The historical ‘Ohi’ (No) day

Today is a bank holiday in Cyprus and Greece.

Not many know why. I’m not sure what went wrong with the educational system since my generation left school.

We were not just aware of what we celebrated on each national holiday, we knew details, the nitty gritty.

So, what do we celebrate on the 28th of October?

On this day, in 1940, 80 years ago the Greek dictator and Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas (we were not taught he was a dictator until we were 15-16, before then we grew up to think of him as a national hero) said the historical NO to the Italian ambassador in Athens, Emanuele Grazzi, when he presented Metaxas with an ultimatum, either allow Italy to enter Greece and occupy strategic locations (so Italy can conquer more countries during World War II) or face war.

Apparently Ioannis Metaxas’ immediate response was actually in French, the official diplomatic language, “Alors, c’est la guerre!” (Then it is war!). He then used the historic phrase NO when the Italian ambassador tried to persuade him to change his mind. (This part I couldn’t remember, I admit).

After Ioannis Metaxas’s rejection of the ultimatum, Italy invaded Greece and that was the start of the Greek-Italian war of 1940-41 in which the Greeks fought heroically and actually managed to keep the Italians away until Germany came to the rescue and then Greece were under German occupation until the end of World War II.

It just goes to show that the power of the spirit and soul is undefeatable and historically we humans always seek our freedom and we will fight to death for it. Sometimes we forget this.

But we shouldn’t. We should always fight for our freedom, in any form or shape, financial, spiritual, physical.

Anyway, here’s to the 28th of October and the historical ‘Ohi’.



The Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios Mansion

September 5th, 2018

It’s a hot, sunny day.  Somehow is already 12pm and I’m wandering in Old Nicosia, sweat dripping down my back, my head so hot it physically hurts and miraculously mum and Stella are going along with it but the little sister is complaining ‘Why did we have to come today, the hottest time of the day? For what? Just to see a house?’

It’s not just a house. You don’t understand. It’s a piece of Cypriot history and it’s the most gorgeous house I’ve ever seen. Probably my favourite historic building in Nicosia, no, not just in Nicosia, the whole island!

‘You’ll see when we get there. Come on, keep going and stop whinging!’

And finally, here we are.  The Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios Mansion, or Konaki (Konak: Turkish for official residence, back in Ottoman Empire times). ‘The most important example of urban architecture of the last century of Ottoman rule that survives in old Nicosia’. So who was Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios?

He was a dragoman, an official interpreter for the Divan (Council) of the Sultan in 18th Century Cyprus, when the island was under the Ottoman empire, mainly dealing with taxation and administration. A wealthy, high-esteemed man who used his power and money to secretly help and protect Christians, lepers and the Church of Cyprus, which caused the hatred and envy of the Turk Officials who decapitated him in Constantinople in 1809.

I  can’t recall how old I was when I was last there, it was on a school trip sometime in high school but I still vividly remember that feeling of pure awe of the beautiful yard, every single room, especially the ‘living room’ where Kornesios entertained his guests.

As soon as you walk in the huge dark brown doors you can’t but admire the beautiful terrace, the imposing pillars, the beautiful trees.






The inside is equally impressive. The furniture, the ornaments, the architecture. How not to love this place.






I could just imagine how life might have been in the 1800s, Kornesios having breakfast with his wife and children on the sunny terrace,  how they would secretly meet with Christians on a dark summer evening and the next day he would be smoking shisha with Turkish Officials.

I was so happy I managed to visit this place again after so many years, now as a ‘mature’ adult. It was exactly as I remembered it, time hasn’t changed it at all, but now it somehow felt more sacred. I guess because I could appreciate its importance now.

After our visit, we headed to Shakolas Observatory for some panoramic Nicosia views. It’s always bittersweet witnessing the contrast, looking over to the ‘other side’. Such a beautiful city but divided, ‘the last divided capital in the world’.


It was late lunchtime by the time we were done so we sat at a nearby Cafe La Mode (I know, so many choices, why sit at a chain restaurant, but the majority won) for a cold Jasmine tea and a veggie wrap. It was delicious, I must admit.

Cafe La Mode

If you ever find yourself in old Nicosia, go, see the Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios with your own eyes, you won’t regret it.

Anna I hope you get it now!



Nothing stays the same and nothing changes… (part 2)

Thursday afternoon…

I’m ready. I put my Spotify on and After all comes up first… ‘tou tou tou tou tou tou...After all I really love you‘.  I smile. I loved this song since  the first moment I heard it, when a friend sent it to me a while ago. It never fails to cheer me up.

I packed all I need and waiting for the little one to pick me up. First stop, her Italian oral exam. Somehow half an hour later I find myself sitting with her and her course mate in the classroom. Stefano invited me in, I smiled and nodded. What a lovely man. Funky yellow trousers, cool glasses, a sweet, polite voice.

I’m surprised how much Italian I remember. I’m so proud of my little sis and her classmate. They did brilliantly.

I chat to a couple of her classmates afterwards, nervously waiting outside. I wish I could tell them that none of this really matters… Enjoy your life little ones and don’t worry about exams. But would have I listened if I was told that ten years ago when I was in their shoes?

Now… what should I have for dinner on Tuesday when I arrive back in Southampton late and exhausted? What about moving? What if I don’t find a place and have nowhere to stay, what if the agency messes up me and I have to stay another two months? (Cold sweat…) Stop it! Focus!

Now the exam is over it’s time to head to the theatre for a final rehearsal and the show.

There’s no signal in the theatre and I can’t use my phone. That’s for the best. It can be my worst distraction sometimes…

A few hours later…

Tickets sorted, all ready, it’s showtime!

It all went well minus a couple of hiccups. I feel bad I didn’t recognise the Vice Chancellor straight away. I’ve only seen a photo of him the day before and there was a mess up with the tickets… I didn’t instantly figure it out. But all well.

I’m so proud for my little sister and everyone involved in the musical. None of them is a professional singer or an actor but they put together a brilliant show. Now, let’s help pack, tidy up and go home…



I can’t unlock the car, why can’t I unlock the car?

I knew it! The long beep I’ve heard earlier when we were rushing out of the car was the lights. I told her. She thought it was the door…

Now it’s half past midnight and other than one more person, who didn’t have any equipment to help us start jump the car anyway there’s no one else left at the car park.

After about an hour, we are finally home. A friend came to the rescue and it all ended well. God I’m exhausted…

Friday noon…

I finally got some sleep. I still feel drained but there’s no rest for the wicked.

The little sis and I pop to the shops for some essentials. The guy at the newsagents starts a conversation… Surprised, I stare for a second and then I remember where I am and how people are different here. I smile and make a joke. I’ve adapted again, a couple of days before I’m about to leave…

Friday afternoon…

I’m meeting two of my oldest best friends. We’ve known each other since high school. We haven’t changed much, other than carrying our bruises and scars of the last 18 years, hopeful but more realistic and scared to dream as big…

And… a lovely surprise! A friend I haven’t seen for ten years, a friend I spent endless evenings just driving around town with, nights out and days at the beach as a naive and careless 20 year old. So happy to see him. He looks exactly the same. He talks exactly the same, strikingly honest as always but he as well more mature and pragmatic about life.

Saturday morning…

This is the only time during my short visit the five of us are all together and it’s hilariously chaotic as always. We go for a walk at the beach, still a bit too cold for a swim but perfect for a Saturday stroll and lunch. I can’t stop humming ‘tell me how to be in this world, tell me how to breathe in and feel no hurt’…

I cherish these rare moments, that’s what they are nowadays, rare and they will get rarer the older we get.

It’s funny how as a teen, even a young 20 year old, we dread family time with our parents and our siblings but the older we get, the more we realise the fragility of life and how thing may change at any minute, the more we appreciate the sacrifices they made and still make for us, their selfless love and the only thing they want in return is for us to be happy and spend time with them…


Saturday afternoon…

I finally get to see the only best friend I couldn’t see at Christmas. We sit at a cafe for hours chatting, with a coffee in hand, like we used to back at uni.

A few hours later we are having beers right next to the Faneromeni church with her fiance, his brother and my sister. It feels like a scene from Boyhood… but a few years later, now some 30 year olds who’ve known each other for years, sitting at a bar, just outside one of the oldest churches in Nicosia, having a beer, still troubled and  desperate seeking the meaning of life whilst reminiscing… What a beautiful, surreal way to end the day.

2018-05-13 13.28.53.jpg

Sunday noon…

No matter what you have planned for the day, there is always time for a cup of coffee and almost always the company grows at the last minute.

Sunday afternoon…

After some shopping and… a coffee with friends and sisters it’s time for my godson’s belated birthday. I’m so happy I’ve been to his first birthday last year and now his second. He’s grown so much and every time I see him our bond is getting stronger and stronger…

Pappou Costa and my aunties are here, my cousin’s little angels and her husband and relatives are here. I enjoy every moment, despite the mayhem and the noise, it actually somehow makes it better…

Monday noon…

I’m sitting at the Uni’s cafe with my mum. I’m on my laptop writing a post, the first part of this blog and she is knitting rosaries. It’s quiet, peaceful…It has just rained but the sun is out again. It never stays away for long on this island…


Monday afternoon…

I take the little sister on an educational trip down old Nicosia. I’m surprised how little she knows about the island’s history but I’m glad I’m teaching her what I’ve known for years… Up the Siakolas tower for a panoramic view of the city, one of the few spots you can see over ‘the other side’ without having to show your passport to cross the green line, the only divided capital in the world, down the old town, the Archbishop’s place that was half burned during the coup in 1974, the house of the dragoman  Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios who, although working with the Turks, secretly helped his fellow Greek Cypriots in the 1800’s, when the country where under the Ottoman empire…


Tuesday morning…

My throat feels sore… typical. I’m getting a cold just as I’m about to leave. I try not to think about it.

I say goodbye to the family and this little man…



and my sister drops me off at the airport. I think I prefer it to just get dropped off rather than saying goodbye to my sisters and my mum to the gate. Still emotional but makes it easier to leave.

Time to go back, but I feel I needed a few more days… to tackle my overthinking… Remember, one day at a time…


Remember… nothing stays the same and nothing changes…

Remember… you got this…



Bordeaux day 3- museums, bookstores and more rain

I opened my eyes… I could hear the rain, it must have rained all night and all of a sudden pain, the moment my senses woke up. I forgot about the pain.

Why? It’s not time yet, it’s not until next week… But it seems that the walking and the excitement of it all had an effect on my body.

It rained, I was in pain and feeling rough, I may be also getting a cold…I was tempted to pop out just to grab some food and then stay in bed for the rest of the day. But I wouldn’t do that. Not on my last full day in Bordeaux.

I popped downstairs for breakfast.  Malvina got me a pastel de nata, a Portuguese sweet tart and goat’s milk yogurt, in addition to fresh bread and her delicious organic spreads.

I love chatting with her. Today we talked about life, how she decided to never get married, living alone but with an amazing support network of friends and family, her career as a city planner, working for the government, it reminded me of Parks and Rec, oh I miss it… What a wonderful life she had, full of adventures and now, lucky enough to retire early she spends her time doing whatever she likes. She gave me advice, she made me laugh and made me feel awesome (she thought I was younger than my age but she still thought I was young and I should follow my dreams and not compromise, thanks Malvina!).

After about two hours getting ready, everything still hurting, I was out and about. I had a vague plan for today.

First on the list: A  unique, quirky bookstore I discovered online, Machine a Lire. It was more impressive to see up close. And it was so quiet, very appropriate for such an imposing setting.

Machine a Lire

Next, another bookstore, this one of historic importance, Librairie Mollat, located where political philosopher Montesquieu last lived. It was huge! On my way there a group of school children following their teacher, like ducklings follow their mum, were on their way to the bookstore too, stopping every now and then for the teacher to show them another landmark. I remember when our teachers took us on day trips when we were 6-7 years old. Everything seemed so big, everything impressed us.

Librairie Mollat

After a wander in the enormous bookshop, it was time to visit Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux, the Museum of Fine Arts. I didn’t know what to expect, but in the end it definitely worth more than the five euros entry.

It was split into two buildings, the classic art in one side and modern art on the other (with an impressive palace in the middle).

Musée des Beaux-Arts de Bordeaux

It’s impossible to list all the artwork that impressed me but the ones that I still remember:

David holding Goliath’s head (Aubin Vouet)

David tenant la tete de Goliath, Aubin Vouet

God Hermes, devastated  for Sappho’s, the Greek poet, death (Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse)

La mort de Sapho

The Window a La Goulette (Tunisia) (by Albert Marquet), so simple but striking.

La Fenetre a la Goulette

The Souliot women (Narcisse Diaz de  La Pena) who heroically decided to commit suicide rather than surrender to the Turks back in 1803, and they did so by singing and dancing, the Zalongo dance, I guess not many would know the story behind it, unless you were born and raised in Greece or Cyprus).

Les Femmes Souliotes

And finally an original Picasso, Olga Reading

Olga reading, Picasso

After a short break for late lunch at the first cafe I bumped into (not the best food I had but it was OK)

Baked Camembert

and a moment to admire the cathedral

St Andre Cathedral

my final stop was Musée d’Aquitaine, a museum on the history of Bordeaux and Aquitaine. It spanned over thousands of years of history, from the palaeolithic age, the first paintings on the wall, the Roman era to modern history. Definitely worth a visit if you are ever in Bordeaux!


And that was the last place to visit in Bordeaux. I made my way home to pack and prepare for my flight tomorrow.

I can’t believe I haven’t travelled on my own before. I loved everything about it. The freedom, the liberation, wandering around, getting lost in streets I’ve never walked down before, ending up in the most random places, discovering new things.

I wish everyone could experience travelling on their own at least once. It’s such a unique, meaningful, emotional, amazing experience, it’s hard to understand until you do it yourself.

I’d definitely do it again, although it’s great to share these moments with loved ones. Here’s to more adventures, small or big, solo or with friends and family, that’s what’s life it’s all about.



05:30, 20th of July, 1974 the sirens sounded, the Turks just invaded Cyprus…

43 years agο, on the early, warm morning of the 20th of July 1974, the sirens sounded. Since then they will sound every year on that day to remind us of 1974.

My mum, 8 years old then, with two of her three sisters, her brother and her parents woke up terrified and were told that Turks invaded Cyprus and had to leave their home and ran into safety. Her eldest sister was with her grandma and grandpa, captured by the Turks. Later on a kind Turkish officer would disguise her and she would pretend to be an old lady so she could escape and avoid rape and murder…

A few cities away, my dad, his two sisters and his mum were on the run, desperate to get into safety… They would live in a refugee camp for months…

My dad still has some photos from the time he lived in those but since they are all back home in Cyprus. I found these ones online, to give you an idea of life after the invasion.

I’ve heard and read hundreds of horror stories over the years, not just what I’ve been taught at school (not much) but from my parents, relatives, family friends and my own research.

I spent endless summer nights with my dad sitting on our balcony, having a cold beer and him narrating everything that has happened with chilling details, from the 15th of July 1974, the coup, the assassination attempt of the then president Archbishop Makarios (his statue is still in Madam Tussauds), the historic moment he addressed the Cypriot nation on the radio confirming he was alive, until that horrendous day, 20/7/1974 that left a horrible mark on my little island’s history for ever.

43 years later, a lot of people are still missing, several have died in protest (I vividly remember the summer of 1996, when Solomos Solomou, upset and emotional after his cousin’s murder, was shot dead by a Turkish officer, whilst climbing on the flag pole in an attempt to take down the Turkish flag and replace it with the Cypriot one. The whole island watching this were terrified that the Turks would invade Cyprus again, I had nightmares for years after that day)  and Nicosia is the last divided capital in the world.

I won’t get into too much politics but I’m aware that England, Turkey and Greece had already divided the island since 1963, 11 years before the invasion and the infamous Green Line that still divides my little island got its name from the colour of the pen the then British Commander Young used to split the island on the map. British forces are still in Cyprus to keep the ‘peace’ between the two ‘governments’.

It’s sad that after all these years the island is still divided and all because of politics. My grandparents and parents used to live with Turkish Cypriots in peace until politics destroyed everything. My grandpa can still speak Turkish, as he had Turkish Cypriot friends.

It’s sad that my little sister’s generation doesn’t really know much about what happened and a lot of the memories and the history will die when my generation dies.

I remember my dearest grandma Stella describing me the beauties of her birth place, Kithrea, the river that run through it, Kefalovriso, how my mum used to play with the ducks in the river, my grandpa telling me all about his life before 1974, being a shepherd, spending his days in the fields, playing his flute. I remember my dad’s hilarious childhood adventures, running around getting himself into trouble, working at his uncle’s restaurant and many many more stories.

I’ve always wanted to write them down so they don’t die with me and that’s on my bucket list.

I can keep on writing about my little island’s history for days but the only thing I want to say on this day is:

I hope that one day I don’t have to show my passport to visit my mum and dad’s homes, the places they were born and grew up. I’ve only visited once and I found it extremely sad and felt sorry for Turkish Cypriots who most live in poverty. There is so much beauty on the other side of my island but no money to let it shine through.

I hope one day my little island will be united again, even if it’s under two governments.

Until then, I’ll never forget and hope for the best.

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Eleni x