland the US embassy in Riyadh closed for a week amidst security threats. Warnings have been circulating informing westerners to be aware of their surroundings, minimize their profile when out and about, and to avoid crowds or large gatherings. Most of these warnings seem like common sense and apply when traveling to many countries that are politically unstable. This week Saudi Arabia started airstrikes within Yemen and there is talk that Saudi forces will be following up with a ground offensive as well. No one can predict the outcome of this, or in fact if there will be an increased instability or hostility in Saudi as a result. So, we just wait and see. And continue to be aware of our surroundings, and keep a low profile, while still maintaining some semblance of a life here………

 

 

Nicosia Cyprus

After our time in the coastal city of Paphos we headed inland to the capital of Cyprus, Nicosia. As I previously mentioned, Nicosia is a city literally split in two. The southern part is the Greek portion of the city and the northern section is the Turkish part. We spent 3 nights  wandering the city and crossing back and forth between the 2 borders. Pedestrians can cross the border at the Ledra Street crossing, which is a really cool and happening area lined with shops, restaurants and loads of cafes. This was a short 10 min walk from our hotel. We were really keen to explore the northern part of the country, as both myself and my kiwi travel mate have been to Turkey, and I especially loved it. We had rented a rental car in the south, but it is somewhat difficult to drive your rental car across the border. Well not exactly difficult per say, but rather that you would inadvertently void your rental contract. We did not want to risk that and instead concocted a rather genius plan with the help of a kind stranger who was able to help us out with wheels (more on this is a separate post.)

So we drove into the north, and there is so much to see over there. So much so, that we just scratched the surface really. After our GPS directing us into a military occupied zone we eventually arrived at Bellapais Abbey an extraordinary Abbey dating from the 13th century. Shocker of all shockers, it was raining that day, but it still made for beautiful photos. The inside of the church had beautiful lighting, that I didn’t want to stop taking photos in, except that a bus load of loud German tourists entered making it difficult to navigate the now crowded room. The archways on the outside were in varying state of decay and only added to the place’s photogenic appeal. Well worth a visit!!

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The inside of Bellapais Abbey

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Such beautiful lighting

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arches, arches, and more arches

Arches, arches, and more arches

The outer decaying walls

The outer decaying walls

From this point our GPS decided it didn’t want to cooperate with us at all. We weren’t sure if the weather, or the fact that we had crossed into the northern area were to blame, but for the rest of that day we flew by the seat of our pants. We headed towards the coastal city of Kyrenia, and after driving thru the super-cute harbour area we arrived at the Kyrenia Castle. The castle is very large, with several museum type rooms. Had the weather been better there would have been beautiful views from the top. I’m sure you’re surprised to learn it was still in fact raining. We got utterly lost leaving Kyrenia, but eventually made our way to St Hilarion Castle which is perched high up a cliff overlooking another military zone. This castle is said to have been the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Snow White. Unfortunately, by the time we arrived it was closing time, but we were still able to get some photos. We then headed back to Nicosia- getting lost several more times, and almost driving our borrowed car into the south. Lucky for us there was a turn around area, as I would’ve hated explaining this to the kind man who’s car it was.

A ghost?? Or just a guy in a hoodie?

A ghost?? Or just a guy in a hoodie?

Inside Kyrenia Castle

Inside Kyrenia Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Military zones everywhere

 

 

St Hilarion Castle

St Hilarion Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rest of our time in Nicosia was spent wandering, and eating. We visited the Shacolas Tower (on the southern side) which has great views overlooking the city, but sadly none into the Green Line or DMZ that separates the south from the north. As Nicosia was a walled city there are many gates scattered throughout the city. On the northern side you can visit Selimiye Mosque from the 12th century which originally was a Gothic church and still pretty much looks like a Gothic church. It’s very similar to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, but on a much smaller and less grand scale. There is a municipal market near by that sells many Turkish treats. We also spent some time wandering next to the Green Line on the southern side. It’s creepy and cool and the same time, as much of the in between space is purposely blocked from view, and many of the building snext to the Green Line have been abandoned.

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The Northern side

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Local men

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A man praying inside Selimiye Mosque

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Still looks like a Gothic church to me

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Abandoned buildings near the Green Line

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The Venetian Walls

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that wraps up my 10 days in Cyprus. We flew back to Riyadh via Doha and we spent a night in Doha which I will give you my thoughts on later!

 

Paphos Cyprus

On our 6th day in Cyprus we left the comfort of the lovely flat we rented in Limassol and headed towards the town of Lemona. The day was cool, dark, and rainy, but we wanted to visit a winery we had read about. Tsangarides winery is just off the main road at Limona. We called ahead to make sure they were open as February is considered the off-season in Cyprus and some things are closed. Thankfully, this winery was!! Back home my family lives in a major wine region in Canada, and this winery reminded me of being home. It’s a smaller winery, but the tasting room is beautifully crafted with the tables and chairs designed out of wine barrels. We sampled quite a few (well rather I did as my Kiwi travel partner was in charge of the driving.) We bought a bottle of the Red and the Rose for our consumption later. From here we stopped off at an abandoned village not far from Lemona. As we pulled up it started to rain really hard, which only added to the eeriness. The village became abandoned after an earthquake in 1969. There are several toppled homes in the area, some roaming goats, and an abandoned church which appears unscathed from the outside.

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Abandoned village thru the rain

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After getting completely drenched and trying to not ruin my camera while taking photos of the ghost town we stopped off at Chrysorroyiatissa Monastery which had a sign out front warning of not entering if scantily dressed. We found it a little too hilarious as we basically looked like soaked cats in our rain gear and couldn’t have been further from being scantily dressed. The monastery itself is pretty plain as compared to Kykkos monastery. With no sign of the rain letting up, we headed in search of food. We read about a restaurant called Maria’s Place in Fyti in my Lonely Planet guidebook, and it was on our way to Paphos. Maria’s place is in the center of the village and we found it full of locals looking to stay dry in the rain and 3 ex-pat olderish Brits looking to spend the afternoon getting drunk (and they were well on their way!) Maria was nowhere to be found but someone called her and she arrived and served us delicious pork roast and hot tea. She was lovely, and her home cooking skills are legit.

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We then drove onwards towards Paphos. Paphos is about 50km west of Limassol. It’s a coastal town with a beautiful harbour, a castle, and several archeological ruins. In fact, the entire city of Paphos is classified as a UNESCO site. We checked into a middle range hotel that primarily serves as a long term hotel for British and Russian tourists. We were very young compared to the 50 shades of grey hair on the other hotel guests, and as an added bonus our mattresses had plastic covers that crinkled every time one of us turned over. These “incontinence pads” as we called them provided endless jokes for our time in Paphos and led to much speculation between me and my kiwi mate over breakfast as to which hotel guests they had saved the night for. I never claimed to be very mature..

One of the really cool things you should see in Paphos is the Tombs of the Kings. It’s a large site with underground tombs dating from the 4th century BC. I loved it, and the coastal views are beautiful. As I’ve already mentioned the weather never really cooperated with us most of the time we were in Cyprus, but this day the rain was kept at bay even though the sky looked really dark and stormy which made for very dramatic photos. Have I mentioned yet how much photography is a huge part of travel for me? It’s my only real artistic form of expression and I love the way the world looks thru the lens of a camera. The Tombs of Kings is a photographers dream site.

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Breathtaking coastline

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Me at the Tombs of the Kings

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Paphos also has a great harbour area with a promenade with cafes and shops lined up. There is also a castle on one end of the harbour with great rooftop views of the stormy sea. We spend an afternoon drinking  wine and later coffee watching the choppiness of the sea. Later in the evening we visited the recommended Kiniras Garden restaurant. They serve traditional Cypriotic food and the owner Georgios was our server that night. We ordered based off his recommendations and the food and wine were very food. Well worth a visit. From Paphos we traveled to Nicosia.

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Limassol Cyprus

In mid-February I flew from Riyadh via Doha, Qatar to Larnaca in Cyprus. Thankfully, I was heavily medicated and the flight was uneventful!! My Kiwi travel mate and I had booked a rental car, so after a short shuttle to a nearby parking lot we were on our way. Limassol bound. I love the way the name of this city rolls off my tongue. I never tire of saying it. It sounds like a flavour of gelato or an exotic dance move. Anyways, it takes about an hour to drive from Larnaca to Limassol. The roads are good, but they do drive on the left hand side so I left the driving to my Kiwi sidekick. The last time I drove on the left hand side was in Scotland and my pops has very vivid memories of me removing the passenger side mirror by rubbing up against a narrow bridge. In my defense, a large truck crossed the center line so moving over was my only option. Pops thinks I should’ve stopped on the bridge and waited. We still have a difference of opinions on this matter. Regardless, I wasn’t feeling up to testing my luck on Cyprus roads.

Limassol is larger than I had envisioned and the old town is chaotic to drive in,  with all the one way and blocked off streets. We stayed 5 nights at an Airbnb rental that was perfect. The owner Pandora was lovely. Such a kind sweet lady. It was just a couple blocks from the castle and had parking out front. Not to mention that the place was beautifully restored. On the first night we were there we walked down to the main square and found 110 euros on the street. This made me especially love Limassol. That entire night we joked that “our benefactor” was picking up the tab!

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Our lovely flat

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The streets of Limassol

 

 

Most of the main tourist things in Limassol can be seen in a day. There’s the Limassol Castle which has a pretty cool museum and great views from the top. There’s a Grand Mosque although it was pretty small and not very ornate compared to mosques in the Middle East. My Kiwi sidekick was required to wear a cloak to cover her arms and seeing her looking like a Harry Potter character was well worth the visit. There are a couple oldish churches, and a central market that was less impressive than I was imagining. Then there is the beach area and the harbour.

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Inside Limassol Castle

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A tiny tucked away church

 

Limassol makes a great base to day trip from. There are many monasteries close by and wineries to tour. We were there off-season so not all the wineries were open. I was unaware that Cyprus was know for its wine, but it makes a sweet desert wine called Commandaria which is well worth trying. Cyprus wines are also great if you don’t know much about wines. You can literally order wines by saying you want “a medium sweet white, or a medium dry red” and you’ll get a bottle with that exact label.

 

The mountain area of Troodos also makes a good day trip, if the weather cooperates. We were there in what is still considered winter and the roads are considered high mountain roads and are very windy. This area apparently has a ski hill although we never saw it, or any skiers for that matter either. Fortunately, we encountered loads of rain but it never snowed which would’ve made this area difficult to see. There are wineries in this area also, and ten Byzantine churches that are classified as UNESCO heritage sites. They are quite a distance apart so it would be very difficult to fit them all into a day. We managed to see 3 of them and they really are quite incredible. Since it was off season many of the churches are locked, so in order to see the inside you have to find the “key-holder” or as in our case with the first church the “key-holder” found us. Outside of the first church an old man came walking down the lane gangling a ring of keys moments after we walked up. We were super excited as we figured that getting the church unlocked would pose more of a problem. So we’re inside this amazing church and we’re looking at the beautiful paintings on the walls and ceilings and this old man is getting a little close. At first I think he’s just being helpful, pointing out this and that, and next thing you know he’s got his arm around me and he’s rubbing my back and working his way down to my ass. And he wreaks of alcohol. So I step away. And now he tries to make a go at it with my Kiwi pal. Needless to say we were out of there lickity-split because Grandpa tried to get to first base. The other 2 churches we saw were also very cool, and thankfully no one tried to molest us. One of the them had an interesting painted image of Mary breastfeeding Jesus, and the other one had an image in which Mary appeared pregnant. Kykkos monastery is well worth a visit also, if only to take in its opulence. It is still a functioning monastery so you might see some Orthodox monks whilst there.

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The site of the church groping

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Agios Nikolaos tis Stegi Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kykkos Monastery

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Colourful stained glass

 

 

 

 

 

Another easy day trip from Limassol is to drive towards Pafos and stop off at Aphrodite’s Rock named after the mythical goddess’s supposed birthplace. It is utterly beautiful. From there you can head back towards Limassol and stop off at Old Kourion an ancient city from the Byzantine period. Much of the site is in varying states of decay with some of it being an actual archaeological site. The coastal views from here are amazing. Then you can head to Kolossi Castle which reminded me of an old Scottish castle. It was built in the 12 century and you can climb the winding staircase to the roof for panoramic views. For some strange reason I got a really creeped out vibe at this castle and found the narrow spiral staircase really claustrophobic.  Not the usual reaction I have to visiting ancient sites, but I honestly couldn’t get out of the main castle fast enough and out into the fresh outside air. Odd.

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Aphrodite’s Rock

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The beautiful Cyprus coastline

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ancient Kourion

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Creepy Kolossi Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent a lot of time eating and drinking wine during our stay in Limassol. Sadly, we never really got onto the locals eating schedule of having dinner at 10pm. We ate early, and they always thought we were having our lunch when in fact it was our dinner. It was hard to stay motivated to stay up late while consuming a couple bottles of wine over a drawn out dinner. One of the favourite places we ate at was Il Castello. It has both indoor and outdoor seating in an open plaza facing the Castle in Limassol. We ate here a few times and the staff were super friendly. On our last morning there the kind owner gave us free coffees and tiny bottles of Commandaria wine. It’s well worth a visit. The other place we loved (mostly because of the darling elderly waiter) was Megaro restaurant- also located in Old Town. One night we ate here and tried Cyprus meze. I had the seafood meze and it was phenomenal. There were easily 20+ small plates including Greek salad, toasted bread, hummus, seafood spread, olives, calamari, beet salad, fires, fried fish, pasta, ink fish, mussels, prawns, a rice dish and a few other small plates that have escaped my memory. Meze is a must when in Cyprus, just make sure you come hungry, because the food will pile up in front of you. From Limassol we headed west towards Pafos. More on that soon…..

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Our favourite Limassol waiter

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The beginning of Cyprus meze

 

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