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Chios, Greece

Mesta, ChiosI am in the fortress town of Mesta, built by the Genovese to protect the mastic growers from Arabic pirates in the 15th century or somewhere around then. Its a labrynth of stone streets, alleys, houses and dead ends meant to confuse anyone who somehow was able to enter the walls of the city where the inhabitants would pour hot oil on them from the rooftops and bridges above. Its a somewhat friendlier place now with a small platia in the center next to the largest church on the island which replaced the giant tower that the villagers could escape to if the walls were breached. In the 19th century they tore it down to build the church, putting their faith in God rather than thick walls. Its a shame really. The church is spectacular, one of the most beautiful in Greece, but the tower was said to be enormous and since the city was never successfully attacked, must have been pretty intact when they tore it down. No matter. The town itself is amazing and you can get lost for hours in these narrow streets. The people are friendly and smile when you say hello, and the food at the one taverna in the square is pretty good. They drink something called 'souma' which is like tsipuro or raki but made from figs. Its good if you like that kind of stuff. I do.

Chios townMy first reaction to the island of Chios was not favorable. We arrived at 9:30 and I drove the car off the boat. I could see the Chandris hotel at the end of the harbor but the coast road was one way in the wrong direction (only at night it seems), and we were detoured through the town (city actually) into a massive traffic jam that would make people in LA thankful they don't have traffic problems. Finally after driving through the narrow streets just wide enough for the Vitara we found the hotel and parked in an empty parking lot next to the bowling ally which people seemed to avoid because it cost a euro to enter and a euro to leave. It was our private parking lot for our two nights in Chios town.

The waterfront is a mixture of bars, restaurants, mastica shops and automobile traffic and the Petrina Ouzerie where we had dinner amongst the beeping cars and the smelly port. The young people walking by looked like they would be at home on a Saturday night in Georgetown and not on an island off the coast of Turkey. Half of them were Greek-Americans, the other half were young soldiers stationed here. The bars seemed all pretty much the same. The only one that stood out to me was a beer hall with a few dozen varieties, rare for Greece which normally has three choices: Amstel, Henieken and Mythos, all mediocre unless you are so hot that any beer tastes good. A bar that has Trappist Ale, Weisbeir and even Sam Adams is my kind of place. The trouble is I did not discover it until the morning we were leaving Chios town to explore the rest of the island.

Chios CastleOn the back streets of the port is a medieval castle which is full of small houses, some Turkish style and a hamam (Turkish Bath) that is being renovated. If they are smart they will turn it back into a hamam but I bet it becomes a museum. (The hamam in Sigri, Lesvos could transform the village overnight. The only working hamam I know of  is in the old city of Rhodes and seemed to be quite an attraction. But the owner of the hamam in Sigri just wants the place to fall down. I guess it signifies the Turkish occupation to him and he would rather wallow in his bitterness than to do something that would help his village.) The giant moat that surrounds the castle used to be full of water and the old prints of the town show ships in it. Now it is a parking lot and a road.

Chios ferryOK. Chios town is a work in progress and they have not quite figured out how to make the most of  its assets and make it a little more tourist-friendly. But it does not seem like they really care. Any tourist who starts their visit in Chios town would run screaming from the island if they did not realize that this is the least attractive part of a very interesting and beautiful island. When I woke up on the third morning, the fact that I still had three more days on the island seemed like eternity. But once I left Chios town and began exploring I realized that 5 or 6 days was not enough to see it all and I needed to visit what I hoped would be the best parts of the island. I think I was successful.

If I was going to send someone to Chios for their holiday I would tell them not to freak out when they arrived in Chios town. In fact I would tell them to skip it until the last day when they have to leave and they can go see the archaeological museum which is excellent, the main square, wander around inside and outside the castle, and have dinner in one of the tavernas by the ferry, below the decrepit Rex Theater. Or go to the cafe at the Bourtzi near the end of the pier where the ferry boats pass about 30 feet from you. (watch out for the waves if you are sitting at a table on the edge). But if you stay in Mesta or Emborio and rent a car you can visit the mastika villages and some amazing beaches of all sizes and styles, some with people, some empty.

Beach near Emborio, ChiosMesta was fascinating but Emborio was the final treat of the island. A small town in a narrow bay with several tavernas, a few shops and a very nice family run hotel called the Emborio Bay, there are two spectacular black stone beaches-Santorini style, just a 5 minute walk over the hill. You don't get the cool breezes that you do on the northern beaches but you can always drive there for the day. Emborio is a nice place to come back to after a day of exploring the island, have a swim before dinner, an ouzo on the waterfront and even a nightcap and a swim in the hotel pool before bed. Wake up the next morning, meet your fellow guests at breakfast, go to the beach and have a morning swim before setting out again to explore the north. That's what we did.

Kardamila, ChiosOur last day we drove to Kardamila, a town on the north coast that is known for being the home of many of the island's shipowners and sailors. There are two statues in the port, one of a sailor setting off to sea and the other the wife of a sailor who has been left behind. Half the voices in the cafes were in English though the faces were all Greek. In the upper village was a shady square where we parked under the platanos tree and Andrea removed everything from the car and repacked it for the journey to Athens that night. I wandered around taking photos of the village which was a lot like Vatousa. You can see that in the winter there is a river that runs to and under the main square. That must be an amazing time to be here. I have to put it on my list of things to do before I die. Andrea had been bugging me for hours to park the car somewhere shady so she could do her reorganization project because she was terrified that we would be in Athens and she would have to do it in the hot sun. The platia was the perfect spot. Unfortunately in the process of reorganizing she lost the bag with all her keys in it.

Ferry MytliniOn the ferry Mytilini that night the trucks carrying the equipment of Antonis Remos who had done a concert in Chios the night before, were jamming up everything. They were these double-trailer trucks that are impossible to back up and it took them about twenty tries each (there were two of them) before they got them on the Mytilini and the rest of us could load on. The ship's garage workers were drenched in sweat and short tempered and the air was thick with carbon-monoxide. I had to maneuver into a ridiculous spot and finally the guy giving me directions (eristera-erestera-dexia-piso-piso) just said "look... you are going in there" and pointed to the spot. From then on it was easy. Actually If they just pointed to where they want me to park the car rather than telling me left-left-right-back-back it would be a lot less stressful. But I improve with every trip. This time I went straight to the cabin which was well air-conditioned, took a shower, lay down on my bed and did not leave until we arrived in Pireaus the next morning. I was so well-rested that I did not even have a cup of coffee until after I had parked the car in a lot by Syntagma Square. That's the difference between a good old ferry like the Mytilini and a bad one like the Theophilos.

If you get a cabin on the Mytilini bring an extra pillow. The ones on the ship are small and hard. I had to put the lifejacket under my pillow so it is high enough.

One final note on Chios. My friend George told me he was stationed there in the army and it is the most coveted posting for soldiers. That's because of all the women left behind by the men who went to the ships. "I had ten girlfriends in Chios" he told me. "We all did."

If I was thirty years younger it would be my kind of island. But I had fun and I would definitely go back. There is a lot I did not see. Now I have to find the time to put together all the info I collected and the 800 photos I took and make a Chios page. This could take awhile.

But I did it. See Matt's Chios Page

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