Thursday, 2 October 2008

Back from Cyprus

We have just spent a week in Cyprus, thus becoming briefly part of that singularly unprepossessing group, The British On Holiday Abroad.

Not too guilty about my carbon footprint, as this was the first time I've set foot on an aeroplane for almost two years. My policy is to fly only if surface transport is completely impractical. Getting to Cyprus by rail and boat would take about a week in each direction

In any case, I wouldn't want to get on a plane unless I absolutely had to. Air travel is tremendously stressful, wearying and uncomfortable. It must be the most uncivilised form of transport ever devised. It is also extraordinarily unreliable: we arrived seven hours late on the way there, and two hours late on the way back.

Purpose of visit: The boyf spent his childhood in Limassol, and wanted to show me where he grew up. Much has changed out of all recognition, but he managed to find still standing the house in which he lived up to 1958.

Limassol has been largely spoiled by tourist overdevelopment. Nicosia is more interesting: oddly, the tragic fact of its political division since 1974 has been a blessing in disguise, in one respect -- it has clearly enabled the historic centre to remain unspoiled.

It is very encouraging that political tensions have recently relaxed to the point where visitors can now cross easily into the Northern (Turkish) sector.  The two communities in Cyprus now have leaders who appear genuinely to want to make progress towards what has in theory long been the agreed solution, a bizonal, bicommunal federation. This is the obvious compromise between the single unitary state that the Greeks originally wanted, and two completely separate states, as once hoped for by the Turks.

But there are an awful lot of thorny and sensitive details to settle, and talking to people on the ground it is far from obvious that the optimism expressed in this Guardian piece by Mary Honeyball is really justified. Let us hope it is.

Meanwhile, good news and bad news on the environmental front.

The bad news is the complete dominance of the motorcar and the car-culture mentality. Everybody is assumed to possess one. Visitors have to hire one, or take taxis. Public transport is dreadful. (I think Cyprus might be the first country I have ever visited that has absolutely no railways at all.) Bus services range from sporadic to non-existent. Provision for pedestrians in Limassol is lamentable, except along the seafront. Where there are pavements, you usually find them completely blocked by parked cars.

The good news is that practically every house, in the south at least, has solar panels on the roof. It is a very sunny country, and they take advantage of this to heat their water.

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