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Aegean's First Lady

Chios Town, the main town on the island of Chios, is also the First Lady of the Aegean, according to the local authorities. She is Greek to her fingertips and surprisingly indifferent towards tourists.

The Lady's harbor is remarkable, particularly the long side where the houses, with a few tall exceptions, are a genuine idyll: beautiful two- or three-storied buildings boasting neoclassical facades, set on a background of light grey mountains. Including the moles on either side, the harbor forms a symmetrical seven-sided figure, with a small opening seawards.

In the evening, the port turns into a string of sparkling pearls, so seductive that neighboring Turkey appears to move closer than normally. Even the moon, tonight rising on the Turkish side, is attracted by the First Lady; it soon hangs large and full straight above our heads, to the delight of all the 25,000 inhabitants, few of whom are tourists, as they mostly prefer holiday resorts south of the capital.

A shapely harbor is the ideal setting for satisfying hunger and thirst. The moment I find a tavern and a bar to my taste, I usually become a regular customer. The choice in Chios Town is so large, however, that I have to proceed systematically. I start with a count. Along the waterfront, there are cafes, bars, taverns, fast food, tea rooms and amusement arcades, in total 40, of which 29 are bars or the like, the rest eating places.

Crawling the Circuit

Trying out all of them seems impossible, but I heard of a method that might do the trick: a "pub crawl". My starting point should perhaps be the police, one of the last buildings on the left side. I want to remind them of their duty to close the waterfront to vehicles at night, which they often forget. A waiter suggests to me why, "The police think they're kings!" Hopefully, my last stop will be the bar of the leading hotel, Chandris, situated at the far end on the opposite side.

First, I fortify myself with grilled mackerel at Katsikadelis, a plain harbor tavern. The simultaneous arrival of two gigantic ferries, immediately in front of us, create hustle and bustle. The whole town is astir. Half an hour later, the ferries are gone and peace restored. I crawl through the remaining diesel smoke over to Cafe Agirovolyo to warm up with a cappuccino for the real challenge; the long side of the harbor.

Ibiscus Bar greets me with a Heineken and soft reddish brown cushions. My attention is caught by three married couples, elegantly dressed like all modern Greeks, at the table beside me. They're talking, or rather the women are, their husbands merely adding and correcting. The women are complementing each other perfectly. Number one is brief, number two has got incredibly much to say, number three masters the art of terminating a subject in a few well-chosen words, with a know-it-all smile.

Youth Rebellion

Newly washed cushions in Nifada Bar make me believe I'm floating on a white cloud, a sensation repeated inside Vivlos next door where an indoor starry sky captivates me. I join the young people at Remezzo over an ice coffee. Drum lives up to its name by nearly splitting my eardrums, and failing to spot my look-alike at Alter Ego, I decide to play cards with the old men outside the traditional Kafenion, then hit a billiard ball in the Asteras arcade.

Deafening music drives me out of Art Cafe and into a quieter haven, Bratsera. Proudly, I realize I've already completed the long side, now turned into a running track by young guys racing each other on mopeds and motorcycles. They accelerate right in front of my table and roar away in petrol fumes. The noise is infernal. This trifling with their lives and limbs must be a youth rebellion, apparently ignored by the police.

I skip Cafe Kavos to refresh my ears in Rhythm 'n' Blues instead, until my sweet tooth is tempted by Sweet House. A theory of mine, that the level of light is inversely proportional to the level of music, is confirmed at Metropolis Bar. I leave the noisy darkness to look for post upstairs in Enter, an internet cafe. Feeling a bit tired, I let Rock Cafe El Plo revive me. Very soon, though, I make for Melodia Bar, fancying a slower melody.

Mutual Care

Before taking a breather in Bel Air, I decide to sum up my findings, at Status Bar. I'm impressed by the First Lady's way with the young people and her progressive taste of music, but I dare say I'm more fond of her when she is a bit old-fashioned. That's why, tomorrow again, I'll probably pick out a tavern just where the ferries put in, sure to be rewarded with tasty fish and scenes of harbor life.

New-fangled bars and cafes are admittedly a smart piece of scenery. Nevertheless, I'm personally more comfortable in humble joints, seeing people talk and argue, laugh and yawn without musical disturbances. Moving incidents always stand in line here, as last night: a disabled man, selling tickets for the lottery, cheered up a large group of silent, sad-looking old men. During a long and lively discussion, they exchanged not only lottery tickets and cash, but also a lot of loving care for each other.