Saturday 16 April 2016

Report from Lesbos

Menander Mosaic in Mytilini Museum
As the Pope flies into Lesbos (now Lesvos), I report on my own stay there last week. I was apprehensive given the appalling death toll and continued suffering of the refugees. I was afraid it was insensitive to be visibly enjoying myself in that context.  But I was encouraged by a Greek friend, writing a PhD at SOAS, who has been volunteering in the camps. She insisted that the islanders want life to go on as normally as possible.

Delicious Lake Kalloni Seafood
Arion of Methymna, Lesbos
The flights, hotels and restaurants were eerily empty. The crisis has had a catastrophic effect on the local economy.  If you haven’t booked a holiday yet, do choose the unbelievably beautiful island of poets Sappho, Alcaeus and Arion.  Hotels, restaurants and car hire are inexpensive. You won’t regret it and you will be lending a helping hand.

Eresos High School, south-west Lesbos
The museum in Mytilini is a revelation. Gorgeous mosaics and figurines reflect the ancient islanders’ twin obsessions with fish and theatre. We were the only visitors all morning.

Bust of Theophrastus at Eresos
I went to Lesvos because Aristotle lived there for a while. He researched the zoology of idyllic Lake Pyrrha (now Kalloni), including the ancestors of the cuttlefish (soupies) which we devoured in an excellent but empty restaurant on the marina. We paid homage at Eresos, home town of Aristotle’s friend, the philosopher-botanist Theophrastus. It is a dazzling seaside town where the secondary school is called the Theophrasteion.

Assos with view over to Lesbos
From Lesvos for 10 euros you can get a sturdy return ferry across that tragic, turbulent sea to Ayvalik in Turkey. For a day trip you don’t even need a visa. Then you can travel up the coast to Assos, one of the most impressive archaeological sites I’ve visited. Aristotle spent two years there. You can see Lesvos from the Doric temple of Athena or the wonderful Assos Hellenistic theatre.  

Beware the Prices at this Turkish port cafe
One warning: in the Ayvalik Port CafĂ©, don’t let them cynically overcharge you 8 euros/25 Turkish pounds for an iced coffee.  I was ripped off when the Turkish proprietor figured out I wasn’t Greek but northern European.

One of the Camps as Seen  from the  Mytilini/Ayvalik Ferry
The migrants’ camps are almost all on the north-eastern coast of Lesvos. We could just see the one nearest Mytilini from the Ayvalik ferry. If you want to help, support the bona fide Lesvos Solidarity charity recommended by my expert volunteer friend.  

Lyric Poets of Lesbos Alcaeus & Sappho
And book that Lesvos holiday. Swimming, seafood and ancient history make a superb combination. I witnessed just one bad piece of behaviour in four days. A shopkeeper, presumably a Golden Dawn sympathiser, refused to serve both me and a Syrian woman on the ground that we weren’t Greek. Everyone else was internationalist, hospitable and friendly. The people of Lesvos want to welcome you on holiday. Let’s help them continue to help the refugees.


  1. Thank you for this, it's good to have an alternative view apart from the mainstream media

  2. This was fascinating. Many thanks. As to 8 euros for a cuppa coffee: might be a bargain over Starbucks on most days.