Wednesday, May 14, 2014
When Qatar Airways recently announced that it was starting direct flights to Larnaca in Cyprus I decided to take advantage of the specials being offered to go see the city for a few days. I'd realized that when I first arrived in Qatar I used to do 3 or 4 day jaunts to places all over the region (Oman, UAE, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, etc) but I haven't really done that for a few years now and I miss doing those quick trips. I'd also never been to Cyprus before so I figured, why not.
I checked the weather reports beforehand and found that the first day I would be there would be around 22° and raining. Sounded good to me, I like moderate temperatures and living in Qatar you kind of miss rain. What I wasn't prepared for was this:
It was bucketing! Locals told me later it was probably the heaviest rain they'd seen all year. At times the rain was so heavy that even if you went out with an umbrella your feet were getting soaked. Things were fine by late morning the next day and thereafter it was nice and sunny.
I stayed in a nice hotel overlooking one of the key tourist attractions in Larnaca, the Church of St. Lazarus.
Larnaca is not a big city, maybe 75,000 people, but the downtown core maintained its labyrinth of narrow streets where there were some interesting shops and restaurants. Most of the “big chain” restaurants were at the beach so I found myself eating away from the beach the whole time.
The city does have a reasonably big beach/corniche area. I didn't go swimming (and from the looks of how few people were in the water it was probably pretty cold) but there were a reasonable number of tourists sunning themselves in the loungers.
Language was easy, everyone seemed to speak English to some degree. Signs were almost always in both Greek and English (or just English for some touristy things), along with plenty of signs warning you to drive on the left side of the road.
Larnaca is in southern Cyprus, the Greek side (as opposed to Northern Cyprus which is Turkish). Despite its historical problems with Turkey some of the streets in Larnaca kept their Turkish names.
And the town center still has an Ottoman-era mosque that is still in use. I popped my head in on a Friday and only saw maybe 20 men in the mosque, and many of them appeared to be from Africa, so I'm assuming there are not many Turkish Cypriots in Larnaca.
Of course the majority of the Cypriots who live in Larnaca are Orthodox Christians.
One day I took a walk along the nearby salt lake. During the winter numerous flamingos can be found at the lake but the flocks had left by May. On the way from the airport I saw about six flamingos in the lake but during my walk I saw none.
However at the far end of the lake was another famous attraction, a mosque known as the Hala Sultan Tekke.
Apparently the mosque is thought of highly in the Islamic world and the grave of a lady who was close to the Prophet Mohammed lies here (I think she was either the Prophet's stepmother or wet-nurse, it wasn't entirely clear to me). The tomb was inside the mosque.
As for other activities I also went to the small medieval fort on the seaside,
And of course whenever I could ate Greek/Cypriot food at nearby restaurants.
As I mentioned before Larnaca is not a big city so 2 days is enough to see everything unless you plan to lounge on the beach. If you plan on staying in Cyprus longer you should consider renting a car and driving around the countryside. Cyprus is not a large country and the main cities of Nicosia and Limmasol are maybe 50-60km away.