I never take a guidebook on my travels. That way, I don’t have to worry about the long lists of things I need to ‘cover’ (and which, invariably, I will fail to do). But if I ever revisit the Greek Islands, I might just be packing my copy of Gregory Papadoyiannis’s genre-busting guidebook 52 eyelands. Far from stressing you out with detailed lists, Papadoyiannis offers only the lightest touch of “must sees”. In fact, among the book’s top tips for travel is the refreshing advice to set aside all guidebooks or maps as soon as you can, and trust your instincts instead. Papadoyiannis is a Greek author, a native of the island of Crete. Although he has been visiting the Greek islands each summer for decades, he is a slow traveller, and still has a couple of dozen islands left to see.
Here’s a couple of tiny snippets from the start of his ‘sentimental journey through the Greek islands’.
Kythnos is not the first hat (or car) that an ordinary salesperson would bring out for you to see. He would want to show you some flashier models first, because that’s how he learnt to do things. In the same way, no travel guide for the Greek islands starts off with Kythnos – no one would even think of beginning with this island.
Milos is rather known because of a wonderful statue, Aphrodite of Milo (Venus de Milo), which ironically, you will never see in the island. You will have to go to the Louvre. Let us return to the island now. There is no space to deal with thieveries of the past.
The tone of the book is relaxed and accepting of the traveller’s lot: things may go awry from time to time, but that is to be expected. Sometimes the ferry is late and the bus driver who is paid to meet it gives up waiting and goes home to bed, and so the disembarking passengers must reach their destinations on foot. But Papadoyiannis makes light of such challenges. However bad the situation, he remains an optimist. What you must do, he seems to be saying, is keep going, and the next day you will find the good stuff.
Another positive thing about this project is, it is one of the first batch of books to be published by new Greek press, Paraxenes Meres, (Strange Days) which is just starting on its own travels – and on the strength of this book, an interesting journey may lie ahead.
Sustained throughout 52 eyelands is the voice of a travelling companion who is always careful not to tell you too much, always conscious that travel is about making choices and that since each traveller is different, each has discoveries of their own awaiting them on the islands he knows and loves so well.
At last: a no-spoilers guidebook. This could be a thing.