Travel forces you to expect the unexpected and learn to deal with it. But no matter how seasoned a traveller you are, there are still times when you have to stop, breathe deeply and remind yourself that everything happens for a reason. That and, as in this case, think “we should of taken the bus instead!”
After a fabulous locally prepared Greek breakfast at our hotel in Chania, our goal was simple – get in rental car, drive to Heraklion and then onto the historic town of Knossos which we have heard raving things about.
Instead, Kara got a ticket on our way. Within two hours of getting the rental car at the hotel.
We noticed the traffic police car trailing us for over one kilometre with his blue lights blinking but he was a distance away so we thought nothing of it. He gradually came closer behind us making us wonder if we were being followed. Confused and nervous by the continuous blue lights and a split second wrong decision, Kara pulled into the gas station on the left side to get out of his way, completely not noticing on the narrow two lane road (National Road as they call it in Crete) the double lines on that section of the road.
What happened after, we’re still deciding if it’s a case of quick extortion from tourists or the Greek way is really messed up!
The very grumpy policeman argued she crossed a double line and didn’t want to hear she pulled over after being confused by his continuous blue lights and attempted to get out of his way. There was no oncoming traffic on the narrow dual carriageway to cause an accident nor much room on the right side to stop, so she opted for the gas station. He insisted we came for gas…nevermind the tank was full!
The officer looking at her US passport and driver’s license from the State of Massachusetts and asked “Is this a US driver’s license?”
Kara looking at me in disbelief, I swear she wanted to reply “No the country of Massachusetts dumbass!” I smiled as I’m so used to these stupid questions travelling with a little known Trinidad & Tobago passport.
Trying to explain to the officer our situation, he clearly did not care. He wasn’t even cute too! He started writing a ticket in Greek; he could of been writing another offence for all we knew! His companion brought out the rule book and pointed out that the fine for crossing a double line is €410! €410? Gosh, and the Greeks still have a reputation for being bad drivers with fines like this?
Seeing Kara frustrated and tears not helping the situation, I attempted to slowly explain to the officer. He pointed and exclaimed to me “passenger get back to the car!” Thoughts of Hitler suddenly came to mind. Wow, talk about service to tourists too! Why did he need her mother’s and father’s name for the ticket? Kara refuse to give that nor sign a ticket that had not one english word on it. Couldn’t we have just gotten a warning instead?
The officer also insisted on keeping her driver’s license until the fine was paid. Kara panicked some more, it was her first time driving in Europe and it was only an island, not major city. Turns out if we paid within 10 days we got a 50% discount and we could pay €205 at the post office. Steal of a deal? First country I’ve experienced this in. And she was allowed to drive WITHOUT said license until she paid the fine. Greece…really? She has her passport, she can still leave the country till they track her down to pay, if ever.
The officer wrote the name of the station ‘Episkopi of Rethimno” and a phone number. Told us specifically to drive for 2km back to the the station in town; once we paid the fine at the nearby post office they would come to the station and return the license within 20 minutes. He and his partner then got into their car and drove off, leaving us stranded in a gas station parking lot still in disbelief of what just transpired.
However, a few deep breaths later, and all plans for the day scrapped, we were onto “Mission Retrieve License.”
We drove back to Rethimno and found the main police station. He sent us to the wrong one; we were in the wrong town too! Episkopi and Rethimno are different places! The officers there though were surprised we got a ticket after reading the details and hearing of our circumstances, but gave us instructions to get to the Episkopi of Rethimno which was not 2km away but 20! Surely the traffic police knows the difference between 2 and 20, his English was good!
Trying to calm Kara down was not easy but we set out to Episkopi…driving back in the direction towards our hotel.
Episkopi was a small rural town away from the National Road and very far away from where we got ticketed. Maneuvering our way through the narrow single lane streets, we found the police station, parked and entered, only to find one officer in the entire building. The young officer informed us traffic police was upstairs but everyone left for the day. How convenient. We explained our situation again and what we were told by the officers. We were willing to wait for them, they had to return. We thought he understood and made our way to the nearby post office to pay the fine.
Two hours later sitting in the empty police station, another officer came in for another division, quizzically looking at us. We did not know they closed at 2pm. Really Greece, 2pm police station closes? He was explained our situation and in all his willingness to help us, called traffic police only to be told they are closed and we would have to return the next day…when we had no rental car as everyone knew by now!
The cutie of an officer really tried to help though. He even called the officer holding the license who apparently just did not care about returning it on this day. Didn’t he say he would come within 20minutes? Lies! I hope it’s just bad translation but the cutie officer told us it was “like a religious holiday for the traffic police.” Come again? He smiled and suggested Kara still has her passport, she could leave the country and get a new license. He definitely brightened the mood for us given it was almost 3pm and we had no lunch. He even offered his phone for us to call the rental company to explain and extend keeping the car…just to come back the next day for the stupid license.
And when we thought all was lost and the day was over, we remembered we were hungry. We decided to take the scenic back roads through the olive farms and avoid the National Road as much as possible. This is the part where I am convinced everything happens for a reason.
In driving we discovered the gorgeous Lake Kourna, neatly tucked away and surrounded by the White Mountains. A breathtaking view indeed, quiet and serene too as this was the end of the tourist season. We lunched at the charming authentic family run Taverna Kavalos overlooking the lake enjoying the cool October breeze. The freshly prepared dishes was made with love by the grandmother of the house. She blushed and beefed with pride when we thanked her. The views and the amazing food quickly made us forget the frustrations of the day thus far, albeit temporarily. I was convinced even more we were meant to be here today, not Heraklion.
Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and make the best of a bad situation. I had such an unforgettable experience discovering the natural beauty of the olive farms and Lake Kourna, the traffic ticket has become a distant memory. Oh and in case you’re wondering, we did get the license back the next day…and gave the officers on duty a piece of our mind on how they treat tourists!