Saturday, May 16, 2015

The approach of Summer in Cyprus

I don't know why it surprises us, every year, that April is still mostly spring-like as far as the weather goes. The sun was warm during the middle part of the day, but the evenings and nights were still fairly cool. As May began, the weather became warmer; a pleasant 23-25C [that's around 73-77F] in the shade during the daytime, but still 13-15C overnight. I didn't switch to our medium-weight duvet until the start of April, and then moved to the thin one early in May.

It's still cool enough to need a thin duvet at night, which is just as well since our kitten Joan has a tendency to attack feet - or anything she sees as an intruder under the duvet - when she wakes up in the morning, usually around 5.00am. With a thick duvet, this wasn't a problem. With a thin one, it's uncomfortable. I don't want to think about what will happen when there's only a sheet covering my feet.

Alex and Joan celebrated their first birthday on April 4th. At that stage they were still mostly indoor cats, going out on the balconies but no further. Well, not unless they escaped when we opened the front door.

A week later, Alex discovered how to get down from our utility balcony (which has a cat flap into the kitchen). The first couple of times, we brought him back in the house; then he learned how to reverse the process, which requires quite a jump up, and there was no stopping him. Once or twice I wondered if he had gone for good, particularly when I got up in the morning and he was nowhere to be seen.

But apparently he was venturing further and further afield as he explored our neighbourhood. Since then I've spotted him on roofs of houses on a street parallel to ours, and in some waste ground about a hundred metres away, on yet another street.

After a couple of hours or more he usually comes into the house, has a quick snack and a long drink of water, and then flops on the beanbag:

A couple of weeks later, as the weather warmed still further, I realised I couldn't keep the windows and doors closed all summer. I switched from trainers to sandals, stopped wearing a sweatshirt, and started washing our jackets and fleeces. We opened the windows in the daytime and started to let Joan out too. She didn't go as far as Alex at first, but now she, too, goes off exploring and often stays out for an hour or more.

Last weekend we were invited to a friend's 50th birthday party, which was a barbecue at a national park up a hill not far away. It was a warm day, but there are shady places to sit and an amazing view over Larnaka:

I started using the ceiling fans in the warmest part of the day. Shade temperatures were approaching 28 or even 29C. Then, just as I was thinking it was time to put my jeans away for the summer, and dig out my shorts, it got cooler again. So much so that, whereas Alex and Joan had been spreading themselves out on the tile floors to cool down, I found them a couple of days ago sharing a seat, almost as curled up together as they were when they were little:

May seems to be racing by; I will clean the air conditioners soon, although, as ever, hope not to turn any of them on until at least the start of June.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Birthday Blogpost

It happens every year. I can't pretend that I'm not expecting it, because the date is consistent - but as the years pass, it seems to approach more rapidly than ever.

I speak of the anniversary of my birth, and my increasing incredulity that I can be, as one of my small friends put it, such an 'old lady' when I still feel about 26 on the inside. It's a shock, sometimes, to realise that my younger son is, currently that age.

Cake, at least in our culture, is usually a mark of a birthday. And since our closest friends in Cyprus were due here Sunday afternoon, I decided to bake a chocolate fudge cake a day early, so as to share the feast with them. I used a slightly runny icing and then decorated it with seasonal strawberries, and some American style chocolate chips which some visitors had given us last summer:

Nobody doubts my ability to bake and even decorate a cake, so long as nothing artistic is required. But in general I am not permitted by my family to cut a cake, particularly not with our large and rather sharp knife. However, given my advancing years, Richard and Tim felt that perhaps - with supervision - I should be allowed to try:

After all, as Tim kindly pointed out, it might not be many years before my hands become too shaky to use a sharp knife...

I succeeded in dividing the cake into twelve reasonably even pieces, without cutting myself at all. Pieces were passed around the table, served with fresh fruit salad which I had also made earlier in the day:

Katie enjoyed hers very much:

We didn't have anything much planned for the following day, which was the actual birthday. So I got up early and read for a while, as usual, and did my normal Monday blitz around to dust/vacuum/mop the house before Richard got up. Then I opened some presents: books, DVDs and some fruity teas from Richard and two of my siblings who passed their gifts to me when we saw them back in February.

Richard was working in the morning, so I pottered a while, read email, caught up on Facebook - including about thirty 'Happy birthday' messages which I responded to briefly - and a few other things on the computer.

Since there were ten people present for Sunday evening, there were two pieces of cake left for us to eat after lunch. Afterwards we went out to the PO Box where I found three packages awaiting, one of which was addressed to Tim. The other contained some books from another of my siblings.

I'd also wanted to buy a few flowering plants to put in the planters outside my study window, so we visited a plant shop too to spend a little of the birthday money I've been given. I thought I'd branch out from my usual petunias and geraniums, although I've no idea what I actually bought.

I planted them out soon after we got back.  There are two of this pretty purple thing:

and two of each of these plants:

Our Christmas poinsettia is still looking reasonably good, but with both Easters (Western and Eastern) past, and the weather warming up, I decided it was time to move it from the living room to the outside planter:

Then I couldn't resist a few more geraniums and a couple of petunias, as they do so very well in Cyprus. Most of them will go downstairs on the outside patio area:

Tim arrived about 6pm, tired after his first day back at work after the Easter break. The parcel addressed to him was in fact his present to me, which was a new and smart-looking chocolate-coloured case for my Kindle, as my old case had almost disintegrated.

And since I'm often asked exactly what my gifts were, here they are in collage form:

I had already decanted two of the boxes of fruity tea into jars and cut out the box fronts to label them before I thought of taking a photo. I've tried them both already, and they are extremely good.

Richard had asked if I'd like to go out for a meal in the evening, but we've been out to eat at restaurants four times in the past six weeks and I couldn't think of anything I particularly wanted to eat at a restaurant. About four times a year is more normal for us.

So I decided to make my current favourite meal of spanopitta, and just have Tim over to dinner. He then mentioned that he still had some pecans left from his last trip to the UK, and they needed to be used.. so he would bring a pecan pie for dessert. I wasn't entirely sure whether a pie following a pie would be a good idea, but was quite prepared to try.

Spanopitta isn't difficult, now I've realised that it's not necessary to cook the chopped onions before mixing them into the feta and hard goat's cheeses, along with eggs and spinach, but I wasn't sure if we'd eat more than one - and liked the idea of having some extra to freeze for a future meal - so I made two:

.. served with two of my favourite vegetables: roasted tomatoes with basil and garlic, and baked mushrooms:

I'd thought about doing some other veg, but didn't want us to be too full before the dessert, which looked good and tasted delicious:

We had played Settlers of Catan on Sunday afternoon, and we were all tired, so I suggested we play 'Kingdom Builder', a game that Tim bought us for Christmas, but which we haven't played very often. I like it very much; it's not too demanding, and doesn't take more than about half an hour. We played a couple of rounds:

However by about 8.30pm Tim was yawning after his early start (he has to get up at 6.00am in term time) so he went home, and I went back to my computer to find yet more birthday greetings on Facebook. By 9.30 I was almost asleep myself, so I went up to read in bed.

Having stretched out the celebration over two days, I thought that would be the end of it. Then this afternoon I had a message that it was a good time to phone Daniel, Becky and David who are at present on the Logos Hope in Malaysia. After several failed attempts, we got through on a reasonable line via the UK and USA, and I was wished Happy Birthday yet again. We chatted for about forty-five minutes, and were pleased to discover, on hanging up, that it had cost us the vast total of about 40 pence (sterling).

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Coffee at Al Dente on Greek Good Friday

For perhaps the first time ever, we've had coffee out for two weeks in a row. That's three times so far this year - more than I think we've ever had coffee out in the space of four months.

We parked at the music school on Friday morning and wondered how many shops would be open, as it was a religious holiday for the 'Eastern' Good Friday. The local population are almost entirely Greek Orthodox here, and while for many of them it's quite nominal for most of the year, they make a big effort on the special and most holy days.  As we passed St Lazarus Church, we saw people emerging, dressed in black; presumably from a service to mark the day.

It was quite warm and sunny, and by the time we'd walked down to the sea front and past several restaurants, I was feeling already as if I'd been for too long in the sun. So we stopped at the first suitable looking place we came to.  Al Dente is an Italian restaurant, with photos outside showing, among other things, pizza and pasta dishes:

In between the restaurant buildings and the main part of the street, are more temporary structures where people sit to eat or have coffee; there are several of these, with plastic 'windows' that will be removed when the weather gets warmer:

We went inside and sat down at a comfortable corner table. Nobody else was there, and it felt quite peaceful despite plenty of noise in the areas outside. There was gentle romantic music from the 1970s coming through the speakers in the ceiling, but it was quiet enough that it was not at all intrusive, and we hardly noticed it, other than when we recognised songs from our teenage years.

A waiter brought us a menu; there were various coffees and frappés available, mostly at €2.90. Richard decided on an Americano hot coffee, and I opted for a frappé as I was still feeling quite warm:

We liked the fact that they came in a real mug and glass rather than plastic disposable ones. We also liked the comfortable, if slightly odd decor:

So on all aesthetic counts, we liked this place rather more than last week's Coffee Island. It was more comfortable, much less crowded, played quieter, more pleasant music, and had soft furnishings to improve the acoustics. It was nice to be waited on, too, rather than having queue; then again, we were paying almost half as much again.

Unfortunately, the drinks were not as good as those of Coffee Island. They were nice enough: we appreciated the break, and the caffeine boost, and there was nothing wrong with either the coffee or the frappé - no bitter or strange taste.  But nowhere near as good as last week's.

We sat in comfort for maybe half an hour, and one or two other customers wandered in.  When we left it started spitting with rain, and I felt quite chilly after my iced drink.

As we walked back to the car, past St Lazarus Church, we saw a queue of people - mostly locals, again - waiting to go in by a side door. The larger windows had been covered so it must have been very gloomy inside. We don't know if they were waiting for another Good Friday service, or perhaps going in to light candles and pay their respects to the ikons.

The banks and post offices were closed, but all the shops were open.  For most people, it was simply a day off work.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Frappés at Coffee Island

It's two months since I wrote about our morning coffee at Gloria Jean's. We decided to try different places in Larnaka for coffee, every Friday morning, when doing our 'house admin'.

The following Friday we were about to fly to the UK, and were frantically catching up with things we needed to finish. Then the next two Fridays we were in the UK. After that, we had a friend here, doing the accounts for Richard's organisation - they worked hard, and there was no time for a morning doing house-related work. We did do one or two jobs - and some shopping - on a couple of Fridays in March, but Richard was away for the other one.

And we forgot all about our coffee experiment.

However, last Friday, I wanted to go to the PO Box and we decided to have another coffee break. This time we opted for Coffee Island, another popular place with young people. We had heard that the coffee was good, and the prices quite reasonable, by comparison with other sea-front places. Several Coffee Island cafés have sprung up in the last few years, but the one we decided to visit was near the Post Office, on a corner of Larnaka sea-front near the fort:

It's a nice location, and it looked very busy - though mostly with young adults, late teens and early twenties, at a guess, mainly male. There's an outdoor 'bar' with stools, and a few outdoor seats too, but it was a sunny day so we decided to have our coffee inside.

The first thing that struck me as we went in was that it was extremely messy! Some of the decor was nice - there were coffee bean machines, and coffee grinders, and other interesting paraphernalia. But there was also a central long table which we had to walk around, which contained an apparently random selection of objects, from jars of honey to small coffee machines, and even a mostly-empty bottle of blue spray cleaner:

We decided to order frappés; there were only a couple of people in the queue but the staff were busy at another window so we had to wait awhile.  Still, once we reached the front, we were served quickly: one with milk and no sugar for me, one with sugar and no milk for Richard.  The cost was two euros each, which we thought quite reasonable for a large drink, even if a lot of it was ice. Definitely better value than Gloria Jean's. 

We thought of sitting in the outer of the two indoor areas, until we realised that people were smoking. 

It's not really allowed in any indoor areas, but many restaurant owners seem to get around this by claiming that their 'outer' areas are temporary rather than truly outside, as the doors will be removed when summer starts. And since ashtrays were provided on the outside tables, it's evidently acceptable. 

So we sat in a smaller inside area, which was reasonably comfortable. The frappés were good, too. This is the one with sugar and no milk: 

The taste was smooth, with no bitterness, and I enjoyed mine very much.

Unfortunately, there was a lot of noise in Coffee Island. Music was blaring through speakers, some of them apparently in the roof, so there was no getting away from it. It wasn't particularly unpleasant music, but was highly distorted, and with the Cypriot-style lack of furnishings, quite echoey. It made conversation difficult, so much so that Richard had to sit right next to me in order that we could hear each other.

Add to that almost continual sounds of clattering and banging, ice being crushed and poured, beans being ground... and I was feeling quite overwhelmed with the noise by the time we had been there about ten minutes.

But we did enjoy the frappés.

Perhaps we should try a different branch, or find a quieter time of day. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

March draws to a close...

On March 20th, there was a solar eclipse which was seen in totality in the UK. We only had a little bit of an eclipse here in Cyprus; not enough to have been aware of it at all, had I not seen it on the news. The last eclipse that was of significance here was in 2006.

Still, we got out the binoculars, and just about managed to focus two small dots on the floor, with a tiny chunk taken out of the two tiny images of the sun at the height of the recent one, just for the record:

On Monday, we achieved a hat-trick of eating out: three restaurants, three Mondays in a row. I wrote about the first two restaurants already; this time, the visiting friends gave us a choice so we opted for Alexander's, the place we have been to most often, which has a wide variety of food, with large portions at reasonable prices.

I didn't feel like anything more adventurous because I had developed an ear infection, the first one I can ever remember suffering from. I treated it with garlic-infused olive oil, which seems to be the currently recommended method. Although it was extremely painful on Monday, it was rather better by Tuesday, and almost entirely cleared up by the end of the week.

On Thursday I decided to take my camera on my early-morning walk with my friend Sheila. The sun was shining and the sky was blue, and I realised I hadn't thought much about the wild flowers and blossom that are so in evidence at this time of year, particularly after such a wet winter.

March, as I have often mentioned before, is known - for good reason - as 'yellow month' in Cyprus:

However there are plenty of other colours if one looks around - I don't much like pink, but this dusky pink blossom was quite attractive against the sky:

I always find the 'bottle brush' trees amusing; the name is so apt:

The trail had been getting very overgrown in recent weeks, with grass and bushes growing tall and leaning over onto the trail; as well as attracting insects, this can make for quite a wet walk if it's been raining.

But on Thursday, there was a grass-mowing vehicle driving up and down, and some nice clear verges:

I like the way that the council looks after the trail, at least most of the time. Here's another view, looking back where we had walked:

On Friday I walked down to the Post Office to check for mail; we get it delivered to a PO Box about a mile away. It's rather a boring walk down a busy main road. When I reached the main square by St Lazarus Church, I saw this decidedly non-religious Easter decoration, incongruous in its garishness:

I walked along one of the shopping streets, so I could buy some stationery at Estia, and then back along a less busy main road. Outside the municipal library (of mainly Greek books) I saw this monument:

I'm not sure who the lady in the statue is, but the offerings at her feet were no doubt presented as part of the parade on Wednesday, which was Greek National Day.

On Saturday morning, I went out to the froutaria, and there I spotted strawberries on offer: 79c for 500g. Strawberries have been in season for several weeks now, and these ones looked past their best. I wondered if the season was coming to an end, and decided it had to be jam-making day. So I bought a couple of kilograms of strawberries, and some extra sugar (69c per kg at the fruitaria) and spent the morning making six-and-a-half pots of strawberry jam.

I don't particularly like jam-making, but it's part of my heritage: my mother used to enjoy preserving more than any other kind of cooking. Both my grandmothers also made jam, and I honestly did not know that jam could be bought ready-made (other than at church stalls, when it was made by friends) until I was about eighteen. It would still feel like sacrilege to buy jam.

Last night we put the clocks forward by an hour; in the UK we called it 'British Summer Time' but in the rest of Europe I suppose it's just 'daylight savings' (as in the US) or maybe, simply, 'Summer Time'. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Two Cyprus restaurants in two weeks!

Eating out is quite a rare event for us. I know, in the US, some families eat out two or three times per week, as it's relatively inexpensive there. Even here in Cyprus, there are some of people who eat out regularly. It's never been part of our lifestyle, however. Meals at restaurants are for special occasions, or when visitors want to treat us.

A couple of weeks ago, our friend Alison was visiting. She comes on a working holiday each year to deal with the accounts for Richard's ministry; I cook most evenings, but she usually likes to take us out for a meal at some point.  We've previously been to our default - Alexander's - on the sea-front, but this year Alison decided she'd like a change. She checked an online site for recommended Greek food restaurants in Cyprus, and the top rated one was To Kazani, in Aradippou.

We found the location via Google Maps, and it took perhaps ten or fifteen minutes to drive there. It looked very authentic on the outside:

We were greeted with enthusiasm by the staff, and given a choice of tables. Inside looked equally authentically Cypriot - even if there was a TV at one end, and a wifi router on the wall near where we sat! 

The menu was simple - only about ten items, including the traditional meze. We asked how big the portions were, and the waitress - or, perhaps the owner - said she thought that for four of us, three servings of meze would be right. So that's what we opted for.  

We then ordered drinks - water for two of us, juice for the others.  The juice was certainly Cypriot, but not exactly how we had envisaged it... 

A meze is a series of different dishes, presented a few at a time, and usually starting with a Greek salad. This means that there's very little waiting time, and plenty of opportunity to taste different local foods. Sure enough, the salad arrived quickly, accompanied by some toasted village bread, a bowl of Greek yogurt, some chopped beetroot, and various dips:

I didn't take any other photos of food - the table quickly became crowded as we were given an aubergine dip, halloumi, various meat dishes, a bowl of chips, some mushrooms, an egg and courgette dish (which was my favourite), more that I don't remember... and even (ugh) some snails. Alison and Richard tried them but didn't much like them. Tim and I did not. I don't even like to look at snails. But they were the only thing that none of us liked.  

By the time we were nearing the end, we were feeling very full, so when a large dish with yet more meat arrived - small pieces of chicken, and pork, and Cyprus sausages - we couldn't begin to do justice to it. So Richard asked if we could take it home with us; this isn't an unusual request in Cyprus, so we were given a suitable container and the leftover meat then provided protein for our lunches (for three of us) for the next two days. 

After we thought we had finished, we were brought dessert: some fresh fruit, and some pieces of Greek baklava. Despite having ordered three meze meals between four of us, they made sure that when there were individual portions of anything, there were four, so we each had some baklava - and somehow found room to eat it! 

We enjoyed our meal very much and can certainly understand why it's so highly rated. Other visitors - including a group of people we know - gradually arrived as we were eating. But then, as Brits, we like to start eating around 7.00pm at the latest, whereas many Cypriots don't eat until well past 8.00, sometimes not starting until 9.00 or later. 

I had not expected to visit another restaurant for a while, but last Sunday Tim said he would like to take us out to his favourite Indian restaurant, Masalas, in celebration of the British Mothering Sunday. The only available evening was Monday, just a week after our visit to To Kazani.  

Masalas is in the other direction, along the Dhekelia Road which runs along the sea-front. The only photo I took was on the outside, before we went in:

Again, since we like to eat early, and arrived about 6.30, we were the only people in the restaurant when we went in. It looks quite up-market inside, with tablecloths and wall hangings in shades of peach. The menu is extensive, as is so often the case with Indian restaurants. They have a special offer of any curry with popadoms, rice and naan for weekdays so long as one orders before 7.15pm so we decided to do that rather than making multiple selections from different pages of the menu. 

Tim almost always opts for chicken bhuna which is his tried-and-tested favourite; Richard had a lamb curry, and I decided to be brave and have a chicken madras, marked as 'hot', but - I was assured by the waitress - not 'burning hot'.  The first time we went there, back in June, I tried the chicken balti, which was excellent.

The food was piping hot, served in traditional Indian pots and pans, and very delicious, although mine was perhaps a tad hotter than I would have chosen! However, it was very tasty. 

The one disadvantage of this restaurant is that they don't offer vegetarian options. I do eat some chicken and beef, and occasionally pork, but when I'm out I usually prefer to choose something vegetarian. Indian restaurants normally have a wide selection, but Masalas does not.  I was happy with what I ate - and would happily go there again - but it would be no good for a vegetarian. 

Saturday, March 07, 2015

All the way round the Salt Lake....

While I walk 4km along part of the Salt Lake trail a few times each week, I have only once made the 12km walk all the way around, over two years ago. I just looked through that post again and was startled to note that on the day we did that walk, a new entrance to the trail had just been created.

The excavations I referred to finished some time ago but there have remained two side by side entrances to the trail... until today. And today was my second venture around the lake.

The place where the 'new' entrance was created was still there....

But when we walked up the little slope we saw this:

Looking from a different angle, it's like this: a large ditch filled with water.

We hope it's for the overflow of rain water rather than anything more suspicious, assuming that this concrete pipe will feed the new channel:

Apparently the entrance was blocked and the new ditch dug yesterday.

We set out as usual towards the aqueduct:

Alison had her iPad with her, so that she could take photos to send to her family back in the UK. However the sun was so bright that she struggled to see anything on the screen:

The trail is not clearly defined after the first couple of kilometres; we had to walk across fields (where we had a good view of the wind farm):

We had to jump over some rather boggy patches too, where the puddles and the Salt Lake were almost merged into one. It's been a very wet winter.

I had no idea which way to go, but Sheila has a good sense of direction and led us well. She even reminded us to look over to the right as we were about to walk past the Sultan Tekke mosque:

I am struck by the amount of foliage, in contrast to the similar photo I took on my first long walk back in December 2012!

Thankfully we eventually reached another nicely made part of the trail:

As always at this time of year, there were flamingoes in profusion.  There must have been thousands of them, in various places around the lake. They mostly seem to group together and have lengthy conversations that sound quite heated at times:

There's really a lot of water in the Salt Lake this year, but it was still a surprise to see this bench and litter bin with their bases actually in the water:

Naturally, Sheila wanted to sit on the bench:

And Alison then decided she would, too:

Not being remotely adventurous, I just took photos.

With the lake being so deep at present, the flamingoes were swimming rather than walking. I managed to zoom this photograph fairly well, but it means that they look like pink swans more than anything else.

Seeing them sparked an interesting discussion about the difference between the UK and US understanding of the word 'paddling'. To Alison and me, it means walking in shallow water. To Sheila, it means swimming with legs going to and fro underneath.  So whereas the flamingoes usually paddle in the British sense, they are currently paddling (not that we could see their legs....) in the American sense.

For a while we had to walk on the pavement (which, of course, is not the pavement in American English but the sidewalk....) alongside the road (which is the pavement in US English) and were pleased to discover that we were back in Larnaka. Alison had not realised we had left it; I suppose we were technically in Kamares, part of the Larnaka district but not actually in the town.

I was even more pleased that, unlike last time, my legs did not ache at all. I was getting a little tired, and quite warm, and perhaps a little stiff, but I certainly wasn't limping like I was last time I did this walk. Perhaps, despite being a couple of years older, I'm now somewhat fitter.

At last we reached the spot where the 'normal' trail ends, 4km from the aqueduct. So we were back on familiar territory.

Since I had my camera I tried to capture these rather pretty pale purple flowers that only appear for a short time each spring:

And we saw that the old tree, knocked down in the storm a couple of months ago, was still lying on its side:

We didn't walk particularly fast, and stopped several times to take photos, so the entire walk - including the kilometre or so between our house and the start of the trail - took nearly three hours. We set out at 6.30am; I was home by 9.30, feeling warm, tired, thirsty, and very much looking forward to my breakfast.