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Summer 2006 | Isle of Lesbos

Summer 2006 | Isle of Lesbos

The island that gave lesbians their name continues its Sapphic tradition in the 21st century.

First let me say that yes, the isle of Lesbos is a real place. When I first told people that I was going there they looked at me like "I'm going to the isle of Lesbos" was code for something else. It's real, it's beautiful, and it is in fact the birthplace of 6th-century b.c. poet Sappho, famous for her school for girls and her verses about loving women. Sappho, as in Sapphic, as in lesbionic. Alas, there is nothing left of Sappho but the hill where she had her famous school--and a lot of lesbians.

But let me backtrack. Earlier in the week I spent a few days in Mykonos, the Greek island best known for its gay male revelry. If it's boys, boys, boys you want, this is the place. Alex, my young and sexy multilingual tour guide from Sensations Holidays (see Essentials Links), took us out on the town every night we were there, and while we lesbians went home at 2, Alex would stay out until 5 or 6. When we begged him to show us the lesbian hangouts, he reluctantly took us to a place called Diva, where there were four lesbians, one of whom was the bartender and one of whom was from my neighborhood in Los Angeles. Boo. The next day Alex took us to one of the world's most famous beaches, Super Paradise, where the music pumps so loud you can barely hear yourself and everyone is partying their nuts off at noon on a Tuesday.

Things to know about the Greek islands: The water is clear blue and warm and beautiful. There are no street signs. Almost everyone speaks some English, and even those with minimal fluency are so willing to work with you. It makes being here pretty damn easy. But be warned: The Greeks love to talk politics and hate George Bush, and if you are American, they will talk to you like you raised the man. Even if you say you didn't vote for him and you are ashamed of what he's done, even if you nod and agree…they want to give you a piece of their mind. Prepare yourself.

From Mykonos we took a small plane to Lesbos. Located in the northeastern Aegean Sea, mountainous Lesbos, with a population of approximately 110,000, is Greece's third-largest island and the Greek island closest to Turkey. And yes, a "Lesbian" is someone from Lesbos or, in Greek, Lesvos. However, residents are more often called "Lesvonians," and many islanders say they are from Mytilene, the capital, rather than Lesbos. In fact, many travel agencies refer to the island as Mytilene to avoid any homo stigma (surprise, surprise).

We arrive in Mytilene, where about a third of the population resides and where the passenger ferries from other islands dock. Here a large statue of Sappho watches over everything. The town, like most places in this part of the world, has a long history, having been founded in 1050 b.c. Beyond our girl Sappho, Aristotle and Epicurus also hung out here, making the place a traditional center of art and philosophy.

It's a two-hour drive across the island to the beachside town of Eressos, which, being the birthplace of Sappho, lesbians tourists have been flocking to since the '50s. Already Lesbos is distinct from Mykonos in its greenery--it's much more lush, and has even prettier water, if one could imagine. Olive trees are everywhere--something like 11 million of them cover nearly 40% of the island. Agriculture is still important to the island's economy despite ever more lesbian dollars being spent here every tourist season (which is roughly from May to October--don't come at any other time, since the place practically boards itself up in winter).

The drive to Eressos is harrowing--winding narrow roads around the sides of mountains, few lights, sparse road signs, and various creatures darting out into the road (cats, rabbits, and squirrel-like creatures). We arrive at our accommodations, Heliotopos Apartments, to find our key under the mat, as was promised. No front desk here, and no room service, but it's a beautiful tucked-away property full of trees and flowers, and it's within walking distance of the beach and the main strip that makes up the town of Eressos. Hungry, we drive toward town. It's 11 at night, and as we drive we start to see clusters of lesbians coming the other way.

The first place we find is a beautiful restaurant at the entrance to the town, where a table of rowdy dykes is finishing up dinner. Eavesdropping tells us they are German. The owner greets us with open arms, literally, and serves us dinner. Did I mention the food in Greece is outrageously delicious--and not expensive? Greek wines are amazing. Plus, there's roasted haloumi cheese, spinach pie, Greek salad, and super tasty pizzas of all kinds. Two young tattooed and pierced Dutch lesbians walk by and we end up giving them a ride back to their hotel. One of them is in the army. This is their third visit to Lesbos and they love it.

So a typical day in Eressos goes like this: You wake up early and walk to the main strip, which is along the beautiful beach. Lesbians are milling around everywhere, and there are the ubiquitous clusters of older Greek men sitting in the taverns talking politics. They seem to be in harmony with the visible lesbian population. Sit down at any one of the many restaurants on the beach and drink the strongest freakin' coffee you will ever have in your life. (You may have to start drinking alcohol soon after to counterbalance the jitters.) Scary dead octopi hang from many of the restaurants' awnings, so unless that sounds yummy to you don't look. At the lesbian-owned Sappho Restaurant, where the inviting open-air seating and comfy couches make you want to while away the day, there is a poetry reading in the garden once a week, and the clientele is almost exclusively lesbian. I will note that I never encountered a single American while I was on Lesbos. The foreigners were British, Dutch, Danish, German, Australian, New Zealander, Swedish, and Italian. Oh! And cats. There are cats everywhere. Rare is the meal where a cat won't come up and beg for food. I was shooing them away until I saw the owners and staff feeding them, and then I realized it's just the way here. Isle of Lesbos, tons of cats. Makes perfect sense to me.

Then you're off to the beach. You pay a few euros to rent a chair and umbrella for the day, and little stands nearby serve beer and sodas and make these delicious toasted sandwiches. Of course, most women are topless, but that's just Europe. The lesbians aren't so much in full force here, but if you go all the way to the end of the beach, it's a whole different scene. There you will find what amounts to a camp of sorts, and it's populated mostly by lesbians. There are no chairs, but just up toward the road is the lovely Kantina Moon, a kind of beach shack turned restaurant owned by a Greek-Italian lesbian couple with a huge parrot. There is no bathroom, and most of the customers have been sleeping on the beach for weeks--this is roughing it. Still, you really could kill the entire day here--the beer is cold, the hammock is inviting, and you can run down to the beach, jump in, run back, and barely miss a beat. The water is deliciously warm and clear, and this part of the beach truly feels like a well-kept lesbian secret. It doesn't have a name--just ask the nearest local lesbian where you can find Kantina Moon.

There is a whole population of permanent lesbian residents in Eressos. They seem to run the town, and they all know each other. The Tenth Muse bar boasts outdoor tables and high visibility of passersby, whereas the Mill is the last bar on the strip, with a beautiful terrace right on the sea. One of the owners is usually DJing. A rowdy group of Australians who got us into a drinking game there one night told us that they have been coming here for 10 years. One night we were invited to a women's football (read: soccer) game between the full-timers and the tourists. All of the regulars from the various bars came and yelled from the sidelines of the high-school playing field. The tourists had some secret-weapon professional Danish player on their team, so the full-timers lost, but not without a good old-fashioned lesbo display of sportiness.

If you get bored with lesbian shenanigans, take a trip around the island. We drove to Molivos, a town that is famous for being built virtually into the side of a mountain. One day we drove to a town on the map called Apothekia, where there was literally nothing but one tavern and a pier with boats. We sat there and drank cheap bottles of white wine and watched a lone, perfectly tanned and toned Greek fisherman sit on the dock and make a net. It seemed totally staged. There are also castles to explore, tiny churches everywhere, crazy drives to take (get a real vehicle if you want to explore--the roads can be treacherous once you leave the coastline), a petrified Sequoia forest (the world's second-largest), and many monasteries.

I left Lesbos feeling like I wanted to stay there for several weeks and really get into the rhythm of the lifestyle--you know, stir up some dyke drama and see if I can get the bars to stay open past 2. The locals tell me that, being there in June, I wasn't seeing the half of it lesbian-wise. And they wanted to know "Where are all the Americans?" Ladies?

ESSENTIALS: LESBOS

ACCOMMODATIONS
(All establishments are in Skala Eressos.) Heliotopos (Call Eressos Travel for reservations: 011-30-225-104-2746) is a beautiful property within walking distance from the beach and main strip of Skala Erresos. Rooms are available with kitchens and maid service. Bike rentals are also available (or just bike borrow--the owners are very informal). Mascot Hotel (011-30-225-305-3520) is a newly remodeled women-only hotel located five minutes from the beach, with balconies and room service--in general, a much more upscale experience. The secluded and charming Antiopi Hotel (11-30-225-305-3311) is women-only in the summer high season (mid-June through mid-September) but open to gay men otherwise. Owners Teresa and Alex--a lesbian couple--recently renovated the property to include a roof terrace with full bar. Visit Eressos Travel for more hotels and information.

RESTAURANTS AND BARS
There are no big clubs in Skala Erresos--to "go out" is to eat and drink well an intimate setting. You'll find the top three places for women on the one main strip in this very small beachside town. The lesbian owned-and-operated Sappho Restaurant, a buffet-style restaurant with authentic Greek specialties, offers the most mellow scene, featuring poetry readings once a week in a lovely garden. Patrons of the Tenth Muse (011-30-225-305-3287) engage in a lot more drinking than eating. Popular drinks include the cappuccino cocktail, the caipurinia, and the mojito--but when you're ready to sober up, try their "chunky" Greek salad, a delicious crepe, or a scoop of kaimaki ice cream. Friday nights are theme nights--past events have included the Pink Party, the White Party, the Mad Hat Party, and Latin American night. They can even host same-sex commitment ceremonies. The last business on the strip is The Mill, a very romantic bar with a terrace that extends to the sea. On a typical night, one of the owners will be DJing.

TOUR OPERATORS
Lesbian-owned Sappho Travel, located in the middle of Skala Eressos, offers a wide range of special-interest travel services and women-only itineraries, including sunset cruises, scuba diving, and hikes to Sappho's hill. They can also assist with accommodations, car rental, flights, and ferries. Gay-owned Sensations Holidays offers packages for gay men to nearby Mykonos, including economical air-hotel packages, personalized service with gay guides, and all-gay accommodations.

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