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Khachapuri and Kebabs: A Summer Adventure in Georgia and Turkey

Khachapuri and Kebabs: A Summer Adventure in Georgia and Turkey

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Old Feb 15, 19, 4:49 pm
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Part 19: A day trip to the Island of Chios, Greece

Let me quickly set the record straight from the beginning: this chapter is not actually from this particular trip I made last Summer but from a visit to the island some 4-5 years back in springtime. Yet as it is located so close to Izmir and I never wrote a trip report about it, I still wanted to share my thoughts on the island as it might be of useful information for travellers visiting the region. I can thoroughly recommend anyone to visit this beautiful island – whether it is just for one day when staying in Turkey or part of an island-hopping itinerary around Greece. The island is delightfully out of the main tourist routes in the region and has an unique local character making it a must-visit.

I departed Izmir by morning bus to the city of Cesme from where there are about 2-3 ferries a day departing to Chios. I took the morning ferry around 8am – arriving about an hour or so later in Chios. Daytrippers from Turkey can spend a full day on the island before taking the ferry back to Cesme in the early evening (although on this particular trip I continued in the evening by overnight ferry to Piraeus, which is the port city serving the Greek capital of Athens).

Cesme-Chios is a busy ferry route which is popular with Turks, Greeks and foreign tourists alike – although all have different reasons to make the crossing. For Turks the main reason to cross is simply to have a nice day out and to have some seafood and wine/ouzo dinner – which generally is cheaper on Chios than in Turkey due to the higher taxes on alcohol Turkey and generally more expensive prices for quality seafood (although due to the devaluation of the Turkish Lira last year this has changed, making Turkish alcohol about as cheap for tourist and Greece very expensive for Turks).

Tickets can be bought both in the port of Cesme as well as at ticket offices in Izmir for those who want to buy it a day or two in advance – check the websites of the particular ferry operators for addresses. On this journey I travelled with Erturk on a small ferry which had the place for a few cars and perhaps around 100 passengers.



The ferry has a small cafe on board if you want a coffee or a drink and seats both inside and outside. Naturally, I opted for a seat outside to take in the scenery. It always gives me a kick when I approach a new Greek island by ferry.





Upon arrival in Chios Town I walked to one of the car rental agencies in the port. I didn't reserve in advance as I didn't deem it necessary out of season. I easily managed to secure a small hatchback for 25 EUR for a full day including all insurances and unlimited mileage.



I skipped Chios Town itself as my plan was to have a leisurely loop around the island. This was more or less the route I took, with a planned distance of 103 kilometres which would take 2 hours and 33 minutes according to Google Maps (quite a correct estimate as the island is mountainous!).



Stop number one on the tour was the Nea Moni monastery. The road from Chios to the monastery takes you through some spectacular landscapes.



Nea Moni (Greek for new monastery) is not exactly new as it was built in the 11th-century. It is a constructed on lovely shady grounds in between the trees and known for its mosaics and murals which earned it UNESCO World Heritage status. Yet perhaps the monastery is most famous from events which took place in 1822 when Ottoman troops stormed the monastery during the Greek War of Independence. The Ottomans set fire to the monastery where 2,000 locals were hiding from the war. They burned alive – and the monastery itself was almost completely burned down and never recovered its former glory. An earthquake some decades later also contributed to its decline.

To commemorate the massacre the locals stored the skulls inside the monastery for public viewing – which for sure is harrowing to see.







Just a few kilometres from Nea Moni is the hilltop village of Avgonyma – which makes for a nice stroll or a coffee break at the central plaza. It might not look much on approach due to the bare scenery and fortress like structure of the houses, but once inside the village it is actually quite a cute place to stop for a while.







After a quick freddo espresso (iced espresso Greek style - no country does coffee better than the Greeks - please don't kill me for this dear Italians) I continued my drive to the western coast of Chios, which is much wilder in its character than the eastern coast.





It being spring, there were gorgeous wildflowers all over the place. Forget about summers in Greece really, spring or autumn are the times you want to visit the place! Greece is not overcrowded yet with tourists but still with enough local live to make it lively and fun, prices are lower, you have the wildflowers in spring on all islands, the wine harvest in early autumn, in mid-autumn the mainland mountains has tree foliage that almost shames New England in its beautiful colours, the weather in both spring and autumn is still warm but not unbearably hot. And if you don't visit too early in spring you can perfectly swim in the waters and enjoy the beaches.









At Limenas, a tiny village and Chios' secondary port on the western coast which occasionally sees the odd ferry depart for other Greek islands, I stopped for another coffee at a local taverna. It being Greece it had of course dozens of cute cats waiting at the tables hoping for people to share their meals with them! There weren't any tourists at all whatsoever late April what I could discover – only here at Limenas did I hear some people speaking French. For the rest it was only Greek what I heard. That said, in summer there are 2 or 3 or so daily charter flights to the Netherlands, Germany and Scandinavia – but that is such a small amount paling in comparison to touristy islands that even then you would hardly notice foreign tourists around what I think..!



From Limenas I continued to the so-called Mastihohória – the mastic producing villages of southern Chios. As I wrote in the previous chapter, the island of Chios and the area across Cesme in Turkey across the narrow strait are known for the production of mastic – a resin obtained from the mastic tree (Pistacia lentiscus). It is historically attributed with lots of health benefits and used in all kinds of produce as diverse as soap, chewing gum, condiment in food or drinks – literally almost anything! It's bittersweet taste is absolutely delicious and I can especially recommend it in the local liquor (top tip: Aegean Airlines serves it in business class, and it is available at most of the Athens business class lounges).


Mastic trees found on Chios

Although not as spectacular as the western coast of Chios, there were also plenty of wildflowers and even an oh-so typical Greek donkey along the road here to keep me happy behind the steering wheel of the car.





There are a few mastic-producing villages on southern Chios. My first stop was the town of Mesta, which is an amazingly cute town to wander around with its flowers and covered passageways. All rooftops of the old town are connected with each other for defensive purposes against pirates/Ottomans, creating an amazing maze of alleyways and covered streets. I have visited hundreds of places in Greece but Mesta certainly ranks among the top 5 towns I've seen. I will let the pictures do the talking here.





















Next up I visited the neighbouring town of Olimpi – which is similar in character as Mesta albeit much, much smaller. It had a very appealing restaurant (Amethystos) on its central square where I opted to stay for lunch. It was a great decision as the pork in orange sauce was absolutely mouth-watering delicious. Greek taverna food at its best. The beer was even complimentary!



(And yes, you can drink and drive in Greece. Technically it is not allowed but everyone does it and on islands there is no traffic police to begin with – especially if its just a glass or two with the food it does not do any harm as it is the local culture in this country where public transport is almost non-existent in most places. Just take common sense and know your own limit)

Next up was the last of the Mastic towns I would visit: Pyrgi. Pyrgi is the biggest and most famous of the mastic towns as it was the richest of them. You can easily see this back on the beautifully decorated mansions and houses in the town. It also has a handful of very appealing restaurants and cafes and is the regional hub of the south of the island, having a fair number of (boutique) hotels as well.









The last stop of the day was a place to take a quick dip to freshen up. With its black volcanic stones, Mavra Volia beach is perhaps the most famous of the entire island – making a picturesque last stop.



On the beach access road on the way back I picked up two hitch-hikers, two Greek girls doing a medical internship on Chios. As I had time anyway I opted to take a little detour to drop them off in Pyrgi where they wanted to go before heading back myself to Chios Town to return the rental.

I did not have time to explore Chios Town myself – but did manage to grab a nice last bite of fried calamari paired with some ouzo before hopping onto my ferry.



Whether it is part of an all-Greek island hopping itinerary or just a day trip from Turkey – I really can recommend Chios. Sure, it doesn't have the best beaches – but it has so much unique culture, history and local flavour that it makes it truly standout among the other Greek islands. Go and visit!
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Old Feb 16, 19, 2:13 am
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Fascinating Trip Report
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Old Feb 16, 19, 2:30 am
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Originally Posted by Loose Cannon View Post
Fascinating Trip Report
Thanks, glad you like it!
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Old Feb 16, 19, 3:58 am
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Part 20: Visiting the small fishing town of Foça

Another day trip I can highly recommend from Izmir is the cute fishing town of Foça – which is a popular weekend getaway for locals because of the beautiful town and many nice bars and restaurants. It takes about one-and-a-half to two hours to reach from Izmir – but it is actually one of the easiest places to get to. You start by taking an Izban suburban train from anywhere in the city towards Aliaga. You get out at Hatundere, and change for the bus to Foça through some lush countryside with some cool rock formations.



Foça is a pretty small place – you can walk around the main sights and seaside promenade in one to two hours. It becomes however immediately clear that this is not really the purpose of the town. Just looking at the sheer number of appealing cafes and restaurants and you realise that this is the place to take it easy for the day and enjoy some tea, coffee, nargilah, a meal, beer or two – or whatever else you fancy.



Also Foça has Greek origins (Greek name: Phocaea) dating back to antiquity. Nearby there are some ruins as well from the old Greek settlement – although after visiting Ephesus they might pale quite a bit in comparison.

The modern fishing town was mostly populated by Greeks in the times of the Ottoman Empire until the Massacre of Phocaea happened when the Turks killed off most of the Greek population in 1914. As a result, a large portion of the historic city was destroyed, and all the old churches were destroyed and mosques were built on top of them. It was the time when the Ottoman Empire stood on its last feet in near collapse and also a genocide against Armenians was carried out in the country.

As much as the central government and newly arrived migrants from Anatolia at the time hated the Greeks – Turkish locals who lived in the region for longer had different perceptions of them as Turkish-Greek community relations were always great until the events of the first two decades of the 20th Century. Turks with deep roots in the region thus often still talk fondly about the history before the massacres and population exchanges when it was a much more multicultural area.

But back again to the current state of affairs! The town of Foça is constructed around a small fishing harbour and the pedestrianised waterfront is lined with dozens of bars and restaurants.







Needless to say there are also plenty of cute cats around the port.













The main sight in town is a seaside castle – around which a walkway is constructed over the water.





Besides being a fishing port, the town is also big yachtie territory.





If you look carefully you can see the typically Greek old stone windmills on the hills in the distance.



The town of Foça has a lovely old town centre with tree-covered alleys filled with attractive cafes. It also features some beautiful stone mansions – some in a state of disrepair while others are beautifully renovated.







The seaboard goes on quite a while to the outskirts of town, making for a fabulous, relaxing walk. The crowds thin out the further you go from the city centre – yet there are also some lovely bars and restaurants at the far end of the boardwalk.









After a nice day relaxing, sipping coffee, smoking nargilah and having some beers, it was time to head back into Foça proper to find a nice restaurant for some dinner. Of course, when at the seaside you must have some fish paired with raki.





The fish, raki and lovely sunset around the castle were a great end to a great day out.
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Old Feb 16, 19, 4:41 am
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After a quick freddo espresso (iced espresso Greek style - no country does coffee better than the Greeks - please don't kill me for this dear Italians)
I am not a coffee drinker per se, but once I was introduced to this, there is no better. Often make it at home in the summer (South Africa), but I use coffee bought in Europe - my last batch that I got in Cyprus is nearly finished, so need to stock up.

Great photos by the way - thank you.
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Old Feb 17, 19, 5:24 am
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Originally Posted by roadwarrier View Post
I am not a coffee drinker per se, but once I was introduced to this, there is no better. Often make it at home in the summer (South Africa), but I use coffee bought in Europe - my last batch that I got in Cyprus is nearly finished, so need to stock up.

Great photos by the way - thank you.
It's perfect indeed for hot summer weather - super refreshing and still gives you the kick of a good espresso. I should buy a decent espresso machine for my new home so I can start making them myself as well. I also absolutely love a good old Greek frappe.

Thanks for reading along!
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Old Feb 17, 19, 7:54 am
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Part 21: Flying home on Atlasglobal & TAROM via Istanbul

All fun trips have to end sooner or later – and this trip wasn't much different. I had an interesting ticket back home: a combined Atlasglobal/TAROM ticket back to Bucharest through Istanbul Ataturk for 120 EUR. Atlasglobal and TAROM actually codeshare on some routes and sell integrated flight tickets, which I found quite interesting and I never heard of it before I took these flights. I opted for an early morning flight out of Izmir – a long layover at Ataturk – followed by an evening flight to Bucharest. This for the simple reason that it was a Monday – and I had to work again. If I can put in a normal working day (I can work remotely whenever I want) it means I don't have to take a day off – which of course is quite important for someone who travels a lot and wants to maximise his free time/days off to travel as much as possible. This way I could use the designated Sky Team lounge in Istanbul to be productive.

As my flight was super early and Izban did not commence its train schedule yet for the day I opted for a taxi – which is perfectly affordable in Turkey. At 6am the big domestic terminal was still pretty deserted.



Not surprisingly, most flights go to the both Istanbul airports and to Ankara on some 4-5 different carriers. There are however also the odd flights to about every other corner in Turkey.



Getting through security was super quick and I had plenty of time to spare for a quick breakfast at Starbucks.



Izmir (ADB) to Istanbul Ataturk (IST) on Atlasglobal in economy class
Flight KK29 – Airbus A321 - Seat 12F – 120 EUR as part of ADB-IST-OTP
STD 7.25am - STA 8.25am (flight time 1h)


The Atlasglobal flight to Izmir would be operated by an Airbus A321 all-economy class seating (the airlines does has however some planes with proper business class seats). Sorry for the bad picture but the airport windows were superdirty.



While I'm not a fan of the A321 in general – it has one giant saving grace and that is that is that on almost all planes I know irrespective of the operator there is a seat missing behind the double emergency exit rows. With no seat in front of you it of course means unlimited legroom!





The flight passed by completely uneventfully. I dozed off as soon some five minutes after take off and only woke up five minutes before landing, so I wouldn't even be sure to say whether there is any service on domestic Atlasglobal flights.





Once at Ataturk airport I headed straight for the international terminal. Security was again smooth and queues were also non-existent at passport control.

The designated lounge for all SkyTeam airlines flying out of IST (as well as a couple of other airlines) is the Comfort Lounge 2. I was welcomed in by the friendly lounge dragon. In the early morning the lounge was absolutely packed but after 11am it quickly emptied out. There is a diverse arrange of seating options in the lounge which is centred around one large buffet area where you can find all food and drinks.











There is also one TV room which in the early morning was occupied by people sleeping on the couches.



There are no tarmac views – but as one window looks out over one of the car parks the lounge is a least very light.



I found the food lacking a bit in quality. There were 2 or 3 warm options both for breakfast and later on for lunch, but nothing was really appetising looking. Some of the pre-packaged rolls were however tasty.













The food reminded me a bit of the food from the KLM Crown Canteen err.. lounge at AMS. Also the booze options were a bit limited, with just 1 white and one red and one disgusting beer (Efes light – why not also stock normal Efes which is drinkable?). Coffee was however good and the lounge also has a Turkish coffee machine.

On the plus side, internet worked well and the lounge staffers were all very friendly. Also the sweet snacks and cakes were quite good.





The Turkish Airlines lounge it is certainly – it's a lounge which does it trick. Food is mediocre but it is a nice place to wait or get some work done – for sure beats sitting in the overcrowded terminals at IST!

Istanbul Ataturk (IST) to Bucharest (OTP) on TAROM in economy class
Flight RO264 – Airbus A319 - Seat 5A – 120 EUR as part of ADB-IST-OTP
STD 6.35pm - STA 7.50pm (flight time 1h15m)


My TAROM flight departed on time and I fell again in sleep from take-off until arrival after a long week of travelling and a busy day of working from the lounge. I was so tired that I even didn't manage to snap a single picture. The flight got me safely back home and in the end that is all that counts!

Thanks again to everyone for reading along, and hopefully see you all (very) soon back at my next trip report!
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Old Feb 18, 19, 7:09 am
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l loved your report
Loved it so much i booked my one summer week holidays in Georgia
Beyond this, i was thinking this weekend why your report was so pleasant to read
In not the order
- several chapters: looks like a novel !
- report of a not so known region of the world. I never heard of Batumi before, and it looks like a very descent place to spend a couple of days
So boring to see the same pictures of Dubai, New York, same lounges, same airlines,...The world is small but still full of hidden gems nevertheless
- mix of aviation, tourist infos and personal comments: it gives a very personal feeling of your report, which makes it very enjoyable
- the way you wrote made it very concrete you had spent a hell of good time, focusing what this region has to offer, genuinely enjoying it

So very much looking forward reading your next holidays !
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Old Feb 19, 19, 9:58 am
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Originally Posted by bebert View Post
l loved your report
Loved it so much i booked my one summer week holidays in Georgia
Beyond this, i was thinking this weekend why your report was so pleasant to read
In not the order
- several chapters: looks like a novel !
- report of a not so known region of the world. I never heard of Batumi before, and it looks like a very descent place to spend a couple of days
So boring to see the same pictures of Dubai, New York, same lounges, same airlines,...The world is small but still full of hidden gems nevertheless
- mix of aviation, tourist infos and personal comments: it gives a very personal feeling of your report, which makes it very enjoyable
- the way you wrote made it very concrete you had spent a hell of good time, focusing what this region has to offer, genuinely enjoying it

So very much looking forward reading your next holidays !
Sounds like a fun summer trip ahead for you! I'm strongly considering returning as well to Georgia this summer for a week, this time finally doing the mountain road trip I initially wanted to do last summer, coupled with again a few days in Batumi.

Thanks very much for reading along!
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Old Feb 28, 19, 11:06 am
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@Romanianflyer thank you so much for posting your trip report. It's filled with great ideas for those of us who are not so familiar with the areas. Since you mentioned that you lived in Greece for a year, can you recommend some Greek islands to visit which are not overcrowded and good for family with young toddlers?
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Old Feb 28, 19, 11:28 pm
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Great trip report of an obviously underestimated area, with many very interesting places to explore. Very nice photos too, so many thanks for sharing.

One minor question: You were utilizing many means of transportation, but am I right in assuming that you were satisfied with just taking a photo of the roadside donkey? It looked as being ready, waiting to take you for a ride.

Again, many thanks!
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Old Mar 1, 19, 4:44 am
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Originally Posted by kalbear View Post
@Romanianflyer thank you so much for posting your trip report. It's filled with great ideas for those of us who are not so familiar with the areas. Since you mentioned that you lived in Greece for a year, can you recommend some Greek islands to visit which are not overcrowded and good for family with young toddlers?
Welcome, if you ever have any questions regarding Turkey or Georgia (as I travelled quite extensively before through both countries as well) feel free to ask.

As for your Greece question - I would need a bit more information before I can answer that question the best way possible as needless to say there are dozens of suitable islands.
- what time of the year are you visiting?
- what else besides not too overcrowded/suitable for toddlers is important for you? Eg. beaches, local food culture, museums/classical history, scenery etc. etc.
- it needs easy access by plane or you don't mind taking a ferry from Piraeus?
- are you planning/able to take a rental car at your destination?

Feel free to reply either here or through private message!

Originally Posted by onobond View Post
Great trip report of an obviously underestimated area, with many very interesting places to explore. Very nice photos too, so many thanks for sharing.

One minor question: You were utilizing many means of transportation, but am I right in assuming that you were satisfied with just taking a photo of the roadside donkey? It looked as being ready, waiting to take you for a ride.

Again, many thanks!
Ahaha donkeys are cute animals but I would not want to ride one, I would feel bad for the poor donkey as I don't think I'm that suitable for it at 6 ft 1 in weighing 186lb. That said, I've travelled on horseback before!
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