Sunday, October 26, 2014


The first thing we did when the boat docked in Cyprus was to find a coffee shop with Wi-Fi.  The next thing we did was start to panic as we all realized that nobody had bothered to plan any adventures for our short weekend getaway.  The third thing  we did was decide to just wing it, start walking, and see what happened. And the fourth thing we did was to finally detach our carcasses from the sofa in the climate controlled coffee shop and schlep off into the heat of the great unknown.

The ship had pulled into port in Larnaca, third largest city in Cyprus, located along the island's southern coast.  Larnaca is best known for its gorgeous palm tree seafront, which would explain why that's the feature I remember most vividly.  In researching for this blog post, I learned that the city is thought to have received its name because of the large number of larnakes (sarcophaguses) that were discovered there.  I'm sad to report that I didn't see any.  Reason enough to return, I suppose.

As we walked along the palm-riddled Finikoudes Promenade, we stumbled upon a few pieces of art.

Left:  Zeno of Kition (ancient Larnaka).  Zeno is credited as the founder of Stoicism,  a Hellenistic school of Philosophy.  He was the first to divide philosophy into logic, physics, and ethics.  He taught that the purpose of human existence is the virtuous life, which is the life in accordance with nature.

Right:  This monument marks the spot where Armenian refugees fleeing persecution during the genocide of 1915 first landed in Cyprus.  Known as the Armenian Holocaust, the tragic event occurred when the Ottoman government set out to systematically exterminate its minority Armenian subjects within their historic homelands, what would today be known as the Republic of Turkey.  The sculpture represents the gratitude of the Armenian nation towards the people of Cyprus for their assistance and generosity to those refugees and stands in memory of the countless victims of the Armenian genocide.

Venetian Lion.  Venice has a long history with Cyrpus, which will be touched upon below.

Larnaka Castle was allegedly founded by the Byzantines in the 12th century, though the oldest written evidence of its existence dates only to the 14th century.  Chronographer Florius Boustronius dates the castle to the era of King James I (1382-1398AD) of House Lusignan, who is said to have built the castle to protect the town harbor.

During the period of Venetian rule (See?  I told you it was below.), the fort was strengthened as a result of the upgrading of the port, which at the time played a pivotal role in the trade of salt and other goods to and from the Syro-Palestine coast and the Western World.  The fort was abandoned at the end of the Venetian period when it was decided that the base of island defense would be moved elsewhere.  Ottoman troops landed near the fort and decided to use the port as the base for their own fleet.

Sources from the 18th century say that the castle, having long since fallen into a state of disrepair, was rebuilt by the Turks in 1625AD and retrofitted with cannons and other forms of defense.  More recently, the British used the castle as a place for the execution of convicts and as a prison.  These practices ended in 1948.  Today, the castle hosts a Medieval Museum and a garden theater.

Now, we were very bad tourists in that we didn't take many photos of ourselves during this weekend outing...but we all somehow managed to take a photo here.  So, enjoy.

Our next stop was...a bus stop!  With only 24 hours or so to see the island, we decided our time would best be spent seeing the city of Nicosia on our first afternoon, and then spend the following morning/early afternoon further exploring Larnaca prior to the ship's departure for Haifa.

Nicosia, the islands largest city, is the capital and seat of government of the Republic of Cyprus.  The northern part of the city functions as the capital of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.  This disputed region, recognized only by Turkey, is considered Cypriot territory under Turkish occupation by the international community, and has been considered such since 1974.

On July 15, 1974 the Cypriot National Guard ousted President Makarios III and replaced him with Nikos Sampson, who was in favor of a union with Greece.  In response to this coup, Turkey invaded the island on July 20, claiming that the action was compliant with the 1960 treaty of Guarantee, which prevented Cyprus from participating in any political or economic union with another state.   Turkey soon took control of the north and divided Cyprus along what came to be known as the Green Line.  Sampson resigned and Makarios returned.  It goes without saying that, living in Jerusalem, all of this sounds somewhat familiar.

RESOLUTION (1995), by Cypriot sculptor Theodoulos Grigoriou, reiterates the faith of the city of Nicosia and its inhabitants to human rights as the only precondition to peace and freedom.  It was the very first thing we noticed after hopping off of the bus and making our way into the heart of Greek Nicosia.

On the round cement base, part of the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is written in embossed Greek letters. Steel lances driven into the center of the text represent its symbolic destruction.  The sculpture is a protest to the violation of human rights.  From where I was standing, looking straight ahead was the expanse of Greek Nicosia.  Directly behind me was the entrance to Turkish Nicosia.

Scanning the plaza before us an noting a beautiful, bustling, but otherwise normal city city center, we turned and opted to first explore the Turkish side of things.

We first found ourselves at the Büyük Han (Big Inn), located in the market center.  The Han, which was built in 1572 to provide accommodation for travelers from Anatolia and other parts of Cyprus, consists of 68 rooms which open to vaulted galleries surrounding an inner courtyard and 10 additional shops that open to the outside of the Han.  An Ottoman mosque stand on marble piers in a fountain at the center of the courtyard.  We took a moment to peruse the shops, which consisted of local textiles and craft works, before continuing our explorations.

We next stumbled upon the gorgeous-on-the-outside-but-not-sure-about-the-inside-because-it-was-closed Bedestan (Saint Nicholas Church), which combines 6th century Byzantine and 14th centuryGothic architectural characteristics.  The church was used as a covered market (bedestan) during the Ottoman rule but was restored by the United Nations Development Program, Partnership for Future (UNDP PFF) and funded by the European Union and Cyprus Evkaf Foundation over a five year period that ended in 2009.  

Adjacent to the Besestan was the Selimiye mosque.  Originally a Roman Catholic cathedral, the
mosque is the oldest and perhaps finest examples of Gothic art in Cyprus.  Construction egan in 1209 during the reign of Lusignan king Henry I and lasted 150 years.  When the Ottomans told the city in 1570, they destroyed much of the existing decor as they converted the structure into a mosque.  The Selimiye is the most beautiful, most attended mosque in Nicosia.  As an active house of worship that was currently between prayers, the doors were open and we were able to step inside for a quick look around.

It was getting late by this point so we headed back over to the city's Greek side for Pete's official birthday dinner at an unofficial Chili's...

...before heading back to Larnaca, where a night that began with margaritas at Chili's Chilies ended in a hazy hot mess sometime after this photo was taken at a club whose sole customer base seemed to be us and a group of old ladies that really liked to shake their groove thangs.

Due to excessive birthday-ing the night before, the morning of ship's departure was spent nursing a coffee at the only Starbucks in Larnaca and then slowly trudging up and down the beach...which ain't such a bad way to spend a morning.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Setting Sail for Cyprus on the Good Ship "Dirty Princess"

Click here for boring ship specs.
Our friends Jacob and Pete invited us along for a weekend cruise (April 24-26) to Cyprus in honor of Pete's birthday that weekend.  Always looking for an excuse to get out of town, and no strangers to cruise life, we jumped at the chance.  Plus, it was a Groupon deal!

Annnd, we got what we paid for.

First of all, my absolute, deepest, most sincere apologies to the staff and crew of the Norwegian Jade.  I take it alllllll back.  We may sail the seas with you again after all.  I mean, you may have had your issues, but…damn.

Our troubles began almost immediately, with heavy traffic and poor (ok, no) signage indicating where the dock was or where one should park leading us to seriously wonder if we would even make the boarding deadline.  When we finally pulled into port and asked where we could park, we were directed up a ramp, past a security gate, and into a small parking lot that said "No Parking."  We headed back down the ramp, back through the security gate, and out onto the street again.

Finding what looked like an official, but not exactly secure, parking lot, we headed the wrong way down a one way road (because it was, somehow, the only road) and miraculously found a parking spot without having an accident.  Luggage in tow, we scurried on foot back up the ramp, back passed the security gate, and into the terminal where we found Jacob and Pete, who had experienced similar frustrations yet somehow managed to gain access to the free staff parking lot (Um. Whaaa???).  Each couple would spend the entire trip casually wondering if our cars would be found where we had left them.  (Spoiler alert:  Cars were fine.)

The check-in process abided by standard cruise line practices, with one major exception:  they confiscated our passports!  Apparently, there is concern that the clientele will use the boat as an opportunity to exit Israel and then run away.  Or something.  We hemmed and hawed over this for a while, but ultimately, as we all carry two passports anyway, let them win the battle and continued the boarding process.    

Against all odds, we managed to board the ship, locate our rooms, and do a bit of exploring before the ship set sail.

They earn bonus points for already having the beds put together.  We've always had to request this after arrival on other cruise lines.

But they lose those points for having an actual key that we had to lug around instead of a key card.
They also lose points for the tiny bathroom that practically required me to put one foot in the toilet in order to take a shower.  

In the ship's lobby (which, to give you an idea of just how small this boat is, here's a picture of said lobby), we found several large museum-style labels printed on the finest cardboard.  They told of the ship's storied past.

The ship was commissioned by U.S.  Overseas National Airways as one of two luxury cruise ships.  Hugh Hefner was a partner in the design process, and he used Playboy's Entertainment and Recreation Club cruise ship as a style reference.  So, yeah, you know it's classy.  While under construction, the ship was acquired by Cunard Line  (You've heard of the Queen Elizabeth?).  The new owners decided to maintain the informal design begun by Hefner, and the ship was christened the Cunard Princess by Monaco's Princess Grace.  Although its maiden voyage saw it setting sail from New York to the Caribbean, the ship's primary cruising routes took it through coastal Europe and Central America.

Later acquired by Star Lauro and rechristened the Rhapsody, the ship added Africa to its itinerary.

Mano Maritime took over management of the ship in 2009, at which point she received her current name, The Golden Iris.  The ship now offers cruises throughout the Mediterranean that depart from Israel's Port of Haifa.

By the end of the weekend, the ship received another name: the Dirty Princess.  The ship was awarded this illustrious name for a number of reasons, chief among them:

  • The vomit-clogged sink in the public restroom;
  • The people in the dining room that would eat directly from the buffet with their fingers;
  • The other people in the dining room that would drop food on the floor, pick it up, and put it back on the buffet;
  • The nonstop soundtrack of rap and other music riddled with profanity.  I'm no prude, but this was a boat full of little children and Orthodox Jews.  Just seemed out of place.
As the ship set sail, we found ourselves enjoying drinks on the Lido deck as the ship's entertainment team danced awkwardly for our enjoyment.  This occurred shortly after, regulations put in place by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea to the contrary, we somehow managed to not get sent to a muster drill.  We asked several crewmembers where we should go, and they told us they didn't know, but wouldn't let us attend their muster.  We sat in the bar, alongside several other passengers, as numerous crew members walked by, noticing we weren't at muster but also not caring.  

The awkward dancing would continue each night as the entertainment crew put on what passed for an evening show.  Bless their hearts, they danced their hearts out, but with the low ceiling only a couple of feet above their heads, there wasn't much wiggle room for dynamic choreography.  I did have a major crush on the male vocalist (he's wearing that Miami Vice looking outfit in the pic below), so in my mind he could do no wrong.  My travel partners assure me he couldn't really sing, though.  Haters. 

Speaking of awkward singing, TJ tried his hand at Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl" during afternoon karaoke.  Being the conservative, family cruise that this was, heads exploded all over the place.

If you're familiar with Carnival, Disney, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, or any other large chain, you'll be appalled to learn that meals were only served at strictly scheduled times during this cruise.  If you're late, you're out of luck.  It was all buffet-style, and our fellow diners attacked the buffet as if it contained the last bit of food on Earth.

Aside from the aforementioned singing and dancing, there was no entertainment on board.  Days that would normally be spent playing miniature golf, participating in trivia contests, or learning how to fold towels into various animal shapes could only be filled with alcohol and a poolside lounge chair.  That bit turned out to be not so bad.      

The most frustrating part about the voyage was that nothing about ship activities, port arrivals/departures, or dining options was easily obtained in English.  On every other cruise ship I've been on, they determine your language needs and deliver the appropriate material to your cabin.  Here, everyone received Hebrew reading material.  One had to go to the lobby and ask for materials in English.  And you had to specifically ask for them in English because just asking for the items IN English was never clue enough for the staff. 

That's not to say we didn't have a heck of a lot of fun, because we did.  We absolutely did.  The ship experience itself was so bizarrely terrible that it was campy.  And we do love camp.   Pete and Jacob had never been on a cruise ship before.  I'm not sure what they thought of the whole experience, but they did keep asking "Is it like this on every cruise ship?" I assume we were all on the same page.  Oh, and Cyprus itself was a lot of fun.  I'll talk about that next time.  No need in sullying the joy of Cyprus in this long and probably boring boat critique.   

When time finally came to disembark, instructions were given, only in Hebrew, as to how one could reclaim one's passport.  Due to this, we found ourselves being ushered off of the boat and into Passport Control...without our passports.  We turned to go back to the boat and were told by crew members that we could not return to the boat.  I said "Oh, I'm going back to the boat," and because everything was mismanaged all to hell anyway, that was apparently sufficient authority to get back on.  We found our passports at the front desk.  While disembarking for the second time, we ran into a member of the crew who had taken a liking to us after helping herself to Pete's M&M's the day before.  We suggested that it would be helpful to provide the appropriate information to guests that speak other languages so as to make their journey more pleasurable. 

I'm sure she'll get right on it.