I Drove My 2008 Ford Focus Wagon for 1,200 Miles Across Three Countries With Zero Issues

This summer, the road trip we take each year with the family hit a major milestone - Greece. And it was time to meet the Greek Gods of Mount Olympus, albeit in tree and index plate form – as they were on show in a little place called Olympic Beach.
Olympic Beach road trip 26 photos
Photo: Aurel Niculescu / autoevolution
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I have been an automotive journalist for almost two decades already and have driven some of the finest (or worst, boy, I could tell you a thing or two about those) automobiles in the world. And I have also witnessed firsthand the changes of the past two decades across the automotive industry. So, maybe that's why I don't fancy much about spending way too much money on a new car these days.

Some of the wiser fans of the automotive world might smile and think – 'You don't need to; automakers will jump at the chance of giving you their cars for trials.' Well, suffice to say that they actually don't. Unless it suits their interests, of course, and they'll get more of what they bargained for. But there's no need to feel bitter about that, as I always have a backup plan.

The last few years at autoevolution have been excellent – I don't need to play nice with anyone from the automaker PR pool anymore because our voice is finally more than enough. That's why I can always slap silly any carmaker for their derailments – and there are more and more of them these days.

As such, during the annual summer road trip holiday, I again trusted my old Ford Focus Tournier for the job. It's not the most reliable car out there, but it gets the job done if you know how to treat her, and the cavernous trunk space is more than happy to indulge any of our vacation craziness.

With the kids old enough to withstand trips of over 2,000 km (1,243 miles) back and forth from Greece, we first set out to discover neighboring country Bulgaria and then the province of Macedonia this year. The main target was simple – I wanted to get them to Greece for the first time ever without (too) much hustle, although even during the final days of summer and the first days before school, that's an understatement.

Olympic Beach road trip
Photo: Aurel Niculescu / autoevolution
As you already know, the world has been in turmoil since the start of the second decade – even more so this year than ever before, as climate change is making 2023 the hottest ever, and everyone doesn't seem to care. But the Greeks must, since their country was hit by one of Europe's most severe heat waves, and fires reigned in many places this summer. Unfortunately, as we departed, floods took their place in parts of the country to show that nature is against what we humans are doing to the planet.

So, this year, it's been crazy to fly anywhere – crazy expensive, crazy shameless from airlines with their delayed or canceled flights, and so on. We experienced that earlier this year, so we wanted to relax in the car for a change. I chose Greece because I had been there once before with a very dear friend (cheers, Georgios!), and I wanted to share the experience with the family, too. Heeding his advice, we went to the area of Paralia Katerini on the continent and to a cozy little village called Olympic Beach.

Before that, I split the initial journey for a quick visit to Sofia, Bulgaria's capital. The country is part of the European Union but still shows many of its Eastern European, Communist-ruled roots around the rural areas, with bad roads and many ancient-looking, deserted places. But once in Sofia, the roads are wide and much better, the atmosphere is quite fashionable, and the city center is a mélange of old and new that will be quite intriguing to folks from the West.

Since I'm an Easterner, I was more preoccupied with the fact that traffic was much better than in Bucharest, Romania, its neighboring country, for example. The roads in Greece are quite intriguing, too, as some of them are good and others quite appalling – and the highway tolls should suggest the former, not the latter.

Olympic Beach road trip
Photo: Aurel Niculescu / autoevolution
But the birthplace of the mythological Greek gods is something else entirely once you get on the coast (the continent is quite lovely, too, if you like mountains and hiking, by the way). A lot of neighboring countries send their way tens of thousands of tourists every year for the seaside summer holiday experience.

I have been to Alexandroupolis (the largest city in the Thrace region, named after the King of Greece, Alexander, who ruled from 1917 to 1920) before, and it seems that much of the Greek experience resides in the coziness of the architecture, the beachfront properties with little streets that invite you in tavernas, gyros places, and trinket stores.

It's something that you need to see and feel firsthand to really understand – some might not like the crowded places, some might not agree there's hardly any big 'resort' that caters to every summer holiday dream (still, you can find those too, if you're after them), but it's going to be hard to deny that the Greek experience grows on you with every minute spent on the sidewalk enjoying something traditional or from the international cuisine.

Olympic Beach road trip
Photo: Aurel Niculescu / autoevolution
Basically, there is always something for everyone, and the one thing you can bet on is that you really need to do your homework if you're after something specific or know a local to make him/her your guide.

Speaking of locals, because they have been experienced in the hospitality industry for decades, Greeks are always smiling and ready to help you. They also like long conversations, so prepare to be patient if you're becoming friends with someone. And, although their country has been under so many trials – first the fires and now the floods – they're still happy to see everyone around them. Frankly, that's what you need during your vacation – people who are friendly and understand that mutual respect goes a long way toward building a solid foundation for a (holiday) relationship.

That's one of the main reasons why some people tend to come back yearly to Greece, of course. Now, let us conclude with a word about the other main factor – if you love the seaside, that's the place to be.

For example, in our vacation area, a different beach was never too far away – one day, we just decided to visit as many of them as we could, and in the span of 20 kilometers, we were met by countless – secluded or brimming with tourist life- and all of them still had even the bare minimum facilities like a bar, shower, and toilet. Also, there is never a shortage of stuff to visit – and if you like old architecture and heritage areas, Greece has that, even in the most remote village that you can think about!
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About the author: Aurel Niculescu
Aurel Niculescu profile photo

Aurel has aimed high all his life (literally, at 16 he was flying gliders all by himself) so in 2006 he switched careers and got hired as a writer at his favorite magazine. Since then, his work has been published both by print and online outlets, most recently right here, on autoevolution.
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