A loveaffair with Nicosia

It’s the third night of my short stay in Nicosia, and I’m getting enamored with this quite peculiar place. Because it is indeed a particular city, and we did indeed not get off on the right foot when I arrived two days ago. Let me start at the very beginning.

So the first day’s misfortune started already when I’d just disembarked the plane and was standing in line to immigrations, and I realized that my phone charger was still left onboard the aircraft. I just sighed a tired sigh and met the jovial immigrations officer with a lifeless glare as he asked for my passport. This is not the first time this has happened to me, and this unorganized feature of mine has led me to an impressive collection of both chargers and adapters since I know they won’t be with me for long.

The shuttle bus into Nicosia was very much reminiscent of a public school bus in an unprivileged country. The ride was quick through the mountainous landscape, sparse in both vegetation and construction but somehow still vibrant under the scorching sun. Before I knew it we reached Nicosia bus terminal; an installation other countries would’ve referred to as a bus stop in the countryside. At some point during the short taxi ride into the center, I accidentally pressed the wrong button on my phone, and I ended up in the review section of my chosen hotel. “Worst experience that ruined my whole trip.” said the first headline and the ones that followed were of similar character. Reluctantly I read review after review which touched upon everything from moldy furniture to inoperable air conditioning and loud neighbors as well as inadequate service. My gut feeling hit rock bottom, but it wasn’t until the cab driver charged me 10 euros for a 5 euros trip and gave me a handwritten receipt in my euphemistic attempt of asking for my change back, that I realized that there are some lessons I will probably never learn. Regardless of how seasoned as a traveler, I am. It is tiring to be me at times.

It took me approximately three seconds of looking at the exterior of the hotel to understand that every review I’d just read was true. Dirty windows and balcony rails cover in bird feces smiled towards me. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the reason why the bible is normally one colored could be a hint that it’s not hilarious reading. Finally, inside, the building seemed derelict, and with no elevator, I had to drag my overpacked suitcase up to the top floor while cursing myself for always doing this to myself. Always. To my despair, no one came to open as I pressed the loose hanging door bell, and in that exact moment, I got an email saying that my booking had been annulled. Apparently, arrangements for pick up of keys has to be done a day in advance, and I missed the curfew. Amid all misfortune, I saw this as a blessing. A second chance was given to me. Long story short, I did find a new hotel a stone’s throw away from the first one. A typical three-star hotel, with tacky font choice, plastic palm trees and Nescafé of poor quality. But even if the man at the front desk suggested that I’d use the glass desk in my room as an ironing board, and even if the plug to bathtub was missing and even if the wall to wall carpet had seen more in life than I have, it was alright.

Apart from precursory events, though, Nicosia has turned out to be a pearl. It’s by no means a big city, less than 300 000 people reside here. There’s not a sign of the typical boasting architecture you’d otherwise come across in capitals; instead, most buildings are old and only a few stories tall. Walking down the many meandering streets of Old Nicosia is like a therapy session. There’s a quietude in between the stone houses with adobe roofs, hued doors with rigorous knockers and flaking facades in canary and offwhite nuances, and occasional Wisteria in full bloom spreading its scent as you walk by. Not even the Cypriots quite boisterous way of talking to each other disturbs the peace. Everything moves slowly in this city. It’s like there’s not a worry in the world. No one’s in a rush to do anything. And it’s extremely contagious. It’s almost like I could feel my pulse slowing down.

On the Greek side, the residents seem to have understood there’s little point in worrying, for whatever the reason. And since all the pressure’s off, Nicosia is indeed the perfect place for solitude. Sitting down in one of the countless cafés with mismatching furniture and fresh cut flowers on every table has quickly turned into a habit. The coffee is strong, but not as strong as Cypriot coffee which I only tried once. A muddy broth strong enough to resuscitate the dead. The waiters serve the table with no haste, and to see one of them puffing on a resting smoke in between clearing tables is actually quite refreshing. It’s so easy just to be; enjoying the slight scents of cigarette smoke, freshly mowed lawns and fresh air; as pleasurable in the rising morning sun as in the setting evening sun. Spring has come early to Cyprus.

I normally don’t share onboard stories…

But a few weeks ago I had an encounter which has stayed with. And I’ve realized that it’s a story worth telling.

Before I do that, though, I’d like to say that I think it’s a safe bet to say that most people hold some sentiments or opinions that they are not proud of. Standpoints that we for whatever reason can’t deny ourselves from thinking of feeling, despite knowing in our hearts or our brains that they are wrong and only holds us back instead of allowing us to live more freely. It can be something trivial like not allowing ourselves an unhealthy treat because we are scared to gain weight, even though we know that the only things that are really unhealthy are our way of thinking. Or it can be something of a more fundamental nature, like claiming to the world that you’re an open-minded and modern person free from racism and bigotry, but still you can’t help but feel that it would be better if the refugees went somewhere else than to your country. In the last general election in Sweden three years ago, our most populistic party obtained the third most votes of all party. Which is somehow miraculous, bearing in mind that no one voted for them. Nor does anyone know someone who did. I think the point is made.

So now to my story. A few months back I operated an evening-turnaround to a city in Pakistan, I can’t remember which. As per regular, I work in the premium cabin, but on this particular day, our customer demands were low, while the economy cabin was filled to the last seat. And since the flying time was short, I went down to give an extra pair of hands to the service. The cabin was strewn by locals of the destination to which we were heading; women in colorful conspicuous dresses and the men in that traditional male dress that they wear over loose-fitted jeans; according to Google it’s called a Pashtun dress. Anyhow, as I was giving out trays, I’m leaning over a Pakistani-featured gentleman sitting by the aisle to serve a woman by the windows. And as I’m doing this I can see in the corner of my eye how the gentleman’s looking at the little flag pin I have attached to my waistcoat. As I reach down for the next tray in the cart, the man leans into me and says in the most broken but still comprehensible Swedish ”are you from Sweden?”. A bit caught off guard by hearing my native language I instantly said ”Yes! Are you as well?”. He told me ”I live in Malmo” and smiled carefully towards me. Wow, I thought to myself. He’s from my hometown! There’s someone from my hometown on this flight; someone Swedish! We exchanged a from more sentences, and then I had to carry on working, a little happier than before, and I never saw him again.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but over time I’ve understood that this short and in many measures insignificant encounter was an eye-opening experience for me. One of those moments that meant the world to me, but not much to the world. And the reason behind that is, that there was a time not that many years ago when my spontaneous reaction to someone who does not look like me, speak like me and presumptively don’t share my culture, would not have been to think of them as Swedish; unfortunately. Even if they were from my hometown. 

And that was a time before I’d ever tried to be a guest in someone else’s country.

Most change doesn’t come overnight, and most change we can’t acknowledge until the time when we are forced to put to the test. Itis good to learn how to ride a bike, and once you do, you instantly forget why you found it so hard in the first place.

Treats for the skin in the cold

Home again. A week in remote and freezing China was exactly what my skin did not need. Cold and dry air combined with strong sun and invisible pollution were not at the top of my wishlist, but as life goes, sometimes all you can do is fight the challenges coming your way the best you can. And luckily for me, I brought all the necessities needed to fight off all the skin-enemies above. Here goes:

1. LOTION P50, by Biologique Recherche

This brand might be one of the most hyped skincare manufacturers on the market, and I can only say that I completely understand why. BR is a brand of high integrity, meaning that they don’t allow just anyone to resell and represent their products. As such they’re mostly found in smaller and more exclusive spa’s around the world’s metropolitan cities, or in BR’s flagship store on Champs-Elys’ees in Paris. Like all other French brands, BR is a lot cheaper in France, so obviously I made my way there on my last visit to the capital of romance. But enough of the store, even if I could easily dedicate an entire post to it. The product itself, the lotion P50, is a toner of this world. Jam-packed with all the acids this world has to offer (AHA, BHA, PHA) it gives you more than a tingling feeling on the skin. It’s more of a corrosive experience, which in spite of the horrific vinegar smell, is amazing. Not to recommend for the sensitive soul, but for someone not afraid to exfoliate the damage and debris that dry and polluted air causes, this is the utmost best. I’ve been using the lotion p50 for the last month, and the results have been tremendous. I had already accepted that there would always be some minor blackheads on my nose regardless of how much I exfoliated, but since I started using this toner, I barely recognize myself anymore. An evenness I didn’t know was possible! And as you all know, anything this strong goes hand in hand with HIGH sunblock, but that goes without saying. Right?

Approximate price in store (150 ml): 46 euros. More expensive outside of French, but so worth it. In Sweden, you can now find Biologique Recherche on skincity.se !

2. Alpha Hydroxy Cream, by Environ Intensive

One of my most random brands, but nevertheless one of my absolute favorites. Environ is a South African brand, with Vitamin A and Retinol being the core ingredients in basically their entire line. Environ has a particular step-up concept of just a handful of products, which are all available in different strengths and an amount of both vitamin A and antioxidants, but being the impatient, restless person that I am, I went straight for the intensive line, which is the most hardcore. And it’s been a good experience for me. I apply this cream after my toner, and it tingles just a little. Sometimes more if I happen to be extra dry on the day. I use this after the toner, and since it’s a leave on cream, I always feel like it keeps the toner in place. Now and then I peel a little due to this cream, but that doesn’t bother me since the look you get as soon as the visible peeling is over, is everything but boring. It doesn’t smell the best, but you can’t always reach for the stars.

Approximate price in store: 20 USD.

3. Hydraphase Intense Serum, by La Roche-Posay

A moment of truth first. Up until recently, I’ve lacked serum in my everyday skincare routine. And that’s mostly because I hadn’t come across a really good one, and since you rarely miss what you’ve never had, I learned to live my life without one. A miserable life, I must say in hindsight. Because when I came across this diamond of skincare products, I felt like I could see colors again. Light and quickly absorbed by the skin, and as good as fragrance-free as well, like most products coming from sensitive-skin-advocating La Roche-Posay. If the climate is not too dry, I use this as my only hydrating emollient, and if that’s not the case as it was in China, I put this on just before the actual moisturizer/day creme comes into the picture. And what’s so good about doing that is, that it enhances the effects of the daydream (or night cream) that you apply afterward, giving them a more long-lasting result. I might have overused mine, cause a dispenser only lasts about three weeks for me. It’s so hard to hold back on quality, but luckily, the price is very affordable at least.

Approximate price in store: 19 euros. Who said that quality is unattainable?

4. Aralia Mandshurica Night Cream, by Natura Siberia

Natura Siberica is a Russian brand that bases all of their products on plants and flowers from the Siberian tundra, and I don’t think anyone would claim that’s a dull concept. I heard about this brand by word of mouth, and even though they have distributors and stores worldwide, I waited until my last trip to Moscow to hunt it down. And can I just say straight away, it was well worth the wait! It’s not enough that all the jars, tubes and packages are a sheer sight for sore eyes, the ingredients are the kinds that make my cold Nordic heart thaw. Because when I read silver birch and cloudberry on the labels my heart skips a beat or two, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Either way, I was recommended this one night cream for dry skin of which I couldn’t read a single word of the Russian product description. However, the Russian sales assistant assured me in very modest English that this night cream would probably make me wanna set earlier alarms in the mornings since it makes your skin so delightful you want to be awake for more of the day. And, she was right. I’d been so used to waking up and feeling dry regardless of what I put on the night before that I almost thought that that’s how it’s supposed to be, but thanks to this cream I wake up as soft as when I went to bed. Waking up to good skin is a sign that the rest of the day will be good as well.

Approximate price in store. 8 euros!!!! I know, it’s too good to be true.

Where on earth is Yinchuan?

That’s what I thought to myself as I glanced out over the miles wide and sparsely populated grounds from the tiny viewing window as we descended into Yinchuan International airport last night. The designation “International Airport” is in my personal opinion an audacious name for a hangar with a dozen gates, paint chipping off the interior walls and conveyor belts from a time luggage tags were written by hand, but who am I to judge. Even if I’m pretty sure that even the very modest shoebox of an airport that my sleepy old hometown is so proud of, would be able to top these facilities…

The hotel where I’m put up is like a mirage in this god’s forsaken city. When I look out the panoramic windows of my room and see nothing but a myriad of soulless grey buildings and a belching reactor, I find it hard to believe that in the foyer of this luxurious establishment there’s both crystal chandeliers and running water alongside an entire wall of simplistically elegant mortar. How did I get here?

Since I was nit prepared for an seven days retreat in this well hidden pocket I ventured out to buy the most relevant necessities by foot. And this is it; China is not a country made for walking. Sure there are loads of both wide and good conditioned sidewalks, but the distances here are always far. It’s hard to describe, but it’s the same in both Beijing and Shanghai. Maybe it’s just that these cities are so immensely big that walking is just not a great idea, or maybe it’s got something to do with that a lot of institutions in China seem to be in random places. Rarely everything’s in one single location. I damn this fact as I’m standing on the outskirts of town with sore feet and low battery as I’ve reached my google map destination, which has promised me a Zara store. But the only thing I have in front of me is a bare field and a dirty pond. Someone ought to have forgotten that the store is yet to be opened. And built. Sigh. There’s not a taxi in sight, and Uber is yet to make it’s entry to Yinchuan. Yes, discovering the World is an enriching experience sometimes,

I’d like to say that the somewhat gloomy impression is deceitful, but it’s not. The city is grey. Not a single house not in an earthy tone, and not a tree with a single leaf. Not a café, not an activity in the street. On the side of the roads lay the last residual snow, dirty from exhaust and pollution. Very few people roam the streets, and the ones I pass by are not flabbergasted by the fact that I’m the only non Asian I’ve seen since I got here. It’s quite funny how the Chinese are so uninterested in foreigners, something you come across basically everywhere. Like when you ask for help and find out that no one speaks English. Not because they don’t want to or are too proud to like a few European nationalities would be, but because they simply don’t know and don’t care to. Or when you go into a local eatery where surely no one of your origin has ever sat for before and not a single second of attention or admiration is given to you from the staff. But despite of this, it sometimes feels like the Chinese are fearless. Every taxi driver I’ve been taken around by today has spoken both jovially and enthusiastically to me in Mandarin during the entire trips, and my lack of language has not stopped them. I can’t think that it would be like that in any Western country; we are too scared of looking dumb. Aonishing since we’re generally the extroverts and the asians generally the introverts. Perhaps the thing is actually not Chinese ignorance but only Western hubris…?

Day one is coming to an end. Five more to go. Yinchuan, I’ll get to you eventually.