Sunshine, Roman and Greek ruins, mosaics...all add up to a beautiful first day!
03/31/2014 - 03/31/2014 72 °F
Driving on the "wrong" side of the road is one of the few drawbacks of visiting Cyprus. I had my initiation last night, driving our rental car home from the airport in the dark, in an unfamiliar palace, and with a GPS that was speaking Russian to us. Today was Jenny's day, and she did great. We left Limassol on a beautiful, sunny morning and drove West towards Pafos. We navigated just fine, though "Natasha" babbled at us from time to time and provided no enlightenment. Jenny swore she had changed the language to English, and it wasn't until later that afternoon that I figured out that language and "voice" were two separate controls! Goodbye Natasha, and hello "Jason" (yes, Jason M, that was his assigned name!).
Our first stop was the Rocks of Aphrodite, a formation of limestone stacks off the coast. As we swung onto the coastal road, we noticed a military rescue helicopter practicing land and sea rescues. We weren't the only car pulled over to snap photos of it. We pulled off the road at a few spots to take photos of Aphrodite's Rocks, then continued on.
Our next stop was a gorgeous 9th century Byzantine church. It's five domes are in a cross shape and were a beautiful oasis of peace in the town's hectic traffic. Inside, frescoes on the wall depicted Saints' lives and Biblical scenes. It was a lovely church, and I didn't even even resent that I couldn't take photos of the frescoes. Then it was on towards the west coast town of Paphos. This is a favorite retirement spot for Brits, and you could tell the town did a good job of catering to foreigners. Cafes line every street, and everywhere you go, someone is willing to sign you up for a boat cruise, snorkeling, car rental - you name it! It helps that the archeological ruins there are a UNESCO world heritage site. Our first stop was the Crusader castle guarding the harbor. From its rooftop, we got our bearings for our exploration of Paphos.
Paphos' highlight is the archeological park with a half dozen Roman era homes with stunning mosaics preserved. The homes and buildings themselves were often a jumble of toppled walls and columns, but the colorful mosaics with tiny stones depicting various scenes from Graeco-Roman mythology, were in excellent condition and brightly-colored. The best mosaics are under wooden or other rooftop coverings to protect them from the elements. Thankfully, there were no photo Nazis, and you were free to take pictures of them to your heart's content....which I did (big surprise!).
We spent several hours there, wandering the ruins of the homes, as well as exploring the Roman theater, another Crusader fortress, and simply enjoying the bright flowers adding splashes of red and yellow to the sandy colored stones underneath the vivid blue sky.
After a late lunch, we journeyed on. Our next stop was the Tombs of the Kings. These rocky tombs in various states of disrepair were built during the Hellenistic age. That was when much of the Mediterranean and Asia was ruled by descendants of Alexander the Great. it was cool to wander the rolling, scrub-covered hills, listening to birds and the gentle rush of the ocean surf below us, while exploring the rocky tombs.
Next,, we took in the lovely view from a hilltop village, and then drove up and over the hillsides to the northwest coast of Cyprus. We zipped along what was supposed to be a very scenic stretch, but found restaurants, hotels, and vacation homes squatted on all the best viewpoints. We stopped to hike through a botanical garden to the Baths of Aphrodite. Cyprus is supposed to be the birthplace of the Greek goddess of love, so a number of sites are sacred to her on the island. Frankly, it was a bit of a disappointment. It was nothing more than a tiny, wooded pool underneath a trickle of a waterfall.
Our drive back to Limassol and our hotel started out as a bit of an adventure. "Jason" steered us off the main road onto what turned into a dirt road that Jenny swore was someone's driveway. His help was problematic, at best. Add that to the GPS' non-intuitive interface, and the fact that every place in Cyprus has 4-5 English spellings of its name, and you have a navigational aid that often doesn't. We are a bit worried about how it will do in the Troodos Mountains, when we go to check out a bunch medieval monasteries. We'll pray for the best, though, and hope that our "wrong" driving stays limited to the side of the road...!