August ends with the completion of our visit to Greece. We visited camps in the Thessaloniki region and camps in the central region of Greece. We have spoken to a number of aid agencies and individuals and now have a much better picture of what is involved in working in Greece.
One of the important elements of our visit was also looking at the journey to Greece and how the supply of materials can be brought about most effectively. During the non-holiday season flights can cost a quarter of the price that they cost during holiday season so the economics and logistics of travel are very dependent on the time of year. We found that during peak holiday season it is actually more cost-effective to drive to Greece, even factoring in the increased costs of the extra time involved in doing the journey itself.
There are essentially two road routes to Greece. (We discounted a route through Italy as it involved another sea crossing and considerable time commitments). Both routes involve driving through Europe to Austria. There are variations in terms of whether more time is spent in France or in Germany. Extra time in France involves potential extra tolls and worse road surfaces, but avoids the congestion around Brussels and Northern Germany. However, a journey which spends more time in Germany benefits from the higher quality autobahns and so takes less overall time (assuming no hold ups in road works). Once the journey has been made to Austria and Hungary, there then arises a very significant choice.
Option 1 is to travel through Serbia and Macedonia. This is by far the better “road route.” The journey is all motorway or dual carriage-way apart from a 20 mile single track stretch at the end of Macedonia, where they are still building the motorway. However a very significant negative feature of this route is that many car-insurance firms refuse to insure a vehicle for Serbia and Macedonia. It is possible to buy insurance at the border of each country but the prices seem to be subject to unpredictable fluctuations. Different people reported prices at the Serbian border ranging from 65 Euros to 165 Euros for insurance with a minimum purchase of a 30 day period. The Price at the Macedonian border was 65 Euros. So, if the decision is taken to travel through Serbia and Macedonia then this will cost around 250 Euros for insurance costs. This cost also has to be met in ‘cash.’ If the traveller only has a card then it is necessary to turn around and go back to somewhere else where cash can be obtained.
Option 2 is to travel through Romania and Bulgaria (essentially going around Serbia and Macedonia). There are no extra costs for this route but the journey is mainly single track roads. We found ourselves at times on cobbled roads, mountain passes, hair pin bends and steering between horses and carts and juggernauts on the tiny roads. In places the roads just disappeared totally and became a hundred metres of rubble to drive over. Due to the poor nature of the roads the journey took an extra 5 hours on this route and it was far more tiring on drivers.
In terms of other costs for the journey there are a number of tolls. The tolls in Austria, Hungary and Romania are paid at the border as road tax, by purchasing a “vignette.” Prices vary depending on a number of variables. In August of 2016 the minimum cost of the Austrian vignette was just over 8 euros, the Hungarian one was 11 euros and the Romanian one was 3 euros. Tolls levied on the roads themselves occur in France and in Greece. If going the German route (ie Calais to Cologne) then there are no French tolls. Greek roads have multiple toll points, costing about 2 euros on each occasion. An unexpected road-side cost that is not often covered in journey plans is the cost of toilets. In Germany and Austria most of the roadside toilet facilities have an entrance charge of around 70 cents.
The overall journey is theoretically about 24 hours by road. In actual fact considerable further delays accrue because of unpredictable elements such as road works and difficulties at border crossings. In the former Eastern European countries border controls are still very formal and can have considerable delays. Demands can be made for a range of documentation to prove ownership of the car, insurance, driving qualifications (etc). Assuming that night stops are being made along the way, realistically this is at least a 3 day journey. We reduced costs by planning to stay in camp sites. However a constraint in some campsites is that they do not open the gates until quite late for departures. With a long day of driving ahead, getting an early start when the roads are quiet can be very useful.
Driving to Greece is a long and tiring process and it is not something that we would recommend for single or small groups of volunteers, unless there has been a cost-benefit analysis which indicates that in the totality of the circumstances it is still overall the most appropriate journey plan.