Above: Athens Airport at 4 o’ clock in the morning.
I’m back in Greece (Hooray)! This is my first foreign trip since the start of the Covid pandemic – my first visit to Greece in 18 months. It feels good to get back in to international travel again.
Consider this: Friday night before a bank holiday weekend and I had the whole of Heathrow Terminal 2 security to myself! Sign of the times! Normally LHR security at 8pm Friday night is heaving. On Friday our flight was the last out of the day – the one before us left half an hour before – and the one before that was cancelled – so I felt like I was in a deserted airport. On the plane I had a whole row of 3 to myself. The London-Athens route is quite popular, but in normal times in the Summer any flight to Greece would be fully booked. I’d be surprised if my return flight from Kalamata is more than half full.
I flew out to Greece after work on Friday night. Mum and Dad arrived on Thursday. My sister (and her boyfriend) arrive next Saturday. I fly home on Sunday.
I suddenly realised it is the first time since 2017 that we have all had a Summer holiday together. In 2018, I didn’t go to Greece as I drove to Norway instead. In 2019 I drove to Greece in the spring so didn’t go in the Summer – and in 2020 I cancelled at the last minute (anxiety about travelling during Covid).
Actually it feels pretty normal round here. Mask wearing is still compulsory indoors here, but really you’re outdoors most of the time here at this time of year. In restaurants, staff wear masks but not required for customers. Most places put a small bottle of hand sanitiser on every table which I like.
I was a little anxious about speaking and understanding a foreign language while wearing a mask. No problems at all though – I even coped with being asked a question in Greek on the plane, at 2 o’ clock in the morning, a minute or so after waking up (they switched the cabin lights on to start the meal service), with the noise of the engines going. So that puts my mind at ease a bit.
When I landed in Athens at 03:50 in the morning on Saturday, it was already 33 degrees. Very hot! Thankfully my hire car – a Mazda 3 automatic diesel sedan – has air con. It is more like a tank than a car – but was fine in the narrow streets of the suburbs of Athens trying to find where I was staying at 5 o’ clock in the morning…..! It has cruise control, bluetooth connectivity (when I recieve a text the car stereo reads it aloud for me), parking sensors, sat nav built in which is useful as my phone sat nav isn’t great when I turn data roaming off, a Heads Up Display (that is to say – the speedo and sat nav information are projected on to the windscreen – a feature many car manufacturers introduced to help keep drivers’ eyes on the road.
It also knows all the speed limits and flashes on the dashboard when the speed limit changes. Lane departure assist is slightly annoying because the steering wheel vibrates if it thinks I’m too far to the left or too far to the right. It beeps at me very loudly if I drive on the wrong side of the road (coming out of the airport at around half 4 yesterday morning, it beeped very loudly and I thought “what the f*** is going on” – until I realised the car was telling me off for driving on the left). If the car hadn’t told me I’d have realised my mistake when getting on the motorway about a minute later.
Mum refers to it as the Tank, but then she didn’t see the Mazda CX-3 which I had last February – that was even bigger still AND I drove it in both Ioannina and Athens city centres, which was an experience!
Above: My Mazda 3 parked at the motorway services about 15mins drive from Kalamata.
The drive from Athens down to the Pelopponese was fairly easy and I did it in no time at all. Having expected a journey time of 4 hours, I did it in 3hrs 22mins plus 2 stops – one at the Corinth Canal (about an hour out of Athens) which is the point where I stop and relax having done the worst bit (traffic-wise) of the journey; and one stop at the last services on the motorway before the Kalamata Airport junction, where I left the motorway to take the local roads down to Agios Andreas (Άγιος Ανδρεάς), the town we’re staying in. Perhaps the reason I did the journey so quickly was my speed. 130km/h (81mph) is the limit here but I was doing closer to 150 (93mph), occasionally up to 170 (105mph).
After the long drive I just stayed local yesterday. A dip in the pool after a rest, lunch in a nearby bar, walk around the harbour, dinner by the sea. I had the pool to myself at one stage yesterday afternoon which was good.
Above: Francisco pool.
Today after breakfast I drove to Coroni (Κορώνη), a town with narrow streets which are perfect for my Mazda Tank. After a walk around town I found a nice spot at the beach, had a long swim to cool off, read my book, went for another swim, read some more….
Eventually I thought I’d get some lunch, and found a place by the sea front in Coroni. Ham & cheese toastie and a drink, connect to the Wifi to read my emails, and people watch. And car watch too. There are a lot of German cars round here – a fair few Swiss too, and the odd Austrian. The German speaking nations seem to like driving to Greece a lot. A fair few French here too but they tend to fly and rent (but some do drive). Haven’t encountered any Brits here yet but they must be around as both EasyJet (from Gatwick) and BA (from Heathrow) have weekly flights to Kalamata Airport, a 45 min drive away.
Hopefully next year my car will also be one of the many foreign cars which enters Greece on the ferries from Italy. I do hope to drive to Greece again soon.
Above: Coroni & Beach
I enjoyed my day trip to Coroni – and my swim in the sea. I’ve not had any long swim in the sea since my 2019 road trip. I’ll often dip a toe in the water when at the beach in the UK but won’t actually swim – the water is too cold and murkey for me. I like clear, calm water, and while a strong swimmer I don’t really like being out of my depth (swimming pools being the exception – and I certainly don’t like swimming anywhere where I can’t see the bottom even if I can reach it).
For dinner I went to see Colin Baker – that’s who the waiter looked like! I had veal stew, which I enjoyed a lot.
It is just after 10 over here, I’m going to read my book for half an hour on the balcony, then I’ll put the TV on for a bit before I go to bed (I’ve got my Amazon fire stick out here so I can stick a film on if there’s nothing good on Greek TV).
Above: Agios Andreas in the evening.