Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Chios, Greece: "You Don't Need To Follow The Road Lines Here"

Post an epic Santorini weekend, our Greece crew headed out on Sunday night to the Greek island of Chios. While likely not a huge tourist locale for Western tourists, Maren's boyfriend Mike is Greek, and his maternal side of the family is from the island - he was kind enough to invite us all out to spend time at his grandmother's childhood home (really, the basis for the entire Greek trip).

Mike spent all his childhood summers in Chios, and therefore served as our tour guide (amongst many other hats he wore) for the week.

Local looks good on you, Greece

What It's All About:
I loved Chios (surprise, surprise), as it was the first place I've been that has not been absolutely teeming with tourists (and for the tourists that are here, they are mainly Greek), and it has a small-town/rural/very local feel to it. Chios is really far east, and is, in fact, just a 30-40 min. ferry ride off the coast of Turkey. The part I loved the most was that most everywhere we went (the beach, the sites, the restaurants, etc.) - it was all completely empty except for us, the large group of Americans who descended upon the island for the week.

Mike's family home is about a 45-minute drive away in the town of Volissos (which is tiny, and only has a population of about 70-100 people in the winter!).  The drive also entailed a treacherous (with the way Mike was driving, anyway) curve-heavy drive up a big mountain that involved a bunch of switchbacks and narrow roads and swaying to and fro.

Our rental cars were so tiny - but so is Lou

Cliffnotes of the Day(s): (Condensing 2+ days into one post)
  • We arrived in Chios' main city (also called Chios) by prop plane from Athens, had dinner in the town, then headed up the winding mountain road to Volissos in our rental cars.  We reached Mike's family home a little before midnight, which they currently use as a vacation home. It was awesome getting to live in a real, local Greek house (as opposed to a fake one) - especially one that Mike grew up spending every summer at - and bonus points for a washing machine!

The grand Chios Airport - one room for departures on the left, one room for arrivals on the right. 

I can see Turkey from my house!

Chios port at sunset

The adorable town of Volissos
Mike's family's home - how cuuuuuute is my room

  • We visited two separate beaches over the course of both days - both were gorgeous and pretty much empty (I LOVE EMPTY BEACHES), save for a couple of locals.  It was like a dream. We swam, ordered drinks from the beach bars (complete with cabana boys), read books, played beach volleyball, and just relaxed.  I mean, I know I've been on an extended vacation, but this was vacation.
Beach dayss
Pretty much nobody else
Chillin' out maxin', relaxin' all cool
Mike and Dave going at Greek paddle ball. Which is just normal paddle ball, but once you play it in Greece, it becomes Greek paddle ball
  • We visited Nea Moni - a monastery from the 11th century that is now a World Heritage Site. According to Wiki, it was built by the Emperor Constantine after he'd made a promise to three monks (who'd discovered a Virgin Mary icon in its location) that if he became emperor, he'd build them a monastery there.  It is still mostly functioning, even after past disasters (including an earthquake and a massacre of the island by the Turks, called "the Massacre of Chios"), and has incredible preserved mosaic work inside. 
Nea Moni
    More Nea Moni
    Incredible gold mosaic inside
Stylish monastery-provided garb to cover up
  • On the way home from the monastery, we stopped by the ancient medieval village of Anavatos.  It sit atop a hill and is completely abandoned and desolate - the village fell during the Massacre of Chios in 1822 when up to 1,500 inhabitants of Anavatos were killed or chose to jump off the hill when the Turks were invading the island.  There was nobody there when we walked through, which made the city seem especially empty and kind of creepy - especially given some of the preserved buildings.
Medieval city of Anatavos on top of a mountain
View from atop Anatavos
Maren is going to love me for posting this. Also, Caroline naturally stands like a supermodel
Dave and the ruins

Meal of the Day(s):

Every dinner we've had in Greece has been a variation of the same abnormally-delicious, gigantic, family-style Greek meal. Depending on the restaurant, of course, we order some items differently (depending on the fish they have fresh that day, the restaurant's specialty, etc.), but there are several key basics that have made an appearance at every single meal we've gone to: Greek salad, calamari, octopus, fried cheese (exactly like it sounds), shrimp saganaki (delicious shrimps in a red sauce), and local fish.
Fried cheese. So good. Every meal.
Giant octopus leg. A must.
Many restaurants let you go to the kitchen to look at and choose your fish
Same fishes, all fried up

Also, THE DESSERTS. Some restaurants bring them out as a last happy surprise dish, which....success.  Without further ado, a sampling of the different post-dinner desserts we've been surprised with at the various restaurants we've dined at.

Some kind of delicious wet cake with cinnamon and powdered sugar

FIGS SOAKED IN HONEY, which I clearly can't shove into my mouth fast enough (my mom must be so proud) in this flattering shot
MINI ICE CREAM BARS, which had all been individually touched by the owner's 5-year old son

Another last staple at every meal - the cats that sit around and wait for you to feed them. And you can always tell who feeds them based on who they linger by.

Not me, clearly

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • Greek sounds.....well, totally Greek to me.  So quick lesson! 
  • "Thank you" in Greek is "Efharistó" - which I remember by thinking "Eh, ferry store."  Like you saw a ferry store and weren't very impressed with it.  Then you add a Greek accent to it, and voila!  
  • On that note, "Calimera" means good morning - which has forever been emblazoned into my brain because the last time I visited Greece post-college, our tour guide shouted it everywhere she went, so we assumed it meant "Excuse me" and started using it as such.  We didn't figure out it didn't mean "excuse me" until much, much later - when we'd already walked around all of Athens for several days saying "good morning" to our waiters at dinner.

MVP of the Week:
Obviously, Mike. Not only did he plan and organize an epic trip for a huge group of people and provide the quote for the title of this post, but he also served as our guide/translator/Greek historian/language teacher/navigator/organizer/driver/food-orderer for the week.  Additionally, our group swelled to 10 as three additional friends of Mike's - Dave, Aaron, and Margaret - joined for this leg of the trip.

In addition to all the activities and meals being executed seamlessly, it was so, so cool for us to see a local view of Greece - the tiny village, the community, the homes, the lifestyle, etc.  Given the size of Mike's village, everyone seems to know his family - and everywhere we went, Mike was approached or greeted by an old family friend or neighbor or acquaintance

Chios crew at dinner by the waterfront
It is not easy managing a group this size, but Mike - you did it so well!  I knew from the moment I met you, that you were the one......who would plan an epic trip such as this.  To show my thanks, I was going to post a shirtless beach photo of you for all the internets (read: my 30 followers) to see, but that would have been too obvious.  BUT NOW YOU GET MVP. THANKS FOR EVERYTHING.

The rest of the group is staying in Chios until the weekend, when they all head to Athens together.  I am sad to miss it - everyone was so much fun!  However, I branched off today to continue my journey and head to Turkey, to join up with my friend Sam.  Get ready for the Turkey leg (nom)!

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