the quest ...

Stations of Avlemonas

Cavallini-Mansion

A walk through Avlemonas, end to end, takes 3 minutes or 6 hours, depending on your disposition.

The harbor of Agios Nikolaos marks the eastern boundary of the village. During the 600 years or so of Venetian rule, this unassuming harbor served as the main port of Kythira. *

A few yards beyond the fishing boats stands the mansion of Cavallini. Locals claim the sundial on its facade has never skipped a beat. The mansion has gone through several incarnations: Austro-Hungarian consulate, Customs House, coffeehouse. The Italian family that now owns half the building completed a renovation of the entire exterior.

During their long rule, Venetians did little to improve living conditions for local Kytherians, but Venice’s indelible imprint, and the lion of St. Mark, are visible throughout the island — as are the descendants of Venetian Marchese Marco Venier.

As I stand admiring the Cavallini doorway and its Sword of Damocles sundial, my thoughts keep returning to a Carnevale in Venice, and dinner at the Hotel Danieli with 7 courses, 5 forks, 4 knives and 3 wine glasses, and Inez shamelessly flirting with the Russian husband of a poker-faced woman seated at our table. Magicians and jugglers kept us entertained during dinner, wandering to and fro, from table to table. When it came time for the masquerade to start, an Austrian orchestra appeared and 6 ladies in tutus leapt through the ballroom, their pink pointe shoes softly thumping against the wood floor.

Later, we sipped sparkling wine with peach nectar at Cafe Florian — Inez, so uncharacteristically prim and ladylike in her ivory Carnevale gown, and me, so self-consciously exposed in a costume that doubled my cleavage.

When Venice tucked itself in for the night, we danced on, clinging to the ghost of Fat Tuesday. In the Campo Santa Maria Formosa, I cried out apologies for trampling the feet of a Venetian dressed as Casanova as he whirled me around the square, humming Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, his black cape flying behind him. Aw, but he was the good sort. “Harder, ” he said. “Break all my toes.” In the middle of the campo, Mario played an imaginary piano as Inez fussed with her hair, her gown; resettling her plumage.

Casanova’s wine-warm breath turned to icy fog in the cold night air, his cheerful face grew serious. “I want to take you away on a boat,” he said, “to an island, so no one else can touch you.”

Casanova de Castello, guardian angel of my bodily virtue, may you live forever.

Avlemonas-Bay

Halfway through Avlemonas, there’s a narrow bay with a small sandy beach. I stop for a swim and watch as young divers test their courage from the rocky cliffs. I was 17 before I ever dared to jump from a ledge, rocky or otherwise.

When I was just past the toddler stage, my own good father inadvertently gave me a fear of heights by taking me for a ride on the Vienna Riesenrad, one of the world’s tallest Ferris wheels. My early childhood is mostly a blur, but I can still vividly picture my father, backlit by the lights of Vienna, laughing and trying to make it better, his big hand over mine.

Castello

A polygonal Venetian fortress known as the Castello occupies a spit of land near the western end of Avlemonas. Lack of upkeep, salt, and wind have had their way with the deteriorating old structure. The Castello is officially closed, so I crawl through an opening to get a photo of its cannons, left to rust where they were abandoned hundreds (?) of years ago — the detritus and fate of empires.

Castello-Canon

My walk through Avlemonas leaves me longing for Venice — begged, borrowed, and stolen at the point of a sword and to the roar of a cannon. It’s the only place I can walk on water, from Tiziano to Bellini to Modigliani.

I start planning my next trip.

*  Kythera, Cythera

© 2016, Ithaka Bound. All rights reserved. Text and photos copyright protected and may not be used without express and written permission from site owner.

Related posts:

Avlemonas, Kythira

Avlemonas-Bay

“Tell me where you would like to stay,” says a travel agent with kind eyes.

“I’m looking for a quiet village,” I say, ” and beauty, and a beach.”

“Avlemonas,” he says without hesitation. And I’ll be damned if he wasn’t right.

My balcony overlooks the sea of Aphrodite. A crumbling Venetian fortress keeps watch in the foreground, cannons still at the ready. On the horizon, two small rock protrusions—kofinidia, the sex organs of Uranus—are permanently moored where Cronus tossed them into the sea.

Every morning, I’m the first person awake in Avlemonas, in Kythira*, perhaps in all of Greece. In the still hours between night and day, I wait for rosy-fingered Dawn to open the gates and let the sun rise. I see Aurora through her morning moods — shades of blue followed by a lovely pale pink. In Greek mythology, a jealous Aphrodite cursed Aurora to perpetually fall in and out of love after she had a fling with Ares, the god of war. Mortal women should have warned Aurora that trysts with the god of war never end well, even without the curse of Aphrodite. The passion of Ares quickly turns into belligerence. When we crave the milk of human kindness, Ares offers only bitter gall. Deity or not, at the end of the day, we all want to be cradled in the arms of a sweet thing.

“War was my line, not work or housekeeping and a fine family; what I liked were ships and oars and battles and fine smooth javelins and arrows.” – Odysseus

 

Avlemonas-salt-lake

When the sea and the sky are the color of oyster shells, I grab a towel and make my way to the salt lake shore to swim with the morning catch. Mornings in Avlemonas, everything is perfect and just exactly as it should be.

The good people at Drakakis Tours in Livadi are a godsend if you arrive in the middle of the season without a reservation or car: +30 27360 31160  info@drakakistours.gr

Here are some lodging options in Avlemonas if you want to strike out on your own:

Room-in-Avlemonas-Kythira-7

Room-in-Avlemonas-Kythira-1

Room-in-Avlemonas-Kythira-2

Room-in-Avlemonas-Kythira-6

Room-in-Avlemonas-Kythira-3

Room-in-Avlemonas-Kythira-5

Room-in-Avlemonas-Kythira-4* Kythera, Cythera

© 2016, Ithaka Bound. All rights reserved. Text and photos copyright protected and may not be used without express and written permission from site owner.

Related posts:

Diakofti, Kythira

Diafkoti-beach

Diakofti is the first town you’ll run into after disembarking in Kythira*. A walk or ride of a couple hundred meters from port will bring you to one of Kythira’s most beautiful beaches—a shallow blue-green oasis with tropical waters and fine soft sand.

I missed Diakofti the first time around because a taxi picked me up directly from port and we completely skirted around the little village. I returned a few days later to get a better look at the beach and found myself regretting not having chosen Diakofti as my base. It doesn’t look like much from a distance—3 story hotels and such—but if you lean in closer, Diakofti reveals its charms: ramshackle lilliputian beach houses, easy-going tavernas and cafes, sandy back streets, and completely chill and laid back locals.

Diakofti-cafe

Daikofti-beach-shack

There was a hush, a quiet without pretense that I always seek and love. Diakofti is how I imagine Malibu and Venice Beach must have looked before Hollywood ruined them with all those Gidget movies.

Here are some lodging options in case you’re ever stuck for a room. I didn’t overnight in Diakofti, so I can’t vouch for any of them, but I doubt you’ll be disappointed:

Diafkoti-lodging-3

Diafkoti-2

Diafkoti-lodging-1* Kythera, Cythera

© 2016, Ithaka Bound. All rights reserved. Text and photos copyright protected and may not be used without express and written permission from site owner.

Related posts:

Disembarking in Kythira

Kythira-Port-Boat

I need to tell you about disembarking in Kythira*  because it goes against much of the advice I’ve given so far.

On a windless day with a calm sea, I boarded the Porfyrousa for the one hour ferry ride to Kythira. I loaded up on nausea medication and put on a couple accupressure bracelets because some petty god decided to spite my love for sea voyages by cursing me with a stomach so sensitive, it heaves at the slightest bounce. Even a suggestion of turbulence will have me turning green and pressing cold compresses to my forehead. The ferry takes you through the maelstrom where two seas meet—Aegean and Ionian, the deep blue manger of a fickle goddess who smites at whim. She’s so hard to trust, that Aphrodite.

Half-way through our voyage, just as I was taking off the voodoo bracelets and wondering what I was so worried about, the wind changed. Or maybe it was the sea that changed, or the protectress Aphrodite. Clinging tightly to a pole on the upper deck, I began to doubt the island would allow us to approach. We made our way slowly, up and down, more sideways than forward, Kythira always just ahead.

“Not all can sail for Kythira”

A few hundred meters from shore, a sunken ship appeared to our left, forever moored on the islet of Prasonisi, because, you know, the scene wasn’t dramatically beautiful enough. Still clinging to the pole, I accepted my fate without the slightest bit of remorse or sorrow. Aegean, Ionian, Poseidon, Aphrodite—let loose the full glory of your wrath. I couldn’t have written a more beautiful death for myself.

Shipwreck-Kythira-Island-Greece

As you may have guessed by now, we made it to the port of Diakofti just fine. The ship docked in the islet of Makrykythera, the same spot where the Athenians disembarked when they conquered Kythira in 424 B.C.; the same spot where pirates wiled away their winters dreaming of plunder and gold. Makrykythera is now united with mainland Kythira via a lackluster bridge that spans the caribbean blue water of the beach at Diakofti. It’s quite an entrance.

Kythira-Port-Sign

So here’s some good advice: make sure you’ve reserved a car or have someone to pick you up from port, because unlike most other islands, Kythira doesn’t have any public transportation. If not, you’ll have to find a nice Australian–Greek couple (like I did) who’ll call a taxi for you and give the driver a good talking to before they let you get into his cab. You’ll still end up paying more for a taxi in Kythira than you would in New York or Tokyo, and then you’ll know why Kythira doesn’t have any public transportation. You won’t care though, not a bit.

Here’s some more good advice: reserve your accommodations before arriving. There aren’t any tourist offices at the port or in Diakofti, the nearest town. If you arrive in July or August, expect every room to be occupied by Kythira’s loyal and numerous diaspora who return to the island every summer. I became very jealous of Kythira’s diaspora, but more on that in a later post. This was about reaching for heaven.

 

* Kythera Cythera 

© 2016, Ithaka Bound. All rights reserved. Text and photos copyright protected and may not be used without express and written permission from site owner.

Related posts:

Neopoli

 

Neopolis-Greece

Neopolis, in the southern tip of the Peloponnese, is the launch point for Kythira*. Other options for reaching the island include taking a short flight from Athens, or a late ferry from Piraeus. After what felt like a hundred hours of flying just to get to Athens, I couldn’t fathom getting on another airplane, so I had initially planned on taking the ferry from Pireaus. The ferry, however, would have docked in Kythira around 1:00 am — an impossible time to find a room if you haven’t planned ahead and don’t already have a reservation (ahem). So Neopolis it was.

Aye, but here’s the rub: you can’t get to Neopolis without a 7 hour bus ride through the Peloponnese. For some reason this seemed really cool to my sleep-deprived brain. I’ve taken buses through Greece in the past, but never when suffering so acutely from fresh jet-lag compounded by 30 hours without sleep.

For the entire 7 hour ride to Neopoli, I struggled to stay awake for fear I might rest my head against the stranger sitting next to me and drool all over his shoulder. But I failed in my struggle; I failed so miserably. Every stop—and there were plenty—would jar me awake. Confused and slightly incoherent  (I blame it on the dramamine), I badgered my seat mate with questions: “This must be Tripoli?”, “Are we in Sparta?”, and finally, after an exceptionally long snooze — “Is this America?” Apparently the red earth and olive-laden slopes of Lacedaemonia bear a striking resemblance to Interstate 110 in L.A.

If you aren’t fluent in Greek, traveling by bus can be a challenge. The bus makes frequent stops for coffee breaks and such, but you’re never really sure why or for how long. When we reached Sparta, everyone got off the bus, all the luggage was unloaded, and we waited an hour or so before piling onto another bus. In a time when all of life’s mysteries can be answered with a few taps on a smart phone, this was a welcome detour into the unknown.

Neopolis, it turns out, is a friendly and humble town, and a great place to spend a few days recovering from jet lag. It even has a beach recognized and rewarded for its cleanliness. I liked its low-key, easy going ways. If you find yourself in Neopolis, make sure to call Eleni at the number in the photo below. She’ll set you up in a studio for a great price and provide a trove of information on sites in the surrounding area, like the cave at Kastania and the castle of Agia Paraskevi.

Neopolis-Greece-Rooms-Studio-for-rent* Kythera, Cythera

© 2015 – 2016, Ithaka Bound. All rights reserved. Text and photos copyright protected and may not be used without express and written permission from site owner.

Related posts:

Embarkation for Cythera

Neopolis-Greece-Ferry-Boat

Love stalks me on this trip, ever present, refusing the war-torn white flag of surrender I waved long ago. At times it is ostentatious; under the dark sky of Selene, it treats me to a blitzkrieg of fireworks. I oohh and aaahh, charmed but no longer a child. At other times, hushed and thoughtful, somewhere between pensive and petulant, I catch glimpses of it in my peripheral view, watching. Something to do with my choice of island, I think.

Kythira of Aphrodite, O beautiful Cythera, how could I step upon your shores without turning to stone? They say your goddess is ruthless to those who do not worship at her temple.

Let’s start from the beginning: Gaia, also known as Mother Earth, became angry with her husband Uranus’s treatment of their children, so she gave her son Cronus a sickle and instructed him to seek revenge—thereby providing fodder and legitimacy for legions of Freudian psychoanalysts the world over.

Cronus, only too willing to fulfill his mother’s revenge fantasy, castrated his father and tossed his testicles into the sea near the island of Kythira (transliterated as Cythera or Kythera). The sea began to churn and foam, and out of this foaming maelstrom rose the goddess of love and beauty herself, Aphrodite (in a seashell, if we are to believe maestro Botticelli).

birth-of-venus-botticelli

Shortly after riding the waves near Kythira, Aphrodite was carried away to Cyprus, another island sacred to the goddess. But her divine birth in the sea off Kythira sealed its fate as a carefree yet elusive paradise, shrouded in the mystery of love, both realized and unrequited.

Years ago, in the cold frozen center of a European winter, I wandered around the Louvre searching for warmth and a golden light. I paused in front of a bucolic landscape by Watteau: a celebration of love, with chubby cherubim frolicking around lovers languidly making their way toward a golden boat.

Embarkation-for-Cythera-by-Watteau

“Cythera…”

My whisper reverberated into the future, ricocheting against missed chances and falls from grace, finally stopping when it found me here, many years later, in the town of Neopolis preparing to board a boat for Kythira.

Have I changed much, whisper?

© 2015 – 2016, Ithaka Bound. All rights reserved. Text and photos copyright protected and may not be used without express and written permission from site owner.

Related posts: