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.

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