Coming Ashore For A Day on Lesbos

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' EUROPA 2 at anchor off Mytilene, Greece on the morning of Monday, September 22, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 at anchor off Mytilene, Greece on the morning of Monday, September 22, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Monday, September 22, 2014

Today was our first day of shoreside exploration here onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 as we tendered ashore in Mytiline, Greece for a morning of exploration with the Lesbos Tourism Association. This was, of course, after another stunning breakfast taken out on the stern terrace of The Yacht Club on Deck 9.

Welcome ashore! The crew of EUROPA 2 provide refreshments pierside for guests departing on tours. No need to grab the bottles of water from your suite. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Welcome ashore! The crew of EUROPA 2 provide refreshments pierside for guests departing on tours. No need to grab the bottles of water from your suite. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

So, let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Mytiline is the capital and largest city on the island of Lesbos, which is actually located nearer to the Turkish coast than to the Greek mainland. Of course, those who live on Lesbos – regardless of sex – are referred to as Lesbians. The term ‘lesbian’ is derived from the island and 6th century poet Sappho, who was born around 630 BCE. Her writings detailed her admiration for the female sex (not to mention female independence, which was likewise pretty taboo at the time), and the term stuck as a way to describe either independent women, or simply women who like women. I’m paraphrasing through centuries of history, of course, but that’s more or less how it went. It’s a terminology that has been so problematic for the people of Lesbos that they considered renaming the entire island in 2008. Frankly, the situation hasn’t been helped by North Americans like myself who, despite all my best efforts and attempts at professionalism, are hopelessly unable to suppress a stupid smile – particularly when our tour guide informed us that “Lesbians have more fun.”

Our first stop was the Archaeological Museum of Mytiline - roughly two minutes north of the tender pier. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our first stop was the Archaeological Museum of Mytiline – roughly two minutes north of the tender pier. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Antiquities, such as tile frescoes, sculptures, and other historic works of art are held here. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Antiquities, such as tile frescoes, sculptures, and other historic works of art are held here. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The sheer depth of history in Greece is astonishing. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The sheer depth of history in Greece is astonishing. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Terminology down and giggles quashed, one of the most interesting places we visited in Mytilene was the Castle of Mytilene, which dates back to the Byzantine period. The current castle, which was constructed around the 6th Century, may have even been built atop another, even older castle. It’s conveniently situated on the hillside looking over both the north and south harbours of the city. The north harbour was historically used for trade, while the south harbour – which now boasts ferry docks and tender piers – was formerly used by military only.

Our next stop: the imposing Castle of Mytilene, dating back to the Byzantine period. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our next stop: the imposing Castle of Mytilene, dating back to the Byzantine period. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

To me, fall is the perfect time to visit Mytilene. I can’t imagine coming here during the heat of July; temperatures soared during our visit to the Castle to 27°C (80 Fahrenheit), and there is precious little shade at the castle.

One interesting part of the castle were the ancient baths, located deep underground and still filled with water to this day. Descending below the surface, the temperature dropped a good ten degrees. No doubt this was where any and all important business was conducted in the middle ages, as being topside during the summer months would have baked even the hearty ancient Greeks to a crisp. If the stone walls surrounding these baths could talk, I’m sure they’d have a story or two to tell.

After falling into disrepair, the castle has been steadily restored over the last century. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

After falling into disrepair, the castle has been steadily restored over the last century. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Inside the underground remains...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Inside the underground remains…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

...of the Castle's ancient baths. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

…of the Castle’s ancient baths. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I can't fathom coming here in the summer months - but fall is perfect. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

I can’t fathom coming here in the summer months – but fall is perfect. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The Streets of Mytilene. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The Streets of Mytilene. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Much like in Asia, driving a motorcycle in Mytilene is as much of a skill as it is an art. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Much like in Asia, driving a motorcycle in Mytilene is as much of a skill as it is an art. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Driving south from Mytilene, we also visited the Taxiarches Church between Varia and Neapoli. What looks like “just another” Greek Orthodox Church from the outside is actually most impressive on the inside, with its rows of circular, multicolored windows. The sun shines through these vibrantly-coloured windows and bathes the otherwise dull and sombre interior in swaths of brilliant light. It seems almost parody-like; a juxtaposition of fun and energy that might be found in a nightclub instead of a place of worship.

Further out of town, we stopped at the Taxiarches Greek Orthodox Church...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Further out of town, we stopped at the Taxiarches Greek Orthodox Church…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

...with its bizarre and striking coloured glass. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

…with its bizarre and striking coloured glass. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

EUROPA 2 at anchor, as seen from the Taxiarches Church. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

EUROPA 2 at anchor, as seen from the Taxiarches Church. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Afterwards, we headed for lunch at the Hotel Heliotrope, located just north of Mytilene International Airport. Of course, in North America it would just be “lunch.” In Greece, lunch – like most meals – is a cause for ouzo-soaked celebration, good conversation, and fantastic food. I must be part Greek somehow; the food in Greece is, without exception, out-of-this-world good, and the veritable feast we enjoyed at the Hotel Heliotrope did not disappoint.

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Our Live Voyage Report onboard Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ EUROPA 2 continues tomorrow as we arrive in Volos, Greece! Be sure to follow along on twitter by following @deckchairblog or the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.

 

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