Paphos & Akamas Peninsula, Cyprus – Part 1

After leaving the Troodos Mountains, we headed west towards the Akamas Peninsula. On the way we stopped at Paphos for lunch and to check out the archeological site. Paphos is a very tourist orientated town, and I’m glad that we visited during the low season, as it was reasonably quiet. Being a tourist hub, there are plenty of great restaurants. We had a wonderful lunch on the waterfront at Ta Mpania.

After lunch, we visited the archeological site. I was a bit disappointed at the quality of the site. I had previously been to Jordan and visited the Roman sites in Amman and Jeresh, which were far superior. However, the Paphos mosaics were fantastic. It’s definitely worthwhile visiting the site for the mosaics alone. They are extremely well preserved for their age, some date back to the 4th century, and they are exquisite.

In the afternoon, we headed north towards the Akamas Peninsula, where we spent the following day exploring the national park on a quadbike. I have included a few photos below, but more information is to come in the following post.

555658596061626364656667686970

Essentials:

Eat:
We had a wonderful lunch a Ta Mpania in Paphos. The restaurant/cafe/bar is right on the water’s edge. The interior is well designed and for those who would like to sit outside, there is comfortable lounge seating on the deck overlooking the harbour. I had a moussaka, which was delicious, and Jonathan had a greek sandwich (pita bread filled with olive tapenade, tomato, cucumber and feta cheese). The serving sizes were large and it was great value for money.

Troodos Mountains, Cyprus – Part 2

Since we had only four days in Cyprus, we had to choose to travel through either Greek or Turkish Cyprus. Since the 1950s, north-eastern Cyprus pushed towards a union with Turkey, and south-western Cyprus became increasingly affiliated with Greece. Conflict broke out between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, which finally resulted in the northern part of Cyprus being annexed to Turkey. After doing some research on both sides of the country, we decided to travel through Greek Cyprus, to explore the Troodos Mountains and the Akamas Peninsula.

After our visit to Kykkos Monastery, we stopped by Kakopetria for lunch and to take a wander through the old town. The Englishman we met in Platres suggested we have lunch at Chrysanthis Restaurant in Kakopetria. It was a fantastic recommendation and we had a great lunch of freshly caught grilled trout, salad, baked potatoes, bread and spreads. After lunch we drove into Kakopetria town to explore the cobblestone streets and old mud-brick homes of the old town. It was a very small, but extremely pretty village, with beautiful courtyard gardens.

We also visited the village of Fioni, in search of the famous Foini pottery. The one workshop in town was not open, as we were visiting in the low season, but we called the number on the door and were able to visit the home of the pottery maker. We walked into a small garden to find a old lady, she must be in her 80s at least, who showed us into her barn where she makes pottery. In the past, most of the families in Foini made pottery, but now this woman is the only one left in the town who does. She tried to explain to us, in her limited English, that she had learnt to make the pottery from her mother and grandmother and she showed us a few magazine articles about her and the pottery of Foini. We left purchasing a water jug and a traditional Foini vase, with birds and flowers, which is depicted on the 10 cent piece of the Cyprus Pound.

Our last stop in the Troodos Mountains was was the little village of Lofou. It’s almost worth visiting for the drive drive from Trimiklini, as the landscapes are stunning. The Englishman we met in Platres suggested we visit Lofou as it is a great example of a traditional Cypriot village. Although it appeared to be a ghost town (there was not a soul in sight), the village was well preserved, with the original cobblestones covering the narrow streets of the old part of the village. There were many old original homes, and the few that had been renovated, had been done to reflect their original state.

After two nights in the Troodos Mountains, we headed west to the Akamas Peninsula.

32333435363738394041424344454748495051525354

Essentials:

Eat:
Lunch at Chrysanthis Restaurant, which is on the main road, just outside Kakopetria. There isn’t a menu as such, but the owner of the restaurant, a lovely Cypriot man, attends tables telling diners what he has available that day. We both ordered the grilled trout, which had been caught that morning from dams located next to the restaurant. As with most places in Cyprus, you won’t leave on an empty stomach. Aside from the fish, bread and spreads (tahini, hummus and taramasalata) came out, as well as olives, salad and baked potatoes.

Buy:
Try to locate the old woman in Foini who makes the traditional pottery. There are a few signs with a telephone number in the town, which reaches her daughter, who speaks good English. There are some pottery stores on the main road from Lemesos to the Troodos Mountains, but these are all mass produced. The quality and the style of the Foini pottery is far superior. And plus, you’re supporting this lovely old lady, rather than a big business.

Troodos Mountains, Cyprus – Part 1

I know we’ve only just arrived in Oman, but we had a four day long weekend for National Day and the Sultan’s Birthday, so we went to Cyprus. We want to take advantage of being so much closer to Europe, Africa (I’ve just booked a trip to Tanzania for a week in January!) and Asia, so we’re trying to squeeze in a few holidays where we can. Cyprus was never on my bucket list. We did toss up going to Iran, Sri Lanka or Zanzibar, but we, I mean Jonathan, decided on Cyprus. It was a good decision at the end, as we felt that Iran might be a bit too culturally restrictive; we needed more time to see Sri Lanka properly; and the weather forecast for Zanzibar was rain and storms – plus, the flight times for all these destinations were not favourable, especially since we had such a short timeframe to work with. We had wonderful weather in Cyprus, as it was sunny everyday, with an average of 16 degrees in the mountains and 22 degrees on the coast. And being the low season, there were hardly any tourists about.

Lefkara was our first stop. When travelling through Cyprus, take time to visit some of the many rural villages, as here is where you get a real taste of authentic Cyprus. Not only will you see old and traditional streets and buildings, but you will get a taste of everyday Cypriot life – women doing the grocery shopping at the local markets, men sitting in cafes during the afternoon hours and children running through the narrow streets.

We stopped in Lefkara primarily to buy some well known Lefkara lace, but the village is also very pretty and worth visiting. There are numerous small stores scattered through the streets which sell lace and embroidery which has been made by local women. Although they all sell tablecloths, napkins, sheet sets, cushion covers, etc., each woman has her own designs and aesthetic. We bought a small square tablecloth made of locally woven linen, with sections of crotchet and lovely lace embroidered floral motifs, which we currently keep on our dining table. Being the low season, many of the cafes were closed and the streets were very quiet, but I can imagine that the village would be buzzing with tourists during the summer months.

We spent the night in Trimiklini, at the base of the Troodos Mountains, in a lovely 300 year old family home which had be wonderfully restored and tastefully decorated. In the morning, we did an hour walk through the forest to Caledonia Falls. We did part of a 4 hour return walk (6km return) – we didn’t want to spent all our morning hiking, so only walked from Platres to the falls, which was just over an hour return. The morning was fresh, but not too cold. We ran into an Englishman who had been living in Cyrpus for 15 years and had worked for the tourism board. He gave us some great information and tips for travelling through the Troodos Mountains.

After our walk, we headed to Kykkos Monastery, which was about an hour drive from Platres, to have a look at the beautiful mosaics. These mosaics are not very old, but they are absolutely stunning. They decorate much of the exterior walls of the monastery. The monastery was originally founded in the 11th century, but has been rebuilt several times, due to fires. They current buildings were built from 1831 onwards, but the monastery has a lovely serene feel about it, and is a wonderful place to visit while you’re in the Troodos Mountains.

123458910111213141516171819202122232425262728\3031

Essentials:

Getting There:
Hire a car from Larcana airport, as public transport doesn’t really exist outside the cities. I’d recommend taking a good map, or even a GPS, as although most places are reasonably well signposted, the signposts can be rather confusing at times and it is easy to get lost.

Stay:
We stayed at Juniper Mountain Retreat, a wonderfully restored home, which has been in the same family for 300 years. We’re not ones to stay in five star resorts or swanky hotels – we’d rather stay in authentic and simple guesthouses, and this was one of the nicest places we have stayed in to date.

Buy:
Lace in Lefkara and orthodox icons at Kykkos Monastery. There are many women in Lefkara selling lace, so take time to visit a couple of stores to get an idea of what you like. Also speak to a few women, many of them speak English reasonably well, and ask them to describe their techniques, so you can differentiate between handwoven and machine made pieces. You will pay much more for handmade items, but the work is far superior. If you’re after orthodox icons, Kykkos Monastery is the place to go. Again, handmade works are pricier, but you get a quality piece. There are a few gift stores outside the monastery which sell mass produced icons. If you’re after a special piece, there are two stores within the monastery grounds which sell handmade icons made at the monastery.

Wadi al Arbiyyin, Oman

We had a friend from Sydney visiting us about a month ago, so we decided to take him on a day trip to one of the wadis close to Muscat. The lucky guy is taking a year sabbatical to travel around the world. He has already travelled through South America and Europe, and is now spending time in Asia. He had a week stopover in Dubai, so decided to visited us for a weekend.

Travelling through Oman is all about going off-road to visit wadis and travel through the mountains and the desert. A must buy book when planning any travel through Oman is Explorer Oman Off-Road. The current 2015 edition has 38 scenic and interesting routes to take through Oman. The book can be bought at Muscat airport, bookshops and a few supermarkets.

Wadi al Arbiyyin was our first real off-road experience in Oman. Prior to visiting Wadi al Arbiyyin, we had only driven on sealed roads. But the road, even though unsealed, was an easy drive with absolutely stunning landscapes, as you can see from the photos below. Oman, unlike its neighbour the UAE, is very mountainous. And luckily, roads have be made and maintained, so that visitors can enjoy visiting the mountains and the wadis.

Wadi al Arbiyyin has many small pools along the road, some of which you have to drive through. The pools are shallow, but I would recommend taking a 4×4. The most stunning of the pools is at the village of As Suwayh. This turquoise pool is wonderful swimming spot, and a lovely place to stop after the dusty drive through the mountains. After a dip at As Suwayh, we stopped for lunch at the side of the wadi, on our way towards the highway and the town of Dibab. Packing a picnic lunch and finding a shady spot beneath a tree, is the way to lunch on any day trip. Our small esky has become an essential item.

There are so many wadis to visit in Oman, and hopefully we’ll get a chance to visit a number of them while we’re in Muscat. Wadi al Arbiyyin is a must if you’re after somewhere to visit close to Muscat, with stunning landscapes and a swim in a beautiful wadi pool.

44454647485051525354

Essentials:

Getting there:
The entrance to the wadi is along the Muscat-Sur highway, about 125km or a 1.5 hour drive from Muscat. There will be a sign to the wadi, not too far after the town of Quiryat. I’m quite sure that the sign says ‘Wadi al Arbeieen’ rather than ‘Wadi al Arbiyyin’. Like many places in Oman, the name of the wadi is spelt in different ways.

Raz al-Jinz, Sur & The Sinkhole, Oman

In search for sea turtles, we headed down the coast to Raz al-Jinz, stopping by at Sur and the Bimmah Sinkhole along the way. There are a number of day and weekend trips you can do within an easy drive from Muscat, with many things to see and do. There aren’t any famous landmarks or tourist centres in Oman – it’s all about getting outside and enjoying nature and the wonderful landscapes. And it’s not only tourists who enjoy exploring Oman – many Omanis also spend there weekends outside of the city, having barbecues and picnics by beaches and wadis, or hiking in the mountains.

Even though it was towards the end of the turtle hatching season, which lasts from July to September, we still headed to Raz al-Jinz in the hope of seeing turtles. Raz al-Jinz beach is a government protected turtle reserve, where green turtles come to lay there eggs. It is believe that over 20,000 female turtles come to the beach each year. We were lucky enough to see one female turtle laying her eggs and a couple of young hatchlings making their way to the ocean. I was unable to get a good photo of the hatchlings – they move incredibly fast and along with the dawn light, the photos turned out rather blurry.

On our way back to Muscat, we stopped by Sur to stretch our legs and take a few photos. Sur is known for its fishing and boat building industries, as well as it’s beautiful forts and corniche (a seaside promenade). The bay, which is hugged by the old town Ayjah, is guarded by a lighthouse and contains beautiful clear turquoise water, which sits as a contrast to the rough orange rock of the fort outposts. Whilst walking though Ayjah you will notice some of the old wooden doors which Omani villages are famous for.

Another must see during any visit to Oman is Bimmah Sinkhole, which is located in Hawiyat Najm Park, just off the Muscat-Sur Highway. It’s a great place to stop for a swim – the water is wonderfully clear and the temperature is refreshing, but not cold. Be weary of the small fish which inhabit the sinkhole – they will nibble at you, which can be rather ticklish, if not annoying. However, if you keep moving they will keep away and you can enjoying bathing in this stunning natural pool.

12315161718192021222324252627

Essentials

Getting There:
Raz al-Jinz, Sur and the Bimmah Sinkhole can all be reached by the Muscat-Sur Highway. Raz al-Jinz is 300km south of Muscat and almost a 3 hour drive, Sur is 200km and just over 2 hour drive, and the sinkhole is 125km and a 1.5 hour drive south of Muscat. Again, you will have to take a car, as there is not public transport along this route.

Stay:
We stayed at Raz al-Jinz Turtle Reserve in their new eco glamping tents, which overlook the beach. The accommodation isn’t cheap, but most decent places in Oman aren’t. The tents were comfortable and clean, and well worthwhile staying at if you wish to see the turtles at night and at dawn. The turtle reserve offers complimentary night and morning turtle tours for those staying at the reserve.
Oman doesn’t do budget accommodation well yet, but as tourism increases, I’m sure there will be more good budget options available in the near future.

Wadi Tiwi & Wadi Shab, Oman

So this is why I have revived my blog. We moved to Oman a few months ago, and I’d like to share with family and friends, along with anyone else who is interested, our lives and travels through Oman and elsewhere. Hopefully it will also be a good point of reference for those planning to visit Oman.

My partner was offered a job in Muscat and we decided to make the move to the Middle East. Although it is quite different from Sydney, we have been enjoying it so far. And it has been a lot less of a culture shock than I expected before arriving.  Aside from work, high on our agenda is to travel throughout Oman, as well as take advantage of being so much closer to Europe, Africa and Asia. In Oman we get 30 days annual leave (that’s 6 weeks), plus 15 public holidays (there are two lots of 4 days of public holidays in a row for Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha). So we have a lot more free time to travel too.

One of our first, and hopefully the first of many, weekend trips was to Wadi Tiwi and Wadi Shab. We didn’t venture too far up these wadis this time around. The road through Wadi Tiwi turns from a paved road into a harsh dirt track, which we weren’t confident enough to tackle, and at Wadi Shab we didn’t realise that the walk to the main pools was so long and we didn’t take enough water with us, nor did we have proper footwear. But we plan to visit Wadi Shab again, and next time be better prepared. These two wadis are very close to each other, so it’s easy to visit both in one day. And they are quite different too, so it’s worth visiting both if you have time.

Most people ask me, ‘what is a wadi?’ Well, a wadi is an Arabic term to describe a ravine, or a narrow valley between mountains, which is usually dry, but can turn into a river during the rains. Most wadis in Oman are dotted with small, or occasionally large, pools of water. There are some villages which are located in wadis, which are usually surrounded by pleasant date palm plantations.

Wadi Tiwi is known as the wadi of nine villages, as there are a number of villages which dot the road through the wadi. We were amazed at the beauty of the wadi, with its imposing mountains, and pools and date palms lining the road. We had a picnic lunch by one of the pools and walked around one of the villages. When travelling through Oman, make sure you take food and water along with you. There are no fast food outlets outside the city and it may be difficult to find a supermarket.

Wadi Shab was quite different to Tiwi. To start with, you cannot drive into the wadi – you have to take a small boat over the pool of water which is at the entrance of the wadi. Then there is a rather long, and hot walk, along pebbles and then along the side of one of the cliff faces, to reach the main pools. We started walking along the cliff face, but decided to turn back, as thongs weren’t quite the appropriate footwear. But we do plan to visit again, perhaps when the weather cools down a bit.

1110671281413282930313233

Essentials

Getting there:
A car is a must when you’re in Oman. There is hardly any public transport in Muscat, let alone outside the city. Oman is all about the landscapes and going off-road, so I’d recommending hiring a 4×4.
Wadi Tiwi and Wadi Shab are located about 200km along the coast south of Muscat. To get there, follow the signs to Sur until you reach the Muscat-Sur Highway. Continue south along the highway until you see signs for Wadi Tiwi and Wadi Shab. The entrance to these wadis are just off the highway.

Glenorchy & Queenstown, New Zealand

We spent our final day in New Zealand taking a drive to Glenorchy and chilling out in Queenstown. There isn’t a great deal to see in Glenorchy, but the drive from Queenstown is stunning, with views over Lake Wakatipu and a mountainous backdrop.

We had spectacular weather during our entire trip in New Zealand, except for our last day. It was cloudy, with a few light showers, but still fine enough to get outside and explore. And on the upside, the clouds and fog made for some great moody photos over the jetty in Glenorchy.

After taking a short walk around Glenorchy, we headed further north to a section of the Routeburn Track. We weren’t quite adventurous enough to organise a trek before leaving Sydney, but we did do a short walk for an hour or two along part of the track. Like most places in South Island, the landscape was beautiful.

So after a week exploring the South Island, it was time to return to Sydney. We were very impress with New Zealand, and it was a much needed short break after a few hectic months back home.

5451525355565758596061626364656667687071

Essentials:

Eat:
We didn’t line up for the famous Fergburgers, but we did stop by at the bakery for some cream buns. And oh were they great cream buns!
We also had a fantastic lunch on our way back to the airport before heading home at The Boatshed Cafe. They do great, value for money lunches, with a stunning view towards The Remarkables. Also, don’t forget to grab one of the savoury muffins for the road.