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Thursday, 14 January 2010 08:12

Turkey to UK - Çanakkale to Thessaloniki

Day 2.

Today, Thursday, we left a cloudy and cool (6c) Gelibolu at 9.50 heading for the Turkish border, and onwards to Thessaloniki, Greece.

Our first aim today is to drive to the border at Edirne and get the car officially out of the country.  Bringing the car into Turkey will be the subject of a forthcoming report on KTLN, but suffice it to say, if your passport shows you brought a car in to Turkey, you better make sure it is noted to show the car has gone out again.  

A few problems we had with the car, whilst it was in Turkey mean that I am nervous about getting through.  More of this later.

We chose the border point at Edirne because that is what came up when we planned our route online.  It is not the most obvious route.  It takes you north from Gelibolu, rather than heading west to Greece, and once you cross into Greece, you then have to drive south again.  I tried forcing Google maps to go another way, but it insisted on Edirne.  I also asked our hotel for advice, and they too said Edirne.

So off we went.  One hundred and a bit miles later, we finally see a sign for Yunanistan (what the Turks call Greece).  It is just 14km away.  Great.

The sign points us down a rough track that has dozens of lorries parked up.  The road then meanders behind some industrial units, and out into the countryside.  There is not a soul in sight - no pedestrians, no cars, no lorries.  And we are supposed to be heading for a border crossing.

The road continues into lightly wooded farmland.  The road is elevated above the fields by around 5 metres, and you can see it snaking off into the wilderness.  

We continue.  We see the occasional Jandarma sign, where they have a drawing of a soldier with a gun across his chest - the type of sign where you would normally be told to keep out.  On the fields around us there are tracks not dissimilar to tank tracks.  Where on earth are we going?  

Just as we are beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable, suddenly, in the middle of nowhere, all on its own is a sign telling us we are on the right road for the border crossing.  We end up at a small border post - much smaller than we were anticipating.  This is not a main crossing point.  I have a bad feeling about this.

I walk up to the customs kiosk, where I am greeted by the officer.  I tell him there are two people, plus a car.  We want to cross to Greece.  "Problem" he says.

In Turkish, he tells us that his computer is not working and he can't process our details.  We can wait, but he has no idea if and when his computer system will be working again.  He offers some advice.  If we drive to another border point at Ipsala, they can deal with us.

This is not far from where we started out this morning.  It means driving most of the way back from where we came.  At this point I was not a fan of Google maps, because it had led us in completely the wrong direction, for 2 hours.  There was a quicker route heading directly west into Greece after all.

We turn round and head back.  As bad as this seems, it's not all doom and gloom.  Firstly, the drive back is parallel with the drive south we thought we would do through Greece anyway, and apparently, the Greek road we would have taken is not great.  If we go to Ispsala, the roads in Greece will be very good.

We don't wander through the 'firing range' on our way back, but take our chances through Edirne town centre.  In some parts it feels like we have time travelled back about 50 years.  Some of the streets and buildings are grim, but we are soon on the main road, and heading for Ipsala.

Below: Turkey - On the road to Edirne - a more leisurely mode of transport.

Another way to get around

Below: Notice how the lady has the best seat.

collecting firewood

The border crossing near Ipsala is quite different.  It is big, modern, and there are lots of lorries - suggesting it is a major crossing point.  I must drop an email to Google maps about this!

Despite my fears over the car, we manage to get through quite quickly.  Everyone is courteous and friendly.  An Italian car in front of us has had to empty the entire contents of his car for inspection, but we obviously look honest and get waived through.

The border

At 14.50 we say goodbye to Turkey and enter Greece.  One of the first signs we see say Thessaloniki and Igoumenitsa this way - precisely the places we want.  

The road is first class, and the speed limit is 130kph (rather than 90kph), and we make fantastic progress.  Absolutely no hold ups at all.  The Turkish roads were clear, and there were no holdups, but the road surfaces are not as good, and you have to concentrate hard to miss the potholes.

Below: The view through the windscreen in Greece.

The weather was kind to us, as we saw temperatures up to 10c, once we got to Greece.  There has been virtually no rain all day, and we have seen some blue sky.

The countryside in Greece is quite similar to Turkey, as you might expect.  Low lying plains, with a backdrop of mountains - some of them topped with snow. And once again, we find that our route stays quite close to the coast, so there are many wonderful views of the Aegean Sea.

As we drop down into Thessaloniki, it is the rush hour, and it's getting dark.  The streets are a bit manic, but we manage to find a very nice place for the night, the Porto Palace Hotel.  For 110 euros we have a deluxe room with a view, plus breakfast in the morning.

Start: 09.50.
Stop: 18.00
Miles: 422 (679km)
Missed turns: 0
Directions asked: 3
Bags of maltesers eaten: 0 (had to settle for a chocolate bar)
Snow encountered: none.
Possible army firing ranges traversed: 1
CD of the day: Scissor Sisters - their debut album

Tomorrow we head for the west coast of Greece to catch a ferry to Italy.

Read about the next day