I am just back from spending some time in Mytilini, a mountian village on the island of Samos, Greece. Samos is located a mile off the Turkish coast. This is the second time I have spent over four weeks there. I have a friend who has house in Mytilini and I feel fortunate to be able to live in a real house rather than tourist accommodations. Samos is an island that Americans seem to ignore unless they have relatives here. Most visitors are from Northern Europe and they gather in the seaside towns and resorts.
Mytilini is a mountian village and tends to mostly bring in visitors who are seeing family. It is in a beautiful location with friendly and helpful people. We felt very welcome there. The whole country is having a hard time economically and many people have had their salaries or pensions cut in half through no fault of their own. It is a good time to visit Greece as they can certainly use the economic input from visitors. The visit will also be rewarding as the country is beautiful, the weather excellent, the people welcoming, and the prices are reasonable. In this first post I am going to describe Mytilini a bit and then there will be two more with images from the town.
The island of Samos has a very long history dating back before the 8th century BC with many waves of settlement. One local site mentions that: “The first settlers in the village of Mytilini on Samos originate from Lesbos. They arrived here around 1700 as immigrants and founded the village after an earthquake destroyed their houses on the island of Lesbos. Mytilini is set in a plain and is surrounded by agricultural fields where mainly grapes are grown for the making of wine and also some tobacco. Mytilini has about 2500 inhabitants, so it is quite large compared to some of the other villages on the island. Still it makes a very quiet impression and there are hardly any tourists here.”
Below is an overview of the town from the east and from above it at sunset. The mountain in the distance in the sunset picture is in Turkey, only a mile from the eastern tip of Samos island.
The town square is the main gathering place, along with the long main street that runs straight through town unlike the twisting and turning roads found in many villages. In the square there are several large screen TVs for sports events. While we there in September the European basketball and football championships were going on. It rarely rains in the summer so the TVs are safe outside. We heard live music in the square on several occasions with dancing. For big festivals people come from other smaller villages to join in the celebration, music and food. Several good restaurants serve the square. There is also a smaller square right on the main street seen below in the early morning before it gets populated. One night we heard a rock and roll duo there.
The local movie theater is unlike anything in the US. It has a very neighborhood feel like most things here. People chat and have drinks before hand. It is outdoors in a walled garden with tables next to the chairs. You can order food and drinks to have while watching the movie. You can also see the stars overhead. Most movies are in English with Greek subtitles and there are two intermissions. We had souvaki with fried potatoes and wine. At the last intermission we enjoyed some wonderful complementary fried beignet type pastries with honey. They are called Lukomates. I am making a painting of them. The day time picture shows the wall from the outside and you can see the top of the screen in the back.
Shops on the long main street include the super market with both food and household items. Next to it is an excellent produce store with fresh fruits and vegetables of all types, as well as a large variety of nuts. There are many other shops on the main street covering a wide variety of goods and servcies, as well as a music club primarily for young people.
Commerce also occurs form the backs of trucks that drive through town. We bought fresh fish several times from a man who comes through right in front of our house every morning but Sunday with a loud speaker announcing his catch. You can see his truck on our street at the bottom of this group of pictures (just before the fish he sells) and he serves as an alarm clock. The village church bells also chime on the hour and half hour. Below you can also see a cheese seller in the town square. In addition, there is an excellent bakery just around the corner from where we stayed. It was easy to run out for a crossiant or other breakfast pastry. Below you can see their bread just out of the oven as well as the store front. Near the bakery is another small square served by a single tavern that has three sitting places that always seems to have some people regardless of the time of day.
You can also see a fish that we purchased from the man in the truck ready to be cleaned. We grilled it and the fish was delicious. We also cleaned and grilled calamari we obtained from the truck along with fresh eggplant. We found a YouTube video on how to clean calamari as this was a new experience for us.
At the end of World War Two Mytilini had about 7,000 inhabitants. During the four year civil war between the Communists who fought in the resistance and the exiled prior government, the population dropped to about 2,000. There was little work and people went elsewhere, often to other countries. As a result about half the houses in the town are abandoned. Those that are lived in are very well cared for but they are often located next to falling down houses. The houses are built right next to each other and often share a common wall to reduce the amount of construction.
The house we lived in was abandoned but then restored by my friend and his wife. It was built by his wife's grandparents. The houses on either side were abandoned. They purchased one and tore it down to create a parking space and enlarge their garden. You can see examples of houses in great shape and abandoned ones below. The streets are painted with flowers to celebrate Easter and these paintings stay throughout the year. There is some renovation being done on abandoned houses despite the bad economy. It should pick up when the economy turns. There are many more examples of homes in the next two blog posts.
Above the town, it is very rural with goats, olives groves, and a few donkeys. We often went for walks there, either in the early morning or at sunset. You can also see the town football field which is on the western side of the town. The local football season runs from the end of September to May as it is too hot in the summer. The teams from towns on the island play each other. The champion of the island then plays the champions from other islands.