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Greece

Chios, Greece

sunny 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.

Chios Harbor

Chios Harbor

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.

Loukoumades

Loukoumades

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.

The Chios countryside

The Chios countryside

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.

The Homes of Pyrgi

The Homes of Pyrgi

Sgrafitto walls in Pyrgi

Sgrafitto walls in Pyrgi

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.

Byzantine Church at Pyrgi

Byzantine Church at Pyrgi

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.

Streets of Mesta

Streets of Mesta

Mesta is filled with incredible, tunnel-like streets winding, again, in a maze, to the central square.

The Fortress town of Mesta

The Fortress town of Mesta


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.

Cafe in the Town Square at Mesta

Cafe in the Town Square at Mesta

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.

The winding alleys of Mesta

The winding alleys of Mesta

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.

Posted by Zukini 20:55 Archived in Greece Tagged greece cruise chios star_princess khios Comments (0)

Piraeus and Athens

overcast 73 °F

Friday, I wake at 5:30 to watch our sail into Piraeus. The harbor is the busiest we've seen so far, with ferries criss-crossing every few minutes. Lighting crashes continuously just off shore. We've been preceded into port by Serenade of the Seas and Fred Olsen's Black Watch. This means we wind up berthing at Terminal B instead of the more convenient Terminal A. In addition, a dock worker strike has halted the normal shuttle bus service between the two terminals. Taxi drivers have arrived at the pier, but rather than the €15 they are supposed to charge for a trip to the Acropolis, they are charging €50 one way!

Terminal B at Piraeus Harbor

Terminal B at Piraeus Harbor

We look at the port map, listen to the recommendations that it is too far to walk to the metro, and decide to do it anyway. It takes us 15 minutes to get to Terminal A, then another 30 minutes to get to the metro from there, but the walk is safe and uneventful, although navigating the ramps and merges for the terminals and gates can be a little hazardous. We buy a pair of €4 all day tickets, validate them, and hop on the metro to Thissio station. From there, we make a long walk up the hill to the entrance to the Acropolis.

The Acropolis

The Acropolis

Once we obtain our €12 tickets, it's a steep climb up to the level of the Acropolis plateau. The path is a mix of slippery rough cut marble and loose gravel, and is clogged with plodding cruise shippers, tourists, and hundreds and hundreds of schoolchildren on outings.

Climbing up to the Acropolis

Climbing up to the Acropolis

The climb to the Acropolis

The climb to the Acropolis

On the plateau, people mill about, pushing and shoving to get the best vantage points. Nevertheless, the site is amazing to see. Restoration work on the Parthenon continues, and a large crane is in place, but much of the scaffolding has been removed. In fact, restoration work is evident throughout the Acropolis. The original marble quarries on Mount Lycabettus have been reopened, and that same marble is being used to reconstruct damaged portions of the site. It is expected eventually age and blend in with the original structures.

The white stone is fresh cut from the original quarry

The white stone is fresh cut from the original quarry

Much of the exposed statuary has been removed and replaced with replicas. The originals have been moved to the New Acropolis Museum for restoration and display in a controlled environment.

The East facade of the Parthenon

The East facade of the Parthenon

Even the famous Caryatids are replicas. We do get to see some of the recovered originals undergoing conservation in the museum.

Porch of the Caryatids, south side of the Erechthion

Porch of the Caryatids, south side of the Erechthion

We follow the very thorough Rick Steves audio tour, which takes about two hours. The view from this promontory in the middle of a dense urban city is amazing.

The City of Athens, from the Acropolis

The City of Athens, from the Acropolis

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

We descend and find our way to the New Acropolis Museum.

The Museum is a beauty, displaying many independent pieces from the Acropolis in a contextual manner. The displays are clean and fresh and laid out in a logical way. Even so, Mrs. Z is getting hot, tired, hungry, and frustrated with the bad behavior of the tourists that keep pushing their way in front of her at every display. There's so much space around the displays at this museum that there's just no excuse for that kind of behavior. We make it through the third level, which is a virtual reconstruction of the frieze, metalons, and pediments of the Parthenon, and is beautifully executed

We decide to exit the museum and try to cool down. We grab a couple of Cokes and start walking toward the Plaka. Using a recommendation from Rick Steves, we seek out Sholarhio Ouzeri Kouklis on Tripodon Street. This is an interesting place. They charge €14 per head for 5 plates of food. They bring around a large tray of dishes from which to choose. We pick fried calamari, fried eggplant, fried cheese pies, pork stew, and spinach in olive oil. The food is served with a crusty loaf of bread and a large bottle of water, and the meal concludes with what I think was halva, a farina and honey jellied dessert. Greasy but satisfied, we depart and decide to find the entrance to the ancient Agora. Our search takes us down to Monastiraki Square, where we see the diminutive Church of the Virgin, sunken below street level.

Monastiraki Square

Monastiraki Square

Church of the Virgin, Monastiraki Square

Church of the Virgin, Monastiraki Square

We detour down flea market alley, and I stumble across a small music store that features American guitars and Greek Bouzoukis. The bouzoukis are very reasonably priced, I think, at €230 pre-haggle. They feature beautiful inlay work, and I'm tempted but refrain. We can't seem to find the entrance to the Agora, we're hot, damp, and tired, and we find ourselves right in front of the Thissio station at 2:30, so we decide to call it a day. We have an uneventful metro ride back to Piraeus, but the walk back to Terminal B seems awfully long.

Just as we enter the port, the threatening skies start to let loose. A storm is whipping up, and Star Princess is being pushed away from her berth by the wind. We have to wait at the terminal while mooring lines are snugged up.

Almost there! Trying to beat the rain!

Almost there! Trying to beat the rain!

Finally, we're back on board. We enjoy a steamy cappuccino, followed by a steamier session in the thermal suite. Then, it's off to Mediterranean dinner in the Capri dining room. Tonight, I have shrimp cocktail, Shepard salad, and pork chops with fig demi-glace. Mrs. Z has fruit, a fettuccine starter, and the same pork chop. This is followed by some really nice pistachio ice cream and a sampling of baklava. We're finding that the service in the Capri dining room is much better than we've seen in the Portofino.

Tonight was supposed to be a Caribbean deck party (in the Mediterranean? Really?) and buffet but the inclement weather pushes it indoors to the Vista Lounge. We stop by, but it seems really silly. what. A band, plastic leis, no food. The ship, already lightly populated, is starting to seem positively deserted. We catch a small part of the first Celtic Tenors show in the theater before heading back to the room to crash. All of this touring is starting to wear us down.

Good thing we've got a day at sea coming up to recover before our final port call at Naples.
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Posted by Zukini 20:42 Archived in Greece Comments (0)

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