24.05.2011 - 24.05.2011 75 °F
Well, we've lost a full 50 hours. It's now Tuesday and at 6am, the med center calls to spring us from quarantine, in time for our Princess excursion to Pyrgi and Mesta. Typically, we prefer to bypass Princess excursions in favor of private guides or DYI, but Chios doesn't really have any independent tour operators that we can find, and we're not interested in renting a car here.
We're to meet our bus shoreside at 11:20am, so we tender off the ship around 10am. The ship is using its own tenders, and the process is very smooth. We're on the quay at Chios town in just a few minutes.
We stroll along the harbor front, exploring the little shops and cafes along the way. Chios is exactly how you would expect a Mediterranean port to look.
The waterfront is filled with cafe's serving tourists and locals. Crusty old men play backgammon with cracking vengeance while smoking and drinking coffee. Cold coffee drinks seem to be the preferred libation here. After exploring the waterfront and back row a bit, we decide to sit down at a cafe to have a bite to eat. We order a cappuccino for Mrs. Z, an espresso for me, and a plate of loukoumades (donuts). The donuts are unique, almost like carnival food. A delicately fried exterior, a soft, custardy center, and 14 ounces of lemony honey are served up on a plate with mandatory knives and forks.
Indeed, the donuts even come with their very own crusty seaman, Alexander, a local who sits down with us and asks every question in the universe about the specifications of the Star Princess, noting them down with great satisfaction on a napkin. He tells us tales of his life as a former sea captain, and a rambling tale of meeting Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands. We enjoy passing the time with him.
At 11:20, we board our tour bus, and are introduced to Barbara, our Greek tour guide. We take a pleasant drive through the hills of southern Chios, on our way to Pyrgi. Chios is an amazing place. To the north are arid, barren mountains. To the south are arid, tree covered hills. Everywhere, we see fruit trees, pistachios, and of course the ubiquitous mastic trees that it is famous for.
We arrive at Pyrgi, one of the medieval mastic villages, know as the "painted village" because of the black and white sgraffito that covers nearly every home. This is achieved by placing a grey stucco coat on each home, then whitewashing over it. When the whitewash has dried, it's scraped off to reveal repeating patterns of the underlying grey stucco.
Our guide walks us through the twisting, maze like streets of this castle town, and brings us to the Church of the Apostles, St. Peter and Paul, an ancient Greek Orthodox church that just oozes centuries of religious hopes and dreams. No photos are allowed inside, so here's an exterior shot. That's Barbara, our tour guide, in the foreground.
Then, it's back on the bus to our next stop. The sextons of the church hitch a ride with us, as they want to get back to Chios, eventually. They bring a huge bag of bread and sandwiches along with them and munch them as we drive.
The next stop is the masticchoria (Mastic Town) of Mesta, another castle town. Chios is a supplier to the world of gum from the unique mastic trees. This gum is used in a variety of cosmetic and edible products, and is considered to be antiseptic as well as tasty. We later found that the unique chewy texture of Turkish ice cream is due to the use of this mastic gum.
Mesta is filled with incredible, tunnel-like streets winding, again, in a maze, to the central square.
Our tourguide takes us to visit the ancient orthodox church of Palaios Taxiarchis, with it's elaborately carved altar screen. Even for a non-religous person, it's an interesting experience. In the middle of the church, a large sandbox is set up, and tapers are available for a donation. I drop a coin, and DW lights a taper in memory of a recently deceased aunt. It's an emotional experience.
We sit at a tavern in the square and enjoy a Coke, served in thick, old fashioned, glass bottles. A Canadian woman asks to have our trash...apparently, her son collects Coke bottles of different nationalities. Go figure.
These old villages are really a scenic stop in a port that was kind of low on our list of priorities. We find ourselves falling in love with Chios.
After Mesta, it's back to Chios town and the ship. A very pleasant, albeit short, excursion. Unfortunately, the heat, sun, and jostling bus has left Mrs. Z feeling under the weather again. We head to the dining room for dinner anyway. She spots spaghetti and meatballs on the menu, and figures it will be a good bet, along with some nippy peach soup. I go for the shrimp fra diavolo. When DW's meal arrives, she cuts into the first meatball, and finds it bright pink inside. That's enough for her! The staff seems to feel truly awful, and does back flips trying to make her happy. They do up a special plate of pasta, cooked fresh for her, and she eats a bit, but her appetite is really not up to it.
Tonight, it's Variety Showtime with Noel & Victoria and Lovena B. Fox in the Princess Theater, and Tron:Legacy is on the MUTS screen. Still a little worn out from our previous illness, we decide to make an early night of it.
Tomorrow, a wonderful day in Istanbul is on the menu.