One of the cardinal rules of international tourism is that the folk who run hotels and restaurants must never be completely accurate when translating their own language into English.
Thus, in the course of our travels to foreign parts, we may regard their efforts as ‘a source of innocent merriment’, feel all the better as a result, and, possibly, just a little superior (but that last is not a nice attitude, so dismiss it from your thoughts).
I encountered the most monumentally wonderful example of strangled syntax in an Austrian ski resort one summer long ago, when the skiers had departed and in their stead – and tread – were enthusiastic ramblers and scramblers, clattering about in their heavy footwear.
A large notice on our hotel’s reception desk declared that: “Guests are requested not to perambulate the bedroom corridors during the hours of repose in the boots of ascension.”
As for the notice in an Italian hotel lift, explaining how to insert one’s key card into the slot just inside one’s bedroom door in order to activate the electricity, it would have taken the combined brainpower of GCHQ to have made head or tail of it.
And, though you won’t believe me, I once saw, on a Portuguese menu, what happened when somebody mixed up Avocado and Advocate, the result being ‘Pear of Barrister’.
Which brings me, as you knew it would, to the Buttered Cod and the Cattle Fish.
I’ve just returned from Cyprus, you see. Specifically from a small hotel near a town called Latchi whose waterfront is lined with restaurants. As is the custom, menu boards were displayed outside each, and ‘Buttered Cod’ featured on several of them. ‘Cattle Fish’, however, was confined to just one establishment.
We ate there. And though we were not in the mood for fish that particular evening, the food we did have was excellent.
Having spent a lifetime as a professional taster of ‘funny foreign food’, I am wary of some countries, though generally not those in and on the fringes of Europe. But I went to Cyprus with low expectations, knowing that its cuisine is broadly based on that of Greece.
I have always regarded Greece as a place where the food is ‘hearty’ – which is another way of saying a little on the rough side, though basically edible – and the wine, by and large, undrinkable. “Domestos kills 99% of all known germs” boasted an advert for the disinfectant in former times. “Domestica kills 99% of all known taste buds”, was our variation on that theme when in Greece.
So I had no high hopes as far as Cyprus was concerned, and thought the ‘Battered Cod’ and ‘Cattle Fish’ was evidence of that. Boy, was I wrong!
Our meals in those Latchi restaurants were absolutely first class. Well cooked, beautifully presented and – whisper it – veering a little towards nouvelle cuisine, but with very generous portions.
The wine, too, turned out to be extremely better than anticipated, especially a white called Keo Thisbe. Cypriot, of course, not Greek. I should have thought of that beforehand.
A great deal has obviously changed since I was last on Cyprus.
For one thing, Latchi is no longer a cluster of shabby houses near a rundown harbour. A place you merely pass through on your journey from Paphos to visit the fabled Baths of Aphrodite.
That harbour, on which a lot of money has obviously been spent, is now cluttered with craft, some of them rather swish with slight undertones of gin-palace. The majority, though, are small boats, either owned by people who actually like messing about in them, or available for hire on an hourly, daily, or weekly basis to suit the visitors’ needs.
Some four hundred yards from that harbour and its tavernas is the Souli Beach Hotel, an unpretentious two-star establishment that has a reputation for good food (which is why its restaurant was packed with local folk during the weekend of our stay). I was a little concerned that Carole might not be impressed with our lodgings, for our previous holidays have been in three and four star hotels.
I think she was, on arrival, disappointed, but any gloom had completely vanished the following morning. We had arrived after dark, you see, and had no idea that the hotel was located right on the beach, and the view from our adjoining balconies was breathtaking.
The Mediterranean glittered beneath a virtually cloudless sky, and a row of palm trees shielded the hotel’s swimming pool, like guardsman with unruly busbies. Early rising guests were enjoying breakfast al fresco. Simple though it may be, the Souli was a little gem.
And, as Carole sensibly pointed out, the beds were comfortable, the plumbing worked (the showers were first class), and the staff were kindness and efficiency personified. So what more did we need? There are times when you don’t want the “bells and whistles” that come with a cluster of stars. This was one of them.
That having been said, I think the Souli has reached a point in its life when it could do with a touch of TLC. A facelift. A makeover. Call it what you will. A little boost to its ego.
The package holiday on which we based our trip includes a hire car, but we decided that, as we were staying for just a week and had no plans to tour extensively, we would do without it. Complimentary limousine transfers between Paphos airport and the hotel were a very acceptable substitute.
As was the local bus service, especially as the stop (in either direction) is right outside the hotel. We used the bus to get to the fabled Baths of Aphrodite, which I remember visiting many years ago. The location has been smartened up, and is now set in a Botanical Garden (a work in progress, I think), with clearly signposted paths.
Legend has it that Aphrodite herself was in the habit of bathing in a grotto on this spot, and those signposted paths lead you to the very spot. Legend also has it that these waters are a source of eternal youth. So it is somewhat depressing that the first thing you see on arrival is a notice that forbids bathing. We compromised by splashing water on our faces. I’ll let you know if it works, but have nothing to report so far.
The Baths are the final stop on the bus route. Its other terminus is a town named Polis, which we visited and enjoyed. Lots of nice shops and a selection of good restaurants in a vehicle-free zone within easy walking distance of the bus stop.
And that is more or less that. A brief break in pleasant (though not extremely hot) sunshine, which relaxed mind and body and provided an assortment of memories.
Memories like that of the massively generous amount of gin the Souli’s barman (George) poured when asked for a gin and tonic. (So much that a second empty glass had to be used, in which to decant half – to be consumed with a second can of tonic. Never was “two for the price of one” so appreciated!)
The memory of a roughly written notice pinned up inside the Polis-Aphrodite bus which read: “No bathing clothes. No wet clothes. No nudity.”
And, particularly, memories of the young folk standing outside the various snack bars and tavernas, inviting you to read their menus, check their prices and, hopefully, give them your custom.
These young people were, overwhelmingly, female. Their English was a little rough around the edges, but it was easy to discover they were from Romania or the Ukraine, Poland or Lithuania.
“Where are all the young Cypriot folk?” I asked one of them.
“I think they have all gone to London”, she replied. “That is why we are here.”
I think she may be right.
Our trip was based on a holiday in the Sunvil brochure (www.sunvil.co.uk)
The Souli Beach Hotel website is: www.soulibeachhotel.com
Of the Latchi harbourside restaurants, I can recommend Porto Latchi, Faros, and Sea Fare. In Polis, the Olde Town Tavern, or Moustokilis.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends GIC The Villa Collection.