Life in Cyprus - April 2005

April 9th:

Most fruit in Cyprus is very seasonal - but the seasons tend to be quite long. Winter has plenty of citrus fruits in the supermarkets as well as our garden, but the only other fruits that are available then are apples, pears and bananas. So we're always pleased when April begins and others start to appear; I particularly like the strawberry season, which is rather earlier than that in the UK, and also rather longer! They actually started a few weeks ago, at quite a price, then ten days ago were more reasonable. Yesterday our supermarket had some most delicious looking strawberries in the usual green plastic punnets, costing 80c for 500g - an excellent price.

I bought two punnets which we've been eating with breakfast, then today I walked there and bought some more, as I felt inspired to make the first batch of jam of the year. So this afternoon the house was filled with the wonderful aroma of strawberry jam in process... I made four jars in all. We've worked out that a year's supply of jam is about 40 jars: last year I made a bit more than that and when we checked the cupboard today, there are still five jars left from those I made.

April 11th:

I keep hearing about snow in the UK, but here in Cyprus it's starting to get distinctly warm. This morning was the first day this year when I didn't even put on a sweatshirt after my shower - and haven't felt the slightest bit chilly. If only it would stay like this all summer!

I keep an eye on the weather in our town at the site - bizarrely it says that today's maximum temperature is 24C, but that it's currently 27C. Hmm. I would have thought the maximum would automatically get updated when the actual temp is higher! No wonder it feels a little over-warm today, although our house is very pleasant - it almost always feels cooler than outside. Several of the windows are open and there's a gentle breeze.

Tim says he's going to cut the grass in the back garden this afternoon. It does look as if it needs doing - unfortunately it has to be done about once a week at this time of year. Its growth slows down when summer starts (June) and then eventually it gets brown and stops looking like grass at all until after the first rains in the Autumn. We tried using a sprinkler on it a couple of years ago, and some of it stayed green longer than usual - but it took up masses of water, and was such a nuisance to keep remembering. And then the bits that stayed green kept growing, so we had to keep mowing. This year I don't think we'll bother though of course I'll keep watering the trees through the hot months. The weather site tells me it's going to rain on Thursday and Friday this week, which would be good. But I'll believe it when I see it...

April 13th:

Last night Richard and I, and a couple of colleagues from Egypt who are working with him at present, drove to Limassol to have a meal with a couple in another organisation. Egyptian husband, Cypriot wife. We had a very pleasant evening with excellent food, and it was warm enough that we sat outside after eating until about 10.30pm, when we left.

The garden, looking as green as it ever doesWarm again today. I did a little weeding first thing, and a bit of lawn-mowing late afternoon. It's a pity it's dark so early as the evenings are really very pleasant, although even by sixish the garden is full of mosquitoes, even when we keep the weeds down. I suppose it's all the trees that encourage them, and we love the trees. We don't get bitten as much as we did at first, and the bites no longer swell up or become itchy, but I still prefer to keep out of the way of mozzies.

There was a jumble sale at lunchtime at the Anglican Church. They do them about four times a year and often have a good selection of stuff. Not too many books today, but I picked up one that looked interesting, and a few classical CDs at 50c each (a little less than 60p sterling) which seemed good value. Oh, and a few jigsaws, which the lady on the stall said were almost certainly complete. I'll do them in the summer when it's too hot for anything much more. We haven't had any new jigsaws for a few years now.

Tim's piano lesson was cancelled because his teacher was helping at the jumble sale. But Daniel had a busy afternoon, teaching the 7-11s at Antidote Theatre because the directors were away. Unfortunately they didn't ask him until just under a week ago so he didn't have a chance to spend time in the class beforehand, and just to make it even more difficult, they didn't have the class in the usual theatre place, as the stage is being re-built. So they started in the car park and then moved to the foyer. Dan said it went reasonably well, which is encouraging as he was quite worried about having to teach 20 children he didn't know! Rather him than me...

April 25th:

Although, theoretically, we have mains water on all the time - unlike when we first arrived - there are still odd times when it goes off without warning. Sometimes we see or hear workmen digging up a road nearby and assume it's been switched off to build some new sewers or lay some new pipes. It's a nuisance when it happens - almost more so than when it was predictable, since there's no guarantee that we have any drinking water at all if nobody has filled the bottles! However it doesn't usually last for more than half a day, so it's not too much of a disaster.

Yesterday when we got up the mains was at good pressure - and before going to church I had a sudden urge to fill up the bottles, all of which were empty. So I filled about five of them. When we got back from church, about 11am, the mains had gone off. We didn't expect it to last long and I was pleased we did at least have plenty of drinking water. I was a bit surprised when there was still no water by the evening, but I washed up carefully - though I'm afraid I just poured the water down the sink rather than over plants! - but still assumed it would be on by this morning.

It wasn't when I got up. There was only one bottle of drinking water left from yesterday, and although I assumed the tanks would still be all right for another day or two, I know we're nothing like as careful as we used to be. It still wasn't on by 8.30 so I had a very quick shower. But... thankfully by nine o'clock there was a dribble of water, which got slightly stronger in the next hour or so, and now it's fine again. So I could water my new plants - which is rather important! - and fill the water bottles again. The laundry will have to wait till tomorrow, though.

No idea why it was off this time; they don't usually do maintenance on Sundays, and an emergency wouldn't need the water off for nearly 24 hours. Still, it ensures I'll keep the water bottles filled more often at least for the next few days....

April 28th:

Last week when we were in Metro, doing our usual weekly grocery shopping, another British couple mentioned that they had found a much cheaper supermarket out near Aradippou. That's two or three miles away, but the prices they mentioned sounded excellent. They said that if we spent typically about £80 on food, we would probably save at least £10, maybe twice that much, if we went to the other place. They told us how to find it, and we decided to visit it.

Tomorrow is Good Friday in the Eastern (Orthodox) calendar, so it's a public holiday and we thought probably the supermarkets would be closed. So we went today, and drove out to this new place, which is called Elomas. It's a cash & carry style supermarket with things just in boxes rather than neatly arranged on shelves. That's fine: it's rather what we thought. A bit like Kwik-Save in the UK, which we used regularly. As we went in we saw a wide variety of fruit juices, for 50c per litre (we usually pay 86c per litre) - so we picked up several!

However, we became gradually less impressed as we went around. Yes, the prices were excellent - but the choice was limited, even more so than Kwik-Save. There seemed to be a vast number of Nestlé products, which we don't buy [the babymilk action site explains why, just in case anyone wonders]. There wasn't anything whole-grain or organic, no fruity teas, no nuts - at least, not that we could find. The refrigerated section was small with only a few types of cheese ready-wrapped - no delicatessan at all - and the freezer section was even smaller, with a few types of frozen vegetables and other convenience foods. There didn't seem to be any fresh meat at all.

Still, we picked up some inexpensive toothpaste, baked beans, and evaporated milk (when we found a brand that wasn't Nestlé after some searching!) and one or two other bits and pieces. The prices were certainly very good. There was a large fresh fruit and vegetable section which looked good, although the prices were no better than Metro's. So we bought a couple of bags of oranges, and a couple of punnets of strawberries.

In all we spent about £15, and I suppose if we had bought the same at Metro it would have cost nearer £20. But we still need to go to Metro for all the things we couldn't buy. On the way out we decided it might be worth coming back if we have a party: prices on juice and other drinks were excellent, and there were bulk buys available on crisps and other party-type food. But for ordinary weekly shopping it doesn't seem worthwhile driving this far out just for a few items, when we would still have to go to Metro anyway.

We were less impressed still when we opened up one of the punnets of strawberries, and found that several of them had gone bad. Not just a bit squashy, but actually black with mould. Yuck. I suppose about a quarter of them were affected and had to be thrown away - which makes them considerably less good value! We've never had that problem in any of our Metro strawberry purchases. Perhaps the problem is that Elomas doesn't appear to have any air-conditioning. I should think it will be unbearably hot in the summer.

April 30th

loquats (mespila) at the end of AprilThis is how our front mespila tree looked this afternoon. Packed with fruit! Yet not quite ripe enough to eat much of it. I knew that leaving it a few days would mean that birds would get at it, as it would all become fully ripe together. The solution is to pick some at this stage and cook  they look a little like apricots, cook a bit like plums, and taste somewhere like a cross between the two, with a hint of rhubarb. 

So I picked quite a few. The worst thing about loquats is preparing them; they have very large stones inside - and not just one per fruit, but about three or four. Soft, satiny and oval. So the fruit has to be washed, then halved, and the stones and stalk removed. There never seems to be much fruit left by the time the stones have gone, but still it made two kilograms of fruit in all. I froze three half-kilos in rigid plastic containers in sugar solution and stewed the last half-kilo gently with the juice of a lemon, 150g sugar and some water, then pureed it in the blender and mixed with some custard in preparation for a mespila fool for tomorrow's lunch.

(For even more detail, general rambling and some other photos - with the most recent at the top - see the April pages of my Cyprus blog, from which this is condensed)

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To read more about our everyday life currently, you can see the most recent posts from my Cyprus Blog