We realised quite early on that for our stay in the Greek islands renting a car would be important. Although most of the islands we’ll be visiting, including our base of Kefalonia, are fairly small, public transport isn’t particularly great and even more scarce when visiting in the off tourist season as we are. We want to see as much of these islands as possible and so having constant access to a car seemed sensible.
That meant that as soon as we arrived at the airport we had arranged to pick up our hire car.
I have had a UK driving license for over 15 years and think of myself as a very confident and competent driver. Out of Kristian and I it’s me who does the majority of the driving. It started that way due to me being a terrible passenger (passenger road rage coupled with motion sickness) and as the years went by I gained confidence faster, meaning that although Kristian is a very safe driver he doesn’t rate himself high in confidence and we decided I’d be the named driver here.
So I jumped in the car ready to go.
At home we drive on the left hand side of the road with the steering wheel on the right of the car and the gear stick to our left.
In Greece all that is reversed, drive on the right, sit on the left.
So the first time you sit in the car is a little alarming. The seat belt isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Likewise the gear stick. You then have a passenger sitting to your right and it all feels wrong.
Couple that with winding island roads and that first drive was, well tense. I was driving super slowly, had zero sense of how big the car was or how much room I had to my right hand side plus cars kept coming towards me from the “wrong” direction.
Every time I came to a junction or turning I had to say, out loud to myself, “drive on the right, drive on the right”.
But I made that first journey, unscathed, car unscratched and feeling good.
I have made sure to drive every day that we’ve been here, even if just for 10 minutes, and the more I do the better I feel. I am learning the car, learning the roads and learning the rules.
Greek rules are, well, lets say open to interpretation.
Let’s take roundabouts to start…
At home in the UK there is one rule for roundabouts. No matter what direction you approach from or how busy things are it’s always the same, as you approach the roundabout you give way to any traffic coming from your right and once on the roundabout you have right of way.
Now I’m not saying everyone always drives courteously and sensibly in the UK but the rules are clear and everyone knows them.
That is not the case here, oh no, here if you are on a roundabout and there is traffic trying to enter from the right you must stop to let them on, unless you are in Kefalonia where a couple of the roundabouts are more like a square shape and so the rules go out of the window and there seems to be a total free for all!
One of our hosts, Nigel, gave me some great advice, “go nice and easy and if in doubt give way to everyone”. Thank you Nigel, that is serving me well so far.
Parking is also different here, when it’s busy in the main roads and squares it’s quite usual to find people double parking, so if they can’t find a spot they just park behind someone else. If this happens to you and you return to your car to find yourself hemmed in, standard etiquette is to sit patiently and wait for the owner of the car to return. Imagine that in your local high street!
I quite liked my first trip to a petrol station, here it’s usual for the stations to be manned and for someone to fill your car up for you. So you pull up to a pump and then a friendly attendant appears. They won’t want to know how much fuel you need but how much you’d like to spend and, especially at smaller stations, they apparently prefer a nice round number so they don’t have to give you change. We’ve found prices are much the same as they were in the UK when we left.
As you drive around the smaller towns and villages there are not that many white lines marking out the roadways and junctions. I’ve found the biggest clue that a junction is approaching are the big STOP signs, but these can be quite far back from the junction itself, so when you see one, begin to slow down and keep alert.
There are also hardly any pavements for pedestrians so I’ve found it easiest to aim more for the middle of the roads, especially when in the small mountain lanes — luckily it’s very quiet and you are more likely to come across a tractor or a herd of goats than any real amount of traffic.
We’ve also noticed while walking around that not much attention is paid to pedestrian crossings, and they are often used to park on so don’t assume cars will stop to let you cross when you’re out enjoying the towns.
My biggest tip would be to just go for it. Start slow, give way to everyone and don’t rush yourself. Local drivers are happy to overtake if needs be so don’t feel pressured into speeding up. Repeat “drive on the right” for as long as necessary and before each and every roundabout take a deep breath, and, if you are that way inclined, mutter a little prayer too ;-)