Lesvos, Greece

Molyvos agora

Scroll down for articles I have written about ‘my’ island

Lesvos, also know as Mytilene, is the third largest Greek Island and one of its loveliest, floating like a green leaf on the Aegean Sea. About an hours flight from Athens, it is very safe, ‘off the beaten track’ and still untouched by the huge cruise ship influx of tourists. You can expect an authentic Greek experience though many of the islanders speak English well.

Molyvos (Mythimna, shown in this photo), 5 km from our retreat site, is a medieval village sitting on a hillside at the north end of the island, topped by a 12th century castle. Cobblestone streets guide you through jewellery and leather shops, sweet shops, produce and artifacts from the island. Wandering these passageways at night is an otherworldly experience. Down at the harbor, local fishing boats return to supply the ‘catch of the day’ as tourists photograph the cat population waiting for their castoffs.

The food is unparalleled with the island’s specialty being zucchini flowers, stuffed with the island’s feta cheese and herbs. Imagine sun-ripened tomatoes and melons served at your table. Lesvos is also known for its oyzo, olive oil, pottery, cheeses, monasteries, archaeological sites, Turkish architecture and over 300 bird species. The island is popular for its hot springs and their healing properties, many fashioned in the style of the Turkish hammam. Imagine yourself decompressing in the zen atmosphere and enjoying their warmth.beach at Molyvos

With over 300 sunny days a year, crystalline waters invite a leisurely swim from beaches of sand, pebble and rocks of ages. In the west, a 20,000,000 year old petrified forest lies dormant partially in the sea. The European Union subsidized a fascinating ‘state of the art’ Museum and Geopark as monuments to this historical fossilized ecosystem. Seaside tavernas await a visit while the locals sip their ‘metreo’ (Greek coffee), or ‘frappe’ (cappuccino over ice).

ARTICLES I HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT LIVING IN GREECE

Diary of a Greek island dweller

Written in 2007 (Petra – my home from 20002- 2004)

People often ask me why I continue to maintain a residence on this magical island of Lesvos. As I am newly back, after several winter months in Canada, I am reminded over and over about those little things that touch my heart.

Approaching Lesvos by air alone refreshes the wonder for me. I am always impressed with the rugged coastline interspersed with long sandy beaches. The mountain villages are tucked away waiting to be discovered. The Gulf of Yera reminds me of my favorite hammum, with its domed ceiling and healing waters I love to share with my visiting friends and relatives. When the plane finally lands next to the Aegean, and we disembark, my senses are acute with the freshness of the salt sea air and the familiar scents of calamari being prepared in nearby tavernas.

My friend Yannis picks me up and drives me the hour it takes to reach Petra in the most popular tourist area. It is very nostalgic as donkeys block the road, goats frolic in the fields and the nets are being gathered from under the olive trees. Anemones and daisies proliferate along the way. The sun shines brilliantly and I am very excited to pull up in front of my home There sits my landlord, Stratos, tending to his fishing nets as always, and as I arrive unannounced, he is surprised and very excited to see me back. Up he gets and welcomes me with ‘Katarina, Katarina, kales earthes’, offering to help with my bags. As I am unpacking my suitcase, I hear his wife Anna at the door rushing in to welcome me with the typical 2-cheek air kisses, and a familial hug. She invites me for coffee and also says that Stratos is cooking fish he’d caught earlier that day, a barbecue using olive branches for fuel. When it is ready she will call me down to join them on the beach with a glass of oyzo

The rest of the day I spend walking into town to reconnect my telephone, visiting my computer guys for some advice, talking to Leo the shepherd who is herding sheep on his motorbike, and visiting Rina at the local ‘supermarket’.cats in harbor

The next morning I wake up early in my own bed listening to the sound of the waves and the songs of spring birds. Above all I can hear the local fishmonger selling supuri, galao, gofadi, and hoctopothi from his pick up truck. Then as I am walking into town, a car with a loud speaker passes asking for donations of food, blankets, water and money for the tsunami victims. I am always impressed at the diligence of the Greeks when others are in need.

Watching the sun set that evening over Asia Minor, I feel so fortunate to have discovered this magical island and the wonderful friends I have made.

Greek Thermal Baths – A Unique Indulgence

Visiting the eclectic island of Lesvos, Greece has delighted my senses for over 30 years. A trip to the thermal baths on the Gulf of Yera puts it in the realm of the gods. At a constant 39.9 degrees centigrade, these healing waters are an elixir that is consistently transporting.

Entering the women’s section of these domed bathing pools, it is clear that nudity is preferred. For the more inhibited North American, there could be a slight hesitation, but witnessing others comfortably disrobing eases these doubts quickly (bathing suits are certainly allowed). The cascading water from the marble fountain spouts greets your ears as you enter the giant bathtub, echoing in this Turkish style ‘hamam’. Clear and waist-deep, it beckons enticingly, ageless marble surrounding it. As I settle in under one of the gushing gorgoyle-like chutes, tension washes from my neck muscles, and a floating sensation washes through me. I glimpse the tiny light holes in the arched ceiling while inhaling the rising mist and losing myself in visions of harems and ancient pampering rituals. An adjoining section is apparent, with more surging waters, where showering and indulging is evident. A beautiful young Greek woman applies a facial mask, while another receives a vigorous loufa back scrub. All shapes, ages and sizes gratify in this time-honored custom. A periodic invigorating cold shower or a dip in the Gulf can get your skin tingling.

The ‘therma’ baths have been used since antiquity. Built during the time of the Ottoman Empire Turkish Occupation in the 14th century, they have been renovated into their particular architectural style. The powers to heal date back to tectonic peculiarities and land dynamics. Welling up from a depth of 2,500 meters, these luxurious waters from the geothermic ranges contain trace elements of the rock they permeate. It is said they possess the power to heal ailments that are gynecological, respiratory, cardiovascular, rheumatic and arthritic. They also help with bronchitis, diabetes, and nervous conditions, fight excess fat, tone and simply relax you.

Spent and rejuvenated, I enjoy a refreshing ‘frappe metreo me gala’, iced coffee milkshake, in the seaside refreshment bar, as a lone sculler gently dips his oars in the gulf. Feeling so removed, it is hard to believe that a traditional Greek restaurant, tennis facilities and mini soccer are also available closely.

You won’t find these deliciously energizing baths in the guidebooks, as the island is off-the-beaten-track. They are easily accessible by bus and taxi from nearby Mytilene, the capital and destination for booking purposes. Lesvos also boasts several other ‘hot baths’, sitting only 12 km. from Turkey in the Northeast Aegean Sea, whose influence has included these ancient sites. Eftalou in particular, in the north of the island, is popular with the faithful seasonal yoga groups. Explorers and adventurers can discover these healing waters bubbling up in the sea, a delightful and private experience for those devout seekers.

A mere 2.50 euros allows you unlimited time in the Yera Baths. For more information and even a booking with a masseuse on the property, call 30-22510 41503.

Morning in one of my Greek villages, Kayaini  (My home from 2004 – 2006)

The first sound I detect on awakening is the birds chattering and closely behind them the braying of a donkey. Andonis’ market, right below me, is bustling. A hefty bag of verdant cucumbers has just arrived followed by a crate of succulent fresh tomatoes. His overhanging tile roof is laden with aromatic wild oregano, drying in anticipation of the traditional dishes it will enhance, Greek salad, ‘lamb in the oven’ and a myriad of grilled meats. A scooter zips by briefly upsetting the tranquil setting. Manoli wanders through leading his white mare to the ornate ancient Turkish watering tap just outside my iron gates. Roula limps by still shrouded in black from her husband’s recent death, and the children race around her kicking their prized soccer ball.

The postmaster is due any time now. Nikos will arrive, proud on his new silver 250 Yamaha, hefty bag draped over his back. Methodically he will announce their names over the microphone as the villagers congegrate for their phone bills, pension cheques and letters from loved ones.

As the morning rush subsides, I wander down for some of my favorite Mandemados yogurt, rich and creamy. A fresh supply of pistachios longs to be opened. Andonis adeptly weighs out 250 grams on his battered timeworn balance scales, securing the plastic bag with a length of string. I reach for some dried figs to bake, stuffed with walnuts and basted with honey and spices. It is a more traditional Christmas treat here, but as a breakfast accompaniment to yogurt and fruit it is unsurpassed. It is watermelon season, eaten chilled and sweet after a swim and some sun. They form a maze in his tiny shop. Plastic wrapped wedges are unheard of here. It’s a whole melon or nothing! Andonis begins the calculations in his head, finds a scrap of paper and gives me the final tally.

My phone is ringing. It is my best friend Eni asking me to meet her, Maria and Pela for a coffee at sunset. They have a new place to show me in the old part of town overlooking the harbor. New discoveries are such an exciting part of living abroad !

Not just another coffee in Mytilene, the capital of Lesvos

It’s 7:00 p.m., and a (favorite) time for the Greeks to meet friends for a filter coffee, frappe, cappuccino or Greek coffee. The choices are endless as are the variety of cafes. I wander down a cobbled side street on the harbor. Looming before me is a stately edifice, statues of Olympic gods perusing the scene, set contentedly into freshly painted niches. ‘I am in divine company’, I think. I start climbing the worn white marble steps and my head swivels from the ornate iron hand rail to the classic but neglected elevator cage, visions of another era.

Like a scene from a John Travolta movie, I enter the ultra modern café, with its padded open booths in blacks, whites and reds. A zebra motif sits comfortably on several walls, overseen by the depiction of an African village drummer. On two flat screen TV’s, Tina Turner is belting out ‘Proud Mary’ as we select our seats overlooking the harbor. Four Greek ladies chat beside us having ritually placed before them their cigarettes, lighters and mobile phones. Their coffees arrive; they detect my interest and offer suggestions. “I have my favorite ‘frappe metreo me gala”, one says. It tastes like a coffee milkshake, very cool and delicious. Maria is having a cappuccino and that’s a ginger cookie on the side”. I recognize the Greek coffee, a traditional diminutive cup and saucer offering an expresso-like punch, but what’s on the little glass plate? “It’s a ‘gleeko’. We usually serve them at home with coffee, but rarely in a café. It’s very sweet; try it”, she says. As I savor the delicacy and try to place its flavor, I realize it is something out of my realm of familiarity. “It’s made from rose petals”, she comments proudly!!

As I direct my attention to the harbor, I see families out for their ‘volta’, a weekly ritual. Mama, Babba, the children and often Yiayia and Pappu (Grandma and Grandpa) in their Sunday best are enjoying the camaraderie of this social walk. In the horseshoe harbor, the first trawler arrives encircled by seagulls in chorus. The orange globe of the full moon slowly climbs behind 4 sailing masts, back dropped by Asia Minor (Turkey). It silhouettes the fishermen as they rinse their gear and swab the decks. Cats congregate on the pier in anticipation of their nightly feast. Soon the moon’s rising will create an ‘andavia,’ that golden pathway to the heavens that reflects in the Aegean Sea.

I lean over to my new friend and ask about the place. “The café is called Pantheon, and is part of the old Hotel Great Britain. My father used to bring us here as kids. The food is great too.” Slowly I realize that Joe Cocker is now crooning, ‘I get by with a little help from my friends’. We look at each other and knowingly smile.