First impressions of Cyprus

The plane landed smoothly on the tarmac at Larnaca airport, but the plane of Russians started clapping vigorously and smiling at their loved ones like they had survived a near miss. Larnaca airport seemed fresh, clean and relaxed after the chaos of Moscow Domodevodo. I picked up my luggage, bought a sim card and a Lipton iced tea and strode out into the sun.

I got the bus to Larnaca centre, not a long journey, but I found myself looking at the passing scenes with a manic grin on my face. I was in a new country, a country I knew little about and it excited me greatly.

The bus dropped me off right next to the beach. The strip was full of modern restaurants and coffee shops like Starbucks, Pizza hut and the Hard rock cafe. Not exactly what I was expecting. Nevertheless it was nice to stroll down the street and watch the people relaxing in the bars and restaurants. I couldn’t find my apartment so I asked in a local shop. The woman was incredibly kind and sincere and gave me much-needed directions in English.

I eventually found my apartment, it was a stones throw from the beach. The owner was once again genuine and kind, offering me as much advice as he could. I chose the apartments because it was called apartment Stephanie, and it didn’t disappoint.

I left my bag in my room, had a quick shower and headed out to explore. I had been advised to walk further down the beach to see the more traditional area. After six months of winter in Moscow, it was nice to feel the sun on my bare skin. It wasn’t hot but pleasant and I enjoyed strolling down the beach, watching the laughing Cypriots and the many tourists.

Happy to feel the sun after an eternal winter

I decided to stop off for some food and ordered a feta cheese crepe. Once again the service was friendly and genuine, there’s no fake smiles here. I decided to eat my meal on the windy beach to the sound of the waves crashing. It was so peaceful.

For some reason I decided to walk an hour out of my way to see the flamingos at the salt lake. It was just my luck that the flamingos were stood right in the middle of the lake, I could only see their shadows in front of the setting sun.

On the way back to my apartment I decided to walk through the narrow residential areas. Everywhere seemed a little dilapidated with flaking paint and broken balconies. However sporadic bursts of colour and the noises of living coming from the houses made it seem quite romantic. It was like I was on a movie set.

I explored a small mosque and an extremely old church located just metres away from each other. I love it when religions can live in harmony. I was yet to learn about the Turkish occupation of the North side of Cyprus and the problems that face the people because of this division.

Grand Mosque, Larnaca
St Lazarus church, Larnaca

In the evening I strolled along the beach-side bars and restaurants. Cypriot teenage boys walked proudly with their arms draped over their girlfriend and chatted in an animated and confident fashion with other groups of teenagers. I saw many nationalities of tourists too, all going about their business in a relaxed manner. It’s at times like this when I feel lonely. I guess it’s the downside of solo travel. I spotted a packed local kabab shop and enjoyed a chicken gyros and a beer in solitude.

Cyprus seemed like a relaxed and happy country. I immediately warmed to Cypriots with their honest hearts and sincere words. I had originally planned to spend 6 days in Paphos, diving and relaxing. But I realised that I wanted to see more of this beautiful island. The next day I rented a car and set off travelling around the island. It was the first time that I’d driven in over two years and i felt nervous yet exhilarated.

I felt at home.

2016, a year of Travel: Part 1

In 2016 I felt like I barely travelled anywhere. I can only add one new country to my ‘list’ and that is Russia, my new home.

However looking back 2017 was probably one of the most important years of my life. I fell in love, decided that Japan wasn’t the country for me and decided to take a huge risk and move to Moscow, leaving my love behind in Japan. Even though I only travelled to one new country, I travelled to many places in Japan, travelled to Abu Dhabi, explored Dubai in different way and visited the Venice of the north, Saint Petersburg.

February 2016

Sapporo snow festival, Hokkaido, Japan.

Ever since I moved to Japan, the Sapporo snow festival or ‘Yuki Matsuri’ as it’s known in Japan was mentioned nearly every couple of weeks. It seemed like a right of passage for many Japanese and something that nearly everyone wanted to visit. I had a few days off in February and managed to book last-minute flights and a great hostel, despite many people saying that I had no chance of booking a ticket or a hostel and that many places book up months in advance.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I disembarked the plane in Sapporo. I arrived in the middle of a massive blizzard and had never seen so much snow in my life. I found my way to my cozy little hostel where I had a self enclosed bed and set off exploring Sapporo. Hokkaido was surprisingly more relaxed than the mainland. I saw tattoo shops and just felt a lot more relaxed when walking around, like there was less societal expectation.

The snow festival itself was absolutely amazing. There were many giant statues made of snow and smaller statues dotted around the main park in Sapporo. I was surprised to see Russian dolls being sold and Russian food stalls at the festival. I bought a pierozhki and ate it as I wandered around, no inkling at all about what the future would hold.

One of the weirdest things I saw at the festival was a girl band performing next to a statue and middle-aged men singing along to the lyrics and acting like obsessive fans, jumping up in tandem.

Tokyo, Japan

When I lived in Japan I travelled to Tokyo at every given opportunity. The worlds biggest city is also one of the worlds best and I never got bored with its energy and innovation. One day I travelled to Tokyo with some fellow English teachers and we had an amazing day exploring Akihabara, buying used panties from vending machines, visiting a maid cafe and we ended the day with one of the greatest experiences in my life, Robot restaurant in Shinjuku.

April 2016

Kanamara matsuri, The penis festival.

Life in rural Japan is extremely boring, sometimes Japan delivers something extremely quirky and crazy, the penis festival is one. The trains to the festival were paclked like sardinesĀ and the streets surrounding the small temple where the parade starts from were also heaving. It was worth beating my way through the crowds when I saw the giant, pink phallus sitting serenely in the middle of the crowd. Later it was joined by an even bigger black phallus and they were paraded through the streets. I touched the phallus, it is a festival of fertility and I certainly want children someday.

The best part of the festival was buying realistic penis and vagina lollipops and shocking the innocent citizens of Japan as we paraded with them through the streets.

Hiroshima and Miyajima, Japan.

Hiroshima was probably my favourite place in Japan next to Tokyo. I absolutely loved it laid back vibe, beautiful wide, tree-lined streets and its abundance of canals. I found it such a romantic city and was blessed with perfect weather during my visit. I visited the harrowing historical sites such as the museum, flame and the dome. I attended a German beer festival and enjoyed one of the most expensive half pints of beer I’ve ever had. I ate the best food of my life and became inexplicably addicted to oysters after trying them grilled in Miyajima, after that I ate oysters at least once a day. I also realised that I had never truly ate okonomiyaki before, the food in Hiroshima was amazing.

Miyajima is an island not far from Hiroshima. I knew it was famous for the burnt orange floating tori gate but I was astounded by the islands natural beauty. It was like paradise and made me a little bit homesick for Thailand. (Is it possible to be homesick for a place other than your birthplace?).

Hiroshima dome

Miyajima oysters

May, 2016

Sanja Matsuri, Tokyo

I attended the biggest and best festival in Japan with a group of amateur photographers. I was not disappointed with my decision. I got some amazing photos because the other photographers kept moving to different vantage points to photograph the parade. I only got a few sly shots of Yakuza (Japanese gangsters) but It was great to see such an enigma in real life. After the Matsuri I ate my favourite Japanese food, okonomiyaki with a group of fellow teachers. I found out that one of them lived in Moscow for a few years…

A birds eye view of the action from Senso-Ji
The body suit of a Yakuza member

 

 

June, 2016

Sendai, Japan

Sendai is a city in Northern Japan, like every big city in Japan it felt completely different to the others. What I loved most about it was it’s proximity to nature. You could literally walk from the skyscrapers in the centre to a quiet river or secluded mountainside in 40 minutes. I think it would be a great city to live. My then boyfriend lived there so I travelled up as frequently as I could to visit him. We ate amazing ramen, visited Sendai zoo (sidenote, don’t visit zoos in Japan, they are extremely sad places) enjoyed walking around the city and attended a few festivals.

Ushiku and Tskuba, Ibaraki, Japan

I moved to Ushiku in March but I waited until the summer to see it’s most famous sight, the Ushiku Daibutsu, the tallest standing buddha in the world. I didn’t think I would be too impressed, after all I’ve travelled to Thailand so many times and seen so many giant buddhas. I was awestruck when I saw it though and felt calm and spiritual.

I went to Tskuba alone on a lonely weekend and ended up attending an international festival. It felt so nice to see other cultures being celebrated and to see people of different races together. During my time in Japan I felt acutely aware of the fact I was different to most people, this day in Tskuba was welcome respite.

The famous Ushiku Daibutsu

 

Part 2 of my year will come soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

300 year old Feria in Linares, Litres of Beer and Botellion

feria, fiesta, Spain, Andalucia

I had the privilege of attending a Feria (Fiesta) in Linares, Andalucia. The Feria has been held every year for over 300 years. Even more of a privilege was to share this experience with my Spanish friends who actually lived in Linares where the feria was held!

There’s nothing better than travelling with locals!

I have never attended a Spanish feria but I knew that they have a reputation for being crazy!

The Spanish know how to party!

As we approached where the Feria was taking place I was astounded by the sheer size of the Feria! Scores of tents were at the very back of the Feria, each holding their own ‘party’ with different drinks being sold and different DJs playing a variety of different music. There was also a very busy fairground and massive crouds of people.

Mnay women were dressed in traditional Andalucian dress (commonly known as flemenco dresses!). They looked absolutely beautiful.

We made our way in to one of the ‘beer tents’ and our lovely Spanish companions treated us all to a strawberry mojito. The music was very loud and the tent was full of people. Such a party vibe. I think that myself and my American and Australian friends were the only non Spanish people in there. For that reason I felt a little uncomfortable because I look so different to Spanish girls, I am not small and petite and my red hair stood out. I felt like a giant compared to everyone else.

tent, feria, Spain

After a quick trip back to the hotel we met up later in our Spanish friends favourite tapas bar which sold massive 1 Litre jugs of beer/Sangria and 5 tapas for 6 Euros!

Yes you read that right! 6 Euros for all of that food and drink!

 

beer, sangria, Spain

Enjoying my LITRE of beer!

After lining our stomachs it was time to hit the feria for the second time! We made our way to the entrance of the feria but It was absolutely packed! It took ages to try and weave our way through the crowds so we decided to get a good vantage point from where to view the fireworks at midnight.

They did not dissapoint!

The fireworks started at midnight and Spanish, English and American music was played during the display. We managed to get some beautiful photos and it was a beautiful memory. It was especially poignant when ‘what a wonderful world’ by Louis Armstrong was playing. It highlighted how happy I was and how blessed I was to have experiences like these.

feria1

 

It truly is a wonderful world.

 

After the fireworks we headed to a friends house to get the alcohol for Botellion. Botellion is a Spanish tradition which is basically drinking on the street! People drink on the street in England but it is usually not as refined as the Spanish way. We got Rum, Coke, ice and glasses for the Botellion. I would never have thought that I would be drinking on the street from a glass with ice….

The Botellion was held in a local park which was absolutely full of people, all drinking. Surprisingly there was no trouble and quite a relaxed and chilled out vibe amongst the revellers.

bot1

 

botellion, Spain, Spanish

 

Again it was a privilege to participate in Botellion, something that I had heard a lot about from Candeleda. Unfortunately we could only stay for one drink because we had to leave early in the morning for Valencia. I would have loved to have stayed all night with the Spaniards though.

Maybe next time…

 

Have you ever attended a Spanish Feria/Fiesta? If so what was it like?