Today has been a long day on the road – my car’s GPS records show it was 9hrs 31mins of driving time, plus stops with added 1hr 50min to that. I’ve covered nearly 500 miles in a single day!
I left Potos after breakfast and getting some rolls in the bakery to make my packed lunch with – Then it was straight on to the road to get the ferry back to the mainland.
Today that was easy – No reversing on, No reversing off; Straight on to the ferry when I got to Thassos Town.
Today was changeover-day for the British tour operators; the ferry was full of Brits and when I checked the Kavala Airport departures board (see left) I saw there was a flight due to leave for Manchester a little over 2 hours later, so I guess they must have been heading for that.
(Sidenote: A German car on a Düsseldorf number plate drove in to the Airport as I was driving past the turning – I assume it was meeting someone flying in from there).
For me though a day on the road lay ahead – When I got off the ferry at Keramoti an estimated journey time of 7 and a half hours was showing on the sat nav (not counting stops).
An easy enough journey: Take th A2 to Thessaloniki, the A1 (previously known as the Π.Α.Θ.Ε) to Athens, then the A6 (Athens’ version of the M25) until I see a sign for Porto Rafti.
I was surprised at how clear the traffic was – None the whole way, a little bit busy going round Thessaloniki and coming in to Athens, but otherwise the motorway was – if not empty – certainly virtually clear – for most of the journey.
Perhaps the highlight of the journey was when I came out of a service station on to the motorway, and then overtook a police car with its blue lights on – He was only doing about 80km/h in lane 1, in a 120km/h zone.
There was one small problem I had along the way: Zipping a long at 120km/h suddenly I started losing power and the Engine Management Light came on. The car had gone in to its ‘Limp Home’ mode.
I made it off the motorway and found a petrol station where I thought it might be an idea to ask for help (if nothing else to find out where on earth I was if I was going to have to call someone out – I have European wide breakdown cover but saying «I’m on a Greek Motorway somewhere between Thessaloniki and Athens» to Green Flag won’t really help them.
But of course, the minute I took the key out of the ignition it seemed to reset itself…Typical! Without the light on, no mechanic’s diagnostic computer will detect any problems. As a precaution we checked the oil level (all good), plenty of fuel, water, etc. and it drove fine with the light off. So I – cautiously I might add – set off again.
According to my GPS records I believe this small breakdown happened not far from Lamia, still a 3 hour drive from tonight’s destination. In the end I made it to Porto Rafti without any further incidents.
Perhaps some dirt got in to the system – My windscreen was collecting a lot of dirt (seems like quite a few squashed insects too) so it would be possible for some dirt to get in to the engine system; when I stopped for fuel at the services, the forecourt attendants cleaned everyone’s windscreens too. Or perhaps it was a faulty sensor. Whatever it was, it can’t have been too serious for the car to drive as normal as though nothing had happened for the remainder of the journey – but perhaps something to get looked at before too long.
Eventually, after first setting off at 09:45 this morning, I arrived in tonight’s accomodation in Porto Rafti at 20:52. It has been the longest day of driving so far this holiday and I think possible the longest day in the entire 3 weeks.
A good meal and a drink was needed after all that.
Got to be up early tomorrow to get the ferry to Tinos, so I’m off to bed.
Today I’ve done my own self-guided tour of Thassos and have driven a whole lap of the island.
I started with Σκάλα Μαριών (Skala Marion), a small village a short drive away from Potos. From there I went round to Σκάλα Πρίνος (Skala Prinos), where the ferries go to Καβάλα (Kavala) – It was here that I had my first proper swim of the holiday (instead of just dipping a toe in) before I sat down to eat my lunch.
As it was getting in to the hottest part of the day I thought I should try and get out of the sun for a bit, so I drove to Λιμένας (Limenas) – Thassos’ main town for a short stop to get an ice cream. Then it was on to the next beach, Χρυσή Αμμουδιά (Chrysi Ammoudia).
On the way back I had a choice of two beaches: Paradise Beach of Psili Ammos. I chose Psili Ammos but unfortunately it had clouded over by the time I arrived so I made it just a quick photo stop. The Sun was still shining when I passed Paradise Beach. How annoying!
Tonight was my last night in Potos and I ate at the Κλιματαριά (Klimataria) restaurant on the main road heading out of Potos. I had a very nice beef stew which was followed by a slice of chocolate cake ‘on the house’.
That finishes off the first part of my holiday in Greece. A long drive tomorrow – the sat nav estimates 770km, 9 hours to get there (including the ferry back to the mainland) to get to tomorrow’s overnight stop, Porto Rafti which is about 40 minutes drive from the centre of Athens – it is close to the port of Rafina from where on Monday morning I will get the ferry to Tinos.
I’ve got a little bit of packing to do, then I’m off to bed.
It was overcast this morning when I woke up, gray clouds all around, not a sign of any sunlight. Well, its not the Summer yet, I guess.
It had rained overnight but was dry this morning, but clearly this morning wasn’t going to be a beach morning as I had hoped.
But no problem – I don’t have to drive anywhere, no rushing about to do, I’ll just make it all up as I go along.
I walked in to the village to go to the supermarket to top up on supplies; On the way back I stopped at the bakery to get some rolls for lunch, and something for breakfast (bougatsa – a sort of custard filled pie topped with cinamon and sugar – my favourite).
It started pouring with rain while I was sitting on the balcony eating my breakfast; Luckily my balcony is covered so to pass the time I just at and watched, and got my Amazon tablet out to read.
Later in the afternoon the rain cleared and it looked like it was brightening up so I decided that I’m on holiday, and Sunny or not I was going to the beach, with my lunch. I made up a couple of rolls, and set off for Αλυκή (Alyki) beach, a short drive along the coast.
The Sun did come out while I was driving so in the end I did get time this afternoon at the beach, sunbathing – Temperature-wise it was only about 20 degrees or so, pleasantly warm but not hot (apart from in the car) – but it is easy enough just to drive with the windows wide open when I’m not on the motorway.
I had almost forgotten what it is like to come to Thassos outside of high season. The last few times we’ve come here have all been during school holidays in July/August, when it is extremely busy.
The major holiday in the Greek Orthodox calendar (apart from Christmas) is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary on 15th August; and around this period everyone leaves the cities to return to their home islands for a few weeks. The Italians have the same holiday. Wherever you are in Greece in the middle of August, it will be busy because of this.
But at this time of year I had forgotten how quiet Thassos is. No traffic on the roads and plenty of parking spaces everywhere. What during July and August is one of the busiest beaches, today was almost empty. I had most of the beach to myself!
I sort of wonder whether next week being half term might make a difference. Possibly. Tinos and Syros are a little bit off the beaten track as they require ferry travel from either Rafina/Piraeus (4 hours) or Mykonos (about 1 hour) so I might get away with it. Tinos in particular isn’t in so many British holiday brocures, if any.
On returning to the apartment I was in need of a drink, so made my way to the bar. This evening I went in to Potos just in time to watch the Sunset, then I went to have a souvlaki for dinner.
The weather should hopefully be better tomorrow so maybe I’ll have the chance to get out and about a bit more – I drove past Skala Marion on the way in yesterday and remember going there a few times in previous years. There’s a few other places I might like to get to, so perhaps I’ll do a sort of round-the-island-tour if the weather isn’t too bad.
The good news is that I’ve made it safely to Greece, and am writing tonight’s blog from the comfort of my apartment in Potos, Thassos – It’s been 5 years since I was last here – too long!
But first…a few words about the ferry.
The ferry crossing wasn’t too bad. I got a couple of hours sleep in my room in Venice before going to board the ferry; Boarding started just before 4 – that was an experience. Greek crew shouting directions and waving their arms in all different directions, to squeeze you in to a very tight spot.
I did have a shared cabin booked but it was an inside one, I found it rather small and a bit uncomfortable…so I didn’t really use it – Instead I spend the first part of the night sleeping in the airline-style seats – the trouble with this was there weren’t any windows, and the sound of people snoring loudly put me off, so at about 7am I moved (via the Self Service restaurant which had just opened for the morning service) to the Grand Bar and found this the best place to set up camp and I made the bar my base for the duration of the journey.
This bit of the ship was practically empty until more passengers joined at Ancona in the afternoon, but even after that there was plenty of space to lie down on one of the sofas overnight. The background noise – the hum of the fridges and air con, the sound of the TV going – didn’t really put me off (if anything it helped drown out the sound of people snoring).
On my second night sleeping in the bar, it took until between midnight and 1 for things to really quieten down, when most people would head towards their cabins, and those who were camping in the bar (by this time there must have been 30-40 people camping here compared to just 2 others on the first day) could reclaim whole sofas instead of one quarter of a sofa.
The above means I had broken bits of sleep – no more than a couple of hours at a time – grabbing what I could, when I could (I’m not sure I didn’t drift off to sleep while sitting up on the outside deck too). I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy the crossing – just that for the return journey I will be prepared (might take a book with me, and some snacks to nibble on, the on-board food was expensive).
This morning after about 3 and a a half hours sleep (the longest I’d slept since I left my room in Venice) when I woke up at 5am it was still dark but I noted that my phone had switched from an Italian network to an Albanian network… A good sign, as Albania borders Greece.
It was around an hour later that dawn broke and I could start to see the shapes of mountains on both sides of the ship. I went outside at 6:30 (having given up any chances of getting just a little more sleep – in any case, the fresh air would have done me some good).
By 7 we were on the «home straight» as we passed between Corfu and Albania and the tannoy announcement was requesting passengers for Igoumenitsa to vacate their cabins and await for the disembarkation announcement.
We arrived at 8 and for me, this meant a day of driving to my first Greek destination this holiday: Thassos.
From Igoumenitsa it was a case of get straight on the A2 Egnatia Odos motorway, and stay on it until I see a sign for Thassos. I used the sat nav not so much as a navigation aid, but rather it would give me an ETA and display the remaining distance (in km).
I did stop a few times on the way – Once was just for a minute or so to take the car’s ferry ticket off the windscreen (I found it a bit distracting having it flapping away undeneath the windscreen wiper while I was doing 130 km/h) and to put a CD on instead of the radio; I can only really channel-hop when listening to Greek radio on the move as the signal is forever dropping in and out: It is a bit frustrating at times.
The only scheduled stop I had on the way was in Stavros, just beyond Thessaloniki, where the rest of my family are coming for their holidays this year – I thought I’d check it out. Not a bad place, the beach looked OK, the market was just clearing up. Good selection of bars and restaurants (I sampled one of them at lunch time).
From Stavros it was a simple 90 minute drive along the motorway (stopping to fill up with petrol on the way – only the 4th tank since Cirencester (that includes filling up in Cirencester before I left), not bad for the distance I’ve driven).
On the way in to Keramoti – it’s not often this happens – I got stuck behind a slow moving Audi. It took me a while to work out the Audi had something to do with the slow moving boat in front of it; The driver had been waving to tell me OK to overtake, but as a result of sitting on the wrong side of the car for driving on the right, I wouldn’t see that.
Eventually I got the message and went Greek: I overtook the Audi, the boat, and the car towing the boat in one go – Only to get stuck behind them again on Thassos. (Limited opportunity to overtake on Greek island roads). The boat had taken so long to get to Keramoti that by the time it arrived at the ticket booth I had already bought my ticket, had a walk about and got back in the car ready to board. The trouble was that as the boat we were on only had 1 entrance/exit, anything which got on after me would get off before me.
On arrival in Thassos I drove straight down to Potos, checked in to my room It’s a place I’ve stayed in a load of times before, so I feel quite at home now, after a few days driving in unkown territory.
I’ve never driven in Greece before and had worried that driving an English car in Greece would be more difficult because of the standard of Greek driving.
In truth, it hasn’t really felt different to driving anywhere else I’ve been to this week. The only difference is – a bit like in Italy – No one pays attention to the speed reductions on the motorway so when the speed is limited to 80 through a set of roadworks, everyone else seems to speed up!
I just need to keep my eyes peeled in case anyone does something stupid (people walking in the middle of the road…there’s lots of those!) Try not to bump in to anything, and I’ll be fine. Perhaps with it being low season in Thassos now, it is not as busy as I have seen it in recent years.
After the long drive I changed out of the jeans I’d been wearing in Venice in to some shorts (its nearly 30 degrees here!), swapped my shoes for sandals, and went to the beach to enjoy the last of the sunlight before sunset.
One final thought: I’ve driven to Thassos from the UK – and have had relatively clear runs most of the way meaning that while there have been small traffic jams and slow bits, the last major hold up I had was on the M25 last Friday night. Not bad going!
I’m starting to drop off to sleep now (It is nearly midnight here) so I’m off to bed, ready for a relaxing 3 day stay in Potos.