I don’t blame you if you are asking this question yourselves (ergo the map). I have become an expert in the messy Cyclades topography only by travelling myself to those dots in the Aegean. Somehow, Kythnos – the birthplace of my maternal grandmother – had passed me by. Until now.
I was shocked. Kythnos, though close to Athens, is one of the time-stood-still islands so beloved by travel roundups (of the style The Ten Most Romantic Spots Beginning With A Voiceless Velar Plosive).
Shock #1 came when I rented a car upon arrival: no credit cards accepted. (It wasn’t an isolated episode. Not even hotels or restaurants will accept any; there simply is no network). How about ATMs? Only two on the whole island, both in the port area within spitting distance of each other (if ATMs could spit, of course).
Shock #2 came when I checked the petrol and it was empty. That in itself is not strange as you don’t get a full tank when you rent a car in Greece, but the answer to my question regarding finding a petrol station was. “There are two on the island on the way to the capital Hora, but they will be closed now” – 10pm. That left me with a slight problem, which was solved by typical Greek ingenuity: the helpful rent-a-car employee siphoned off a gallon of petrol from a motorbike nearby and put it in my tank. I think the bike was his, or so I hope.
As for shock #3: the hilly, winding, unlit road to Loutra took me first to the heights of Hora. At a bus stop just before the town, I asked the way. The people there showed me a sharp bend down. “Where’s the sign?” I asked. “There’s no sign” they replied. Next day I checked in the light of day. There was a sign to Loutra. But it was cunningly hidden behind a bush.
Maybe I’m a fool, or a romantic, but I love these quirks of Kythnos for they remind me of a time long gone, when travelling to the Cyclades would be part holiday, part adventure and part blind fury. I only get so het up and annoyed nowadays in South America.
You see, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to grit your teeth in globalized Greece – a Greece that Germany and Finland try to convert to, well, at least.. Holland.
Well, my grandma certainly wasn’t Dutch.
Let’s put it mildly: however they try, Kythnos will gleefully resist all attempts to make it efficient, practical and cost-effective. It will simply go on being pretty.
And long may that be so.