Archive for the ‘Life’ Category


The Study Makeover

November 18, 2012

Do you ever have one of those ideas for a plan, an improvement, a project? Something that seems like such a good idea, a way to better use space and resources and make the most of what you have? And you plan, and design, and cost and then get overwhelmed by the sheer size of the project and then start anyway?

Oh yes, we’re re-fitting the study.

Oh dear god, what have we done?

In short we’re a house of proper books. None of these kindles or ebook readers for us. Oh no, we love real books and my goodness don’t we have a lot of them? In fact, between you and I, since we moved to Cyprus in 2006 we haven’t actually managed to unpack them all. It’s not so much the number, it’s just that we’ve got more than the bookcases will hold.

And what a broad range … from Harry Potter to Understanding Islam to How to Commit the Perfect Murder and Not Get Caught. Over the years we’ve sold some and given away lots and release dozens into the wild via Bookcrossing. But we still have boxes and boxes and boxes sulking in the corner of one of the bedrooms.

On the plus side our little stone cottage does have a lovely study downstairs. And so came about The Plan.

If we fitted custom bookcases to an entire wall, all the way up to the high ceilings, then we might finally make some progress on releasing some from their boxes. Months ago we designed and sourced the shelving. We worked on those little niggles (why is the space available one centimeter less than the shelving we need?) and picked paints. And then life got in the way and the whole project was put on hold. This week we decided that enough was enough and it was time to start.

And so Sunday was spent moving three existing bookcases from the study into their temporary places in the dining room. There will be chaos until this is done, no question. Of course the bookcases couldn’t be moved whilst they were full of books so we had an afternoon of unloading, dusting, transferring to the dining table, moving the empty bookcases and then reloading them in their new spots.

The rest of the study still needs to be emptied and then the joy of minor plastering can happen followed by the mindless boredom of painting the ceiling and three of the four walls a neutral colour.

But the fourth wall? It’s going to be orange. Energetic Orange. And it looks a bit like this …

Isn’t that lovely and subtle? No, it isn’t. There’s a plan, honest. But in the meantime things have been looking a bit like this …


Wish us well, it’s going to be an interesting few weeks.


Catching up … again

November 2, 2012

Every time we plan on taking a minor break from the blog we caution ourselves not to let it become an extended intermission.  And yet it did.  Again.  Must try harder next time.

Anyway, we’re back again after another long hot summer.  Now, in the first week of November, we’re wondering just when autumn might turn up as right now things are unseasonably warm.  Nights are drawing in and the early mornings are cool but by mid-morning it’s hot enough to be sitting outside with a cup of coffee in just shorts and t-shirts.

The bougainvillea continues to put on a show, the pomegranates are ripening to perfection and the first of the mandarins are just starting to turn from their invisible green to their showy winter orange colour.

Returning to the summer, and our extended absence, it is safe to say that things haven’t gone quite to plan of late.

I could talk about learning experiences and the importance of chewing one’s food or I could just find a handy photo.

That, a piece of lamb bone, was embedded in Ian’s throat for a couple of weeks.

Unhelpfully it was several inches below his Adam’s apple meaning surgery was needed.  Apparently the oesophagus has three concentric layers and the razor-sharp bone had punctured two of the three.  One more and things would have been terminal.

It is said that there isn’t enough time to make all the mistakes in the world yourself so you should learn from others.  So, chew your kleftico well people, the consequences can be serious if you don’t.

As if that weren’t drama enough the surgeons spotted another problem on the pre-op scans.  “Did you know?”  They asked.  “No, no we did not.  When shall we schedule the next round of surgery?”  A more serious procedure from which he is still recovering.

In more cheerful news we snuck in a week in glorious Italy recently.  Booked before the medical dramas, and technically inadvisable, we spent wonderful days pottering around the fantastic city of Bologna followed by some time in Venice staying at the superb Bauer Palladio.   With a lucky piece of accidental timing we managed to be in Venice during the brief dry spell between two major floods.

Much of this, as well as worrying wildfires, naughty kittens and other random ramblings, can be found on our Twitter feed here.


Christmas post …

December 23, 2011

… is AWOL.

This year there seems to be an island-wide issue with post from the UK and continental Europe.  90% of the Christmas cards that we’d expect to receive haven’t appeared; orders placed online in early December, intended as presents for each other, are missing; presents from family and friends in the UK have not arrived.

This isn’t an isolated problem: many of the Cyprus online forums have ongoing discussions about missing post.

Our lovely, if slimline, local tree bought courtesy of the local Forestry Commission, looks really rather lost without any parcels underneath.  Our best guess is that we might expect to see things arrive in the second week of January, after the Christmas and New Year and Epiphany holidays.

On the positive side we have a beautiful rib of beef ready to cook and piles of books to read and enough logs to see us through to the new year.  Not the holiday we’d planned but we’ll make the most of it and throw another log or two on the fire and perhaps in time we can chuckle about 2011 being the Christmas-of-no-presents.


Legal to vote

December 14, 2011

Village elections are taking place this month and in a village of little more than 100 adults our two votes could be important. Or so claimed the mukhtar of the village some months ago when he asked if we were registered to vote. Ummm, no, never felt the need before, was our answer, and anyway it’s not a straightforward process for us expats. As a man seeking re-election, in turbulent village times, he offered to help. He, he said, would personally deal with all the paperwork and arrange for our voting cards to be issued.

A day or two later he appeared at the gate with a handful of forms to complete and a request to see passports and for a handful of passport-type photos. He took the forms, copies of the passports, the photos and a copy of our house purchase contract and our title deeds, and headed off to the appropriate office.

A day or two later he re-appeared. The office, he said, wants more information. Did we perhaps have our pink/yellow slips handy? We did so copied them both and handed them over.

A week later he was back again. The office wanted to see our yellow/pink forms rather than pink/yellow forms. Did we have those? We didn’t. For a moment he looked deflated. The only other thing they will accept is birth certificates and I know you won’t have those, he said. Hah! There’s a man who doesn’t know our filing system; two minutes later he had two photocopied birth certificates in his hand.

Armed with more paperwork than a competent identify fraudster reasonably needs he headed off down the hill to wherever the voting-card-office was and that was the last we saw of him for several weeks. As the election approached and he didn’t re-appear with the voting cards we decided that either he’d found the process too tiresome to continue or that he’d realised that he didn’t need our votes.

How wrong could we be? Last Sunday morning the phone rang. Were we up and dressed and decent? The mukhtar asked. If so he was outside our gate with the voting cards in hand. The question about us being up fit to receive company was reasonable: we have a reputation for being sleepyheads.

Being suitably attired, Ian headed down to meet him and collect the cards. From the look of sheer delight on the mukhtar’s face we can only assume that locals find the bureaucracy wearing at times too. And this in a week when a piece of research established that Cypriots know that getting things done depends more on who you know rather than being able to meet published criteria.

So, we’re good to vote which puts us a tiny majority compared to other expats. Very few expats go through the process of getting voting cards, though there’s only anecdotal information why. Too difficult, uninterested, too bureaucratic? Who knows.

What we now know is that, even before our voting cards were issued, we unwittingly changed the face of this village election. The mukhtar is standing unopposed: his rival decided not to run when he heard that we were going to be eligible to vote. Since we don’t even know who he is we are baffled, but then that isn’t an entirely unusual state of affairs for us in this village!



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.



June 25, 2011

Those iPads are turning up everywhere these days.

Apparently the photo was taken at either a wedding or a christening, hence the onsite photographer.

Courtesy of


Geographical challenges

June 18, 2011

It feels clichéd to comment on Americans knowledge of world geography but sometimes, just sometimes, a tale must be retold.

A year or so ago we were on a holiday, a vacation, where a goodly proportion of our fellow travelers were from the US.  Early in the trip we fell into conversation with another couple who happened to be from the States.  They were lovely: well read and well-travelled, interested in their surroundings and their traveling companions.  They heard us chatting about our plans for the day and quickly struck up a conversation.  Lovely accents, they said.  Were we from Australia?  It wasn’t the first time we’ve been asked so we smiled and said no.  English, but not living in England we said.  We live in Cyprus, in the south-eastern corner of the Mediterranean.

That bit about the south-east corner of the Med is important, we’ve found it heads off other confusing conversations.  Not any of the north American cities called Cyprus in north America. Not the Cyprus off the coast of Italy (no, there isn’t one).  Just the island of Cyprus snuggled down in the corner of the Med.  Occasionally we mention that we’re only 70 miles from Syria but not often, it depends on the person.

Map courtesy of〈=en

Anyway, having established that it was the country of Cyprus our fellow travelers looked excited.  What an amazing co-incidence, they said.  Someone they knew, a family member, was in the process of buying a newly built property in Cyprus right now.  Perhaps we knew the development?  Or the developers?  Sadly we didn’t recognise the name of either.  When they mentioned the price of the property, a seven figure sum, that wasn’t so surprising.  Not so many properties like that round our way.

But we were curious: roughly where was the property?  They hummed and hawed and consulted each other but weren’t entirely sure. On the eastern coast they thought, perhaps along a big peninsular or promontory.  They thought the nearest airport began with an E or an H.  Our hearts fell and we exchanged concerned glances; the only place in eastern Cyprus that fits that category is the Karpaz peninsular, known colloquially as the panhandle.  It is in the North, the area occupied by Turkey since 1974.  Buying property there is fraught with difficulty, even for those who understand the issues and the pitfalls.

There are some people, many of them English we’re sorry to say, who have made fortunes by selling land that isn’t theirs to sell.  When the events of ’74 took place many, many people were forced to abandon their homes.  Almost 40 years later they haven’t been able to return and some people have taken the opportunity to sell the houses or the land on which they stand or the olive or citrus groves that they owned to developers.

It is possible to buy land in the North at a 30% discount to that in the south, but to do so is risky at best.  There have been well documented cases of people buying land only for the original owners to come along later and demand their property back.

Carefully we explored just how much of this they knew.  Not an awful lot it turned out.  They had a vague recollection that the history of the island was troubled but not that it was still divided or that there was an ongoing UN peace-keeping force.

They knew nothing of challenges of buying property in the disputed north but were quick to understand that the transaction that their relative was considering might be at risk.  We suggested some research that they might want to do once they were back at home and we gave them details of a lawyer who had a reputation for being honest, unbiased and experienced in difficult property transactions.

They took copious notes and thanked us for our concern and the information we’d provided.  As we left to start our day of exploring they were deep in discussion and both looking troubled.  Throughout the day we returned to the subject.  Imagine being on the cusp of buying an expensive property thousands of miles from home and finding out that the whole thing might be at risk!

That evening they spotted us as we were heading to dinner.  They rushed over to speak to us but with large smiles on their faces in place of the looks of concern when we had parted earlier.

We spoke with our relative, they said, and it’s going to be ok!

Well, how can you be so sure, we asked.

Well it turns out that the villa is in Crete, not Cyprus, they said.


Lefkaritika in the news again

May 31, 2011

Last year we mentioned that the very distinctive Lefkara lace had been in the news locally.  The lace is very special, so much so that it is now UNESCO listed.

The lace has been hand made by generation after generation of local women who work from designs that are hundreds of years old.  Anyone who has been to the island of Burano in Venice and admired their lacework may recognise the style of the Lefkara lace: travelers from Venice took pieces back from Cyprus to Venice and developed their own designs in the late 15th century.  So local tradition goes Leonardo da Vinci took a particularly fine piece of lace back to Italy where it was incorporated into the alter cloth in Milan cathedral.  More verifiable is that the lacemakers of the Lefkara villages offered lace to Princess Elizabeth in honour of her coronation.

This week Etsy, a superb website that allows designers and crafters to sell their goods online to a worldwide audience, is featuring a lovely video about the lace and its future.  The video highlights two of the challenges that the lace faces: firstly that the numbers of lace makers is slowly declining, and secondly that some places sell inferior machine made or finished lace because it is significantly cheaper but don’t always make that clear.

What the video doesn’t mention is that one of the two Lefkara villages, Kato Lefkara, may have a solution to the second problem at least.  Often tourists don’t realise that they are buying second-rate or imported lace and walk away thinking that they own a true piece of Lefkara lace when that isn’t the case.  To resolve that confusion Kato Lefkara has introduced an authentication process by which a lacemaker can submit a piece of lace to a committee of master lacemakers.  They assess the quality of the work and, if it passes their criteria, the details of the lace are entered into a register of certified Lefkara lace and the lacemaker is issued with a certification to accompany the lace when it’s sold.

Certificates aside there are three quick ways to judge whether a piece of Lefkaritika is genuine:

  • If the price quoted doesn’t make the eyes water then the lace probably isn’t real Lefkaritika
  • Only certain colours are used in the traditional designs: white, ecru and brown are typical so if bright colours are present then the lace may not be true Lefkaritika
  • All Lefkaritika lace is reversible so if it doesn’t look the same front and back then it isn’t the real thing.

Kleftiko ovens

September 17, 2010

Traditional cooking is a corner-stone of Cypriot family life.  Every weekend, every holiday, every festival is an opportunity to gather family together and spend time together, preferably whilst eating.

When we lived in Aradippou our neighbours had a traditional kleftiko oven next to their house.  Technically it was built in their driveway but every good Cypriot knows that the street is a perfectly good place to leave a car so why not utilise the driveway for something useful?

We’d been in the house a month or two when we were woken early one morning, perhaps 3 or 4am, by an unusual noise outside.  A quick check out of the upstairs windows showed the source of the noise: the neighbours were lighting their kleftiko oven.  Clearly there was an upcoming celebration that we weren’t aware of.

Kleftiko is a lamb dish, although in Cyprus young goat is sometimes used.  The lamb is cooked very slowly over the course of many hours resulting in meat that is tender enough to cut with a spoon.

According to local legends the dish was made from stolen sheep and to disguise the cooking process from the shepherd the lamb was cooked in a pit in the ground so that no smoke could be seen.  Today the dish is cooked in an external wood-fired clay oven.  A wood fire is lit in the heart of the oven and then allowed to burn very low; meat, and later potatoes, are added in shallow containers. The oven is kept sealed with clay until the cooking process is complete, many hours later.

On that first occasion it was too dark to get photos but the neighbours obliged by lighting the oven again a month or two later.  The second photo shows quite how fierce the wood fire is at the start of the process.

For anyone who is interested in trying kleftiko without the expense of building their own external oven there’s a nice recipe on the Waitrose website here.  With such a relatively short cooking time the dish won’t be as meltingly tender but should still be a nice taster of how superb good kleftiko can be.



August 19, 2010

We haven’t been attacked by resident mice, nor been overcome by the heat; we have been knocked sideways by the very sudden death of an old friend here on the island.

We hope to be back shortly.