Monday, August 12, 2019

Travel Tales from Greece ~ 'I Got Arrested. . .'

'I got arrested in Corfu. . .' 
 ~ began the Facebook post of a friend visiting an island to the north of us.

For more than a week we'd been following the Greek travel adventures via Facebook of our Pacific Northwest friend. She and her two teenage children had joined other family members on this tourist-magnet in the Ionian Sea.  


Summer fun - Ionian Sea

Her posts - up until this one -- had been a series of reports telling about the joys that a trip to Greece can bring:  photos of Greek dancing at a local taverna, beachcombing on long stretches of sandy beach and posing with happy smiles in iconic settings.

We'd last seen her in Kirkland last February. Over wine we had discussed plans for her spring trip. She was excited about introducing her kids to Greece; a place she and her husband had so loved visiting before his far-too-early death three years ago. We were pleased that she found this adopted country of ours to be as fabulous as she had remembered it..

So we were stunned when we read her final post from Corfu:

'I got arrested in Corfu! Fingerprinted, mug shots, fined 1,000 euro, hired a lawyer, missed a flight. Can't say that was the best way to end my time in Greece.'

It's been a few weeks since her experience and she agreed to share her story with you in hopes of saving others from a similar experience.


Sometimes you fold the side mirrors when driving in a village

Let's set the stage by saying, she's driven in Greece before so she knows how nutso driving here can be: animals in the road, Greeks speeding up to pass as many as four cars approaching a curve. Why she even knows you need to fold the side windows in on narrow streets to keep from ripping them off. 



Road construction stop signs in the asphalt


She also knew the rules of the road - or so she thought until she was involved in an accident near the Corfu airport. She was returning her rental car to the airport prior to her flight, when she was hit broadside by a Greek driver (who managed to leave the scene without authorities getting any identification).  


Sometime you guess at a sign's message

If the accident wasn't bad enough, it was when the police officers asked to see our friend's International Driving Permit (IDP) that things really went downhill, because. . .

She didn't have one. 

Left side washout marked with rocks- warning light is resting.


And further more, she didn't know she needed one as they'd never been required during previous trips to Greece.  

(We know from first-hand experience that when we began visiting Greece -- several years before moving here -- we were only asked once by one rental company if we had an IDP. We rented many times without it being mentioned.)

However, in early 2018 Greek transportation authorities had toughened up the rules about the IDP; they were made mandatory. Visitors supposedly can't even rent a car without one.  Not all rental agencies are apparently enforcing the Greek directive though.(Greek social media sites continue to have lengthy debates about the need for them. Commenters differ as some claim they were able to rent vehicles without the IDP and others tell of being denied rentals for lack of having one.)



Road block ahead


Our friend did miss her flight as she was taken to jail and 'booked' - the reason for the 'arrest', she was told, was  because of the size of her 1,000 euro ($1,100US) fine that they had levied against her. And she was advised that she had to hire an attorney (another 300 euros) to represent her in court three weeks later.  

The attorney was hired, she was released and caught a later flight to rejoin her family at their next European stop.

"This entire experience left me feeling embarrassed that I didn't know the law, sad that my beloved Greece was now a place that has left a very bad taste in my mouth. . .'


What Happened to Us. . .

IDP required to rent this quad on Spetses Island

Last year as we were returning to the Mani from Athens we were pulled over for a 'document check' as we pulled away from one of the toll booths along the four-lane divided highway that crisscrosses the Peloponnese. We saw the officers standing by their patrol car at the side of the road.  They paid no mind to the car in front of us, but we were motioned to pull over.

We handed over the car's registration and insurance papers, proof of paying our annual road tax, the passports, the Washington State driver's license AND the International Driver's Permit that we've routinely carried with us in recent years (frankly, we'd always thought someone unnecessary until that moment). They gave a cursory glance to all the paperwork with the exception of the passport and driver's permit.  Those they took to a small laptop computer set up on the hood of their car, and  tap-tap-tap on their keyboard. Then the officer came back and as he handed back the documents wished us a good day. 

Just two months ago when we rented that little quad on the island of Spetses, an IDP was required by the vendor before we could tootle off on the machine.

Neither example can compare to our  friend's experience, but enough for us to know the IDP is important!

International Driving Permits



IDP are folded paper documents, stamped with photos


International Driving Permits are an off-shoot of a long ago United Nations treaty that allows a person to drive in another country on the driver's license issued by the government where they live. It is considered a supplement to the license; it is not a stand alone document.

The U.S. government authorizes the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance to issue the permits.  Passport photos are required (and can be taken by AAA staff). The permit is good for up to a year.

From the website of the American Embassy in Greece I found this cautionary note under the International Driving Permit section: "Some Greek rental car agencies rent cars to tourists without informing them of problems that might occur if one is driving without the proper documentation.  If you drive without one of these documents, you may face high fines or be responsible for all expenses in the event of an accident.'

From an article dated back in June 2018, I noted that the Greek Car Rental Companies Association had asked the Greek Transport Authorities to 'reexamine and clarify' the regulation that required those renting cars to have an IDP.  The association argued that the fines being proposed were hefty and travelers to the country might not be aware of the mandate requiring the IDP.  I saw nothing that said any such clarification or review was conducted.



Get the Permit!

Check before you go: these countries accept IDP


Our mantra these days is: get the permit if you are coming to Greece! Even if you don't think you will rent a car - it might be wise to have one in case you find yourself in an emergency situation that requires a car rental. Our permits cost $25 at AAA.  



This is the main highway as it goes through a village to our south in  the Peloponnese.



For that matter check with the Tourist Bureau of any European country you are visiting to determine if the IDP is mandatory; Greece isn't the only one requiring them nowadays.

The US State Department's page on international driving is also worth a read: 

https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/driving-and-road-safety.html

And be sure to read those 'links' on car rental sites (the 'small print') that often are labeled 'additional information about renting a car in this location'. Required documents like IDP are often listed there.



Ferry 'tale' in the Ionian Sea


That's it from The Stone House on the Hill on this extremely hot August day.  We thank you for your time; as always, it is appreciated.  And we do ask that you share this post or at least the information in it to help get the word out about IDP in Greece.   We don't want to have another friend post to FB that they've been arrested while visiting Greece!

We'll see you next week for some armchair travels in Greece - no IDP's will be required for it! Until then, safe travels to you and yours.

Linking this week with:

Through My Lens
Our World Tuesday
Wordless Wednesday














12 comments:

  1. What a nightmare and terrible way to end what had been a trip full of good memories. Getting arrested in a foreign country must be one of the worst experiences. I don't often drive internationally, but if and when, will always get an IDP.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. As I said we are using it as a mantra for people visiting Greece. . .even if they don't plan to rent a car! Never know when you might have to and there you would be either unable to do so or doing it with great risk.

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  2. Wow, what a story. I didn't need or get one when driving in South Africa and was in an accident not my fault. All the police wanted to know is if I had insurance, and I did. Of course laws do change.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a coincidence. We are renting a car on Crete next month and I had been meaning to check the IDP requirements. Just today I ascertained they are required and then called AAA to check their hours to figure out when we can go get ours and what we need. Now I know I'm not being overly cautious. My 30 years of being a lawyer left me with these words to live by: "Just because you're paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I slipped up! I am surprised I hadn't sent you an email about getting one as soon as I learned of this!!!

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  4. Fascinating read. I have always insisted we have an International Driving Permit whenever we travel internationally. We live in Australia and like the US IDPs are easy and inexpensive to obtain. Even some states in the USA (Florida, I seem to remember) required them for a while for foreign drivers. Not only can you be fined but more significantly the lack of an IDP can void your accident insurance. I will share this post as widely as I can. This is something which many travellers may be unaware of - or think it really doesn't matter.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It appears to be such an insignificant piece of document but I guess I will always think differently of it from now on! I don't think I realized that a lack of IDP could void your insurance. Insult on top of injury, that would be!! Thanks for the information.

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  5. Wow! I can't believe your friend was arrested over a lack of IDP! I, too, had thought they were unnecessary for European travel, but now I will think twice before coming without one! Glad she was released soon enough to finish out her travels in Europe with the rest of the family! (And also glad she wasn't hurt during the accident!)

    With Love,
    Mandy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Mandy for commenting. Yes, those little documents may never see the light of day once you get them, but they are gems if and when needed.

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  6. Oh my goodness, what a terrible experience. But at least she didn't get hurt in the accident. Everything else can be handled pretty easily. This I know.

    ReplyDelete
  7. o so sorry for your friend's trouble...and that was a pretty hefty fine!!!

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