Lesvos, the Island

Snow on the mountains above Mithimna (Molivos)

Lesvos is a beautiful Aegean island. The third largest of the Greek islands, after Crete and Rhodes, it is situated so close to Turkey that you can see the towns on the Turkish coast on a clear day, and the lights at night. At the closest point, it’s only 4.1 miles from Turkey to Lesvos.

It is covered with (some say) 11,000,000 olive trees, and although the fact checkers haven’t weighed in on the exact number, they do cover the island except for the steepest mountainsides. They look ancient alongside the ruins from prehistoric settlements, ancient Greece, Rome, and the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

Olive tree #10,999,999 still kickin’
A Roman aquaduct hidden away behind the town of Moria – no postcard stands or keychains to be found
Mytilene Castle looking all spooky at night
Molivos Castle
A Turkish bathhouse in Mytilene, now a museum

Mytilene (Mitilini) is a bustling little island capital, and I believe there are about 11,000,000 cafes and restaurants there, in direct competition with the olive trees for sheer numbers. The main shopping street, Ermou Street, is chic and up-to-date with fashions, jewelry, bakeries, bookshops, and all other sorts of commerce.

Ermou Street on a rainy December day

Dining options are plentiful, and the Greek small plate menu items are excellent. Stuffed fried zucchini flowers, eggplant imam, tsatziki, Greek salad, souvlaki, meatballs, fried cheese, octopus, and my personal favorite, lentil salad on rye toast rusks. Prices are low by our standards, maybe half of what we pay in a restaurant. And guess what? Ouzo is made in Lesvos, and there are often 20 different choices on the menu. People say it goes well with fish. Refreshingly absent are the American chain restaurants – They who shall not be named.

A day’s drive will get you to the other side of the island and back, if you so desire. The magnificent beaches are over on the south west side. I’ve never been because I’m always here when the season has ended and everything is shut down. Driving on the roads out of town is easy, but in town takes some getting used to. My fellow volunteer and I have a routine when the streets get too narrow, we flip the side mirrors in and squeeze through. The scooters will unnerve you of course, darting around both sides while you try not to cry from the stress of driving a pristine rental car when everyone else has dings and dents and couldn’t care less about another one. I actually hit someone’s car last time I was here, and he waved me off. Couldn’t be bothered. Luckily my rental car agency also couldn’t be bothered.

So why, you smirkers will smirk, is the island named Lesbos? Is it all lesbians? Well, as a matter of fact it is! Anyone who lives here is a Lesbian. Men, women, children. They’re all Lesbians. Ha ha gotcha. But the B in Greek is actually pronouced V, so they are really Lesvians. The connection with gay women goes back to Sappho, the Greek poet, who wrote erotic poetry to women. I haven’t read one, but she apparently did live here, and there is a Sappho Square in the middle of Mitilini. Did I mention that the history here goes waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back?

A few more photos for your viewing pleasure-

Mitilini Harbor
Alison of Dirty Girls fame, in a charming alley in Molivos
Flamingo viewing at Kalloni
A cafe in Agiassos
Cats in a window in Thermi
A pretty little store front in Afalonas
Way up the hill above Mitilini
Sunset over the Aegean Sea as we returned on the ferry from a day trip to Turkey

4 Replies to “Lesvos, the Island”

  1. Thanks for the portrait of the island. You create the picture of a place at the crossroads of history yet bustling with contemporary life and spirit.

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