My family has an impeccable sense of timing when it comes to planning vacations, and my first trip to Europe was no exception. We arrived at the Athens International Airport on June 29th, 2011, one of the first major days of planned widespread strikes and riots against the proposed austerity measures. Everyone – from the air traffic controllers to the customs officers to the bus drivers to the metro workers to the ferry workers – was on strike. We thought we’d never get out of that airport to our main destination, Lesvos Island.
Luckily, this turn of events provided us with an unexpectedly wonderful afternoon. We had lots of time to kill, so we rode a taxi to the Acropolis and historical district of Athens and began to explore. We stared in awe at the ancient Acropolis,
found a rock outcrop with birds-eye views of Athens,
walked the winding streets of the surrounding century-old neighborhood,
and ate delicious food at a picturesque restaurant that looked far out of our price range, but actually matched the cost of something as casual as Olive Garden.
At midnight, the ferry departed, as the next day had officially begun and the strike was finally over. What had temporarily seemed like a doomed vacation had become spontaneous and unimaginably more exciting.
After watching a gorgeous sunrise from the deck, we arrived in Mytilini, Lesvos.
At the dock, we were received by our gracious hosts, Dimitra and Vaios. They’re the owners of the hotel we stayed at during our two weeks on Lesvos Island – Madonna Studios at Vatera Beach. Lesvos features many establishments like this, buildings with a few apartment-like rooms and an intimate, community atmosphere. We were invited to dinner at Dimitra and Vaios’ home many nights, and there was an endless supply of delicious locally grown and processed olive oil, homemade apricot preserves, and fresh bread.
Our apartment’s balcony overlooked the expansive beach and distant shorelines of Turkey and Chios, a neighboring Greek island.
Vatera Beach was phenomenal, featuring the clearest water I’d ever seen – allegedly you could see the bottom for over 30 meters.
The shore was lined with clubs that provided guests with drinks, snacks, and convenient shady umbrellas and lounge chairs in the sand.
At night, we would frequent the tavernas, outdoor restaurants that served a plethora of mouthwatering Greek specialties, my favorites being roasted eggplant and fried zucchini.
A short hike from Madonna Studios was Agios Fokas, a lookout point at the end of the stretch of beach. It was situated perfectly to watch the sunset.
When we weren’t relaxing by the beach, our hosts toured us around their favorite sites of Lesvos. It’s home to a variety of enchanting small villages and glorious churches and cathedrals. As Lesvos has the most undeveloped tourism sector of the Greek Isles, its culture has been wholeheartedly maintained, so we experienced a glimpse into authentic Greek life.
Agiasos was my personal favorite, as it had the best of both worlds – a thriving village atmosphere,
and wealth of churches.
Other charming villages included Skala Polichnitos,
Other beautiful churches included the Church of Madonna of the Sweet Kisses in Petra,
St. George's Church in Polichnitos,
Church of Mytilini,
and Chapel of St. Paul in Nifida.
Nifida also had a gorgeous beach.
The main source of tourism for Lesvos is religious pilgrimages to these spiritual spaces. An especially captivating one I participated in was the journey to the Hidden Madonna, in which a small sailboat departs from Vatera Beach, transporting people for a day trip to the offshore cove and shrine of the Hidden Madonna.
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