I spent Thursday (Oct 31) in Larnaca on the south coast (the Greek side) of Cyprus before heading to Amman to start the ‘Road to Jerusalem’ tour. I don’t know why but I expected it to be at least as grotty and run-down as Beirut. In fact it’s clean and prosperous-looking, even beautiful.
Admittedly I was downtown near the waterfront where the tourists and the rich folk go, but that was kind of true of Beirut too. And even driving to and from the airport, no rubbish, no scungy heaps of plastic bottles. Just the occasional bit of windblown paper but less, I have to say, than you normally see on the road to Hobart airport. Let that be a lesson to us Tasmanians!
The waterfront was what Beirut’s could be like with good municipal governance. The Qbic City Hotel – see below – was terrific and has won TripAdvisor awards. When I didn’t have the appropriate adaptor for my laptop tbey went out and bought one and gave it to me. They also gave me a couple of snack bars to take away. They’ll go into the emergency food stash I’ll carry round Jordan with me.
Everything was in walking distance so I headed out to explore the town. First thing I noticed was that there are more signs in Russian round here than in any other language except English or Greek!
There are plenty that are ONLY in Russian.
The Russians have come both as tourists and residents, but they have one thing in common – they’re rich, according to the locally born taxi-driver who took me to the airport Friday morning. I asked where they got the wealth and he said he supposed it was black money. I said I supposed that was at least good for the Cypriot economy, and he chuckled and agreed that it was so. But there are hordes of them – Russians – way more than any other foreign visitors. Interestingly, I’ve only seen a handful of Chinese travellers, and they’ve been young and solo.
Had a look inside this beautiful Byzantine church and its attached historical museum and art gallery.
And visited the Salt and Pepper Museum!
It looks more like a retail outlet but I suppose it’s a real museum because they charge a 5 euro entrance fee and only a few bits of the collection are for sale.
You could see all this from the entrance so I didn’t pay the 5 euros. But I did buy a set that took my fancy because they looked a bit like bakelite art deco.
I can just make out the word ‘Riga’ in one of these etched scenes. Russian kitsch?
I was going to buy these for my Civil War buff sister but they didn’t have the necessary plugs in the bottom. Where on earth did this eclectic collection come from and who put it together? The Nepalese girl at the counter didn’t have a clue!
Then I found the Jewish Community Centre comprising a synagogue, reading rooms, a kosher cafe and a museum devoted to the Jews in Cyprus. Thousands of them came here fleeing the holocaust or having survived it. The Jews are deeply grateful to the people of Cyprus, although there is strong security round this walled compound. But the sign said ‘open’ so I asked the man in the booth outside, he buzzed indoors and out came manager Skevi to bring me inside and gave me a private tour. I was the only one – how’s that for Aussie chutzpah? I did give a donation to the museum and bought some chocolate.
Skevi was amazed when I told her postwar European immigrants to Australia were also housed in Nissan huts like this, although theirs weren’t hemmed in by barbed wire.
I assumed Skevi was Jewish. She is, but she didn’t find this out till after she started working on the Jewish museum project! She came to Cyprus from London when her ethnically Greek family returned here. She did an ancestry test and discovered 40% matching to the typical Jewish genome.
In the afternoon a walk along the waterfront – note gum trees along the marina wharf.
Past the old art deco Rex Cinema that’s seen better days….
…then spent a couple of hours in this wonderful antiquities museum founded in the 19th century by the wealthy local Pierides family who still endow it.
The artefact above is a fertility symbol. Thousands of similar ones have been found – this is the biggest ever. Water flows from the top through his erect penis in some kind of ritual replication of male orgasm. That’s what it said on the curatorial notes. It also said his face is obviously in the rictus of ejaculation, and who am I to disagree?
And back to the hotel by way of a recce of places to have dinner. I wanted to avoid the overpriced seafood/burger/fries/pizza joints along the waterfront and found this lovely spot off a backstreet. Glass of wine, huge traditional Cypriot meal (chicken with lemon potatoes and trad salad) with dips, bread and a glass of local chilled white for 17 euros – just under $A30.