This year has been something of a gap year for me and my last - I promise - trip of the year has been to visit dear friends in Cyprus. Here's how it goes...
When Nigel and Sarah announced they were moving to Cyprus some eighteen months ago, there was such a mixture of emotions - I was pleased they were starting a new life together somewhere that I knew was dear to Sarah but I also knew they would leave a big hole in my life. Sarah and I have pounded round the tennis courts of Ripon together at least three times a week for a number of years. More than that, we have been through some thick and very thin times together. I know how much I valued her kindness and support when times were tough for me and I hope I did the same for her.
We had a joyful and sometimes hilarious farewell trip with them to Rome before they set off on their great life adventure, taking in ATP Tennis, sightseeing and a very significant amount of eating and drinking. Then there were various farewell events and suddenly it was time to say goodbye. Of course, they've been back to Blighty since then and we've had fun times but I always like to be able to imagine people in their actual habitat like visiting our friends in Sydney earlier in the year, so somehow a visit had to be achieved.
Now I am a great one for believing than in the general run of things, you get what you pay for. And thus it is almost always the case with low-cost airlines. So, whilst thrilled with my purchase of return flights from Stansted to Paphos for just over £100, I know there will be a catch. And then Ryanair announces they are cancelling 2,000 flights and I think... well, you can imagine what I think. But aside from pulling my flights even earlier in the morning it is all looking good. And actually, there is no catch on the way out, excepting getting up at an unearthly hour. Flight three quarters full, crew charming, departure and arrival on time. Result!
At Paphos Airport my lovely friend is waiting to drive me an hour across the island and up into stunning hills above Polis to a little village called Lysos. Their house is beautiful and it feels like a proper home and it is just so brilliant to know that we have a few days to catch up on months of gossip (how does she know stuff that's going on in Ripon that I don't know about!?) and laugh about good times and old friends shared. So aside from a serious amount of laughter and chat, we fill the four days together with running, tennis, meeting up with another old friend from Ripon Tennis Club who has lived out here for twelve years now, and enjoying some fabulous local food and wine. Nigel asks me as we drive to the airport at a truly unholy hour on Saturday morning what has been my high spots so here they are (in no particular order!):
1 Tennis at Aphrodite Hills. I am warmly greeted and hosted by the Nomads who are a delightful crowd and make me so welcome. Two tennis sessions with lots of different partners and everyone without exception makes me feel part of the gang. Thank you to Jane and all my partners and fellow players. I'll be back!
2 A superb last night of dancing to Chris King and the Firebirds with Nigel and Sarah's posse! Classic moments of tambourine-playing by Nigel and some great dancing (don't you love it when you can just go for it on the dance floor because nobody knows you and nobody cares?!).
3 Running with Nigel. So, he says: "Be careful of snakes - there are lots of poisonous ones." Me: "OK", panicking - I don't like snakes. Nigel: "So we'll start off by walking backwards up this hill because it stretches out your muscles." Me: "How can I look out for snakes if I'm walking backwards?!"
4 Fabulous food at the Old Town restaurant in Polis. Beautifully tender duck and a very nice bottle of Shiraz - happy me!
5 Meeting Athena. Athena runs a coffee shop in Lysos and we go there for a drink and to meet this delightful lady. And she tells us such a great story which will stay with me for a long time so I think I'll share. One of a large number of siblings, as a toddler she caught chicken pox and although she quickly recovered she completely stopped talking. Her parents put her in a basket and took her round the village to all the Marias (by which I think she means the roadside Madonna icons rather than ladies called Maria) and everyone threw bread into the basket and when she got home she could speak again. She says, at this point, that she hasn't stopped talking since but it is a charming tale and she is charming herself.
There are lots more of lovely times together but those moments are special and whilst we battle through the cold, dark winter here, I shall be thinking of them in their sunlit, happy home which they so generously shared with me.
And finally... Ryanair's payback! Even earlier than originally booked, Nigel gamely drives me to my flight and I find the airport quite busy at 5.00am. The only flight going out for several hours is mine so everyone is getting on my plane. We queue (Priority Q and Other Q and you can guess which one I am in) and by the time I get to the front, everyone who isn't Cypriot is being relieved of their cabin-sized suitcase as there isn't room in the overhead lockers. The flight is rammed and the cabin crew are less than charming. There's turbulence regularly so we are constantly being told that we can't use the loos - frankly, you had to be desperate as they are filthy. The cabin crew have no change and having waited over an hour for my 5 euros, I head to the back of the plane where the crew are all sitting around chatting and ask, only to be told quite brusquely that they still don't have it. It arrives about 20 minutes later (presumably when they have finished chatting) and handed to me with no apology. The poor lady next to me has a broken table so has to hold her coffee till she has finished it. And the final insult... the flight leaves and arrives late so the pilot decides to land at speed. We hit the deck hard followed by the slamming of brakes. As I say, you get what you pay for.
*Probably spelt wrong but you get my drift. Happy, happy times with dear friends.