We were warned about erratic Greek drivers even before we got to Greece. When we rented a car, our apartment owner’s last words were, “be careful on the roads.” After driving in India, Sandeep felt that he could tackle anything. We persevered and had a great time driving along the Attica coast, even if we were the slowest car on a highway of whizzing Smart Cars and Lamborghinis that all seemed to be in a dangerous race.
The windy highway is sandwiched between mountains on one side and turquoise waters on the other. A few minutes into our drive we started noticing little altars on the road side. They reminded us a lot of the spirit houses in Thailand. We knew that the deeply Christian country (Greece is one of the few European countries that has a state religion) probably didn’t believe in spirit houses.
At first we thought these were small alters where drivers could stop and offer a brief prayer for safe journeys.
However, they seemed randomly scattered along the coast and more prevalent along blind curves – not the ideal place to stop a car.
What we learnt is that these little alters are either memorials for traffic victims or altars of thanks from near victims. Most of these highway altars are understated. Many are small whitewashed stone structures perched on painted oil drums. They have various offerings in them – flowers, candles, even bottles of wine.
During the drive, we thought these alters were tranquil and beautiful, especially the ones set against the backdrop of sea. Perhaps that is because we learnt of their background after we returned the rental car. Next time we are behind the wheel we’ll likely see them as a sign of caution on a street that otherwise seems open and free.
Here is some driving advice from Matt Barrett, the man behind Athens Survival Guide. His website is our online guide for everything Athens. “Driving in mainland Greece and on the Greek islands is a pleasure for those who know how to drive and especially those who know how to drive defensively. Driving in Athens is different. The most important thing to know is that following the rules is seen as a weakness of character by many Greek men who drive with the patience and consideration of a 13 year old drug addict in need of a fix.”