Greetings from Barb! We had no time yesterday to do an update so this blog entry will cover our day in Chios, Greece, on Friday and in Kusadasi, Turkey today.
Chios is one of the Greek Ionian islands in the Aegean sea, close to the coast of Turkey. We decided to rent a car for the day and two ladies from the cruise Roll Call (Janice and Lynda) joined us for our tour of the “hot spots” of this sparsely-populated island. Our car rental, from Sixt, was only $70 for the day.
Our first destination was the UNESCO World Heritage 11th century monastery Nea Moni, which is being restored. This monastery was reached on a road that climbed out of Chios town through dramatic hills that reminded us of New Mexico. The church at the monastery was an exquisite gem filled with beautiful mosaics in gold leaf.
Our journey continued on roads that wound through pine and olive trees, occasionally seeing a small village or nice home but otherwise it was uninhabited. Our next stop was Mesta, one of the mastic villages on the south side of the island. Mastic gum comes from a plant of the same name and it has been harvested on this island of centuries. It is used as a thickener for food products and is even converted to a strong drink. The villages are built in a unique style, almost like fortresses with the center of town reached through tunnels; mastic gum was coveted by invaders and pirates, so these villages were built for protection. One fun thing at Mesta was a little ceramics shop with exquisite vases created by a local artist who triple-fires his glazes. Of course, we had to buy one of the unique pieces.
We continued onwards to another mastic village, Pyrgi. This was a larger village and the buildings are exquisite; the stone exteriors are painted white, then the paint is scraped away to make elaborate geometric designs with the darker stone color (a decor preferred by the Genoans who came to Chios, supposedly including Christopher Columbus). We found the center square in Pyrgi and even parked nearby. Our restaurant choice was fortuitous; the restaurant was run by a young man named “Gus” who had lived in the states for many years and he spoke almost perfect English. He now lives on Chios with his family (wife, daughter, parents). We had a spinach spanakopita and a roasted eggplant salad that was fantastic; the vegetables were all grown on the family farm. Of course Gus had to ask Steve about “jail breaking” an iPhone. We also enjoyed giving the feral cats a little bit of cheese from our spanakopita (poor kitty cats). We had a lovely day on Chios!
Last night we ate at Polo Grill, the steakhouse on Marina. It was incredible! We shared a table with a delightful couple from Brisbane, Australia, who were on a seven-week vacation that included this cruise. I had the New England clam chowder (impeccable), a salad of tomato, romaine, bacon and cheddar and a perfectly cooked 7-oz filet Mignon with blue cheese. Killer bee!
Today we had a fantastic (if physically challenging) day today in Kusadasi, Turkey. I had booked a private tour months ago with Turkey Explorers (Kusadasi Tours), a local company that advertises disabled accessible tours to Ephesus. They greeted us at the pier; our tour guide was the lovely and knowledgable Gurgan (Rose). We had an accessible van to ourselves. We drove out to the valley east of Kusadasi and first visited the House of Mary, on Bulbul mountain. This simple stone house, surrounded by beautiful line trees, was built on the site of an earlier home that supposedly was the last home of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Mary was cared for by the apostle John (the only disciple who escaped martyrdom and died of old age: he also authored the Gospel of John, among other New Testament works). Every year on August 15, Catholics journey here for the feast of the Assumption.
The house was simple and remarkably moving. We walked through the small building and lit two candles for our parents and for safe passage down Bulbul mountain.
After visiting the house we came back down to the valley to go through Ephesus. There were actually four incarnations of this city, starting with the Hittites, then the Greeks, then the Romans and finally the Byzantines. The Romans created the second-largest city in their empire; at the time, the city was on the sea (the Aegean has retreated about 10 km downhill since that time; we’re paging Al Gore – no response yet- to explain how this happened without “AGW” or some other bogus science blaming humans for any changes in climate or sea level).
We started our journey through Ephesus at the upper gate; at first, Steve only had to push me on a flat gravel path. Soon, however, we were on a slick marble road going downhill that was really rough terrain, so I got out of the wheelchair and we slowly walked down the path. My knees began barking like a pack of wild dogs, so we stopped often to take a lot of photos. We finally got to an area that was a little bit better, so I got in the wheelchair and felt so sorry for Steve as we negotiated more uneven terrain (an Italian lady praised him for being such an amazing husband – I can’t begin to describe how much I agree with that assessment!).
Finally we got to a flat area again, near the imposing Library of Celsius. We did enjoy seeing the amazing ruins and took many photos, but it was definitely not easy for a wheelchair. We’re glad we went, however. It is something that should be on everyone’s travel plans.
After our tour at Ephesus, we saw the sole remaining column of the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world (with the ruins of the Basilica of St. John, a beautiful mosque and a Byzantine castle in the background).
After our tour, we were off to lunch at a nearby rug pavilion. We were skeptical about this part of the tour, but decided to have an open mind. Our light lunch was fantastic, with several fresh salads, followed by a small piece of grilled chicken and spicy meatballs. We took the rug tour and watched them make double knots on wool and cotton rugs and extract silk from silkworm eggs. We were shown several rugs and decided to ask about smaller area rugs. We looked at several rugs and ended up buying an exquisite small area rug and a beautiful silk pillow cover. Call us rubes, but they had me sign the rug label (it will be shipped) and it seemed like a unique work of art.
Now we’re on our way to Istanbul (we arrive at noon tomorrow – whoo, hoo, we can sleep in!). A political comment, if I may: Greece was wonderful, but its leadership as one of the PIIGS (it is not misspelled; look it up to understand the connotation) that is causing the downfall of the Euro and the EU is apparent. Kusadasi was very prosperous and the port area was one if the nicest we have seen. Our guide said that Turks are glad now that they are not part of the EU; I think it is the EU’s loss and will be to their detriment eventually (for many reasons).
Hopefully we’ll post some photos tonight and will have our last port report tomorrow.