Monday, November 21, 2016

Weekend in Cyprus

Over Columbus Day weekend I took the 28 minute flight from Beirut to Larnaca, Cyprus. My dad spent time in Cyprus while in the military, so I've always wanted to go. Because it's so close to Lebanon I've been putting it off, but with my time here quickly drawing to a close I decided it was high time to go. The flight there was full of merry-makers going for a weekend of partying, but once I left them behind the vacation could begin. It took longer than I would have liked to find the rental car shuttle, and the car they had was a little bigger than I would have liked, but before long I was on the road. I decided to spend the weekend in Limassol at the only IHG hotel in the nation (which did the trick of pushing my status one tier higher - well done 2016 travel!) and do day trips from there.

The hotel was lovely, and I had a blissful dinner at the Italian restaurant off the lobby that night. I intended to drive to Nicosia on Saturday, but I was exhausted. I slept in, had a lazy day of reading, and then spent the late afternoon swimming in the Mediterranean. The hotel was right on the beach and had a beautiful swimming area. The water temperature was just this side of perfect, and I had a lovely swim and float as the air temperature dropped with the sun. Room service and catching up on Netflix made for another splendid evening, and I went to bed early to get ready for adventure the next day.

Sunday I drove from Limassol to Nicosia and found convenient parking in the Old City. Driving the very narrow old streets with so many pedestrians was a bit nerve-wracking, but it worked out well. I ended up quite close to Ledra Street and made my way to the crossing point into Northern Cyprus, the Turkish-controlled section. The lines weren't terrible, but the sun was beaming down, which made waiting a little less comfortable. I crossed into the north with no issues and optimistically changed some money into Turkish lira. I needn't have bothered - the streets closest to the crossing were filled with knock-off clothing shops, and I didn't see any places that seemed a good choice for lunch. It was fairly quiet on this side. I made my way into the courtyard of a mosque just after the thuhr prayer call and discovered that the full camera battery I'd checked that morning was now depleted. So I have a total of two photos of the Turkish part of Nicosia's old city and none of the Greek side. After some time wandering around I headed back to the Greek side and looked for a lunch spot. I chose a busy chain-like restaurant that seemed to have more locals than tourists (thought what did I really know?) and had a fantastic pork souvlaki and grilled halloumi cheese. It hit the spot.

After some more wandering on the Greek side I made my way back to the car and headed south to Limassol. I thought about heading to the old part of town for dinner but ended up choosing the Italian restaurant again - the grilled calamari was spectacular, as was the spinach ravioli.

Monday I got up early, checked out, stored my luggage, and had a quick breakfast. Then I joined a day tour to go into the interior of Cyprus and see a few sights. The tour guide was quite gregarious; the group was less so. Our first stop was Lefkara where we visited a very touristy lace and silver shop. The prices and hard sell were unappetizing, and I don't think anyone bought anything. We headed into the Troodos Mountains and eventually to Kykkos Monastery. The monastery had some lovely mosaics and views of the tomb of Makarios, the first President of Cyprus.

Just before a lunch with many different mezzes and some great vegetarian moussaka we headed to the highest point in the country, Mount Olympus at 1951m. The final stops were a winery for tastings and Omodos for sampling dried fruits and walking around. The tour was great for seeing several different parts of the country, but it wasn't fantastic. It was a good last-minute option, and it definitely filled up the day.

Still, I had plenty of time before I needed to leave for the airport, so I had a smoothie and snack at one of the hotel lounges before hitting the road. The drive back to Larnaca was fine, though the rental car return process left a whole lot to be desired. Not a great experience. I checked in and somehow had a business class seat booked, which was a nice surprise. I grabbed one last pork souvlaki and some halloumi cheese to take back and got ready to board. Business class was lovely, even if the flight was only 28 minutes, and I got my bag and got home pretty quickly after landing. One extra treat - the following day was another holiday! I hadn't been able to find a flight back on Tuesday so decided to just do the weekend and enjoy one extra day off. It was a nice way to re-integrate into normal life.

Mosque in TRNC Nicosia

Street scene in TRNC Nicosia

View from my hotel room. This sheltered swimming area was perfect!

Villages nestled among the mountains.

Mosaics at Kykkos Monastery

Kykkos Monastery

On the hill above is the tomb of Makarios.

Orthodox church standing tall in a village.

Views from Mt. Olympus

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Flashback: Namibia 2005 - Damaraland and Swakopmund

(Part two of this Namibia flashback. I realize I didn't have a lot of detail so anything in parentheses is my addition now. This leg of the trip was less about animals and more about archaeology and geology. I am truly amazed by some of these sights now and really want to go back and see them again.)

Leaving Etosha we drove into Damaraland and camped at a remote bush camp for the night.  We saw Bushman engravings from 5000 years ago, a petrified forest with pine trees preserved for many million years, and strange rock formations called organ pipes that are 130 million years old.  

(We visited the petrified forest near Khorixas, Damaraland's capital, and then moved on towards our gorgeous desert camp - Abu Huab Desert Camp.  From there we visited Twyfelfontein, home to stunning rock paintings and carvings. The site was declared a UNESCO heritage site two years after my visit, in 2007. I have only the foggiest memories of this visit, but looking back at the photographs I am absolutely blown away by the detail and the breadth of the scenes depicted. I need to go back and visit again. This blog series is inspired, in part, by an article I read recently in National Geographic Traveler magazine - that I can't find online - about a visit to this area. I hadn't looked at these photos or reflected on this part of the trip in many years, and the article got me curious.)

(At the petrified forest we saw some great examples of the endemic-to-the-Namib-desert plant Welwitschia, which are essentially living fossils. It's quite common to find plants over 1,000 years old or up to 2,000 years old. Amazing, really.)

Yesterday we drove to the coast and visited the Cape Cross seal colony.  80,000 female and cub seals on only a few acres.  The smell was awful (though I didn't throw up this time!).  There were lots of fights, lots of barking and braying, and lots of cute poses.  The jackals were around and you could see seal carcasses strewn about. 

Last night I stayed in a backpackers in town, though I have my own room.  After a week camping it feels great to have a bed!  We went out for seafood last night, which was delicious.  I had calamari.

Today was the penultimate adrenalin rush, though.  I went skydiving!!  I did a tandem jump from 10000 feet with a 30 second freefall at 220 km/h and a five minute float to ground.  It was actually far less scary than I imagined and perhaps the most amazing feeling ever.  With bungee jumping I always was terrified, but this was far more natural (if you can believe it).  We flew over the dunes and the ocean, and the scenery on the way down was exquisite. 

(How do I have no photos of this adventure??)

Anyway, those are the highlights.  I have hundreds and hundreds of photos of course.  We are having a last seafood dinner tonight, and then tomorrow I go back to Windhoek by bus and then fly to Cape Town. 

Scenery en route to Khorixas

Oh Namibia and your dirt roads!

Welwitschia plant.

Pieces of petrified wood

Petrified log.

Good examples of the petrification.

More welwitschia.

Rock engravings from 5,000+ years ago.
Giraffes, antelope, etc.

Wikipedia tells me this is one of the more famous slabs called Lion Plate. 

Scenery around the petroglyphs.

The Lion Plate. Notice the lion has human toes. Giraffe, rhino, birds, and other animals abound.

Footprints captured in the sandstone.

Giraffe, gemsbok.

Sea lion! Evidence of contact with people by the seas. 

The engravings are so exposed; it's amazing they've survived so well.

Animals as well as lots of human and animal footprints.

And now human footprints as well.

Penguin! More evidence of outside contact.

Setting up camp at Abu Huab.

Our trusty transport for this trip.

Abu Huab Desert Camp
Main building at the camp

Organ Pipes geologic site

120million+ years old, formed during the breakup of Gondwanaland

Scenery en route to the coast


Cape Cross seal colony
Each black speck in the water is a seal.

Lots of little babies while we were there.

Rock snuggles are the best, apparently.
Lots of nursing babies.

More nursing, more rock snuggles.

So many babies!

This was one of my favorites.

Lovely slumber.

Posing for me.

Her better side.


More swimming seals.

Nursing baby.