Set far back in the remote mountain highlands of Cyprus is a large and aged monastery, just one of dozens spread throughout this small island country. For some strange reason, this and most all other monasteries on the island are open for tourist visits all year long. As such, visiting one sets up a very strange zoo-like vibe where people who are explicitly attempting to avoid the world actually welcome it into their most sacred spaces. It's hard to describe, but very odd.
After driving the long and twisting roads through the Cyprus mountains from the north coast, I arrive at the monastery in the late afternoon. The monastery, actually a complex of modern buildings, dormitories, cafeterias, and souvenir stands set around the antique stone structure, is filled with an impressive collection of large leafy trees that seem somewhat out of place on the austere scrub-brush slopes. I approach the mosaic-adorned entrance (passing the rent-a-skirt stand for those who didn't bring appropriately-conservative garb) and, without obstruction, walk through and into the large paved atrium. A few others mill about and admire the carefully-cut stone and ornately-decorated walls with me, and we all eventually wander back through the structure to the inner sanctum.
The inner sanctum, in a word, is ridiculous. As I mentioned, the whole place has a paradoxical feel, like an active prison welcoming visitors into the mess hall - why these monks would want me there I have absolutely no idea. Or, rather, I do have an idea, but it's not very flattering: they have a museum (into which I did not go) that is advertised at the door and select spots inside, which charges admission. Anyway, the inner sanctum, houses an unbelievably gaudy collection of gold-covered... stuff. Lamps, walls, statues, candles, everything. Wandering around this environment in a weak attempt at respectful silence are perhaps thirty tourists, including myself. Outside, like directly outside the door ten feet away, can be easily heard the shrieks of children playing and the equally-disruptive shrieks of the parents attempting to quiet them (um, why not just let them play elsewhere?). In the center ring of this circus stands a prayer assembly line of slightly confused-looking monks trying to, well, do whatever monks do. I say they're like an assembly line because they seem only partially attentive, almost unconsciously echoing the chants at the appropriate times, and generally observing the tourists with the same sort of bored gaze with which we observe them. Added to this factory feel is the presence of highly-customized prayer equipment, such as a kneeling-chairs (where the padding is for your knees, not your rear, and the "back" is in "front" for you to lean against), standing-chairs (with no padding, but arm-rests so you can lean while still standing respectfully), and the spinning Bible-Mount 2000 where you can keep multiple books open to important pages for quick access in those long prayer sessions. Overall, the entire thing was just silly, and it's majestic effect was entirely lost upon me.
Quickly after arriving I left the sanctum to continue admiring the legitimately-impressive architecture and only slightly-gaudy mosaics, before returning to Silver and the mountain roads ahead.