Showing posts with label driving in Greece. Show all posts
Showing posts with label driving in Greece. Show all posts

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:

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

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Stone House on the Hill ~ Welcome!

DSCF1377While we were in Greece we speculated on who might actually visit us there in the future. We’ve begun honing that list now that we are back in the States based on some of the responses we’ve had to our Stone House on the Hill.

Some wrinkle their noses, not quite sure what would draw us there – let alone, bring them to visit. Others furrow their brows, they still aren’t quite sure where ‘there’ is.

Yet, others brighten at the news. They tell us of their Greek travel memories or of their dreams to visit the country.

Some haven’t remarked at all. We are definitely getting a feel from the varied responses, for who may - one day - be walking across our bright red ‘Welcome’ mat!

One friend, who’s owned a second home in a sunny climate for a few years, remarked, “You don’t really want people to visit, do you?” She’s had some, shall I say, less-than-pleasant experiences.

At about the same time, an American blogger buddy of mine, Karen McCann, who with her husband lives most of the year in Seville, Spain, wrote a post entitled, 7 Habits of a Considerate Houseguest (she’s had a few and some who weren’t).

On the flip side, we've had two friends tell us that if they come, to provide them a list of needed items, and they'll pack an extra suitcase for us.

For now, we have the welcome mat out. The area is just too darn nice not to share with others!

The Questions

So many who are pondering the possibilities of a visit have asked us logistics and cost questions about getting to The Mani in the Greek Peloponnese where our home is located, that I thought today I’d answer some of them.


Where do you fly to? What is your routing?

We fly to Athens, about a  4.5 hour-drive from our home in Greece. We fly out of Sea-Tac Airport near Seattle, Washington in the US Pacific Northwest. We shop around and choose the routing by 1) cheapest price, 2) with least amount of layovers and plane changes. The trip from Seattle  – with those layovers and plane changes – usually takes in the neighborhood of 20+ hours. The good news it is usually an over-night flight and you can sleep most of your way to Europe. And with the time zone changes, you arrive in Europe in early to mid-morning the next day.
Two routing examples: In spring 2014 The Scout nabbed us a ‘steal of a deal’ with a round-trip via Istanbul, Turkey for $608, round-trip, per-person. We flew Lufthansa Airlines from Seattle, with a plane change in Germany. After spending the night (hotel points) at the Courtyard by Marriott, in Istanbul, we caught the morning commuter flight  (Aegean and Olympic Airlines both have them) to Athens the next morning. Those flights of less than two-hours were about $180 round trip. And this routing allowed us a stay in amazing Istanbul on our return. We plan to do that on future trips, no matter which European ‘hub’ we fly in to: Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt, Paris, Istanbul  – are all possibilities depending on the airline.

This last December we adjusted our travel to avoid the horrendous ‘holiday hike’ that hits in the middle of the month.  We used Alaska Airline frequent flyer miles to get us to Chicago and then flew Delta round-trip from there to Athens for a bit more than $800 round trip. It was a reasonable price considering we were hovering at 'holiday season'. We changed planes in Paris, then flew to Athens, rented a car and set out for The Mani.
Flights on European low-cost carriers to the city of Kalamata, just over an hour’s drive from our house, originate in any number of European cities. Flying into Kalamata would certainly simplify getting there, in terms of times and price.

We found an Easy Jet flight in June from Kalamata to Vienna for just over $100US, for example.  We aren’t sure how useful those flights will be as our time at the house will likely be in the early spring and late fall – after those seasonal flights have quit operating. They’ve extended the season this year and everyone is hopeful they keep extending it. Who knows? Might be year-round one day!


2. Do you rent a car?

Yes. Major rental car companies (Hertz, Sixt, Avis, etc.) are represented at the rental car lot at the Athens Airport. It is a short walk to that lot from the arrivals terminal. Then a right turn out of the lot, a right turn and you are on the freeway – heading to The Mani. You will not end up in the middle of Athens in a traffic jam. (If you are seriously coming to visit, I have more detailed directions). 

The drive from Athens to Kalamata is on a modern freeway. It is a toll road, so plan on paying about 15-euros in tolls total along the way. Get some euros from the bank machines at the airport if you didn’t bring some with you. The amount of each toll is flashed on a screen as you approach the teller window and you must pay in cash - they do have change for bills.

PicMonkey Collage

DSCF0283Like in Italy, the Greek roadside comfort stations are worth stopping at because they are so incredibly nice. Bathrooms are clean, restaurants are amazingly large, and most have souvenirs for sale.

It is easy to pull off and on the freeway, unlike the Costa del Sol in Spain where you say a prayer and take your life in your hands with each entry. Here the exit and reentry ramps are long and easy to use.

DSCF0282Car rental prices vary, so it is best to shop around.  Figure 20 – 25 euros a day. (We have heard rentals can be had for as little as 11-euros a day but we haven't yet found that.)  Small cars here really are small. Two roll-aboard sized suitcases will stuff the backseat. Either pack light or book a larger car.  US citizens do not need an International Driver’s license. And yes, for those who’ve asked about ‘automatics’ they do rent them. I have pictured an automatic shift to the side. It requires shifting from first to second but it is done with the hand lever - no feet pedals for shifting.

A stop in Kalamata
DSCF0016The modern freeway ends at Kalamata , about three hours from Athens, and becomes a scenic, but curving two-lane road into The Mani.  For that reason – and the fact that we’ve been up for some 24-hours with cat-naps and airplane food keeping us alive – we have spent the night in Kalamata.  We’ve stayed at a waterfront hotel - Phaerae Palace -- that has one of the best European buffet breakfasts we’ve ever eaten included in the rate, for about $100  (depending on the season) a night in a room with balcony and view of the water. The breakfast is served in the rooftop restaurant (photo on the right).  Then we head out refreshed the next morning.

If you spend the night there, the town’s Archeological Museum in its historic district and the open air Municipal Market are worth visiting before setting out on the final leg of your journey.

DSCF1488The last leg of the journey takes about an hour and a half, especially if you get behind a large truck as we did when I took this photo.

That’s another reason to complete the journey in the morning’s daylight – when wide awake!

3.  Do you have to have a rental car? Couldn’t we take a bus?

You probably will want a car while you are in The Mani, but you could wait and rent one after you get out of Athens or Kalamata. There are rental car companies in Stoupa, the small village very near our home.


And yes, there are long distance buses that run to and from the villages and Athens -they connect in Kalamata.

In Athens there is an express bus (5-euros) will take you to and from the arrivals/departure terminal at the airport and the bus station where buses leave for Kalamata and other destinations.  We took the bus from Kalamata on our return home and it was a modern, Mercedes Benz, and the driver was great. This express bus from Kalamata took three hours and 15 minutes to reach Athens and the tickets were 22-euro per person. It would cost a bit more from the villages near our house.

PicMonkey Collage
4.  Does anyone there speak English?

Yes, nearly everyone we’ve encountered speaks English and on the occasion we are in a situation of no-English, they always find someone nearby who does speak the language and will help out. That’s not an excuse not to visit!

We’ll tell you about our neighborhood and the foods – the nearby cafes and tavernas and the markets – in a future post.  Thanks again for stopping by as always we appreciate the time you spend with us. Hope you'll recommend our blog to others you know ~ thanks to those who've done just that!

Linking up this week:
Travel Photo Thursday – Budget Traveler’s Sandbox  
Travel Inspiration – Reflections En Route  
Mosaic Monday – Lavender Cottage Gardening


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