Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Chios Island, Greece

Chios is one of those places that you'd probably never think of when it comes to Greek Islands. And why would you? There's Santorini of course, which everyone has to go to because every book about Greek islands will probably begin with a chapter on Santorini.  Mykonos. Naxos. Paros. Crete. All beautiful islands to be sure.
One of the reasons we chose Chios was its proximity to Turkey. Another was its simplicity. And as budget backpackers, cost.
By the time we got to Chios we were in week nine of a forty week trip. We wanted a place to relax, restore, and hang out, without breaking the bank. And when we were done, it was a half hour ferry ride to Turkey. The house on Chios was one of the few things we booked before we left on our trip at the end of July. I'm not entirely sure why I was comfortable booking some other places in Italy and Greece while on the road, and not on a Greek Island. Probably because I knew we were going to be there for two weeks, so I'd better get it right.

In the water at Limnos
Limnos Beach

At any rate, we showed up in mid-September, which turned out to be perfect timing. Apparently no Greeks or any travellers are interested in going to the beach and dipping their toes in water that for a prairie Canadian was practically at tropical temperature.
The first thing we noticed about Chios was that it looked like it never rained here. Later, we found out that that was almost true. It had been a year. The next thing we noticed was that once the sun came up, Chios looked a lot like other Greek islands: no clouds in searing blue skies, and a lot of water nearby.
So what does Chios have to offer?
Chios Town, where the ferries dock, has pretty much everything you need, from car rentals to big grocery stores, and a decent beach down at Karfas, but we didn't really do much in the way of exploring around town. Our home was on the opposite (west) side of island, about an hour's drive away. Up one side of the mountain and down the next (with lots of ups and downs in between).

Our house in the bottom right, all of the Aegean at the top.

The house was just a couple kilometres outside of Volissos, a pretty small town with maybe four hundred in habitants. In town you can get most things you need at a basic little market, and a nearby baker that is about as basic as it gets but makes the most mouthwateringly good bread. Over the course of our eighteen days here, we probably walked to town ten times just to get bread in the morning. And I didn't take even one photo, of the bread or the bakery. What a shame.
There is a demolished fort above the town that has some attractive views of the surrounding area.

Views from the hill over Volissos

Chios is a big island with a some fascinating small towns, of which we visited Mesta, Pyrgi, and Olympi.

Friendly cat at a restaurant in Mesta.

Mesta is an extraordinary place that would be worth a visit no matter what island it was on. Known for its labyrinthine alleys and numerous arches, it was a centre of mastic production, important in the early days of gum production. As in chewing gum.

Emporios Beach at the south end of Chios, after visiting Olympi.
One place we didn't go to and I'm forever kicking myself over was Anavatos, a ghost town from medieval times. This isn't the best drone video ever, but it makes me think that if I am ever back on Chios, I will not miss this again.
The main reason for coming to Chios was to relax, and we did plenty of that on Limnos Beach, just a couple hundred metres from our house. If we weren't eating, or walking to town for some more bread, we probably spent eighty percent of our free time on this beach or in this water. We saw one other family, only twice, on this beach the whole time we were on the island. It doesn't get much more relaxing than that.

These are all from Chios, except for the far left, and the pillars. Note the blue skies.
Breakfast on our patio.

Walking to Volissos, the town in the background.

Every evening looked like this.

Monday, June 15, 2020

A Day in the Life of an Artist

A fun look at what goes on around here some days.
Usually a lot more, but I can only spend so much time trying to document what I do.


Chefchaouen is a city in northern Morocco, a couple hours south of Tangier.
If you are familiar with Chefchaouen, you immediately recognize any of the photos, the stunning blue that pulls you in and holds you in a firm embrace. It's an embrace you will feel long after you've left, every time you see one of those photos.

If you've thought about going to Morocco enough to do some research, you've probably seen a photo of this stairway as it is shown pretty much every time someone even whispers, "Morocco..." It's not quite this blue, but it FEELS this blue when you're in it. It is absolutely immersive, especially when you're out early, early in the morning before most people are awake (when this picture was taken). That's also the only time you'll be able to get a photo like this without having to wait in a lineup of gushing tourists who can't wait to hold hands or kiss or do something Amazing (!) while being photographed on these stairs by the person waiting in line behind them.
Thankfully there are hundreds of beautiful spots to hold hands and take your picture in Chefchaouen if that's what you go travelling for, so no need to wait in line here.

So in between taking hand-holding photos, be sure to really explore. Wander down alleys in a direction you are positive is not where you're headed. Go up this hillside for a look over the whole town. Walk up the path to the mosque on the opposite hill for another great view. 

But most importantly, walk around. And spend some time here. 

It's a true joy to walk around this town. There are lots of stairs, and you will hear a fair bit of huffing and puffing from tourists and local folks alike, but there are also the main arteries which go in a generally horizontal direction for the most part.
There are loads of shops and shopping opportunities with many things being pretty reasonably priced. There are hidden shops and outdoor shops, tiny shops and shops that are a little less tiny, classy shops and shops that could use a makeover, shops that are neatly contained and shops that kind of spill out all over. 

There are lots of great restaurant options, enough cat-petting options to keep you busy for a week, several great hikes outside the city, and be sure to add to your door photo collection, they will become prized possessions over the years.

I highly recommend getting a lift out of town to do the hike to the Akchour Waterfalls. Ask at your hotel as they will know all about it. But it's a glorious two to three hour walk in almost alpine conditions ( I think it was five hours in and out), where you'll have to cross the creek about ten times in both directions on not particularly stable footholds that are most certainly not state recommended. Some require balancing on unsteady logs and holding a rubber tube/rope to stay dry.

We reached Chefchaouen from Asilah, which required an hour long bus ride to Tetouan (which shouldn't be too arduous for most people) and then finding a share taxi at Tetouan's taxi park (a parking lot full of white Mercedes vehicles) and going for a hair-raising one-hour drive at top speed, which generally won't push you beyond 6 or 7 Gs in any of the harder turns.
There isn't a bus service that I could find to get us in or out of Chefchaouen, so for the journey to Fes we opted for a private car. Many times more expensive, but far fewer g-forces.

Some of the images above are available as prints here.
You can see a little more of our experience in Morocco in this video:
It's a sampling of our time in Asilah, Chefchaouen, Fes, Meknes (including glorious Volubilis), Rabat, and Casablanca.