Let’s say you’re standing next to a castle. You probably want to know the name of the castle, when it was built, and its most famous occupant. A typical tour guide will not only tell you that, but will identify every statue on the castle’s exterior, tell you who each of those guys married, who their heirs were, what wars they fought, and what obscure treaties they signed. But it rarely occurs to the tour guide to answer the question that, by now, is on everyone’s mind: “Where are the toilets?”
We prefer to do our homework beforehand and travel independently whenever possible. I’ll admit that can lead to some unexpected travel adventures, such as this one in the Greek islands that I wrote about in my journal on April 22, 1994:
We anchored off Mykonos this morning. Seas were up, so it was a challenge to get into the tender which took us ashore. Sally and I were among the first to get to the island. We determined that we would begin our day here by getting some scenic panoramas from the top of Mykonos. I had seen photos of one of the most picturesque windmills, and had read in the guidebook that its name was Milós Boni. The book also had some directions as to how to reach it, but as we started out, we soon discovered that there were no street signs, in Greek or any other language.
There were three windmills spread across the hills above us. I picked out the one I was sure was Milós Boni — it was near the crest of the highest hill. We started a steep ascent up a winding street, which ultimately led us to a very nice windmill, but not the one we were seeking. We walked back down a ways, and tried another route. This also eventually led to a dead end. We retraced our steps and tried a third path. We were much closer this time — but still a hundred yards or so from our desired destination.
Sally climbed a low fence and crossed uneven terrain to try to get to it; I reluctantly followed. As she stood on a point with a spectacular view of the town below us, I noticed that we were trespassing in a cow pasture, and that the cows were coming to check us out. We got out of there and went back down the hill, all the way into town.
Not ready to give up on the quest for Milós Boni, I hailed a cab. The driver spoke no English, but I let him know that we wanted to be taken to Milós Boni. He nodded, drove off through the narrow streets and took us up the hill — to the first windmill we had reached. He made it clear that this was it. With a lot of sign language, I tried to convey the idea that we wanted to go to the other windmill. He announced the name of another mill and I agreed, thinking we were getting somewhere now. He drove us to the second mlll we had come to that morning, which was still a long way from our quest. I said “no” to this mill as well, and pointed to the one we had been trying to reach. Somehow he made it known that there was no possible way to get to that mill, so we gave up and got out, paying him 500 drachma for this ride to a place we had already walked to. (The exchange rate in Greece, by the way, was roughly 250 drachma to $1.) After taking some photos of these admittedly picturesque mills, we walked back down into town…