Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Sausalito meets Bavaria in Cyprus

View near Pano Platres
Everyone who visits Cyprus should drive through the Troodos Mountains.  Especially if visiting during the springtime.  It is gorgeous.  Parts of the area look like Bavaria and the beautifully scenic villages built almost straight up high on the mountainsides are filled with locally produced artsy-craftsy items that reminded us of visiting Sausalito in years past.  It is totally different than anywhere else on Cyprus.  The vegetation and species of trees are found nowhere else on the island.

Our little hotel in the mountains

We drove through Famagusta and cleared into the south (Greek) side at a checkpoint at a British Sovereign Base (military base a la Gitmo).  Then through Larnaka and on to Limassol, a/k/a Lemoses by its Greek name.  At Lemoses we took exit 27 north to Pano Platres.  Nearing this point is where the topography, flora and fauna changed dramatically as we climbed in elevation.  We would be staying at Semiramis Hotel in Pano Platres for a couple of nights.  Right next door was the Edelweiss Hotel, so we really did feel like we were in Bavaria.

Wheel operated generator for lights on bicycle

We soon found the Village Restaurant for a late lunch.  Bill thoroughly enjoyed the Afelia which is a traditional Cypriot pork dish; and I opted for Cypriot Moussaka, which differs slightly from the Greek version and is delicious.  It was baked in a small ramekin and the perfect size to share with Bill as he shared his Afelia with me.  Click on the links for recipes.

The restaurant owner gave us a sample of a local alcohol that is made from the leaves of the grapes.  Not from the grape skins, but from the leaves.  It is 45% volume alcohol.  Doesn't take much to feel the effect!  It is supposed to be sipped straight; keep it in the fridge so it is really cold but not diluted by ice cubes.  We bought a small bottle, but I cannot type the name of this drink because the label is printed in Greek and my keyboard does not have Greek characters.  Bill and I both liked it but it is not something we would want to drink very much of.   
One of many turns in the road.  Pear trees all in bloom.

The other famous Cypriot drink is St. John Commandaria, which is a very sweet wine.  Much of the production is exported to Europe.  Europe can keep it as far as I am concerned.  It tastes like raisins boiled in corn syrup.  Very definitely not to my liking.

Walking in the mountains
On one of the mountain walking paths
We drank far too much wine with lunch and soon retired to the hotel for siesta.  It was still daylight when we awoke so there was time for a drive to see more mountain views.  Weather was cold, drizzly and fog moving in. 

Chop Top Pines
Bill got a kick out of the unusual pine trees found at this elevation.  We have no idea what species these are, but he called them Chop Top Pines.  The trees grow with a normal pointed top up until they reach a mature height.  Then the top flattens out.  At first we thought we were seeing pines that had been struck by lightning.  Or that prevailing winds caused the trees to flatten out on top.  But that is not what causes these flat tops because the pines are found on all sides of each mountain.  Whatever these are, they add charm to the scenic views.

The Chocolate Workshop
We drove once again through Pano Platres and stopped at a cute little shop called The Chocolate Workshop.  It was closing time but the owner graciously agreed to stay open a little longer and prepared each of us a cup of drinking chocolate.  This is not to be confused with hot chocolate or hot cocoa.  

This 'drinking' chocolate was pure melted dark chocolate without added milk.  It was very thick and very delicious.  We bought a small block of dark chocolate to enjoy later.  This shop is rated as one of the top 10 chocolate places in the world.  Glad we stopped in.

Once back in the hotel neither of us wanted to go back out in the cold and we were each still full from the large lunch, so we skipped dinner.  We were surprised to have a television in our room because the reviews I had read on Tripadvisor said there were none.  Still no internet access, however.   A weather system passed through during the night, bringing snow.....which melted at sunrise at this elevation.  (But we would see plenty more snow later that day up a bit higher.)  It had been shorts weather when we left the marina.  Big change at this elevation.  

This area is most popular for walking (not for me; not on these inclines) and for birding.  Nightingales sang from 04:00 until sunrise.  Nightingale song and snow softly falling.  Lovely to listen to all snuggled warm in bed waiting for the sun to come up.

Cemetery in Omodos
Cemetery in Omodos

The next morning we set off to visit wineries, monasteries and churches.  Drove southwest to Omodos and walked around the picturesque little village.  

Leaves looked like grapes, but huge trunks & tree height

Riding through Omodos center of town
 Omodos had a lovely village square that abutted a monastery.  If I were a shopper there would have been lots of shops to visit, all filled with locally made items ranging from table linens (VERY popular item here) to fruit preserves to spices to wines.  Fortunately for our pocketbooks, I am not a shopper.  

Note the sign for Keo.   Keo is a beer produced on Cyprus.  Apparently it is not exported.  Bill loves this beer.

Turks & Greeks..been fighting forever.

personal orange tree
Bill was getting cold walking around so it was time to get back into the warm car and find another destination.  Driving out of town we saw the most prolific orange trees growing in tiny courtyards of homes.  

Also found the village water fountains of a century past.
Village water supply years ago

Millions of grape vines up the mountainsides

So.......we moved on to a winery that we had passed on the main road about 3 miles outside the village.  Signs stated that the winery was open, but doors were locked.


Not to be discouraged, we headed west on a narrow mountain road to Agios Nikolaos; looking to visit the Archangelos church.  Never found it.  Also never found the other 2 churches that supposedly off the mountain road shortcut we took.  There are 7 medieval bridges in the vicinity but a park ranger motioned us away from the road going in that direction, so I guess those were not passable on this rainy day.  

Minaret on a mosque on the Christian Greek side of Cyprus

The only 'church' we found in the ancient village of Agios Nikalaos was a mosque.  Now that was just plain weird!  I have not read of any mosques on this side of the island.  We saw the minaret but did not go to the mosque to see if it is still in use or if it remained from years past and was abandoned.  

Another closed museum

 Next we struck out eastward through yet more mountains and grape fields.  There are millions of grape vines in this various stages of leafing out at the different elevations.  In the village of Koilani we stopped and walked the steep narrow streets. 
Cars there; but not open
Found the museum; signage stated it was open at that day and hour and cars were parked in the lot; but the doors were locked.  

Typical street in Village of Koilini

Koilini street
Door to home courtyard
Traditional ovens
Not to be discouraged, we walked through the village and tried to find the Vine Museum (I assume this museum is devoted to grape vines.)  Never found it.  So we drove north to the village of Pera Pedi to visit the Xylimpos winery.......which was also closed.  We were striking out right and left today!  Did not find one single church, monastery or winery that was open.  What the heck!

Flowers, oranges, lemons and some HUGE grape vines clustered inside one tiny courtyard
Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis Church (St. Nicholas of the Roof)
So we decided to leave this southern side of the Troodos mountains and drive northeast to the larger village of Kakopetria.  Yes!!  Kakopetria had all sorts of businesses open.  And it was a nice drive to get there.  We found a lovely little restaurant for lunch (sans wine today since we would be driving all afternoon).  

 Then we backtracked a bit and found another narrow mountain road out to the Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis Church.  This is a long distance from the ancient village of Agios Nikolaos.  Apparently a lot of places share that same name.

The church of Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis (St. Nicholas of the Roof) once belonged to a monastery complex.  It is located quite high in the mountains way away from anything.  It is covered entirely in wall and ceiling paintings dating from the 11th to the 17th centuries.  It is considered one of the most interesting Byzantine churches on Cyprus and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Unfortunately, photography is forbidden inside the church, even photography without using flash.  They want visitors to purchase small postcard size photos.  I did not want a bunch of pieces of paper so we didn't purchase any.  

These people need to get with the real world of today.  They should do like the places we visited in Hanoi that charged an admission fee for a camera.  I would have gladly paid a fee to bring in my own camera.  Even without using a flash, I think we could have gotten some good photos.  

Since I was too cheap to purchase photo post cards, here are a few images taken from Google images.  The image at right is of a small portion of the ceiling.  The entire interior of the small church was covered in paintings.

Well, finally we had found a church that was open.   Others in the marina who had visited this region last week said there were dozens of these small churches filled with Byzantine frescoes.  At least we got to see one.

Time to head back toward Pano Platres.  We didn't get to see what we thought we would see today since everything was closed, but we thoroughly enjoyed the views.  This was the week before Easter will be celebrated in the Orthodox church, so maybe all these places were closed for that reason.  The tourist season will officially start the week after Easter.
Easter Egg tree in hotel lobby

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