Izmir, my home town, is closer to Athens than Ankara – not only distance-wise, but also culturally. Perhaps because of this, perhaps romanticising over the fact that my roots are from Thessaloniki, I have always felt very comfortable in Greece, maybe even more than I feel in most of Turkey. If I would have to pick an identity, I would rather define myself as an Aegean than a Turk. And if proximity is a defining factor, there is no place closer to home than the island of Chios. There is also no other place where I feel as much at home as I do in Chios.
A slightly rainy Chios welcomed us as our boat approached the port yesterday morning. After passport formalities, we picked up the car we have booked and headed down to Agios Ermioni. Our discovery of Maria’s Apartments was a pure coincidence several years ago. The reason why we stay there every year though is strictly by choice. While it may not be the luxurious beach resort you may prefer to stay on your holidays, there is one thing that makes this place very special for us: Maria and her family.
As soon as we parked the car, we heard Maria’s scream. Seconds later, we were hugging the whole family and our noise could probably be heard from the next town. All was fine, she was busy as usual, Kostas has moved his restaurant to a different location, she was jealous of our recent trip to the Arctic Circle, so on and so forth.
Maria is your typical lazy (!) Greek that German taxpayers moan about while getting drunk in beer gardens. She wakes up way before the sun rises. She irons all the bed linen she has washed the previous day because she does not like the way others iron sheets. She cleans the place, does whatever maintenance is needed, picks up her new guests from the port or the airport and drops them back at the end of their stay. While doing all this, she also runs her little grocery store in the next village, Karfas, as well as helping her husband with his restaurant. She goes to bed way past midnight only to wake up in couple of hours. And while doing all these, she is always in great humour and has the time to chat with you. Needless to say, at this stage she is like a sister to both of us.
After sending Maria to the grocery store, we decided to head off to Pyrgi. Chios is not one of those Greek islands with pretty white and blue houses and beautiful beaches, it is much more. Actually, the island never depended heavily on tourism, although its share is increasing in the recent years. Agriculture, specifically mastic, as well as sea trade has been the island’s main activities. It has a very rich history and the main attractions of the island are not the beaches, but the medieval villages scattered across the island. And Pyrgi is certainly the crown jewel of those villages. With its narrow streets, decorated houses and tomatoes hanging from balconies, it is an oh-my-god of a village one should not miss in Chios.
After a leisurely stroll and a coffee at the main square, we drove down to our little beach sanctuary, Notos. The tourist season coming to an end, there was absolutely nobody at the beach. We first savoured our calamari and Greek salad at the restaurant on top of the hill and then descended down to the pebble beach with deep blue waters. And while Meral was enjoying the still warm waters of the Aegean, I lied down on the sun bed and let the lullaby of gentle waves close my eyes.
As well as having our local B&B, café and beach, we also have our tavern that we go religiously each time we go when in Chios. In my opinion (apparently also in everyone else’s on Trip Advisor), Agyra in Megas Limionas is the best place to dine in Chios – if not in whole Greece. It is run by one incredible guy, Giorgos, and his even more incredible family.
Now, if Maria is our Greek sister, Giorgos would be our Greek brother. So, as happened in the morning, as soon as we entered the tavern, there was a loud noise and a lot of hugging and kissing. Things were going well, the son was getting better and better playing the bouzouki and he had recently ordered a new one to be made. The season wasn’t too bad, but they were expecting a very bad one next year due to the refugee crisis. He was going to switch the live music night from Friday to Saturday, so on and so forth. And again, we were so loud that our noise could probably be heard from the next town. After a few bottles of ouzo, around half past midnight, Giorgos asked to be excused, because being another lazy (!) Greek, he had to wake up at 6:30 in the morning.
And that’s what we basically do when we are in Chios. We hug and kiss all our friends and get in very loud conversations. We come to Chios every year and we have made friends all across the island. And if it’s the first time we meet someone, our loud conversations still end with big hugs and departure tears in our eyes. To us, this island is not like the Bahamas, Bali, Ibiza or Santorini. It is much much more. It’s home.