Within the first 25 kms of arriving in Greece I have come across cows roaming free beside the road, a herd of goats in the middle of it, stupid dogs chasing trucks and a lot of roadside shrines. My guidebook informs me that they are not all indicators of road accidents. Some are marking the route to a nearby church or monastery, while others are in thanks to answered prayers or lucky escapes. However, having had first-hand experience of Greek driving habits, I’m not sure that I agree.
Firstly, the Greeks will park anywhere – sometimes a metre from the kerb or even in the middle of the road. On blind bends, while they have a quick coffee or directly outside Lidl, even though there is a perfectly good, empty car park a few metres away.
Secondly, all speed limits and road markings are completely ignored. It’s apparently fine to overtake despite the bends in the road and the double white lines along the centre. No one bothers to stop and check for traffic at junctions and, if you are a bit slower than the average Greek, you are expected to drive on the hard shoulder so they can pass you.
Finally, the Greek road system is being completely overhauled, and has been for the last 15 years thanks to EU funding. A new motorway across northern Greece cuts through the mountains and others provide fast links to Athens. However, expect to pay for this privilege through tolls and expect all the other alternative routes to be completely unmaintained and occasionally dangerous. If time is more important than money then take the motorways and the impressive suspension bridge from the mainland to the Peloponnese, otherwise there’s still a ferry operating for half the cost, and the free minor roads are a lot more scenic.
Having arrived in Greece from Italy, where the coffee is amazing, I’m finding it hard to get a decent latte. Even when the cafes have proper espresso machines, staff don’t really know how to use them. They also like their coffee very strong and very sweet. When I asked for no sugar at one café the barista decided to add condensed milk instead! It’s also impossible to enjoy a cup of coffee inside the cafes because there will always be some local guys sitting there smoking, It seems that EU non-smoking regulations have yet to reach Greece.
Visiting Greece out of season has its benefits. There are no crowds, very little traffic and entry to the tourist sites is reduced. On the minus side, some of the sites are closed, or partially closed, as are many of the tavernas, hotels and campsites. Tavernas don’t really operate a menu out of season and there’s limited choice on offer but it’s still pretty amazing and I often wonder if I’m getting a share of the owner’s lunch. Another bonus is that I can pretty much park up anywhere for the night and nobody cares. I’m finding that the car parks at archaeological sites and small ports are the best spots though they are often frequented by stray dogs which howl through the night.
So far the weather has been great, if a little on the cool side overnight, though I’m not sure for how long it will remain dry. The scenery is stunning. Pine covered mountains with deep gorges, valleys filled with olive groves and coastal tamarisk trees bent over by the wind. Sadly, the locals don’t seem to care about their countryside as I frequently find laybys strewn with litter and often illegally dumped building waste.