Lesvos Where Now Still Meets Then.
By Helen George
We’ve just finished a delicious lunch in a typical little taverna at the foot of the Mytilene castle. I’m waiting for my little cup of Greek coffee, the kind my parents always drank. The town of Mytilene is about as far removed from the big city sights and sounds of Athens as the sleepy little town of Fair Oaks, California is from LA. Here you can experience the real Greece, the way the locals do. There are tavernas everywhere, with their bright blue wooden tables and chairs, resident cats, and mouth-watering food and drink that will satisfy every palate. One of the appetizers that we especially loved is called saganaki, or fried cheese. This was usually made with kefalotiri, or as I like to call it, “the other Greek cheese.” It makes my mouth water just remembering how wonderful it tasted! And funny thing…ouzo went so well with everything we ever ordered!!
If you’re traveling to Greece for the first time, spend a few days on the mainland and go see the antiquities…the Parthenon in Athens, the many temples and ruins of Delphi, the Temple of Poseidon in Cape Sounion, the Corinth Canal, and the famous theater at Epidavros, to name a few. We’re glad we did all that on our first trip.
If you’re planning a return visit, however, or you have the luxury of staying in the country for two weeks or longer, or you’re just plain not interested in the antiquities and the usual tourist attractions, go visit this enchanting place. Take the 35-minute flight from Athens to the island of Lesvos, in the Northeastern Aegean, also known as Mytilene, which is the name of its capital city. When we got off the plane, with the most perfect weather you could possibly wish for and the Aegean Sea lapping deliciously on the shore just across the road, we knew we were finally in Paradise!!
Although steeped in deep traditions and a strong faith in the Greek Orthodox Church, there are also signs of Turkish influence in almost every aspect of the city. This is especially evident in the Mytilene Castle, which dates back to the 5th or 6th century A.D. Yet, when you’re in one of the jewelry or clothing stores just blocks away, in the main shopping district off Ermou Street, it’s not much different than being in a shop in downtown Chicago…except for the prices!
During our visit in May 2006, we stayed at the colorful Mytilana Village Resort in Gera, less than five miles southwest of Mytilene. With its close proximity to the capital, 14 acres of immaculate gardens, and ideal location right on the azure waters of the Gulf of Gera, it was the perfect spot for us to use as our base camp. From here, we were able to explore the entire island in our rental.
Two castles worth visiting are the one in Mytilene, the largest in the Mediterranean, and an impressive one in Molyvos, at the northern end of the island. If you like shopping for authentic, locally made items, visit the holy village of Agiasos, with its many street vendors. The ancient Petrified Forest is on the western end of the island, near Sigri, and not too far from there, the nude beaches of Skala Eressos. If scuba diving is your thing, make sure to see George at Lesvos Scuba in downtown Mytilene to set up an excursion up the eastern coast of the island. You can do any of these activities in a day and be back in town for dinner, and maybe a swim, that night.
In the meantime, back in Mytilene, amidst the modern phenomena of cross-town traffic, souvenir kiosks and super markets, there is a little Yiayia (Grandma) in the kitchen of the taverna, making my requested cup of Greek coffee over a small single-burner stove, like the kind you’d take camping. In Greek, I ask if I can take her picture and, although she says yes, she seems a little perplexed as to why I would want to. How do I explain to her that I just want a way to take the island back home with me?
Copyright © Helen George 2006