Monday, January 07, 2013

winter storms

We're sitting in a lounge of a large vessel. Almost cruise ship size. With levels and cabins and lounges and imagine -- escalators. But it's not a cruise ship at all. It's the ferry that traverses the Aegean Seas. And at 5:30 in the morning, having unloaded a huge number of cars, vans and people with suitcases and bundles in Chios -- passengers who traveled overnight from Athens, it picked up just a handful of fresher faces -- people who did not sleep on the boat, people who got on to travel to the next stop -- Mytilene on the island of Lesvos.

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ferry lounge

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leaving Chios at 5:30 a.m.

That we are on this ferry at all is the work of good luck (and my ultimate capitulation: I hate anything that sways in water). The previous night a storm rolled over the Greek islands and it brought with it rains and gusty winds, winds high enough to keep many ferries from sailing. But in the course of the next night, the winds receded and the ferries set sail.

Of course, we did have ourselves a rainy, windy last day in Chios. It had been in the forecast for so long that I knew to expect it. We had the little car with us and there were things to see and do despite the burts of wetness, though let me tell you -- it was blustery out there!

Morning breakfast was wonderful (especially when you consider that we are the only guests at the b&b).

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Apple cake and fried eggs and of course, the olives, the oranges, the feta cheese, the pomegranate and yogurt...

And now there's no pushing it back -- time to get in that little car, navigate the narrow lanes of our neighborhood...

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... and make our way up to the Nea Moni monastery. I have no problem in principle visiting this 11th century artistic treasure. The problem is in the getting there. It's nestled in the mountains and on sunny days (which apparently are the norm from April to November) you can see clearly, if not forever, then at least down to Chios the port and, too, Turkey at the horizon.

This is no sunny day.

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The narrow mountain road, cluttered with fallen rock and somewhat ripped open at the sides, climbs relentlessly in a serpentine fashion. Rain makes it slick as anything. Clouds hug the mountainside shrouding the world around us. I tell Ed that one more hairpin turn and I'm out of there. Of course, I couldn't possibly mean it. So I shrink into my seat and cover my ears, giving forth occasional wimpy pleas for a slower pace, even though, in truth, Ed is for once, being very cautious.

When we find a sign toward the monastery and get out, only to find that it is the wrong monastery, I almost say -- okay, let's go back. It's a monastery, for heaven's sake, who's to know if we did or did not see the Byzantine mosaics of Nea Moni? This monastery is plenty pretty!

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But, we are a mere two kilometers from our goal and so we continue, though by now all calm feelings have left me and I am negatively disposed toward monasteries, especially ones high up in the mountains, ones with crumbling narrow roads washed by heavy rains.

And so when we do arrive at the proper monastery I take few photos of note. Just this, to give you an idea of how Nea Moni looks from the outside.

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Inside, there are indeed beautiful mosaics. Trust me.

In the afternoon, we drive up the coast just north of Chios the port. Initially, it is a pretty enough drive.

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Chios is a modest vacation destination (compared to, say, Mikonos or Santorini) and there are no hotels or resorts lining the water's edge. At least not in the parts that we visited. And you can see why. The rocky hills descend sharply into the water and only the occasional fishing village, huddled around one inlet or another gives relief to the barren landscape. And, too, mountain goats -- they are a reminder that there is life on those hills. Spilling onto the roads.

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It's hard to get lost on an island where there is just one road that makes its way along the coast and you have three maps showing you that same road and the villages it passes through, but we manage it! Somehow we miss the turn off for Langada. And I definitely want to pause in Langada where they say you can eat the freshest seafood meal on the island. (Of course, it can't be fresher than yesterday's waterside meal, but I'm surely willing to consider the possibility.)

Anyway, we overshot it, landing instead at Kardamila, the port which is notable for its view toward the open waters and sunnier skies over in Turkey.

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The rain lashes out at me, at my camera and the waves splash over the banks onto the road so that I do not linger outside for long.

We backtrack. Carefully. And we find Langada, by counting the kilometers rather than looking for (the nonexistent) signs.

And it seems that this is indeed where people come to eat. Large families around long tables, finishing up Sunday lunch, eating what Greeks love to eat -- calamari, fish, salad, and oranges for dessert.

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Sitting at the table by the old tree, we have all of the above.

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And our kind waiter throws in baklava-like treats. For free of course.

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Which does not stop us, as we leave the tiny fishing port...

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...from pausing at yet another bakery in Chios port. For the obvious.

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The rain has mostly finished its work and now we are just stuck with the wind, knowing, too, that this wind is bringing (for two days only, but still..) winter to the islands. Our host talks of snow. Not on Chios, he says, suggesting maybe that we may not fare so well over in Lesvos.

I don't expect snow. I've checked my trusty weather charts. But certainly we'll be in for the coldest stretch of our trip -- temps hovering in the thirties. Two days. We can take two days of it. On the island of Lesvos.