I really wanted to like Larnaka1, mainly because we were stuck there for two days praying for the weather to improve, but despite my good intentions, I really couldn't get into it. Larnaka, for me, represented everything bad about the tourist bulldozer that seems to be steaming through Cyprus, obliterating everything Cypriot in its path and replacing it with some of the worst aspects of Britain's seaside towns. For one awful moment, I thought I'd washed up on the south coast of Spain, despite the continuing drizzle.
No doubt the weather didn't help, and I'm sure that a beautiful sunny day would light up the pleasant seaside promenade and make it a pretty little place. Larnaka isn't ugly, even in the rain; the beach is a pretty little spot, although the sand is a rather putrid green at this time of year, and the marina is nice enough. But the thing that really gets me down isn't what Larnaka looks like, it's just how utterly un-Cypriot the town has become, and how it's managed to turn itself into a plastic, soulless place that could be absolutely anywhere. You really don't feel you're in Cyprus, and it's a real shame.
The problem is the proliferation of shops and restaurants that redefine the term 'bland'. Setting off to find a nice Greek restaurant in which to while away the evening, we wandered through town, past rows and rows of north European clothes shops, all completely generic and selling exactly the same goods that you find at home. This, of course, is absolutely great if you want to go shopping, and the fact that Larnaka has graduated into a seriously impressive commercial centre is no doubt good for the local economy, and is certainly not a bad thing in itself. However, tucked among these shops we could find precisely no hint of anything local; Larnaka has been utterly overrun by bland brand names, and while it seems right and proper for this to happen to somewhere like Agia Napa, where everything is sacrificed on the altar of the package tourist and nobody pretends that they're looking for a cultural experience, it seems a real shame to have it happen to a historical port like Larnaka.
While Larnaka has a history going back thousands of years, stretching from ancient times through to its importance as a major Ottoman city, the modern seafront only continues the depressing theme of blandification The restaurants that line the promenade are uniformly based round junk food, with only the occasional expensive and unwelcoming foray into more sophisticated cuisine punctuating the neon lights. In one 50m stretch lurk the attractions of McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut, while this wall of cholesterol is glued together by less well-known restaurants sporting helpful clapper boards containing photographs of the food on offer that even manage to make bottles of beer look cheap and unappetising. If you don't fancy pizza, burgers, all-day breakfasts or kebabs, then you're seriously stuffed in Larnaka. As the leaflet outside the seafront's Alexander Pizzeria proudly boasts, it's the 'right place for coffee time, cocktail time, beer time, sweet and dessert time, breakfast time, lunch time and dinner time.' And that's precisely the problem; I love burgers like the next man2, but not for every meal, and despite exploring the town for a good hour, we couldn't find anything except junk food, junk food and more junk food.
Not surprisingly, we didn't dilly-dally more than one night in Larnaka; it really wasn't my cup of full-cream, three-heaped-teaspoon tea.
2 OK, possibly not like the next man in Larnaka, who is probably an overweight, pasty-skinned bloater who hobbles around with the aid of a walking stick and who jokes about his beer belly being 'an investment'. I'm serious; the number of fat tourists with consequent mobility problems in off-season Cyprus is staggering, not unlike them.