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Cyprus August 28, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in Cyprus, travel.
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IMG_4726We arrived back from Cyprus over the weekend. That was 6 days. While this was a vacation for me, it was a conference for Paula. We were in the town of Nicosia, which is the capital. While there are many tourist spots in Cyprus, Nicosia is not one of them. Nice town — but it is a working town. And without a car, it is pretty hard to get around. And Cyprus is hot. We were warned about 40-45 C, which is killer, but I don’t think it ever made it above 40 – but it was always above 39. And very humid. The 10 minute walk between the hotel and the conference over flat ground is enough to drench you.

But the vacation was nice. First, we stayed in the Cyprus Hilton. Under normal circumstances we could not afford this place – but it is right next to the university and was the conference hotel. Whew. This is the sort of place that after you check in everyone calls you by your first name — even though you are sure you’ve not actually met them before. The staff will do whatever you ask. And they really seem to care that you are comfortable – down to a person (well, there was one guy who very early in the morning wasn’t too happy to help, but that was the only time). Julia and I spent a lot of time together – much of it walking back and forth between our room and the large outdoor pool. She be-friended many people. Many of them even knew her name by the end of the stay.

The history of the Cyprus is fascinating. I was aware of the Turkish invasion in the early 70′s. If you follow international news it is hard not to be aware because Turkey is trying to join the EU and divided Cyprus is one of the things that the EU wants fixed first. What I didn’t know was what triggered the invasion. A dictatorship was in power in mainland Greece and had a falling out with the Cyrpus government. To fix this, Greece sponsored a coup of the Cyprus government and installed their own Greek government. The Turks on the island got worried, which got Turkey involved, which led to the invasion. It wasn’t until 2003, apparently, that you could even make a phone call from one side of the island to the other. Our conference host, who is Greek, was originally living on the Turkish side of the island and saw his house for the first time in 30 years in 2005 (or there-abouts). Turks and Greeks were living side-by-side, apparently, before the invasion (though I’m told there was no real mixing of the cultures). Further, it sounds like there have been many opportunities to both avoid the invasion and repair the damage afterwards, but it was always “just” missed. It reminds one of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (complete with trying to get people to move to Cyprus to increase the Turkish population) – but, thank goodness, no one is trying to kill each other.

UN sponsored talks between the sides to make the island hole are supposed to start on the 3rd of September. This means that everyone is laying the ground work for this. And some of that groundwork was occurring in the Hilton. I saw many ministers and the Cyprot president in the halls (amazingly, he had only two security people following him). Lots of cars with flags outside – including one with New York license plates (!?). The Greek Orthodox church was also there and it sounds like they aren’t in favor of the unification that is currently proposed. They had posters up in the main lobby of the hotel discussing missing persons, lost art treasures, and looted and vandalized churches on the Turkish side. The basic issue is who gets claim to land on each side that was formerly owned by someone on the other side. I wish them luck. The island is an amazing place; I learned about the Ottoman empire in high school; too bad the hangover still exists.

And finally… I don’t know if this is a Cyprot culture thing, a Greek culture thing, or because we met some really nice people (or all three). But everyone was amazing hosts. With Julia in tow the conference host ferried us around in his car instead of on one of the packed conference buses. It was extremely difficult to get anyone to allow us to pay for a dinner or taxi ride. And it felt like they would drop everything to help us if we asked – so we were very careful not to ask unless we were really desperate. But it was fantastic.

This conference of Paula’s is cursed, by the way. Last year we had a horrible experience, thanks to Al Italia. This year it was the same thing — we arrived 10 hours late; J-mo was finally in bed at 1am. She was so tired she lost it on the decent. Sorry to everyone else that was on that plane. :( Ironically, we booked our tickets through Al Italia (what were we thinking!?!?), but we never flew on an Al Italia plane. Cyprus Air was 3 hours late, which caused us to miss our connection, which meant sitting in the Rome airport for almost 7 hours.

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