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Mytilini


Mytilini is not a town. It's a city. But it is an amazing little city full of life and surprises and if you are someone with a long history in Greece it may actually remind you of Athens or Piraeus in the fifties. Like other great cities Mytilini is built upon seven hills and is full of history. Mytilini is in fact one of the most culturally enlightened city in Greece perhaps due to its proximity to the coast of Asia Minor where the ancient Greeks flourished until 1922 when they were forcefully evicted by the Turks. Many of these Greeks had property in Mytilini and many Mytilinians had businesses in Asia Minor. For this reason the museums are full of interesting remnants of the last three thousand years of history and the town itself contains monuments, houses, churches, schools and other buildings from the various historical periods. But it is the Mytilini of today that holds the most interest for many because it is a small and manageable city full of great restaurants, cafes, nightlife and friendly, intelligent people.

When you arrive by boat at 7 in the morning it is quiet. The city spreads from the large harbor up into the hills behind it and is crowned by an enormous castle whose foundations were laid during the time of Justinian on the ruins of an even more ancient fortification. This castle is surrounded by a pine forest that reaches down to the shore and the public beach. In the summertime the castle is used for performances of traveling groups of musicians, theater, opera and music and art festivals. In fact it is one of the best places to hear a concert in Greece. The castle is well worth a trip and a walk around the promontory will give you a whole new perspective of the city because it is like being out in the wilderness with horses and donkeys grazing on the hills that lead up to the fort. If you continue to the back side of the city you will come to the old bordellos and the old harbor.

The waterfront comes alive with traffic by 8 and stays that way until just after 1 pm when the stores close and everyone goes home for lunch and siesta. By early evening the city is alive again with activity. This is not your typical quiet Greek island village but it is certainly a very entertaining place. The main street is lined with cafes that seem to be full year round. For the rest of the island Mytilini is the big city. Smaller villages send their children here for high-school. People come from all over the island to do their shopping since there are super-markets in the true sense of the word, with aisle after aisle of products, imported and domestic. There are cultural activities, concerts of all styles of music, basketball tournaments, an indoor swimming pool and of course the city is the center of island Government, not only for Lesvos but for Lemnos too.

The marketplace is one of the most active in Greece with shops of every variety and closed to automobile traffic while the stores are open. There is ample evidence of the plentiful fish in Lesvos waters and prices are low. When I arrive by ferry in the early morning I usually spend an hour or so wandering around, checking out the fish and buying sardeles pastes or pastrama (dried spiced beef-like pastrami) to bring as gifts to my friend Tryphon to serve with ouzo in his cafeneon on the far side of the island. It is hard to imagine a more interesting way to spend a morning and the shops contain a variety of items that you won't find anywhere else and to me are more entertaining than a museum. If you require strong coffee to get you going to the small traditional looking cafe right across the street from the yogurt shop (that has the best yogurt in the world). It is called the Musico Cafeneon and it is on the corner of Komninaki street. if you are just getting off the boat it is a great place to gather your thoughts and drink an espresso or two. The owner is a woman named Martina and she or one of her staff can answer any questions you have upon arrival. If you are staying in the city, day or night it is a great place to hang out.

There is a line of fish tavernas on the far side of the harbor and of these, the last one called Stratos is particularly good and is where we go but the others are also good as some of my readers and frequent visitors to the island have told me . The city itself is a maze of small streets that defies drivers to find their way out once they have venured in too deeply. Behind the town is the ancient harbor which used to be connected to the new harbor by a canal. The city sits upon the site of the ancient city and traces of a shipyard, remains of the ancient agora and fragmentary sections of the Roman aqueduct are located at Apano Skala near the old harbor.

In the middle of the harbor connected by a narrow causeway lined with fishing boats is a small cafe-ouzerie which is one of the finest places to sit, have an ouzo and a mezedes and watch the ships leave for Athens at sunset. In the afternoon it is full of old fishermen, making lures as they drink their coffee or ouzo. It's a fine vantage point to watch the lights of the city come on as darkness appoaches. Scattered thoughout the city are cafeneons that serve ouzo and excellent mezedes. Which are the best? The most crowded ones of course so wander around til you hear loud voices and music and if you see a large number of tables and old men smoking and talking you are on the right track. If they are singing then you have stumbled upon someplace special.

There are many churches of interest and also renowned neo-classical mansions scattered throughout the city, particularly in the old aristocratic neighborhoods. Mytilinii has been a prominent intellectual center in the Aegean from ancient times to the present. As evidence are the nearby Theophilos and Teriade Museums which contain collections that any gallery in the world would be honored to have in their possession. One of the most interesting neighborhoods is the area between the waterfront and the castle with a mixture of old Turkish houses and mansions.

There are banks, tourist agencies, car rental offices, and shops of every type. The accommodations and entertainment facilities in the city and suburbs, which are surrounded by greenery and located by the sea, have every modern convenience. Many of the hotels are on the road to the airport and if you are staying there a car is helpful though the city's bus service can keep you from feeling isolated and taxis are cheap.

Many people stay out there because of the beaches which are right across the street. But if you are a city person you may want to stay at one of the hotels that is in the center. Visiting all the sights and the museums but especially wandering around the city, the market and the neighborhoods, gives one the knowledge and understanding of a place that is truly Greek.

 

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