Sunday, August 30, 2015

Summer in Cyprus

It was a wet and cold June in Amsterdam. Just as the wind and rain were abusing the windows of our downtown apartment and the temperature rarely raised above 14 C I could not help myself but count the days the customary Cyprus holiday. 
Finally July came and our winterly pale selves have been promptly installed back in our Cypriot lifestyle. It’s hard not to like the later when on daily bases one can: go to the beach, spend majority of the day outside, meet friends spontaneously, eat out, buy fresh  delicious and incredibly cheap fruit and vegetables, hire inexpensive help, send the kids to daily swimming lessons, daily dancing lessons and several other activities without breaking the bank, go to gym and park the car for free right outside.

The 6 weeks of vacation bliss passed incredibly fast. It was very much involved around the kids and from what I sense so will be any summer holiday going forward until they turn the appropriate age when spending time with your parents becomes utterly uncool. But you know what, I am totally fine with that age ;) I fact when is it again?? 

The strawberries, age 5, learned the basics of swimming, riding a bicycle, had their first hiking trip, first vacation with other families, first sleep over and mastered the skill of communicating without speaking the language. That’s right, I find it incredible how adaptable children are. In the summer school all children spoke pretty much only Greek. Yet they made friends incredibly fast.

One of the many reasons I really like Cyprus is our home there. I have always been so much against holiday homes because I like to travel and the thought of having to go to the same place all the time seemed burdening. But that concept entirely changed after having children. Traveling with the little ones is a very expensive exercise: it’s 4 plane tickets, 2 hotel rooms, rental car, lots on food and entertainment.The maximum we could sustain is 2 weeks at best. Besides the hassle is so much bigger having to pack and discovering where everything is on arrival. All of a sudden having a fixed place to go to sounds like a fantastic  idea. The packing is limited as there is everything on arrival, including cloths, toys and other children paraphernalia. There is a car waiting outside. The grocery store, the bakery, the pharmacy, the doctor etc is all located nearby . There is a thrusted nanny on call, who also cleans and irons. The apartment is big, not a tiny crammed hotel room. Basically there is nothing to do except enjoy, and for good 6 weeks, not 2. Besides the place rents out easily pretty much over the entire year when not in use, so it ends up bringing money, not costing. The only down side is that it’s a bit far, 4,5 hours on the plane. But that’s also why the climate is so great. Cyprus is closer to Lebanon and Egypt than to continental Europe. 
And its home. I have mentioned that before but it gets more and more home each and every time. Even now I can close my eyes and stroll around dreamingly the sun drenched streets of old town Larnaca, 
If you ask me should you visit Larnaca I would say don’t. There is really nothing special about it. It’s small, a bit dull especially in winter, it’s not particularly picturesque, the beaches lack the azure color of the ones in Napa and Protaras. I don’t think you will feel the child-like excitement I have. It would be just another holiday destination for you, and probably not the most memorable one. 
But to me it is haven on earth.  There are memories coming in from every corner. I love the beach promenade, the old churches, the ever changing sea, the covered with fruit orange trees, the white houses, the warm wind and not to forget, the Sun the mighty Sun.
I told you I am in love, I was not kidding :) 

But like all good things, the holiday came to and end and with a heavy heart I had to say goodbye to the island. It was a bit depressing really. Netherlands welcomed us with a bucket of rain in the face. 16 C, wet and plentiful of that adorable piercing cold wind that makes you just love your life. Luckily more school holidays are coming and therefor more Cyprus trips. If it wasn't for that I would have been crying, literally. 





Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Democratic Republic of Congo, not your usual cup of tea

Not long ago my adventurous self got the travel itch and booked a trip to Congo. I did not think about it much, I saw Air France had a direct flight, the travel advisory said the political climate is calm and so I thought, why not. I have never been to Africa before, let's just see the "real Africa".
And Real it was. Congo is one of the least developed and poorer countries in Africa and the world. It's also one of the least travelled as it has been rampaged by disastrous politics. After I booked the ticket I did a little research and all I found out about visiting Congo was rather concerning. First of all as it's not touristy, if you do find a tour or so to join is ridiculously expensive, accommodation in hotels is either in a 5 star hotels of which they have 2 in Kinshasa for which you pay dearly, or cheaper hostels and the likes where safety and bugs is a major concern. Strangely enough though they do have a few private accommodation and I booked one of those via airbnb. That meant I had to share an apartment with a couple but what the hell I thought, it's an adventure right.

And so one dark evening in June I arrive to this house. This is a upper middle class neighborhood in Kinshasa with "proper" two level houses, canalization, electricity, a generator when the electricity stops  working, which is often, security guards. They all look like prisons from the outside. The main streets are paved but not the side streets which are covered with sand and because of that sand tends to be everywhere, in your room, bed, shoes. Not far from the house there is a western style supermarket which makes the neighborhood a desirable place to live, as it's pretty much the only one of that sort in town. Options for getting food were very limited. Either you buy food from the store, which made sense for breakfast, or go to a restaurant which was a very expensive ordeal. From what I gathered it is like that because the country is so corrupt and inefficient that it takes me 5 times as much resources to produce anything. Restaurants are for the most quite empty except the occasional expat or Congo-elite.
There is of course street food. I have never seen this before but I know all my vegetarian and vegan friends would have nightmares for eternity watching a lamb being skinned and cooked right in front of you.
For the rest Kinshasa is practically one big ghetto. There is nothing beautiful in that town except the eye-opening experience that human beings can survive and even be happy in the worse of circumstances.
Just a brief lesson in history. What sets Congo apart from most other African countries is the fact that during colonial times they had the worst of luck to be ran as Belgium King Leopold's private estate where for years he just drained the country resources and treated it's people inhumanly. Things got not much better after Belgium took over and practically did nothing to develop the country or "teach" the locals how to run their own country. Independence came and after a brief political havoc Congo's infamous gen. Mobutu took over and for over 30 years fucked the country up. Corruption is what it seems the most thriving part of the economy, poverty, famine, rape, illiteracy, secret police, lawlessness, off the scale child mortality,  you name it, they have it. Last few years civil wars were added to the mix causing all sort of disasters on it's own.
Basically if you believe in reincarnation, you may think you have done really awful things in your previous life to be born in Congo at your next one.


But there is hope.
I had to do something to get out of Kinshasa and pretty much the only place around worth visiting is the Bonobo monkey sanctuary. Those are the very famous monkeys that solve all their disputes with sex and are bisexual, incest-prone and do masturbate. All in all interesting characters.
But just as any of these places during summer, this one was also visited by school kids.
Here they are, funny, shy, curious, pushing each other around, laughing. Children are hope. They don't know any better than what they have and, as long as they are safe and loved, they are all full of joy and hope, same as all over the world. It really was a breath of fresh air to see the energy of those school kids in the jungly after couple of days in the chaos of Kinshasa.






And it was time to go. I could not even push the whole week so booked a d-tour back via Casablanca after 4,5 days in Congo.
What would I say about if you want to visit Congo. I think if you are crazy enough that you thought that's a place for you to go, then do it. Because you are obviously out of your mind and that's what is great about the world. Just beware to get your yellow fever certificate as that's a moment just after arrival to immediately face corruption, you will be harassed until you pay money, 20 USD in my case.
Also beware there is departure tax at the airport and you need to bring cash. Generally speaking the airport is a dodgy place and if you get the chance someone to help you out, someone that you thrust, go for it. If you have money to spend, you will. Prepare for that too. For the rest, when I went, June 2015, it felt relatively safe and relatively friendly and I must say, they know how to cook chicken. I don't think I have ever had such a good grilled chicken ever before. And brush up your French, you will need it.

CASABLANCA

Casablanca was the creddle of civilization after Congo. I saw the famous Mosque, roamed the market streets  in old town, had wonderful inexpensive food and even went to the mall and had my hair done.
If it wasn't for Congo before, I would probably find the city and bit dirty and chaotic and the locals a bit too intrusive. But since I did come from the darkest heart of Africa, I couldn't care less.
To me Morocco is a bit like visiting Turkey. It's a light, beginners version of their parts of the world. Very user-friendly for the most. What I found particularly pleasant is that most people speak at least basic English and usually fluent French. Visit by all means.