Travelling in Europe – October 2020

Thursday, 29th October: Just when I think that life couldn’t get any more complicated, something happens, quite unexpectedly, and it proves me wrong!

I find myself sitting in a hotel room next door to London’s Heathrow Airport. My flight to Venice is booked for lunchtime the following day. New restrictions and procedures meant that I had to arrive a day early to have a Covid test. So here I am in an empty hotel, looking out of the window and counting the planes clustered around the terminal building just a few hundred yards away from me. I am watching one of the major airports in the world operating at less than 10% capacity. This monument to human ingenuity is almost deserted. It’s a chilling and melancholy spectacle.

New rules in Italy mean that anyone arriving in the sun-kissed land of the Renaissance must have proof that they do not have the Covid virus. This means that every traveller to Italy has to have a Covid test, carried out by a medical professional and an official certificate confirming that they do not have the virus. The test is a simple series of swabs to the back of the throat and to both nostrils. The test has to be done not more than 72 hours prior to arrival in Italy. So for me the only solution was a Covid test the day before my flight. I asked around in the travel industry world about how I could get this done. To complicate matters further I wasn’t allowed to use the NHS free testing service because my requirement for a test, according to them, is not essential. That all depends on your point of view I suppose! For me personally it was essential.

My sister belongs to a very reputable organisation called AITO (Association of Independent Tour Operators) and they suggested a company called Diamond Air at Heathrow. So I duly booked my test 24 hours before my flight and paid extra for a quick turn around (guaranteed result in 4-12 hours). In fact Diamond Air sold me a little package, hotel accommodation, express Covid test and breakfast for just under £285. The whole procedure was quick and efficient. My negative test result arrived via e-mail 6 hours later. So I knew then that I was free to fly to Italy. Step one – that’s a relief.

Friday, 30th October: However storm clouds are gathering over Europe, France has just declared a second national lockdown and our ‘great leaders’ are threatening more and more restrictions on the movements of ordinary people. My mission is to get back to Venice and move out of the apartment that we rented just over a year ago. The apartment is beautifully located on Lido di Venezia, two minutes from the beach. It’s filled with all my personal treasures and I want my personal treasures back. So in just a few hours I’ll be on the plane and Venice bound.

A LITTLE LATER – Going through ‘Security’ at Heathrow was a tedious bunfight, not enough staff, too much queuing and generally ‘no one cares’ type attitude. Ironic really, given that there were almost no passengers, so wouldn’t you think the Heathrow staff would really want to look after the few customers that they had…….and perhaps offer them an exceptional airport experience. But no………

In complete contrast I received very good quality service at the Renaissance Hotel right next to the airport on what the British lovingly refer to as the Bath Road. Any Londoner knows exactly where the ‘Barf Road’ is and remembers fondly the days of the ‘Sweeney’ racing around in their Ford Granada ‘doing 90 ‘cos they’ve got nowhere to go’. There’s a prize for anyone who can complete that reference (Mr Simmonds you are not eligible)………Paul Murphy, you are………

For an airport hotel the Renaissance was absolutely great. Friendly, caring staff, very clean and, wait for it, the most amazing comfortable beds ever. I actually took the bottom sheet off the mattress to find out the make of the bed – Hypnos – by appointment to Her Majesty The Queen (should have known). I wrote down the exact name so that when we next buy a bed, which will be soon, we are having a super comfy bed which I will move into and refuse to leave, until the current chaos is over. 

There were some nice bits about the airport experience. Fortnum and Mason are still there, thank goodness. Selling amazing teas and delicious jams and marmalades, vital in these Covid times. Let’s face it there are certain things we can manage without and certain things we just can’t. Paddington Bear and Fortnum’s both essential to the British psyche, today’s politicians of any persuasion not so much – let’s just send them all to The Tower. Please Your Majesty do us all a favour and get rid of them all, yes all of them. In fact perhaps Her Majesty could rekindle her dominions overseas and get rid of those on the other side of the Atlantic too while she’s at it…… 

Fortnum’s shop window – London Heathrow Airport

British Airways is the same as ever, maybe a bit better than in recent years. They never had really embraced the 100% load capacity of the budget airlines. It suits everyone crew, cabin staff and passengers when the plane is actually only 15% full. Don’t tell the accountants they’ll have a fit. The service was really good, time for a laugh and a joke. Staff, impeccably trained, charming and calm. After all we Brits excel at finding humour in adversity….

In the air many forms to fill in for the Italian government, all translated very oddly into English from the Italian – might have been better if they’d paid translators, rather than relying on google translate. However, three forms later, and I’ve either complied with the Italian government’s landing requirements or I’ve shot myself in the foot. Who knows! The very helpful cabin attendant told me they’d had absolutely no guidance from the Italians on how to complete the forms and so, basically the advice was, go for it and give it your best shot. Well ok then, I’ll try…………

Another brilliant bit about the British Airways flight was their house champagne which was Nicholas Feuillatte. In my opinion this is the best value for money champagne on the market. It’s absolutely top as the Italians would say on the quality-price ratio. Usually just under Twenty Quid a bottle and top notch, dry and golden with a biscuity-crisp taste. Gold Medal in my book. Prosecco eat your heart out – you don’t even begin to compete (sorry folks)…………

So for now that’s it from me, I’ll be landing in Venice in an hour. Either I’ll be in our apartment on the Lido by 6 pm or I’ll be languishing at the airport, or I’ll be deported, who knows………….

Then next week, Monday actually, I’m meeting my friend Mary for drinks. She’s from Torino but lives in Venice. In the eyes of the Venetians she’s as foreign as me! Normally we’d have our aperitivo at about 5.30 or 6 pm. But the bars and restaurants all close by six, under the new Covid control laws. So we’ll have to start the aperitivo hour earlier, I’d suggested 4 pm, but Mary said 3 pm was best. I wonder if the politicians in Rome know that they are turning the nation into all-day drinkers. It’s not our fault that we are all becoming alcoholics, it’s our politicians, they’ve gone bonkers. We are just trying to live within the rules. If the bars close at 6 pm it is obvious that you have to start drinking earlier to get your daily spritz or two or three in before the deadline. Think it through ‘decision makers’ we folks on the streets will always adapt and adjust……

I wonder if the Queen could extend her dominion over the EU too. Now there’s a thought. However I don’t think that’s possible – the position is already taken by the Contessa Signora Angela Merkel. Worth considering though. And with that, it’s cheers, salute, down the hatch and cin cin (pronounced chin, chin) from Italy……………

I’ll report back with more in a day or two…………………

Postscript – I hesitated to write the final chapter of this tale, because I couldn’t actually believe what happened to me when I got to Venice Airport. However, I’ve thought about it and I think we the public have the right to know…….

Firstly through Passport Control – totally normal, checked my passport and I proceeded into the baggage collection area. Picked up my two bags from the carousel. Looked around to see if there was a desk to report to with my newly acquired Covid negative certificate. No desk. Never mind I thought it’ll be outside. There was a single exit point for passengers to head out into the Arrivals area of the airport. I followed the signs and found myself walking without interruption through the airport and out into the fresh air. I was outside in Venice, Italy. No controls, no checks, nothing. Just me and my numerous filled in forms and my rather expensive negative Covid test!

I suppose the moral of this story is that our ‘great leaders’ are very keen to impose all manner of restrictions on us, the general public, however if these restrictions are not being enforced then it is all a complete waste of time. I spent time and money complying to the letter of the law with British and Italian government requirements. Only to find that nothing was checked and no process was evident. This morning I woke up to hear that Boris Johnson is considering another lockdown in the UK, my advice to him would be this, ‘You’ve been looking for your Churchill moment BJ, here it is, grow a pair, and make sensible pragmatic decisions that enable normal people to live their lives and do their jobs. Do not risk further damage to our economy with another lockdown’. The virus is here, it is everywhere, we may be able to slow down it’s spread through the population but we certainly can’t stop it. The economic damage being caused is enormous.

The delusional fools that masquerade as our great leaders think they are controlling the spread of the virus. They are not. The virus is like a giant oil tanker cruising at speed towards the rocks, our great leaders can adjust the speed and direction of travel, slightly, however they can’t stop the ship. A little humility and common sense would go a long way. The business community feel abandoned and bemused. The restrictions on our freedoms are breathtaking and demonstrate a level of arrogance from our public officials that is impossible to comprehend. Spare a thought for restaurant and bar owners who had invested obediently in all the necessary equipment to operate safely and adhere to all the new hygiene protocols. Now they are forced to close their doors once more.

Perspective – This is how Venice looked yesterday evening as the sun was setting and I treated myself to a water taxi across the lagoon to Lido. The island you can see is San Lazzaro degli Armeni. It used to be a leper colony and quarantine island (the Venetians invented the concept of quarantine in the 15th century). For over 200 years the island has been the home of a group of Armenian Monks who live, work, pray and study on this tiny island. I’m seriously considering joining them for the next couple of years!

Venice - San Lazzaro degli Armeni at sunset
Venice – San Lazzaro degli Armeni at sunset – October 2020 – photo: http://www.educated-traveller.com

Notes:

  • Diamond Air at Heathrow will arrange a Covid Test for travellers, the service is efficient and painless. If you need a Covid Test I’d recommend them. Their web site is: www.diamondairinternational.com
  • The Renaissance Hotel at Heathrow was very good, nice staff, brilliant, comfortable beds – again – recommended. It’s part of the monolithic Marriott Corporation these days. Probably the best way to get a good rate is to book through Diamond Air – they do a package, hotel, breakfast, Covid test and transfer to/from airport. All for about £ 280– (approx).
  • I am not a political person, I am an independently minded ordinary citizen. It seems to me that our great leaders have seriously lost the plot.

Written: 29-31st October, 2020

4 thoughts on “Travelling in Europe – October 2020

  1. Well! What can I say? ! Certainly different from your normal good-humoured, practcal and informative commentary and guidance – but just as readable and entertaining (in a masochistic sort of way)!
    I thoroughtly enjoyed your account (as always) and especially the political rant, to which, in the circumstances, I think you were entitled! In which connection, if you wish to read a really outspoken excoriating rant which would make yours seem like a gentle admonishment, just read Kathy Gyngell’s open letter to Michael Gove – https://www.conservativewoman.co.uk/my-letter-to-michael-gove/.
    Do keep us posted; I hope you manage to salvage all your treasures, and have as much fun on your return trip!
    Best wishes,
    John

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Janice

      Although I have dropped you a line in the Comments section on The Educated Traveller Web-page, I didn’t want to embarrass you by pointing out publicly the l grammatical error which my pedantic streak couldn’t overlook, I’m afraid!

      As I don’t believe in spoon-feeding, I will leave you to identify the horrendous and all-too-common error which you committed in your opening paragraph. Had it been only once, I would have let you off with a mere “tut tut” – but TWICE in the first paragraph – I nearly choked on my home-made Granola-muesli!

      I’m sure you don’t need me to elaborate, but if ‘m wrong in that assumption, do let me know!

      In the meantime, have a productive and enjoyable time in your favourite City, and I hope you get back OK!

      Look after yourself.

      Love

      John

      Liked by 1 person

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