The most amazing thing happened when I got to Lesvos. …Everything went wrong! Aside from the place I had picked to stay at, nothing went according to plan. The bus schedule gave me only two choices of towns to visit, neither of which were on my original list, and made it so I could only spend an hour or two at each. My run was hilariously awful. It rained like crazy. At one point, I found myself soaked to the skin, nearly run over by a semi-truck, attacked by wild dogs, with roadkill on my running shoe and no idea of what to do because the bus schedule had destroyed whatever plans I did have. But there was also a point at which I found myself basking in the glow of a slice of the real Greece in a way that would have never happened if I had followed my original plans.
I think that’s what Greece does. It takes whatever initial plans or expectations you had, turns them completely upside down, and then delights you even more with something you would have never seen coming. As an incorrigible perfectionist and chronic planner, I once would have totally crumpled in this situation; but I daresay that Greece has taught me just enough unbridled joy and delightful chaos to be able to go with the flow, and let this trip turn into far more than just a vacation.
Mytilini is the main port town in Lesvos. It’s where the airport is located, and where I chose to stay, as it’s where most of the island’s off-season life is at.
Mytilini seemed to be a fun, lively town with a friendly attitude, good food and at least a semblance of good nightlife. (Though I was there for Carnival weekend, so perhaps it only seemed that way because of the holiday!) Lesvos has a reputation for being gay-friendly, as the poet Sappho was born there. Her hometown has become a tourist destination for lesbians (and cue your etymology epiphany… now) from all over the world, and there are statues, hotels and other things named for Sappho all across the island.
Part Two – Why yes, that IS a massive fighter plane right outside the monastery.
When I got to the bus station to catch what I thought would be the ten o’clock bus to Molyvos, it turns out the bus schedule was completely different from what I had been told it would be. In fact, there were only two places I could go to for day trips from Mytilini. One was Mandamados, home to a very famous monastery.
I had a nice time in Mandamados, but the bus schedule only allowed me a single hour there, so I had just enough time to see the monastery, walk around the town for a bit, and enjoy a small victory over the fact that I managed to describe to the grocer that I wanted only a slice of cheese to eat right now, not the entire block, before hopping on the bus back to Mytilini.
Part Three – Agiasos and Coffee with the Girls
On day two, the run-tastrophe struck, and I felt defeated, drenched and bitterly disappointed. I spent the afternoon finishing my book (OMG THE RED WEDDING) and Skyping with my parents and boyfriend, who provided a lot of much-needed perspective on everything that had happened. It was just what I needed to put my game face on again for the following day, and in return, I was given one of the very best experiences I’ve had in Greece thus far.
As I was essentially forced to do by the limitations of the off-season bus schedule, I headed to Agiasos, a small town on the side of Lesvos’s biggest mountain. It turned out to be a totally authentic, absolutely genuine and wonderfully quirkly little hamlet. Agiasos was a slice of the real Greece, and it was the perfect end to my bizarre little trip to Lesvos.
I spent the first hour wandering around in the freezing cold, enjoying being a total shutterbug and giggling over the quirky peculiarities I found around every corner. Finally, my fingers were freezing from taking pictures, and I was totally jonesing for a Greek coffee. However, every single coffee shop I found was packed with old Greek men–only men. At times like this, the kafenio is absolutely their territory. To have gone in uninvited as a young American woman tourist would have been a huge cross-cultural violation.
Finally, I passed one kafenio that appeared to have women in it. When I went inside, in fact, the only people in the shop were three older women. It was small and sparsely decorated, with a wood stove in the middle and piles of kindling next to it.
The women stopped talking and looked up at me. Unsure if the cafe was supposed to be closed or not, I said, “Er… thelo na ena cafe?” (“I’d like a coffee”). At this, they were delighted! I think they had assumed I was about to ask for directions and leave. They asked what I wanted, and when I said I’d like a Greek coffee with no sugar they were even more delighted. “Sit down,” they said amiably.
When I went to make for a different table, they looked confused. It was then that I realized I was supposed to sit down with them. So I did. The oldest of the women (on the far right in the picture) was the owner of the kafenio, and she brought me my coffee.
And then we talked in Greek for about an hour.
Goodness knows I didn’t understand everything. These women were blessedly unaccustomed to talking with foreigners. They didn’t use a single English word, and even when I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” they didn’t even speak more slowly.
The conversation was slow going, but pleasant and relatively uninterrupted. I explained what I was doing in Greece. They asked if I had any family here, and I said no. We talked about the weather. I showed them some wallet-sized pictures of Montana I keep in my wallet at all times. I heard all about one of their sisters, who lives in Astoria, New York. One of them brought out a big hunk of koulouri, bread covered in sesame seeds, and tore off a large chunk for me.
It was fabulous.
These women were offering me a priceless slice of not only the real Greece, but their real lives. And best of all, they weren’t even trying. They didn’t make a huge show of the fact that I was a foreigner. Rather, they treated me as if they had known me before: they shared their food and coffee with me, and we talked. Nothing more, nothing less.
I left Agiasos with a huge smile on my face, and headed back to Mytilini for a last lunch before going to the airport and coming back home.
While I panicked at first, this trip–all of it, the horrible run, the bizarre bus schedule, the chaos it wreaked on my plans, and the unexpected kindness I found in Agiasos–has both cemented my love of Greece even further and taught me more about the person I want to be. I gained so much from staying flexible, open and observant, and if I had crumpled when my plans did I never would have learned, seen or enjoyed as much as I did. While there are, of course, aspects of it I don’t wish to emulate, the Greek culture is teaching me so much about letting it be, about being less of a hermit, and about joy. I only hope I am able to return the favor in small ways here and there.