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By Peter Stevenson MEMBERS of Volunteer Doctors Cyprus have treated around 350 people at their free clinic in Nicosia since it opened three months ago, while two more, one in Paphos and one in Polis are due to open today. Limassol also has a free clinic, which was opened only last month, and plans have been drawn ...
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SOME 10 days ago, foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides raised expectations by announcing the possibility of a deal with Turkey for the opening of the fenced off area of Famagusta, for the return of its inhabitants. In exchange the Cyprus government would agree to the opening of Tymbou airport to direct flights. ...
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By George Psyllides PRIVATE auditors have expressed doubt the electricity authority (EAC) could be considered a going concern and have asked its board to draft a credible plan to tackle the problem, according to the auditor-general’s 2012 report on the semi-state company. Among other issues, ...
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Cyprus Internet Directory [ This is Belfast, you will drink! ]

This is Belfast, you will drink!

MY FIRST night in Belfast, I walked into an old Victorian pub called the Crown Liquor Saloon and asked a tipsy punter for a good place to eat. His words did not encourage.

“Well to be honest with ya, here in Belfast, we're more known for our Chinese food.”

I put it down to alcohol, but it turned out the man was speaking truth. The city was full of good Chinese restaurants, though their names did not always match their reputation, like the shop on Victoria Street flippantly titled, “Foo-kin Noodles”.

I decided to give the Crown another chance. Feeling the pangs of hunger, I speedily made my way to the bar for a Steak and Guinness pie and a pint of the plain. Before I could get my order in the old man behind the counter turned to his colleague and said: “Oh, we've got a live one here Geoff. He's in a real hurry this one, would ya look at him.” At which point, Geoff replied: “Next place your going is the undertakers, son.”

Lesson one: the point about a pint of Guinness taking so many minutes to be poured properly applies to all aspects of life in the Crown.

And so it was. Every day, I'd find a great new place to eat or drink. One day, I came across a little gem near the university called Bookfinders Cafe where you could get a hot soup to warm your cockles. The front of the shop sold second-hand books, though it looked more like Trotsky's living room after one of Stalin's police raids than a bookshop. Hiding in the back was the cafe where handwritten poetry adorned the walls. A wonderful line by Brendan Hamill in 'Emigrant Blather' stood out among the rest: “They said you would be back soon, But you asked 'What for?'.”

Opposite me, two-middle aged men with white and thinning hair were in the throes of an intriguing debate, to which I made a poor effort not to listen. They were establishing the difference between a geek and a nerd. Apparently, a nerd always carries a thermos and wears an anorak. I got a little distracted when my soup arrived and missed the definition of a geek but later caught the end of a conversation on how giving money to charity could make a person happier.

“Giving money away is a great thing and I would love to have some to give,” concluded the man with thinning hair.

As I finished off a lemon tart, the two discussed their partners and the limits of tolerance: “That lingering third kiss really bothered me,” said one. “I mean where does that come into play? You've got the arriving kiss and the leaving kiss but where does the third one come into it?” asked the other.

That night, a bunch of us hit the town, opting for some live traditional music at Fibber Magee's. The craic was good and it was all going swimmingly well until one drunk reveller lifted his stool and tried to smash it over the head of an oblivious Cypriot journalist. Luckily, the bouncer acted faster than we did, and the fool got thrown out before he could swing.

The atmosphere was jumping and I remember thinking how lively the Irish were. They were dancing and singing and flirting and on their feet the whole night. My theory was treated with a dose of napalm when the energetic group on the dance floor ended the night with a boisterous rendition of La Marseillaise. Turns out Magee's is a big hit on the tourist trail.

The following weekend, I wanted to avoid the tourist hot spots and so arranged to meet a local who was a cousin of a friend. I warned him at the start that whatever happened, I was not a drinker and could not take more than four pints of anything in one sitting. He laughed: “This is Belfast. You will tonight.”

Six pints of black and two shots of Zambuca later, I was thrown onto the dance floor by a lady much thicker boned than myself. After minutes of spinning, I tried to excuse myself but before I could speak, she asked: “Are you foreign?”

“Yes, how can you tell?”

“You can dance.”

I took the complement and left. The next morning was painful. The group had arranged a bus tour to County Antrim. The scenery was stunning but the coastal lanes were so small and the bus so big that I felt more like Adrian Mole than Keith Richards trying to nurse a horrible hangover and motion sickness.

As the bus navigated its way out of Belfast, we saw the face-like contours of the same hills that inspired Jonathan Swift to write Gulliver's Travels. On our right was the shipyard that built the ill-fated Titanic in the early 1900s. The bus driver quipped, “We've made other ships that didn't sink you know.”

We took a short stop at Carrick-A-Rede. I didn’t want to walk two kilometres on a cliff side in gale force winds and then cross over a 285-year-old death-defying rope bridge, but it was the only way they would let me back on the bus.

After much breathing in a paper bag, we arrived at the north eastern tip of the island, past the shaggy Glens of Antrim. With my head still in my hands, I took a peak at the Unesco World Heritage site, the Giant's Causeway. Hundreds upon hundreds of hexagonal stone columns were packed together across a vast expanse of land, creating an inexplicable rock formation estimated to be 65 million years old. They were so many and so perfectly hexagonal that it's no wonder people thought higher forces were at play in their making.

The next evening, still feeling a little sensitive, I skipped the night life for a dark comedy at the cinema. Before the film started, I was surprised to see a recruitment ad for the Royal Marines. The British Army is not the most popular institution in N. Ireland. It surprised me that I was surprised. The fact that I paid in Pound Sterling and saw the red, white and blue of the Union Jack painted on pavement kerbs should have been enough of a reminder.

Belfast was great but you could see it was a city in transition, still trying to heal its wounds. If you were careful, at times, you could still see the cloud of stale hatred and conflict hanging over the city. You could sense the violent beast hiding in the shadows, not quite purged yet. Anyhow, the time had come to leave the UK. With euros in one hand and a ticket for Dublin in the other, I bid Belfast goodbye.

(Source: Cyprus Mail)

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