Wednesday , June 20, 2018

Larnaca in a daydream

AS I walk towards my hotel in the streets of Larnaca, Cyprus, with Bolero music dancing in the air, it felt like I am transported to another time, another life.

In front of me, waves crash gently to the shore. The sand washed off in orange hues as it reflects the sun’s glow. I taste the salty air and feel the cold breeze on my face. From afar, I hear the gulls in an endless cry. My gaze then settled on the horizon where blue meets blue.

“Welcome to Finikoudes my dear friend, eat and have fun,” says Ginny who happens to own one of the restaurants I pass by as he sensed the fascination in me upon seeing the place.

Larnaca is far from what I imagine it to be. Its pristine shoreline, exotic diving spots, beautiful weather, array of bars, restaurants and hotels backed by palm-lined seaside promenade make it among the top of my list.

Nestled in the South of Cyprus, it is famous for its Finikoudes beach - a sandy strip in the middle of the city teeming with life and history. It has a Grecian touch to its waters that make it quite similar to the French Riviera.

Arriving on an early morning, my colleagues and I plan to spend the day walking along the shoreline with the best seafood in tow.

We chance upon Luv Souvlaki, a popular restaurant in Finikoudes that offers traditional Mediterranean cuisines and seafood. I munch on three sticks of grilled shrimp plus a Greek salad on the side perfect to ease my hunger. Mild, buttery and sweet with a hint of subtle spiciness, the dish is perfect when paired with the local white wine, Thisbe.

After an hour or so, we venture into the unknown. With only our phones and GPS as guide, we discover the stone church of Agios Lazaros. Locals say the 9th century church contains the tomb of the saint that is said to have risen from the dead. The stonework still stands strong and despite the tides of time.

Next to the church is the Byzantine Museum that showcases religious items and relics. The streets surrounding the square remind me of the ones in Rome, Italy. With a gelato in hand, one can explore and enjoy the warmth of the city.

We stop by a local pub oozing with locals as they cheer on their favorite football team. We then move on to buy some souvenirs at the shops. The locals are beautiful people always ready to lend a smile when you pass by them.

As we continue our journey, I glimpse on a castle standing beside the beach. It happens to be the Larnaka Kalesi, a Greek architecture built in the 14th century that became a prison during the British occupation in 1948.

The castle is well preserved. Although small, It is very interesting. The prison cells made of stone contain an array of intricate carvings inside. The gallows accessible through a small entrance is far from sinister. It doesn’t look like a prison at all. Walking up the stairs, you see an endless sea and a city teeming with life and palm trees.

Who would ever think a castle beside the beach can become a beauty to behold? Or how a small city can accommodate a treasure trove of history? Larnaca is indeed a beauty unexplored by most tourists.

Just offshore, lies the M.S. Zenobia Wreck that is included among the top five dive sites in the world. I have yet to try it the next time I come back.

Content with my daily musings, I head back to the hotel and notice everyone staring at me. There I realize I may have been the only Asian in town.