Life in Cyprus - July 2005

July 2nd:

Tomorrow morning Richard and I leave directly after church. We have to drive to Limassol, which is about an hour's journey, and hope we can leave the car at the port. We're going on a mini-cruise thing to some Greek islands for five days, in celebration of 25 years of marriage (well, nearly. The anniversary is actually in a couple of weeks). It's the first time we've been away on our own in five years. Five years ago when we had a couple of nights in a hotel in Limassol for our 20th anniversary, that was the first time in over 13 years - ie since Daniel was born.

A friend went on this same mini-cruise a few years ago and highly recommended it. As I don't like flying unless it's essential this seemed like a much better idea than going on holiday by plane. It worked out less expensive too. Cruises are often thought of as luxuries, and of course in a sense every holiday is a luzury, but there are quite a few which go from Limassol, which are very reasonably priced. Particularly if one goes early in the season, as we are.

Food is all included, that much we know. And we've booked a guided tour for the day we're in Patmos (where the book of Revelation was written). Other than that, we know almost nothing about what to expect.

July 9th:

We're home again. The air conditioning seems to be dripping fluid so I'm typing in 32C heat with a noisy fan in the background, hoping the computer doesn't overheat.

tugboat, from our mini-cruise ship to the Greek islandsThe mini-cruise was wonderful in many respects. The food was superb - vast choice, enormous quantities, excellent service. No need to dress up at all, although some people did for the last night. We were at a table with a very nice couple each evening, an Australian Cypriot man and a Chinese lady. 

The excursion in Patmos was very interesting, albeit a bit rushed as we saw a cave, a museum, a monastery and a nunnery within a short space of time. The islands of Tinos and Santorini were also beautiful, although we didn't spend very long at either. Our cabin was comfortable and reasonably roomy. The staff were friendly and helpful. The sea was calm, the weather warm but with a pleasant breeze, and not humid. Accommodation was more like that of a hotel than a ferry, with towels provided and thorough cleaning done every morning.

Unfortunately, every silver lining has a cloud! It seemed as if something went wrong every day of our trip, although most of these were not related to the cruise itself.

On Sunday, the car overheated on the way to Limassol. This was the first long trip Richard had done since it was repaired a few weeks earlier after the same thing happened on the way to Nicosia. It wasn't a disaster: turning off the air-conditioning and switching on the heater meant that the temperature stabilised, although it's not much fun driving along the motorway in summer with the heating on! We got to the port in plenty of time and found we could park the car there, albeit at great cost.

Shortly after we left, Richard had an urgent message from his colleague back in Larnaka, with a computer server problem. Thankfully after several texts to and fro, it was resolved.

On Monday, after the excursion to Patmos, the ship managed to bump into the side of the dock. I overheard someone say that one of the ropes had not been untied properly. Whatever the reason, the dockmaster insisted that we wait just outside Patmos until an inspector arrived from Athens to check whether it was safe to proceed. So we waited 16 hours. Far better in a ship than in an aeroplane, of course, but rather frustrating. Still, we were at least offered free drinks with our meals for Tuesday.

On Tuesday there was another, more serious server crash at Richard's office - this time with one of the London servers. It ended up being down for nearly 24 hours, potentially a big problem for several different people. As well as rapid text messages to and from Richard's Egyptian colleague, he heard from other people who were not receiving email, or hearing the radio station. Richard had hoped not to have to think about work while away, but ended up spending much of Tuesday evening (and Wednesday morning) troubleshooting via text messages (and a few voice calls) on his mobile phone.

On Wednesday it was Tim's turn to have a big problem, and it took him an hour to contact us as Richard had left the phone in our cabin while we sat outside reading. Four months ago, I wrote this post - about an electrical pole in our street being damaged by a drunk driver. The pole was fixed, but the crash seemed to have jerked a couple of power cables slightly out of their fittings in our home. All electrical cables here are overhead rather than underground. Richard mentioned it to the workmen at the time, and phoned the electricity board several times over the next few days, but although they kept saying they would come and fix it, they didn't. And somehow, we forgot about it.

Unfortunately, on Wednesday there must have been a stronger wind than usual. Tim arrived home from a music practice to find there was no power in the house. Suspecting a power cut, he looked outside, and saw one of the cables right out - loose, lying on a tree. Thank goodness for the tree, since otherwise it could have landed on the (metal) fence at the front of the house, making it live.

When Tim finally got through to Richard, we told him to go and speak to our neighbour over the road who could explain in Greek what had happened to the electricity board. Besides that, he's a safety officer! When Richard phoned back five minutes later, he learned that repairmen had arrived already - clearly this was an emergency! So power was resumed to the house.

Thursday's disaster was my fault. I managed to lose our digital camera. We were in Santorini, and had stopped for ice creams. I put down various things I was carrying as we sat on a wall to enjoy them. When we got up again, I was carrying a carton of juice and although I picked up everything else, I somehow must have forgotten the camera. When we discovered this, about ten minutes later, we hurried back to the spot but it was gone. We asked around, but nobody had seen it. 

It was two years old, we didn't even pay for it (we bought it with Nectar points accumulated over the years from our credit card) and it wasn't a great camera - but by that stage I'd taken 20 pictures intended for my blog. Richard took some with his 35mm camera too, but I'd hoped to use my digital ones today. I can't believe how sad I was about my poor little camera, which won't even be any use to anyone else since we have the cable here and I don't suppose the software's available any more as the camera's obsolete.

On Friday we arrived back in Limassol at 3pm - later than the original 11am, due to the delay after Patmos. The trip to Kos had been missed out, sadly. We found the car and it did start, but by the time we had reached the end of Limassol it was overheating dangerously. So we stopped and called the Cyprus AA, only to find that our subscription had expired. Apparently we had never received the renewal form. They did send out a recovery vehicle but we had to re-join the AA for this year, and also pay for the truck. Not a huge amount, but it was very annoying.

Still, we got home safely. We went to the youth group variety night which was very enjoyable. All four cats are fit and well. Tim coped fine without us. This morning I received two email messages from Daniel, so anyone following his Doulos blog can read those. We feel as if we've been away at least a fortnight, not just five days, and are much more relaxed despite everything! Richard took his photos to the local place to be printed, and they've come out reasonably although the colours are nothing like as good as we expect from UK printers. Tonight we're going to an inter-church beach picnic.

For a full description of the cruise, with several photos, see 'The mini-cruise' (on my blog).

July 14th:

Yes, Summer is here. I don't do well in the heat although I've acclimatised somewhat in the (nearly) eight years we've been here. I no longer find 25C to be unbearably hot, as I did when we lived in the UK. On the other hand, I still don't cope with 35C [95F] and that's what the shade temperatures have been for the past couple of days. Richard likes it, and Tim's been out and about with some of the youth group without problem, but I find it draining and can get little done.

The last couple of days I've been doing some early-morning weeding - the back garden needs it badly, despite lack of rain - but by about 8.45am it becomes too hot for me, as the sun creeps over the garden and the shade temperature rises beyond about 28C [82F]. So I come inside, turn on the aircon unit in the living room, and spend most of my day in here. I don't think it's working as effectively as it did last year, but the room stays around 27-28C and is dehumidified, so it's a great deal pleasanter than the rest of the house.

The kitchen has usually cooled to 28C by about 6pm, but last night it was still 34C even at that time... not good. I guess this is a heatwave even by Cyprus terms, but it's no fun. We had a minimal-cooking meal, of which Richard organised the majority, and I didn't clear up the kitchen until 10pm by which time it was just about bearable. Thankfully I don't have problems sleeping, so long as there's a fan running, but somehow Summer feels like an endurance test out here.

July 16th:

On the whole, we love watermelon. They're huge at this time of year in Cyprus, and very inexpensive. A couple of weeks ago we had a beautifully sweet and juicy one, so we decided to buy another yesterday morning, when doing our weekly supermarket visit. Richard's been shown by the locals how and where to tap a watermelon to tell when it's ripe, so he tapped several, and managed to find a smallish one that sounded exactly right. With Dan in Africa, and Tim camping in the mountains with the youth group this weekend, there are only two of us in the house for a few days.

I put the watermelon straight in the fridge when we got home. In the evening, after supper, Richard cut it up - or half of it. He cut off the peel and chopped it into chunks. The colour was gorgeous, a deep pinkish-red, and there weren't even very many pips (seedless watermelons are unknown here).

I took my first piece. Cool and crunchy, yes. Juicy, yes. Sweet - no, not really. Rather bland, in fact. Ah well, it happens. Even tasteless watermelons are refreshing. I took another piece. It gave me a faint fizzing sensation on my tongue, rather unexpectedly. I frowned. I commented that perhaps we should eat it fairly quickly as I didn't think it was going to keep long, since it tasted as if it was about to ferment.

Richard took a piece. He was less fortunate than me... he took one bite, and couldn't eat the rest. He said he thought it had already gone bad. I tried one more piece, and agreed with him. When we smelled it closely, there was a definite (albeit faint) sour aroma.

We've never had this happen before; usually watermelons start to go soft before they go bad. But... this is Cyprus. Life is rarely predictable. So we shrugged and then threw the entire thing on the compost heap.

July 18th:

I sometimes get asked how I cope with the high temperature. Or what I do all day. Or what it's like to live in Cyprus. I hope some of this site answers some of those questions, but of course I mostly write about the unexpected, or the unusual - even by Cyprus terms - or things that strike me. Other times, little of note happens. Days drift by, particularly in the summer when it's too hot to do anything much during most of the day.

So... I get up around 6.30 usually, or earlier if one of the cats decides to miaow loudly at the window, or climb on me and flex her claws. I love early mornings in the summer, when opening a window gives at least a slight breath of cool, fresh air. I try to get a few things done when it's still reasonably cool: today I mopped all the floors, watered the trees I didn't water on Saturday, did a couple of loads of laundry and hung them out. Just everyday living, because that's what we do: Cyprus might sound exciting, even exotic to those who see it as a holiday destination only, but for us it's quite ordinary. It's where we live.

So it's rare for us to go to the beach. We went when our friends were here at the end of May, and to a church picnic a week ago, but we haven't swum in the sea yet. Perhaps we'll do so in the next few weeks, or perhaps not. During the daytime, the beaches are usually packed with tourists with skins in shades of red and brown. Crazy to get so much sun now we know how dangerous it is.

By about 10am this morning it was too hot to be outside, or doing anything energetic. I really don't cope with heat and humidity, although it's not quite as hot as it was for a few days last week. I switched on the air conditioning then and shut the windows.

July 20th:

To celebrate our Silver Wedding, we went out to eat last night, at our favourite Tex-Mex restaurant, Aztecas, which is about ten minutes' drive from here. It's gone rather upmarket since we first found it a few years ago, but still has a good selection of food: Quesadillas, Chimichangas, Burritos and so on, mostly with a choice of beef, chicken or vegetables as filling. All served with spicy beans and rice and a bit of salad. I suppose we go there about once a year on average, not being the kind of people to eat out often, and in the past we've gone straight to the main course. 

Last night we decided to try some starters, and while they were excellent they were very filling; so much so that I could only eat half my main course, and had no room for a dessert! A nice touch about Aztecas is that they always bring a complementary margharita drink at the end. I don't really drink anything alcoholic, but last night's seemed to have more strawberry than usual and less alcohol, so I enjoyed it very much.

On Saturday we're having a party for about thirty of our friends - just the people we're closest to. Our house group, Richard's colleagues, and the folk from the organisation we were seconded to when we moved here nearly eight years ago.

flowers sent for our anniversaryYesterday we were surprised and thrilled by a beautiful bouquet of flowers sent from my sister and her family in Wales. Of course she didn't send them from Wales, she organised for a florist in Nicosia to do them, and sent them here via a courier.

July 25th:

Saturday wasn't as hot as the previous few days, for which I'm extremely thankful. I woke about 5.45am, so was able to cook pasta (for pasta salad) and make a litre of custard (for apricot fool) with the windows open and a cool breeze blowing in the kitchen. The house was clean, vacuumed etc already, so I decided to do a thorough water of the garden, both front and back, since I wouldn't be able to in the evening.

The last of the visitors who had been staying left about 9am, so I threw his sheets and towel in the washing machine, wrote a list of the food and what still had to be done for the evening party, and felt as if I was doing quite well. Richard got up and spent over an hour cleaning the patio - far more thoroughly than I would have done - and all the plastic chairs. By late morning it was getting hot but I closed shutters against the sun, and came into the air conditioning for a couple of hours to read email and so on.

I thought there was perhaps an hour's worth of last-minute food preparation, so decided I would start that at 3pm, giving me two hours until 5pm, at which point I hoped to take a cool shower, change, and then sit for half an hour or so reading to relax.

Alas, I'm no organiser. There seemed to be vast numbers of things to do at the last minute. It didn't help that Tim developed a migraine and slept most of the afternoon, as he's usually very good at helping without being intrusive. I hate telling people what to do. I'd rather be the one doing what I'm told than the one delegating.

By 5.40pm I still hadn't finished, but I had to take my shower. Tim had got up so I asked him to wash grapes and put them in a nice bowl, and Richard to cut up the watermelon. They did so while I showered, but then at ten to six I had to wipe the kitchen counters, do yet more washing of used dishes, and five minutes later I glanced outside to see the morning's laundry still hanging on the line! So I rushed in with that...

Guests came promptly, and it was lovely to see so many of our closest friends all together. I felt tired and a bit headachey, unfortunately, and had to spent the first half-hour putting cold food on the table - and the kitchen isn't next to the dining room! Still, it looked like a good spread and everyone appreciated it. There was a bit left over, but not a huge amount, so we mostly got quantities correct. Three invited guests didn't come, so including four small children and the three of us, there were 32 people in all. A nice number for sitting out on the patio chatting - more would have seemed crowded.

Insects, as I've mentioned before, are one of the less pleasant aspects of living in Cyprus. I've managed to avoid most ants this year, by cleaning out all the food cupboards in the spring and spraying with Biokill. I generally keep all opened packets of food in plastic containers, too.

But tonight I opened a new packet of basmati rice, only to find rather a number of tiny black insects in it. I wasn't going to throw the whole packet away - for one thing I needed to use some, for another it's quite expensive, for another I hated the thought of wasting 500g rice! I don't know where the insects came from or how they got in, since it was a plastic bag. Perhaps they were there at Metro when I bought it, or perhaps they crawled in from our kitchen. But I emptied it out into a sieve, then measured the rice I need and washed it repeatedly until all the bugs were gone.

With the remaining rice, I squashed dozens of the insects as they crawled out, then gradually put rice back in an old coffee-jar with a screwtop lid. I don't think any bugs could get in that! I didn't worry too much about it, since rice gets washed and then cooked thoroughly anyway. But it wasn't very pleasant.

After that I checked the cupboard. Foolishly I had left a half-opened pack of spaghetti sitting on top of some jars, rather than putting it in the usual tall container. It had some bugs in it too, but they were just crawling about so easy enough to shake off when I did put the spaghetti in the container! Then I found a cardboard pack of lasagne which was about six months old and unopened, and FULL of bugs, burrowing into it. There was no way to save that so I threw it all in the bin. Then I wiped out the cupboard and sprayed again with Biokill before putting everything back.

Thankfully the cereal and flour cupboards do not appear to have any insects. I'm even more thankful that I didn't discover these insects on Saturday, and that the pasta I used then was in an airtight container, so unaffected.

And there, after celebrating 25 years of marriage and coming to the end of our home education years, seems to be a good place to leave this site.   I'm regularly updating my Cyprus blog, and have simply been copying sections of it to this site for the past few months.  There seems little point continuing to do so as it simply creates duplicate content.

To see even more detail, general rambling and other photos - with the most recent at the top - see the July pages of my Cyprus blog, from which this page is condensed.

Previous (June 2005)