Despite the exhaustion from the early morning start the previous day, I’m up with the larks. I’m really looking forward to the inclusive breakfast that Hotel Lesvion offers. The first of the trip!
Firstly I must say that the mattress at Hotel Lesvion gets a 9 out of 10! It is twin beds pushed together but they have put a memory foam topper over the two of them and this makes a perfectly comfortable bed! Who’d have thought that the quality of a mattress can make the whole experience feel so luxurious!
The bright and modern breakfast room is down one floor. There is a narrow terrace where you can dine overlooking the harbour if you so wish. Today – I so wish! There is an overwhelming choice of breakfast items on offer. As I try to fathom what’s what, a lady introduces herself to me as Chara. She talks me through the choices, a lot of which are homemade on the premises such as the cakes. Everything else is locally produced for example the jams, marmalades and of course the honey. By the way I forgot to mention that when I checked into the hotel I was given a small jar of honey – a gift that they give to all of their guests. Anyway, back to the breakfast. Chara recommends that I try the mushroom pie and vegetable frittata along with some other homemade goodies. Talk about spoilt for choice!
During breakfast Chara comes to talk with me again asking how long I will be staying and what plans I have. I tell her that I will be 4 days in Mytiline to begin with but have yet to decide where to go next. I also tell her that I will be travelling everywhere by bus and have already picked up a timetable. Chara has a list of suggestions for me but says that I absolutely must visit the village of Agiasos. She says that it is a really pretty village and if I go, I must visit the bakery and ask them for the traditional cake of Lesvos called Vasilopita. It is only made in the village of Agiasos and is traditionally baked at Christmas time. I will find the bakery just beyond the church in the centre of the village. That’s it then – decision made. This is where I will visit today!
Most of the buses seem to depart for the villages at around 11am and such is the case for the bus to Agiasos. As with the bus service on Chios, there is the green service that runs to the further destinations and the blue service starting at another bus station running to more local destinations. Also similarly, there is virtually no bus service from the green service over the weekend. As it’s Friday today it makes sense to visit a village today and then explore Mytiline further over the weekend.
Once you arrive at the bus station, the process of purchasing the bus ticket is very easy. You can purchase a single or a return ticket and the man in the bus station will tell you the number of the bus. The buses aren’t parked in any particular order. In fact they are parked in a very higgledy piggledy fashion and it is worth checking out the location of your bus well in advance of departure. I find my bus and board with a view to getting a window seat. This is a good idea in principal except that the windows of the bus are the dirtiest that I’ve ever seen. I don’t know where this bus has been but it almost looks like layers upon layers of dried on sea salt. The windows are virtually opaque. Anyway, it’s the end destination that counts.
Once out of the town the bus climbs up past acres and acres of olive groves. Literally there are olive groves as far as you can see. Sheer cliff faces are draped in cloaks of dark green pine trees and I’m getting the sense that Lesvos is a rich and verdant island. We briefly skirt the edge of Kolpos Geras or the Bay of Geras. This is a smaller version of the deep bay at Kalloni with a narrow mouth that gives the impression of it being a lake. As well as bay, the word Kolpos interestingly translates as sinus and vagina. I can see why that would be the case!
Eventually we arrive at the village of Agiasos where just a small group of us are deposited at the entrance to the village. Other passengers were dropped off at various other villages along the way. You can’t fail to miss the white marble statue entitled Glory for the Heroes standing proudly on the small square. The next things that I see is a small cluster of shops selling the brightly coloured pottery that Agiasos is known for and lots of autumnal produce. Sitting by the roadside are three people shelling and selling walnuts. The man is crushing the shells in a nutcracker and the two ladies have the job of cleaning the nuts. This immediately makes me think of Christmas time and reminds me that very soon we are heading into November. The weather so far has me firmly locked into June.
As I begin my approach to the village the first thing that catches my eye is the bell tower of the Church of Zoodochos Pigi. The church itself is closed and the gate locked but it was worth taking the short stroll to take a look at it. The church is flanked by traditional stone houses of which many have gardens full of produce such as pumpkins, cabbages and a whole array of fruit trees. Beyond this the hillside is covered in trees just beginning to show a touch of their autumnal colours.
Back on the main street, it gradually climbs until I come to a house that splits the street in two. It now directs me to either the left or the right of it. You can choose either – it doesn’t matter.
I reach a building with a sign saying that it is a museum. I walk through the doorway and sitting in the middle of a courtyard is a church. This is the main church of the village called Panagia Agiasos. I get distracted from trying to find the museum and follow the courtyard around until I come to another doorway which I step through. It is like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia! It brings me out into a beautiful cobbled street that is covered in vines in the process of turning from green, to gold and to red. Displayed outside the shops is brightly coloured pottery, some traditionally decorated and other verging on the more contemporary.
Following this further around I come to a small square where there is a cluster of cafe’s with brightly coloured chairs and shops selling more local produce. Instead of investigating further I feel compelled to continue walking in an upward direction – you know – just to see what I can see.
I must say at this point that my first impressions of Agiasos is that it is truly beautiful. The brightly coloured houses adorned with vines and potted plants really give the village a lot of charm. I’m sure that as a tourist destination that some of the ‘charm’ has been manufactured but it does feel like an authentic working village where life goes on outside of and regardless of who comes to visit.
There reaches a point in the road where I can either follow it down or continue up. Located on this pinnacle in the road is a large plane tree decorated with pottery and surrounded by cryptic messages. I say cryptic because Google Translate either only partially translates the signs or gets the wrong end of the stick completely. Google Translates failing’s always make me smile.
I continue walking up on the road that leads out of the village. The further up I walk, the windier it gets and now at the end of October there is a definite chill in the air. I haven’t come with a jacket or even an additional layer of clothing. My thin, short sleeved top will have to suffice. It isn’t anything that I can’t cope with so I plough on until I come to a bend in the road. From here there are truly spectacular views down across the valley. Agiasos is located on the slopes of Mount Olympus so I imagine that if I was to continue on up the road it would bring me to other mountain villages.
If ever there was a good demonstration of the density of the olive plantations and the general fertility of Lesvos then it is the view from this point. Apart from the quarry scar on the hillside in the distance it is green as far as the eye can see.
As I begin my descent back down towards the village an elderly ladies stops and points at me speaking in Greek. I know immediately from her gesticulation i.e. rubbing her arms, that she is asking me if I am cold. I’d like to tell her that I’m from the North of England where we are tough and that we don’t feel the cold. In English the words would be meaningless. I muster up some words in Greek and whilst pointing to myself I say “Mikro Kryo”. I am only a little bit cold. She looks horrified and begins to show me everything that she is wearing layer by layer. I counted at least six on her top! We stand chatting for a while, her speaking Greek and me English and both with a bit of gesticulation. Picking out the odd word and by reading each other’s body language, we both reach an understanding somewhere in the middle. This my friends is the epitome of travel! These interactions may be brief but being able to connect with others is what it’s all about.
We wave goodbye to each other and I continue my walk back down to the centre of the village. Just as I reach the small square with the brightly coloured chairs there is a loud explosion. I shout for Jesus Christ – a gut reaction to such a shock. It must have been something unusual as it has caused others to run out into the street to see what has happened. Of course I can’t understand what everyone is saying but it certainly was enough to cause concern from the locals. Slowly but surely everyone returns to what they were doing. So it couldn’t have been anything to worry about. Could it?
I need to warm my hands with a hot cup of tea so walk back towards the vine covered alleyway where I’d spotted a nice cafe called Theophilos. After a little refreshment I decide to do my favourite thing and that’s just explore the side streets with no particular plan. Some streets take me up and some take me down. Wherever they led, there was a little gem around every corner – lots of beautiful old doors and wonderful door knockers. The knockers I’ll put in a separate gallery as there are so many of them.
Eventually I decide to eat. I have in mind that I’d find a taverna (not a cafe) where I can have some nice traditional Greek food. Not many are open and the ones that are, such as an interesting looking Kafenion are full of men. As much as the food that they are eating looks good I can’t pluck up the courage to walk in. As I hover by the doorway, each of the occupants lift their heads one by one as if to ask me what I want. Sometimes this happens. Sometimes I’m just not prepared to brave it out. Sometimes, it just doesn’t feel right. Sometimes I just don’t feel as though I fit. And that’s fine. It’s not them – it’s me!
Whilst I decide what to do about the food situation I remember that Chara had told me that I must buy the traditional cake of Lesvos called Vasilopita and that I’d find it in the bakery beyond the main church. This is very close to where I’m standing so go to seek it out. I firstly come across a small bakery at the corner of the square. I pop my head through the door and ask the elderly lady if she sells the traditional cake of Lesvos. The lady doesn’t understand my question so I put it into Google Translate and play her the audio. She responds to me in a long sentence of Greek words of which I can pick out ‘Megalo Fourno’ – big oven. From this I’m guessing that there is another bakery with a big oven that makes it.
Just a stones throw from this little bakery is the one with the big oven. This is definitely the place – Sousamli of Agiasos! As I enter through the doorway I can see that through the back there is a large working kitchen with all sorts of bakery goodies in production. Oh the smell is divine! I ask the lady if she sells the traditional cake of Lesvos and she points to a basket on the front of the counter with pre-cut and pre-packed slices of the Vasilopita. I purchase just one slice. In hindsight I wish I’d bought more. I plan to take this home to share with my husband. As an Egyptian he is always talking about the similarities of Greek food with Egyptian food – it’s that Mediterranean thing! The Vasilopita I think is something quite unique but it’s sweet and I know that he will love it. I’m not sure I’ll be able to resist eating it before I get home.
This is the website of the bakery where it gives a really good description of the Vasilopita – I had no idea it contained dried goats cheese!
Back on the square I continue to decide where to go for refreshments. As much I love loukoumades, this isn’t the kind of meal I have in mind. Besides, watching the people who have decided to go straight for this sweet dessert, there appears to be a wasp issue. Not something I want to contend with right now. I decide to head into the large café called Kafentaria on the square with the brightly coloured tables and chairs. It is gorgeous inside. The long windows throws in a lot of light and it has been decorated perfectly in keeping with the village.
The lady speak English well and although she isn’t going to be able to provide me with the kind of traditional Greek meal that I was looking for, she rustles up something that will certainly suffice along with some sour cherry juice.
I take the opportunity to ask her if she knew what the loud explosion was that I’d heard earlier. She tells me that she hadn’t heard anything. “Oh well,” she says “At least the Turkish haven’t come to kill us!” “Cheers to that!” I say toasting her with my cherry juice!
The lady asks me if I’ve seen the museum yet. I tell her that I tried to look for it but there didn’t seem to be anything open. It is open – it never closes she tells me. When I’ve finished my lunch, the lady directs me to the museum which is just around the corner from the café.
Around the corner is indeed the museum and I realise that I’d walked right past it several times. Once through the large metal gate into the courtyard I can see that it backs onto the church of Panagia Agiasos. The Museum of Traditional Professions is housed in what used to be the guesthouse of the church. Each cell holds an exhibit of a traditional profession of the village and they can be viewed through the window anytime of night or day. I love this! Very quirky. It is part of a project called Talking Tiles where you can scan the QR code to get further information about the exhibit and the village. My favourite is the Haberdashery. As someone who has sewn for most of her life, the piles of fabric and trimmings give me an immediate feeling of nostalgia. I love her platform clogs!
The purpose of the exhibition is to show visitors, especially children from the local schools that this trades and handcrafts are dying out. However, in the village itself it is possible to see artisans at work for example in a wood working shop and also the potteries. There are also some shops themselves that look as though they are part of a living museum. Oh I wish there wasn’t so much glare on the photograph through the window of the electricity shop – the shelves were piled high with all kinds of electrical components. I really wanted to go in and explore. I just love this kind of shop!
There is still time for a bit more exploration of parts of the village that I haven’t yet seen so set off for the other side of the main street. If I get the opportunity to visit Lesvos again I definitely want to spend a couple of days in Agiasos. I want to see it at night and I want to see it in Autumn again. This time of harvest and the sheer abundance of the produce is heart warming and satisfying at the same time.
Alas it is time to make my way to the bus stop. The group that had caught the same bus to the village are there already waiting. An English couple, a Greek lady and a group of four young people that I assume are students from the university. I’m guessing students because I’d noticed on the bus here that the group was made up of young people from different countries but spoke in English as a common language.
The group of young people seem to be distracted by a stray dog. The poor thing is petrified and no amount of coaxing will bring the dog close. There are some local youths tearing up and down the street on motorbikes which scares the dog even more. It has a heavy metal chain around its neck which clearly has been chopped. I wonder if somebody had released it from an uncaring owner. About 10 minutes later a lady arrives in a car and parks closeby. She is here to see the dog so she must have been alerted to its plight. She tips out a pile of dried dog food onto the floor for it. The dog cautiously approaches and then proceeds to hoover up every last bit, not even stopping for air. The lady is taking photographs of the dog. We take some comfort in the fact that she is going to report the dog and hopefully someone will later come for it and care for it.
Once she has gone, the dog begins to scout around for any bits of food that it may have missed. It’s clearly starving. The group at the bus stop don’t have anything to give it. All I have in my bag is the Vasilopita that I had bought for my husband. I don’t know how good it is for dogs but apparently, it is highly nutritious. I can spare a piece for this poor animal and break off a piece. It won’t come close to me so I leave it on the floor and move away. It eats it quickly. I then pour the remains of my water onto the cobbles hoping that the ridges will retain enough for it to drink. It does and this little pup laps it all up.
By now we have done what we can for the dog and hope that it will eventually be rescued by caring people. The bus is late but eventually can be spotted coming down the lane. One of the young people comment that it is a difference bus to the one that we came on. “Yes” I say. “You can actually see through the windows on this one! I tell them that I was going to offer to come back at the weekend to clean his windows. “You’d need a high powered pressure washer to get those windows clean!” laughed another.
Back in Mytiline the first thing that I do is go back to the hotel to put on some warmer clothes. Although the temperatures here in Mytiline are warmer, that mountain air has chilled me to the bone.
I decide to eat at Meating, a restaurant close to the hotel. I take one of their outdoor tables and order a small bottle of retsina and a Mexican fajitas. Whilst not the traditional Greek meal that I’ve been searching for all day it will do.
Whilst I’m waiting for my meal a young Roma boy of about 15 comes to my table begging for money. I repeatedly tell him “no” but he is very persistent. I don’t have much cash on me and eventually scrabble together 90 cents – just short of a euro and give it to him. He looks at me with an expression of disgust and complains about the amount of money I’ve given him. Short on patience and with exhaustion now catching up on me I take the money back off him. I put it in my bag and tell him to go away. Probably not the best decision that I’ve made today. The begging is now ramped up and the pleading and the word “baby” is relentless. The only other people eating at the outside tables just look on, probably thankful that I’m the chosen one today. I’m determined to stand my ground and now just ignore him. Soon after, he disappears into the restaurant. The lady comes back out and asks me if I’ve just agreed to buy the boy a meal. I tell her that I hadn’t. Well 10 out of 10 for initiative. He’s now apologising to me for not accepting the money but I’m not going to give in. He eventually goes away – for a little while before trying it again but finally he moves on elsewhere.
At the end of my meal (which I didn’t really enjoy) I see an old man come to the outside tables of the restaurant and take the leftover food from another table. I’d seen this man before, either sitting or walking along the harbour front carrying two bags filled with what I assume are his worldly possessions. When the waitress came out to clear the tables she waits until he has taken whatever he wants from the table. A small kindness that I’m sure is appreciated by the man in question.
It made me stop and think about my attitude towards the Roma boy and the old man and why I had shown less tolerance towards the boy. I think it is always worth having a bit of self reflection now and again to check that actions and reactions aren’t based on prejudice. I recreate a scenario in my head where the boy is quietly waiting for people to leave food on the table and the old man comes to my table begging for money. Who would I have more compassion for? It would be the boy. In this instance I conclude that it was the approach I didn’t like. I also felt that the boy had spotted that I was a lone, female tourist, eating in a restaurant (so not destitute) and that I would be a good target – part of his training. Sitting alongside these thoughts is also an anger. Anger that the Roma children are brought up to beg as soon as they are able. An anger that their obvious resourcefulness isn’t channelled into something more constructive and an anger at the inequalities in the world. God knows I spend more time than is healthy being angry at the injustices of the world. Yes and I was also angry at the boys relentless and aggressive approach.
Later that evening back at the hotel I ask the man on the reception desk about the man I’d seen taking food in the restaurant. He told me that he is a solitary person and very independent. He will never take money if offered to him and in fact will never accept anything even food if given to him directly. The locals do look after him and know that by leaving food for him surreptitiously he will be OK. And that is the final thought I go to sleep on tonight.