Seafood and icy ouzo on Lesvos island

In my mind the Greek island Lesbos (Lesvos, both transcriptions are valid) will always remain the homeland of ouzo drink and the freshest seafood I’ve ever tasted. The island is much closer to the Turkish shore, than to the Greek one and has been several times handovered between Greece and Turkey. Unfortunately, it lately became popular as a refugee distribution spot. A comfortable temporary stop for those dangerous inflatable boats, moving illegally from Syria via Turkey to Greece.

Lesbos island from the plane

Before the refugee wave, Lesbos (Lesvos) was a peaceful rocky land in the heart of the Aegean Sea, reachable by the ferry, leaving from the Turkish city of Ayvalik. One way ticket per adult is 15 Euro (no vehicle included). The ferry ride is about an hour. The island also has a cute small airport, providing convenient connection with the mainland. Could be fun, because I arrived by ferry, but left the island by plane.

A typical Mytilini narrow street

The capital of the island Mytilini is the first insular spot, welcoming the ferry arrivals. A small cozy bay, overcrowded by boats, surrounded by ancient buildings. It looks very quiet and laid back. No one rushes to nowhere. The time is an optional dimension here and no one is expected to come, meet or deal at sharp time.

Ouzo

Plenty of motorbikes – the usual transport on Lesvos, could be seen around.  I saw the rocky and grassy at that moment island like a piece of the 19th or early 20th century (if you ignore the ferries). Everything is simple and easy to maintain. The same are the relations on the island. Nothing complicated, people wake up with the sun, follow their routine, but never forget to enjoy the food and the alcohol.

You are probably aware of, the Greeks in general are very proud of their national drink ouzo. They say the ouzo makes the spirit. It’s a mix from grapes remains, already pressed during the prior wine production. The Ouzo is usually flavoured by spices like anise, mint and coriander. The local ouzo Plomari of Lesbos is known for having cork supplements in addition. The islanders believe the best and the most authentic ouzo ever could be found only on Lesbos island.

Mytilini marina

On Lesbos the ability of drinking ouzo properly is considered a pure art. It can’t be just poured into the mouth. The ouzo drinking process should be accompanied by a local mezze (or mezedes). Mezze could be everything from salad, stewed meat and vegetables to koukia (beans), meatballs, cheese and fried fish. It’s nearly criminal to order ouzo without mezedes. For not breaking the local drinking standards, the waiter serves mezze along with the glass or bottle of ouzo, without asking for order or permission.

Drinking ouzo could take hours. Lesbos residents reveal the secret combination:  the art of drinking + properly eating + not rushing = would never get drunk. Which is the best ouzo on Lesbos? The answer usually is Barbayannis. No one can prove how old is the ouzo drink and when its production started on Lesbos island. The simple statement is :”We have always been here, have always been drinking wine, so have always used the grapes remains for making ouzo”.  The meaning is – the ouzo is as old as the Lesbos habitants.

Mytilini

The locals  would prefer their island to be linked to the ouzo fame, instead of to the myth of the ancient Greek lyric poet Sappho, who was born and raised on the island. Most of her poems are lost, but she has been admired as a talented poet. She is unlikely popular for her poems, but left another legacy. Sappho made her homeland Lesbos well known mostly for her questionable sexuality. Some sources claim, she was married and even had a daughter. At the same time the legend tells Sappho has organised and managed a school for young ladies, teaching them poetry and literature, practicing homosexuality. The female homosexuals have been named Lesbians after Lesbos island.

The Mytilini fortress

The other ancient feature on the island is the Fortress of Mytilini. It’s stunning and should be intentionally visited. Built in the 6th century and developed during the Middle ages, it’s a huge, well preserved castle, located on the top of the highest rock of Mytilini. Owned by Romans, Byzantines, Venetians and Ottomans, every culture and style left a touch over the Fortress. Building additional towers, amphitheaters, or simply rebuilding it after terrible earthquakes, the rotating castle’s owners modified it to a unique structure. Because of its strategic location, the Fortress had military character for a long time. Now it’s mostly a sightseeing, also home for the local summer festivals.

After all the sightseeing tours and tiring insular walks, the sunset is the perfect timing for sitting on the shore for a beer or two. My absolutely favourite time of the day. The Breeze chills, incredible sunset sea view, accompanied by the local Mythos beer. Very idilic! As an extra comes the freshest ever grilled octopus, smoky and crispy. Or the fragile hot fried calamares (squid). I am drooling only by remembering it. The seafood is incomparable on Lesbos. Whatever you order it, everything was just caught, not having time to get outdated. Highly recommend the octopus meals!!!

Mytilini beach

Let me add a few words about the beach on Lesbos. It’s not that attractive, if you are looking for endless thin sand. A bit rocky and rough, but with spirit and character. The experience on the city beach of Mytilini was extremely cheap. 2 Euro entrance and the sun bed + umbrella are for free. The only condition is at least a drink to be ordered from the bar. I took a huge cup of Frappe (icy Greek cappuccino for additional 2 Euro) and was allowed to stay for the day.  Pretty affordable! The luxury is not the exact background of Lesbos, but the island is charming and authentic, with lots of sentiments and typical Greek wooden decoration. I just hope that quiet place of icy ouzo and delicious seafood would keep its atmosphere as long as it takes. Yiassou!

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