Monthly Archives: March 2017

Sand and centuries of history in Pafos

There’s more to Pafos than the beach. The ancient Greeks certainly knew that, which is why they founded their sacred city well inland, overlooking the sparkling Med from the headland at Kouklia. Modern Pafos, sitting pretty beside the sea, is a relative newcomer, dating back a measly 2400 years.

The majority of travellers to Pafos today are lured by sea, sand and sun, and Cyprus certainly gets a lot of sun – 326 sparkling, sunshiny days per year, on average. But on this island you can’t walk more than a few paces in any direction without tripping over an ancient ruin or real-life setting for a Hellenic myth. And Pafos is no Agia Napa or Protaras – this is a proper Mediterranean city, down to the veg-stacked grocers’ shops and courtyards full of potted geraniums.

 

Cultured Pafos

With more than 3000 years of uninterrupted history, Pafos was an obvious candidate for the European City of Culture 2017. Performers have been gathering on the stage of its ancient odeon (amphitheatre) since at least the 2nd century BC, and the cult of fertility worship has been active in these thyme-scented hills since Neolithic times. It was no accident that the ancient Greeks chose this stretch of coast as the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of love.

Every July and August, dramas by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes and others get the full amphitheatre treatment in the Pafos odeon for the International Festival of Ancient Greek Drama (greekdramafest.com), while opera takes centre stage in Pafos castle every September during the Aphrodite Festival (pafc.com.cy). In 2017, the culture goes into overdrive, with art exhibitions, public performances and classical concerts amidst the ancient stones of the city’s myriad archaeological sites. Visit the Pafos 2017 (pafos2017.eu) website for a full programme of events.

 

A tale of two cities

The Greek tradition of splitting towns in two dates back to at least 500 BC, when Herodotus and Plato wrote of cities divided into parallel communities – a kato (‘below’) part on the coast, and an ano (‘upper’) part inland. In an ancient Mediterranean teeming with the battleships of squabbling empires, it made sense to have somewhere to flee to in the hills, and in Cyprus the tradition is still very much alive.

When most visitors talk about Pafos, what they actually mean is Kato Pafos, sprawling around a sandstone harbour guarded by a Byzantine castle, beside a string of beaches that have become a favourite spot for British sun-seekers. Ano Pafos, or Ktima, 16km inland, is where locals prefer to live, enjoying the cooler climate at this higher elevation, and the peace and quiet away from the beach bars and touristy tavernas.

At beach level, Kato Pafos is the classic Med, complete with sun umbrellas and all-day breakfast cafes, but you don’t have to wander far to find ancient history. The rocky headland to the north of the harbour is one big historical adventure playground. The ruins scattered across the Pafos Archaeological Site were once the capital of Cyprus, before an earthquake toppled the columns and cracked the arches in the 4th century.

Instagram hot spots in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a city of contrasting light and constant movement; a whirl of commotion that combines climbing skyscrapers and golden stretches of sand with steaming bowls of wonton noodles and ceaseless traffic. In other words: it’s an Instagrammer’s paradise.

This dynamic metropolis is prized photography country, even for those who prefer to shoot bite-sized, instantly uploadable images. Inspiration can strike anywhere, but below are the 10 best places to capture Hong Kong’s most iconic photographs.

 

1. Hong Kong’s garden hideaway

Few photos can capture the essence of Hong Kong better than those taken at Chi Lin Nunnery in Kowloon. Instagram opportunities unfurl before your lens here as classical Chinese gardens give way to a glorious golden pagoda and a lotus pond filled with plump koi carp. This serene Buddhist complex seems all the more tranquil when snapped against the contrasting skyscrapers that tower above, creating a seamless fusion of the modern and the natural.

 

2. Food too cute to eat

Embedded into Hong Kong’s culture like dragon dances and milk tea, Instagram swells with shots of steaming baskets of dim sum, so head to Yum Cha to snap something more contemporary. This dim sum restaurant does things a little differently: the pork buns are shaped as pigs and the sausage rolls are designed like dogs. Even the pineapple puff cookies are made to look like birds and are presented in a metal cage.

 

3. The iconic rainbow residence

Thickets of high-rise apartments stretch skyward across much of Hong Kong, so skyline shots and neck-craning close-ups both provide fantastic photo fodder. However, the vibrant Choi Hung Estate (take exit C4 from the Kwun Tong MTR stop) is where Instagrammers should head first. With a rainbow of painted panels adorning the sides of the towers, palm trees lining the entrance and locals shooting hoops on the estate’s basketball court, the Choi Hung Estate could pass as 1970s California – and there’s always the 1977 Instagram filter to play up that effect.

 

4. Snap something fishy

Mong Kok is home to a number of markets selling everything from phone cases to lingerie, but keen photographers should zoom in on Tung Choi Street’s Goldfish Market where dozens of fish are separated into plastic bags and displayed for prospective pet owners to examine. It is considered good luck to bring fish into the home in China and while the humble goldfish does make an appearance here, expect to snap a wide array of colourful and exotic species.

The sound of silence

At 78° north, Svalbard is both the largest continuous wilderness in Europe and the final frontier before the North Pole. In the frozen depths of winter, a snowmobile expedition is the only way to get a sense of scope in this land of bone-chilling cold and heartbreaking beauty.

 

Many who have never stepped foot on Svalbard – the archipelago midway between Norway and the North Pole – envisage a bleak, white wilderness of ice, emptiness, and polar bears. Seen in a winter blizzard, this is bang on, but then there are the days as clear as cut crystal and the brilliance they bring. Colours. Nobody ever imagines the colours. This thought plays on my mind as I cling onto a snowmobile, bouncing giddily from side to side through a gully, the lights of the main settlement of Longyearbyen fast receding.

It’s around -20°C and a bitter wind blasts my visor, stinging and finally numbing the fraction of my face exposed to the elements. My tears freeze on my eyelashes like tiny jewels, and wisps of silver-white hair escaping from my balaclava give me a premature glimpse of my older self. It’s very, very cold and beautiful beyond belief. We enter glacial valleys where the sky is painted in softest pinks, pale blues and lilacs. We rumble up slopes of downy snow, fighting to keep balance, and over frozen tundra, as the late February sun glares defiantly on the horizon after four months of absence. You can almost hear the locals’ collective sigh of relief as the rays beat down.

When we stop the snowmobiles, there is utter silence in the blue air, but for the crunch of ice underfoot. Our snowmobiles take us deeper into the Reindalen and Grøndalen valleys, where mountains, bare, muscular and denuded of trees, rise steeply in rolling masses, snow-covered for most of the year. Glowing as the light dies, they appear lit from within – some perfect pyramids, some like the prows of great ships, some like the ruins of fantasy fortresses with mighty stone ramparts and buttresses. Almost 100km into the expedition, every newly trained muscle aches as we approach the glimmer of sea in the pearl-polished twilight.

We are so lucky, our guide Marte Myskja Sæterbø admits, as we defrost over mugs of mulled wine at Isfjord Radio, a former radio and weather station turned boutique hotel in the back of beyond at Kapp Linné. The weather is exceptional for this time of year and the aurora forecast is looking promising. The incongruity of the stylishly pared-back Nordic interior doesn’t pass us by. And the level of attention devoted to food is like a small miracle given the raw and remote setting. We begin digging into Arctic specialities like smoked Svalbard reindeer but, as the wine-braised veal arrives, we down forks. The lights. The lights have arrived.

Outside, the show has begun. We stand in speechless wonder, our gaze lifted to the heavens, as greens float and ripple in the night sky – like flashes from a wizard’s wand.