The idea appealed to me, take 3 weeks off work and drive to Greece. I worked out that if I was able to drive 800 miles, two days running, I would reach my first destination early on the third day.
I must have had an inclination of the journey to come, a week out I tried to book a ferry from Ancona, Italy to Igoumenitsa, Greece, but I couldn’t make the available crossing times fit into my schedule.
I learned a lot from my drive to Greece, some of which I’d like to share with you.
- Always check the route to the ferry has no road closures. I almost missed my ferry as a section of the M20 was closed.
- If you plan to visit a specific Aires, always check it is open. I arrived at the Tournai Aires just after 5am to find it was closed.
- Always carry reference material as a backup. Using my All the Aires book, I found an alternative Aires at Bleharies Brunehaut. Which was empty and next to the river Lys. Boiled eggs and coffee for breakfast, over looking the river was the perfect start to the day.
- Where possible, top up fuel in Luxembourg, at €0.935 / litre. Slovenia was next cheapest at €1:10. Almost everywhere else was > €1.20.
- Be prepared to break your own rules. I never stop overnight at a motorway services / Aires. But I stayed at one in Germany, which in fairness, was busy and I felt very safe. I did the same again in Bulgaria, and again I felt very safe. One rule I never break, if I don’t feel safe, I move on.
- Some countries like Austria, Slovenia and Bulgaria require a vignette to use the motorways. Vignettes can be found at most motorway services, but in Austria it does not include some tunnels. Other countries like Serbia, Croatia and Greece have tolled motorways. The amount spent on tolls can easily mount up, so you need to budget for this expense.
- Driving through different countries can inspire future trips. Driving in Austria from Salzburg to Villach is very similar to driving through the Swiss alps. The views are amazing, with deep valleys and high mountains everywhere you look. Slovenia is also a lovely country and the views are similarly spectacular. On the other hand, driving through Serbia and Bulgaria wasn’t particularly pleasant, due to the lack of motorway infrastructure, but this is currently being addressed.
- Border controls. What border controls? At the border with Croatia, I passed through the Slovenian border control, who weren’t bothered with the inconvenience of seeing my passport, the Croatian border control took nothing more than a cursory glance at it and after throwing a pamphlet on driving responsibly in Croatia through my open passenger side window, I was waved on.
- Border controls. Ah yes, those border controls! If border control entering Croatia from Slovenia was lax, the border control from Croatia to Serbia was certainly the contrary. After an hour wait to get through Croatian border control, I had another 30 minutes wait at the Serbian border. The Serbian / Bulgarian border was backed up on a single carriageway with hundreds of lorries. The queue again was lengthy. In short, it’s easier sticking to EU countries, for the moment at least. But maybe this is a sign of things to come.
- Sat Nav doesn’t always have up-to-date information, despite updating the maps before leaving. They are upgrading the motorway network between Nis (Serbia) and Sofia (Bulgaria) and it really needs it. The single carriageway has spectacular views, but it can’t handle the volume of traffic. I found some of the German, Austrian and French drivers taking horrible risks to overtake slow moving vehicles.
- Unless you wish to pay a supplement, you won’t be able to use your phone in Serbia, not that I could find a 4G network.
- You see some strange sights in Serbia, like the brave / crazy man standing in the middle of the motorway directing oncoming traffic in regards to a lane closure or the car parked on the verge facing incoming traffic that is actually a speed camera.
- Next time, take the ferry from Ancona, Italy to Igoumenitsa, Greece and spend a day cruising through the Adriatic, whilst staying in the motorhome.
Needless to say, the 72 hours it took me to reach my destination felt like an adventure in its own right. I wouldn’t want to do again in a hurry. Except, I still have to get home…