Dr. Zamboglou: He talks about his life for the first time and the high-tech Oncology Center of Limassol!

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When the refugee Zamboglou family from Mersin, established a new home in Cyprus, back in 1924, no one could have imagined that a grandchild of a craftsman who manufactured candy, would glorify Limassol across the world. Grandfather Zamboglou may have stood out by introducing candy and squash drinks in the island, but the grandson Nikolaos Zamboglou sure did reach way above that.

Returning almost half a century later, he seems to be essentially the same person with the little rascal running up and down in the old town streets. Sharing his smile generously, simply and humbly speaking, he keeps jokes a main reference in his social encounters. Not only he keeps his childhood memories alive, he even preserves the genuine feeling of Limassol’s people from a few decades back. “If I would change anything, it would be staying back here and building on my football career at Aris, Limassol’s football team”, he mentions laughing. He wished for a championship with his favorite team. He did play at the students’ team in Aachen, Germany, but that was never enough to fill the void.

His childhood, the gang at Tzamouda, the rough, but priceless lessons learned through the defeat of Aris, everything comes back to life in front of his eyes every time he returns in his city. The old neighborhood was also the place where he met his partner in life, too, with whom he had 2 children. He lost her far too soon, from the same disease he had been fighting for decades. It is one of those times when irony teaches life lessons. But his team, Aris, also taught him to take defeat with a clear mind and keep walking. And so he did, even with this one, probably his greatest loss and defeat. Being a doctor allowed him to enjoy glory and recognition, but this is what actually grounds him on his feet every single day. His scientific success and his great love for the city where he grew up in, make the awarded doctor one of the most humble and genuine people out there.

With views to the sea...

What is your view on Limassol?
There are 2 gorgeous cities in the Mediterranean. One is Barcelona and the other is Limassol. Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games and was fortunate enough as to have important facilities. Thus, its old city was showcased, just as its architecture, and its sea area became a place for sports.

Limassol is significantly smaller, but it is also more humane, more clustered.  It has a huge seafront area, accessible to anyone. Of course, Barcelona has Barcelona FC. But Limassol has Aris, too (laughing). This is something that I say, that both Aris and Barcelona are a way of living. Because, it is the easiest thing to enjoy victory, but to learn how to lose is a true art, a way of living, and this is a lesson taught by Aris.

I started growing my mustache, after 1968. May of 1968 in France was on and the students were taking over the universities in Germany, too. Of course, what we cared most about was to be attractive to girls. 

What makes Limassol stand out?
The sea is a great advantage, for sure. Personally I take great pleasure in the view of it or with a trip in the inflatable boat. Anything I managed to attain after all these years, are immediately related to the sea. In Limassol, there is 1 apartment on the beachfront, but the Oncology Center also has a view to the horizon. In Chalkidiki there is a vacation house and an inflatable boat.

Limassol’s special gift is that it is one of few examples of the cities that received a large volume of refugees, accepted them and incorporated them without any tension. Nowadays the entire Europe is discussing the arrangements to be made for the hospitality of 2 – 3 millions of refugees. Limassol, a city of 40 thousands, in 1974 doubled in population within a few months, without any proper infrastructure, without even an established drainage network. Even I am a refugee, in fact, since my father arrived here from Mersin, in Asia Minor, at the age of 7 years old.

On the second floor of the Oncology Center, where the patients will be able to enjoy a view to the sea and the mountains.

Wouldn’t Limassol be the same without the refugees?
Definitely not. We were no place close to the tourism industry facilities of Ammochostos (Famagusta), for example, and we had no idea of managing such infrastructure. My father and his siblings had a piece of land on the seafront, in the area where Apollonia hotel is located now, and they sold it when they found out that some tourist developments were planned in that area. Basically, there was no tourism or hotels in Limassol before 1974. Refugees from Ammochostos were actually the ones that introduced the city to the industry and allowed it to be where it is now and that must be acknowledged by anyone.

Weren’t there any problems?
There are always problems. Chatzipavlos started the works for the drainage network, with all its faults and mistakes, and it was crucial for the hygiene and public health. Afterwards, Kontides took over to fix the coast at Akti Olympion. Next, Christou made sure to showcase the old town and enhance the development of the area. People will always grumble, but this kind of works must be done.

Limassol owes its success to those who do their job well and with love, either these are the investors in the Limassol Marina, or Melis with his grilled meat in Parekklisia.

What made people react like this, then?
People would grumble, for example, when some old buildings at Akti Olympion had to be demolished, for the works to proceed. This is OK, though, because criticism is necessary to fix possible mistakes. But criticism should be expressed with arguments and not for the sake of criticism itself. We see, though, that these works were beneficial and I think the same applies for the works in progress by the Mayor Nikos Nikolaidis at Franglinou Roosevelt Avenue. If, for example, the drainage works had not progressed, the Limassol sea would be a mess, it would had never cleaned up.

Do people in Limassol love their place?
Up to a certain degree they do, but they need to feel proud and love it in a more essential way. Limassol is a 40 – 50% of the Cyprus economy, it is the machine of the economy in the country. It has evolved in a remarkable way these past few years. We, the people in Limassol, need to understand that the prospects are huge for this city and actually feel proud, love it to the core and not grumble about every little thing.

Does the image of the city, the way it has evolved these past 40 years, make you feel good?
Being slightly romantic, I would wish to see again some old buildings on the beachfront. But we sure can’t have it all.

How do you feel about the high-rise developments?
These buildings are inevitable. The evolution moves towards this direction. I do not mind if high-rise buildings are constructed, as long as there is proper consideration for environmental aspects, through the needed studies.

In the treatment area, with natural light from large windows and a view to the sea.

Are people in Limassol resistant to change?
All people are kind of reluctant to change. I look at the Limassol Marina and think that there only used to be 2 taverns around here, where an entire complex is now established, attracting thousands who enjoy entertainment and social activities, instead of 50 – 100 people, who'd dine in the taverns. Wishing to stay in the past, with those 2 taverns, just so I'm be able to recall my childhood memories, is selfish.

Don’t we need memories?
We surely do so. The entire city cannot be all modern. Parts of the old city and its history should be showcased, too, just as it happened with the city center and the Castle. Back in the day, no one in Limassol would visit it and now it is one very popular spot. I did love the city, even when it did not have the social life it has now, but it made me sad to see the historical center all deserted, when you were scared to even cross through Saripolou Square.

What allowed Limassol to emerge as the city it is now?
In Limassol we had the good fortune to have 4 Mayors who really did “paddle hard”. All of them had everyone’s support. Nikos Nikolaidis will enjoy the same support, too, now that he is just starting, and we will all help him “paddle” just as hard, because we love Limassol. The former Mayor Andreas Christou is the same age as me. Nikos Nikolaidis is slightly younger, but we belong in the same generation. I believe that he will do his best, because he loves Limassol, too.  We need to acknowledge the needs of the city and focus our efforts on them. On our side, we will do our best with the Oncology Center, to cover these needs.

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The simple and unpretentious Nikolaos Zamboglou, arrived in short pants and sandals, relaxed and smiling, for his interview with a view to the blues, at Marina Breeze in the Limasssol Marina. 

At the blocks of Tzamouda neighborhood...

Where did you grow up?
The first house, on the northwest side of the First Urban School is my family house. Back then, the whole city of Limassol was joined as one. We had the kebab place of Pambos and the kebab place of Themis, which shared their costumers according to their partisan beliefs. We were all very close and we still are. We would play football in the empty fields or the school yard. I even played with the children’s football academy of Aris, even if it was actually forbidden by the school rules, which were promoting classic sports.

Where would you go out, for a walk or for flirting back then?
Our go to place was Gladstonos street. Every Saturday afternoon, after the cinema screening at 14:30 – 17:00, we would sit at some patisserie and then go for kebab. We would be back home by 20:30. The girls would go for a walk and we would sit and watch, flirting would only take place with much caution at parties, when we hoped for a dance with the girl of our choice.

So, Germany must have had been a great change of life.
Indeed. It was quite exciting. Of course, Limassol moved on in the meantime, too.

Why was it Germany, instead of the UK, where most Cypriots would end up?
I chose Germany because I had some restrained feelings out of my experience with the British. During a curfew, some British soldier slapped me and I hold it against him ever since. I must have had been 10 – 11 years old and I was standing at me house’s door and I remember a large, redhead British man, who turned his palm suddenly and slapped me.

I have only been in the UK for conferences. When I happened to visit as a student with friends, I remember how bad we felt for not being allowed through face control in the night clubs and discotheques, just because we were foreigners. That incident reassured my prejudice, built ever since the curfew.

After all, in 1966 the German universities had become very well-known for their success in sciences. Thus, I chose Germany.

Nikolaos Zamboglou (last one in the front row) at the students football team in Aachen. The mustache was a trade mark ever since then.

What’s the story with Limassol Aris FC?
A great school. It taught me how to lose. We have been around the entire Limassol countryside with Aris. Since, I guess, I developed a defense mechanism for the rest of my life: I easily forget the defeats. I can narrate the joys for hours, but I find it hard to recall the misfortunes.

The first FC was at Athinon street, opposite the CUT facilities now. We would gather quite frequently there, where I met the well-known maestro, Marinos Mitellas, playing pinball. He was Aris fan, too, as a young music teacher. Kolotas would tease him because he would not swear. Once, really pissed, he shouted out “you bloody ball”. That was the worst he could do, which was an indicator of his ethos.

Were your teachers role models?
Those were some notable educators and men. Stavrakis, the mathematician, provided so much knowledge, that I actually felt I had it covered through the entire first year at the university. Kolotas and Venizelos for Greek, Touloupis for history, who taught us to think politically, Yiannakos at the primary school, who made us love theater, and Pipis, who encouraged us to join the choir. I was fortunate to have descent teachers.

Of course if they would punish us, no one would interfere, as the common practice has it now days. Once I complained to my father about detention at school and he replied with “if they punished you, you must have done something”.

In Limassol, fishermen, harbor workers and Lanitis, the man himself, would hang out in the same places. They were all together, no distinction. There was no room for self-conceit.

Was your father a role model?
There was love and respect. My father provided all the morals according to which I walked through life. He was my moral role model.

A model student, then;
Not exactly. I was suspended 3 times.

The first one was when the high school headmaster saw me in the street, wearing my uniform, but with yellow socks on. Wearing socks of bright colors was some kind of a personal revolution. We would wait for the summer to come, in order to wear those colorful socks. For years after I finished school I would not wear grey pants.

The second one was when I was at a joint with games next to the Yiordamli cinema. One day we had to rush out after warned about the arrival of a school’s watchdog. I left my uniform hat behind, with my name in it, so I was caught and punished.

The third one was after a party with girls. My father had asked me to escort the daughter of a family friend. The next morning we were all called at the headmaster’s office, where we received detention, because the brother off one of the girls attending the party considered it an insult and a matter of honor.

Those were secret parties, then?
Yes, they were. We were not allowed to meet with girls. That party was in a closed club at the end of Gladstonos street.

Parents were notified about suspension?
Yes, of course. The father was supposed to sign the paper. But, we had our own counterfeiter who would forge the signature of any parent and the signature of the watchdog, too. The late Yiannakis Andronikou provided some great services and he saved us several times.

With all modern technology and the Physics experts for the dose measuring of each treatment.

What was your mother’s role in your childhood?
She was in the lead. She would control everything. My father never hit me, but my mother did. I was 10 – 11 years old, just before Easter, and I went to the store by myself for the first time to get new shoes. Passing outside the First Urban School with my friend, we saw some kids playing football. We could not resist. The white shoes that I had bought turned black and my friend’s soles were detached. Returning home we were both spanked. I still remember us crying and laughing at the same time, looking at each other from our balconies from across the street.

You are still the same, simple man today.
This is how we grew up. We went to school at Lanitio, which would host students of any social class. Limassol was like that back then. Here, at the harbor, Pontikos tavern would serve both the city’s fishermen and harbor workers, as well as Lanitis, the man himself. They were all together, no distinction. There was no room for self-conceit. I remember when I was little, I once asked my mother to put a patch on my pants. My father told me then that he made a promise not to let his son wear patched trousers, after he was forced to wear far too many, as a refugee. But this is how things were in the hood, in Tzamouda, where there was no room for pretenses.

The Oncology Center is something Limassol needed... The city in its fortune and beauty needs to provide its best for the citizens that experience the misfortunes of life.

I do not feel the need to be different now. I have full respect for those who do. But if someone experiences what we do in a daily basis, they cannot have any false pride. What self-conceit are you allowed to? We see day after day how small we are. We also see people with self-conceit being brutally grounded when the bad news arrive. This is so humbling. I know our measurement and power. We do have some power, but nature is above all of us.

Many powerful men have turned to you for help. Doesn’t that inspire some kind of superiority?
You cannot feel superior when someone is in distress. I do not associate with these kind of practices. After all, there are so many colleagues, great doctors and scientists with important contribution to the field, greater than mine, who did not experience the happiness of acknowledgment. When you know the size of their contribution and you are the only one to be awarded, you know that there is an amount of exaggeration.

There are, indeed, doctors who take advantage of people’s misfortune, in the same degree that any bad professional would do it in any field. We are not the ones to judge, there are courts for that, and we are not the ones to forgive, there is the church for that.

Are we completely powerless, then?
Not completely. But, I do know that happiness is just moments. The important thing is to experience them to the fullest. You only do that when you realize how few they are.

The smiling doctor turns all serious and disciplined, a scientist focused on the great and  momentous project he is preparing for Limassol. 

You do not really focus on bad things, do you?
I do not avoid them. My job deals with the worst thing in life. I just don’t want to go over it again and again.

Do you manage to take advantage of the moments, then?
I think I can spot them and make a good use out of them, yes. I have always been looking for happiness. I have never been of the people who like to be miserable and inspire pity. I learned to appreciate the small things, because I see how small we are in front of nature every day. A trip with the kids, good food, singing with friends.

What does you routine include?
The most productive hours of the day are between 3 – 6 in the morning. I sleep around 10 – 11 in the evening, I wake up before dawn and I work until the morning. I will fall asleep for another hour and then I will keep working, after I wake up. Working may continue until late at night. Work hours may reach 14 or 16 some days. Work is part of my life, I do not feel tired doing it.

Spending 50 years in Germany

How did you choose Aachen?
It was one of the best universities, but also the first one listed alphabetically, which did not have much meaning, but it did have something to do with my final decision.

Were there any Greeks or Cypriots in Aachen?
Yes, I did meet the Greeks that lived there right ahead. They helped us with accommodation. I only knew 2 – 3 German words from school. I did know how to speak English, but the Germans did not. Communication was practically none at the beginning.

People in Limassol have not embraced the CUT… we still lack the mentality to do so. It is very important. Would anyone know about Oxford, Cambridge of Heidelberg without their universities? 

Did you already have the mustache then?
No, I started to grow it then, after 1968. May of 1968 in France was on and the students were taking over the universities in Germany, too. Of course, what we cared most about was to be attractive to girls. I haven’t shaved it yet. If I do, it will probably mean that I enter a new phase of my life (laughing).

So you were actively involved in the demonstrations against the Junta.
Yes, I was the president of the Greek student body in Germany.

How was the only Cypriot in Aachen elected as the president of the Greek Student Body?
Well, I had to bribe a few (laughing again). I was very active in the public. Aachen had a large student community of around 2000 people. The Body was purely aiming against the Junta. There I met the heads of the movement against the dictatorship, Papandreou, Theodorakis, Panagoulis.

Panagoulis found refuge in Germany when he received amnesty by Markezinis. I stayed in prison for some nights myself, too, when I was 24. I was arrested during a visit in Greece. I thought that, as a Cypriot citizen, I could get away with it. Fortunately, just a few weeks later, amnesty was given to all. 

Nikolaos Zamboglou in Germany during a demonstration against the Junta in Greece.

You did not continue on the same path after the Junta was overthrown?
No, I disagreed with the rest of my fellow students after the Turkish invasion in Cyprus, which was essentially the reason that Junta was overthrown. I saw people celebrating democracy in Greece, but they barely mentioned Cyprus. Then I decided to stay in academia.

Apart from politics and academia, was there good life, too?
Of course. Limassol makes us really sociable. When at school, we would join the carnival celebrations, even if it was forbidden, and we would get dressed from head to toes, in order not to be discovered.

Would Germans go out separately from foreigners?
Definitely not. In fact, the Germans suffered from a post war complex of not being considered racist. Actually, the Greeks, as the ones oppressed form Junta, were very popular with the local women, who wanted to comfort us, because of the drama in our home land. We asked for care and love and we did receive plenty (laughing). 

So, Germans are not actually cold.
They have their own particularities, for sure, otherwise I wouldn’t return to Limassol. But every people has its bad and good individuals. Germans may be more rationalists, less emotional.

Is that the reason for you to come back now?
Not exactly. In Germany I was always for a temporary stay. I did stay for almost 50 years, which is more than temporary, but definitely not permanent.

The modern Oncology Center in Limassol

Is the German Oncology Center a business venture?
No matter what I say, some people’s opinion won’t change. Those who want to see it as a business venture, may as well do so. Others could have done what Zamboglou did, too.

If I wanted to invest in a business, there are much more prosperous and safer options than this one. The best investment would be to my soul, allowing myself to relax. Right now we paid money for the land we rented from the Church, for the construction of public streets, for water supply network and we hope that there will be some formula with the state to make our services accessible to everyone.

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Endless hours of work at the German Oncology Center construction site, in a close, personal interaction with experts, scientists, workers and  technicians needed for its implementation.

I do not consider myself a businessman. When things started to flow, we had foreign investors coming with business propositions and some very attractive conditions and we did not want to collaborate with them, in order not to risk our criteria of social provision. If this is business, let those who know best judge it.

This did not happen to get the state’s support. We did not ask for it, after all. As long as there is a formula to provide services to patients, our facilities can be accessible by anyone in Cyprus. At the same time, the sustainability of this venture will be safeguarded, in order to be able to evolve on a scientific level, following new technologies and knowledge. The Oncology Center must be a healthy organization and evolve continuously. 

Did you have any difficulties, since there is already an Oncology Center operating in Nicosia?
Of course not! After all, when did Nicosia present any hurdles in the way of Limassol’s development? If we had Nicosia in our way, could we have ever come so far (laughing)?

When the Oncology Center in Nicosia was being set up, I was essentially involved in the procedures, just like with any other oncology center I consoled in Greece and Germany. Limassol had been announcing an Oncology Center for over a decade. Nothing ever happened, no one ever asked for my assistance. Then, I had to take this initiative for my city. It is a project worth over 40 – 50 million euros, which is promoted with a lot of love, but mostly with a huge amount of understanding for the needs of patients.

What self-conceit are you allowed to? We see day after day how small we are. We also see people with self-conceit being brutally grounded when the bad news arrive. 

Did you feel like you owed this to Limassol?
This is something Limassol needed, I do not feel like I owed anything. The city in its fortune and beauty needs to provide its best for the citizens that experience the misfortunes of life.

On the second floor, we have an area with an amazing view to Limassol and many plants. If you can offer something pleasant to a sick man, oppressed both physically and mentally, something that you enjoy yourself, then why not? We sure did not introduce this to raise the prize for the rooms, though (laughing).

Do you relate with your patients?
Yes, it is inevitable, but you cannot identify with them. We feel sad with any loss. We had cases when the entire clinic was crying rivers after the death of a patient. But I try to keep this in the clinic, and not take it home with me. After all these years, a self-preservation instinct is activated.

Out of all of your distinctions, which one stands out the most?
I received many awards, which came due to some circumstances, if you ask me. There are many more doctors better than myself, who did not have the opportunity to get acknowledged.

Out of all of my distinctions, the German Society for Radiation Oncology award, which has been awarded only twice to Germans before me, is the most honorable one. This awards distinguishes academic research applied to clinical routines, to produce new treatments.

The distinction with the title of Athens Academy was also very honorable. After all, I was a professor at Metsovio Technical University for years. The title of the Honorary Doctor of the CUT was of special importance, too.

Nikolaos Zamboglou became an Honorary Doctor of the Cyprus University of Technology on May 19th 2017, at a warm and honorable ceremony.

Do you feel like Limassol owes its success to people like you?
Limassol owes its success to anyone who does their job well and with love and care, either these are the investors at the Limassol Marina, or Melis in Parekklisia with his grilled meat.

The Oncology Center is being set up be excellent specialists, conscious and considerate, amazing professionals. This project, implemented in such a short time, would not be possible without them. We began on May 6th in 2016 and its operation will be possible in September 2017. Of course, the struggle did begin a decade ago. But, in any case, someone has to “paddle hard” before the boat starts to flow, and then people will come to help you paddle the rest.

The importance of Cyprus University of Technology in Limassol

Did Limassol really need a university?
The establishment of the CUT in the city center was an important decision. It would be a mistake to have it in a campus outside the city. The university brought the center back to life and helped revive the memories of that area.

Still, a lot happened that injured its image.
These are 2 different things: the academic achievements of the CUT, that is the education of the students and the research conducted, is one, and the financial management is another. At the first one, the CUT has been presenting a very articulate image. The second one is something that cannot be prevented. Several issues like these emerge in our country every single day. Scandals have shaken even Harvard. These must concern the justice, though. Many things should be resolved in reference to the financial management in our country, but this should not interfere with the academic work of the university.

The city has greatly evolved these past few years. We need to understand as Limassolians that ours city has great potential, we need to feel really proud…

Do such issues occur in Germany, too?
Of course they do. They do separate them, too, though. Justice issues will never burden the academic part. What I feel is that people in Limassol have not embraced the CUT. Most cities are identified with their universities. We still lack the mentality to do so. The university is stepping towards this direction now even more drastically. This is the official focus of the new dean, too.

Is it important for a city to have a good university?
No question about that! Would anyone know about Oxford, Cambridge or Heidelberg without their universities? The students create their professional future in a city with very specific people and environment, they create connections with those who have enlightened them and this becomes part of their future course of life. In addition to that, a university brings new ideas and helps spread the knowledge.

Did you have in mind to associate with the CUT somehow?
Yes I did. After these 40 years in the academia, participating in so many scientific committees, I know that it is not enough to follow the updates in the field, in order to stay on the top. A scientist needs to participate in the evolution of knowledge with research and ever going education of specialists and students.

In the area of the radiotherapy for prostate cancer, which is introduced in Cyprus for the first time.

Thus, the idea of a cancer research center came up. There are remarkable prospects with so many scientists gathered together in the Oncology Center and it would be a shame not to make use of them for research purposes and provide the opportunity to students to have a taste of the process of upgrading what we know in this field. The center may even attract students from abroad, since it is actually a pioneer in many things.

Eyes to the future of the city...

What else would you like to see in Limassol within the next few years?
Is about time Limassol has a new football field, where all teams can play.

Also, even though we have the seafront park and the Municipal Garden, it would be nice to have another great park in Limassol, maybe on a higher spot. The city could be just a little greener. Of course, it is quite clean and I am really happy to have people over from abroad, telling me how clean it is.

There is also this issue with the little piles on the sidewalks, which have been a subject of several discussions. But, since we are so inconsiderate of others when driving, Andreas Christou did well to install them. You could not even walk in Limassol because of all the cars parked on sidewalks.

We also need some new, more effective traffic arrangements, especially for the traffic on the city’s vertical roads. I also wish for an improved road to Platres, in order to let the countryside come back to life.

The refugees from Ammochostos did contribute greatly in the city to be where it is now and this must be acknowledged by anyone.

Do you visit the countryside often?
Yes, on Fridays before Easter, for the ceremonial gatherings in honor of Virgin Mary, I chant at Lania church with friends. This church used to have a very talented priest, who would amaze anyone with his chanting. But I also have friends in Dora, Arsos, Pachna, Souni, Zanatzia, that is the wine villages. My go to tavern is at Parekklisia, the tavern of Melis, which is my favorite for dining.

What is your favorite Cypriot dish?
I really like traditional lentils in Cyprus, as well as peas with meat casserole. In Germany I like the traditional lamb that my partner Doris cooks, in the oven for hours with wine, served with yogurt sauce, with honey and nuts and some good German bread on the side.

Do you regret not returning earlier?
I was so caught up into my work in Germany for years that I was looking for an alternative option here. I wanted to have all I need to come and continue my work in Limassol. Now I do. 

The German Oncology Center opens in Limassol in less than 1.5 year after the placement of the founding pillar, in September 2017.

The Oncology Center in Limassol was a life dream. So is the championship with Aris FC. The first one is now a reality. The second one is still pending. Another plan, coming right after, is a tavern, like the ones in the old times, a place where you would order drinks and the meze would come along with them. Somewhere with a view to the sea that he loves so, a place where everything is beautiful, genuine and simple, just like he has always been himself, too. He came back to Limassol, to find the good old times, but he is amazed by the change and adores the new ones. He returned loaded with awards and distinctions, but he is still Nikolas, the rascal in short pants, running up and down the streets of Tzamouda. And this is quite possibly the greatest of all of his great achievements.