The roads in Greece
Forget everything you know about the roads in your country and
get ready for a completely new experience (one that may shock
The roads in Greece are plagued with all the problems you
can possibly imagine (and with all those you can’t...).
The reason is that their construction is always allocated to
the company that makes the lowest bid. Contractors will make
very low offers to get the job, and then they will go on to
build awful roads using the cheapest material they can get.
To make the asphalt they use limestone, the cheapest rock there
is. After a year or two the limestone is totally smooth and
the surface of the road is glassy and slides like hell.
They also use bitumen of the lowest quality and do not mix the
asphalt ingredients in the right proportions. As a result, the
asphalt may get softer in the scorching heat of the summer,
or it may even melt in certain places, especially under the
stand or your motorcycle!
To make things worse, they pave the roads with the thinnest
layer of asphalt they can get away with. Naturally, the asphalt
cracks and is eroded by water, and eventually it becomes full
of potholes. They fix it and keep fixing it while new holes
appear, until somebody decides that the road needs repaving
and the bidding process starts all over again...
Another very objectionable practice is covering the new asphalt
with white gravel. This is supposed to help the asphalt “stay
in place,” but in fact it’s a way to cover up their
sloppiness. After a while the gravel has disappeared from the
middle of the road and gathered in heaps on both sides, especially
at the turns. God help you if you miscalculate a turn and fall
on these heaps! You can neither manoeuvre the bike nor stop.
Then again there are problems with the way roads have been
designed. For instance, you will frequently encounter turns
with an outward inclination, pools of rain water in the middle
of the road, and worn off edges due to the lack of protective
cement bars on the road sides.
You will also see a lot of signs warning you about “road
works ahead,” or a detour you must take, or the low speed
limit you must observe, only the signs have been forgotten since
the project in question finished some years ago. Conversely,
when road works are actually in progress, or there is a serious
problem (a landslide or a collapse of the road surface, for
instance), warning signs are conspicuously missing.
Problems with problem-warning
Too much sloppiness, unfavourable weather conditions, and, worst
of all, lack of programming and funds for road maintenance,
are the primary reasons there are so many potholes and “traps”
waiting out there for you.
The authorities charged with road maintenance usually remember
to intervene after the twentieth accident or so. Meanwhile,
it is the people living in each area that will try to warn you
of any problems, or the victims themselves... This they do with
whatever means are available, so if you see any rocks, wooden
boxes, trash bags, or cut barrels lying on the road, you should
be alert to the possibility of a problem with its surface. Slow
down and watch out for anything wrong; it could be a simple
pothole or a total disaster!
The icon stands
Oftentimes you will see by the roadside some small, strange-looking
iron boxes standing on four legs and having a cross at the top
and the icon of a saint and a little oil lamp inside. These
serve as shrines and are dedicated to the memory of loved ones
who died in a car accident at that very site. Needless to say,
it’s always a site where something should have been fixed,
where the road needed repaving or a protective bar or a warning
Consider the icon stands as the most reliable danger signals.
The more icon stands you see, the more dangerous the road is
in that place...
There are over 500,000 hunters in Greece. They all know how
to shoot, or else wild animals would not have become so scarce...
Where do they practice? On signs, of course! In the countryside
especially, if you see a sign that hasn’t been shot chances
are it was placed there the previous day or so...
Shot signs are particularly common in Crete, where it’s
practically a custom for every male over fourteen to have at
least two guns (from small handguns to 45 Magnums). Here you
will no longer see signs with a few holes in them, but holes
framed with a bit of sign!
One rifle shot is enough. The sign becomes full of scratches
and little holes and rusts in no time, the rust eats up the
paint, and after a few months the sign has gone to pieces. Reading
it then resembles reading an ancient inscription, since from
a few surviving letters you try to figure out the words.
But it is not only hunters who damage the signs. Drivers, too,
have a way of destroying them by falling right on them. If that
happens their fate is to lie there, since the authorities very
rarely care to fix or replace them. Broken signs are an incurable
disease with lots of casualties.
Yet even if a sign survives all the above, it will not be of
much use to you unless you can read some Greek (nine out of
ten signs are written in Greek, you see). If, on the other hand,
a sign is in English it may confuse you even more, because you
will often see many different spellings for the same word.
Finally, reading Greek road signs requires a discerning eye
and a healthy imagination... This is because many of them (especially
those at crucial intersections by some dreadful coincidence!)
are handmade and found at the most incredible places. You may
see them against a wall, on beams nailed on trees, hanging from
a fence, lying on some rocks, or dropped on the asphalt!
Mountains, hills, or islands, it makes no difference; wherever
you travel in Greece, you will frequently follow dirt roads
only to stop suddenly in front of a wire fence.
These fences do not mark the boundaries of private lands and
are not there to stop you from passing. They simply enclose
community pastureland and are there to stop the sheep and goats
of the local shepherd. This means you can pass freely, although
it’s a pretty cumbersome procedure: You must get off the
bike, open the fence, cross to the other side, get off again,
shut the gate behind you, and then continue.
Two things to remember: First, these fences are usually made
of thin wire, have no reflectors or other warning device, and
are not visible in the night. Second, you are entering a pastureland
that’s visited not only by harmless sheep but by raging
sheepdogs as well!
One hears terrible things about the sheepdogs that accompany
the flocks on the mountain. They say that they are vicious and
bloodthirsty; that their favourite food is the legs of motorcyclists;
that they will jump on your motorcycle, grab you by the throat,
and suck the marrow from your bones; and that they are the “piranhas
of the mountains.” Of course, all this is somewhat exaggerated...
The fiercer they look and the louder they bark, the more cowardly
they actually are. Forced to spend several hours in the wilderness,
they are bored to death with the quiet of the mountain and are
looking for a bit of action. And what better action than chasing
the passing motorcyclist? So what looks like a fierce attack
is actually just a game. Up to a point at least! Because if
they do manage to frighten you they sense it immediately, and
the game gets bolder and more serious, and you may get bitten.
If you don’t want to fool around with them slow down
as they attack until you almost reach a stop. Dogs will typically
respond by dropping the attack and leaving you in peace. If,
however, they don’t go away but keep bothering you, get
off your bike and start yelling or... barking at them (and see
what happens!) If nothing else works, pick up a stone from the
ground and pretend to throw it (or go ahead and do it).
As the Greek saying goes, “a dog that barks never bites.”
However, just to be on the safe side, you may want to wear high
leather boots and gloves when driving on the mountain!
Sheep and goats
Sheep and goats dominate the Greek countryside. You will see
them almost everywhere in flocks that vary in size. If they
are scattered about grazing not far from the road (say about
50 metres), or if they move along its sides in a flock, we suggest
you slow down. It’s too difficult to predict their next
move, and if it enters their sheep heads to cross the road they’ll
do it immediately no matter what. And don’t be fooled:
they may look like soft downy pillows from a distance, but if
you collide with them it won’t be a happy experience!
How do you know there’s livestock in the area? Look for
the warning signs with the cow and especially for the muck on
Bees and bugs
In this country it is obligatory to wear a safety helmet. Those
who make sure that the law is observed, however, are not the
policemen (who will not only let you get away with it but sometimes
don’t even wear their own helmets...) but the bees and
They are found everywhere, they fly in clusters or individually,
and you don’t see them except when they are already in
your eyes! Flies are not really dangerous, but they are certainly
annoying: You have to stop immediately and take the tiny thing
out of your eye with a clean tissue. Do not rub your eye with
your fingers while the bug is in there, or you’ll get
it all irritated and probably for a long time.
If you... collide with a bee the price is heavier, especially
if it gets you at a sensitive area such as the face or neck.
Should this unfortunate thing happen to you, stop immediately,
make sure the sting has come out (if not take it out carefully
with a pair of tweezers), and put some anti-allergic oint-ment
on your skin.
The best way to protect yourself from bugs and bees is to wear
your safety helmet all the time (this is advisable anyway, and
for more serious reasons). If, however, you do not want to use
it for short distances, you must at least wear a pair of glasses
and a scarf around your neck. And one last thing: if you are
riding your bike and feel like yawning, do not forget to put
a hand over your mouth...
Tourists on rented mopeds
The happy tourists on the rented mopeds bear a striking resemblance
to bees and flies: they are seen in large numbers during the
summer, they move around like crazy, and they’re suddenly
in front of you before you have time to notice them. The difference
is that colliding with them is much more painful!
Be careful, then, because most of the tourists who rent mopeds
do not know much about them and drive dangerously. On top of
that, the mopeds are often in a bad condition (worn out tyres
and brakes). Attention must be paid especially on the islands
during the night, because there are many drunk tourists driving
and not always with their lights on.
Turtles and hedgehogs
If you think that those irritating drivers who stick to the
left lane and drive like turtles are the only slow users of
the road, think again. You’re probably forgetting the
turtles and the hedgehogs, which live in this country in very
large numbers, in spite of the countless victims they lose to
the road every year. Their final speed (in the fastest models)
is 1 km/h, and to cross a road that’s ten metres wide
they need about five to six minutes including the stops for
rest! What’s worse, their colour blends with the colour
of the asphalt, so you need to be extra careful in case one
of these cute little animals has decided to cross the street;
if you run it over you may well lose control of your motorcycle.
“The swallows are back,” say the innocent bright-eyed
school kids when spring is around the corner and the lovely
birds appear in the sky wishing to spend the next few months
“The swallows are back,” say the wicked motorcycle
thieves when spring is around the corner and the lovely motorcyclists
on the very expensive bikes appear in the country wishing to
spend their holidays with us. And because of them, some of these
tourists will return to their country earlier than planned and
with their wings clipped...
Luckily, motorcycle thieves in Greece are few (far fewer, in
fact, than their “colleagues” in Italy, Spain, or
England) and they are also amateurs. Still, one should not ignore
Two basic reasons explain their preference for the bikes of
foreign tourists: First, they are an easy target. Second, their
victims will not stick around for long once their bike is stolen,
but will take their helmet and whatever is left of their belongings
and go back home, thousands of miles away. Your chances of finding
your bike are extremely poor, unless it was taken by youngsters
looking for a ride and was later abandoned somewhere out of
On the whole, however, Greece does not have a very high crime
rate. If you take some basic precautions there’s nothing
to be afraid of. These include a safe lock and a well lighted
|Source of the
information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”,
Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of
Greece, click here.