Too short a time in Lesvos! Guest Blog by Kathy Vichta

The food scene in Mytilene is great! It’s a student town and there are bars, ouzeries and restaurants all through the little streets behind the main drag. Some of the most recommended are already closed for the season but we manage to eat (and drink) really well and quite cheaply both nights (an ouzerie in a back street with really creative mezes first and then O Ermiz at the north harbour – highly recommend) To justify the food we do a lot of walking – around the town itself (which is definitely more interesting once the shops open – food, cakes to die for, antiques and quite trendy clothes), to the north harbour and around the castle etc etc…

We take a nice little car from Billy’s for E20 per day and head off! So good to be out on the road in a new place – and out of the city noise and traffic. Roads are very good and also very empty… another advantage of being here in October perhaps. We’re heading for the famous Molyvos along the dramatic coastal route, but take a few detours along the way, first at the Taxiarchos Monastery near Madamados, recognisable by the fighter jet outside… apparently it houses the patron saint of fighter pilots and they say the Turks never fly over it (although why they’d care I can’t imagine). Then we take a side road to the beautiful little cove of Skala Sikomenia for a leisurely (and delicious) lunch by the little boat harbour, under the tiny chapel dedicated to the Mermaid Madonna (which inspired the book of the same name). The road is narrow and winding but the result definitely worth it. There’s more narrow and winding on to Molyvos – not my favourite thing in any way especially after a big lunch. So glad we decided to forego our usual ½ kg of wine.

Arriving at Molyvos is awe-inspiring… round the bend it appears, a hill right next to the water crowned by a beautiful castle with the grey and rust coloured houses tumbling down the steep slopes. We stop to ooh and ah and take a few shots and then head straight down to the little harbour where we plan to stay.

We check The Sea Horse Hotel and it’s quite lovely and probably good value at E50 including breakfast but then we also have a look at Sea Melody a few doors away and for E25 are offered almost the same room (well perhaps a little plainer) without breakfast. Since we are always happy to have our favourite sheep’s yogurt with fruit and honey for breakfast anyway, and we have facilities to make our own tea etc… we take it! Our little balcony opens right onto the port – glad it’s a quiet time of year; we oldies might find it difficult when the restaurants and bars are raging in mid-summer.

Oh what to say about Molyvos…there is a magic here that is hard to convey. Each morning I awaken to the sounds of the port, the fishermen preparing nets, sometimes the little chapel bell calling the devout, the locals greeting each other as they wander home with the morning bread. Fortunately it all starts pretty late… the sky is still pinkish at 7.00 so no one gets going too early. Besides everyone is winding down from the busy season – each day more places close and people pack up their shops. In fact as we move from place to place we feel the whole island sighing and closing… people are tired out – but also concerned about the coming winter. The government has cut the old ‘pension’ they used to give through the winter months to those that rely on the tourist trade. It wasn’t a lot, but it kept them going. Now without it… many will seriously struggle. But at least out here on the islands many people have the ability to go back to the old ways, grow some food, have some goats… be more self-sufficient.

From our veranda I look up the hill over the tumble of traditional houses to the castle. Such a beautiful view. I photograph it in every light – morning softness, midday brightness and evening sunset tones. The first morning we climb up through the little cobbled back streets where herbs grow in the cracks and bougainvillea and late jasmine tumble over old stone walls to the castle at the top… and explore this rather lovely old building. There’s a stage and seating set up inside and once more we regret that all the concerts are on during the height of the season. It must be lovely to sit up here on a warm summer evening, with a glass of ouzo and beautiful music!

A great café next to the castle affords views over the whole bay – magnificent.

Over the next few days we eat rather too well at various Molivos restaurants, attend a little early morning memorial service in the little chapel for the husband of a south American woman (there’s definitely a good story there but one we just can’t get our heads around with so little Greek), visit the rather nice beachside town of Petra and climb the 114 steps to the church of Panagia Glykofilousa (Our Lady of the Sweet Kiss – what a lovely name and a great view too!), swim at the local beach a couple of times – cold water and pebbles and I am quite over the pebble beaches, give me sand anytime – but refreshing and I am glad I did it.

It would be easy to stay here for a long time. We meet the owner of Molly’s Bar, the in place to be on a nice evening – and right next door to our room – and that’s just what he seems to have done. Came as a tour guide, found a teaching job for the winter and (did he say 16 or 26 years later?) now alternates between the tourist season and this educational work and lives in the village. So many people dream of it but these days it’s certainly not so easy. Seasonal workers have nothing during the cold winter months.

After four lovely days we take our leave, take one last look back at the castle (and a couple of last photos) from the Petra Road and head off to Skala Eressos, lesbian central and such a different landscape, it’s like we are on a different island. We follow the coast for a while (and I do mean follow the coast – the road is actually ON the edge of the water and any waves would splash the car) and then head over the hills with a stop in the lovely town of Andissa for a coffee in the traditional square, to emerge into the lush green Eressos Valley. There is actually green grass on the slopes and abundant growth of fruit trees and vegetables… beautiful!

Eressos itself is a pleasant village about 5kms from the coast but we head straight for the beach. Skala Eressos is almost deserted this late in the season, especially so because as usual we arrive after lunch when everyone about has headed off to have a good lie down.  Probably a good thing we are here in October. There’s a big lesbian festival in September and thousands descend on this sweet little town. I suspect it is one big party with a bit of politics and general female support thrown in and I definitely would have found it all too much.

We have a recommendation for the Gallini Hotel but when we eventually find it (not easy) we see that it’s tucked away in a back street and we always gravitate to the water front if we can. And we can! Hotel Kyma (it means surf, although there’s not a wave to be seen, the term millpond comes to mind) is right on the water a few doors from Zorba the Buddha – a popular comfortable bar which is fortunately still open. For only E30 we take a second floor room with a verandah right on the water – opposite a fascinating rock about 300m off shore which promises to make for especially interesting sunsets. We fall into the water – much warmer that Molyvos and, lying back on the pebbly (but flatter pebbles) beach agree that we are in heaven. AND we’d planned to spend two nights here before moving on to Plomari, but discover that what with arriving in Lesvos a day early because of the changed ferry plans, we actually have an extra day… ahhhh sometimes getting it wrong is getting it right…

That night sitting on our little verandah sipping ouzo and nibbling crackers with blue cheese and cod roe (as you do) we recognise a NZ accent on the verandah next door and make the acquaintance of a lovely woman who has lived here for many years in the past and with whom we have so much in common it’s quite spooky. She has even recently become involved with Tibetan Buddhism and we know her teacher… Anyway she takes us under her loving wing and introduces us to the Skala Eressos and surroundings we would probably not have found without her. (Thank you so much Felicity!)

We eat at the best place in town (thankfully still open), the Blue Sardine (at the far end of the waterfront)and have a great time with owner Costas. We drive (on a bumpy dirt road) the back way to Sigri and the petrified forest through an amazingly beautiful arid valley and hear how the shepherds tie up dogs where the road cuts through their walls/fence. Here they are left in horrible conditions to keep the sheep from going through and there is an ongoing battle between the farmers and the ‘foreigners’ who try to save as many as possible of these tortured creatures. We don’t see any dogs tied this day, but drive through at least four places where it is clear they have been.

The petrified forest itself is less than awe-inspiring but the museum in Sigri is wonderful! We spend about 2 very happy hours watching the videos, learning about and admiring fossils and the petrified remains – and then move on to the little shop where we try the local ouzos and a few of the local women’s cooperative’s wares. One that stood out (and not because it was good) was the olives preserved in honey – very odd…

After a filling and ‘adequate’ lunch at the port we head to the Psolou Monastery, winding up and up and up… it’s windy and quite chilly up there but well worth it! It’s a wild a windswept hill but beautifully maintained with veggies and fruit trees and a little herd of sheep around a lovely collection of ancient buildings. Probably because we are with our new friend, who speaks some Greek (which we still don’t) we make friends with a young monk there (he seems to do all the work and care for the four other elderly monks in residence) and he takes us into the monastery museum, a treasure house of old old icons, amazing robes embroidered (by the monks) with pure gold, sceptres and medallions of gold and huge precious gems. It’s astounding what is hidden in that crumbling old building.

Have I mentioned the bells?? I just adore the bells that the goats and sheep wear. You’ll be walking along a deserted track, or driving on a mountain road and you can hear the beautiful sound of those funky metal bells long long before you can see any animals… Here they call them Lesvos bells, but really they are pretty much everywhere. I remember standing on the highest point of Naxos, where you can see both of the beautiful coastlines of that gorgeous island, hearing literally hundreds of bells as a huge herd came up one steep side, leapt over the road and threw themselves over the edge down a precipitous slope on the other side. Here at Psolou Monastery the charming sheep troop past us in single file – stop to stare one at a time, and then dingle off down to pastures unknown… love it!

Next day is much lazier. We start with coffees at Zorba the Buddha Cafe (after our usual lovely breakfast of fruit (juicy pomegranate from the owner’s tree as well this time), sheep’s yogurt and honey, watch the local women’s group do their daily swim out to the rock and back (great effort girls – 600m all up!) and lie about indulgently as they head off on a 12 km hike (we are on holiday after all). Then we head off in our little car (a little guiltily) and find another beautiful monastery – Pythario this time, sitting on a hillside over a beautiful lake – a man-made one because they have put in a large dam (hence the green and lush valley), but absolutely beautiful. The reflections on the still water and the abundant bird life must make it a beautiful place to reflect on God’s goodness.

More swimming, local cocktails (lime and sugar and rum and goodness knows what else) and a glorious meal at Blue Sardine with the local ouzo rounds off a great stay at Eressos. I hope we can return soon!

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