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My Trip to, and Escape from Europe!

I am a 64 year old solo traveler in good health and I have been visiting Europe several times a year for the last few years. March is when I like to spend time in Rome, London, and usually somewhere else.

This year I decided to leave March 2nd for seven days in Berlin, twelve days in Rome, and seven days in London, returning March 29th. Since I usually spend time in London at the end of my trips, my practice has been to use Alaska Airline miles for the Anchorage – Seattle run (usually the most expensive part of the trip), a roundtrip ticket for the Seattle – London run, and separate tickets from London to wherever I happen to be going.

I left on March 2nd and I checked into my Berlin Hotel on the 3rd. For seven days I went here and there and it was business as usual. When I woke up on the 10th I checked my email to see an email from a friend saying I would not be traveling to Rome today – they just shut down all of Italy! Well that did not sound good, I love Rome and that was a big part of the reason for this trip, but I have been there before and I will be there again in the future so I just went with the flow. I booked an EasyJet flight to London and made plans to arrive at my hotel there earlier than I had anticipated. London was great, everything business as usual there, but I started thinking that I really was not planning on staying there that long, and with the disruption of international flights I decided to see if I could return to the US at an earlier time.

I called Virgin Atlantic to see if I could move my London – Seattle flight from the 29th to the 18th. Their customer service line said to expect a three hour hold time. After two hours on hold my call was dropped. I tried again with the same results. So the next day I rode the Underground to Heathrow, found Virgin Atlantic in Terminal three, and went to their customer service counter which was manned by two people. Although there was a line of people in front of me, forty-five minutes later my changes had been made and I was on my way.

The day before my flight was to depart I received an email saying I could check-in for my flight. Two hours after that I received an email that my flight had been cancelled and to call customer service to reschedule the flight. Well I was not going to call customer service for sure. I checked their available flights to the US and found eight possibilities, all being routed through LAX, JFK, or Atlanta. I figured I always hear negative things about LAX and JFK so Atlanta it was. With a two hour layover there for a flight to Seattle it would be tight considering I did not know what kind of enhanced screening might be involved in Atlanta. A quick investigation showed there were several later flights to Seattle should I need them. I rode the Underground to back Heathrow, went to the Virgin Atlantic Customer service desk and walked right up and explained that my original flight to Seattle had been cancelled and this is the routing I wanted. He booked it right away and five minutes later I had my tickets and went back to my Hotel. My flight was scheduled to depart at 9:20 with a boarding time of 8:20, which seemed early.

The next morning I arrived at the airport, checked in, and went looking for the gate. The departure monitor said the gate would be shown at 8:20. Promptly at 8:20 the gate was displayed and I headed off. At the gate there were staff ready to board me, they gave me several CDC forms to fill out, and I boarded the aircraft. I found my seat, stowed my gear, and sat down, and started working on the forms. There was a brief announcement that passengers should not fasten their seat belts as the aircraft was still being refueled!

Posted by
95 posts

There were two forms, a CDC Contact Form which was basically Name, address, arrival date and location. The second form was a US Traveler Health Declaration which was basically name, address, date and location of entry into the US, were you in any of these countries within the last fourteen days, and have you experienced any of these symptoms, with space for any notes CDC staff might want to make.

The flight, on an Airbus 330, departed on schedule with 165 passengers aboard and arrived in Atlanta without incident. On past flights into the US, a US Customs Declaration Form was handed out to passengers to be completed and presented to a Customs Officer. This form was NOT handed out.

Everyone took to the aisles in anticipation of leaving the aircraft. After about ten minutes an announcement was made that everyone needed to sit down, CDC personal were going to come aboard and collect their forms. Twenty-five minutes later, with no one in sight, another announcement was made that CDC would be collecting their forms at the terminal end of the jet-way. We departed the aircraft and the process moved along efficiently. When it was my turn I gave the official my forms and he handed my CDC Contact form back to me. He saw that I had been in Berlin and had me step forward where another official quickly took my temperature and immediately sent me on my way.

I quickly arrived at immigration and went to the Global Entry Kiosk, received my entry documentation, handed that and my passport to another official and I was off to reclaim my bag. The official did not ask me any questions other than “did CDC give you anything?” They had, just an information pamphlet. Global Entry did not speed things up on this trip – there were six or eight manned stations and we were the only flight there. I retrieved my bag, which was tagged for Seattle, went through customs, and dropped it off at a nearby baggage area. I left on the scheduled flight to Seattle and then back to Anchorage as anticipated.

While I really wanted to spend some time in Rome, I learned a long time ago to just go with the flow. I did have some new experiences and memories which is what life is all about!

Oh, and nobody asked for my CDC Form, I still have it!

Posted by
945 posts

It was very interesting to read your report and it was delightful because there was no whining!
Thank you, and happy trails in the future!

Posted by
7606 posts

My thanks too for the report. You made a good decision early on and I found it very interesting you headed out to the airport and got good service with the changes you needed. I'm glad you are back home!

Posted by
4153 posts

Thanks for this account. You were adaptable (good for you) and also I think lucky. Lots of horror stories on these threads compared to your relatively pain-free experience. Not that it's easy to change plans and have last-minute cancellations, but you obviously handled it well.

Hard to believe, though, that it was "business as usual" in Berlin and London this month. Hadn't they put some protective measures in place while you were there? Maybe if sights and restaurants are open, visitors might not notice things affecting only residents.

Stay safe in Alaska, and start planning next year's trip -- with extra time in Rome! ;-)

Posted by
1380 posts

Wow, good job skipping through the storms and making it back home safely!

Posted by
5308 posts

Thank you for sharing your story. I like your wisdom/adaptability in heading out to Heathrow to get things taken care of, and your resiliency all along the way.

So glad that you made it back home. Hope all will be okay.

Posted by
679 posts

Glad you made it home safe and sound. Your report was fascinating.

Posted by
95 posts

Dick, at the time I left the only obstacles to traveling was the lockdown in Northern Italy, which I was not planning to visit, otherwise I would not have traveled.

I was in Berlin from the 3rd through the 10th and used public transportation extensively, the S & U lines, trams & buses, within the city and into the suburbs. Some people, like me, wore gloves on some mornings but that was because it was cold out. People boarded public transportation and sat down, stood up, grabbed hand rails with their bare hands, and did all the normal things people do. I literally saw a handful of people wearing masks. I went to a shopping center and the Saturn store and they were crowded. All of the small food outlets you find and the train/bus stations were open for business. At Alexanderplatz there were a lot of people coming and going. After visiting the Berlin Luftwaffen Museum I found my bus stop and waited for the bus. Shortly thereafter school was let out and I was surrounded by at least seventy students, all doing the normal things kids do. Thankfully only about twenty-five of them boarded my bus! I visited the Museum of Natural History on a Saturday and it was full of families, couples, and singles.

From Berlin I went to London through the 18th. It was much the same as in Berlin. A few people were wearing masks, otherwise it looked normal based on my past trips at this time of the year. Stores and restaurants were open. I went to the Fairfield Shopping Centers in Shepard’s Bush and Stratford and they were jammed with people. In the Trafalgar Square/Hippodrome areas, there were the usual musicians, jugglers, artists, etc., and plenty of people walking about.

To be fair the last two days I did see more people wearing masks. I was at the Away Luggage store and the salesperson said they were getting ready to close for two weeks. I also saw a “Tuck it” clothing store closed, but everything else remained open. I visited the British Museum and it was empty compared to my past visits. I went to the Rosetta Stone exhibit and there were only two people looking at it! There were still the usual student groups in attendance. They did have some exhibits halls closed, probably due to staffing reasons. I did notice that during the day the Underground seemed to be light on ridership.

It seems my timing was perfect as the COVID-19 prevention measures were starting to come in effect just after I had left Europe.

I have lived in Alaska for forty years, seventeen of which were off the road system. That means three hundred to five hundred miles from the nearest road to anywhere. The only way in or out is via commercial airlines (small single engine to 737 jet aircraft) or private aircraft. I have been stranded many times due to weather, mechanical issues with aircraft, and even volcanic ash. You just learn to go with the flow and try not to worry about the things you have no control over. Expect the expected and anticipate the unexpected!

Posted by
43 posts

Davey, enjoyed your account of your trip. Honestly, I mostly enjoyed the fact that you didn't lose your mind when all things didn't go as planned. That you aren't so self important that all the injustice is definitely aimed directly at you because no one wants you to enjoy your vacation and all the forces are against you! Good people act like you did. Smart people act like you did. I sure am glad it didn't ruin your whole life so you will never want to travel again. Hope to run into you sometime on our future travels!

Posted by
270 posts

Davey, were you told to self quarantine when you got back to the US? I'm so glad you were able to get back home without too many problems. I hope things are not too crazy in Alaska, but if you live in the back country you are used to living on your own and you plan ahead to have the necessary food and tp. I love your state. It has stunning scenery and the people are so friendly and helpful. I hope you get another chance to visit Europe soon.

Posted by
95 posts

Janet, I was not told anything but the CDC did give me a handout for travelers arriving from China that suggested that if you came from China or other affected areas, in my case Germany, you should self-quarantine for fourteen days. While I believe my chances of contracting COVID-19 was next to nothing, that is what I have been doing just to be on the safe side for others.

I do not live in the bush anymore, I actually live ten minutes from Anchorage International Airport! I live alone and do a little consulting work from my home office. I can actually do the work anywhere I have internet service and frequently do. Anchorage has a serious earthquake risk, and with five active volcanos located within eighty to one hundred seventy-five miles away, we have experienced some serious ash fallout/flight interruptions over the years. An ocean going barge arrives in Anchorage almost everyday from the lower 48 bringing food and supplies to the State. I have read where Anchorage has a seven day food supply on the shelves of the local supermarkets. If barge deliveries were interrupted that would cause some serious problems. For the above reasons, and that I do not like to shop, I buy in bulk and I am well stocked with dry/canned/freeze food that would last for for months. Most of the things people are hoarding I already have. I have four n95 masks that I purchased years ago when one of our local volcanos was acting up. Volcanic ash is serious stuff that you do not want to breath into your lungs. Think of finely ground up sandpaper. I believe in being prepared,

So, the bottom line is as far as my self quarantine goes, I live by myself, I am well stocked with provisions, I do a little work over the internet from my home office, I have plenty of things to keep me busy, there is no one that I can not go without seeing for two weeks, and if I really need anything I have a great neighbor. No problem!