Thursday 6. February 2020
Athens to Ioannina
I’ve made it! After a journey which took just short of 22 hours I’ve made it to the city of Ioannina in North Western Greece.
I drove my own car to Greece last year but this holiday is the first time I’ve rented a car abroad (not counting Cyprus where they drive on the left) and driven in a car with the steering wheel on the wrong side.
After de-icing and de-misting the car before I drove away from the airport, the suburbs of Athens at 5 o’ clock in the morning were certainly an experience! At least traffic was light which meant it didn’t matter that I made a few mistakes – such as setting off on the wrong side of the road, before winding the window down as I tried to change gear on the motorway sliproad.
By the time the first 25km journey from the airport to my hotel was finished, I was relieved! I stopped overnight at the Palmyra Beach hotel; one I stayed in last year when I drove here in my own car. I’ve only ever stayed here one night at a time before but it’s not a bad hotel so when I’m in Greece in the Summer and I have a few days to spare after Mum and Dad come home, I might stop for a few days.
The car I’ve got for the next few days is a Mazda CX-3 – Diesel – small SUV. It’s quite big, but has a very powerful engine – Accellerating while joining the motorway I’ve already achieved the 130km/h limit while still in 3rd or 4th with 2 more gears to go. Also…. It’s so quiet while I’m driving that when I looked down at the dashboard I was surprised to see I’d hit 150km/h (93mph) for a brief moment, without realising…
Perhaps I should get one of these cars when it’s time to replace my VW. This car would be great on the German Autobahn.
After breakfast and packing the car, I got on the road. It was overcast and as I made my way along the coastal road towards the motorway, the rain started coming down.
I got stuck in an Athenian traffic jam where the A1 (Greece’s main North-South motorway) meets the A6 (Athens’ outer ring – a bit like the M25) but once clear of Athens I had miles of empty motorway all the way up to Ioannina which was nice.
For the first 45 minutes of the journy coming out of Athens until I got to Corinth, I had the radio on listening to Greek music. Greek FM radio reception isn’t great for long distance driving though so once I got outside the reception area for FM signals from Athens I plugged my phone in and alternated between country music, Radio 2 on the BBC Sounds app, and a Spotify playlist of Greek music. Driving for miles on empty Greek motorway, Tim McGraw’s song Two Lanes of Freedom never felt so appropriate!
The “difficult bit” was driving out of Athens while still trying to get used to the car. I stopped at Corinth (Korinthos to call it by its local name) for a short rest and to enjoy the view over the Corinth Canal.
The weather improved as the day went on and as I approached the half way point – the Rio-Antirrio bridge just outside Patra, the Sun came out and I had clear blue skies for the final 200km of the journey. The small village of Antirrio was my next stop, where I took a photo of the bridge I’d just driven over. (Top tip for anyone else doing a similar road trip: The bridge costs €13,50 or you can take the ferry for €6,50).
The really weird thing about driving in Greece – as I found last Spring – was that when you stop at a motorway service station it isn’t unusual to be the only customer there. At one service station I had the entire car park to myself.
Perhaps not a bad thing as I can’t park my rental car properly. It’s so big I can’t see the lines. But this is Greek and most of the locals ignore the lines too.
Shortly before 6 I hit the outskirts of Ioannina. By now driving with the steering wheel on the wrong side felt normal but it was the evening rush hour and my car is…. a bit wider than I’m used to. And I had to turn left across oncoming traffic to get to my hotel. And my hotel is down a narrow pedestrianised street on the edge of the Old Town – which I had to drive down to get to the underground garage. Perhaps an SUV isn’t the best vehicle for this city…..
At least this time of day in Greece in February it is still daylight – the last of the evening Sun shining down on the city!
Within walking distance from my hotel is the Castle of Ioannina, and the lake not too far away too. Before dinner I had a walk around the city then ate at a taverna opposite the castle.
It had been a long 2 days of travelling so an early night was needed!
Friday’s itinerary sees me spending the morning in the city before I head off to explore the Meteora, about a 90 minute drive away, during the afternoon.