From Turkey to Greece in the time of Covid

We were intending to return to Greece soon after our trip to Ireland at the end of February. This was held up slightly by Ashley’s appointment with the cardiologist which required follow up. This delayed us until after lockdown. At that point, as Hilary is over 65, she was not allowed to leave my house under any circumstances. She applied for permission to travel to the airport towards the end of March, but our flight was cancelled. Having applied for the permission, it was no use pretending to be younger as the authorities and local police knew her age. We kept our eyes on things – it soon became clear that the ferries were unlikely to start any time soon and we saw flight after flight disappear. We kept telling ourselves that the sensible thing to do was to stay put, but we wanted to be back home on Lesvos, we wanted to take care of the garden and get on with the other tasks which should, if all had gone according to plan, have been accomplished by early spring.

There were hints that flights might happen, certainly Turkey was hoping flights to Europe would happen, not to Greece, but perhaps to Germany. So maybe we could go via Munich. It would have been fairly ugly, flight from Izmir to Istanbul. Overnight in airport hotel, flight from Munich, then to Athens, then testing, and overnight in Athens and finally a flight to Mytilene. Transiting 5 airports, two overnight stays in hotels. It looked like it might be doable, but apart from the immense health risks of so many airports, we judged that the flights from Turkey were far from likely to happen. We got that right, as we expected, they were cancelled.

In the end we gave up on waiting for ferries and flights and decided to do the trip by road. This became feasible after 1st June when Turkey lifted the ban on inter-city travel. So we looked once again at the land border.  The problem being that normally, one drives across the bridge at İpsala-Kipoi, and we were unsure whether we would be allowed to walk it.  We knew that if we could get to the Greek side we could get in, we had cleared this with the Greek Consulate in Izmir – who were fantastic. They gave us the phone number for Kipoi Gate so we could call ahead and get clearance to pass. It was however our responsibility to get to the Greek side of the border and we would have to show evidence of our onward journey to Lesvos. We also needed to make the journey all fit together, ideally without hotels or other risks.  

Working backwards. We knew there was a ferry sailing from Kavala at 15.00 on Tuesday 9th  June, getting into Mytilene at 22.30 so early enough to jump a taxi.  We knew when we needed to get to Kavala, and we booked the ticket, giving us confirmation of onward journey.  We also had paperwork from the tax office showing our residence on Lesvos. Our plan was to get to the border for 09.00, giving us plenty of time to get across. We contacted a taxi company in Alexandroupolis and semi negotiated a price for the 200 kilometres from Kipoi Gate to Kavala.  Next up, the Turkey side, how to get to İpsala Gate by  09.00 on 9th June?  It’s 550 kilometres and takes about 7 hours non-stop, though we could go part way on a bus, hotel overnight, and then continue.  In the end we opted for a somewhat more expensive hire car plus driver, leaving shortly after midnight and heading straight for the border.  

The final problem was that those over 65 were still not allowed to leave their homes except for a few hours on a Sunday. Oh, and we were allowed to do a ‘one off’ journey to a home (usually, I guess, a summer home) provided we stayed there for 30 days. Hilary applied for one of those on the government website. She eventually got all the fields filled in correctly and it told her she was not entitled to one until she was 65. It kept returning the same result so, instead, she applied for a different permission (with a full explanation in English and Turkish of what wewere actually doing) and this was approved. She also wrote to the British Consul in Izmir as suggested on in the FCO advice for people trying to leave Turkey. She got a letter to take to the Kaymaktan (who issues the permits) in which Bulgaria and Greece were confused. We didn’t use it. She was a bit worried about getting stopped and showing the ‘wrong’ permit but decided to live with that. In the event, we were not stopped and had no issues with travelling whilst over 65.

Our driver arrived just after midnight on Tuesday. He drove steadily, we dozed on and off. We were awake when we passed Ayvalik which is where we would normally catch the ferry. That’s a 90 minute crossing (less if you get the fast cat) and it would be 18 hours till we passed the same spot again, this time in the opposite direction, on the ferry.

We crossed the Bosphorus in the early hours of morning, arriving at the border at around 8. It took two and a bit hours to complete the formalities.

The Turkish border police pored over our documents for quite some time, before taking us upstairs to meet their colleagues. Who passed around various documents. Eventually they were satisfied and asked us to wait for a lift to the Greek side. We slightly misunderstood this and, after buying some duty free for our neighbour and hanging around for fifteen minutes, we set off. Only to be told we had to wait for our lift, which soon arrived.

The Greek border police pored over our documents for quite some time. To be honest, they were not as communicative, or rather their communications went on behind darkened glass, so we had no idea what was happening. They seem to have had no knowledge that we had phoned them the previous day to warn of our arrival. Eventually they emerged and asked for our phone number and told us to phone our taxi. Which we did. They took the taxi’s licence plate number then returned our passports and other documents. They told us to go home as directly as possible and to quarantine for 7 days, we said we would do this.  By 10.00 were were through and done.

The taxi from Kipoi to Kavala was alarmingly fast but we both dozed in it. We got set down outside a favourite café and ordered freddo espresso. Then club sandwiches and more freddo espresso. We proceeded to the ferry port where we swapped our text message for tickets and filled in a form with our address, phone number and ticked boxes to indicate that we had not been in contact with any covid-19 to the best of our knowledge.

No one in Kavala was wearing a mask, except the waitstaff, sometimes. Social distancing was observed. Much the same was true on the ferry.

It was still too early to get on the ferry, so we sat and drank lemonade whilst watching the harbour. Then onto the boat which left harbour very promptly at 15:00. There’s not much to say about the boat trip really. It takes 7.5 hours. We sat on the outside deck, which was pleasant. We read a bit, we had a beer or two, we ate in the self-service restaurant (not knowing when we would have a chance to eat again)

There were masses of taxis in Mytilene so we got into one of those and came home. Total duration 23 hours, from 00.15 to 23.15.  Total travel cost, 650 Euro for the two of us. It was a very long day, stressful at times, and not without expense.  But we did it.

Winds of Change

One of the first things we did once were were back on Lesvos was go to customs in Mytilene and enquire about reregistering the bike, changing it from UK registered to Greek registered.  This should in theory be a great deal easier than trying this with a Turkish registered bike and was always part of the plan.  The plan is to have this done before March of next year because after then there are simply too many unknowns. The added benefit of doing so is that if we do not then the bike would need to go back to the UK every year for an MOT and doing that would be a pain, fun maybe, but a pain and not something we want to be forced to do.  So the Triumph needs to become Greek registered and plated.  As said we went to customs, papers were taken, stuff was photocopied,  the engine and frame numbers were photographed, and Gregory at customs said it should all be possible and that he would be in touch.  So now we are waiting, and at some point assuming it all goes to plan there will be some money to pay.

This task done the weather took a bad turn.  First was a cold wind storm.  Temperatures dropped, the wind gusting at near gale force.  This went on for a couple of days, then there was a brief lull.  We’d seen the news, a Mediterranean cyclone was heading our way.  There was not much we could do, ferries were cancelled due to the cold wind storm, all we could do was sit it out.  So we made some plans and watched the forecasts.  Reality was that by the time it crossed the mainland it would have weakened so worst case scenario was more gale force winds and a lot of rain.  The cold went, it got warm, the air became really humid.  The forcasts started to suggest we would get off very lightly, but to be on the safe side we stocked up on supplies, nothing major, food for a few days, plenty of beer.

We know other places got hit really bad, there were flash floods, there were some deaths.  It was a very powerful storm with some very strong winds, storm surges, and torrential rainfall.  Obviously our hearts go out to those who got it far worse than us, to those who lost loved ones, to those who had homes flooded and property destroyed  All we got was 30 hours of near continual rain and some gusts of wind, even our internet remained working.


Then slowly the skies cleared.  Wind and storms become a memory.  For now, once more it is warm and sunny, there will be more autumn and winter storms, some will in all probability seem more intense than the so called Medicane.  There are still birds heading south, flocks of House Martins and Swallows are passing through, as are Pelicans and more.  In a week or so we’ll move south to Selçuk for a while, we have things to do in the meantime including hoping to hear about the bike.  Winter is coming, but not yet.

Homeward Bound

Birding trip over we had a huge and leisurely breakfast at the hotel, before setting off for Kavala.  We needed to be in Kavala because there was a ferry to Lesvos at 08.00 the following morning.  These ferries are not daily, and not always at such a convenient time, as in getting into Mytilene at 18.30 so home by 20.00 and in time for dinner, hence this ferry had been part of the plan for a few days.

It’s a pleasant and short ride to Kavala, especially when the weather was so perfect, sunny, dry and pleasantly warm.  On the way, just going along on the bike we saw Golden Eagke, Black Kite, Short Toed Eagle, Long Legged Buzzard, Common Buzzard and Lesser Spotted Eagle.

So Kavala.  We had a place booked in the centre of the city and super close to the ferryport, also close to numerous tavernas and bars.  So we arrived, checked in, then wandered around doing tourist stuff and attempting to book a ferry ticket.  We found ice cream – almost as good as in Italy, but definately Aegean ice cream – it’s different.  We had to wait until the evening to book a ferry or do it on line and pay a 10 Euro surcharge on the collect tickets at the port option, we decided to wait.


Tickets obtained we then had a very pleasant evening, beer and people watching followed by a madly busy taverna, madly busy because it was seriously good and had a menu with a few different things on it.  Most enjoyable and the squid was perfect.  We’ve passed through Kavala a few times, never before really had a chance to enjoy the city, now we know better than simply to pass through in a rush.

And that pretty much was the trip.  The next morning we caught the ferry to Mytilene, and as expected were home before 20.00 having stopped at a supermarket for some essential supplies.  So by 21.00 we were sat in the square in Parakoila with a beer and a few plates of mezes.  We’d covered just short of 2000 miles on the road which was a very fabulous way to get used to the new bike, we met friends on the way and had a great time.  So much fun.  Now back to practical things……



Lake Kerkini – Birding

This was the first time we have been to the lake in September.  The water levels were lower so it was not possible to access the submerged forest.  Many of the sumer visitors had flown, flamingo were passing through and will in time head further south.  Not sure where they had come from, prossibly the Danube delta.  There were still pelicans.  There were many waders including flocks of avocet.  There were raptors, including marsh harriers, and later in the day from the bike we saw golden eagle, black kite and short toed (snake) eagle, common buzzard and long legged buzzard.

It was an early morning trip on the lake.  The light was fabulous.  We’ve never seen so many flamingo, like a pink line stretching around the lake.  The below are from this current visit.

Lake Kerkini is a very special place.  We are fortunate, it is easy for us to visit. It’s about 12 hours from our place on Lesvos, most of which is ferry time. and about 12 hours by road from Selcuk though that necessitates an overnight stay. So it’s easier from Lesvos, get a morning ferry to Kavala and be there in time for dinner, something we intend to do late spring or early summer next year.  There are plenty of hotels in the area, we have one we use regularly.  The whole area is set up for nature tourism, and it’s not just the lake and water birds, there are bee eaters along the river, rollers nearby and so  much more, and there are good knowledgable guides.

The below are from our photos from previous visits.   Maybe they will inspire others to visit the area, it really is worth it.

On Coffee and Roads

So we found ourselves in Igoumenitsa in the late morning.  We’d had a morning coffee on the ferry, good it was, though expensive.  But now Greece, coffee is different.  Gone is the delight of Italy where the only choice to be made is whether to add extra hot water to the espresso.  Espresso and a glass of water on the side, or add hot water and call it Americano.  Either way is fine, and as said, even the motorways service areas in Italy provide coffee as good as in a decent restaurant in London.  So back to Greece, we found a place offering breakfast which was ham, cheeses, bread, butter, olives, fruit juice and mixed friuts, and added coffee, here our coffee of choice is Freddo Espresso, essentially espresso over ice.

Suitably fortified and caffeinated it was time to hit the road.  It would be the last day of going fast.  By now it was approaching midday, we expected to be in Kerkini by 5pm or so.  The Egnatia Odos is an impressive piece of engineering, and as motorways go pretty spectacular.  It traverses a few moutain ranges, goes up to ski resort altitude where the air was unsurprisingly a little chilly.  Some of the views were amazing, not as impressive as some views on the old highway, but that road takes many hours longer and we have done it a few times in the past.  Of course there is an even older highway, Via Egnatia, a Roman thing constructed back in the day for much the same purpose.

It got hot as we dropped down onto the Macedonian plain, passing Vergina and the tomb of Philip  (which is amazing), then Pella (less impressive but the name invokes so much history), then around Thessaloniki, before the last leg to Kerkini.

We got there, booked into the hotel, then went out on the bike with our friend Vasilis.  Not far, around the lake, and to take in some views and share a beer.  Lake Kerkini is a magical place.

Then out again for dinner, before an early night to catch up on missed sleep and because we were going out birding on the lake early the next morning.


Ancona, onto a ferry, win, lose and tie.

It was meant to be a short ride to Ancona and onto a ferry just after lunch.  We’d booked the ferry the night before, there was a choice of two, one ANEK Superfast and the other Minoan/Grimaldi.  Crossing with Minoan was slightly cheaper and faster, it might have been that the other ferry included a stop at Corfu, but anyway we booked with Minoan.

An hour on and we got a text message saying the ferry was going to be departing two hours later than scheduled.   Not a problem we thought, just a bit more time hanging around in Ancona, and besides there was important things to do like ice cream and enjoying the evening.

So the next morning we set off, delaying leaving the hotel as late as possible and having a leisurely breakfast.  We still got to Ancona with loads of time to spare, checked in, exchanged the voucher for tickets and we were given a slip for a complementary snack and drink.  With so much time to kill Ashley decided it was a good plan to go and find a local supermarket and stock some supplies.  Supplies ended up being a 1.5 litre bottle of verdicchio which cost 4 Euro (and we were to discover was surprisingly good).  This was definately a win.

Eventually we boarded the ferry.  Then a whole load of nothing happened.  The two hour delay became 3 hours, then a bit more, then someone announced the ferry would be leaving in 30 minutes.  All in all getting towards 4 hours, so we were looking at putting in for a refund assuming it would be at least 3 hours late into Igoumenitsa.  As it turned out the ferry made up time, so we were only two hours late into Igoumenitsa which amongst other things meant we were not entitled to a discount.  We will call this a tie.  Not too late and no discount – must not grumble.


As to the ferry, well it was OK.  The restaurant was expensive, the bar expensive, and we’d declined to take a cabin on the gronds of the crazy expensive.  So after a spectacular sunset we splashed out on dinner, sat in the bar and consumed our verdiccho (most of it) and managed to get a few hours sleep.  We’d booked a reclining seat, but the room with them in was not pleasant, it lacked ventilation and Ashley got yelled at for even daring to take a look in the place.  So, despite paying for the seat we ended up sleeping in the bar, we were not alone in doing this and to be honest it was a more pleasant environment.  So that’s the lose, spending money on a seat we never used.

But anyway, we got to Igoumenitsa at a reasonable time in the morning.  Got off the ferry and went in search of breakfast and more coffee.

Italy – A Land of Pizza, Coffee and Ice Cream

Leaving Vercors the trip became slightly more planned, mostly because we wanted to get the 08:00 ferry from Kavala to Lesvos on 22nd September.  So we had a choice, loiter in the alps or go to Kerkini in Northern Greece.  Kerkini won.  This meant going fast, so down to Grenoble, then up to the Frejus tunnel, down and around Torino and then find somewhere in Northern Italy.


Motorways in Italy are less sane than those in France, and there was lots of work being carried out on bridges which sort of slowed the traffic a bit, or maybe, or maybe not.  Speed limits seem to be more of an advisory thing.  But there are advantages.  Motorway service station coffee is as good as espresso can get, so way better than what was on offer in the UK or France.  Same with the sandwiches and other things served between slices of bread.  Toasted with raw ham, rocket and parmesan is always an excellent choice.

We ended up in Ovada which was very pleasant, and managed to dodge the thundery showers which started to pop up in the late afternoon.   We had icecream, Hilary had spritz, there was nibbles with the drinks, so much that we ended up sharing a pizza.  Almost needless to say the ice cream was fantastic, as was the pizza.

Next day was more of the same, going fast to Cattolica, near Ancona and the ferry we wanted to catch on the 18th.  Cattolica is a small resort on the Adriatic, way more sane than Rimini.  We had ice cream, we had drinks and nibbles, and pizza again.  For the record (though some may have picked up on this from our facebook) not once in a pizza restaurant did we see pinapple on the menu.

So, Italy, we went fast, we did lots of excellent food and drinks.

Next will be Ancona and the fun and games of the ferry to Igoumenitsa.

Rest Days

We took a break from riding to enjoy some of the finer things France has to offer, so amongst other things mountains, scenery, cheese, wine, company.


We went to an old water powered wood mill and factory.  It had been closed for some time, left how it was when  in operation.  Some of the lathes still worked.  It was a fascinating look back in history.

And a couple more pictures from Vercors.  Such a beautiful part of France.

Next up, onwards to Italy.

Up to Vercors

A second day of heading south took us to Vercors.  French motorways are really easy, they are fast, the traffic is sane so covering distance is no big deal though breaks were taken for coffee, food and rests.  Then it was up from St Marcellin to St Agnan En Vercors.  This is an amazing road.  Vercors is almost impossibly pretty and it was one hell of a way to test out and get used to the new bike on narrow mountain roads.  Great fun.

We stayed with friends, Jeff and Hennie, had a break from riding, more on that later.

Like Birds

Like birds in September we are heading south.  The ride started cool and grey, and as we headed south it got progressively warmer and sunnier.  We got as far as Bar Sur Aube which all said is pretty good going.

As expected the Shuttle was hassle free and relatively expensive but it is so much faster than a ferry,   We met a few others on the road.  A load of guys on scooters heading to an event in ther Ardennes, and some Harley people off to an event in Normandy.


Motorways in France are easy, and driving switches to the correct side of the road.  It really was odd being in the UK and being on the left – I’m no longer used to it.  Silly things like setting the mirrors before leaving Swindon and then realising I had a wider view of the curb than needed.

I’m not a fan of dayglow yellow.  Strictly speaking they do not need to be worn, they only must be worn by law if we get off the bike on a highway.  Reality is it’s easier to wear them and not worry about an official being officious.


Tomorrow we head for the hills near Grenoble.