The first had been early, or so it felt. Snow persisted through to March, taking us through a litany of “beasts”, rendering the country immobile. We were drained from the slowly departing trials of winter, and in need of the coming light of spring. It was never to come; thankfully we had made our plans, and had built our own new spring artificially. Jealousy came from friend and relative alike.
The sea was glorious turquoise: none of us had seen it outside of an icy fjord at the top of the world. The eastern Mediterranean was a whole new experience. Little did we realise at that point that, although the air was warm and dry, the sea was icy cold, and nowhere near as refreshing as a pint of the local lager. The view, however, was mesmerising: verdant land, clear blue skies, and that water.
The town and its surrounding areas, all local stone and decaying wood, were full of eggs: red, with bows. Some had chicks exploding out of them. No roundabout could be unadorned. Everywhere we turned, the same phrase writ large: Καλό Πάσχα. Happy Easter. One week later than the western church, we had stepped in to Orthodox Easter, and this time it was warm. Welcome to Cyprus.
We had booked the holiday several months before, in order to escape a crush of unavoidable work being done on our house. We were excited about the work, but not so much about Cyprus. It was a package holiday to the eastern Mediterranean: not something any of us were familiar with. We had been looking for somewhere a few degrees warmer than home for the week, but the flights were not open on our chosen dates. Lack of demand; but we were demanding the demand. Cyprus, then.
When we entered the hotel they gave her fruit juice and cake. We knew that this was a mistake. I ate the cake, but she wolfed down the forbidden juice. There was always cake; not so much juice.
We’re used to secular countries, where a religious holiday is more of a theoretical construct than a real event. Problem: Cypriots are not English. “I think they take this stuff seriously” we said to each other. Cue fervent web searches, emails and downloads: we had made plans, we had hired a car; it was all predicated on the notion that things would be open to visit. We did not want to be confined to quarters, the way so many of our compatriots seemed so keen to be. We wanted to be exploring.
I am never psychologically prepared to go on holiday, and this was no different. I was working right up to the evening before, and my mind couldn’t separate the work I was doing from the relaxation ahead of me. I was saying the right things to my colleagues, but I wasn’t feeling them. For me, when I am in my normal life, a holiday is something I cannot get my head around. It stops me from feeling.
The beach was shingle, and it ripped at our feet. The iridescent blue of the Mediterranean enticed us from a few metres away, but the barrier was too much. The burning of the stones and the lack of protection from our sandals made us run back to the relative safety of the treeline. Never again.
I am an independent traveller, and so is my partner. I think our daughter would prefer things to be organised for her, but she’s five, so they are. I am unused to airport transfers. A dirty bus or cramped taxi is not what I expect: I usually hop on a train and that’s that. As we made our way up mountain passes, and through strip resorts, our view of Cyprus became more and more negative, until we had had enough of tourists and resorts, and longed for a town. A real Cypriot town, without any artifice.
Polis was a marvel: a real Cypriot town, without any artifice. The welcome was warm, and the drinks were cool. They greeted our daughter like a visiting dignitary, bestowing gifts of oranges upon her wherever she went. She bathed in the attention, and demanded more and more of her ever growing coterie. If she could’ve stayed in the town forever, she would have done. But we wanted to explore.
The glass bottomed boat skimmed through the water, in and out of rock formations with ease. We sat upstairs, under the shade of the sun deck above, and watched the mountains drift by. A languor, infectious as laughter, suffused through the voyagers. We dropped anchor in a natural lagoon, blue upon blue upon blue. We considered the cooling clear waters momentarily, changed back out of our swimming costumes, and retired to the bar. Cypriot hospitality and relaxation was truly abundant.
The next beach, on the other side of the peninsula, was of finer gravel. It was almost sand. The sea threw itself upon the shore as we attempted to build sandcastles without structural rigidity. We lay in the waning sun, and considered the options for dinner. The whole place was ours and ours alone.
There is a point where hospitality becomes too much. On the third time of asking for the bill, they seemed to have got the message. The previous attempts had resulted in our daughter being taken away from us to have oranges bestowed upon her, when what she needed desperately was sleep.
In order to get to the archaeological site we needed to pass through Kato Pafos, the low town. It was the kind of place I try to avoid: a strip of pubs, gaudy trinkets and obscenity. All it was missing were the kiss me quick hats. Our tempers were frayed and our bladders were full. It took time to enter in to the spirit of the place; it took time for us to realise the history of the place. Hellenic layers under Frankish; a Roman mosaic on the floor; a castle, built low in to the site, surrounded by ramparts. We walked through the amphitheatre and around the agora. Harsh reality was a whole lifetime away.
We raced up the coast with little time to spare: they were due to be closing any minute. I had seen a picture and I wanted to go. As we squeezed ourselves through the cave wall we were hit by the light. Deep underground, in the tomb of a king, we were in a sunlit colonnade; peace amongst majesty.