My friend Jo and I booked the Black Sea cruise with Princess Cruise Lines and were working feverishly on booking our excursions. When our options for the cruise port in Khios, Greece, only returned 3 choices, I wondered if any would truly be worthwhile; we were alarmed. I was not familiar with Khios and knew nothing of the area so it was hard making a choice, but fortunately, we made a good one. We chose the Nea Moni Monastery & Avgonima ($64.95) tour offered by Princess Cruise Lines, which included a 3 1/2 hour trip around the most picturesque scenery imaginable. What a treat!
We boarded our motorcoach for a 35 minutes drive from the port to the semi-fortified Medieval hillside village of Avgonima. We snaked our way up windy hills with roads that were surprisingly in good condition, admiring a most interesting terrain, one that was partially dead from a devastating fire and that had withstood hundreds of years of history. The white dusted mountain tops were dotted with thick pine trees, olive trees, and rugged rocks.
As we arrived in Avgonima, population one single resident, we exited the bus and climbed the rocky platforms to view the deserted remains of the hillside village, with each house offering one tiny window and small door. The views of the canyons and roads below seemed miles apart but were a visually delight, amidst a huge pine forest. The Aegean Sea can be seen from the western side. A local artist was onsite selling paintings as well as a small coffee shop to purchase drinks and sweets. This place was so old!
The bus stopped for another photo-op at a second village, Anavatos, built entirely of local stone. At this stop, the terrain contained pomegranate and fig trees, which the tour guide encouraged us to take from and eat if we wanted, it is acceptable here. Back on the bus, we continued the twists and turns around the mountains another 15 minutes to arrive at the Nea Moni Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site from the 11th century.
The most interesting monastery can be recognized by its red and gold mosaics, examples of Byzantine Renaissance Art. The church is adorned with scenes from the Bible as well as portraits of saints, though many were damaged by the earthquake of 1881. A startling fact was that after siding against the Ottomans, forces were sent into Khios to make an example of, and nearly all of the population was slaughtered. Thinking they were safe in the monastery, the monks did not prepare for invasion and the Ottomans entered and massacred the majority of its dwellers. A glass front bookcase stands in the church full of skulls of many of the fallen, a sad reminder and frightful heirloom.
Khios is pronounced with a silent “k” and is located only 5 miles off the coast of Turkey. Khios, a place known for excellence in metal working, mastic gum, and figs, is claimed to be the birthplace of the famous poet, Homer. The process of tending to the mastic trees (Lentisk trees) was described on our tour as well as how expensive of an export it is. Mastic is one of the prime ingredients in chewing gum, but also popular in stomach digestion aids as well as face tightening and whitening skin creams. We sampled mastic at an herb store in Athens and I found it to be like chewing wax, flavorless and a bit hard to chew.
Our tour guide, Stevie, was incredibly knowledgable about the area and offered fun facts as well as a valuable history lesson. She did not just fill space talking about worthless information and her voice was clear and concise, which was greatly appreciated by her audience. Princess Cruise Lines did a good job organizing this tour as it provided was much more unique than other tours on this itinerary. Slightly outside of the cruise port (you must be tendered over to the shore in smaller boats), is 1/2 mile strip of shopping and dining establishments available. The water was extremely rough on the tender and many passengers looked ill.
Note: Though the Khios excursion says there are uneven steps to the monastery, the hikes up the hills at both of the villages was far more strenuous than the hill up to the monastery. I recommend wearing tennis shoes. Our tour guide did allow us to take pictures inside without flash, even though it was posted for no photography.
My Khios, Greece Photo Gallery:
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