Cyprus is full of little surprises – which is why I’ve put together a list of 20 more reasons to visit the island. On this page: Cyprus time, the Greek alphabet, cars in fields, the chance to ski, and the small matter of the British.
11. Cyprus time
It’s a truism of travel writing that Mediterranean folk have a different perspective on time than us Brits. But time makes slaves of us all, so while Cypriots still head home for long lunches (creating four rush hours a day in the cities), much has changed: siestas are no longer sacrosanct, Wednesday afternoon closing is regarded as outmoded, and simple business transactions may take no longer than the time it takes to drink a coffee, which might even be an espresso rather than a Kypriako.
Go to the villages, though, and you can get a sense of how things used to be. Here, shops are open only when they are open (but could usually be opened, if you only knew whom to ask); if you want to track someone down urgently and don’t have their number, the coffee shop is still pretty much your best bet. Of course, life becomes simpler when the things you want aren’t available on demand; you start to make do with what you’ve got.
Tourists, though, like to know what happens when, so here’s the rough timetable: shops, banks and museums are open from around 8am to 1pm; lunch is 1pm to 4pm (though major attractions and supermarkets will remain open); shops often reopen at 4pm in summer and stay open till 7pm; restaurants open from around 7pm in the villages or in tourist zones, but may open their doors later in cities; as for drinking, there’s no official closing time and cafes/bars tend to close when the last customer has left (though you might take the hint if the owner starts to yawn).
One constant about Cyprus time, as far as food is concerned, is that when you’re eating in a taverna, you will never be rushed to finish your meal or to pay your bill: often this is because the owner will be having their own meal immediately after you’ve finished yours. If you’re the sort of person who likes your bill brought promptly, try to ignore the urge to chase too much. Relax – you’re in Cyprus!
12. The Greek alphabet
I’m a huge fan of the Greek alphabet. Greek script has been used on a continuous basis for 2,800 years and looks utterly exotic to the Western eye – and yet it has only 24 letters, some of which are the same as in English, and the rest of which are a doddle to learn if you set your mind to the task.
All of which is a way of saying that I’ve written an ebook about the Greek alphabet which you might want to download to your e-reader if you’re visiting the south of Cyprus (or indeed Greece). Soon, you’ll be reading Greek road signs and wine bottles and menus, and being generally nerdy over dinner in the taverna – not that it will impress your other half.
13. Cars in fields
Cypriots don’t throw old cars away: they leave them sitting in fields, where they become overgrown by scrub and inhabited by lizards, and may even (after decades have elapsed) start to rust. For this reason the Cypriot countryside is dotted with cars, many of which in Britain would be considered classics, slowly turning into rather photogenic scrap. The Cyprus government thinks they’re all an eyesore and has introduced scrappage schemes, but they seem part of the fabric of the place, after a while.
14. Snow on Troodos, sun by the sea.
Yes, it is technically possible to ski and swim in Cyprus on the same day – not that you’d particularly want to, as the sea is far too cold to swim in between January and March, even in this part of the Med. But if you’re thinking of visiting Cyprus in winter, it’s worth driving up to the little ski resort near the summit of Mount Olympus; if only to say you’ve skied in Cyprus.
15: The British were here.
Traces of Britain are everywhere in Cyprus – from British-style postboxes (painted yellow) to the fact that in Cyprus, as in much of the former British Empire, you drive on the left. In out-of-the-way villages, you’ll see British-built water fountains from the 1950s, inscribed either “E R” or “G R”, and the year the project was completed; and there’s also this, rather grander, Victorian water fountain near the old asbestos mine at Amiantos, built to celebrate the completion of the then Nicosia-Troodos road. Water, of course, was a big deal in Cyprus, and still is; an English inscription on the fountain reads: “The Lord sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.”