E: Nikoklia Village Retreat – Cyprus

IMG_1149It’s good to go back to your roots every now and then. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past 19 years of my life. Every summer I’ve been spoilt rotten by being granted the privilege to escape the murky English summer and return to a place where I feel very much at home. I have a huge adoration for my little island homeland in the Mediterranean sea and that’s why often when discussing Cyprus I can be very critical about the mentality of some of the locals, the government and the ignorant tourists who blissfully ignore the 1974 invasion in exchange for a cheap illegal holiday home in the north of the island. It’s safe to say my little island has had more than its fair share of problems and issues even prior to gaining it’s independence.

Yet if you get the chance to take some time out and are willing enough to do a little exploration, you’ll understand why so many people, past and present hold a fond place in their hearts for my little island. Somewhere beyond the financial crisis, swarms of Brits flocking to Ayia Napa and the often tasteless new architecture, there lies an untainted charming sun bronzed landscape painted with golden hills covered by olive trees and ancient relics waiting to be discovered.

IMG_1234On this particular occasion I was not alone with my extended family. I was accompanied by my girlfriend who had no prior experience of a proper beach holiday. This I obviously had to correct. For two nights however I thought it would be nice to get away from the hustle of my beloved Limassol and give Emma a small peek at the more old fashioned Cypriot way of life. When browsing for accommodation I stumbled across various alluring hillside apartments and classical hotels. The typical beach-front hotels in Cyprus were too expensive for us to afford and knowing most of them I didn’t particularly feel the majority offered good value for money.

My father then forwarded me a link of an attractive old building conversion into an inn. The  price was very reasonable (roughly 50€ a night including breakfast) and they still had availability so we went ahead and booked it. Nikoklia Village is a tiny village and I had not previous knowledge about the area it was located. My grandpa proudly recollected some old memories telling us he used to know of two policemen he worked with from Nikoklia and how there was an abandoned Turkish village nearby. Without much idea of what to expect we set off just as the sun started to dim and in about 40 minutes we arrived at our location, the Vasilias Nikoklis Inn.

IMG_0949First impressions were good, the staff were friendly and the Inn was furnished in Cypriot antique furniture. The conversion of the building has been done very tastefully and we were lucky to have a beautiful balcony overlooking the countryside. A few minutes after arrival we embarked on a small wander around the village itself. The village is definitely on the smaller side, people were very friendly and greeted you as you made your way down the street. A beautiful little church which broadcasts the service to the village via speaker phone can be found near the bottom of the village. Various abandoned buildings are also dotted in the nearby countryside. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to make it to the abandoned Turkish village just north of Nikoklia, we did however manage to catch a glimpse of it from afar and it looked very eerie. I’m sure it would make a brilliant subject to photograph, hopefully I’ll return another year to have a go at capturing the scene.

In terms of food the village doesn’t offer many options and we had all our meals at the Inn. Food is available from the tavern which opens in the evenings, the menu is full of traditional dishes and the prices are quite reasonable too. I would really recommend the ‘Mixed Grill’ option which consisted of some lamb, sheftalia (a type of sausage), chicken and pork souvlaki served alongside local fried potatoes, all the meat was cooked to perfection and currently writing about it is waking up my appetite.

IMG_1085Aside from the village you can also get some relaxation done by the pool and there’s also a rather tiring walk to the nearby dam. The walk is ok at best, I recommend heading there much later in the day as even departing at six, the weather was too hot to make the walk very enjoyable. Em spent a lot of time reading and I enjoyed a lot of sleeping under the shade of the Inn’s greenery. We had a really restful time and the inn sets a prime example of how alternative types of tourism can be very successful. I’m not saying spend all your time within a small village but as you can see from the photographs it can be really rewarding to do a bit of research and incorporate a village stay into your time in Cyprus. Unfortunately due to work I had to cut my ‘home time’ short this year but I’m sure I’ll be back again before I know it. (After all that abandoned village needs photographing!)

Favourite things to do/see :

  • Explore the nearby countryside
  • Walk through the village
  • Hike to the dam (Probably better during the winter months)

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E: Paddy Fields and the Indigo People of Sapa, Vietnam

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Of the places I visited during the winter break one of the most touching locations I had the pleasure of witnessing was the Sapa district in northern Vietnam. Although weather wise the coldest of all my destinations, I was pleasantly warmed by the scenes throughout Sapa town and the surrounding villages.

People here are poor, and although I have witnessed poverty before I’d never seen people living off log fires and mainly consuming food they’d produced themselves. Various ethnic minorities inhabit the area including the Black Hmong, Dao and Phu Lo people. Many of these speak languages other than Vietnamese. The changes brought by tourism are noticeable, but no so prominent to ruin the area’s authenticity. Many families have converted from farming to selling souvenirs with examples including, indigo scarves and various carved stone objects. It was refreshing to see the majority of what was being sold out of houses and on the street, were products produced by the people themselves.

Exceedingly obvious is the ethnic minorities cheekily ripping tourists off, our guide gave us an indication of what we should be paying. Unfortunately I found it difficult to stop the woman selling me an indigo scarf, purchased as a gift, from overcharging me by two pounds while she was sat smiling bleakly underneath a tin roof, without heating in the middle of winter. I didn’t have it in me to refuse, especially when I thought about how little two pounds is to me, compared to what this woman could use it for.

If you plan to visit be wary not to buy from the local village kids, as although they’ll give you cheaper prices than the adults, this encourages them to skip school and continue attempting to make money from western tourists doing no good for their future. Besides any money lost whilst buying gifts I definitely made back on the food, where else can you get 73p beer? Apart from the eerily lit church located centrally in Sapa town it seems due to the French’s presence in Vietnam they left some cultural characteristics such as aspects of religion behind, our guide told us that many of the villagers refused to use contraception as they were supposedly catholic, yet still maintained some Buddhist beliefs.

Breathtaking scenery in the nearby mountains means the majority of our trip was hiking and admiring the views, with the occasional stop at some of the local villagers’ homes where our guide allowed us to ask questions, try some local tobacco and test our skill of using various farming utensils. I’d like to return to Sapa, 2 days wasn’t enough. If returning I would visit again in September during the harvest season, where apparently all the rice fields evolve into a glowing gradient of yellow. The trip ended with a farewell to our guide and boarding the night train (which one day I’m sure will become my permanent type of accommodation) back to Vietnam’s capital Hanoi.

 

E: South Pacific

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Despite the unrealistic surroundings, another factor which amazed me on Pulau Tioman was how the colours shifted during different points in the day. Early evening was uniquely special. The sun peeking through the mountains left beautiful reflections across the coast. Rays of light danced behind the palms eventually finding themselves across the golden sand. The photos taken in those two days required little to no editing, Malaysia as a whole continues to be ridiculously photogenic.

We spent our time based in a small village surrounded by locals in little tin shacks. Our beach huts blended in perfectly to the rustic feel of the place. To my surprise not only were they air-conditioned the restaurants nearby even had Wi-Fi. We were in the middle of nowhere yet somehow there’s still a wireless hotspot. Is it really that hard to get off the grid in the 21st century?

Back in Singapore we’ve been facing groggy weather. Yesterday morning I woke up to the biggest thunderstorm I’d ever experienced. Was pretty exciting. Lessons are proving difficult and last years late nights stumbling around clubs have evolved into far duller late nights in the study area listening to Theme Park, Winehouse and Jessie Ware on repeat. Most of the photos of me were taken by Alex, so many thanks to her. Unfortunately she can’t return the thanks for the photos of her as she really can’t take a bad picture so no credit should be directed at me. Enjoy the photos and the last set of Tioman pictures should be up soon!

IMG_8955You getting this? IMG_8460 IMG_8633 IMG_8912Alex got so much swag I don’t know where she keeps it allIMG_8929IMG_8766One of my favourite shots from the trip
IMG_8406Swimming Buds
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C: We found a Sofa

IMG_0172 A while back me and some flatmates went for a walk, and in the middle of this beautiful rapeseed field we found an abandoned sofa. My camera was at hand so what to do seemed obvious. Made a good profile picture anyway, we think the image above would make a great promotional shot for a sitcom. IMG_0196 IMG_0242 IMG_0235 IMG_0091 IMG_0102 IMG_0121

Village Life part 2

No clue what this village is called, apparently my great grandfather was born in one of the small houses I visited. Was very quiet and calm. Can imagine it must be beautiful in the spring and winter. The drive there was magical, true cypriot hilly countryside. Next time will have to explore the surrounding area.  

Village Life

Life in the village is the dream, people here don’t seem to suffer from ‘old age syndrome’ no matter what the age they keep themselves busy and it’s refreshing to see. My short two day break was spent running away from snakes, eating mountain berries and throwing ice cold water over my cousins. All good fun. I wish I grew up in a village, having the mountains as your back garden as a kid must have been the best playground you could imagine. But wait don’t think it gets boring when you become a teenager, oh no Kakopetria (the village) has a club. You heard me a club, in a mountain village. Of course me and my cousins did not require any alcohol or a dance floor to bring the party to the streets with the use of a blackberry curve’s speaker….. Coz that’s just how we rollA small cottage tucked away in the trees. On the first moutain hike where we managed to walk into snakesAfter about an hour of convincing these weren’t toxic I learnt to love wild mountain berriesNot particularly historic but a scenic bridge neverthelessThe village has a plentiful supply of water from underground springsCloud covering the mountainsGot to meet the family hamsterThe village at nightApple anyone?

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