Traveling in Europe is no easy task this summer
What awaits American visitors to Europe this summer is a Byzantine and ever-changing array of restrictions and registration requirements related to Covid. It’s kind of like the changing mask mandates in the United States, with just a lot of paperwork and foreign languages. This is what I discovered during my Kafkaesque odyssey in Greece in June as an enthusiastic but under-prepared American.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. But first, here are all the mistakes my husband and I made on our six day trip to Europe (pretty much anything we could rock with two toddlers at home), so you didn’t make the mistakes. same.
When we arrived at a nearly empty Newark airport on a Sunday evening, the Lufthansa check-in agent told us that we would not, even as fully vaccinated travelers, be allowed out of the airport towards the Germany if we missed our connecting flight from Munich to Crete. . It turned out, however, that there was also a question of whether we would be allowed to enter Greece.
Earlier in the week, when my husband asked me if there was any paperwork to enter Greece, I said no. But in my rushed travel planning, I had neglected to read two emails carefully enough to know that anyone entering Greece needs a Passenger Tracking Form (PLF) and the QR code issued once it was issued. this filled.
The form had to be submitted by 11:59 p.m. local time the day before we arrived in Greece, which meant we had to select the next day, Tuesday, as the closest possible arrival date even though we had tickets to arrive in Greece. Heraklion Monday.
With that cloud of uncertainty above us, we boarded our Lufthansa flight – an overall very pleasant experience and almost similar to the one before the pandemic, except for the masks and a little less convenient service. – to Munich and crossed our fingers that everything would work out.
This is probably a good place to mention that Covid travel, especially of the international variety, is not for the faint of heart. No matter how much research you have done, not everything will be effortless and smooth. Crossing borders is the new norm in our not yet post-pandemic world.
We visited after Greece opened up to Americans, but before the United States was added to the European Union’s list of approved countries on June 18, opening up more options for vaccinated and unvaccinated American travelers. vaccinated. However, each country has the final say on its own rules and restrictions, so going anywhere in Europe still requires a lot of detailed research. And growing concern about the Delta variant is leading to further restrictions in some countries.
Mixed messages as travel industry breaks rules
When we arrived in Munich, the possibility of not being admitted to Greece became very real. A customer service agent from the helpline in Greece told me that we would not be allowed in because we did not have a QR code for that day. Another twist: Bavaria, the region of Germany where Munich is located, requires KN-95 masks, which we do not have.
That was probably the low point: finding out that we had to buy less comfortable masks after a red eye without knowing if we could leave the airport until the next day. We spent several hours biting our nails working on the phone and wondering if we were going to reach the azure waters we were drawn to.
After the TUI blessed gate agent had gone back and forth with field workers in Crete, they assured us that we would be allowed in. (We also later learned that the consequences of arriving without a QR code are not returned but undergo a Covid test at the airport.)
So we went to Greece. At the end of a 20 hour travel day, we arrived at the Blue Palace, located in an upscale part of the Elounda district of Crete, and run by the second generation of the Sbokou family, who were pioneers in the construction of the hotel industry in Crete.
The hotel and the hospitality that accompanies it made the dramatic trip a distant memory. We’ve arrived just in time for the Magic Hour – that time of day when the sun sets over the Aegean Sea and you drink a glass of perfectly tangy rose and eat a Greek salad with tomatoes which are their own life force. .
Crete, where the economy is mainly based on the tourism industry, ticks all the boxes to make visitors feel safe.
“The Covid regulations here are strict,” said Agapi Sbokou, CEO of Phaea Resorts, which owns five hotels in Crete, including Blue Palace. There is so much going on behind the scenes, Sbokou told me during a lunch at the Blue Palace. “For example, glass has to be washed at a certain temperature,” she said.
Masks are mandatory for employees at all times, even outdoors, and the respect was consistent and unwavering. If resort staff were unhappy with having to wear face coverings in temperatures frequently exceeding 90 degrees, they would not show it.
High levels of Covid compliance
The big picture in Greece is that while there have been a few glitches, once you’re on the pitch the warm and welcoming spirit is perhaps stronger than ever. The country, heavily dependent on foreign visitors, seems genuinely happy to see people, especially Americans.
Remember that Greece was one of the first European countries to open up to American tourists and there is a real feeling that the Greeks are committed to making this season as “normal” as possible. while respecting the Covid protocols.
And travel resumes, albeit slowly. Sbokou said the hotel is 50% occupied. On our crowded flight to Mykonos a few days later, it appeared to be at least an American quarter.
But that doesn’t mean that getting around Greece is always easy. Our scheduled four hour ferry trip from Crete to Mykonos was abruptly canceled less than 24 hours before our trip due to a strike by public transport workers. In a strange way, it was reassuring to discover that things can go wrong for reasons other than the global pandemic. We ended up on two SkyExpress flights – motto: “Greece is happiness”. And yes, even at this point in our trip, I nodded in accordance with their slogan.
In family Crete, awareness and compliance with Covid was in full effect: In the six days and six flights of our trip, the trip to Mykonos from Athens was the first – and only – time I heard a flight attendant telling a passenger to pull his mask over his nose and mouth. Everyone seemed to be fully compliant.
But what about one of the Mediterranean’s most famous party islands – Mykonos – known as a stronghold of hedonism? I was curious to know if its vibe could coexist with our world not yet free from Covid.
The brand new Kalesma property, claimed by co-owner Aby Saltiel as the most expensive hotel ever built in Greece, was in turmoil. Saltiel says the hotel, where rooms start at € 1,200 ($ 1,400) per night and are among the largest and best-appointed on the island, is nearly full during July and August.
Yet in early June, Kalesma’s lively and delicious new restaurant, Pere Ubu, was in full swing. The diners enjoyed dishes of braised lamb and seafood while respecting the rule of not having more than six people at the table, even outside.
Accelerate the revival of tourism
During the first weekend of June, the island was relatively calm. Mykonos didn’t feel empty, nor did it have all the summer kinetic energy; locals told me the island was at about 40% capacity.
When I asked someone at the hotel what time the stores were open I was told, “Not late, only until midnight.” In the summer, Mykonos’ shopping mecca typically doesn’t close until 5 a.m. to welcome the more than 200,000 visitors who regularly filled this rocky island during the pre-pandemic period.
The beach clubs, where front row lounge chairs can cost € 200 to hire, were still largely empty. Scorpios, Mykonos’ famous nightclub, opened on June 12 and has a reservation-only policy this season.
But these beaches are likely to be very different in July and August. Since the EU recently allowed Americans to travel to Europe, it will apparently be easier to travel more freely within the bloc. And on July 1, Covid digital certificates for citizens and residents of EU member states came into play for more countries, allowing Europeans to travel without restrictions. (However, the Delta variant may complicate travel this summer).
While the guidelines are constantly changing, professionals in the tourism industry are still learning the ropes themselves. I have met hospitality professionals who did not know the difference between an antigen test and a PCR test. This isn’t the biggest deal, unless a traveler learns at the last minute that the PCR test is required, which costs twice as much and takes significantly longer to get results, which may impact travel plans.
When we left Crete there was some confusion as to whether we had to certify that we had passed a self-administered Covid test, which we had not done. No one has ever requested this form (also hastily filled out with our vaccinated status in the rush before departure).
All of these weaknesses can be minor drawbacks and make a good story, but overall, the regulatory quagmire could be a drag on economic recovery.
I asked myself the question again, as I have done several times during the pandemic in situations involving assuming some degree of Covid risk: “Is all this hassle worth it?” Each time, I came back to what has become sort of a Covid mantra: “No one said navigating a global pandemic was supposed to be easy. “
This trip was neither easy nor convenient, but it was worth it to feel, in person, the big and beautiful people there. I would do everything again (and soon). Next time, however, I’ll pay more attention to the fine print.
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