Saturday, February 24, 2018

Immigration and Yellow Slips in Cyprus

Six years ago, we applied for 'yellow slips'. These are official papers which verify that someone is a European citizen who has the right to live in Cyprus. Rather than going over the reasons why we only applied six years ago (when we had already been living here for fourteen years), anyone interested could read this post about the requirements to apply for residency or yellow slips, as I went into the background in full. Indeed, until I re-read it a few minutes ago, I had forgotten why we didn't apply sooner.

However, as I wrote in this update about our experiences with Immigration, the authorities refused to grant us yellow slips. The lady behind the desk and her colleagues assured us that we could stay in Cyprus, as Europeans, and that we didn't need yellow slips. We already had ARCs (Alien Registration Cards) which we were given a few months after we arrived in the country, and those were all we needed.

Or so we thought.

A couple of people commented on that post, telling us that we should talk to the British high commission, since we might, at some point, require yellow slips. But we had the ARCs, and didn't really want to expend yet more time and effort trying to convince the authorities to grant us residency, since we had the right to live here anyway.

Fast forward nearly six years, and the situation is - or will be - different, since the UK will be leaving the EU in just over a year. Probably, people tell us, Brits living in European countries (and EU citizens living in the UK) will be able to stay. But nobody really knows, and we've heard of several people having trouble getting permanent residency, or settled status, or whatever is needed to guarantee their right to stay in the UK.

So Richard decided to apply for Cyprus citizenship. I'm less worried; if we had to go back to applying for yearly pink slips, or even if I had to leave the island every three months, I wouldn't be too worried. But Richard loves being here, and is involved in his ministry work, and sailing at the marina, and has no desire ever to leave.  People are eligible for citizenship after living here for seven years, and we've been here for twenty.  So it should be reasonably straightforward...

Except that this kind of thing is always remarkably complex.  The list of what he needs is huge. He has, for instance, photocopied seven years' worth of bank statements (both Cyprus and UK), electricity bills and phone bills.  These are to demonstrate that he really has lived here for all that time. He's had to go through every one of his passports to list his entries and exits, and how many days he was here - and he travelled quite a bit when we first moved here.

He had to get newly certified copies of his birth certificate and our marriage certificate, and the deeds of our house. He's had to find three Cypriots to agree to recommend him, and also had to advertise in the local paper that he's applying for citizenship. And a great deal more which I've forgotten.  He's done these things in odd moments when his busy schedule allowed and it's taken several months to gather everything together.  He needed just a few more things, one of which was a 'police check' in Nicosia, to guarantee that he hasn't committed any crimes while living here.

A few weeks ago, he drove up to Nicosia. The police said that they couldn't do a criminal record check without him having a yellow (or pink) slip. Even though they clearly had a record of his existence, based on his ARC. When he said that we had been refused yellow slips six years ago, and told we didn't need them, they said that Larnaka Immigration were wrong, and we needed to have them.

Immigration Office in Larnaka, Cyprus

So he went to Immigration, and they said we could have a regular appointment at the end of March, or an 'extra' appointment on February 23rd.  There are so many people going to Immigration at present that they're slotting in an extra appointment every week day, at 1.00pm or later... but anyone having an 'extra' appointment is advised to arrive at 10.00am and wait, because if anyone else doesn't turn up, then they'll get seen earlier.

And they gave us the same form we had to fill in last time, along with the same poorly written instructions, badly photocopied and almost unreadable in places.

So, over the last week, we have gathered together the same documents we needed last time. We had our bank statements stamped, and copied; we made sure we had up-to-date medical insurance records. We printed the information about the pension Richard gets from the BBC, which he started receiving a couple of years ago. Then we checked and double-checked that we had originals and copies of everything current, including our passports and the ARCs.

This pile of paperwork, organised into originals and copies, is only about a third of the size of the pile of paper that Richard needs for citizenship.  At least Immigration only want the most recent three months' worth of bank statements, not six years' worth, and they don't need to see utility bills.

We were both quite stressed about it. And whereas, last time, we assumed everything would go smoothly, we were a lot more concerned this time. We asked people to pray for us, and were assured that many were doing so.

The sun was shining and it wasn't too chilly when we arrived at Immigration a little before 10.00am yesterday.  We went to the secretarial office, and said that we were the 'extra' appointment, and the lady there called out to the next-door office in Greek, with the word 'extra' rather prominent.

We sat outside and chatted a bit.  I read a chapter or two of the book I'd brought with me, and we watched the other applicants coming and going. Most of them looked like Eastern Europeans, with a few Asians - probably maids or other domestic workers. Some of them were with a Cypriot, who was probably their boss.

Some people relaxed on the hard benches with books and snacks, enjoying the sunshine.  Some paced about.  Lots of them smoked.  They evidently had appointments at fixed times; as one person or couple came out, others went in. Occasionally one of the Immigration officers came out and called someone's name.  Many other people went into the secretarial offices, probably making appointments for weeks ahead.  Some folk left and returned half an hour later, perhaps with paperwork they had forgotten.

And we sat on the bench at the end of the porch, as far away from the smoking as we could be, wondering if we would really have to wait until one o'clock...

Around 11.30 there was only one other person waiting outside.  An Immigration officer came out and called a name a few times, but there was no response. Someone came out of the secretarial section and chatted to her, and then she went back inside. Then she came out again, and asked us if we had an appointment. We said we were the 'extra' appointment, so she asked our names, and then invited us in.

She quickly realised that we had all our paperwork well-organised, so after taking our passports and ARCs, she simply requested the copies of all our documents. She didn't even look at the originals. When she got to the bank statements, she asked about Richard's pension and he showed her where it was credited. We said that we receive other income - gifts from supporters - but she didn't ask anything about those, just nodded.

When she started typing information into her computer, we became hopeful. When she printed and handed us receipts for our payments (twenty euros each - it's gone up in six years!) we knew everything was almost certainly okay. Then we had to have our photos taken, and within about ten minutes of going into the office, our yellow slips were printed and handed to us.  No expiry, the lady told us, because we are Europeans.

I asked what would happen when the UK is no longer part of the EU, and she said that she wasn't sure, but thought the yellow slips would still be valid. We could apply for permanent residency for extra security, she said, but told us not to do so until they know what's happening, and what they are supposed to do. Richard told her that he's applying for naturalisation/citizenship, and she said that yes, that would mean he didn't need to do anything else. But she didn't think there would be a problem anyway.

We decided to have lunch out to celebrate.  We went to Gloria Jeans after walking along the sea-front deciding against most of the other places, and had paninis and coffee... they even had coconut milk.

So at last, after twenty years in Cyprus, we have yellow slips. We are extremely thankful and relieved.  Next week, Richard can have his criminal record check.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Flamingoes by the Salt Lake... and a few older board games

After a fairly dry and mild end to last year, and indeed beginning of January, the weather turned colder about ten days ago. We had some torrential rain - when it decides to rain here, it doesn't usually drizzle gently. It pours... I don't know if it's helped the reservoirs, which once again are much lower than they ought to be, but it's certainly helped the ground and the wild flowers locally.

On Tuesday morning, I grabbed my camera as I set off to walk with my friend Sheila; it had stopped raining so I knew it would be muddy, and hoped we might see a few flamingoes on the Salt Lake. The sun was shining and there were puddles every few metres, which we mostly managed to avoid:

Some years, the Salt Lake is quite full by this time of year, but even after a couple of days of extensive rain, there's still a lot of 'beach' showing:

We quickly saw flamingoes, although in this picture they just look like pink dots:

Here they are a little closer - there are thousands of them!

As we neared the Airport Road, we walked down onto the sandy area near the lake, and saw these baby flamingoes, still white rather than pink.  If you look carefully, you'll see a long row of pink ones in the background too:

We managed to get closer than I've ever been before without disturbing the birds:

flamingoes on the Larnaka Salt Lake, January 2018

However, although they didn't display any alarm, they did start walking away. And as we were trying to get closer still, as stealthily as possible, we were startled by a shout to keep away by someone with a large camera, perhaps a journalist or other professional, who was trying to photograph them from the road.

As we returned, we saw odd markings on the sand - evidently flamingo footprints!

We finished the walk, then sat and chatted for a few minutes on our garden swing, as we usually do. Then Sheila departed as two of her daughters had to get to their piano lessons, and I sorted out our breakfasts. Around ten o'clock Sheila's daughter K arrived with some knitting which had gone slightly wrong; so I helped her un-knit a few stitches and set her on the right path.

Shortly afterwards Sheila arrived with her two youngest daughters, after their piano lessons, and they decided to spend a couple of hours building and playing imaginary games with Lego.  K started reading one of my Chalet School books... so I suggested Sheila and I play some of my older two-person board games, which I recently brought up from our guest flat. I had planned to teach them to her daughters but they were all otherwise occupied.

We started with Quandary, a game which apparently originated in the early 1970s. I remember playing this regularly with a close school friend when she was at our house in my mid-teens.  It's a simple game to learn, but quite complex to think ahead. We played three rounds, all of them fairly quick:

The multi-coloured board game Quandary, easy to learn, tricky to win!

I then opened Octago, a game which I don't ever remember playing.  Apparently it came out in the mid 1980s, so either it belonged to one of my sons, or - more likely - we bought it at the Thrift Shop when we moved to Cyprus. It's a game a bit like draughts/checkers, with the variation that pieces can turn rather than (or in addition to) moving.

It was quite a good game, though neither of us really worked out any strategies. I won in the end, but it took me a lot longer than it should have done to capture the final piece.

The 1985 board game Octogo, a little like draughts with the option of turning the pieces

I then got out Kensington, a game which apparently didn't come out until 1979. I had thought it was earlier than that. It's very efficiently packed, in what appears to be a record sleeve (for those who remember records...).  I don't remember being particularly good at it - and, indeed, after initial frustrations as neither of us were getting anywhere, Sheila won rather resoundingly...

The Kensington board game, featuring hexagons and tricky strategies

We were interested to note that Octogo claims to be for ages six and older, Kensington for ages seven to 107, and Quandary for ages ten plus.  We thought that Quandary was probably the easiest of the games to understand, and the one most likely to be enjoyed by Sheila's daughters at some point.  I would have rated it 7+.  Octogo, we thought, was a bit more complex and easier to make mistakes; probably fine for a game-playing child of seven, but I'd have rated it as 8+.  As for Kensington, it's quite a long game and difficult to get anywhere.  I wouldn't really recommend that for anyone under the age of ten. 

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A fortnight in January in Cyprus

I decided I would write a blog post each Saturday this year. I managed it once.  I'm not sure what happened last Saturday, but evidently I didn't write anything. I haven't taken many photos this month, either. Rather a contrast to last Summer, when the family were staying and I took several photos on almost every day.  One of the things I've been doing is creating our 2017 photobook on the Photobox site, a few pages at a time. I've reached the end of June, which has almost as many pages as the first five months put together.

Nearly two weeks ago, we had our friend Jacob and his employee Mike back for a few days to do some more repair work on the house. They painted balcony railings, and the spiral staircase we have outside our house, and they 'spritzed' some of the back wall. They made a cover for one of our water tanks, which was - for some strange reason - missing its cover, and they worked with Richard to encase all our external wires in trunking. One of the cables had almost perished in the sun; it should have been encased a long time ago.

We've continued playing board games regularly with our friends, and on Tuesday this week revived an old habit - we played Settlers-by-Facetime with our son Tim, who now lives in the UK.  It took a while to get everything set up and working as we hadn't done this for some years; I think the setup took as long as the game. But it worked well, and was great to have a three-player game, and chat, even if he's two thousand miles away.

On Thursday, we woke to grey skies. Sheila and I went for our walk, although the trail was somewhat muddy and there were a few spots of rain. Within about half an hour of getting home, it started to pour.  Thankfully I had brought in the laundry I did the previous day. In Cyprus, when it does rain, it can be torrential.  There were high winds and hours of rain; the sun came out briefly a couple of times, but mostly the sky was grey. We had a few drips of water through the roof, but mostly it was fine. We had to use our electric water heater to get hot water for showers, as there was no solar heating at all. And it was cold. It had been a mild winter so far, but the house felt very chilly.

Yesterday Richard did the annual UK tax returns. It's not a task he relishes, though I do the bookkeeping through the year so it isn't too hard to get the figures we need to enter. He was quite frustrated by the whole process, as the UK government website seemed to be extremely slow. However, he finished eventually, and in celebration I made his fifteenth cake (out of sixty) for his 60th birthday year. It was a simple microwave chocolate mug cake with Bournville chocolate squares pushed into it; a little dry, but the melted chocolate helped:

It filled the large mug we bought for this purpose, and made two good sized portions:

In the afternoon, the entire Internet seemed to slow down. I don't usually notice when it's a bit slower than usual, but I was trying to print the statements from our two bank accounts and credit card, and I couldn't get some of them to load at all. No problem with the Cyprus bank, but the UK one, which is usually very quick, was unbelievably slow.  

Richard, meanwhile, was trying to download some videos for work, which he had to edit. He was already somewhat frustrated as the work computer had broken down twice in the past couple of weeks. The first time he took it to Nicosia and they cleaned something; the second time, they took it to the Apple dealer, who said it had a hardware fault and they would replace it free of charge... which is fine, but meant Richard was without his main editing computer for several days. So he hooked up his laptop to the system, which wasn't entirely satisfactory... and then the Internet appeared to grind to a halt.

He phoned our Internet provider, and they said that two major cables that connect Cyprus with the rest of the world had been cut.  This news article confirms it. The authorities don't seem to know why... but by this morning, thankfully, it seemed to be much better.  

Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

While I'm not rigid about traditions, nor superstitious, I like to take our Christmas decorations down before January 6th. It's what I grew up doing, and it always feels like the right thing to do. The Christmas season is finishing; today is a public holiday in Cyprus for Epiphany.  Schools have been closed since just before Christmas and will re-open on Monday. That's not relevant to us, but somehow it makes the past week feel like a relaxed, post-Christmas period before the year gets going.

I thought my young friends might like to help me take decorations down on Tuesday, but their oldest sister was still here, back from the United States for two-and-a-half weeks, and she had been asking to play our game Dixit. So Sheila and her four daughters came over for the morning, and we played Dixit, followed by a few rounds of Ligretto. Then I taught them Kingdominoes, the new game which Tim bought us for Christmas.

So the decorations stayed up for a few days longer, which was appropriate as we finished the mince pies and various cakes. And on Friday, I took everything down. Four more Christmas cards had arrived that morning, so I put them, with the others for this year, in a large jiffy bag to put up in December.  I packed the decorations away, probably more efficiently than my small friends would have managed, and then started to take the tree apart.  Helped - or not - by Alex:

Alex is the kind of cat who accepts pretty much anything. He's good-natured and friendly and doesn't mind things changing around him. His sister Jane, by contrast, doesn't like anything to disrupt her day. So she spent the morning racing around the living room, clearly very disturbed by the fact that all the decorations were going away. She wasn't too pleased when they went up, but she'd got used to them. And now we were making yet more changes...

Today, when Richard went out, I set to work to dust and clean the house, as I usually do on Saturdays, after changing the sheets on our bed. The trouble with dusting is that it makes me notice when things are out of place, now that more surfaces are visible without decorations on them. I re-organised a couple of bookshelves, to make space for some new or recently read books and I also did a couple of loads of laundry. I sorted out the closets on our landing, too; one of them has central heating pipes running through it, so does duty as a kind or airing cupboard in the winter. It's useful on damp days, when the laundry is almost - but not quite - dry.  But there were other things in there, including several pillows that we've acquired recently, and a duvet that belongs in our guest flat..

Once I've started this kind of thing, I tend to keep going until it's finished. I don't know how many times I went up and down the stairs, moving books and bedding. And I still hadn't finished the dusting.  I started about 10.30am and didn't finish until almost 1.00pm.  After lunch I swept and mopped and vacuumed, and the house does look and feel a lot fresher and cleaner, which is good. But Jane was even more disturbed by all the movement, and since I kept going she decided to attack Alex instead. It wasn't just play-fighting, but the ears-back growling vicious fighting that she does when she sees another cat outside, or when Alex comes in smelling of another cat. He takes the brunt of anything that annoys her.

However, after I'd eventually finished, and showered, and sat down at the computer to check email and Facebook, Jane was happy again.

Sometimes traditions or schedules are the only way we get things done. We've been saying for months that we need to play more of our board games. We play Settlers of Catan and/or Cities and Knights at least once a week with our close friends. We don't forget simpler games such as Dixit, Ticket to Ride, or Kingdom Builder, and we're not going to forget Kingdominoes; it's the kind of game that we'll probably play fairly often when we have a spare half hour or so after another game.

But other games - in particular Puerto Rico, Agricola, Above and Below, and Grand Austria Hotel - are a great deal more complicated. So we don't tend to play them very often - and then, when we do, we have to re-read the rules and it takes awhile to get into them. But equally they're not games we want to play too often. About once a month works well.  So we decided that we'll play one of them per week, on a Saturday evening.  If we remember...

Monday, January 01, 2018

Twelve cakes ... and a Happy New Year!

Back in the middle of October, just before Richard celebrated his 60th birthday, I made a rather rash comment. I had baked an early birthday cake when we had a meal with some friends, the weekend before the actual birthday. One of the friends asked how many birthday cakes he was going to have altogether.

'Sixty, I should think,' I said, without really thinking it through. I thought they might laugh and then I'd say, 'Well, maybe three...'.  I had already baked his 'official' cake, a Christmas style 'celebration' cake to be eaten when we had his birthday barbecue, and I was planning to make one for the actual birthday. 

Instead, everyone seemed to think it was an excellent idea. I said, quickly, that it would be sixty cakes over the course of the next year, not just in October. And then, when I told one of my sons about it, he said that of course they should be sixty different cakes. Even more of a challenge. There are about ten or so different cakes that I make fairly regularly, and I knew I had recipes for many more... and, if I run out of cakes from recipe books, the Internet is an excellent source too.

So, for the record, here is a collage of the twelve cakes made so far, in eleven weeks:

The first was a basic chocolate fudge cake, with raspberry jam filling (I am being specific here; as I near the end of the sixty, I may resort to a chocolate fudge cake with apricot jam filling and claim that as different).  Second, for the actual birthday, was a no-bake chocolate biscuit cake.  Richard was given a book of mug cake recipes for his birthday, and people had started commenting on the calorific nature of my project, so on the Sunday after his birthday I made us a chocolate-chip-banana mug cake which rose very well, and prompted us to buy a new, large mug for future mug cakes.

The fourth cake was the official rich fruit cake, which Richard ate (with help from a few friends) over the next few weeks. I made a Christmas cake too, which isn't yet finished, but since that was the same recipe, and was for Christmas, I haven't included that in the list. 

Next was another mug cake - a coconut one with chocolate topping - and then I baked a victoria sandwich (albeit in the food processor) with apricot jam filling.  I then tried yet another mug cake recipe, one using a few frozen berries; it didn't grow much, so looked very small in the mug; but was delicious. 

The next few cakes were made for the pre-Christmas and Christmas season, but I counted them in my list.  First a chocolate chip applesauce cake, which was a bit undercooked for some reason, but all the better for having a sauce part at the bottom.  Gingerbread is something I always make at this time of year; we still have a lot of that left, some of it in the freezer.  For a slightly healthier option I made a chocolate chip cookie cake with chickpeas rather than flour, and the end of that was enjoyed by someone who can't take gluten.

For Christmas Day, as an alternative to mince pies and Christmas pudding, I made a lemon drizzle cake, which was much appreciated.  And the twelfth cake, made yesterday, was a chocolate banana cake to take to a New Year's Eve meal with our friends. The recipe recommended a rich icing with 175g chocolate and 150g icing sugar (among other things) but I decided to take it un-iced, and it was still very good.

(I have included links to relevant pages on my recipes blog for four of the above cakes. The rich fruit cake is Delia's 'celebration' cake with home-made marzipan and royal icing rather than nuts on top. If anyone happens to read this and would like recipes for any of the other cakes, let me know in the comments and I will write them up - with my own instructions and comments, of course - on the recipe blog). 

Saturday, December 30, 2017

A few more Cyprus quirks...

Although we've lived in Cyprus for twenty years now, there are still occasions when we smile, or roll our eyes, and mutter, 'This is Cyprus!' It's a phrase used by Cypriots as well as ex-pats, often with a sense of pride in the way the island functions. Below are three recent examples:

1.  Central heating pump

Our main floor and the upstairs have separate pumps in our central heating system. About a year ago, we weren't getting any heat on our main floor. Not such a problem in Cyprus as it would be in, for instance, the UK; but some days are decidedly chilly. Our builder recommended a central heating engineer who came to have a look. He said we needed a new pump, so we asked him to fit one. However, instead of buying a new one, he found one that was being discarded by a school, and fitted that. The heating worked - mostly - for the rest of the winter.

But by the time it got cold again a few weeks ago, it was obvious we needed another replacement. Richard decided we would buy one ourselves, and then just ask a plumber to fit it, rather than risk another poor quality one. We went to a suitable local shop, where we were told that yes, they could sell us the exact same pump as our original one but that they recommended another which worked the same and was half the price. We would have bought the most expensive one if they hadn't been so insistent that their own brand was as good (and guaranteed). It was a positive 'This is Cyprus!' moment.

So we asked the shop if they had a recommended engineer who could fit it; preferably one who speaks English.  Yes, they told us, we should speak to George.  I don't know how many scraps of paper we've seen over the years with a phone number and the name 'George'.  Richard phoned him, and he said he would come later that day, or the following morning.

We waited, but nobody appeared. So Richard called, and he said yes, he would come later in the day.  He didn't.  He had many good reasons for not coming when he said he did, but after about the fifth day we were starting to feel rather frustrated. It was a not so good 'This is Cyprus!' experience that is all too familiar.

However, he did eventually come, fitted the pump efficiently and quickly, and even told us why the gas-powered part of our water heating has never worked.  He looked at a drip on the roof and said that one of our water tanks was faulty.  He then looked at a toilet which was very difficult to flush, and made a quick adjustment.  He was competent, quick (once he got here) and charged us just €30 for his time.

2. Curtain track 

Most of the curtains in our house have pull-cords.  And for about ten years or so, they worked just fine to open them in the morning, and close them at night.

Perhaps it's not obvious from that photo, so here's a close-up of the bit we pull:

In the past few months, however, first one curtain and then a couple of others started to jam. They wouldn't open - or wouldn't close - using the pull-cord.  We thought perhaps the cord needed to be replaced, as it looked a little frayed in places, so we bought some new cord. But quickly realised, when we took one down to try and replace the cord, that the problem is in fact with the mechanism at the end of the track that guides the cords:

There are two little wheels at each end, in a metal enclosure, and they were stuck. One of them broke off completely. We realised that the pelmets with the curtain rails have probably been here for thirty years or so... and the little wheel mechanism things needed to be replaced.

So Richard took the track off, and we went to a local shop that sells curtains and fittings.  The person on duty shook her head, and said it was a 'very old' fitting, one that could not be replaced. She said we would have to replace the entire metal track with a new fitting, and that each one would cost at least €25.  Since we have ten of them in all, which will need to be replaced eventually, this seemed a bit steep.  Moreover, the new track which the shop assistant showed us was exactly the same size as the one we have already. "Couldn't we buy just the new mechanism and fit it in the track?" we asked.  No, they insisted, it was too old.

Another oddity of Cyprus is that similar shops tend to congregate in the same area. So we thanked the shop assistant, and went to the next curtain shop, a couple of doors down the same street. We asked the same question.  They, too, said that our mechanisms were too old to be replaced, and that we would need a new track.

But they said it would only be €10 for the replacement.

We were startled at such a price difference, but thought we might as well pop into the third curtain shop that was in the same street, just another couple of doors down.

This time, however, the assistant assured us that yes, 'of course' we could replace the old mechanisms. They don't have them in stock right now, she said, but they could get some in. No, we don't need to make an order, just come back next Friday.  The cost?  €5 for two.

Yes, 'This is Cyprus!'

So, we'll go back there next week and see if they really can provide an exact replacement.

3.  Airport parking

Larnaka's old airport was replaced many years ago with a new, improved and mostly pretty efficient airport.

Unfortunately,  they have never really sorted out how the parking works.

At first, when dropping someone off or meeting a flight, there was twenty minutes of free parking in the short-term car park. If one parked for longer, there was a parking cost, but it wasn't too excessive. Of course, we, like many of our friends, would sometimes go back to the car after fifteen minutes, drive it out of the car park and then park somewhere else, so as to avoid paying - but in most cases, twenty minutes was plenty.

Then they started charging for all parking.  So people started not using the car park; instead they (and we..) would drive around while waiting for a call, or have one person get out to meet arriving guests, while the driver would find somewhere to stay temporarily, until a phone call alerted them of the arrival. But more and more people did this, and the roads around the airport became clogged, and then the authorities started putting up barriers, or cones, to stop even temporary parking.  They blocked off some of the car parks completely... but the main short-stay car park really isn't big enough.  So at times when we do want to park, sometimes Richard drives around for five minutes or more, just looking for a space.

On Wednesday morning we took Tim to the airport.  We decided to go in with him for half an hour or so, and were there in plenty of time. As usual, the car park looked absolutely packed. So Richard dropped Tim and me near the entrance while he went to look for a parking space.  We thought the airport would be heaving with people, as it often is, given the number of cars that were parked.

To our surprise, it was extremely quiet. There was no queue at all, so Tim checked his luggage in immediately.  Apparently the flight was almost empty.  We sat down and chatted for a while, and during that time saw very few people. Evidently December 27th is not a popular time for flying out of Cyprus. There didn't seem to be many arrivals, either.

So we were not just saying, 'This is Cyprus' in a frustrated way about the lack of parking spaces at the airport, we were genuinely puzzled:  why, with so few people in the airport, was the car park as full as ever...?

We wondered if it was long-term parking, for people who had gone away for a week or two over Christmas, but thought that was unlikely, as there's a separate covered long-term car park.  Could it be for staff?  No, they too have their own separate car park.

Then I discovered that instead of the long-term car park being better value than the short-term one for more than 24 hours of parking, it's more expensive. Indeed, the airport site actually suggests that people consider long-term parking in the short-term car park.

No wonder there's such a problem.  But... 'This is Cyprus!'

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Almost Christmas Eve

I like it when Christmas Day is a Monday. Although many shops will open tomorrow, we try to avoid shopping on Sundays. So rather than rushing to the supermarket for last-minute bits and pieces on Christmas Eve, we shopped this morning and if anything is missing, we'll do without.

I updated our family website yesterday, including this year's newsletter.  If anyone reading this is interested (and has not already seen it via email), you can find it here: Family newsletter 2017. Observant visitors to the site may notice links to a couple of books in the right-hand sidebar. One is to the book Richard wrote a few years ago. The other is to my father's memoirs, which I edited a little and proof-read over the past few months. They were published via CreateSpace a few days ago.

I usually ice our Christmas cake on Christmas Eve, but decided to do it today, instead. I usually get terrible arm-ache making royal icing, gradually beating icing sugar into egg white or substitute (aquafaba is what I used today, and is my preference). This year I decided to use my food processor, ignoring the advice of purists who insist that royal icing must be beaten with a wooden spoon. It was quick, easy, and successful. I wish I'd thought of doing it this way years ago.

I also put a ribbon around the cake, which is much easier than trying to ice the sides. And since there was a little icing left over, I attempted to pipe a few roses on top. Not very successfully, and the puddle in front of the 'Merry Christmas' thing looks very odd in this photo, but I hope it'll taste all right.

The last few days have gone quickly; it's been great having Tim here. Tomorrow afternoon he will stuff and cook our turkey, so it can be carved and put in a roasting pan in the fridge, ready for re-heating on Christmas Day. We'll probably peel and chop potatoes tomorrow too, but almost everything else is ready.  There will be eleven of us sitting down to eat lunch on Christmas Day.

As always I'm aware that this season is a difficult, poignant and sometimes painful season for people who have lost or are separated from loved ones. We will very much miss Daniel and Becky and the grandchildren, who are thousands of miles away. But we're very thankful to have Tim here, and good friends to share the day with.

Having written this a day early, I may well decide not to switch my computer on at all for the next couple of days. I'm one of the few remaining people who doesn't have (or want) a smart-phone, so once my computer is off, I'm unconnected with the online world.

So, although it's a couple of days early, I'd like to wish everyone a warm, love-filled and blessed Christmas (or whatever you celebrate over the holiday period).

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Winter and Christmas preparation in Cyprus

I have evidently been neglecting this blog recently. I've been busy with various things, and somehow blogging has slipped off my radar. My last post was early November, when I was writing about October. Since then, winter (such as it is in Cyprus) has appeared, and Christmas will be here very soon. So here's a brief summary of the past six weeks or so:

The temperature always takes a downward turn around the second week of November. So around that time I got out our two cat beds. I made one of them, a few years ago, and we bought the other one. To my surprise, the cats decided to sleep in them.  However, Alex, who is really quite a large cat, squashes into the smaller bed:

Alexander the large cat in the small cat bed

While Lady Jane, his petite sister, spreads out comfortably in the larger bed:

Lady Jane Grey, the petite grey cat, spread out in the large home-made cat bed

On November 20th, we went into the large and somewhat random shop Kleima. I forget what we were looking for, but we spotted some large poinsettia plants at just €4.99.  We usually pay more than that for much smaller ones.  It felt much too early for a plant we consider to be a Christmas decoration.  And I was dubious about buying it from Kleima; the shop isn't known for great quality. But somehow we decided to buy one anyway.  The pot was a little small, so I re-potted the plant:

poinsettia plant from Kleima

In the process, a couple of the stems fell out. They didn't break off, or anything; they were stems that had apparently been pushed into the soil to bulk the plant out a bit. I trimmed them and put them in water.  Over the next few days, I noticed other stems starting to droop... and on gentle pulling, found that they, too, were just loose stems.

However, the actual plant, while considerably less voluptuous than it originally appeared, has survived well and is looking good.

Our closest friends here had been away for over two months, so although winter was approaching I hadn't done any early morning walks in October or November. But they returned at last, and I woke early enough to see a sunrise on November 25th:

sunrise over the Salt Lake in Larnaka

A few days later, it was my turn to travel, though I was only away for a week.  My flight was quite early, though after sunrise; as I looked out of the plane window I spotted part of a rainbow:

My trip was to the UK, in order to help my father celebrate a special birthday.  While there, visiting a garden centre, we saw this display of mechanical toys:

They were delightful to watch, but then we saw the boxes. Each one cost at least £30, some of them more, and one alone would be rather dull. They're not toys, and they're the kind of thing one would only get out at Christmas. They were a great display for the garden centre, but I did wonder who might buy one!

At the weekend there was a family party, with twenty of us in all, and a magnificent cake made by my father's wife:

Since I was seeing my siblings and their spouses, with whom we still exchange gifts at birthdays and Christmas, I did all my Christmas shopping online before I flew out. I then wrapped everything, and distributed appropriately.  I also wrote all the Christmas cards for UK friends and relatives, and got our newsletters printed and posted too.  I even made this year's Christmas puddings and mincemeat before my brief trip.  I don't think I have ever been so organised, and it was a good feeling.

A week after my return to Cyprus, the Christmas season was well underway.  The Larnaka Christian Writers' group had our annual Christmas potluck lunch with lots of good food and enjoyable company:

Among other things, I took along some of my first batch of mince pies.

Then, the following day, Sheila's daughters helped me to decorate our Christmas tree, something which has become an annual tradition:

A couple of days after that, Richard and I celebrated the 40th anniversary of our first date.  We had a take-away lunch, had some professional photos taken, and saw some of the lights of Larnaka:

In the evening we went out to eat, and then - along with many other people - took photos of this rather strange giant bauble at the end of the small pier:

At the weekend, I hung up last year's Christmas cards, something else I do each year since so many don't arrive until January. And I sewed up another shepherd I had knitted for our Nativity scene:

I made the first of this season's lemonade on Saturday, after buying a crate of thirty lemons for a couple of euros. On Sunday I made the second batch of mince pies, and some veggie 'sausage' rolls for freezing.  On Monday I made some gingerbread and chocolate chip cake.  I also opened up and made up the sofa bed in Tim's room, which made Jane very happy:

Tim arrived last night and she was even happier. He has always been her human of preference.

Today I made marzipan and put that on the Christmas cake. I need to make some more mince pies, within the next few days, and ice the Christmas cake... but that's about all until we cook the turkey on Christmas Eve.

The house is not as warm as we'd like because one of our central heating pumps needs to be replaced. We've bought the new pump, but the central heating engineer recommended by the shop hasn't come to fit it, though he said he would do so yesterday evening or this morning. However it's not particularly cold out, so an extra jacket is sufficient, at least at present.

I hope to write another blog post on Christmas Eve, as I tend to each year, and will then make a 'resolution' to write at least one post per week in 2018.