Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category



June 2, 2012

Just how do they do it?  How is it possible for a fruit tree to thrive on neglect and to oscillate between ugly-as-hell and drop-dead-gorgeous?

It’s the time of the year when we fall in love with the pomegranates all over again.  Lush greenery, abundant growth and masses and masses of the most beautiful and showy scarlet blossom.  And all of this from trees which get no care or attention, no watering or feeding, no pruning.


Scarlet blossom

The empty house next door has a mature tree, perhaps 20 feet tall, and we have a similar one just next to our back door.  Their tree gets no attention as they only visit the house once or twice a year; ours gets some fairly inept pruning once a year and that’s it.  In return each produces hundreds of massive pomegranates each year.

Next door’s pomegranate tree

Between you and I, I prefer them right now when they are full of blossom.  The colour, that sharp pop of orangey-red, is a reminder that summer is really on its way.  And as the flowers are pollinated and the fruit sets the blossom falls away from the tree and makes the most gorgeous red confetti on the ground.

A sprinkling of blossom

And all this from a tree that, in winter, looks like it should be chopped down to put it out of its misery.  It’s hard to imagine a tree that looks more desolate and unloved than a pomegranate in January.  But right now … it is just gorgeous.

Taken January 2010

Plenty of fruit to come


Snow photos

March 1, 2012

It snowed yesterday.  That’s a fairly unusual event here; it’s the second time we’ve seen snow in the last five years.  We tweeted during the day, you know we tweet, right?  Find us here if you fancy.

In between trying to keep warm (13° C or 55° F inside during the day) we raced around the garden trying to get decent photos.  We didn’t have much success; light falling snow isn’t easy to capture on camera.  But by the end of the afternoon just a little snow had settled.

Snowy chair

The Fluffs, the 9 months old kittens who adopted us last summer, were absolutely baffled.  Born in the height of summer they have found it hard to adjust to rain; snow was just too confusing.

Confused cats

The garden plants seem to be unscathed but they all had a sprinkling of snow during the day.

The lavender

The lilies should be flowering around now.  Only time will tell what impact this year’s cold has had.

Arum lilies

The sweet peas were making good progress; here they need planting in the depths of winter so they can flower in the spring.

Chilled sweet peas

Across the road the banks of wild fennel and other high growth looked pretty and entirely different to usual.

Banks of wild fennel

A dusting of snow

Today the skies are clear and bright, although the temperatures are still low, so that’s probably the last of the snow.  Tourists will be arriving soon and expecting it to be much warmer.


It’s raining, again

January 27, 2012

This has been the wettest winter that we’ve seen in Cyprus.  After a relatively mild December the heavens opened and it feels like it hasn’t stopped raining since.  It’s possible that we, living in a house with no internal stairs, feel this a little more than others.

It’s certainly true that our move from the municipality of Aradippou on the coastal plain up to our tiny village in the Troodos foothills has made a huge difference to our local weather.  Summers are cooler and the air is fresher but winters are colder, occasionally seeing snow, and there is significantly more rain.  The only heating in the house is from the open fire in the living room and this winter we’ve been working our way through a significant amount of logs.  Even with the fire burning each evening the temperature in the living room rarely gets about 14° degrees (mid 50sF) and the upstairs which has no heating at all has been below 10° degrees (high 40s F) some evenings.

The rain (and thunderstorms and gale force winds) have been much talked about amongst the expat community.  With each severe weather warning and subsequent torrential rainstorm questions have been raised about how full the dams might be and if it was possible that this year they might overflow again.

Today Asprokremmos dam, the second largest on the island, did for the first time in seven years.

The Cyprus Mail reported:

CONTINUING rainfall caused the Asprokremmos dam, the second largest on the island, to overflow yesterday.  With a capacity of 52.4 million cubic meters, Asprokremmos last filled back in 2004.  Reports said local residents were preparing to fire up their barbeques in celebration.

A Paphos expat was on hand to record the occasion; his video is available here.


Flawed logic

December 8, 2011

Life here is rarely dull (although we do occasionally drop off the radar from time to time!) but there are times when the Cypriot logic defies belief.  This is often the case when politicians are involved.  This week has seen two glorious examples so far.

Exhibit #1

Yesterday Standard & Poors threatened to downgrade the entire Eurozone.  Cyprus is already sitting on a rating that is little above junk status.  This should be a concern and yet the president is untroubled.  It will not matter, he says, that no one reputable will lend us money; we’ll just borrow some more from the Russians!

Indebted and beholden to the Russians, again.  Fantastic gameplan.  Obviously borrowing another couple of billion euro from them is a much, much better than actually doing something about the economic crisis.

Exhibit #2

In other news drilling and exploration of the new gas field, Block 12, continues.  Some folks are excited at the prospect of the untold wealth to come; others are sanguine about anything of use being found at all.  Some have wondered just where and how the spoils, estimated at $450bn this week, might be brought ashore if anything is found.  It seems we needn’t worry on that score, there is a plan.  Sadly the plan centres on piping the oil and gas ashore next to the Vasilikon power station.

You may have heard of the power station: it made the news in the summer when 90 or so containers of munitions, stored at the main naval base and next door to the power station, exploded.  13 people, including the head of the Navy, were killed, dozens were injured and over 50% of the electricity capacity of the island was destroyed.  You’d think they could find somewhere better, wouldn’t you?

This image shows two satellite images of the Vasilikon station. The left half is before the explosion, the right is after.

For the full ‘before vs after’ image see here.


Festival of the Flood

June 14, 2011

This past weekend saw the celebration of Kataklysmos, the Festival of the Flood.

The weather saw fit to contribute which, considering it’s almost half way through June, was fairly unusual.

Photo courtesy of the Cyprus Mail

The Cyprus Mail reported:

TORRENTIAL rain and flooding in Nicosia and Larnaca districts yesterday trapped people in their cars and brought traffic to a standstill as thousands returned home at the end of the three-day, and aptly named, Kataklysmos (Festival of the Flood) weekend.

Some of the worst hit areas were many of the villages between Larnaca and Nicosia, including Lympia, Kornos, Pera Horio, Latsia, Alambra, Ayia Varvara, the GSZ area in Larnaca and Aradippou with some of them also experiencing heavy hail storms.

Drivers on the Larnaca-Nicosia highway crawled along at 30km per hour due to heavy traffic jams and visibility problems, with huge amounts of water gathering in some areas such as the Dekhelia road up to the Rizoelia roundabout.

As well as flooding some flights were diverted as the conditions at Larnaca airport were unsafe.

The weather this year continues to be unsettled: winter was long and wet, spring was late coming and saw severe hailstorms and then suddenly the temperatures went into overdrive.  Instead of being unseasonably cool it switched to being unseasonably hot.  That all ended with the storms of yesterday which, according to forecasts, are due to continue for several days to come.

Meanwhile we left home, where it was warm and sunny, to drive towards Larnaca not realising all this was going on.  It would be fair to say that we were ill-prepared for the weather we encountered and got absolutely soaked to the skin.  Such are the microclimates of Cyprus.


Back again

May 23, 2011

We only meant to be away for a week, or two, honest!  But time slipped away, and the longer things went on the harder it was to get going again.

For a while now we’ve been talking about re-starting things but hadn’t got just the right post to kick off with.  And then Rita from the Netherlands emailed.  From time to time people leave comments or drop an email, perhaps to ask a question or just to say hello.  In Rita’s case she wanted to let us know that she loved the blog and had read it from start to finish but was now concerned.  We hadn’t posted in so long, had something happened?

So, having emailed her to let her know that we are still alive, if somewhat lazy, we are now officially back.

Summer has finally arrived, having been long-delayed and much-anticipated.  The garden continues to grow like crazy, although everything took a battering during a horrendous hail storm a week ago.  The clementine tree escaped unharmed and we appear not to have lost a single of the 10,000 or so fruit that are developing.  Yes, this is the same tree that produced 3 ripe fruit this year.  We may have to rename it and call it fickle from now on.

In the village life continues as normal.  Unexpectedly kafenio wars have broken out with a rival coffee shop setting up for business 100 feet from the long-established shop.  Tension runs high amongst the villagers (in a slow, mellow and laid-back sort of way obviously) as they wait to see if any sort of retaliation follows.

Meanwhile our battle against encroaching wildlife continues.  Last year’s pomegranate rats have yet to make an appearance but in the meantime we are engaged in the epic battle of Man vs Swallow.  Our old friends the swallows returned in early March from their winter in Africa and decided that the empty properties to the left and the right and behind us weren’t suitable for building nests in.  Where they really wanted to be was in the house.  With us.  Frequently.  So as the days and nights warm up we continue to try to find ways to convince them that their place is outside and ours is inside.  It may be a long battle.

Now that we’re back up and running there should be more soon.  Until then, a series of photos from before and after that hailstorm.

Winter-flowering jasmine

Beautiful arum lilies

After the storm #1

After the storm #2

After the storm #3


Cyprus: Crossroads of Civilisation

September 30, 2010

A new eight month long exhibition opened yesterday at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington.  The exhibition is designed to showcase 11,000 years of history of the island.

From the Cyprus Mail:

The exhibition includes gold jewelry and sphinx sculptures from the Cypro-Archaic period (750 to 480 B.C.), vases, bowls and sculptures, including an Aphrodite marble, from the Hellenistic period (325 to 50 B.C.) and Roman (50 B.C. to A.D. 330) periods, bronze and copper items, including lamps and jugs, from the Byzantine period (330 to 1191) and religious icons, paintings and vases from the medieval period (13th to 16th centuries)

Full details can be found on the Smithsonian’s website here.


Scops owl sighting

May 27, 2010

An unexpected treat today, we have an owl for company!

Wandering through the kitchen today we glanced out of the window towards the possible hidden garden and through to the plot that has been partially cleared.  Sitting quite proudly on one of the branches of a fig tree was a small owl.

Some time with a pair of binoculars and a copy of the invaluable Birds of the Middle East confirmed that he (well, we think it is a ‘he’!) is probably a Scops owl [Otus  Scops Cyprius].

Eyes closed

When we first spotted him we were concerned that our movements within the house would disturb him so we crept about to grab the binoculars, the camera, the bird books terrified that he might disappear.  No danger of that; it seems Scops is here for some time.  We first spotted him just after midday and as at 8pm he was still there.  He’s changed position once or twice but other than that seems to be contented in his new home.

Ian risked opening the back door to get a better chance of a photo.  The owl opened his eyes a quarter way and raised his ears (or are they just ear tufts?) to listen.  He must have decided that there was no threat as he was quickly back to his previous position.

We’ve heard an owl in the garden area in recent evenings but not been able to identify it.  Of late the occasional pellet has turned up.  Now that we’ve seen him it seems likely that Scops has been around for a while.  We have to wonder if the process of clearing the derelict patch has made it more inviting to an owl.  Apart from our kitchen window the spot he has chosen is fairly secluded and not overlooked, but for us.

For those who may be interested in such things, the author JK Rowling recently revealed that Ron Weasley’s owl is a Scops owl.  Readers of the Harry Potter series may recall that the owl, Pigwidgeon, was described as being both very small and very over-excitable.  This one is smallish but shows absolutely no signs of being so energetic; he appears to have been sleeping most of the day.


According to Cypriot legend the Scops owl is one of the oldest creatures in the World, mentioned in conjunction with the Ark.  The Cypriots have a tale that describes how the owl came by its cry.

But the most characteristic feature is its wailing cry, a lament that brings back to memory the tragic story related to the origin of this bird. According to legend, the bird was originally the son of a poor peasant family who lived at the edge of a forest. He tended the garden and sheep while his younger brother looked after the horses. One day, when the younger brother was in the forest a severe storm arose. The boy returned home and when the elder brother counted the horses he found that one was missing. He did not count the horse on which his brother was riding. Flying into a rage, he ordered his brother to return to the forest and find the presumed lost horse. There, in the unleashed storm, the young boy was struck by a lightning. When later that night his horse returned home without him, his brother was full of apprehension. He went out in search of him, shouting his name “Ghioni”, “Ghioni” but to no avail. At daybreak, when to his utter distress he realized that his brother was dead, he asked Artemis, the Goddess of the forests and of hunting, to release him of his torment. The Goddess turned him into an owl. To this day, the owl flies through the forest all night long calling “Ghioni”. “Ghioni” for his lost brother. Incidentally, the modern Greek noun for owl is “ghionis” and the same word resembles the call of the owl.


We can’t comment on that but it’s fair to say that we’ve made more trips past the kitchen window today, just to see if he’s still there.


Unintended Consequences

May 18, 2010

More tales of village life.

At the back of this little house is the, oft mentioned, donkey track that leads down into the rest of the village.  Since the house next to us is deserted and the house opposite derelict the track gets little traffic.  During the summer months tourists wander up it from time to time and then turn back when they discover that it leads to a dead end.

Ever since we moved in we have had an eye on that dead end; the track opens out into a space about 15 feet by 15 feet, overlooked by our kitchen window but otherwise entirely private.  It isn’t our land, the title deeds are perfectly clear on that, but it’s a lost space and no one uses it and it’s been entirely unloved.  Our vague plan when we bought the house was that we’d clear the space and put tables and chairs out there along with some plants in containers.  Then, if anyone ever complained at our colonisation we could undo things.

The hidden garden, from above

Until now that plan has been on hold.  The house had to be the first priority and the walled garden close behind.  There was also another reason for holding back: we wanted to have some time in the house to understand how the light and the sun impact the walled garden and the potential second space.  No point putting sunbeds there if it never got the sun.  We learnt quickly that full sun is as welcome in winter as hard shade is in the height of summer.

Well, a year on we now know that in winter it rarely sees the sun.  It is east-facing and the surrounding stone walls are high on several sides so in the short light of the winter months it is a cold and damp place, so much so that moss and lichen become a problem on the donkey track.

In summer it gets the afternoon sun but because of the height of the walls it stays much cooler than the garden.  Just the place to retreat to on a sweltering summer’s afternoon.

But, apart from the project to clear the area there is another issue: the area is bordered on two sides by a derelict house and an empty plot.  On their own they wouldn’t be a huge problem, all are built of fantastic Lefkara limestone and look beautiful.  The issue is that the weeds have been allowed to grow unchecked and combined with the occasional discarded household appliances the plots look distinctly unappealing to humans.  To rats however they are an ideal home.  We’ve seen them running through these plots unchecked.  The term rat run is all too appropriate.

Anyone need a spare water tank?

So, the potential is there for a lovely hidden secret garden to sneak off to on hot summer days but for the ten foot high weeds and local rat population in parts of the village over which we have no control.

Our only other fellow Brit in the village, Gerry the antique-collector, lives on the other side of these plots.  Via the donkey track it’s a good 5 minute walk to his house from ours or 30 seconds as the crow flies.  Since we mentioned the rodent problem he has become aware that he, too, is hearing the nocturnal patter of rodent feet across his roof.  He has long wanted to buy the empty plot to get it cleared and improve the look of the area around his house.  However despite his best efforts he, and the previous English owner of his house, has been unable to find the details of the owner.  His neighbours have always claimed that it would be impossible to buy as the land had been passed down according to Cypriot inheritance law and was probably now owned jointly by a dozen or more heirs.  To buy would mean getting each to agree to sell their 1/12th share.

This week Gerry declared war on the rats and weeds.  If the mysterious missing owners would do nothing about the plot then he’d take charge, he said.  He would pay for the land to be cleared and when it was done he might put a chair or two in there.  This morning we woke to the sound of someone strimming and chopping and hauling ancient water tanks out of the area.  We assumed that this was Gerry’s doing and it turns out that, indirectly, it was.

This afternoon he stopped by to gloat; he hadn’t paid for the area to be cleared, the owners had.  Apparently the village grapevine had been activated and word had got back to the owner (just one, the story of a dozen heirs seems not to be true) that a mad Brit was planning a land-grab.  Horrified by such an idea the owner decided to take preemptive action and get things cleared so there was no further cause for complaint.

The work is not yet finished but already the area is looking distinctly better and, hopefully, less appealing to the local rodent population.  We might just get our secret garden this summer after all.


Paphos once more

April 21, 2010

Another week, another trip to Paphos.  The trip is well worth it but really, that motorway is dull!

Last week we tacked an extra hour or so onto the expected time needed to allow for a possible diversion.  During the previous week the motorway suffered from a major rockfall, closing part of it for some days.  Much of the run between Limassol and Paphos was constructed by cutting through the hillsides and, occasionally, nature reasserts itself.  The cuttings are quite dramatic in places, rising to 100 feet above the road.  Those with an interest in geology like them as they show quite clearly the striations of the rock and how it has been folded over time.

Anyway, for reasons that aren’t clear part of the rock face gave way and collapsed onto the east-bound carriageway.  Closing the motorway meant a lengthy diversion via the village of Pissouri and along the coast road.  As it turned out by the time we made our weekly trip they had managed to implement a contraflow along the west-bound side of the motorway meaning that the diversion wasn’t necessary.

In addition to saving us time it also allowed us to get a peek at the remedial works to make the motorway safe again.  The sheer scale of work to move the fallen rocks was staggering.  On the way back we managed to get a photo or two.  Excuse the quality; photography at 50mph isn’t ideal.

To give the photo some scales the two diggers are both tracked and, with their buckets, have a reach of about 50 feet.  The lower of the two is sitting on the remains of the rockfall, about 10 or 15 feet deep, on the eastbound carriageway.  The upper digger is sitting on a newly created ledge perhaps 60 feet or so above the road.  From this position it was able to dig out the top of the rockfall.

Repairing the rockfall

It is quite scary to think how much worse the situation would have been had the incident happened when the motorway was busy.

For lunch we stopped a little further along the coast; closer to Aphrodite’s Rock and apparently as a result of that hordes of tourists.  It was worth it for the views though.

East of Aphrodite's Rock