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.

hot spots

According to Cypriot weather forecasters, last weekend was the start of a heat wave…what’s a heat wave like in Cyprus? Very hot. Almost don’t go outside hot. It’s been about 40 degrees today. I knew it was hot because the bread took less than half an hour to rise in the sun and the terrace is too hot to walk on with bare feet. The ceiling fans are working overtime and the cat is either hiding under our bed or flaked out on the tiled floor… but I’m not complaining. Where I come from, it’s probably raining!

I’ve now found a place in the house where it’s slightly less hot and as it’s a year and a month since we moved out here, I thought it was time to blog about some of my favourite spots – discovered over the past 12 months. So in no particular order, here goes…

1:
Karpaz Peninsular – more particularly, Burhan’s Golden Sand beach
I woke up here yesterday morning and I wasn’t dreaming. Stepping out onto the wooden balcony, the only thing dividing my view of the golden sands, turquoise sea and cloudless blue sky was a small herd of wild donkeys grazing amongst tufts of dried grass in the sand dunes. A few hours later, climbing a sand dune at one end of the deserted sweeping bay, we laughed as a stray dog skipped round a gorse bush in an attempt to catch a lizard. Hopping down the dune as the sand was too hot to walk on, we were so relieved to plunge into the crystal water at the bottom. Our very own natural swimming pool. This is the kind of place I used to dream about and now it’s only a 2 hour drive away from home.

2:
Troodos Mountains – the view from the kitchen window
On our first stay here, having arrived in the dark, I padded into the kitchen first thing in the morning and reached to push open the shutters. The view through the window was mesmerizing. All I could see was wall to wall pine trees, some with huge trunks, others more slender, but all silhouetted against a vivid blue sky. The cabin was built on a slope so the window was almost at ground level and the floor of pine needles and cones looked like an inviting brown bed. It felt like the forest was part of the house and the aroma of pine and fresh mountain air was intoxicating. This view always reminds me of Narnia and even when there’s no snow, it’s a magical place, with adventure in the air.

3:
Famagusta’s old city – Monk’s Inn
This is one of our favourite haunts. And you never know who you’ll meet. This fascinating stone building in the heart of the old city is full of surprises. Its huge dark wooden shutters fold back to reveal a lovely bar, with elegant stone arches and an imaginative cocktail menu that is best read by liberal minded drinkers. A couple of gay Belgian archeologist were among just a few of the characters we’ve come across. They were amazed at the ancient remains all around and did a lot of flirting with one of us, especially when they realised he wore uniform. Outside directors chairs spill out onto the pavement and the whole side street is cordoned off after 6pm, when the South African-born owner wheels out plant pots to the middle of the road to stop cars interrupting the party. Here we always enjoy a bottle of the local beer – EFES – served in chilled glasses. It can’t be beaten.

4:
Nicosia – a cafe off Ledra Street
I love just sitting watching the world go by at this small cafe in the back streets of the capital. Usually bustling with local Cypriot students, the cafe’s traditional wicker and wood painted chairs, have a lovely Greek feel. The atmosphere is relaxed, no-one urges you to take a seat. An ancient Greek Orthodox Church lies opposite and a series of benches line the square outside. Last time we ordered our usual medium frappes and the friendly waiter, who eventually appeared at our table, bought us a backgammon set. A little while later, a girl from the nearby table and the waiter were giving advice on setting up and game tactics. People were engaged at various stages of play on tables all around, some smoking, others sipping at the tiny cups of coffee, smiling and laughing, then sighing. One man removed his glasses and polished them, never taking his gaze off the board. Cypriot life slows down here and it’s a joy to return again and again to this hidden gem.

5:
Potomos – the fish restaurant
Imagine Mama Mia, but a bit flatter. This little restaurant nestles at the end of a tatty river estuary lined with fishing boats in various states of disrepair. Bumping down the rough stone track by car, there are glimpses of the snaking river and boats tied up to jetties, which look like they are about to collapse into the water. Made from what appears to be a jumble of recycled bits of timber, the roughly made piers are decorated with old plastic canisters, tangled ropes and uneven planks of assorted wood. Towards the end of the track the glistening Mediterranean comes into view. Parking outside the restaurant we weave our way across the sand between white painted trunks of trees, around to the restaurant where the blue and white checked tablecloths complete the Greek look. At our favourite table beside the water, we gaze out to sea across the small mound of rocks and the mini lighthouse marking the entrance to the estuary. There is a smile of welcome from the waiter, “hello again, how are you?” Waves crunch rhythmically onto the shore and the white sand at our feet is punctuated with boulders and stone troughs full of pink geraniums. A glass of cold white wine is essential.

If this list of favourites makes you think I’m always eating or drinking – you’d probably be right!