We are in Limassol, Cyprus for our Spring Break holiday. We decided to go to the island, just off the coast of Turkey because the Budapest-based airlines, Wizz Air, had cheap flights to the island out of Budapest. The first day of our holiday was spent in travel. We drove up to Budapest and parked in long-term parking at the airport. Lines were a bit long at the borders, as it is Serbian Orthodox Easter Break and so many Serbs were leaving for the week. We arrived safely in the evening and got into our rental car.
Cyprus is a former British colony so driving is on the left. Of course we got a manual drive, so it was fun getting used to the left-handed stick and the right side seat belts. After burning through a bit of the clutch, we did make it to the Mediterranean Hotel.
Limassol is in the central part of the long, thin island, on the south coast. We landed in Larnaka, on the far eastern side. The capital city is Nicosia, located also in the east, but inland. We chose a hotel because the kids love pools and to take a break from a week of preparing breakfast and cleaning the house. With three young children, it is a lot of work to maintain our apartment, despite having a cleaner coming in daily for a couple of hours and an after school babysitter also helping out in the kitchen.
The hotel complex is quite nice. The pool and beach front are decent and the kids absolutely do love it. Also on the trip are Damian and Susie Hart and their two children, Riana and Abigail. They are in Owen and Oliver’s classes so they are already good friends. Ocean loves having “sisters” as well and does everything Abigail does. Damian is from Scotland and is the Athletic Director at the school and Susie is from England and teaches with Nadia in the elementary. We get along well, so it is like having four parents instead of two. The kids entertain themselves, running in and out of the pool and building sand castles on the beach. We are especially enjoying “Happy Hour” a new concept for the Kralovec children. Drinks are half-priced, and the hotel barman was great with the kids, making mock drinks and really playing it up.
The Cypriots and guest foreign workers are extremely friendly and good-natured. There are a lot of guest workers. So far we have had employees from Bulgaria, Romania, mainland Greece, and Russia. Speaking of Russia, the island is filled with Russian tourists.
One of the things I wanted to see was the effects of the Cyrpus Banking Crisis. Cypriot banks offered foreigners, mostly Russians, high interest rates for them to put their money in the island banks. Cyrpus is a tax haven for rich Russians. The Cyprus banks in turn, under pressure to gain higher returns than the 5 percent interest promised to the Russian savers, invested in Greek bonds and projects. That was a bad idea as the Greek financers invested poorly and lost a lot of Euros, that threatened the entire Euro Zone economy. Unfortunately for the Cypriots, the Germans did not come to the rescue with bailout funds. Instead, the IMF put in austerity measures and private savings accounts were taxed, some up to 10%. I did notice a “300 Euro Maximum” sign at the ATM across the street. The banks had to limit withdrawals to avoid a bank run. The Russian Commercial Bank has a lot of advertisements in Russian around the island, so it doesn’t seem like the Russians left. It is getting harder to find international tax havens, so perhaps the 10% is not a bad figure. I have not seen widespread economic misery here, although there are quite a few empty apartment buildings and business space for rent around the island. They were probably built during the investment boom.
I also wanted to learn more about the Greek-Turkish fight over control of the island. After independence from Britain, local politicians were fighting for control and the right to determine if Cyprus would be part of Greece or independent. All through the 1960’s, fighting broke out between the Turks and Greeks, and the UN sent peacekeeping troops. They also drew a “green line” to divide the capital Nicosia, between the two communities.
The majority (2/3) of the around 1 million people on Cyprus are Greek, and the other third are Turks. Cyprus is just off the Turkish coast, but was settled by Greeks thousands of years ago, and is the mythical home of Aphrodite. The Persians, Romans, Ottomans, etc. controlled the island throughout its history. While the independence movement won out, the Turkish army invaded the island and war ensued. The invasion was prompted, or they seized the opportunity, by a CIA-backed coup. In 1974 they were stopped but not before they gained 37% of the island. 250,000 Cypriots were displaced as they lived on the wrong side of the border.
As you can see in the photo below, the island is still divided today. We drove up to the border just north of the party resort city of Agia Napa. This area is closed to crossings and the Turkish military has soldiers enforcing the blockade. It is located just on the outskirts of the town of Deryneia. It was the site of a 1996 Greek Cypriot protest against Turkish occupation of the island. Fighting broke out and two Greek Cypriots were killed. Today it is a minor tourist attraction, with two viewing sites that look into the Turkish ghost town of Varosia on the other side. That would be a great place to film a movie!
A few years ago some border crossings were opened, and we hope later in the week to walk across. The Greeks and Turks have fought forever (Troy!) and the war caused many deaths and refugees. I see a lot of Greek flags on this side, next to the Cyprus flag of independence and the European Union flag. Since the split, the Greek side’s economy has grown faster than the Turkish side, but I sense in the future, Turkey will have a stronger economy than Greece and will eventually pass it up. Most of the Turks on the other side are migrants from mainland Turkey. I think the Greeks feel if they open the border and try to unite the island, they will be overrun by the Turks demographically. I think it is ridiculous to have small islands divided into different countries (i.e. Ireland) and hope someday they can unite the island. It will be good for everyone. In 2002, a referendum for unification was defeated by the Greek side (34% yes / 76% no) but it passed on the Turkish side (65% yes / 45% no). They do have many crossings open and hopefully with time, the island will be united. I get the feeling in talking with Cypriots that the younger people want a united island and after this generation dies out, I can see a different result for the referendum.
The island reminds me of the typical Mediterranean vacation destination. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mallorca, Spain and there are many similarities. Only substitute the German tourists of Mallorca for the Russian tourists of Cyprus. The architecture however, does have more of a Middle Eastern feel. The Cypriots themselves are mostly dark skinned and dark hair. Many of the younger guys have long hair and/or facial hair.
On the first day we hung out at the hotel pool. On the second day we went to the far eastern side of the island. The beaches near Limasoll have dark sand, and Nadia wanted the white sand beaches (or blond – as on Cypriot tour guide described to us). Nissi beach, just outside of Agia Napa fit the description and we had a nice day, baking in the sun. Once again, there were many Russian tourists, although, this is not high season and it was not very crowded. The turquoise water is quite cold however, but refreshing in the hot sun.
Most of the trip was spent at the pool and beach for the sake of the kids. They absolutely love swimming in the pool! I would like to return to Cyprus, to explore a bit more of the island. It is nicer than Mallorca in my opinion and there are many areas left to see. The stay of five days/five nights on the island was definitely too short.