When only soup will do

There are times when only soup will do and yesterday was one of those days, but no matter how many mountain cafes and restaurants we searched in, strangely it was the Argentinians who came to the rescue. As usual, it’s a bit of a tale…

I should have known it would be an odd kind of day, when I found myself abandoned on a deserted beach for half an hour that turned into an hour and a half. Someone else was very busy with vital work involving suits and tailoring and I had pebbles to collect. So as the car pulled away and watches had been synchronized to advise he would be back in about 25 minutes max and my phone had battery, I stepped onto the deserted cliff flanked beach where waves higher than my head were rolling in with a roar. “Don’t go swimming,” he’d shouted as he drove away. The water was a clear turquoise blue, but I wasn’t tempted. There seemed to be no-one at all on the beach which stretched invitingly in both directions. At my back were sandy banks held together with scrub and pampas grass, with not a home or house in sight. Reddy brown sand gave way to coarser granules higher up the beach where a fascinating number of amazing multi-coloured pebbles were scattered. No time to loose! With eyes scanning the ground I hunted for a few more perfect pebbles to add to the growing collection in the house. I was quite content, warmly wrapped in my duvet jacket and a woolly hat against the cool breeze, stooping down to examine another possible heart-shaped pebble. I stood for a moment watching the waves crashing in and looked further down the empty beach towards the cliffs at the far end. It looked like there was something moving in the distance or was that just the light playing on the shade between the rocks? I looked harder and began to see a figure – yes, it was definitely someone walking and now I could make it out properly, I could also see them bending down and searching the beach from side to side.

Question: What is scarier than a deserted beach? A deserted beach with one other stranger on it, walking towards you.

beach day

I reached into my pocket and glanced at the phone, calculating my lift would be back in about 15 minutes. How long does it take to kill someone and bury the body? A little longer possibly…so the ‘dangerous’ stranger was doomed to a life behind bars, once I was dead. I carried on walking anyway, because you never know he might have a dog and all would be well.

Why is it Ok to chat to strangers when they have a dog, but we stay well away if they are alone? I couldn’t see a dog and began to wonder what this person was collecting or searching for on the beach. Just when I had formulated the conversation in my head, about how my ‘martial arts trained husband’ was about to return any minute, I noticed another figure further behind the first one, also searching. At this point I was relieved. A man on a walk with his wife, also picking up pebbles…still I didn’t feel like making conversation and so turned to walk back in the other direction. The pebbles in my pockets were growing heavier and I wondered how many extra stone I was carrying. One particular pebble, a small incredibly smooth egg shaped brown stone, was clutched in my hand. Earlier on I had fancied myself as a bit of a ‘crackshot’ – David against Goliath – hurling a stone straight at my would-be assailant’s forehead. The fact that I can’t throw further than I can spit, didn’t deter the plan and I turned the stone over again against my palm. There is something soothing about stroking a smooth stone and feeling it warm against your skin. After turning into a pebble filled sandy corner lined by pampas grasses, when I eventually headed back along the beach, both the other beachcombers were nowhere in sight. Either they had left, or they were waiting in the bushes to attack me and steal all my pebbles. I decided they’d probably gone and after discovering the tailoring was taking longer than anticipated and I had at least another half an hour to kill, I headed towards the cliffs at the far end of the beach. I was so much happier having the whole beach to myself – it was safe to sing.

pebbles

Emptying my pockets into the floor of the car a while later, I felt a whole load lighter as we wound our way towards the mountains. I was quite hungry and a couple of ginger biscuits and a banana, just didn’t hit the spot…what I fancy, I thought to myself, is a nice bowl of soup.

But it was never going to be a day where things went to plan and as we arrived at the sought after winery, we found it closed. The wine-route village didn’t quite have the appeal we were looking for and although a walk on some of the tracks through the mountains was suggested – I could see the sun beginning to drop and could only really think that right now, I’d love a bowl of soup. One mountain café with a roaring fire looked promising, but, “Sorry, no soup today.” We’ll try the village down the road, we thought. It was almost dark when we arrived to the twinkling lights of the small town nestled between the mountains in a steep valley, where the rush of water could be heard at every corner. We wandered up a narrow cobbled hill, with ancient wood-framed houses on either side, after a path by the river proved impassable and we stopped again at another little café where a lady smiled and welcomed us in… “Soup?” we questioned hopefully. She shook her head and suggested coffee. We turned sadly away. No-one seemed to serve soup anymore, but what else would you want on a winter’s night, when you’ve had no lunch?

Further down in the village the restaurants looked less inviting, with rows of plastic chairs and big glass windows. The problem was, I was pining for a cosey English pub with a fire. Beside a waterfall around the corner we spotted a promising timber-lined restaurant with red and white checked table clothes and little candles. A blackboard outside said: ‘Homemade soup’. As we creaked open the latch a handful of people were sat eating round a table at the far end. Are you open? we asked. They shook their heads – “We’re closed.” With sinking hearts we headed back into the town and into one of the modern restaurants, where soup was on the menu. After having to sit further from than the fire than we wanted, it took an age for the owner to come and take an order for his special homemade vegetable and beef soup. Only to return a few minutes later to say the soup was finished, but they had some special milk soup, if we fancied that. We didn’t. So, we smiled politely and left, shrugging on our coats and stepping out into the night, where it was raining ever so lightly. Do we really have to have soup? Of course not, let’s just get a beer in a bar with a fire. The problem was, the special Mill restaurant, where we had booked a table and that was famed for its beautiful rainbow trout, wasn’t open until 7.30pm and we had an hour and half to spend somewhere – preferably not sitting in the car. A little bar, more suited to summer visitors with rattan chairs provided us with beers and nuts…but someone was restless and we wandered out into the night again to search the cobbled streets for that perfect old bar with a fire. It was 18.50 and we were looking longingly into the cosiest restaurant with a wood lined ceiling and a fire in one corner. The sign on the door said it didn’t open till 7pm. A man appeared in the doorway and took pity on us – we could have a drink, but no food could be ordered until 7pm. Thank goodness there was room in this inn for two strangers.

As he welcomed us in, I glanced up at a large board with a horse’s head which said ‘Argentina – Cyprus’, and I wondered. The man turned out to be the owner and proceeded to seat us right next to the open fire and tell us about his wonderful wines from Argentina. He was an ex Argentinian army officer married to a Cypriot who he had met while serving with the UN in Cyprus. As he wandered off to pour wine – an Argentinian Malbec, where the grapes are ripened by wind from the hills and the desert – we gave each other a warning glance. We’ll say we’re Dutch right? Don’t mention Maggie Thatcher or the Falklands and definitely don’t say you’re in the army…ssh he’s coming back.

A little later his smiling dark haired wife brought us a menu and we debated about eating here instead of our trout restaurant…knowing steak would be on the menu, but we were a little uncertain about how welcome British guests really were in an Argentinian restaurant. “We’ll say we like Madonna”…I glanced down at the Argentinian icons on the place mats…”don’t you mean Maradonna?” I said. “Him as well!” Looking down at the menu, we noticed soup. It was tempting and it was 7pm. Surely there was time to enjoy a soup starter here, before moving down to the Mill for our main course? After many hours of looking forward to it, our soup arrived, complete with crispy herb croutons and it was all we’d hoped for and more – delicious, warming vegetable soup. But just when we were thinking reluctantly of leaving, the couple re-stoked the fire, drew up their chairs and began to tell us about the restaurant, their other home in Nicosia, their dog Beethoven, who had sadly died after a long illness, the holiday they had enjoyed at a beach we knew well….the conversation flowed, another complimentary glass of wine was placed in front of me as I wasn’t driving, homemade pate and toast was brought out for us to taste and then mouthwatering home made chocolates. Meanwhile, the couple eating a full steak meal on the other side of the restaurant was ignored until they were practically walking out of the door. We felt warm, welcomed and as we headed out into the night, pretty full! We had assured them we would return in the summer to sample the delights of their roof terrace.

A little later, our fresh trout in garlic and lemon sauce was delicious – but the soup – well of course, nothing compares to soup on a cold winter’s evening, especially when you’ve waited all day for it and nothing else will do.

Mountain trails & trespassing

Planning a holiday with all five Farmers is tricky to say the least – how do you please everyone? Fine weather helps and usually something ‘boaty’ does the trick and so we started with a few hours messing about in a boat. But it was the wrong kind of boat for me because there were no sails, just a very noisy fast engine. Still, everyone enjoyed the doughnut ride, three managed some impressive wake boarding and we also motored into a few secluded rocky bays where we anchored and swam in the shelter of sea caves.

We were on an island tour of sorts, heading first for the remote and slightly inaccessible Akamas peninsular, which involved some very potholed tracks, much to the delight of the boys, who looked with envy at every passing open-top jeep. We found a lovely fish restaurant overlooking the sea and promptly ordered lamb from the menu..well, some of us did! We were like Swiss Family Robinson, all jostling about in a big red minibus, packed with food, drink and beach stuff, while whoever was in the front took turns to throw wrapped sweets to the sugar starved passengers in the back – it was a bit like tossing fish to seals, but they were slightly less noisy and kept complaining about the lack of yellow chewies…

Although I’m a sea lover at heart, the two highlights of the trip for me were in the mountains. The heat here has been incredible for the past week and now we officially have a heat wave! A heat wave in Cyprus with average temperatures of 37/38 can’t be good…we’re heading for the 40s and we are sizzling. What do you do when it’s too hot for the beach? Head for the hills of course…so day 2 we waved goodbye to the sea and the boat and set off into the mountains as a pink sun was slipping into the sea behind us. Enter the Troodos mountains where pine trees line the road and red roofed cabins are tucked in steep valleys, with craggy rocks forming the breaks between the trees. As night fell, so did the temperature and after a few false routes in one mountain village we found our way to the top just below Mount Olympus. Our destination was a cabin near the village of Troodos and all we needed to do was collect the keys….sounds simple. But we were running late. This was in part due to the need for showers after speedboating and the fact that there was only one and that it turned out to be a tap in a cubicle and not a shower….then we had to pick up water and tea which we’d forgotten. Combine this with switchback mountain roads, a lack of signs and a navigator who was trying to read a book at the same time and the result was that we arrived around midnight to collect keys and get directions for the cabin. Helpful directions were given and we set off, negotiating more hairpin bends on a road that got progressively narrower until we found ourselves in front of a serious looking barrier that promptly lifted, so we drove in. Suddenly a man emerged from the cabin just inside and rushed towards the car torch in hand looking worried. We wound the window down and told him we were looking for our cabin… “Not here, you can’t stay here.” He seemed very adamant. But we have an email, we’ve booked and this is where they said we should come… He shook his head and called over a colleague. He shook his head too and looked shifty. Our presence was making them uncomfortable. Our driver became more insistent. Are you sure it’s not one of those cabins over there, should we drive and look? We have the keys here… They looked concerned and glanced at one another. “It’s not here, no you can’t come in here.” This seemed a bit rude and unhelpful. It was very dark and late and we needed to find our cabin. The bald headed man shone his torch into the back and promptly shook his head, “You should go to the campsite.” OK so the back was filled with sweet wrappers and sandy towels, but we weren’t visiting the Queen. A third man was called over from the cabin, this one had a bomber jacket on and was reaching behind him into his waistband in a Starsky and Hutch-like manor. What is this place we wondered? And why are all these people on the gate at midnight? They were becoming more insistent all shaking their heads in unison. “You must go, you can’t stay here. This is the President’s house.” So it all became clear, we were talking to his bodyguards – no wonder they were edgy. We decided to call it a day, or a night and turned around back up the hairpin road to where we’d come from. We would wait to be invited. If only he had known who we were, I’m sure he’d have offered us a room free of charge. Our cosy cabin in the woods was eventually found and so was the cool weather. We eagerly hauled out blankets and sat round eating pizza, excited about the possibility of sleeping under a duvet for the first time in months!

The next morning it was still hot, but several degrees less than the coast and we followed a trail through the woods down a steep valley to a waterfall, where the water was icy and refreshing.
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Two of the party were volunteered to hitch a lift back to the car to save us the hike back up the hill and when we had almost given up hope of seeing them again the big red bus appeared round the bend. Walking on a high trail around the summit of Mount Olympus later that afternoon we were treated to spectacular views across the Troodos mountains, where we looked out on a sea of hills in ever paler shades of blue, until they were just a mist on the skyline. That night we ate beside a roaring fire in the cabin lounge, after we had sent out a firewood party to forage for pine cones and dead branches in the dark. They returned from each foray in a flurry of huffing and slight panic due to a plague of biting flies who had swarmed around their legs in the trees. From what I gather they barely escaped with their lives and may be permanently scarred from the experience. How strange that we should revel in lighting a fire in August and snuggling under duvets in the chill of the mountains.

Our second mountain top experience was in the north of Cyprus, where we left the burning sand dunes to drive up to an ancient crusader fortress – Buffavento castle. Buffavento is one of three ruined castles clinging to the craggy hills above Northern Cyprus, which run like a backbone towards the wild expanse of the country’s eastern tip, known as the ‘pan handle’. And it is these same hills we watch the sun set behind each evening from our house. Turning off the road at the top of the ridge we followed a single track road which clung to the side of the mountain and gradually snaked its way upwards. Passing places were few and far between, sheer drops were everywhere and the mini bus could barely take each corner without its wheels running precariously close to the drop. We were all feeling nervous and as the bends got tighter and the road narrowed, we almost decided it might be safer to walk the remaining few kilometres. Finally we reached the end of the hair-raising road and it was a 40 minute hike up the side of the mountain to reach the castle silhouetted against a clear blue sky above us. As we tackled the 500 plus steps and winding paths, we paused for breaks and water each time there was shade. Each rest stop was a chance to look at the immense view of the parched plains spread out in front of us and the city of Nicosia – a hazy jumble of buildings and roads. Eventually the path crossed over the top of the ridge and we could see the other side of Cyprus below, the coastline edged with sandy bays scooped out of the landscape and lined by a deep blue sea. The path and steps continued upwards and it was another 15 minutes before we reached the first crumbling gatehouse of the castle where the views got more and more spectacular. A sign above the gatehouse told us that Buffavento had been captured in 1974 by the Turkish army after a raid at 4am and a battle which lasted till midday. Looking out from the highest point in the castle’s crumbling ruins we could see Cyprus spread out before us – east towards the pan handle, west to another cascade of misty blue mountains, south to the dry plains and Nicosia, then north to the scolloped coastline framed by a sparkling Mediterranean. Here was Cyprus in all its summer glory and we were standing on top of it.