For this travel summary, I may have gotten a little carried away, so you also may have more reading than you intended. Analogously, it was taking me about three hours to show the 150 photographs that I took, so you may be getting off easy. If you have any comments on content, errors, or omissions, please mail me.
This travelogue is divided into several parts:
After leaving Vancouver, I was able to stop in Toronto and have a nice visit with my brother and his family. When I did get to the airport Wednesday night, there were five people already waiting on standby, however, they said that I would probably have no problem getting on. An interesting anecdote to the flight concerned the Buena Vista Social Club. The first time I found out about them was hearing their CD on the way to the Toronto airport with my sister-in-law Carmina. I got on the Air Canada 767 300 ER flight, even though it was full, but the bastards stuck me in executive class, so I had to persevere too much food, good service, and electric reclining seats, which luckily I did not have to tolerate too much, as I was able to sleep at least five or six hours. However, when I was awake, a really neat special was on my personal television, and it was all about musica Cubana and The Buena Vista Social Club, who apparently had played their last gig over a year previously in Carnegie Hall. I was really impressed with both the video and the sound track. And to top it all off, there was an article in The Economist about The Mal Vista Social Club, which somehow seemed to ignore that most the Cuban's problems originate from the local super power. I sat beside a nice guy from Toronto, who was on his way to his niece's wedding in Tel Aviv, so he gave me some hints about Israel, and was even kind enough to help me find a hotel when I landed. I did gloat over my decision to ditch Egypt Air, was that a smart move or what?? Mind you, I did pay, as my Mediterranean jaunt cost me at least $1000 extra in airfare. The security was not that intense when I landed in Israel, as an immigration guy just asked me a few questions about who, what and why, which my neighbour from the plane helped me with, and I was let go.
I did manage to float in the Dead Sea, 450 m below sea level which was a surreal experience, as you really do float with your legs and shoulders in the air, and it was even hard, if not impossible, to stand up. Essentially, Joe Clark stated it succinctly when he said that there were a lot of rocks in Israel, as basically that was all there was. The whole trip was an excellent lesson on how moronic people really are, as all the territory that those idiots were all claiming and fighting over, especially the West Bank, had to be among the most desolate on this planet. Old Jerusalem was pure bedlam, as there were zillions of people packed in an ancient little walled city, you would have to see it to believe it! So much for expensive and uninteresting Israel. After I inquired, and found out that a ferry trip to Cyprus was not a realistic alternative, I bought a ticket to Cyprus from El Al, who did not even want to sell me one, but the only flight left at 06:05 the next morning. Later that night, I almost had an impossible time finding an open restaurant, as the Jewish people close everything from sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday. After dropping my car off in the mornng, I arrived at the check-in at about 4:55, and they gave me shit about arriving late, as they said that I had to go through security. Well, they were not joking, as they really searched me to board the departing plane. I had never seen or heard about that before. The guy spent about 30 minutes going over everything I had with meticulous precision, and then he escorted me right to the departure gate. I figure that they thought I had some James Bond mini device hidden somewhere. Anyway, Israel was a write off, I would not bother visiting it unless you're a religious pilgrim.
I went back down to Kourion Beach on Wednesday, and had a wonderful time, as it was pretty warm out, even though it was windy. I ate a fish burger there, but it was just an over-fried breaded fish stick thing that left a raunchy fishy aftertaste for hours. Some Brits sat beside me after a bit, and they were pretty enthusiastic about the food on the island, and their bodies showed it. One day, I passed a nice little restaurant with a cute oriental waitress who smiled at me, so later, I tried it out. The menu seemed okay, but all they had left were some things I did not know about and some other stuff that all came with chips. So the stuff I ordered was basically stew, just lamb and potatoes, nothing else. And to top it off, the place had too much smoke in it. The bill came to about $15, but I figure the whole deal was only maybe worth $3, and that's about all I would give the whole culinary experience, a 2/10. The restaurant was really nice though, and had lots of potential, it just needed some Greek from Vancouver to straighten it up.
On Thursday, I went on a guided bus tour through the Troodos mountains, where there were many old churches and monasteries. The trip had one highlight, as there were some Brits sitting behind me, who may have been a mother and daughter, and were not talking quietly. The fun started when we passed a highway sign stating that Troodos was 44 km away. The daughter stated that there were '9.3 kilometres per mile', and the mother said that she did not know, as she went to school before they taught that stuff, so the daughter would know. The daughter, with some mathematical proficiency, then figured out that it was only about 4 miles to Troodos. That was only an appetiser, as a little bit later, the guide said that Cyprus had about 340 sunny days a year. The Brits then tried to verbally calculate how many days in a year there were, so they could calculate the cloudy days, they started at 352, then 356, then they settled at 352, leaving 12 cloudy days a year. I could not help but think that the Appalachian folk were directly descended through the Mayflower from you-know-where.
On Friday morning, I took the bus from Limassol back to Larnaca, as I was leaving on Saturday morning for Crete, but I struck pay dirt, as Larnaca was definitely better for a vacation. Larnaca was rather refreshing, as it was basically a tourist resort, with all the facilities need for a vacation and low prices to match. An interesting thing was that about half the flights listed at the airport originated in former Soviet counties, notably Russia and the Ukraine, and they flew old Russian jets. I found an excellent apartment-hotel with a nice kitchen an huge balcony, the Pelegos, for 11 pounds (C£), or about C$30 per night, and I had my first good meal since leaving, right next door, at the 1900 Art Cafe. I had not had a good meal since I left Canada, and I had given up looking. Any hope that there may have been for acceptable cuisine was all corrupted by the English, as almost every menu had 'chips' on it.
On Saturday, November 6, I left the Pelagos hotel in the morning to catch the Cyprus Airways flight to Athens, for which the airfare was
C£117 , or about C$320. There was a ferry to Crete, but it only left on Tuesdays, as did the
only direct flight. Apparently in the summer, connections are much better. I could get fooled in
Cyprus, as the pound was worth about C$2.70, so things may have actually cost more than I thought,
like the single coffee I had one day for one C£.
Coffee was not served there like here, but mostly as Nescafe or Greek (Turkish) coffee. If you
wanted a regular filtered coffee, it cost a lot more. The previous evening, there had been one hell
of a lightening and thunder show, and fairly big rainstorm. In the taxi on the way to the airport
in the morning, we passed by the big salt lake, where a whole flock of flamingos waded at the one
end, very near the road. The taxi driver said that because the weather was so cold in Europe, the
birds had come south early to their winter habitat on the lake, which was actually below sea level.
The next day, after walking around the city for awhile, and getting a much nicer room nearby for about the same money, we traveled by city bus to the ruins at Knossos, which was only a few kilometres from Iraklion. Knossos was the ancient centre of Minoan civilisation, which ended abruptly about 3500 years ago, possibly from a huge volcanic eruption on Santorini (Thera), an island north from Crete. The ruins were discovered and partially restored by Arthur Evans about 100 years ago, so it was difficult to discern what was fake, but the intent was to give better idea what the original palace looked like. By all standards, it was very impressive, especially when you consider its age. The palace was huge, and had architectural attributes that would be considered contemporary. The next day, we visited the museum in Iraklion, which was extensive, and contained the huge collection from Knossos.
After a few days, we wanted to visit another beach town, so we travelled east about 40 km to Hernasillos. On the way, most the places were deserted, but there were many hotels and vacation villas. In Hernasillos, we got off the bus, and everything was closed, although the place had extensive tourist facilities. It was like a ghost town. I stopped in at the police station, and asked the helpful tourist policeman about it, and he found only one hotel in the whole town that was even open, but it was expensive and away from the beach, which was windier than hell that day. So we ditched that town, and headed back, intending to go to Raythenon, or Hania, which were west from Iraklion. It was getting late when we arrived back in Iraklion, though, and I didn't really want to travel after dark, and Charlene didn't want to spend more time on Crete, so we bought tickets to go to Athens the next morning on Air Greece, which was substantially cheaper than Olympic. After a little more investigation, we found out that the Greek islands were shut right down for beach tourism after about September, even though the temperatures were still enjoyable.
Athens was a very busy city with way too much traffic. We stayed right under the Acropolis, in the Plaka district, in a nice little hotel that we had to walk to as there were no traffic allowed in the immediate vicinity. Considering that the streets were probably built 3000 years ago, I can accept that vehicular traffic was not planned or. The area was very touristy, with prices to match, but I don't think I would want to stay anywhere else, as it was so central, interesting, and picturesque. The Parthenon was way bigger and whiter than I ever believed, however, there was restoration work in progress, so we could not get too close. Also, it was pretty windy up on the Acropolis, and the marble, the native rock up there, was worn shiny by eon's use so it was slipperier than hell. The whole scene was actually a little surreal, as the ruins were contrasted against the steep hill in the middle of a very large city. At night, they were all lit up, but we were too close to actually see too much.
The next day, we walked down to the National Archeological Museum, which was extremely impressive. The numerous antiquities were splendid, and I thought the whole thing was actually excessive, as there was absolutely no way I could adequately appreciate them in such abundance. It was actually a shame that they could not be viewed closer to their native locations, or in other places where they would individually have much more significance. The marble statues were multitudinous, and the one I especially liked was about 4800 years old from Amorgos, with planar features. It was solid white marble and about 1.6 m high. Later that afternoon, we bought plane tickets for Cyprus, as the temperature there was way better than the coolness in Greece, and there was no doubt for me that tourists were much better accommodated, in both service and price.
We left the hotel the following morning (1999-11-12) to take the city bus to the airport, but after waiting over 30 minutes for the bus, we decided to get a taxi. We had seen that a big demonstration was starting (probably against the Americans) which was blocking off the whole central district, so we had to go several blocks over to get a taxi, which was then held up by all the re-routed traffic. After a short and harrowing experience, where I temporarily lost my passport, we were off on the Cyprus Airways Airbus 310 back to Larnaca. Landing in Larnaca was a totally pleasurable experience, as the air was warm, and the skies were clear. I think it made a real favourable impression on Charlene. How often can a guy persuade a women to do something and actually turns out to be correct?
I was fairly busy after Charlene left for Barcelona in Spain on Saturday, where the day after she got there, it snowed for the first time since 1962. On Thursday, I went to visit ancient Kition, which was about 1 km away from the hotel, then I went to the beach and suntanned for a few hours, then I visited the local anthropological museum which was very extensive, as Larnaca was the longest continuously inhabited city on the planet, possibly about 5000 years. As was most places I visited in Cyprus, the admission was very cheap (1 C£), and it was not busy at all, in fact I was the only visitor the whole time I was there. Later, I went and bought my air tickets to Cairo and Tel Aviv, which were really expensive, as I spent C£186 for both. After that, I went and visited the municipal gallery, and also visited the adjoining Palaeontology Museum, but after chatting to a real knowledgeable British expatriate for about an hour, time ran out, so I continued that the next day. Even though Larnaca only had about 70,000 inhabitants, the museums all blew away anything that Vancouver and most North American cities have.
Later, I went over to the Egyptian guy's place, where I had good falafel and kebabs several times, for supper, and on the way, I saw his car up on the sidewalk, as someone just had 'hit and run' it. Surprisingly, I found the culprit's fender that evening on the sidewalk a few blocks away, in front of the Pierides Museum. After supper, I rushed home, and changed to go to a concert with the Baroque Jazz Quartet from Prague, and then believe it or not, I even went home, as I was up Friday to go and visit Nicosia, which was neat. Even though it was really warm just a few days prior, it sure had cooled down quickly from the big cold front that had already nailed Europe, so that it was only about 16 in Larnaca. Luckily, I knew I would be in Cairo on Sunday, and I thought it would be warmer there.
In Nicosia, I walked around extensively, touring most the green line, viewing the fortifications and Turks. The green line divided all Cyprus, including Nicosia, where it went right through the old fortified city, which was constructed by the Venetians. The Venetians really impressed me everywhere I went, as they built massive projects that have must have been incredible undertakings for the city-state during its relatively short glory. The line had Turk soldiers on one side, and Cypriot Greek soldiers on the other with a buffer zone in between, which was patrolled by the UN forces. The massive destruction left from the previous battles all too well illustrated nationalism, jingoism, and in general, the whole situation's ludicrousness. Besides seeing lots of city sites, I spent three hours going through the fine Cyprus Museum, which had a huge and impressive collection. One really interesting old Greek stela had some serious copulating hidden on the back, however, no pictures were allowed. After I had visited almost everything, I took the late bus back to Larnaca, which rather than going straight on the freeway like the bus coming to Nicosia, went along the winding roads, and stopped in all the little villages. I then went out for another fine supper at the 1900 Art Cafe, which always had fine food at economical prices, and then over to the Internet Cafe, where the smoke really bothered me! One thing about Cypriots, and Greeks, is that their lifestyle sure eludes health. I remember reading that their smoking rates were about 10 times the Nordic countries, and their auto death rates were about 10 times higher also. And I thought that you would have to be a four legged herbivore to regularly find vegetarian food.
On Saturday, I walked to view the flamingos in the salt lake, but they were far out in the middle, barely visible, and certainly not photographable. I then continued walking around the lake, right past the airport to the Hala Sultan Tekesi Mosque, where the prophet Mohammed's relative, Umm Haram, had her tomb from 649, along with Saddam Hussein's mother, who had not been dead that long. The tomb was supposed to be the third most holy site in Islam, but I sure could not tell from the mosque and grounds, which were fairly run down. I later walked back to Larnaca and my hotel during sunset, passing the fitness centre on the way, where once again I got a chuckle seeing the approximately 50 cars parked outside, along with a solitary bicycle