We arrived by ferry on the island of Lesvos (Mytolini) Monday evening, sans guidebook or map. Customs was the easiest yet, we walked right through, and as there were fewer than 30 people on our ferry, there was barely a line.
Mytolini appeared to be a nice port town at first glance, though we quickly tired in our search for a hotel (we walked by 2 without even seeing them – they like big signs on the roof, but lack in little signs by the door). We finally found a room, paid too much for what we got (it’s a port town, and the hotel was right near the harbour – we didn’t know where else to look). By morning, we realized that it’s as nice a little town as it appeared – for 25,000 people, the traffic is insane!! We had trouble crossing even little side streets! At one point a nice local man helped us across… awwww. The town is also littered with vaguely marked one way streets, which made for a fun time getting out of town once we rented a car.
Yes, renting a car. It turns out that without an International or EU driver’s license, it costs an additional €12.50/day for insurance. We didn’t think we would want to rent a car before we left, so we didn’t bother with the International license. Oops. It is really frustrating, though, it’s not like having one proves that we are better drivers, only that we paid money to get another piece of paper. It’s entirely bureacratic. Oh well, didn’t stop us from getting a car.
So we rented a car, got a map from the rental agency, and headed off. The roads on the island are very windy, as it is quite mountainous, and once you get off the main road, there’s little way of knowing what shape the road will be in – the map was rather inaccurate on that front. We got a little lost on the first day, trying to understand how the signs work (there is no international standard on road signs, unfortunately), but we found our way again, and decided on a small sea-side town (Petra!) to bunk in for 3 nights. It was a lucky choice – it has a beautiful beach, with cafes and restaurants across the road, and we found a nice little pension with kitchenette for only €25/night, a much better price than the 48 we paid in Mytolini. The town is also just a few km from the real resort town up the hill, and appears to cater more to independent travelers – no tour groups, no big fancy private beach resorts, and even the beach was set up in a practical way- the beach is public, you pay only if you choose to use the chairs and umbrellas. It was also quite nice because there were no young hot-bodied show-offs – young families, retirees, couples like ourselves… I didn’t feel the least bit self-concious. Although, it was our first experience at a top-optional beach (I get the impression that most beaches in Greece are). It was different, but just because we aren’t used to it. The water was fantastic! I’m not a huge beach person (having grown up on the prairies and all!), but it was nice to spend an afternoon reading on the beach, going for a swim whenever it got too hot.
We spent a couple of days driving around the island, trying to find whatever sites of interest might exist. This proved to be a bit of a challenge, as whatever signs do exist are primarily in Greek, and while we can read a little bit of Greek, we can’t read a lot. The signs also aren’t very clear, and the book that we ended up buying (there don’t appear to be any Lonely Planets, or Let’s Gos, or Frommers’ anywhere on the island, so we bought a local book) wasn’t very helpful. Lots of pictures, lots of suggestions, no directions. So we would drive through a town knowing that there are supposedly some neat carved graves in the area, but there are no signs, and we don’t know where to look. We were able to find an ancient stone bridge, and the Petrified Forest (dad might have liked that one), and the associated museum. It was quite the drive to the other side of the island, and it ran my nerves a little short (Neil drove, as I can’t drive a standard) – Neil’s a good driver, I’m not such a good passenger. The roads are very windy, filled with hairpin turns, few shoulders, sometimes fast cars, big trucks. The traffic wasn’t actually that bad most of the time, just that you can’t often see more than 200 or 300 m ahead, so you never really know what’s coming. But we managed, pulled a few fancy turnarounds in some tight corners, explored a few dirt roads, and managed to get nought but dirt on the car.
What have we been enjoying about Greece? We’re officially back in the Western world – dairy! We’ve been eating lots of cheese (Feta!), drinking milk (chocolate), even yogurt (strawberry!). Though Nescafe is still an option, so is filtered coffee. and I’ve been enjoying my filtered coffee. Sorry, the Nescafe just wasn’t cutting it. It appears so far that kitchenettes, or in the very least fridges, are more common in Greece, which helps us save money, even if just eating leftovers for breakfast. We did manage to cook a couple of meals in Petra, though basic. And cereal! We found a pack of mini cereal boxes, and since pasteurized milk is readily available (and a fridge to store it in), we indulged. Bacon and ham and eggs! After 2 months, we’ve finally found some bacon. Several times.
We are now waiting for a ferry to take us to the island of Mikonos, where tomorrow we will catch another ferry to the island of Naxos – both are in the group of isles known as the Cyclades. There are few ferry options from Lesvos, unfortunately, but we kind of knew that when we decided to come here. We wanted an option that might have fewer (package) tourists.
That’s all I can think of for now. We’re really enjoying the atmosphere, the food, the people (generally quite friendly), though the temperature is starting to rise. It’s going to be hot for us for the next month. Great for spending time on the beach, but there’s only so much of that we can do. Hopefully we have better luck in Mikonos or Naxos in finding a real guide book, in the very least it gives us ideas and directions for finding stuff.
Tags: Cairo to Budapest and Beyond, Greece