Editor’s Note: This week, the blog will be tagging along with fellow Cheapo Alex Christodoulides as she visits family in Cyprus.
Cyprus is on a modernizing rampage, wrestling on one side with its fairly recent history of colonial domination by the British, and on another side with its newly acquired European Union membership, in its quest to keep its identity. Souvlaki and meze (a selection of traditional dishes) are still the preferred eats, but alongside the longstanding British pubs advertising televised football matches are slick, shiny new cafes that charge patrons steep prices to be seen sipping Nescafe.
Just landed in Cyprus
As a half-native, I seem to be on a five-year cycle for visits to Cyprus, so each time I arrive something new in the landscape startles me.
One time I found a very updated airport instead of the one-story box (sans air conditioning or duty free, both of which are now present) that I remembered from my youth. Another time it was the arrival of fast food chains alongside the souvlaki joints, with the delivery scooters of the British Goody’s, McDonald’s and Burger King zipping through the traffic. Last time it was the enormous Starbucks at a major intersection in the capital city, Nicosia, which has fierce competition from more than a dozen cafes elsewhere in town. This time it’s the mall – the first enclosed North American-style shopping palace in the capital – right next to an IKEA store.
As one of the newest European Union members, Cyprus switched in 2008 to the euro from its old currency, the pound, which makes the monetary aspect of traveling here seamless. Most Cypriots speak at least a little English (along with the pubs and driving on the left, it’s another remnant of British colonialism here), and likely at least one other language, which should help travelers struggling to read signs in Greek.
Skip the summertime crush, when temperatures pass 100º Fahrenheit and the beaches fill with hordes of northern Europeans on all-inclusive tours. Coming in the off-season between, say, mid-September and May when the hotel prices drop is one way to make a Cyprus visit Cheapo-friendly. Either end of this window will still offer plenty of warm-but-not-sweltering days in which you can hit the beach and have more of it to yourself.
The most popular beach areas are near Paphos, Limassol, Ayia Napa and Protaras/Paralimni. For an idea of costs, the Cyprus Tourism Organization lists hotel prices island-wide and contact info on their website, www.visitcyprus.com.
My trip to Cyprus
My mission this visit, however, has been to skip the beach, check out some of the Nicosia churches I’ve managed to miss during previous trips, see family, and have my coffee grounds read (which some relatives dutifully inform me is a dated parlor game for old ladies).
On these counts, two weeks into my visit, I am somewhat heavier thanks to my relatives. I’ve seen roughly a church a week, because their opening hours coincide with family lunches. And my great aunt tells me my coffee grounds show I will be taking a long journey. Probably right back to New York, whence I came.
Tomorrow: Dining in Cyprus.