The Real Cyprus
by Bob Braban - Travelwatchdog Editor
Having lived in Cyprus for three years at the beginning of the 1960's we can thoroughly recommend a visit the birthplace of Aphrodite for a holiday where you can guarantee good weather, restrict your flying time to less than 5 hours, be certain of a friendly reception, and immerse in another culture without suffering a culture shock. There is a range of excellent accommodation from self-catering to 5-star hotels, but choose carefully and, if you are able to do so, seek the recommendation of those who have gone before you . We suffered a week at the Grecian Bay 5-Star Hotel, taken on trust from the Thomas Cook select brochure, and were shocked by its low standards. Probably the worst feature was the arrogance of the management who, even now are demanding that their name be removed from our warnings list, but have never offered any form of apology or compensation for what, in most walks of life, would be considered fraudulent misrepresentation. Fortunately, everything else about Cyprus was as we remembered from many earlier visits. An investigation revealed star ratings for Cyprus hotels are determined by the Cyprus Tourist Authority http://www.visitcyprus.com/wps/portal and seemingly not validated by tour operators. Today, these ratings are based on the facilities offered by the hotel and not their quality, but we are assured that in the very near future, star ratings will be validated by a qualitative survey. When that happens, hotels that do not meet certain standards will be downgraded.
For many years Cyprus has been a popular destination for British tourists. With a superb climate, very friendly people and an inviting culture, the island provides something for everyone. At certain times of the year it is possible to ski in the morning on the heights of Troodos, and swim in the sea in the afternoon. The water may be a little chilly, but I can testify to the possibility! With the British assuming administration of the island in 1878, and formally annexing it in 1914, there is an anglicised influence in many facets of life that appeals particularly to UK tourists. The majority of the population speaks English, cars drive on the left, food is excellent and delights the English palate, and it is one of the few places in the world where you can plug your hairdryer into the socket without having to use an adapter. How luxurious is that?
Despite many years of British influence, it is only a factor where the Cypriot people have seen its retention as an advantage. Away from the main tourist areas, traditional village life still follows very much the pattern of much earlier days. Recent history has brought troubled times with formal partition of the island in 1974 when Turkey invaded . However, de facto partition occurred some ten years earlier when inter-communal strife brought a massive UN presence and the island was effectively cut in half by the 'green line'. This was a tragic event for this delightful island with many of the population forced to leave their homes to seek safety. From personal observation I can attest that the times were particularly tragic for the Turkish Cypriot minority, many of whom lived in Greek Cypriot villages where they were a small percentage of the population.
Cyprus has many picturesque churches
Kyrenia Castle - One of the most interesting places to visit in Northern Cyprus
!962 - Donkeys raising water near Kyrenia
Many were murdered in the early days of the trouble, some by beighbours with whom they had lived in peace and harmony for many many years. A few Greek Cypriots suffered the same fate, but overwhelmingly the genocide was against the Turks. A recent commentator described this period as 'Ten years that the Turkish Cypriots will never forget, but that the Greek Cypriots seem unable to remember'. It is true that today's Greek Cypriot tourist guide will offer a totally untrue version of the troubles during the 1960's and 1970's, almost certainly believing the version to be true.
Despite the undoubted tragedy the period brought to many, history may record that the events of those troubled times kick-started the tourist industry that has developed in the south of the island and has led to the high levels of prosperity one sees today. Thousands of United Nations troops were stationed on the island, many of them from the Scandinavian nations and thus extremely well paid. This gave a massive injection to the local economy and offered finance to start development of many hotels and restaurants. It was difficult to find a Cypriot who did not benefit from the UN presence. This prosperity has brought new roads, excellent hotels, a plethora of leisure facilities and many very high quality restaurants. Traditional wine-making thrives and there are many excellent and inexpensive wines to be savoured. Traditional Brandy differs in flavour from that produced in Europe but, sweeping aside pretensions, there are many who prefer it. You certainly cannot make an acceptable Brandy Sour with Brandy from continental Europe!
Accession of Southern Cyprus to the European Union on 1st May 2004 makes journey's between the south and north a lot easier than in the past. There is a crossing at the bottom of Ledra street in central Nicosia where travellers can enter on foot using their national passport. Numerous shops and restaurants are situated just over the border. Unfortunately, the opening of the border has equalised prices on either side. Whereas the North was significantly less expensive, the prices in restaurants etc are now almost the same as those in the south.
The Cyprus pound has now given way to the Euro as the island's main currency, but the Turkish Lira remains in use in the north. Like other nations that have adopted the Euro, Cyprus has seen massive price hikes in recent years. This has brought real hardship to the ordinary citizen and to ex-patriate British residents who retired to a low cost, sunny island where they expected to spend the remainder of their days in reasonable financial comfort. Many now find themselves in a high cost economy, unable to meet the new cost of living, but equally unable to sell their properties and return to the UK.
Cyprus is a great place to visit, particularly because of the weather. However, do be careful about accepting hotels on description as the star ratings still lack a qualitative assessment, and be particularly careful of the villa advertisements by owners in an over-supply situation who are desperate to get bookings.
I have laughed in bitterness and agony of heart, at the contrast between what I seem and what I am. Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 -1864)