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Cypriot crescendo


I had to really force myself up the next morning since the hire car was due back at 11am and I still had another excursion to squeeze in, a trip to the third castle in the Kyrenia range called St. Hillarion. I left sleeping Mustafa with the last of my raki and headed north from the city straight for the mountains, turning off only 15 minutes later onto yet another crazy road through yet another army camp. I had less than an hour to clamber up to and around it, a very steep and scattered site and I nearly fainted at one point with the effort. I rationed my lungs the best I could, it was not the best of places to conk out but I still made a beeline for the top. There were sheer steps right up to the peak where I met a congratulatory sign telling me I was at 732 metres. It certainly felt like it.

I had pushed my deadline to the limit but fortunately it was a lot faster getting the car back down the mountain into town where I arrived at the office on the dot. The guy was in such a rush to take the car away there wasnt time for him to notice or me to mention the damage and missing wheel trim which had plagued my mind the last couple of days. I didnt think the car had been like that when I received it but I had been in such a rush myself I couldnt be sure. I certainly hadnt hit anything but then they drove like such maniacs here and the roads were so poor that anything was possible. I walked away without incident and it suited me fine. Another beer in the harbour had been earned, for once enabling me to sit out the midday sun, and then yet another castle beckoned, the Venetian fortress right by Girne harbour. It was a massive, impressive and remarkably intact structure which must have been a devil to try and breach, the very thick walls rose sheer from the water to a height of 40 metres or more. It only had one entrance portal, a tiny side gate which had to be accessed over an exposed bridge and as you ascended up through the narrow entrance passageway it was plain to see the joins where successive tenants had added to and altered its form. Arches ran into each other at unnatural angles and a tiny but perfect church stood swamped by overbearing walls on all sides. The Ottomans had given it its final form before the Brits moved in and used it as a prison to hold Turkish activists, including the guy who started the Free Turkey Movement or whatever it was. It was large enough to house a series of museums, first of all a re-creation of a neolithic round dwelling house similar to those to be found at Chirikitia in the south. There was the usual array of bowls, vases, beads and gold jewellery. The star attraction though was the remains recovered from a shipwreck which foundered off the island circa 300AD. Many amphorae and millstones were retrieved from its cargo, some of which still contained perfectly preserved almonds and seeds. The cargo identified it as coming from Samos and Rhodes and so it was obvious the vessel had plied its trade along the Med coast of Turkey. Effects of the crew were still found in situ, day to day items such as cooking ware found just as they had been, from which one could deduce that the crew went ashore each night to cook and sleep. There were more fantastic views walking around the castle walls before time got the better of me again and it was time to hit the trail. I walked up the hill fully loaded to the bus stop from where a minibus carried me back to Lefkosa and I opted to go back to the same Aksaray pension I had stayed at previously, its rare spotless shower was a vote winner. I couldn't rest at that though, I had to hit the tourist office in order to check how to get to the airport, but as luck would have it, it was inexplicably closed. I hadn't booked my flight yet or indeed even decided where I would be flying to but I had given Cyprus a fair crack of the whip and would be moving on to Turkey the next day I had decided. I couldnt be sure if being a Sunday would complicate matters, it was a secular country but predominantly islamic, the kind of place where you couldnt be sure which was the real day of rest, as many places were always open for the tourists. What I had noticed is that they are very late risers which was surprising in such a climate. I would habitually hit the streets around 9.30am to find them still largely empty.

It had been quite a day. A rally drive, a mountain climb, tours of two castles, a museum, a bus trip, a traipse around town and now I had to book a hitherto unspecified flight on the net just like that. Not enough? I then plumped for the cherry on the cake and elected to go watch the European qualifier match between Cyprus and the Republic of Ireland that night, which I thought would make a fitting crescendo to my time in Cyprus. There were just a few issues with that though:-

1) The game was in the south and so I would have to cross the border to see the game. I didnt even know if it was open late enough.
2)I didnt have a ticket and didnt know if any were still available.
3)I had no idea where the stadium was or how to get there.

But I went for it all the same. Unfortunately the Green Line within the city is still firmly shut so its a fair old hike outside and around the walls in a semicircle just to get to the other side of the barricades. I hoofed it to the tourist office, the southern one this time, but true to form they were also shut. The army of green shirts was already self evident however so I just asked a few Paddy boys what the deal was. They were able to offer me a surplus ticket and a lift to the game but the 30 Cypriot Pound asking price (only the face value) was mighty steep for a place like Cyprus. It couldnt have been far off a weeks wages for the locals. I elected to shop around a bit and quickly established a few more glaring facts.
I had heard the half 5 kick off time announced on BFBS (British Forces) radio and had flogged myself like a flagging horse in order to get myself to the south in good time. It transpired that it was always UK time they quoted and so in a moment I found I now had 2 spare hours to kill. Being in a pub surrounded by Paddies that wasnt such a problem but in what had become my "regular" of sorts, I discovered they had summarily pumped up the price of a pint of Keo the local gash from 1.50 to 2.25. And that was just the start of it. The rumour going about was that the locals were paying a fraction of the price for a match ticket, which I could well believe. There was a bit of agro when 4 young Feb wideboys materialised sporting fake Cyprus tops as a piss take, talk about playing with fire. After hanging about the taxi rank for ages I finally managed to hook up with 2 errant Irishmen to share the not inconsiderable taxi fare to the stadium. I had even climbed the trusty Debenhams building viewing tower, thinking that if I could spot the floodlights then I would just walk it. Fortunately I couldnt, it was miles away down a very busy series of dual carriageways.

Upon approaching the sole ticket booth in evidence I got quoted the statutory 30 quid and blew air in the boys face. Then I had the bizarre good fortune to bump into 2 Scouse couples in the same predicament. After taking some local advice from a local beauty whose face still haunts me, we found ourselves at the Cypriot turnstiles and after eventually sussing through the melee that it was indeed cheaper, managed to slip on in for a tenner apiece. The rumour was that last year when the 2 teams had played the Irish had only paid 12 quid and the city had been overrun with them. In a stadium which reputedly held 20,000, it was now at least half empty with both goal ends sealed off. We sat and faced the dazzling sight of 4000 Paddies giving it laldy, and after a good start they had more reason to party when Eire went 1 nil up after only 8 minutes. I think the general presumption had been it was just a question of how many Ireland would put past the whipping boys, they had beaten Cyprus 6-1 on the previous encounter, but everyone got a shock when the locals quickly bagged a classy equaliser and then went 2-1 up. Suffice to say that after a few handbags, countless yellow cards, a Cypriot penalty and an Irish sending off the home team came up trumps with a dazzling 5-2 victory. The locals went mental.

Another taxi sharing farce later, I finally got back into town and thought I might as well blow the last of my Cypriot money, I'd had to withdraw plenty in preparation for the aforementioned ticket rip off. I re-crossed one of the worlds dodgiest borders in the pitch dark around 2am, drunk as an Irishman and slept the sleep of the dead. Crazy world.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Cyprus

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