Musings of a morbid mind

The general ravings of Scott Baldwin

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Tango in Limassol


After the cruise, we arrived back at Cyprus's main port of Limassol. 2 and a half years ago when we were in Cyprus last, there was no tango scene, and so we had to go to Greece to get our fix of Tango. Fortunately about 2 years ago, a tango scene sprung up in Cyprus, and there is a Milonga in Limassol every Friday night. This suited us perfectly, we decided to stay the night in Limassol at the Curium Palace which is the hotel that hosts the Milonga. Niki's parents dropped us off, and we checked in. we were both very impressed with the Hotel, although at the bargain basement price of 65 Cyprus Pounds ($185 AU) per night we were expecting to be impressed. I went for a swim while Niki drifted between reading and sleeping beside the pool.

After all the food we had consumed on board the cruise we decided to have a light lunch, a salad or something, nothing too much. We went for a walk, and found a restaurant called "La Mer" and sat down to order. Niki ordered a Seafood salad, and I ordered Sheftalia (traditional Cypriot sausage) with a side salad. The first thing to come out was the side salad, and I kid you not, it was huge, the bowl was twice as tall and twice as wide as a normal soup bowl, and we honestly thought that it must have been the main salad that Niki had ordered, but they insisted it was the side salad. They then started to bring out some bread and 3 dips, then some chips and potato salad. At this stage we questioned them about it saying "we didn't order this" to which they replied "it comes with the salad". They then proceeded to bring out another 6 side dishes, beetroot, black eyed beans, fasolia (Cypriot style white beans), Ocra... and this is before they bought out the main dish. Finally Niki's salad arrived in a massive tray the size of two and a half regular dinner plates, followed by my Sheftalia (4 sausages) and accompanying side of steamed Veggies. So much for a light lunch. We ate as much as humanly possible (less than half of what was on the table), and then sat back and let them clear the debris. As soon as they had cleared everything away, they then bought out a complimentary desert which we were forced to eat at gun point. The food was absolutely fabulous, and I would recommend it to anyone who is visiting Limassol, I would just suggest that you only order for half the amount of people at the table.

That night after a dinner consisting of an apple and half a banana, we went down and joined in the Milonga. We met Julia, the woman responsible for starting the tango scene in Cyprus. She is a beautiful tango dancer, and after dancing with some of her students, she is obviously a very good teacher. It was great to see the budding scene in Cyprus, and they seemed fairly good considering it had only been going for a couple of years.


I met one guy there, Ismail, who saw me sweating profusely in the Cyprus heat after coming off the dance floor, and he told me to save my sweat because tango sweat is Holy. He was a real character, and he also teaches tango in the Northern (Turkish occupied) side of Cyprus. We went to a Milonga run by him in the northern part of Nicossia a week later, I must admit it was the first time I've ever had to show my passport on the way to a Milonga.

It was also an amazing experience to dance with women who knew almost no English, and be able to communicate in a common language of Tango.

Island Hopping


17th - 21st September

Niki's parents were keen to take us on a cruise (something that I found out is very popular among Cypriots). We boarded the Princessa Marissa on the Monday and headed off into the Aegean sea to visit 5 of the Greek Islands.

In the 4 days, we visited 5 islands, first Patmos, then Tinos, followed by Paros, then by Simi, and finally Rhodes. When all was said and done, I have to confess that if I wanted to see the Greek islands, an island hopping cruise would not be the way I would choose to do it. At each island we had between 5 and 7 hours before we had to be back on board. The lovely people on the ship had already confiscated our passports, holding them as ransom, just in case we got any ideas about staying on one of the islands. Even as small as some of the Greek islands are, 5 - 7 hours doesn't really give you a lot of opportunity to explore. In fact it barely gives you enough time to walk past the streets of tacky tourist souvenir shops that are conveniently located directly in front of where you get off the ship. We made an effort on every island to wonder off away from the "tourist strip", to get a glimpse of the daily life of the people who live there, and so I didn't have to write the phrase, "if you go to [insert island name here] you just have to check out the tourist shops". On some islands it was more difficult than others.


The legendary island where St John wrote the book of Revelations. Once you got away from all the tourist shops, we found the labyrinthine streets rising into the mountain a fantastic place to get lost amongst the white washed houses, each of which was completely unique having to adapt to the contours of its surroundings.





The church at Tinos was apparently very famous, and apparently a pilgrimage site for many Greek Orthodox. There were the standard icons that everyone insisted on kissing, but then there was also a tap that lots of people were frantically filling up bottles from. Niki's father explained to me that the icons were found buried there near the natural mountain springs, and as such the springs were considered in some way holy. His attitude was somewhat more pragmatic, telling me that at one point in the early church there was a division over the the icons one group claiming that of certain members pertaining to the icons was tantamount to idolatry, probably true enough, but of course in true religious style, persecution ensued, and the people who liked the icons fled, and set up communities near water supplies and buried the icons so that they wouldn't be discovered and destroyed by the persecutors. Of course the church makes money by selling this water bottled to people claiming that it has healing properties, a practice that Varnavas calls out right exploitation, and I couldn't agree more.

One thing in Tinos that really bothered me was an old woman I saw on the steep road to the hill. She was crawling slowly along the roadside, inch by inch up the quite steep hill that led to the church. It was obvious she'd been doing this since the bottom of the hill which was quite some way down below us, and she still had a fair way to go. I found it quite difficult to imagine the line of logic that this woman has swallowed to cause her to think that in her old age that she should perform this supplication in order to twist Gods arm into hearing her prayers, and struggled to come to terms with what it might be she wanted so badly from this sadistic God that required this kind of penance.

Also there were a lot of shops selling candles that you could take to the church and light as you said a prayer. What bothered me was the different sizes of candles, ranging from the fairly small to the massive, (and with the associated price scale). I sarcastically said to Varnavas that the idea is the probability of having your prayers answered was proportional to the size of the candle you purchased.



I think Paros was probably my favourite, probably because we actually decided to go on one of the (overpriced) shore tours where they take you around to various places and teach you a bit about the local area. We went to 2 churches (there are just so many churches everywhere), and a vineyard. I also learnt that Paros is famous for it's marble, which was perfect for sculptures.



Apparently Simi has a population of about 1200 people, so it is one of the smaller Greek Islands. Loved the houses build into the mountain side, and the enormous stair cases to get to them.



Rhodes was a very busy place, lots of castles and other ancient structures.



The Cruise


More than the actual islands I actually enjoyed the cruise itself. It was a good opportunity to get away from everything, and be forced to relax. There was not internet connection on the ship (or at least I chose not to search one out). There was no phone reception when you were between islands. All your meals were taken care of, literally nothing to do. So we read, we played backgammon, we played cards we walked around the ship, we slept, we ate, we drank, we watched really tacky cabaret etc....


One evil thought did occur to me while on board. I realised why Cyprus doesn't really have a culture of aged care institutions. It seemed to me just from the sheer volume of elderly people blocking the stairs every time I needed to go between decks, and sitting around in the lounges or out on the deck, that the cruise ships were essentially floating old peoples homes.

Two Cypriot Weddings


15th and 16th Sep 2007

It was an extremely lucky coincidence that we managed to be in Cyprus for one of Niki's school friend's wedding. Andri and Niki have been friends since Primary school, and have kept in contact ever since. Last time we were in Cyprus (Jan 2005), Andri told Niki she was seeing a guy by the name of Marios, but we were not fortunate enough to meet him then. This visit we were invited to their wedding. We arrived at the church (one of the large churches in the suburbs of Nicosia), moments before the bridal party arrived with horns blaring to announce their arrival. This was to be my first experience of a Greek Orthodox wedding, so I was curious to note the similarities and differences between protestant weddings and the Greek Orthodox tradition. As fair as the bride and groom's clothing were, there were no real surprises, Andri wore a really nice white number with a veil, and Marios wore a black suit. There was a best man, but no other groomsmen, and also, a maid of honor but no other bridesmaids. There were however no shortage of flower girls and page boys.

Andris Wedding

The differences start with the ceremony. The entire wedding ceremony is a sung liturgy in high Greek which goes for about 30 minutes with various different symbolic gestures such as large rings tied together with ribbon placed over the bride and grooms heads symbolising their union, and a couple of laps around the alter being their first steps as husband and wife. Also lots of kissing of an ornate bible by the bride, groom, best man, maid of honor and the priest (you've really got to hope that none of them have any kind of communicable disease). One notable thing missing from all this (from my perception of what a wedding should be) was the exchange of vows. After the ceremony was over, there was a cocktail party style reception in the courtyard of the church where the bride and groom, and both sets of parents stood as guests filed past congratulating them. Later there was a private reception for close friends and family at a very nice restaurant in the city. This apparently is where Andri and Marios departed from the standard traditional style of reception. To explain further I will move on to a more traditional style wedding which was the one we went to the following evening.

This was the wedding of.... well actually I don't know either the bride or the grooms names, and no one seemed terribly interested in telling me their names, all I know to this day is that the bride is the daughter of Niki's father's first cousin. The first thing to note was that we didn't actually bother going to the ceremony at the church for this one. This struck me as quite odd, because in Australia where wedding receptions are extremely costly, it is common to invite everyone along to see the actual church service, but restrict access to the reception to only close friends and immediate family, (and if you're really rich, or have very forceful parents, maybe certain members of the extended family). In Cyprus the ceremony is attended only by those closest to the bride and groom, and the reception is actually a net money making exercise. The tradition is based on the idea that the best way in which to help start a newly wed couples married life is to give them money. In the past people would pin money to the bride and groom's wedding outfits, these days, there is a small white envelope containing some money, and a small card saying who the gift came from, handed to either the bride or the groom as you file past. So of course the more people you can invite to your reception, the more money you can make.

This wedding was held out in one of the villages, at a massive restaurant about 30  minutes drive from Niki's parents' place. The invitation said that it started at 8:00pm, we turned up just before 8:30pm, but nobody seemed particularly fussed about being late, and when we got there we joined a fairly large queue of people who were waiting to file past the bride and groom, and wish them all the best and slip them their white envelope. I felt quite uneasy, just waiting for someone to come up to me and ask "how do you know the bride and groom?", and tried to stick close to Niki for some sense of "context", who herself didn't really feel like she had much "context", but wasn't as worried about it as I was. She eventually just said to me, "just pretend you're going out to a restaurant for dinner".

While we were waiting, I suddenly realised that I didn't know what I should say to the bride and groom, and to their respective parents (my Greek isn't that good, barely beyond non-existent), so seconds before we got to the wedding party, I asked Niki what I should say, she told me 2 separate phrases to use, one for the bride and groom, the other for their parents. I hurriedly practiced these two phrases, but by the time I got to them, it was all mashed on my mind due to nerves, so for the bride and groom, I mouthed something that might have resembled what they were expecting to hear, but was in all honesty nothing like what I was supposed to say, By the time I got to the parents (and grand parents), I had resorted to a nod of the head, and in some cases just saying "congratulations" in English. It worked for 2 reasons, firstly the fact that there was a lot of noise around me (Cypriots are a very loud bunch), and secondly because the wedding party had already done this hundreds of times already that day, and were already in automatic mode and they weren't really paying much attention to detail.

Standing in the queue I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed by just how many people there were, more people had turned up after us, and the queue was growing with every passing minute, but nothing had prepared me for what was to follow. As we finally got through our congratulating of the wedding party, and then joined the queue for the buffet style meal, we were finally able to see the vastness of the restaurant and just how many people were at the reception. The restaurant was an open hall with 2 serveries running taking up a small amount of space on the left hand side of the ground floor, a bar at the front, and then row after row of tables, each seating 14 people. I think there would easily have been around 30 of these tables on the ground floor, and probably another 15 or so on the second floor. As we were queuing for the food, the hall looked just over half full, and people were still streaming past the wedding party, and joining the queue for food.

We served ourselves some food and sat down at one of the tables. The food was traditional Greek/Cypriot food, olives, taramousalata, Kleftiko, Greek salad, Haloumi Cheese etc...,  and it was of a fairly good quality. We ate and watched as the people kept streaming past the wedding party. About half way through the meal, the hall would have been around 70% full, kids were running everywhere, the band was playing way too loud, and I had finally realised that my search for context was irrelevant. I estimate there were just under a thousand people people at the wedding, at the most the bride and groom would have known maybe 200 of them. Niki also explained to me that the other reason for the size of the reception is that a wedding in Cyprus is also an opportunity for the parents to brag, and show off their great parenting skills by having raised a child to the point where they have found a life partner and tied the knot, so the invitation list is more about who the parents know rather than who the people getting married know. Also, Village weddings tend to invite the entire village, including the priest that performed the ceremony.

After we finished dinner we sat around for a while taking in the ambiance and complaining about the band being too loud, even though they'd gone from the rock music they started with to more traditional Greek music with only the introduction of the Bouzouki as the necessary instrumentation change. Many people had already left by this stage, the duties of congratulating people, handing over white envelopes, and consuming food having been sufficiently performed. After a while we also decided to leave, and as we were leaving i was amazed to see people still filing in past the wedding party. I did see the flow of people ease up from time to time, and the bride and groom were able to steal a couple of moments to sit down and talk, but the stream had been fairly constant since we'd arrived. When we got to the car park (around 10:30pm), there were still people arriving.

I have to admit I enjoyed Andri and Marios wedding a lot more, but the sheer sense of awe at the size of the second wedding has caused me to spend the greater part of this blog article on it. Another difference I noticed between both the Cypriot receptions and your standard anlgo wedding was the absence of speeches(speeches are not really part of the culture)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Governors Beach



The weather has been fairly hot, averaging in the high 30's, so Niki's parents decided to take us to Governors beach. No surprise that it got it's name because one of the British Governors of Cyprus when it was a colony took a fancy to it, and decided to claim it. I must admit that I have a particular habit of comparing any beach I come across in the world to my home beaches in Newcastle, and I find I am almost always dissapointed. The sand was coarse and dark grey in colour, and it is not a surf beach. All that aside, it was nice to go for a swim, and cool off.

One thing that I noticed that got me thinking was the beach chairs. The beach chairs were placed all along the beach, anyone could use them.

Governor's Beach

I also noticed Niki's family dragging some of the chairs together, and a plastic table that was near by for us all to sit around and have lunch at. Their sense of civic duty also compelled them to drag the beach chairs back to where they were originally, ready for the next set of visitors. Apparently the local council is charged with providing and maintaining these beach chairs, and it really struck me as odd that I couldn't imagine this type of thing happening in Australia. I have seen beach chairs in Australia, but they are usually hired out, and I think that potential theft or mindless vandalism would be cited as reasons for not having the councils provide and care for them. Makes me wonder what we are not doing right in Australia.

Niki sleeping at Governor's Beach




Niki's parents decided to take us to a villiage called Lefkara which is about a 45 minute drive from Nicosia up in the mountains. Lefkara is famous for its lace work, and silver smiths. We wondered the streets where the lace shops are, and saw the women sitting outside their shops making the artefacts that you could purchace inside. Even though it was obvious that the streets were specifically set up for the tourists, at least you knew that the goods were made locally and not in china. The lace weaving skills are still apparently passed down from mother to daughter, and the villiage survives almost solely on the revenue generated by the lace weavers and silver smiths in the region.

Lefkara street #1

Lefkara Street #2

The only other thing in the town is the 'Fatsa' wax museum that uses wax figurines to show aspects of the history of cyprus.

Wax Museum at Lefkara


After this we went to Zigi to a "Psarotaverna" (literally fish tavern) for lunch. Niki's father explained to us that the word "Zigi" is greek for scales (the type you use to weigh things), and that the only reason the town existed at all was because there was a set of scales there that would be used to weigh carobs from the plantations before they were shipped out for export, but since the war in 1974, there was a need to establish more towns to relocate the 200,000 refugees, and Zigi has grown significantly, and now is part of the booming tourist industry with Psarotaverna's everywhere, and appropriate tourist pricing.

Later that night, Niki's sister Elena, took us into the city to the Marco Polo bar where there is a cuban band playing every night, and some pretty good salsa dancers. We had a good time, met some of Elena friends, and salsad til about 1:30 am.

While we were there we met an Australian girl who lived in Richmond, Melbourne (not far from where we live). Her parents are cypriot and she was visiting cyprus for the first time in 20 years. She was complaining that there was nothing uniquely cypriot that she could take her english friends to see, and cited the cuban salsa band as a case in point of a distinct lack of cypriot identity. I told her to show them the villiages, she agreed. What I forgot to say is that you can always take them to a traditional cypriot taverna.

Arrival in Cyprus



We arrived at Larnaca Airport at about 10:30am, and Niki's parents were there to meet us and take us back to their place in Nicossia. We had lunch, and then a bit of a rest.

That night Niki's father startred the grill, and cooked up some of the delecacies Cyprus is renound for, Souvlaki, Bastourma, and Sheftalia. All of Niki's Aunts, Uncles and Cousins gathered at their house to welcome us.

Family gahering

Stop over in Dubai



We arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport and had enough time to get our boarding pass for the connecting flight, sit down and have some dinner, attempt (but fail) to pay our Tolls incurred in Sydney over the internet, and then check out the Duty Free.

We then jumped on a plane to Dubai, I surprised myself and actually managed to get some small amount of sleep this time. We arrived at Dubai airport just before 4:00am, and it was already 31 degrees celcius. By the time we'd collected our luggage, and headed to the tourist information desk it was around 4:30am. We managed to book a hotel, but couldn't check in until 7am, so we waited at the airport til then. I remember distinctly the first time I heard the call to prayer was at 5am in the airport. 

Close to 7am, we made our way out to try and catch a cab, we were immediately approached by a guy who asked us if we were looking for a cab, to which I honestly replied "Yes", he motioned to follow him, and he took our trolley with our luggage and led us across the car park. Niki had the presence of mind to ask him if it was a regular cab, to which he replied "it's a limosine", and when pressed told us it would be 70 Dirams ($AU 26), Niki smelled a rat, and insisted that we would get our own cab. We found the queue for the cabs, and got one within minutes, and the journey cost us 30 Dirams (AU $11). We arrived at the hotel, and immediately went to sleep.

We awoke some time after 10am, and decided to wonder down the street. By this stage it was over 40 degrees celcuis, and the high humidity made the walk quite an exhausting affair. The reward was seeing the extremely modern architecture of the city juxtoposed against the occasional ancient building. The heat was oppressive, and it didn't take long before we were forced to seek shelter and rest for a while. We stopped for a few minutes at the river, and looked at all the dinner cruise boats that we would loved to have had dinner on if we were staying in Dubai for longer. We decided to get a cab back to the hotel, and so stood on the main road and attempted to flag a cab, unfortunately every cab that passed was taken, we walked further along the main road to find lots of people trying (and also failing) to flag a cab. Again the heat got the better of us, and we ended up in an air conditioned restaurant for lunch. After lunch we started the long walk back to the hotel, but by this time the heat was unbearable. We decided that the bus was te best option, and after asking a few drivers, and getting a number of differeing responses, we finally found a driver that said he was going near where we wanted to be.

Dubai #2

Dubai is supposedly famous for its shopping malls, and so we decided to check out the one closest to our hotel, (at least we would be in air conditioned comfort). So we went to the City Centre shopping mall, and to our "complete surprise" it was pretty much the same as any other shopping centre anywhere else in the world... large, air conditioned and full of places where cheerful attendants will happily assist in lightining your wallet in exchange for items that a consumeristic society has convinced you that you really need.

We went back to the hotel room hot and with very sore feet, (and slightly lighter wallets). I went for a swim while Niki slept. That night we had a very enjoyable dinner in the hotel, and then went to bed early. We got up the next morning at 4am ad made our way to the airport where we caught our plane to Cyprus after allowing the Dubai duty free to lighten the load on our wallets a little further.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

On Holidays - Sydney for Chris and Alison's Wedding


We decided to tie our holidays in with Chris and Alison's wedding in Sydney. We arrived at Sydney airport on Friday afternoon after an extremely stressful process of getting to Melbourne airport. Niki was coming from Fitzroy, and I was coming from Essendon. I arrived at the airport in plenty of time, whereas Niki had a slight issue with the taxi not turning up, and she almost missed the plane.

After having made it to Sydney I proceeded to pick up a hire car and drive out to Berowra for the wedding rehearsal, and Niki checked into the hotel (The Marque), and then went out for a tango in Glebe.

I was concerned about driving from the airport to Berowra, especially considering that APEC was on at the time, and I don't really know my way around Sydney that well, but once I got on the Eastern Distributor... and then finally turned around and headed in the correct direction, I just followed the signs to Newcastle, and I was OK. That was until I missed the Berowra Exit and had to Drive 15 minutes to the next exit where I could turn around. I arrived at Chris and Alison's place, and very quickly went through my role as best man, and then Chris, Alison, Alana (Alison's head bridesmaid), went off to the pub for a drink. It was only 10:00pm, but they had already called last drinks at the bar, none of us could believe it, so we quickly ordered drinks and sat down and talked.

On the Saturday, Niki and I went shopping, and then I headed out to spend some more time with Chris. Niki went dancing again. Chris and I had Pizza and then I caught the train back to Strathfield to catch the last hour and a half of the Milonga (Tango night) with Niki.

The next day we arrived at Chris's place at around 10:30am to find him still stressing about work. He eventually finished what he was doing, and we had lunch together with the other Groomsmen, (Rob his Uncle, and Rodney a friend from Newport). We then started to get ready for the wedding. We were cutting it fine as it was, and just at the point when we really had to leave to make it on time, we discovered that we'd lost the keys to our hire car. This put us into a bit of a panic, and we rushed around stressing for about 15 minutes until we eventually found them. We arrived at the Loxley on Bellbird Hill where the wedding was to take place at 3:00pm instead of 2:30pm, but this was OK, the official part of the day wasn't scheduled to start until 3:30pm. I must say, Loxley was just the most picturesque place for the wedding, it was beautiful, and the staff were a really friendly and helpful bunch of people. The wedding was just lovely, and everything went pretty much to plan from what I could tell.

Chris and Alisons wedding #4

Chris and Alisons wedding #1

We stayed the night at Loxley, and then had breakfast with Chris, Alison, and a few other wedding guests who had also stayed the night. We then hit the road at about 10:30am to get to Sydney airport for our flight to Cyprus.

I have to admit, I have always hated driving in Sydney, but this trip from the blue mountains solidified my absolute detest for the Sydney road infrastructure. The quickest way (and the only way that is actually sign posted) to get from the Blue Mountains to Kingsford Smith Airport is via a number of toll roads. The M7, the M5, the M2, and the Sydney Harbor tunnel, all of which have different operators, some of which have toll collection points, others have only e-tag, or E-Pass payment options, and each of which have a different procedure for paying. We had a hire car, we were NEVER going to use that car again, we are also very unlikely to need to use any of these roads again (at least in the near future), and consequently we just wanted to pay out one off toll, we didn't want to buy an e-tag, or create an account with any of these companies, and I seriously thought that as a business model, people would generally find ways of making it easy for consumers to give them money, but I must say I am still confused as to what we have paid for, and wouldn't be surprised to find an infringement notice in our letter box when we get back. C'mon Sydney, is this the best you can do, your tollway system has to be the worst in the world, I don't understand why a government department could not at the very least manage the collection of all tolls, and then distribute the funds to the different agencies as necessary, at least that way, there would be a consistent means of paying.

Anyway, with that off my chest.... we managed to arrive at the airport in time, and boarded the plane, First stop Kuala Lumpa, followed by Dubai.