My summer holiday was coming to a close. I was couch-surfing in Izmir and starting to wind down after a crazy marathon bus trip across the western part of Turkey. I had one day left and all I wanted to do was relax on the beach. Being a port city, Izmir does not have any beaches. One of the closest, and most popular, beaches is Çeşme, nicknamed the “Turkish Miami.” Although it didn’t really call my attention, I figured it would be an okay, albeit very pricey, place to spend a day on the beach.
At dinner, my couch-surfing host, G, and I discussed our plans for my final day, a Saturday. She was off from work and was up for doing something. As I was feeling quite tired and worn out, I suggested we go to the beach and just chill for the day. And then, G proposed an ingenious idea: we could go to one of the Greek islands!
And so, on that fateful Saturday morning, we found ourselves leaving G’s house in Izmir at 7am and catching a bus to Çeşme to buy tickets for a 9am ferry to Chios Island. Although we arrived on time, we were a little worried that we would miss the ferry. We decided that if we missed it, we could just stay in Çeşme and go to the beach there. Essentially, it was a win-win situation.
Luckily, we managed to buy our tickets and get through customs quickly with time to spare.
At first, we couldn’t find our ferry. There were five modern, large, high-speed ferries in the port and none of them were ours. Having only paid 22€ for our round-trip tickets, we knew not to expect anything spectacular. However, I was shocked when I saw the boat that was supposed to take us the 7 km from Southwest Turkey to Chios! It didn’t look much bigger than a commercial fishing boat and I was very skeptical about its ability to carry all of the passengers in addition to THREE CARS!
During the entire journey across the Chios Strait, G and I joked about the boat sinking. Although I knew we were both kidding, I was secretly afraid for my life and I tried to think of ways to save myself in case of drowning. In the end, we made it there and back, safe and sound. (I’m such a drama queen…)
I’ll admit that before my trip, I had never even heard of Chios, Greece’s 5th largest island. I had no idea what to expect and I think this made the trip all the more thrilling because everything was new and unknown.
After exchanging our Turkish Lira to Euros, G and I explored the island by foot. We walked through family parks, took pictures of the town’s narrow streets and Greek Orthodox churches, watched locals and foreigners relaxing on their sailboats in the port, checked out clothing shops in the center of Chios town, and enjoyed some Greek food and drinks. The island had a very relaxed vibe.
One of the things Chios island is most famous for is mastic. It is a resin that comes from the mastic tree, which is abundant in Chios. Within the European Union, its production in Chios has been granted protected designation of origin and it takes place in small medieval villages on the island. It is originally in a liquid form, and then it is dried to form little pebbles that resemble tear drops. These pebbles can be used for medicinal purposes, chewing gum or food. The flavor is sweet, but with notes of cedar or pine.
The liquid form of mastic is often used in desserts, such as ice cream. There is also a mastic spoon sweet that is popular on Chios island. It has the consistency of mashed potatoes, but tastes like a combination of vanilla and cedar. After we left customs getting into Chios, there were people handing out samples of this pseudo-liquid which is often added to cold water. I liked it a lot and decided to buy a container for only 0,99 €. We’ll see if it actually lasts me until the next time I’m home…
Another thing that seemed to be big on Chios but is apparently a popular summertime drink throughout all of Greece, is the frappé. It is a simple and refreshing drink that is made of instant coffee, milk, cold water, ice cubes and sugar. The ones we ordered also had brown sugar and cinnamon on top. What a delicious way to start a hot summer day!
After wandering around the calm windy streets of the island for a few hours, and sampling Chios cuisine, G and I took a local’s recommendation and went to nearby Karfas Beach by taxi. It was a lovely beach with crystal clear water and minimal beach goers. Unlike the crowded beaches of nearby Çeşme, Chios’s beaches were relatively empty, save for a few families and tourists. It felt like my own private paradise and I wanted to stay there all day. Unfortunately, the last ferry back to Turkey left at 17:30, so we had to book it back to the port!
Though not a big tourist destination, Chios has a lot to offer travelers, especially those in search of a more low-key vacation. The town is relatively peaceful and quiet, the beaches are beautiful and not very crowded, and the size of the island makes it easy to explore by foot or with a rental car or scooter. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to visit the museums, 11th century castle, or any of the mastic villages in my one day visit. Perhaps I’ll go back someday. Overall, I really enjoyed my spontaneous trip to the island and it made me even more interested in traveling around the rest of Greece.