Initiation in Chios: Our First Week of Mediterranean Discovery

Our journey began with a warm welcome from the charming streets of Chios island, Greece. The stone buildings exuded a sweet aura, and the delightful masourakia sweets left us wondering if they contained the island’s famous mastiha. Strolling through the city, we encountered friendly cats weaving between our feet, prompting a flurry of photo-taking. These photogenic felines would soon be making their way to California, forming a delightful connection between Greece and our home state.

Our exploration took us to the majestic castle of Chios, standing as a sentinel between the Aegean Sea and the town. We climbed to the top of the ancient stones, shouting “Yássou, Chios!” and capturing the joyous moment to share back home. Dinner at Chotza’s restaurant was a feast for the senses. The setting sun bathed the landscape in golden hues, and colorful flowers welcomed us to a meal that tasted of nature and the island itself. Conversations about comfort food and family ties brought us closer, bridging the distance between the United States and Greece.

The next morning, the sun of Chios greeted us through our hotel windows, accompanied by a gentle Aegean breeze. We set off for Chios Town Hall, where we quickly learned some essential Greek phrases. “Yássou” for one person and “Yássas” for a group became our cheerful greetings to the friendly locals in the bustling town square, spreading smiles and good vibes.

Our first course was an exercise in self-discovery, as we drew each other and explored our quirks and unique talents. Despite the playful caricatures, the island seemed to imbue each of us with a special beauty. We delved into the world of olive oil, a staple of Greek cuisine, learning about its myriad varieties. Kristen teased an upcoming olive oil tasting session, sparking our anticipation. Lunch at Kechrimpari, a precious stone in Greek, was a culinary adventure where we learned to savor Greek fish straight from the Aegean Sea, opening them up to reveal the treasures within.

Chios revealed another facet of its charm with its citrus heritage. We visited a juice factory where noisy machines transformed the island’s citrus bounty into refreshing juices. Each sip of tangerine, orange, or lemon juice was a taste of Chios in a paper cup. Our next stop was a citrus museum, a quaint stone building brimming with the island’s history and surrounded by a vast orchard. Wandering through the museum and encountering peacocks, we felt like children again, marveling at the vibrant displays and hoping for a peacock to fan its tail.

A beach called Agia Fotia (Saint Fire) became our playground for the day. Lunch at the whimsically named Elephant restaurant featured moussaka, a delicious blend of potatoes, minced meat, and aubergines. The absence of any actual elephants didn’t dampen our spirits as we swam in the Aegean, the perfect Greek dessert for our Californian souls.

Each day on Chios seemed to grow windier, adding a refreshing twist to our mornings. We gathered at the Homerion Cultural Center, imagining Homer himself enjoying such breezy days. Our olive oil tasting session on a green terrace was a highlight, with various types of olive oil flowing into our mouths alongside skaltsounia, a Greek cheesecake bread with honey.

Our visit to the Chios Mastic Museum was an enlightening experience. The stone building, surrounded by mastic fields, welcomed us with a history lesson on the island’s prized resin. We marveled at photos of old Greek women collecting mastic and touched boxes filled with the precious substance, hoping to carry its scent back to California. Exploring Pyrgi, a village known for its fortress-like architecture, we were enchanted by the unique buildings and the affectionate locals. Mesta, our next stop, with its cool, narrow streets and abundance of cats, further deepened our love for Chios. Greeting the villagers with our newly mastered Greek phrases, we felt a growing connection to the island.

Lunch in the village of Olympoi was nothing short of divine. Little tomato balls and enormous beans set the stage for a holy feast, topped off by rooster served with mastiha pasta. Our day concluded at Agia Dynami beach, where we built towers in the sand and collected seashells, letting the sounds of the Greek sea embed themselves in our memories.

Dinner featured a feast of little Aegean fish and large calamari, along with a variety of Greek greens. The calamari, chewier and more flavorful than in California, and the greens that melted in our mouths, made us feel like seasoned Greek gourmands.

Greek beaches had captivated our hearts, and we wanted to give back. As the sun dipped, we gathered at a nearby beach for a summer solstice celebration, secretly tasked with cleaning the shoreline. We collected over 2,000 cigarette butts, leaving the beach cleaner and hopefully healthier. Boxes of souvlaki, delivered by a magical scooter, turned our cleanup into a festive gathering. We built towers and houses from souvlaki sticks, bridging the gap between California and Chios. As night fell, the Strawberry Full Moon rose, its red glow promising good luck and love.

Our week concluded with a Chian summer ritual near the castle, an ancient celebration that felt both pagan and mysterious. Drums echoed through the night as locals danced and clapped, while children leaped over fires. Unsure of our role, we joined in the festivities, letting the island’s vibrant spirit seep into our souls.

Mediterranean Nutrition & Food Systems study abroad program in Chios island, Greece (including 6 U.S. credits)

In cooperation with UC Berkeley, and the Municipality of Chios.

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