Late Saturday night we got back from our trip to the island nation of Cyprus, where Carol had attended an astrophysics workshop, and I’d tried (with limited success) to get some writing done.
If you know me, or you have followed this blog at all, you know that Carol and I travel a lot. Between visits to our scattered family members, conferences, and whatnot (especially the whatnot) we’ve been to Spain, Greece, the US, Italy, various points hither and yon around France, and now Cyprus — all within 2022.
I always anticipate the travel as a way to provide fodder for this blog, given that our base in rural Bretagne otherwise gives me little to remark on, if you’re not particularly interested in all things bovine.
On the other hand, I’ve never quite figured out how to write about travel. What do you say that isn’t pretty obvious already?
Cyprus had really nice beaches. They were sandy. And there was water.
We stayed in hotels. They had lots of rooms and some elevators.
Travelogues are dull. Duller than high school book reports. Duller than The True Confessions of Mike Pence. Besides, you can find all that stuff and more on YouTube.
The Kingdom of the Cats
So I’ll make you a deal. I’ll tell you up front about the couple of things that I found coolest about Cyprus, and then we’ll mostly surf through the rest with the help of some Damn Fine Photos. Fair enough?
Okay, on to the cool bits.
People have been living on Cyprus for a long, long time — starting roughly 9,000 years ago in a settlement called Choirokitia. The dominant influence over time has been Greek, but the island has hosted Egyptians, Assyrians, Mycenaeans, Phoenicians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, and lord only knows who else. For that reason, there are some great archaeological sites on Cyprus.
Carol and I visited several, including Choirokitia, but the most impressive were Kourion and Nea Paphos. Both are in superb locations, overlooking the sea; the latter is just beyond the point of land pictured at the top of this article.
Kourion was a Greco-Roman city kingdom on the west coast of what is now the region of Limassol, overlooking a brow of spectacular cliffs. While the focus of the site is a beautifully intact Roman theatre built in the 2nd Century BCE, the location also includes extensive ruins, including the “House of Eustolios,” a large Roman villa. At one time a flourishing kingdom, Kourion was destroyed by an earthquake in 365 CE.
Farther to the west, the Nea Paphos archaeological park, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, encompasses a wealth of ruins spanning ages from prehistory through much of the medieval period; but the most remarkable are five large Roman houses and their astonishing mosaics.
Floor mosaic from Nea Paphos archaeological site.
These last are extensive, beautifully preserved, and numerous — especially in the so-called House of Dionysus. You can see several of them in our Nea Paphos photo gallery, as well as in the photo above, which gives some idea of the typical scale and state of preservation.
(Regarding Nea Paphos, I might mention that our contemplation of all things sober and ancient were interrupted for some while by the course of a crowded excursion boat, returning to the port area of Paphos while the inebriated host aboard was dancing to the high-decibel strains of The Human League’s Working as a Waitress in a Cocktail Bar. Which led me to wonder (1) why does cheesy Boomer rock continue to appeal to twenty-somethings, and (2) what is the price of a surface-to-surface missile, and can you get one delivered through Amazon?)
One site we unfortunately did not manage to get to was the ancient port town of Salamis. Since 1974, the island has been divided between the world-recognized country of Cyprus and the Turkish-occupied region of Northern Cyprus. (Check out this handy explainer if you want to know how that came about.) Salamis lies within the Turkish-occupied zone, and it didn’t work out logistically for us to go there.
In addition to ancient habitations, there are some pretty impressive medieval remains around the island, including a 7th Century Castle of Forty Columns on the Nea Paphos site (you can see it in the photo gallery — the building ruin with the arches); and Kolossi Castle, from the Knights Hospitallers’ tenure on Cyprus after they left Acre.
Right, enough of the educational rubbish. Now let’s get to the awesome: the cats of Cyprus.
When Carol and I visited Greece last spring, we were gobsmacked (in a pleasant sort of way) by all the cats in evidence there. Even that, though, didn’t prepare us for the profusion of pusses on offer in the streets and alleys of Cyprus. And whereas the Greek cats seemed often to be the scruffy variety who would beat you up and steal your lunch money, the feline beauties of Cyprus were luxe — as sleek and glossy as if they’d stepped from the pages of Cat Fancy.
And I was there for it.
Wherever Carol and I strolled around Larnaca, or Nicosia, or Paphos, they would be there, watching with regal detachment. And when we sat down to dine on a hotel or restaurant terrace, they would materialize immediately to demand their rightful tribute of protein (always gladly provided).
At first we were surprised that, no matter how the cats proliferated, the humans running the dining and lodging establishments never seemed possessed of a desire to shoo them away. No matter where they ventured, the four-footed citizens seemed to be welcome. Moreover, in a nook here and a doorway there, you would always find a container with some kibble. It wasn’t until I saw a young woman in a park busily distributing munchables to a crew of calicos that it hit me:
The cats are running the place.
It made perfect sense, really: the booming feline population and profusion of kibble; the lack of visible governmental authorities anywhere; the incredibly high-protein menu at every restaurant and hotel kitchen; the laid-back pace of life; and the vast numbers of horizontal nap spaces. (Every seaside spot, no matter how deserted, had dozens of comfy loungers lying in the sun.)
For a while I wondered how these small creatures were able to maintain their authority over an unruly human populace. Then one morning at the hotel breakfast, I met an adorable young tabby, whom I instantly dubbed Fluffy:
She came and stood politely, eyeing my buffet plate with obvious interest. After I had fed her several good-sized bites of bacon, an adult tortoiseshell strode over arrogantly to claim his own portion. Fair enough.
It was when I lowered a piece down to him that Fluffy instantly transformed into Foaming Insanity Ragecat, causing the adult more or less to vacate his whiskers in the haste of his retreat from the field. I don’t think he stopped running before he reached Turkish territory.
Somewhat taken aback, I bent down to retrieve the abandoned piece of bacon from the floor; and my sweet little girl Fluffy swatted away my hand like Tommy Hearns working a speed bag. When I was foolish enough to try again, she used her tiny talons to climb up my arm to the elbow, yowling like a banshee.
I left the bacon alone.
Afterward, while stanching my wounds with a napkin, I decided that order on the island must be maintained by a caste of warrior cats, among whom Fluffy was probably a berserker of renown.
Later that same morning, I saw Fluffy park herself beside a German tourist while she surveyed the dining room for more provender. The German fellow thought it would be amusing, while she was looking away, to reach down and tickle her ear. Within a microsecond of this transgression, Fluffy had scaled the left leg of Herr Komedian to the crotch, while he yelped and frantically tried to shake her off. No sooner was she off his left leg than she was gouging her way up the right — all to the merriment of everyone in the dining room except the hapless victim.
You don’t mess with the Cats of Cypress.
(The next morning, by the way, Carol bravely decided to re-enact the scene of my excruciation with Fluffy and a rasher of bacon:
Foaming Insanity Ragecat. Note the talons.
Kudos to her for her willingness to sacrifice her body for journalism. Fortunately she only bled from one wound afterward.)
Our Cyprus trip did include other highlights:
- In the capitol city of Nicosia, there is an excellent antiquities museum called, with commendable logic, The Cyprus Museum (gallery here). The collection artifacts run from the Neolithic period through the 7th Century Byzantine.
- Next, although we only visited a few of them, a large number of old churches grace the island, some adorned with stunning Byzantine murals. Sadly, most of those don’t allow cameras of any sort; but I was able to get photos of a few churches, including the glorious Saint Lazarus in Larnaca.
- Finally, given the volcanic nature of most of Cyprus’s rock, there are a great many caves and arches along the coasts, some of them pretty spectacular. For a look at some of those, take a walk through the gallery.
Or, if you’d rather not be bothered with all those little albums, and you’d just like a quick visual overview of the island, have a glance through this Cyprus Miscellany.
As Carol and I were at the airport preparing to return to France, I overheard a whispered rumor that the cat authorities on Cyprus may be planning a breakout to other parts of the world. With democracy on the defensive, and war once again darkening the European mainland, they feel the time may be right to take humankind in hand (or paw) and shape us up. If that’s the case, all I have to say about it is,
I, for one, welcome our new feline overlords.