Perhaps because of my feelings about visiting a country at war, and also to ease the worries that my family back in Italy had, I decided use some of my time in the Middle East to go and experience an island right across the water from Tel Aviv: Cyprus.
Planted in the middle of many civilisations, the island looked incredibly enticing. So we flew there for a week-long diversion. Right on the plane we met a nice Portuguese man who gave us some suggestions about what to eat and where, so we ended up dining out with him. We had a meal that I thought I knew from the many middle eastern restaurants in the Bay Area but nothing really can prepare you for an authentic seafood Mezze in the old port, Larnaca.
That was only the first of a series of fantastic meals that made me completely reconsider my appreciation for Greek food. Fresh seafood, cooked simply but with great flavours, such as olive oil and lemon. Refreshing salads with a remarkable amount of fresh, sweet onions, something that I tried replicating with disastrous results on my taste buds here in San Francisco.
Since we were on an island, seaside is a great place to explore on all sides. We got to indulge on known resorts, and we were able to hike, off road drive, relax and bask in the sun on very remote beaches.
|A dancing Venus and a bathing one. Cyprus is considered to be the birthplace of the goddess of beauty and love.|
But Cyprus also has vineyard-dotted hills, where agriculture and livestock complete the picture of a tourism driven economy. Cyprus is quite a destination for foodies, thanks to the variety of landscapes you can find in its confined space. Their wine is not bad, but their own version of Grappa, a liqueur based on distilled grapes, is extraordinary, and it is called Zavania. Food up there is more hearthy and Mezze tend to excel in the meat department.
Up in the mountains, there are lots of charming small medieval villages that bring you back hundreds of years. The slow pace of life there felt really regenerating to me.
As I mentioned, Cyprus is in the middle of many civilisations, and its history has been haunting the place until very recently. We landed on the Greek side, but leaving Jerusalem only a few days earlier made us more sensitive to fuzzy borders across uneasy neighbours. We were unable to cross to the Turkish side, both because of time constraints, and because it is more involved than we wanted. It is not simple to cross on a car, but it is possible to walk across the border in the capital, Nicosia (Lefkosia). I definitely want to see the other side next time I go.
It is interesting to see the many different religions here too. Orthodox, Catholic, and Muslim buildings are easily found all over the island, with a very mediterranean architectural flavour to them. Most Mosques were actually built by the Turks, but since the invasion in 1974, you won't find many Turkish Cypriots in Greek Cyprus. Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans are the main frequenters of such Mosques.
Despite their rampant patriotism, Cypriots are very warm and welcoming people, and that has attracted an increasing number of expats. I can see the appeal. A warm, affordable semi-independent country right in the Eurozone, with a great mix of historical and natural beauty. And food, don't forget about the food.