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Flashback > Ten unforgettable Olympic moments August 6, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics.
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Since French baron Pierre de Coubertin gave fresh life to the Olympic movement in 1896, the Games have been witness to some of the most unforgetable moments in sports. Some of those moments have been dazzling athletic achievements. Others have been moments that organizers would have preferred never happened. But good or bad, these events have helped create the memories that shape our perceptions of the Olympic Games to the present day.

So here, in no particular order, are ten unforgettable moments from the Summer Olympic Games.

Jesse Owens – Berlin 1936
In 1936, Nazi Germany played host to the Summer Olmpics, and Germany’s Adolf Hitler was determined to prove the superiority of the Aryan race.

African-American track star Jesse Owens, a son of a sharecropper and the grandsons of slaves, had other plans. In a display that dealt a tremendous blow to the Nazi’s racist ideology, Owens won the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash and the long jump. He was also a key member of the 400-meter relay team that won the gold medal. He set records in three of those events. He was the first American to ever win four medals in an Olympic Games.

But as Owens himself later noted, his single-handed destruction of Hitler’s myth of Aryan superiority did little at the time to advance the cause of African-Americans in the US.

“When I came back to my native country, after all the stories about Hitler, I couldn’t ride in the front of the bus,” Owens said. “I had to go to the back door. I couldn’t live where I wanted. I wasn’t invited to shake hands with Hitler, but I wasn’t invited to the White House to shake hands with the president, either.”
The Soviet Union-USA Gold Medal basketball final – Munich 1972
It was as bad a call by officials as has ever been made in a sporting contest. The 1972 gold medal basketball game between the United States and the Soviet Union was a real squeaker, but it looked as if the Americans had pulled it out. But that was not to be, as long-time Monitor sports writer and now sports blogger Ross Atkins recalled recently:

After the US appeared to have kept its perfect Olympic record intact and escaped a huge upset by the Soviets in the men’s final, the referees twice decided to put three seconds back on the clock. The Soviets managed to score the winning basket on the second replay and win the gold medal. Distraught by what they considered an injustice, the members of US team voted unanimously to refuse their silver medals. They’ve never reneged, and to this day the medals sit in a Swiss vault.
How seriously do the American players who played on that team take this boycott? Team captain Kenny Davis actually placed in his will a request that his wife and children can never, ever receive the silver medal from that game.

Ethiopian Abebe Bikila wins a gold medal while running barefoot – Rome 1960
Abebe Bikila was a young member of the Imperial Bodyguard of Ethiopia when he ran the marathon in the 1960 Games in Rome. Up until that time, no black African had ever won a gold medal in the Olympic Games, let alone a prestigious track and field event like the marathon. But Bikila, running without his shoes in the chilly dawn of a Roman summer day, broke that dry spell, and set a new world record at the same time. (more…)


Flashback > Olympic host cities August 6, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Athens 2004 Olympics.
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Since the founding of the International Olympic Committee, 38 cities in 20 countries have hosted the Olympic Games.

Year Site
1896 Summer Athens, Greece
1900 Summer Paris, France
1904 Summer St. Louis, Mo.
1908 Summer London, England
1912 Summer Stockholm, Sweden
1916 Cancelled (WWI)
1920 Summer Antwerp, Belgium
1924 Winter Chamonix, France
Summer Paris, France
1928 Winter St. Moritz, Switzerland
Summer Amsterdam, the Netherlands
1932 Winter Lake Placid, N.Y.
Summer Los Angeles, Calif.
1936 Winter Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
Summer Berlin, Germany
1940 Canceled (WWII)
1944 Canceled (WWII)
1948 Winter St. Moritz, Switzerland
Summer London, England
1952 Winter Oslo, Norway
Summer Helsinki, Finland
1956 Winter Cortina, Italy
Summer Melbourne, Australia
1960 Winter Squaw Valley, Calif.
Summer Rome, Italy
1964 Winter Innsbruck, Austria
Summer Tokyo, Japan
1968 Winter Grenoble, France
Summer Mexico City, Mexico
1972 Winter Sapporo, Japan
Summer Munich, West Germany
1976 Winter Innsbruck, Austria
Summer Montreal, Canada
1980 Winter Lake Placid, N.Y.
Summer Moscow, USSR
1984 Winter Sarajevo, Yugoslavia
Summer Los Angeles, Calif.
1988 Winter Calgary, Canada
Summer Seoul, South Korea
1992 Winter Albertville, France
Summer Barcelona, Spain
1994 Winter Lillehammer, Norway
1996 Summer Atlanta, Ga.
1998 Winter Nagano, Japan
2000 Summer Sydney, Australia
2002 Winter Salt Lake City, Utah
2004 Summer Athens, Greece

Climb higher with the gods in Cyprus August 6, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus.
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If fragrant trails, exquisite views, ancient Byzantine churches and colourful cuisine are to your taste, the Troodos mountains in Cyprus may do the trick.

Sharp intake of breath, swift step backwards. It’s good to know that my survival instincts are pretty well tuned for someone of such advanced age. These little adrenalin surges are useful counterpoints to the serene beauty of Cyprus at altitude. Otherwise it would be all multi-coloured butterflies flitting in and out of ancient foliage, mountain streams trickling icily clear water over mineral-rich volcanic rock, or lofty vistas stretching from rugged north coast to hazy south.

These are the Troodos mountains, an hour’s drive and centuries away from the lager, leering and bass beats of Ayia Napa. This is a Cyprus that still wears a cloak of ancient myth or classical legend, all groves of lush splendour, and ripe-scented forest paths, with wooded trails named after Artemis and Persephone.
Cyprus’s popularity with British holidaymakers has tended to stem from a combination of the climatic and cultural: the assurance of sunshine most of the year, and the comfort that you’re never far away from sausage and chips and a familiar pint of Carlsberg.

In the Limassol restaurants or Larnaca squaddies’ nightclubs, it is easy to forget that this island was the crossroads of the ancient world, a vital link between Phoenician and Hellenic civilisations, the source of the copper that burnished the ancient world, and rather beautiful with it.

Perhaps because it is in such stark contrast to the soulless hedonism of the south-coast resorts, hiking in the mountains is organised with an attention to detail that seems designed for the approval of the mountains’ most assiduous visitors, the Germans. Trails are clearly marked, with every tree, rock or highlight of potential interest identified on an accompanying map.

At times the information can be a tad pointless. You will stumble around the corner of a mountain path to see an awesome horizon stretching over a pine-clad slope, distant peaks clustering in artistic splendour with the eastern Mediterranean glinting in the distance, and some efficient civil servant will have hammered in a neat sign telling you that this is an “Excellent Viewpoint”.

The best base here is the small and charming town of Platres, fresh enough at 3,790ft to stay coolish even in the furnace of a Cypriot summer. Platres’s raison d’être is pretty much confined to catering to tourists, but it does it with an easy grace and relaxed manner, and an amiable sense of being unchanged for decades. George Seferis, the Greek poet and Nobelist, wrote in “Eleni” one of his poems, “Nightgales never let you sleep in Platres”. 

So you have Cleopatra’s gift shop, all dusty old games and toys, decorative bottles hand-painted by the two sisters who run the place (“I had to learn the art for two years in Greece, but nobody understands the designs any more,” one sister, maybe Cleopatra, lamented), and pretty but unremarkable lacework from the Troodos villages. You suspect it might be a while since anyone bought anything from Cleopatra’s and the place is in the process of changing identity from gift shop to museum.

The hotels might have seen better days, but they have a homely charm to them. The Spring, in a beautiful setting overlooking the valley to the north of town, makes the simple claim: “Ideal for rest”. The Splendid, in the centre of Platres, has resisted the temptation to rename itself the more empirically accurate “Passable” or “Adequate”.

It’s worth staying in the fading Kallithea though, for the lavish breakfasts and for the friendly philosophy of the remarkable owner Evagoras Kyriakides. The day I came to check out, the 84-year-old proprietor was nowhere to be found. He returned an hour or so later with a dark bruise on his forehead mumbling about being “lucky to be alive”.

It turned out that a passing Cypriot driver, not untypically, had taken a corner a little too enthusiastically, and knocked Evagoras into the grass verge. He chose this as the inspiration for a lengthy homily on the advisability of having children, the future of the Kallithea being a little insecure as his Australian nephews were less than thrilled at the prospect of returning to Cyprus to run the place. Stay there while you still have the chance, and enjoy the kind of environment where the decor includes a framed and mounted jigsaw puzzle of an old German market square.

The best place to eat around Platres is probably the Psilo Dendro trout farm about a mile from the north of town. You can look at the mountain trout teeming in the tanks outside, then go in and enjoy a plump fish freshly grilled with a little vinaigrette. Back in the main square is the Caledonia restaurant, a friendly establishment with no discernible Scottish connection. The cuisine is mainstream Greek, plenty of tzatziki, mezedes, grilled chicken or pork kebabs and superior salads. Most of the restaurants in town will recommend their slow-cooked lamb kleftiko, or stewed beef and onion stifado, but prices are much the same wherever you head, rarely topping 15 euro for three courses.

What may surprise those who have developed a suspicion of eastern Mediterranean wines is that the “village wine”, a rough and ready red from the Troodos vineyards, is more than palatable.

It turns out that the Caledonia takes it name from the Kaledonia waterfall, an easy walk of about four miles upstream from Platres. Because of its accessibility this is one of the most popular trails in the Troodos, and in the afternoon you may find that it is busier than the town itself. However, the shady banks and rocky path are a delight to walk, and the falls, while not spectacular, are worth the trip.

You can carry on up the trail as far as Troodos itself, not so much a village as a settlement of bars, restaurants and market stalls. The incongruous Scottish names theme continues at the Ben Nevis restaurant, although Scots of traditional dietary inclinations will recognise the eggs, sausage, bacon and chips combo featuring prominently on the menu.

It is in the process of extensive remodelling, but for now Troodos is essentially an extended bus stop, with coach parties dropping in to buy T-shirts, leatherware and the bargain boxes of Cyprus Delight sweets

Troodos is the base for some excellent hikes around Mount Olympus, the island’s highest peak. The Artemis trail is a highlight, meandering through black pine stands, mineral outcrops, and wild sage and mint, spoilt only slightly by a dense cloud of flies lying in wait below the western summit.

With a car it is possible to explore the valleys and villages further to the north, placid retreats occasionally enlivened by a perfect miniature Byzantine church. On the road from Troodos to Kakopetria is the most remarkable of these, the atmospheric 11th-century Agios Nikolaos tis Stegis, still offering Sunday services for the villagers in the region. A more frequented stop on the tourist trail is the imposing Kykko Monastery, superficially impressive, but restored so often that its Byzantine origins are now only apparent in traces. It can also be swamped by coach parties unless you get there early in the day. The interior is far more impressive, with a lavish collection of religious artefacts, and moody ancient choral music piped through a discreet ambient sound system. The whole place seems to be a constant skirmish between tour-group tackiness and genuine spiritual austerity.

The edifices here though must be secondary to the great outdoors. Further east by the Madari forest, near the hamlet of Spilia, a longer trail zig-zags up summits and through wooded valleys. Here you can gaze over the peaks to the north, and where a quiet corner of the trail might shelter one of those nightgales Seferis was talking about.

Details: In Platres, the Kallithea Hotel (25 421746) has simple double rooms, most with balconies from about 65 euro depending on season (breakfast included).

Further information: Cyprus Tourism Organisation; www.visitcyprus.org.cy

High on a Cyprus hill August 6, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Paphos, Hotels Cyprus.
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So here we are, on a scorched hillside high above the Venetian port-town of Polis, north-western Cyprus, visiting Uncle Yiorgos’s farm. Behind us lies a table under a pergola of vines, spread with roast lamb, tomatoes in olive oil, big white loaves and cold Coca-Cola. But before we can eat, we must be given the tour of Yiorgos’s livestock. 

The smell, however, is not from the goats, but the cheese-shed, a dark, gloomy lean-to where the home-made cheeses are drying out. Each is kept in the leg of a pair of old tights, and hung from the ceiling. The impression is of a cave of rank dairy stalactites, encircled by flies.

This shed is airless and dark, and filled, from corner to corner, with stringy, greasy, bug-eyed chickens, who are attacking each other with poo-stained claws. But of course, Yiorgos doesn’t want free-range chickens. He’s too busy spending every day following his sheep across the hillside, slowly burning to a deep-purple colour in the scorching heat. He looks around 80 although, he is, in fact, 58. 

To be fair, when we eat Yiorgos’s 60-denier cheese, it is lovely. 

A cultural heritage is all fine and well, but I think, like most things, it’s something best discovered from a base camp in a five-star hotel. Hotel Almyra is surely one of the classiest hotels in Cyprus. Sitting on a clear, shingled, swimmable beach in Paphos, it is less Eurotrash than its sister hotel, the Annabelle, and styled in a serene, minimalist, Tyler Brûlé way.

Whereas most of Cyprus is decorated in dark, varnished wood and overpowering florals, the Almyra has Philippe Starck fixtures, waffle linen, floor-to-ceiling windows and Goldfrapp playing serenely in the lobby. Outside, the pool is made of black slate, swimming around it in the early morning, it reflects the sky perfectly. Occasionally, pink hibiscus flowers fall in the water as you scull. The Athenian cocktail waiter makes perfect mojitos, and brings them to the poolside.  (more…)

My Land Rover and me August 6, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Paphos.
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Driving tourists from around the world across the island has led to the formation of many friendships.

With waist-length hair, a love of cigars and extrovert personality, Nicos Nicolaides is a very interesting character, and you cannot help but admire his infectious enthusiasm for life.

The former hotel hospitality king changed career direction 12 years ago when he decided to become a Jeep Safari Driver, driving his Land Rover all over Cyprus on tourist excursions.

There is no typical 24 hours for this professional driver and historian of Cyprus. He is continually on the road, driving between 300 and 420 kilometres every day. “I wake up at 6.30am in order to start picking up tourists from their hotels in the Ayia Napa and Protaras area,” he said.

“The main excursions are to the Akamas Peninsula and the Troodos Mountains, with stops in various places.”

Such an itinerary means a lot of off-road driving. “You need an extra degree of concentration and judgement,” he said. “You must know exactly how the jeep works and how to deal with its second gearbox. It’s completely different to driving on a normal road and you must respect your passengers in order to provide them with a safe drive.”

He called himself a man of nature whose favourite part of the island is the Akamas Peninsula. “It is an area of great biodiversity and ecological significance. It is home to 530 plant species, a third of the total for Cyprus, 126 of which are endemic to the island. I love the orchids and their amazing colours.”

Cyprus sits at the crossroads of three major flora zones, Europe, Africa and Asia. As a consequence, the island has a high number of plant species, 1,750, of which 127 are endemic. The number of species found on Akamas runs to approximately 530, of which 33 are endemic. The variety of fauna is equally impressive, 245 birds, 12 mammals, 20 reptiles and 16 butterfly species.

Nicolaides has met people from all four corners of the globe in his line of work and expressed a preference for the Germans. “They are the best customers. They’re very curious and want to learn about Cyprus so it’s a challenge. Due to the fact that I studied and worked in Germany for 13 years, I know the language and the mentality.”

His least favourite customers are, “those from our neighbouring countries. It’s as though they have an inferiority complex. Whatever you tell or show them, they say it’s bigger or better in their country.

“Once, a guy in the jeep insisted on talking about politics and when I declined he turned nasty and insulted me. I refused to drive him back.”

The job has enabled him to make new friends and has brought him success in the romance department. “I spend many hours every day with my customers. We are in close contact and this often leads to the development of close friendships over many years. Let’s put it this way, I like playing the game of the sexes.”

He must have seen some outrageous things over the years. “I have been the subject of some incredible requests over the years,” he said. A beautiful woman once asked to rent me for the night, another paid me £200 to accompany her to dinner, while a husband asked me whether he could film me with his wife. My reply to them was – you can look, but don’t touch!”

In common with others in the industry, Nicolaides has witnessed it slow down over the last couple of years. “The island is gradually becoming more expensive and with EU enlargement, people now have more options of where to holiday. I’ve also noticed that people who book excursions with us want to leave their hotels and see the island and how the locals live. They are not the traditional beach tourist.”

He described the job as very demanding. “After I drop off the customers at 6pm, I then need another hour to wash the jeep and prepare it for the following day. I often work 11 to 12 hours a day, seven days a week, so I am exhausted by the time I go home. After having a shower and some dinner, I collapse on the sofa and watch some TV. The last thing I do before I go to sleep at around 11pm is smoke a cigar on the balcony.”

So what does the future hold? “When I retire, I intend to write a book which I will call ‘My Land Rover and Me,’ which will include many of my experiences. Be sure, it will be a bestseller.”

For more information about excursions with Daktari Jeep Safari, contact 25 322210.

How to drink Chardonnay August 6, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Wine And Spirits.
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One of the world’s favourite grapes, and wines, is even produced with some success in Cyprus.

Chardonnay is the darling of almost every region where wine is produced and can result in everything from a long-lived wine of great complexity to a simple, everyday white, according to how and where it is grown and vinified. It can be light and steely or fat and powerful, minerally and austere or pineappley and exotically tropical. The foods its various styles go with are correspondingly varied – from fish and poultry to cheeses, spicy foods and nut sauces – but at the same time it is harder to go wrong with Chardonnay than with many other varieties.

Mismatches seldom turn out to be truly nasty clashes, simply because the flavours of Chardonnay are not that confrontational. Oily fish like mackerel and sardines are to be avoided and mushrooms treated with caution, but other than those its chief disadvantages for food are its tendency, in the New World, to low acid and very powerful fruit and (added) oak flavours – but the fruitiness can at least be harnessed to Far Eastern spices and bold Mediterranean flavours.

The reason for the extraordinary versatility of the Chardonnay grape is that it has little personality of its own. Instead, like a ventriloquist’s dummy, it expresses the will of the winemaker and the fashion of the day. Only Chablis, in the north of Burgundy, produces a style of Chardonnay that, so far, can be made nowhere else, and that may be attributable to the distinctive Kimmeridgian soil found there. In other places the climate seems to be a more important determining factor, with cool climates producing light, leaner, appley wines unsuited to ageing in new oak barrels. The warmer the climate, the more the wine fills out, until in Australia’s very warm Hunter Valley it becomes fat and packed with butterscotch flavours.

The weighty wines are ideally suited to new oak ageing, which imparts vanilla and toast flavours well matched to Chardonnay’s buttery character. In fact, if you want to taste Chardonnay without oak your choice is limited. Unoaked Chablis is one option, the Chardonnay of Italy’s Alto Adige another. Or Cyprus for that matter.

Traditional Chablis is the epitome of concentrated steely, minerally, unoaked Chardonnay, of a style found nowhere else. Some is now being aged in new oak, which makes for rounder, less uncompromising wine, but the unoaked style is the classic type for fish and shellfish. Choose young Chablis for lighter flavours like oysters, and for salmon, turbot and sole a more mature premier or grand cru. The latter will also have enough weight for quite rich fish and fatty cheeses such as Chaource.

South African Chardonnay though is another style in rapid evolution, especially since better clones of chardonnay only became available in South Africa in the late 80s. There is still a tendency to over use oak, but the general direction is to a point midway between European subtlety and the more ebullient fruit of California or Australia. So far, they are wine for drinking fairly young rather than lying down, and with a good cross section of dishes from mild kormas to roast guinea fowl or even lobster.

Wines of the week

2004 Aes Ambelis Chardonnay Aes Ambelis Winery, Alcohol Volume 13%

The nearest winery to Nicosia on the road to Palaichori. Savvas Fakoukakis and George Tripatsas justify the title of dynamic duo yet again with this Chardonnay, which is a clear, greenish gold. Musky melon and intense peach and mango aromas with a herbaceous note that are pleasantly evocative of fresh green beans. Crisp and dry flavour follows the nose, with clean grapefruit notes consistent in a long finish. Excellent summer wine served at 9-11 degr C with grilled salmon, shellfish as well as poultry or pasta served with a creamy sauce.

2005 Kamanterena Chardonnay, SODAP, Pafos Regional Winery, Alcohol Volume 13%

SODAP’s regional winery at Stroumbi is beginning to produce surprises. After a successful Xynisteri, the Chardonnay – the one I predicted while tasting back in January at the winery. Yellowish with green tones, this Chardonnay has a clean and fresh flavour, it is crisp and aromatic. Sweeter fruit on the nose than Aes Ambelis with pineapple and mango the predominant fruit and with a touch of fresh cooking apples. Crisp and tart flavour, young medium body, with apples and fresh fruit acidity, consistent in a long good finish. Served at 9-11 degr C with tomato-based salads, seafood and especially fried fish or white meat in light tomato sauce.

Walking on water? Almost August 6, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Cyprus Limassol.
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For a novice learning to kitesurf can be a painful and exhausting process but when it finally comes together it is worth the wait.

Kitesurfing is a smorgasbord of wind and water sports, combining elements of parasailing, surfing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, and halfpipe skateboarding, among others, to create an extreme sport so visually astonishing that it almost makes Jesus’ walking on water look mundane.

Kitesurfing is the fastest growing extreme sport in the world and also one of the youngest. In its modern form it is not even ten years old and has skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years, primarily due to the advance of modern safety systems and its spreading see-for-yourself reputation as the hottest sport around.

A kitesurfer can be surfing upwind one second and the next be soaring 30 or more feet over the water, enjoying a bird’s eye view or wowing the beach viewers with a back loop. With only a board and kite, which packs into a backpack, one can kitesurf practically anywhere there is wind and a watery expanse.

The idea behind kitesurfing is simple enough: a power kite pulls the kitesurfer on a compact surfboard over the surface of the water. The inflatable kite is tethered onto the kitesurfer’s harness by a bar, which is used to pilot the kite.

As with all good things, kitesurfing has its risks. The sport has led to the coinage of a new word – kitemare – to describe bad times while kite surfing. One of the most notorious is Erik Ecks’ 39-second kitemare. Ecks’ got caught up in a freak thermal and was launched 50 metres in the air over Mokuleia Beach Park, Hawaii.

Surfcyprus instructor George Dodd, 23, had a kitemare when first learning on a 5-metre foil kite. At the time he had had no instruction and Dodd tried to launch his foil kite in a gale behind some trees, which he thought would block the wind. As a result he was launched 40-feet into the air.

“But it can be a safe sport if you approach it in the right way,” Dodd said. “Most of the accidents happen on land. And there’s no reason why you need to be fooling around or doing stupid things on or near the land. Also, modern safety systems have come a long way, so if in danger you can pop your safety button and your kite will instantly depower and drop.”

Kitesurfing does lack the Zen purity of surfing. But it is such an adaptable and flexible sport that at advanced levels one can incorporate surfing into it. You can use the kite to surf over to a wave and then, once riding it, depower the kite, so that you are only surfing. Then when the ride is over, you power your kite up again and surf over to the next wave. Kitesurfing is – as one devotee put it – “powered surfing”.

It is also a way of life. Kitesurfers are a new breed of itinerant wanderers seeking the perfect waves and winds. Surfcyprus instructor Chris Keyes, 32, has been teaching kitesurfing all over the world and has been kiting since the sport’s inception.

“I always see familiar faces [in different countries],” Keyes said. “It’s about living for the sport. Not many kitesurfers have homes and vehicles. They’ve just got their kites and they’re traveling the world. It’s a good way to travel.”

The island’s warm temperatures, attractiveness of the water, lack of crowds and, especially important for psychological reasons, lack of sharks make kitesurfing in Cyprus especially appealing.

“I was once in Australia at a place called Shark Bay,” a Limassol kitesurfer said. “The water was an amazing blue green and we could see manta rays below us. Then I tried something stupid and I dropped the kite. I didn’t know how to relaunch and I was pulled for maybe a half hour through the water. It wasn’t called Shark Bay for nothing. I was like bait for the sharks. But they left me alone.”

The first time I saw some kitesurfers for myself on a beach outside Limassol I made up my mind to try it, so I signed up for a five-day course with Pissouri Bay’s Surfcyprus – an internationally recognised school with full IKO (International Kiteboarding Organisation) approved school status. (more…)