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We arrived in Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean Sea, aboard a Cyprus Airways A-320 Airbus touching down at the airport in Larnaca. From there it was about a thirty minute taxi trip to our hotel, the Four Seasons Hotel in Limassol. More about this fabulous resort later.
Heading from the airport to Limassol the terrain was quite barren and arid looking. Lots of hills nearby and mountains in the distance. The tallest peak on the island, which actually affords snow skiing during the winter, is Mt. Olympus which tops out at just over 6400 feet. Most of the rocky and dusty hills had olive trees growing on them. We also saw plenty of grapes growing. In fact, this was harvest season for some varieties and we saw lots of trucks taking the grapes to processing plants. Or maybe they were table grapes, who knows?!
Limassol is a large resort town, at least large for this island. Our taxi driver said it had a population of about 200,000. Once you turn off of the main highway (which is really modern and well marked) you find yourself in the midst of hotels all along the beach on the Mediterranean. Most hotel resorts are located right on the beach or on the beach side of the road that winds along "the strip."
We were absolutely blown away by the quality of the Four Seasons Hotel. By the way, this hotel is not a part of the famous Four Seasons Hotel chain. We've traveled extensively and this is one of the best hotels in the world. Our room was a large room with a big patio overlooking the sea. We were amazed by the service at this hotel. Our room wasn't ready when we checked in but the desk clerk escorted us to one of the lounges in the hotel and we enjoyed a complimentary drink while the room was readied.
We knew right off the bat that this was a special hotel. When they served drinks, the hotel's logo always faced the guest and this held true in all the restaurants at the hotel. This is the first time we've experienced "proper logo etiquette" since flying on the world's best airline--Singapore Airlines. We decided to have lunch at the restaurant's buffet and it was nothing short of outstanding. Everything from salads to smoked salmon to fresh grouper to lamb--you name it. And unlike most buffets, everything was of outstanding quality.
The rooms were spotless and lovely. The hotel had towels made exclusively for it in Portugal. Even the toilet paper had the Four Seasons label on it. Great attention to detail!
The theme nights at the hotel are also outstanding. Good value. Interesting entertainment and an absolutely stellar spread of perfect quality food. I don't know how they do it!
For the most part, the employees of the hotel were super. Polite, friendly, and eager to help guests. It's obvious that the owners and managers treat their employees well. It always shows when employees truly enjoy working for a place and it really showed here. The only negative was the concierge desk. When I went to arrange for a car and tour of the island this guy was arrogant bordering on rude. The next morning when we went to take the tour a new concierge, this time a woman, knew nothing about our arrangements. Seeming reluctant, she made a couple of calls and informed us that a taxi was on the way. As my wife described her, she really acted like she was too busy for us (and we were her only "customers" at the time). However a third concierge we ran into later, again a woman, was on the ball, polite, helpful and friendly.
The beach isn't the nicest in the world but that's just the nature of the island. The sand is fine and blackish so the water clarity is a little poor but that's the trade off you always get for fine sand. Still a ton of folks took the plunge. We should have, too, but we wanted to see more of the island.
Cyprus is a very tropical place. Tons of palm trees although no coconut palms. Oranges abound along with other citrus fruit. Oleander plants are evident with their colorful blooms and ditto for bougainvillea (probably didn't spell that right but it's a tropical flower found in all warm spots of the world). Red and yellow hibiscus blossoms were very apparent as well.
One thing about Cyprus that will strike you if you visit is the fact that things, for the most part, are inexpensive. We arranged a three hour tour with the taxi driver and the price was 12 Cyprus pounds per hour. That's about $18/hour U.S. and much less expensive that you'll find in most resort areas.
Our driver, a great guy, took us first to the castle at Kolossi. On the way to the castle you pass through orange groves and Cyprus trees line the roadway. The castle is very, very old as evidenced by the fact that it actually underwent a restoration way back in 1450. Civilization in Cyprus dates all the way back to the 13th century BC. Next stop was at Roman Theatre at Kourion. Again, you're talkin' old, old, old here. Our third visit came at an impressive place known as the sanctuary of Apollo Hylates. Some of the buildings still standing are the remains of ancient construction that were badly flattened by the great earthquake of 365 AD. We finished our historical look at this island with a scenic overview of the birth place of Aphrodite, a rock along the seashore.
Right across from most hotels are little restaurants that appeared to be great bargains. We tried one of them, a Chinese restaurant right across the street from the Four Seasons and it was good but nothing to write home about. Prices are unbelievable. A bottle of fine white wine produced in Cyprus went for about $7 U.S. at several of the small restaurants (they post menus and prices). Several places offered a three course meal (appetizer, main course with veggies and dessert) for between 3.95 and 5 Cyprus pounds. So that's roughly 5 to 7 dollars. Not bad in this day and age. Checking small grocery stores, rum was going for about $7 U.S. a bottle! The local beer, Keo, was excellent and comes in one of the prettiest cans we've ever seen--bright blue and yellow. The other favorite "local" beer is Carlsberg. Copenhagen is ground zero for Carlsberg (we've toured the brewery in Denmark!) but they've got a local brewery outlet in Limassol that brews it. Kind of like American brewed Lowenbrau beer.
Cyprus, as you may have heard, is a divided nation. The Turks control the northern portion and there is a borderline that is not unlike the situation during the divided days of Berlin. Travel between the two portions is much less restricted for most people than in the days of East and West Berlin. The city of Nicosia is the world's only remaining divided city. However this is a safe island with no active conflict underway. Driving from the airport to our hotel about the only evidence we saw of any unrest was one sign that proclaimed: "Our demand is for Turks and Turkish settlers to leave Cyprus."
For the most part, the people of Cyprus seemed to be very kind, hospitable and gentle. Our visit came just after the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and everybody was eager to offer their condolences and politely asked us if we knew anybody who might have been lost. Fortunately we did not know of anybody who was in the buildings at the time of the attack.
We left Larnaca on a Cyprus Airways A-310-200 Airbus heading to Zurich, Switzerland--the staging point for our return to the United States. We were able to get out of Zurich on schedule on Sunday, September 16, 2001 on Delta. Our flight was only the second Delta jet that had made the trip to Atlanta following suspension of service due to the attack.
Sadly on the way from Zurich to Atlanta, we flew nearly over the top of Manhattan and the white smoke was still billowing out of the ruins of the twin towers. I saw it probably 35 miles out and thought it must have been a factory. But as we drew closer, it was obvious that we were seeing the horror scene in Manhattan from an altitude of 35,000 feet. The wind was obviously blowing from the north toward the south and I'd say the stream of white smoke probably trailed about three quarters of the way south to Philadelphia. We couldn't help but think of all the pain and suffering that had gone on in the rubble and that perhaps there were still people trapped. If you'd care to see what the destruction looked like from 5 miles up, click here.
I'd highly recommend Cyprus. It's an interesting place and if you're an ancient history buff, you'll have lots to see and do. On the other hand if you just want to be pampered and enjoy the beach, make a beeline to the Four Seasons Hotel! And this is one vacation that can basically be as expensive or inexpensive as you choose. Most of the hotels (even 2 and 3 star hotels) looked clean, neat and modern. And again, food and beverages are perhaps the best bargain that we've seen anywhere in the world. Even international phone calls were inexpensive. I had to do some live reports for my radio station back in Detroit and the charge on the bill at the Four Seasons was only about 8 bucks a call for fairly lengthy calls. The same calls in some of Europe would have been slapped by a surcharge turning them into more like $75-$100 calls!
YOU'LL NEED A PASSPORT TO VISIT CYPRUS. DRIVING IS BRITISH STYLE ON THE LEFT SIDE OF THE ROAD. LOCAL CURRENCY IS THE EURO. IT USED TO BE THE CYPRUS POUND OR LIRA.