Aug 3, 2011

Lesvos (Mytillini): Where pets are named after gods

Our arrival to Mytillini (Lesvos) was a little bit of a shock. After everyone left, the customs officer ordered our car into the customs building. We were first told to close the windows and step away from the car. Then, we were asked to remove the luggage and wait in the office. A crazily barking German shepherd –that only understood commands in German like “Sitz” and “Platz”- sniffed the car. The reason: three days ago a car that crossed to Samos island from Turkey was seized with high amount of drugs. There was nothing to worry: our car (along with someone who had a Jordanian passport) was randomly picked by the computer. Thank God a fluent Greek speaker was with us who was beating one of the customs officers about the welcome procedures in Greece while I was calculating possible jail time for similar offenses in Turkey. So beware about computer programs in Greek customs especially if you are crossing from Turkey and do not hold passports from Greece’s “favorite countries” list.

Gera's Olive Grove, Gulf of Gera, Mytillini.

Horta, octopus, beer, lunch for the day
in Tarti, Taverna Sebastian, Mytillini.

Vatera beach, Mytillini, Greece.
Photo: Ahmet Sel.

Determined not to be put off by the event, we reached our hotel in the Gulf of Gera, Gera’s Olive Grove via Perama. It was a wonderful place among olive trees and a huge garden with goats, horses and donkeys as well as Sappho and Hermes, the cute pets. In fact, being in a place that was not decorated with IKEA furniture was nice on its own. In addition, it was very close to Taverna Marmaros where we sat under a windy tree and sipped our Uzo Barbayanni while eating delicious food consisting of horta, calamari, sardines (in the best time: July), tzaziki and octopus. This was our staple dinner which cost max €20, only when we ate fresh fish (barbuni).

A view from Melinda beach while this man cleans fish, Mytillini.

Melinda beach, Mytillini, Greece.

Melinda beach's only taverna.

Mytillini is Greece’s third largest island and can be easily reached from Turkey via the town of Ayvalık. If you want to see it, a car is a must. In fact, after my second time, there are still places I have not seen like the Western part. According to a Turkish tourist in the ferry, Sigri in that direction is supposed to be what Bodrum was like 30 years ago. Although Mythimna (Molivos) in the north has historically been popular with poets and literary types, it is more touristy, boutique and expensive. Still it is worth visiting but not for staying despite it boosts olive factories turned into hotels. I prefer the Plomari side (southern part) of the island also because it is closer to the ferry. It has beautiful cobbled streets, “health is not a trade” signs on buildings, reflecting the Greek mood about privatization, local shops, plane trees and nice taverns on the sea side with an incredible sunset. My favorites beaches Melida, Vatera and Tarti, are all in the south.

Old Windmill Perama, Gulf of Gera.

View of Mythimna (Molivos).

Summary of Travelmind's holiday: book, sunscreen, goggles
and mastic (white thing inside glass) as desert in Vatera beach.

The nature of the island is typically Aegean, dotted with the different shades of green from olive and pine trees. In fact, Greece is a natural Lebensraum (not in an irredentist sense) for Turks and vice versa. While you do not speak the language, the faces, geography, climate, food and even the sellers with vans & microphone (watch the video) are all the same to make you feel at home. In fact, home is right across and it has become a game for us to guess what part of the island was overlooking which part of Turkey. For instance, if you eat in Avlonas, you may be forgiven to think that there is fire in Turkey. It turns out it is right across the refinery in Aliağa.

This villager in Mytillini (fan of PM Erdoğan) wanted to know how much
 one liter of milk costs in Turkey.
Photo: Ahmet Sel.

A view from Plomari town center, Mytillini.
Photo: Ahmet Sel.

As the sun sets, moon rises in Plomari, Mytillini.
Photo: Ahmet Sel.

A view from Plomari, Lesvos.
Photo: Ahmet Sel.

Given the closeness, Greek people seem to have a curious love affair with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. To our disbelief, they all admired him. They also loved sharing their stories about Ayvalık that they cross for shopping very often. Some shopowners even tried to cater to Turks by preparing menues & texts in Turkish although they were full of mistakes. In one village, we were offered coffee and while chatting, asked the price of ten kilos of corn and one liter of milk in Turkey to make sure how terrible things were in Greece in the current economic climate. At the same time, people are proud about their beautiful island and try to preserve its heritage: witness the many museums from olive oil production to digital art to ouzo. Or just remember the names of the pets, Sappho (the lesbian poet of the island) and god Hermes. As you cross over to the mainland and start seeing the eye soar buildings in Turkey, despite the strange familiarity of the Aegean, you wonder how so similar and yet so different the two countries can be….

One of Plomari tavernas in Mytillini.

My other favorite beach Tarti, Mytillini.

In Mytillini town, Café Pan Hellenion, a must
after ice cream at next door Maskotitsa.