Week 175: Mytiline to Athens

Our son Jasper arrives in Mytiline and we explore more of the island before heading off to Athens to get ready for New Years Eve.

Week 175: Mytiline to Athens
With Jasper in the thermal baths on Lesvos. There are ancient baths beneath, but this infinity pool is fed with the same warm spring water and only costs an extra €2

It's hard to put into words just how excited we are to see our son Jasper and, even more importantly, get to spend some time with him! He left home (when we were back in the US) at the start of COVID-19, having turned 18 only a few months before to head to Australia. With lockdowns and distance, since that time, we've only been able to see him once briefly in the US for Ella's graduation, back in May 2022. It's taken another 18 months to finally get together again. He's grown from a young 18-year-old to now almost 22. It's been a long few years. So, of course, his first flight was cancelled due to an aircraft fault, and we had to wait another 24 hours for him to finally arrive!

Before he arrived, it was Christmas. It's interesting being in a mixed cultural community, for a lot of Europeans it's Christmas Eve that is more significant. One of the couples here at the marina organised some mulled wine, and we all gathered to share food and stories for a few hours.

Gathered on the dock in 18C drinking hot wine....

Instead of waking up on Boxing Day to collect Jasper, we had some unexpected time to ourselves, so instead, we chose to drive around a bit more of Lesvos and explore. There's a very intact section of aqueduct here, built by the Romans. It's only about 150 meters left, but originally, it stretched almost 17 kilometres, carrying water from the mountains to the town of Mytiline.

Then we drove off to Agiasos, which is a famous mountain village and worth visiting to wander the streets. It has a very good network of signs that let you know all the details you could wish for about the buildings you see. Just the thing for someone who is insatiably curious.

A feature of Agiasos is the "hostels" everywhere, large hotels that are surprising for such a small town. This is all to do with the role of Agiasos in the Byzantine church and pilgrimages. To summarise, toward the end of the 8th century, there were wars within the church about the use of icons (the Iconoclasm). Iconoclasts felt the worshiping of religious icons was wrong, Iconophiles believed they were a valid part of worship and venerated them. The Greek Orthodox church is very much on the side of the Icons.

Irene of Athens was the Byzantine Empress Consort to Emperor Leo IV, then eventually ruled as the Empress of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine Empire) until exiled to Lesvos. She was a famous Iconophile, and so the Priest of Palaces, under her successor, also an Iconophile, decided to come to Lesvos to meet with her. He bought with him (stole?) a piece of the True Cross, an Icon of the Madonna and the Holy Infant, a manuscript Gospel and other holy relics.

Nothing to do with Agiasos. Jasper brought us a collection of Japanese treats, which made their way into the snack drawer for this week in Athens.

On his arrival, he found that Irene had died. Still, it didn't stop him from setting up shop near Agiasos and then revealing to the locals that the Icon of Madonna had been painted (apparently) by Luke the Evangelist (that Luke, as in Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, the authors of the New Testament). Now, you have a thriving monastery and a pilgrimage site.

Today, the icons still remain, although it's now the third church erected on the site. It's a revered site of pilgrimage, and in the lead-up to August 15th every year, people from all over Lesvos walk to Agiasos and stay in the hostels and camp in the churchyard. I'm not sure how they account for these things, but purportedly, two pilgrimages to Agiasos are worth one pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Finally, on Wednesday morning, Jasper arrived from Athens, and we got to see him again! In some ways, it feels like he's never left, but in others, he's changed a lot too. We've loved getting to know him again and spending time with him.

Has to be gyros for lunch on the first day!

We walked around Mytiline and let him rest up after the long trek from Tokyo. On Thursday, we drove to an Olive Mill and Museum to learn all about olive oil production (way more interesting than it sounds!). Probably the most fascinating part for me was that it's all small batch pressings – local farmers bring in their own olives, and the press has to track it from start to finish. Lesvos has around 11 million trees, of which only half are able to be harvested.

Friday, it was off to the Thermal Springs at Gera, and we soaked and relaxed in the warm waters overlooking the gulf for an hour. After soaking and warming up, we all decided we should go for a swim in the gulf, a rude shock to the system; although the water was supposed to be about 18C, it felt much colder. After warming up again, we headed back to Matilda. Another big walk around the port, and before you know it, we were off on the plane to Athens on Saturday morning.

Saturday was spent running around and shopping (holidays coming up) and making sure that we had enough food for five adults because Ella and Inge will be joining us from Norway tonight for New Year's Eve.

Athens was really busy on Saturday.

It's been a fantastic week, one we've really enjoyed, and we're so excited to be able to spend such a decent amount of time with our kids all together after such a long time apart. The rest of this week is family time, a bit of shopping, hanging out together, playing games, exploring Athens and heading to Nafplion for next weekend.

I've been meaning to buy this Måneskin album for Karina for Christmas for a while and finally found a copy today in Athens.

Happy New Year, or as they say in Greece, καλή χρονιά (Kali Chronia)

Until next time,

Tim & Karina

PS I wrote a blog article for NoForeignLand about buying a boat. It just went live today. I based it on a section of my book Footloose: Or How to Run Away to Sea and I was surprised just how much change I wanted to make. They say books are never finished, just abandoned, and it's interesting to see how if I were to write the same thing today, how differently I'd want to do it. All this writing is certainly making me fussier anyway!