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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Wines and Warmer Climes

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LIMASSOL, Cyprus -- First of all, figs grow here. Second, a bottle of the local plonk costs only $3.

Finally, this is not only the birthplace of Aphrodite but also the home of the Cyprus Donkey Sanctuary, founded by British expatriates who were upset at the way farmers disciplined their beasts of burden with sticks.

There are many things I could say when asked what drew me from Vladivostok to Cyprus. But I feel I owe everyone a few words of explanation after being besieged with questions like, "Why Cyprus?" and, "If you aren't taking your CD collection, can I have it?"

Cyprus is a Mediterranean island almost due south of Moscow, though it is in the same time zone as Athens (that is, an hour behind Moscow). Its people speak Greek, but the island is a former British colony, so educated people also know English. Plus, there are thousands of Russians here, making it an ideal halfway house and detox center after five years in Vladivostok.

The mixture of cultures -- Greek, Turkish, English, Russian, Levant -- makes it a cosmopolitan place. The Lebanese restaurant on the corner advertises, "Belly dancer every Saturday." You drive to Paphos, the town where the Apostle Paul cursed the sorcerer Bar-jesus, and stroll along the quay opposite the ruined fortress. An English babushka on holiday bellows to a stone-deaf friend: "I don't know where he is, I haven't seen him in four years." A Cypriot Greek sells "African carvings" that include jade Buddhas with pendulous earlobes. A blond waitress in a cafe silently takes your order, and you find yourself thinking she's British until your kid tells you in Russian that he wants apple juice.

"Khorosho," the waitress replies.

It turns out she's from Central Russia and has lived in Cyprus for six years. She finds it boring.

She's wrong though. Interesting things happen all the time in Cyprus. Just the other day, a mob of angry Cypriots rioted because they didn't want a British navy base here to build a giant antenna. A third of the island has been occupied by Turkey since 1974, and on the non-occupied side patriotism entails flying the Greek flag alongside the Cypriot one (it's as if Canadians proclaimed their love of their homeland by flying the Stars and Stripes.) If you want to stir up some excitement in a restaurant, refer to the mud-like beverage that the waiter just brought you as "Turkish coffee."

The Russian presence is unmistakable here, starting with Nonna's friend Marina, a thin blonde who drives a 2001 Mercedes and lives in a penthouse apartment complete with rooftop swimming pool. She drove us up to the mountains, through vineyards with yellow autumn leaves, to the village of Pera Pedi, where she knew of a great restaurant with wolf pelts and deer horns on the walls. The proprietor is Czech, and we ordered in Russian. A fire glowed in a cast-iron stove.

Soon another party entered, gathered around a table, and whipped out their mobile phones. Russians. Then a family came in and pulled up chairs by the fire. More Russians.

"I hate those Moscow accents," Marina said.

When we decided to register Nonna's kid, Sergei, in one of Limassol's many English-language private schools, a Russian-speaking woman gave us a tour. But afterwards, a gaggle of Russians rushed in clucking at us. "No, not THAT school," they said. "THIS one is better."

We were hustled into Marina's Mercedes and conveyed to Limassol's premier retail establishment -- Woolworth's -- where a woman named Tatyana met us in the cafeteria. She insisted that the school we had chosen was where all the kids who were kicked out of other schools went. Her son Volodya was happier at the eloquently named Grammar School. She invited us to her home to meet him, and Volodya concurred with his mother's assessment. After a tour of the school, we gave in. It's like buying a car when you're not a mechanic. Who is to say which one is better?

So that's why I came here. Though I liked living in a place where the sea freezes, I have to admit, it's nice to wear shorts in November. I've been sampling cheap Cypriot wine (it beats vodka and grape juice any day) and swiping grapes when we stroll through vineyards. We've viewed Byzantine mosaics and toured the ruined temple of Aphrodite. One of these days, we might even check out the donkey sanctuary.

Russell Working is a freelance journalist based in Limassol, Cyprus.