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SOMETIMES ONLY A BEER WILL DO (Larking About in Larnaca 1)



We are off to sunny Cyprus for eight days holiday. We are going back to the seaside town of Larnaca where we first enjoyed a short break in 2007. We have been back to Cyprus since then … part of a church trip when we were at Beckenham Baptist Church following in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul … but we only had time for a ‘flying visit’ to Larnaca then. We like Larnaca because it is not too ‘touristy’ like much of coastal Cyprus today. And as a bonus the weather forecast is great with temperatures constantly around 28 to 30 degrees. After a hectic first nine months back in ministry at Knaphill Julia needs a good break, and for someone approaching his 73 birthday and supposedly ‘retired’ (although I seem to have ‘picked up’ numerous ‘jobs’ along the way) so do I.

We are flying out from Stansted Airport on the Friday afternoon at the reasonably civilised time for us of 3.30 p.m. We are flying by Cobalt Airlines (whoever they are) for that very reason. No more flights at 1.00 a.m. in the morning for us if we can help it! We are flying out on the Friday because I have been invited to preach at Nicosia Anglican Cathedral on the Sunday morning and we don’t want to feel ‘rushed’ by arriving late on the Saturday. Julia has made all the arrangements. She is good at that sort of thing. She has booked the flights, hired a car in Cyprus, and found a lovely flat overlooking the sea for us in Larnaca via AirBnB. The only downside is that we have not heard anything back from the Cathedral as to what is expected of us?

The day before we are due to leave I finally hear from the Cathedral. There has been a mix up over our visit … apparently various communications got ‘lost in the ether’ … and so I won’t be preaching there now. They would probably have preferred to have heard Julia anyway? Not to worry, however, it just means we have an extra day’s holiday. We leave home in good time and find our way to Stansted without any hitches. As per usual Kate, our SatNav, leads us a merry dance in finding our long stay car park. Sometimes it really is better to just follow the ‘signs’ rather than listen to a so-called ‘authoritative voice’. Drivers and church members take note!? We have plenty of time, however, and soon find our way into ‘Departures’.

We are pleasantly surprised by Stansted Airport. It really is rather nice. We check our luggage in and are directed to the departure lounge. The nice young man who checks our baggage in is very nice and forewarns me that the ‘Departure Lounge’ is actually a ‘shopping precinct’ with about 100 shops in it?! Although we have never met before someone has obviously told him all about Julia? Firstly, we have to go through customs, however. What a palaver! We have to put all our electrical items in a separate tray and align them in a special way. I have to remove my belt and put that in a separate tray. And then we have other separate trays for our coats etc. Julia is in fits of laughter watching me juggle all this lot as I wend my way through customs, precariously balancing all my trays, weaving through the ‘electric gate’ en route, whilst trying to hold my trousers up at the same time … and also managing to drop my passport and boarding ticket along the way.

When we get to the Departure Lounge, with all its wonderful shops, Julia leaves me to look after the luggage whilst she ‘does the shops’. Several scarves, bags, hats later … she returns! It’s OK, I am just kidding about the scarves, bags and hats … she is actually saving herself for Cyprus. We buy some food for the flight and make our way to the boarding section. Cobalt Airlines don’t provide food for their passengers (unless you want to pay extra for it that is). The same young man who took our luggage is also taking our boarding cards. We wonder if he is also flying the plane?

We eventually board our plane after a slight delay ‘due to the large numbers of incapacitated passengers on the previous trip’. The mind boggles? Was the plane full of drunken football hooligans returning from Cyprus after a match? No! We see the special transporter pull up at the plane gangway and about 20 people either in wheelchairs, or walking with the aid of crutches or sticks, leave the plane via this wonderful transporter. What a great invention! When we get on board we find our way to our seats. I have (rather cleverly, I must say) pre-booked seats by the emergency doors which means we have marvellous leg room and don’t have to unscrew our legs in order to sit down. Julia has the window seat, I am in the middle seat of three, and next to me is a nice older lady who immediately introduces herself. She is Cypriot but lives in the UK but regularly goes back to Cyprus to visit her elderly mother. She chats away to me for most of the flight. She tells me lots of interesting things about Cyprus. She tells me that Colbalt Air is the old Cypriot Airline (they have been ‘bought out’ by Colbalt). She translates the various ‘flight instructions’ we are given over the tannoy from the Greek for me (even though they are immediately repeated in English). She shows me a picture in the ‘inflight magazine’ of a lake in the Trudos mountains. ‘That’s my village!’ she proudly tells me! Village? It’s a photo of a lake? I obviously looked puzzled. ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘they built a dam there … my village is now under water!’ At the end of the flight she thanks me for listening to her! Perhaps she is lonely?

We arrive in Larnaca Airport about 9.40 p.m. local time and we get through customs very quickly so all we have to do now is pick up our hire car. We should be at our rented apartment in Larnaca by 10.15 p.m. at the latest. No problems then!? We find our way to the Hire Car section in the airport … but nobody knows anything about hiring us a car. Eventually we are directed to the other end of the concourses where there is … nothing! Julia goes off to find the ‘help desk’. While she is away a rather large lady with a ‘list’ approaches me and asks me if we have hired a car. ‘Yes’ I tell her and she consults her ‘list’ … and yes our names are on it! Julia eventually rejoins us and we wait for the lady to take us to our hire car. There are only a couple of problems to be sorted first, however. Firstly, our hire car is not at the airport but at the ‘hire car base’ which is ‘only five minutes away’ by shuttle bus? And secondly, the lady has several other names on her list and we have to wait for them to arrive so that the shuttle bus is full? Half an hour later we are still waiting for some of the ‘other passengers’ and the shuttle bus to arrive. Eventually we are taken to the ‘hire car a depot’ where everyone else piles in ahead of us to complete the numerous forms required in order to hire a car in Cyprus and pay for the privilege.

Despite the fact we have already done all this ‘on line’ we still have to wait our turn. After about an hour or so … it is now 11.30 p.m. local time we are taken to our car. We are starting to worry about our ‘host’. We know that he knows that we will be arriving late … but not this late? We would have phoned him from the airport if we had realised that we would have to go through all this palaver. Our car is quite nice with plenty of room for our luggage and we are anxious to be away. Oh no, it’s not as simple as that, of course. The fuel tank is empty and we have to fill her up with petrol. ‘There’s a petrol station just five minutes down the road!’ we are told. Oh yeah! Bet it’s the same ‘five minutes’ that the car hire depot was from the airport? Julia is anxious to get off … but I want to make sure our SatNav works first? Does it heck?! The ‘cigarette lighter socket’ is broken … and they have to find us another car? Eventually, after a lot of scurrying around, they produce another car. It is not as nice as the first car but it will have to do, and at least the SatNav works! The only thing is, is that the SatNav doesn’t recognise the address of our apartment? Eventually one of the car hire employees comes up with the Greek language alternative address and we get going … hopefully to the right address?

It is midnight by the time we find the apartment block … but there is nobody there to welcome us and let us in. Julia phones our host … and there is no reply. We try several times, text him, email him, and do everything humanly possible short of sending a carrier pigeon. The apartment block is shut up for the night and we can’t even get in to the building. Eventually one of the ‘residents’ comes along after a ‘night on the tiles’. He is very friendly … and drunk!? He lets us into the building and shows Julia up to our apartment. There is nobody there. Julia phones the landlord again. There is still no answer even though he told us to phone him when we arrive no matter how late it was. We are somewhat worried because his mobile phone is registered in Germany? Have we been ‘ripped off’? Is this one of those ‘holiday scams’ that you read about in the papers but just know it will ‘never happen to us’? Julia goes into a restaurant that is still open nearby to check that we have the correct phone number. They are very nice and phone the owner for us on their phones … but with the same negative result.

It is now 1.00 a.m. and we give up and try and find a hotel for the night. A nice man shows us the way to a ‘nice hotel’ he knows, but it is full. We try several other hotels and they are all full. Kate, our SatNav, provides us with a list of local hotels and we systematically work our way round them. Eventually we find our way to Les Palmiers Hotel, which has apartments … and they just happen to have one apartment going spare. We don’t care how much it’s costs … we take it. There is a nice young man on duty and only charges us 50€ for the night and throws breakfast in for free as he feels so sorry for us. The apartment is great. We are exhausted but we just dump our stuff and go across the road to a crowded bar overlooking the beach that is still open. Sometimes only a beer will do!

We wake after a sweet but short night’s sleep. We have an excellent early breakfast – a ‘full Cypriot’ breakfast would you believe – and then Julia phones our our ‘host’ yet again! ‘Hello’ says a very sleepy voice ‘who is it?’ Hooray! We have finally got through to our host. He is very apologetic. Because we didn’t phone immediately at 10.00 p.m. he and his wife went to bed, fell asleep, and did not hear our other calls. He is German but lives in Cyprus. He agrees to meet us at the apartment at 9.30 a.m. He is there waiting for us when we arrive. He is very apologetic. He agrees to pay for our overnight in the hotel. And the apartment is great … with amazing views over the bay of Larnaca! Things can only get better from now on … surely!? If not … well, we are not too far from our nice, crowded, late night bar?

Jim Binney


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