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Birdlife event [May. 24th, 2007|11:45 pm]
Falcon Blue

Just got back from an evening presented as part of the celebration of 50 years since formation of first Cyprus Ornithological Society organised by BirdLife Cyprus. I went to the part of the evening with the lecture and launch of the Cyprus area Worldbird database at the University of Cyprus having skipped the opening of the new offices.

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Hiking [Mar. 21st, 2007|11:03 pm]
Falcon Blue
I've been getting out into the great outdoors quite often recently. It's the appropriate time before summer descends upon us. Part of the reason is the recent BirdLife experiment. The other part is that I was introduced to a group in the north that goes on walks every Sunday.

To be precise, they are the Association of Mountaineering though mountaineering brings to mind pitons, rope, and belaying as opposed to the walking sticks that are de rigeur. Sadly their website is only in Turkish and has no maps so is a bit difficult to navigate and understand. Although, as with the language barrier of the TimeOut Cyprus, how much Turkish does one need to figure out that they meet at 7:30am? And on that note, 7:30 a.m. ??!! And that's at the starting point of the walk so one has to leave town about 7 a.m. and add in some time for crossing....

This past Sunday, my second outing with them, we went on a day trip to Troodos. The two coach buses left from Ledra Palace fairly close to the designated 7am time. It turns out that we were going to walk the Pouziaris trail. I was happy to discover this as I am on an informal quest to walk all the nature trails on the island! Maybe even leading up to the E4 unveiled in 2005.

We started off at the Troodos square where the streets had been cleared of the snow to enable vehicles to pass through. It was great hearing the crunch of the snow underfoot, with the occasional chirp of birds in the background (if I were actually a competent birdwatcher, I would undoubtedly be able to identify the type of bird from its chirp! Alas, I am nowhere near that level.). There was much photo taking by the group entranced by the novelty of the snow. Not that snow in Troodos is a novelty mind you, as we generally get snow up there every year, but rather the concept of snow on a Mediterranean island known for its beaches is! (Five photos).

The nice thing about going with a group is that they know where they're going. This is quite helpful when the trail has a few junctions that may or may not be well sign posted. We came across fabulous views - the Amniatos Dam, Limassol Bay and the Akrotiri Salt Lake (a view responsible for someone I met at a party to move to Cyprus!), as well as of Platres. Our destination turned out to be Psilo Dendro - a restaurant conveniently located for lunch. After coffee, I noticed people at a few tables practicing the art of reading the coffee grinds to tell the future - both by young (as at our table) and by old.

Next week they'll be going to the Pentadaktylos region, passing by an old Armenian church, in an area good for orchid viewing. Not sure if I'll be going as I have an option for a walk near Ayia Napa at a more civilised hour - 10 a.m.

For those opposed to crossing, there is the Nicosia Excursionist Club which has excursions also every Sunday morning. I believe these are the ones that my mom used to go on. She said that most of the participants were of the older generation - and this was confirmed by a fellow birdwatcher. I see their notices in the Cyprus Weekly event listings. They leave at the still early hour of 8 a.m.

One footnote on the Pouziaris trail - if you're into geocaching, there's apparently one there! Details.
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Movies anyone? [Mar. 13th, 2007|07:48 pm]
Falcon Blue
Or as they call it in Brit speak, the cinema. I went to the movies last night with a friend. We went to the multiplex, K-Cineplex which, according to their website, opened in 2002. It's got six screens though the sixth one is smaller than the others, all with stadium seating. We watched The Illusionist. One of the things that often surprises visitors is that the films here are shown in English (or perhaps more correctly, in their original language) with Greek subtitles. About the only time that they are shown in Greek is if they are showing the Greek release of animated movies such as Cars and even then there will usually be an English speaking, Greek subtitled version.

Now, The Illusionist it turns out, is a relatively old movie in that it was released in Aug/Sep 2006. This is more in line with when I was growing up here when movies were routinely at the cinema six months after their U.S release date. So I am often surprised now when films are shown soon after their U.S release, e.g., last weekend, we went and saw Ghost Rider which was released mid February so that was only a two week lag. And we do have the occasional worldwide release e.g. the Star Wars prequel movies as well as the Harry Potter movies. This Cyprus Mail article talks a little about what goes into releasing abroad.
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Hints of summer [Mar. 10th, 2007|08:12 pm]
Falcon Blue
I did laundry today. Clothes dryers are slowly gaining a foothold in household but they are nowhere near as ubiquitous as in the States. I still hang my washing up on the roof to dry so I always closely watch the weather as laundry day nears. This morning my first load was done at 10:30a.m.ish so I hung it up and by the time the second load was done, about an hour and half later, the first load was practically dry! Now, this is indeed the norm in summer so it was definitely a hopeful sign!

Another thing that surprises me is how long the washing machine cycle takes! At first, I thought that maybe we just had an older model but even my friend's new machine takes about an hour. Compare this to the States where it only takes 1/2 hour. Of course, the difference may lie in the type of machine since here, front-loaders have always been the norm - or at least, I grew up with one. Aha, and indeed, a quick Internet search leads me to believe that is indeed the reason. Nice synopsis of the differences.

Anyways, just wanted to mark this. I am no fan of winter.
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The case of the missing sorters [Mar. 8th, 2007|12:53 am]
Falcon Blue
The other day I went to the main post office by Eleftheria Square to mail off these newsletters. The franking machine that saves me from having to affix postage stamps to the envelopes is located on the ground level, with the doors behind the steps leading up to the post office. I've been going there for as long as I've taken on this newsletter role so close to two years now.

I entered the franking room and was very surprised to see that the sorter tables had been cleared out. This meant that exactly 3/4 of the room was empty! I asked the man if he was there all on his own and he said that they'd moved the sorters out last month. He explained that it was because of the quality control they were now implementing which involved micro-chip monitoring and for cost issues they had gathered the sorters to three sorting facilities so that they didn't have to attach the chip monitoring devices to the doors of every post office that had sorters. Very intriguing.

I was most amused when I came across an article from a December issue of the Cyprus Weekly which had the headline of 'Postal Services fined for tardiness'! The Cyprus Postal Services Quality Service page agrees: "The results of the measurements, [..] are deemed satisfactory for the outgoing mail, while for the incoming there is considerable room for improvement." I have to agree with that outgoing mail evaluation. I'd always considered mail from here to the States to take two weeks as that is how long it took when we sent mail to my siblings away at university back in the 80s, and even when I was in university in the early 90s so I've been pleasantly surprised now that I'm back that it now seems to take about five days!! That page also gave me the hint I was looking for with regard to who exactly, was doing the monitoring.

International Post Corporation (IPC) is a cooperative association and provides "monitor[ing of] transponder-equipped test letters through the mail processing pipeline". Amongst its members are United States Postal Services and Royal Mail! According to their 2005 UNipost EXternal Monitoring System (UNEX) results, "Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) transponder tags are inserted into test letters. These provide IPC with detailed information on the letter journey, automatically gathered by RFID equipment placed at strategic intervals along the mail processing chain. In a fully anonymous manner, they help to identify any delays which may occur along the postal pipeline."

So there you go, unbeknownst to us, technology comes to Cyprus in the most surprising of places.
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Packaging [Mar. 6th, 2007|12:44 am]
Falcon Blue
I stopped at the stationer's today for some envelopes. The lady pulled off a plastic bag to put the envelopes in but I stopped her and handed her the small drawstring bag that folds up neatly and that I carry with me for just such occasions.

She surprised me by saying,"Ah! Good!" Usually, the shop people look at me strangely when I decline the shop issued plastic bags. It took me about three months of repeatedly saying, 'No plastic bag' at the bakery before they really seemed to believe that I did not in fact need another plastic bag in which to put the already plastic bag-encased round of bread.

Back to the stationers, she told me of how her daughter had come back for a visit from London and given her a cloth bag with the instructions that it be used for purchases from now on and substitute it for the plastic bags.

I responded with, "The next thing you know, she'll be getting you to recycle!". To which she affirmed that she already had! So now even though her daughter has returned back to London, she still has three big bags on the veranda in which she places her recycle-ables!

It was a heartening story. I actually use cloth bags when I go to the grocers. One is from a volunteer event in Austin. The other is from an World Environment event that was held a couple of years ago here in Nicosia (!!) and for which I could only find this description (undp.org).

I actually did a speech about plastic bags for Toastmasters. It's said that plastic bags take anywhere from 20 to 1000 years to decompose. Given that they only became ubiquitous for groceries in the 1980s, that means that those first plastic bags are still probably happily taking up space today! Perhaps even contributing to marine animals deaths along the way.

The numbers for plastic bags were mind-boggling. Before a ban in 2003 in Taiwan of freely distributed plastic bags, it was estimated that they went through the equivalent of roughly 900 bags per person per year!! I know that if I didn't use my canvas bags, each grocery trip would yield at least five bags - and that's not counting the ones used for vegetables. Plus that's just for one person! I shudder to think of the accumulation for families with kids.

Unbelievably, after Ireland introduced a bag tax in 2002, there was a 90% fall in the number of bags handed out. Now those are some results!

Until such radical measures come to this island, I'll be continuing to take my reusable bags with me whenever I go shopping.
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Public Speaking competition for teenagers [Mar. 4th, 2007|07:06 pm]
Falcon Blue
When you have to speak in front of a group, what's your reaction? For most of us, it's fear and dread. In fact, "The Book of Lists" once listed public speaking as the number one fear. Still, it's a skill that will often be called upon as we progress through life and one that would serve us well the sooner we master it. With this in mind, the Nicosia Rotary Club and the Nicosia-Aspelia Rotary Club with the support of the Nicosia Toastmasters Club held a 25 hour course on public speaking for teenagers.

This morning was the competition and culmination of this course. There were five groups of three to five members each with members coming from as far afield as Paphos and Limassol! Now that's some dedication!

As I'd arrived a little early, I walked around and ran into the various groups doing a final run-through. I could only imagine the butterflies, nervousness, and even pressure that they were feeling. We've all been there.

Presentations were titled: Women's Rights, 8 Ways to Brighten Your Day, Adolescence Is, Traffic Accidents, and Colours. They ranged from very serious to quite humourous and it was most impressive that all of the groups presented without notes. Their slides were relevant and provided supporting evidence as opposed to being the main focus. I learnt at least one new nugget of information from each presentation.

Judging the competition was no easy task I'm sure. I must say that though the winning team's presentation was not text-book perfect (there were some ums and ers and a few of the transitions were awkward), their palpable enthusiasm and spirit was very endearing.

Photos of the competition were available at the exit. It's amazing how even though technology advances, it still doesn't advance fast enough. There was a large crowd waiting for the photos to be printed on the color printer and impatience was rampant! At one point, the photo paper and 'ink' had to be changed out so that was interesting to watch.

It was a very positive and interesting morning!
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Birdwatching - a new hobby? [Mar. 3rd, 2007|03:29 pm]
Falcon Blue
I went on a BirdLife Cyprus field meeting today.

I'd visited their website ages ago and certainly seen their hotline printed in the Cyprus Weekly listings but it wasn't until I read this Cyprus Mail article online that I was actually moved to action. Probably it was the walk part that lured me in. I called the number for details and so it was that the morning of 18th February I was heading to Oroklini Marsh. Now, I'd actually passed the location in the past but hadn't really paid attention to it - it was just a place that usually had water in it!

As that was aimed at beginners, we had a handout with the type of birds we were looking for as well and there were spare sets of binoculars. Our leader also had her telescope with her. The difference between the binoculars and the telescope was amazing. Through the latter, I could really distinguish the colors and they looked just like they did in the Collins Bird Guide which is apparently the bird guide. The downside of the telescope is that it is slower than the binoculars so sometimes the bird has taken off by the time you've gotten it set up!

I enjoyed it enough that in the meantime, I decided to become a member as a way of supporting the organisation. I'd also exchanged numbers with someone else who lived in Nicosia and it was she who reminded me of the March 3 outing. We met on the outskirts of town and rode out. Our destination was Achna Dam on the way to Ayia Napa. We took the turn off for Xylotymvou and headed inland. My friend remarked that Cyprus had a lot of churches and I agreed saying that you had to account for at least one church per village. At that moment, we passed a cluster of three churches with another small church about 500m later! I hadn't taken that road before and was really surprised at how close the buffer zone was to the road. We even passed a completely abandoned village on the left at one point. The countryside is still very green.

We had to turn back for the turning to the dam. I remarked on it because somehow we'd also managed to miss the very big sign with bold, block letters on the right of the road marking the turnoff. The water level was depressingly low - we're only at 21% of our water reserves as opposed to this time last year when we were at 45%.

After gathering at the meeting point, we drove around to the other side of the dam and walked around a bit. I fulfilled my usual 'talk to three strangers' mission. It's interesting to hear how people became birdwatchers - passed down by parents, married into (although he was more along for moral support and the opportunity to be out and about than actually looking at birds), and even just picked up and then nurtured by non-birdwatching parents!

On the way back we stopped at the Oroklini Marsh again. As we were driving over we saw a bird with something in its mouth flying along the highway. The two cars in front of us pulled over on the side of the highway (!!). I remarked that that was the true mark of the birding enthusiast! The bird and its prey (apparently, a snake) was caught on film (hm, is the new term, caught on disk?) by someone with a camera with a very, very, very long lens!

I was asked if I liked birds at one point. I had no response. I like them in the context of learning more about Cyprus but apart from that nothing particularly appeals. It will be interesting to see if this changes the more field meetings I attend! I have just researched binocular terms in order to become more informed before I go and purchase one!

So far, the greatest part has been the discovering new places that I haven't been to yet as well as gaining a better understanding of places here.

I suppose a list of birds we saw would be appropriate. The ones that I remember are: long legged buzzard (1), swift, meadow pipit, little-ringed plover, shoveler, teal, little grebe, cormorant (5 - three were just sitting on some rocks chillin and these were the ones we noticed from the meeting point), kestrel (which I thought was fitting having gone to Falcon!), and grey heron (2 - apparently they're very territorial).
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First Friday! [Mar. 2nd, 2007|11:29 pm]
Falcon Blue
For the past five months, first Friday has meant Quiz Night for me. It's held at the ESOBGA (English School Old Boys and Girls Association) Clubhouse which is located, as one might expect, next to the English School. The quiz is in support of the Cans for Kids organisation which raises money to buy medical equipment for the children's ward of Cypriot hospitals. The participant fee goes towards the charity funds.

Teams are a maximum of six members and the prize is six bottles of wine. However if a team only has four people, they may choose to auction off the extra bottles with the proceeds again going towards charity funds.

Each quiz is set by a different team based on some criteria set by the current quizmaster team. However since the criteria is usually along the lines of the first (or as it was this month, the third) team, some teams are more heavily favoured to set the quizzes! A sample of questions can be read on the Cans for Kids events page. There are usually eight rounds of ten questions each which are read out and an additional two bonus rounds which are handed out on paper.

Most teams stick to the same name each time. However there is one team that takes their name from current events so it's always interesting to hear what they've come up with. This month it was Phone Buggers in a nod to a government ordered probe into the subject.

This time we had ten teams show up so understandably, the noise level of the place was quite loud and it was sometimes difficult to hear the question which was a fair bit frustrating. Although it's in the team's best interest to confer quietly regarding their answers there can also be quite the amount of snark floating around.

All in all, it's great fun - it must be since our team is usually second to last and we still show up (!!) - and of course, one picks up even more useless trivia than one can shake a stick at! So if it sounds interesting, come and check it out!
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Book launch: “Oysters with the missing pearls” [Feb. 28th, 2007|11:30 pm]
Falcon Blue
I went to a book launch tonight. It was held at the Goethe Institute in the Buffer Zone which is very convenient because neither side has to fully cross to attend the event. The program was as follows:
  • Presentation of the book by Takis Hadjidemetriou – President of IKME
  • Speeches from relatives of those missing and mass graves: Andonis Costis (Tururu) from Palekythro and Hüseyin Rüstem Akansoy from Maratha
  • Experiences of Andreas Paraschos – journalist – POLITIS newspaper
  • Speech of Murat Kanatli – journalist – YENİCAG newspaper
  • Closing remarks by the author, Sevgul Uludag
Although the start time was said to be 7pm, it didn't get started until 7:40pm. Three people had prepared speeches - although one had leeway since he was standing in for his father - though they were surprisingly short, about 5 mins each so we were done by 9pm.

The author wrapped up. The book is "Oysters with the missing pearls": Untold stories about missing persons, mass graves and memories from the past of Cyprus and is written by Sevgul Uludag. It's been published in Turkish, then Greek, and tonight was the English launch. The interesting thing about the book is that it has the experiences from both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots so hopefully one doesn't feel like you're getting an agenda.

Anyways, maybe more after I'm done with the book.
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