In the seven or eight years I have been going to Cyprus for my holidays, a lot has changed, and not necessarily for the better. It was only a matter of time before this beautiful island was afflicted with the relentless influx of multinational American brands and corporations that seem to blight Europe these days. The drive down the Finikoudes - Larnaka's main, palm-lined seaside promenade - now takes you past McDonald's, KFC, TGI Friday, Haagen Dazs, Pizza Hut, and Bennigans. The seemingly unstoppable globalisation of Cyprus seems well and truly underway.
So it was with dread and dismay that I received the news that Cyprus had been "blessed" with two new malls since my last visit two years ago - the "Mall of Cyprus", built next to a massive IKEA on the outskirts of Lefkosia (Nicosia), and the newer "My Mall", an even bigger retail mecca (complete with bowling lanes and an indoor ice skating rink) on the outskirts of Lemesos (Limassol).
The hot weather, boredom, and a sort of morbid curiosity compelled me to go out and seek one of these air-conditioned shopping sanctuaries, so we set out for the Mall of Cyprus on a particularly hot and sticky Saturday morning. My wife fancied some "retail therapy", but I went solely to examine the latest evidence in what I am convinced is the slow demise of the Cypriot way of life.
The Mall of Cyprus is on an industrial estate in the non-descript suburb of Strovolos, just to the south of Lefkosia, and is clearly sign-posted off the main A1 motorway. There is plenty of free car parking on site (1500 spaces), but head straight down into the lower level car parks to avoid cooking your car in the sun.
There are two main entrances from the top level of the car park, and a central entrance in each of the two lower car parks. A set of gleaming travellators (or lifts if you so choose) take you from the parking levels to the ground floor of the main mall. This modest sized mall is on two levels, with an atrium at each end, and the food court occupying one end of the upper level.
The inside of the building is spacious and airy, with lots of natural light, dark wood trim and fittings, stone floors of granite and marble, with a predominantly brown and beige colour scheme. Benches are provided at regular intervals along the centre line of the hall. The air conditioning is set at a very comfortable level.
I had a good look around and noted that the clientele was mostly European, with a few well-turned out middle class Greek families. Even the mall cops were foreign (agency workers drafted in from India by the looks of it). We went just before a Saturday lunchtime and although it was busy, it was by no means heaving. It seems the locals are not as ambitious with their spending as the shops are with their pricing.
Every retail sector is catered for under one roof. Debenhams and Carrefour, both of which sprawl over two levels, are the anchor stores. The former is a clone of its UK equivalent, whereas the best way to describe Carrfeour is like Woollies with a supermarket underneath (John Lewis and Waitrose if we're going upmarket).
Well known international brands such as Swatch, Intersport, Lacoste, Zara, Mango, Polo, Next, Accessorize, Kickers, Nine West and Early Learning Centre are all represented here, alongside some unfamiliar local fashion outlets and media stores.
There is a periptero (newsagent) on the second level next to the cinema selling a wide selection of sweets, stationery, and local and (day-old) international newspapers and a huge variety of magazines. The Guardian will set you back 2 Euro, while the latest issue of Cosmo was selling for a princely 10 Euro.
To give you an idea of prices, new CD's at "Public" - an HMV-type store - range from 19 Euro for Lady Gaga's latest, to 25 Euro for Depeche Mode's most recent release. Run of the mill DVD's were selling for 25 Euro. An Arsenal home shirt was 68 Euro at Intersport, and an own brand "Maine" T-shirt at Debenhams was also around 25 Euro.
My wife popped into Next, which was advertising a clearance sale on baby stuff, and showed me a pair of infant booties - at a shocking 14 Euro - on SALE! I knew Cyprus had become more expensive, but this price gouging was bordering on the ridiculous.
The food court, an amusement arcade, and a multiplex cinema occupy a whole end of the top level under the atrium. The area is chock full of tables and chairs for customers of the various fast food establishment, but there is also a covered outdoor verandah for the smoking fraternity. What strikes you about this area is the view out the massive windows towards the mountains in the northern, Turkish-occupied part of Lefkosia.
The backdrop is dramatic, but attention is invariably drawn to the enormous red and white flag of the so-called "Republic of Northern Cyprus" painted into the mountainside. This is a constant reminder that Lefkosia remains Europe's only divided capital, and I can't help think it's a triumphalist two fingered salute by the Turks in the direction of their Greek neighbours. I don't think the positioning of the food court, and this view, is a coincidence. A subtle reminder perhaps of the simmering tensions between the two estranged communities.
There are a fair few fast food places here as well as a TGI Friday if you prefer an extended lunch or some cocktails. All the usual suspects are present - including KFC, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Haagen Dazs, and Starbucks. There is also a Chinese stir fry and noodle bar called "Chopsticks", and the one small bastion of resistance against the invading foreign hordes - Almyro, a fast food souvlakia joint.
As elsewhere in the mall, prices are eye-wateringly expensive. My wife ordered a popcorn chicken meal for my daughter and a Zinger Tower meal for herself and it came to an unbelievable 17 Euro. I felt mugged. That's extortion in anyone's book. I was so taken aback that I lost my appetite and didn't order anything myself. It's the principle of the thing. In my view going hungry was a much better alternative than losing the entire contents of my already bruised and battered wallet.
The mall is a no-smoking building. Free Wifi is available throughout the premises (about the only value to be had in this place). Immaculate and well maintained toilets (including those for the disabled) are located near the car park entrances, along with baby changing facilities. There is a well serviced taxi rank outside the main entrance. The Mall also has an ATM machine, and a kid's crèche.
These are a bit complicated, so I hope you're still paying attention! The Shops are open 9am to 8pm Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 9am to 3pm on Wednesday, and 9am to 7:30pm on Saturday. They are closed all day on Sunday and public holidays.
The Food Court is open from 9am to Midnight every day Monday to Saturday, and 1oam to Midnight on Sunday. The cinema is open 3pm to 1 am Monday to Friday, and 11am to 1am on Saturday and Sunday.
Although not really much to look at from outside, the Mall itself is pleasant enough on the inside. It is well designed and well maintained, with easy and step free access into and out of the building and car parks. All of the facilities are well sign-posted pictorially and in three languages (English, Greek and Turkish). The information points are manned with multilingual, friendly and courteous staff, and, apart from the fact that shopping and eating here is hideously expensive (partly due to the abysmal Euro/Sterling exchange rate at the moment), you can't really fault it.
That said, but for the occasional "SALE!" and "LOW PRICES!" signs in Greek, I could have been anywhere in the world, and that's what really bothers me about it. There is nothing remotely Cypriot here - every bit of the complex screams conformity and homogeneity. Even the teenage mall rats look the same as their counterparts in the rest of the retail world.
Apart from the lone souvla joint, you have to explore the bowels of the massive Carrefour supermarket to find some local produce and convince yourself you are still in Cyprus. I'm not sure what I expected, but from a cultural point of view, my worst fears were confirmed. This is a straight "lift and shift" of the American experience into another country. In my view, it has nothing to commend it to the causal tourist, other than curiosity value and perhaps a bit of window shopping. Your time in Cyprus is better spent with more meaningful and satisfying pursuits.
All in all, I am not entirely sure how to rate the experience. Subjectively, I hate the idea of it and what it represents - but this is not a political statement - it's a consumer review, so I must grudgingly concede that The Mall of Cyprus does what it is meant to do quite well, and offers a pleasant enough shopping experience. Objectively I would give it a three out of five, with the expense of shopping and eating (which is admittedly relative) being the main - but considerable - downside.
"In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out"
Rush - "Subdivisions" - from Signals (1982)
© Hishyeness 2009