9th March – 20th May
Here I will share our story of how we, at Meryem’s hotel, lived through the Covid -19 moment from March to May.
It was with great sadness that we temporally closed our doors until the government was to make other announcements. Our priority during these difficult times was the health and well-being of our staff, and to nurture our hotel so it is ready for you when it is safe to re-open its gold-trimmed gates.
The Coronavirus officially reached Cyprus on Tuesday 9th March, and by the 11th March the whole of Cyprus went into lockdown.
The Presidential elections scheduled for April were delayed by 6 months. Only essential shops –markets, grocery shops, banks, butchers, petrol stations and pharmacies – remained open with controlled access and precautions. All education delivery transferred online, effecting primary, secondary, further, and higher education; this impacted over 100,000 university students, a majority of whom are international students. Fights to and from Germany, France and Italy were suspended.
The 11th March saw the first reported Covid-19 cases, who were German tourists staying in a hotel in Magusa, the eastern part of Cyprus. Starting with a 65-year-old man on the 11th, his spouse the following day, and then five more cases by 13th March. The remaining 840 tourists were quarantined for 14 days in Magusa before they returned to Germany. The first reported death was sadly announced on 28th March. In total there have been 108 cases, of which 104 have recovered and 4 people sadly died. Since the 20th of April there have not been any new cases, and the last patient was discharged on the 11th of May.
On 4th May non-essential shops and companies went back to business, on 20th May restaurants re-opened, and in June hotels are expected to reopen.
During this time, Meryem’s has been very busy to ready ourselves for the post-Covid-19 moment, whatever that may be. We have prepared the accommodation to meet the standards of the health ministry, world health organisation and guest quality, all of which we will share with you soon.
For now, I would like to share some words and images of our Covid-19 days from March to May.
On the 9th March we informed all our guests of the Covid-19 related developments; some guests returned home and others that continued to stay were welcomed and reassured that we will stay home and stay safe.
On the 12th March we began to receive cancellation of bookings and our restaurant closed for service. The kitchen did, however, continue to make the delicacies, such as Pilavuna/Flaouna – a traditional Cypriot cheese (the cheese was made by me) pastry– that was served for breakfast to the remaining guests in our hotel.
On the 16th March our last guests left, and it was with great sadness that we temporally closed our doors until the government was to make other announcements.
18th March,Our full-time staff live in the onsite staff accommodations and are like family. During the lockdown together we continued to work on the up-keep and maintenance of the facility, adding the planned investments. We also continued to prepare the vegetable garden for you, our guests, so you can enjoy the organic produce for which we pride ourselves on.
On many evenings we stepped outside and clapped for the health care workers around the world. The accommodation is peacefully located away from the heart of the city, so we could not hear the beautiful solidarity that reverberated throughout Girne and Lefkosa – but we felt it!
On the sad morning of the first Covid-19 death, we decided to stay home rather than go to the markets for bread. Whilst at home we researched a variety of recipes on homemade bread making met with our pre-existing traditions, where we made a selection of bread. Saddened by the first death, the increasing death tolls around the world, and the fact of not seeing our children and grandchildren for three weeks, we found ourselves comforted by the smell and taste of the bread. My son-in-law picked-up the bread from the hotel’s kitchen backdoor so to deliver them to the Cypriot students who arrived from England and who were quarantine at a nearby hotel.
The bread was so comforting and delicious that we agreed we would make our breads both for ourselves and for Meryem’s guests in the future.
1st – 14th April,
There were no preparations on Mother’s Day and Easter during the lockdown spring; however, our garden was blooming in celebration with a festive spirit fitting for the calendar dates. We picked the fresh produce and made mulberry jams, strawberry jams and health snacks that could be kept for/be enjoyed by you, say on your toast for breakfast or cheesecake for dinner!
Lemons have come to the end of the season so we have stocked up the liquid for our chef, who has been stranded abroad but safe.
From the moment of the lockdown we have had online E-coffees with my children in England. My son lives in London but he went to stay with my daughter and son-in-law in Canterbury. My son is studying Media Photography and my daughters are academics, with the older one in Tourism Management and the younger one in English Literature.
During our E-coffee we discussed environmental issues and sustainability, as related to the increased Covid-19 concerns over cleansing standards, use of water and chemicals. This resulted in us discussing and updating our Green Policy on our website.
Cypriots have healthy eating habits. We eat and/or preserve what is in season, we like to have a big lunch and a light dinner. On this day the vine leaves were blooming resulting in us cooking dolma (stuffed vine leaves) for lunch. The traditional practice of preserving vine leaves, as demonstrated by my mother-in-law, is to thread and dry them; however, in contemporary times we shock and freeze them.
There was no new case of Covid-19, and we celebrated this with a delicious meal; I sent some of this food to my grandchildren.
Today is world children’s day according to the Turkish calendar, a date gifted for children by the leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. In the past my grandchildren gathered their friends and livened the premises (and sometimes cut my flowers without permission!); however, today in silence my flowers danced and showed off their freedom and life against the breeze that brought the scent of the citrus from the blossoms of the lemons and mandarins.
While the Covid-19 has kept humans indoors, the bees appear to have been free to gather their honey! The hives are located on the plot of land near my daughter’s home, who informed me that the hives are filling up well and our guests will have plenty of honey this summer for breakfast!
We continued to have cancellations for the whole of April and parts of May. We decided to control all spending.
Today the restrictions have softened a little with the strong feeling of new beginnings as it felt 42 years ago when I became a mother – today is my eldest daughter’s birthday. For the first part of the day my daughter was at a committee meeting to prepare for the post Covid-19 hygiene and sanitation requirements within the hospitality industry; this created a perfect opportunity for us to prepare. As part of this special day, we prepared my daughter a dinner at the hotel, whilst her children were at home making her cake with a request for mulberries from the garden and bananas from the supermarket. To deliver the ingredients requested and to buy my daughter a birthday gift, I wore my mask and went out for the first time in several weeks.
On this special day for the first time in two months our Gul restaurant hosted a meal.
Today we made the most of and appreciated every second of family energies up until the Covid-19 9pm curfew.
We will have baby chicks! The farm animals are working hard to prepare your breakfast!
My husband worked with the gardeners to tidy and maintain the vegetable garden and farm, whilst I have been researching suppliers to meet the post Covid-19 requirements and policies so as to open our accommodation.
We hope to open on the first week of June.
Tomorrow the restaurants in Cyprus will open. We have decided to wait for a week so to make all the necessary preparations for a perfect welcoming that you can be confident with.
I will soon share all our post-Covid-19 preparation and precautions that have been adopted as per the policies of World Health Organisation, Health Ministry and Turkish Cyprus Hoteliers Associations.
I look forward to seeing you all soon, when you will come as guests and leave as family!
(22 May 2020)