Ian aboard a ferry from Igoumenitsa, Greece, to Italy.
We drive up to the Greek border crossing and show the customs people our international insurance and our European passports, as I have transformed myself from Canadian to British. These documents are received well and there is no hassle and no problem, making this the easiest crossing so far. It feels so good to be in the EU that I attempt to exchange Turkish pounds but receive a very unfriendly response. The Greeks do not like the Turks.
We take the main highway, the E-90, which goes all the way to Thessaloniki. It’s a nice drive through the Greek countryside alongside the coast on a two-lane road with a good surface and light traffic. We pass the towns of Peplos, Ferai, Alexandroupoli, and Xanthi to arrive at Kavala, a city on the coast beside Mount Symbolon. This city has a large harbor dominated by an old and massive Byzantine fortress. We pass the town of Stavros and turn inland through the towns of Nea Madytos and Lagyna to Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece. Therefore, another large and busy place for us to get lost in as we try to find a decent hotel with a car park or somewhere to safely park the Discovery Land Rover. The dark, wet night does not help, and the hotels we had identified in the guidebooks do not exist where they are supposed to be. We receive directions from men walking along the street and find the Hotel Oceanias in the Aretsou area of the city. It is on the way to the airport and the area seems to be a nice seaside spot with lots of boats tied up on the shore and take-out food places beside the street. There is no hotel parking, so the Discovery has to be parked just off a main road, which is a little worrying. The hotel cost is GD 18,000 for the night with no breakfast, but we are tired and glad to take it. It is still raining as we go to bed.
The following morning we start off early in the usual rain, and we carry out the usual diesel fill-up. This time it takes 57.2 liters at a cost of GD 9,500. We head straight into the city's morning rush hour traffic, and as we have to crawl all the way through the city along the coast, we are delayed for over two hours. Finally, clear of the city traffic, we join the E-75/E-92, which is supposed to be a toll road, but that is a joke, as the road is a mess, with many delays due to traffic volume and road works. We pass through the towns of Korinos, Katerini and Litoharo, and pass by Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece, but we cannot see a thing because of the rain, mist and poor visibility. We continue through the town of Tembi to the large town of Larisa, where we stop to change money and buy food.
Meteora, Greece and Hearding Goats
Back on the road, we turn west on the E-92, away from the coast, through the towns of Koutsochero, Trikala and Kalambaka. As the road winds up into the mountains its surface deteriorates and it becomes narrower, with snow on the side of the road. The road becomes very steep and twisty but the snow has been well-plowed and the road is normally clear. We are a bit concerned by the bad road, snow and signs warning that the road could be impassable, so stop at a fuel station. One of the men there speaks excellent English and explains that he worked in London for years. He also says that the Land Rover will have no problem with the road. We pass by the turn-off for, Meteora, an old monastery that is stated to be built high in the mountains on massive pinnacles of smooth rocks. We do not turn off the main road to look at it, as the road is now much steeper, with a surface that is rough and breaking up, causing lots of holes. The road going up to the monastery is even steeper and is snow-covered, and we do not want to get stuck or delayed. Because of the road surface, we are forced to travel slowly and are becoming a little concerned about obtaining a place on a ferry, as we were told that places have to be booked by late afternoon for the evening sailing. The scenery is spectacular, with one mountain peak stated to be 1690 meters. Then the road drops down to Trygena, a town deep in the mountains.
Snow-covered mountains and valleys of NW Greece
In mid-afternoon, we descend down the mountains into the large town of Ioannina where the road improves and we make better speed. The snow has gone and Noinin is unable to see any Albanian gunmen! We pass through Fleousa on the E-90 and continue for a short distance before turning off to the left, to Parapotamos.
We reach Igoumenitsa at 16.00 and find a small but busy coastal town with two quays and a large number of ferries and boats. After a bit of running around, we arranged a place on that evening's ferry sailing to Italy, with a two-berth cabin. The only ferry sailing this evening is going to Bari, so that is where we are now going. We don’t really care where in Italy we end up, as long as we are making progress. The cost is GD 11,000 for each of us plus GD 9,000 for the Land Rover, which is cheaper than we had estimated. We have a meal of pizza, salad and beer while sitting at an outside table on the street.
At 19.00, we fill the "Disco" with 26.2 liters of diesel for a cost of GD 4,500 and join the lineup of cars and trucks going onto the ferry. Once on board we find our cabin, dump our gear, and go on deck. There is great confusion with lots of shouting and hand waving. The ferry is supposed to sail at 21:30, but that time arrives and passes with no sailing. We become cold, so go down to our berth and fall asleep as the ferry is still not moving.
Ian and Noinin Conlin
About the Author
Born in Northern Ireland in 1944, Ian moved to Germany in 1948 to join his father who was in the British army.
Returning to Northern Ireland in 1955, Ian worked for the British Ministry of Defense as a trainee and obtained a degree in Engineering from Queens University, Belfast.
In 1967, Ian moved to Scotland for a year before moving to Canada.
Ian was employed by Ontario Hydro as a commissioning engineer for nuclear and coal-fired electric power stations in the province of Ontario. Then, in 1980, Ian accepted a position with Aramco and moved to Saudi Arabia as a commissioning engineer with Northern Area Producing Engineer. In this capacity, he was commissioned and started up a number of oil and gas plants both onshore and offshore from Dhahran through Ras Tanura to the Kuwait border.
August 1990 was the start of the Gulf War when all Western contractors departed. The remaining Aramco employees in the northern area became busy and the area around the northern oil fields on the Kuwait border became very exciting.
Ian moved to Ireland in 1998, then returned to Canada in 1999 to work as a design engineer for nuclear power plants. He moved back to Ireland in 2011 to work part-time before retiring in 2012.