Cyprus: A bubble in search of her roots

Victoria Yiasoumi set off for Cyprus on her own but, taking memories of her grandfather with her, she was never alone

Being an East-ender, I call myself "bubble", from the cockney rhyming slang for "Greek": "bubble and squeak". When I was seven years old, my grandfather, or, as I was made to call him, my "Pappous", would sit me on his knee and teach me how to recite the alphabet and count in Greek. He passed away years ago and I still can't get past 39. But these are my first and fondest memories of my Greek-Cypriot origins.

Yet, visiting Cyprus again this spring after a 12-year gap wasn't just a mission to find my Cypriot roots, it was also the first time I had been abroad alone. Pappous, among others, would have been nervous (in fact, Christos, my taxi driver at Larnaca airport, soon put my fears to rest. He was just like my Pappous and before long he was calling me his "best friend in Limassol").

Pappous came from a village called Yialousa, which sits on the panhandle of Cyprus and is now occupied by the Turks. I hoped to cross over the Green Line between the Greek and Turkish sides to see for myself the place where he had been born and raised.

Even before I got that far, I found the border through the middle of the island unavoidable. I was driven by Christos down the old main road from Nicosia to Famagusta. One side of the road is Turkish, the other is Greek; the road is now run by the UN. The former Greek residents of Achna (a village that has now been stranded on the Turkish side of the road) were moved across the road in 1974, so now, when they look out of their windows they are reminded of what they have left behind. Christos told me how lucky he felt because he had always lived in Nicosia.

The capital is geared up for business people rather than young women holidaying alone. I did, however, dare to venture out on my first night, looking for a good old-fashioned taverna in a Nicosian back street. I soon found myself sitting with three Greek men, in the autumn of their lives, swapping their Greek words for my English ones. Wine flowed all evening, and they insisted on paying for my dinner. This was almost as good as the East End.

In Limassol, I stayed at The Ermitage Beach. I had wanted to stay at the posh Churchill Hotel, because that was where my family had stayed the very last time my Pappous took us to Cyprus, when I was 10. Alas, it was closed for refurbishment. But then, if I had stayed there I would never have met the Saga guests or Andri, the Ermitage's receptionist.

To put you in the picture, the Saga guests, all over 50 of course, know how to enjoy themselves. I adopted Pat and Gil as my holiday mum and dad and spent evenings in the bar with them discussing my day over gin and bitter lemons. And Andri was great as she put me in touch with my father's godfather, and was even kind enough to drive me to see him.

I hadn't seen my father's godfather Nicos since I was a child, and he looked smaller and frailer than I remembered. The first thing he said to me was: "Where have you been? We've cooked for you!" A typical Greek trying to feed me up before I'd even got through the door. He was Pappous' best friend and the first time he mentioned him it brought a tear to my eye, and made me proud to be a bit of bubble. Nicos and his family made me so welcome that I ended up spending a night with them.

But my best day was spent on a drive with Christos. For that whole day, I felt I had my old Pappous back again. We did a whistle-stop tour of the fishing resort of Paphos, the Baths of Aphrodite on the coast road to Polis, the English military base at Episkopi, the orange groves of Fasouri, and the ancient Greek and Roman ruins at Kourion.

At the Baths of Aphrodite we found a Greek Orthodox Father selling oranges and grapefruit. Christos told me that as soon as the priest finished his church service, he always jumped into his van and set off for his pitch at the bottom of the Baths path, where he worked day and night.

My last day in Cyprus I spent in the Troodos mountains. In the village of Omodos I found grandmothers making Cypriot lace, and donkeys being led around to carry goods from place to place, just like my Pappous used to do as a boy. Sentimental? Me? Never. I'm an East-ender.

As for crossing the Green Line, I admit I chickened out. The checkpoint used to be Nicosia's grandest hotel, but now is a shadow of its former self and is run by Nato. The first thing I noticed were the eerie silence, even though I was five minutes from the walls of Nicosia, and the barbed wire. I was advised by a policeman that my Greek surname might cause me problems on the Turkish side. I decided it wasn't worth the risk of losing the memories Pappous had painted for me of his beloved village. I suspect that he wouldn't even have recognised it.

GETTING THERE

Cyprair Holidays (tel: 0181-359 1234) specialises in low-budget deals to Cyprus. Return flights in May - from a variety of British airports - cost between pounds 149 and pounds 179. A seven-night self-catering holiday based on four sharing costs from pounds 189 per person including flights. Or, seven nights' b&b at a hotel costs from pounds 299 per person including flights.

Libra Holidays (tel: 0181-275 0944) is offering deals for the millennium period. A 14-night break for a family of four over the millennium at the all-inclusive Poseidonia Beach Hotel in Limassol, costs pounds 2,616 altogether. Seven nights departing on December 26 1999 costs pounds 649 per person, based on two sharing.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Cyprus Tourist Board brochureline (tel: 0891 887744, premium rate).

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