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Good on the Whole

I’ve had comments that it’s difficult to tell from my last few posts whether I had a good holiday, or a really crap one. Well, I think the overall balance is “Good on the whole”. I enjoyed myself and certainly shan’t be writing a long letter of “constructive criticism” to the holiday company – though I suspect from the conversations over dinner that I might be the only person who doesn’t! As my sister said – it was a classic, but for all the wrong reasons!

I certainly shan’t forget in a hurry being taken to see Roman slag at a landfill site on Christmas Day! (it was originally the site of an open-cast copper mine used from ancient times and since exhausted, but even so I’ve been to much more interesting old mines……). Nor shall I forget the dipsomaniac octogenarian with a hip flask who got extremely frisky after his third drink of the day, so wasn’t safe to sit next to on the coach from early afternoon onwards! Nor the rather scatty old woman with no sense of direction who got hopelessly lost on the three minute walk straight up the road from our hotel to where the coach picked us up in the mornings. We had to send one of the men after her to track her down – but it was ok in the end as quite a romance then proceeded to flourish between her and her rescuer, which gave the rest of us something else to gossip about!

I think the main reason I had a good time despite (or perhaps because of) all those factors was that I had robustly set my expectations in advance. I’d been to North Cyprus before, and knew that it was about 30 years behind the rest of Europe in terms of tourist infrastructure – there’s been virtually no investment since Partition in the seventies. But I knew that despite that, it was a charming, friendly and interesting place. I’d read up on the itinerary in a very comprehensive guide book, so knew what to expect from the sites. And I’ve been away at Christmas quite often enough to know that, if you travel in a group, it will be full of interesting and somewhat eccentric people, all with their own reasons for avoiding Christmas back home.

I had also appropriately set my expectations with regards to the hotel. There was a choice in the brochure – a “Special category” hotel (for which read 2* on a good day) right in the centre of Kyrenia, or a better appointed 3* “holiday village” in the foothills of the mountains outside the town. I’d chosen the 2* establishment, partly because it was quite a bit cheaper, partly because they were offering a “No Single supplement” deal which made it particularly good value, but mostly because of its location right in the centre of the old town, a two minute walk from the picturesque harbour and Kyrenia castle.

The hotel was a converted Ottoman mansion, with just nine rooms in a courtyard overlooking a small swimming pool – which would have been welcome in the summer, but none of us felt brave enough to go for a Boxing Day dip! Breakfast and dinner were taken in a sister establishment just around the corner, as it was too small to have its own restaurant. The food was entirely adequate, but nothing special, though I did enjoy the fresh fennel-seeded bread at breakfast. It was a bit noisy at night – the ancient old water heater hummed away, the bakery opposite started work very early, and of course the muezzin sang out the call to prayer from the mosque around the corner at a very anti-social hour in the morning. However, I always travel with a good pair of earplugs so the noise didn’t really bother me.

Only ten of our party were staying at the cheaper hotel – but we were all very glad that we’d made that choice. The rest of the group were at the holiday village which was quickly nicknamed the Gulag! It was pleasant enough, and certainly better-appointed than our hotel. But it was two miles out of town, up a very busy dual carriageway with no pavement. There was a shuttle-bus into Kyrenia once a day, but apart from that if you wanted to leave the establishment you had to call a taxi. That meant no wandering around the old town at night looking at the harbour or trying out interesting little bars, no calling in at the local bakery for coffee and a pastry to augment breakfast, and no exploring the fascinating local craft shop in a tower in the walls of the Old Town. Plus, they were in a minority amongst a much larger group of Brits travelling with another holiday company, who apparently were hogging the facilities. Altogether, we were much better off in the supposedly inferior establishment.

So all in all it was an enjoyable and certainly unforgettable holiday. I’d be happy to travel with the company again, accepting that you get what you pay for – so don’t expect 5* service for 2* prices.