It’s three weeks since I wrote the first Letter from Europe and the mood regarding travel in Europe this coming summer has not improved. In fact if anything it has got worse. After months of restrictions people are feeling nervous and anxious. Even the most confident individuals, including myself, are struggling with the complications and risks associated with future travel plans. This month’s Letter From Europe takes us from Jersey to Athens and from Mallorca to the Netherlands.
I’m going to start today with a poignant report from the talented and creative Rachel Fox who lives on the idyllic island of Mallorca. Rachel is a business owner, writer and photographer.
MALLORCA, BALEARIC ISLANDS
Legend has it that Robert Graves chose Mallorca as his home partly on the advice of Gertrude Stein… “Majorca is a paradise – if you can stand it”, she said. Mallorca became my paradise when I moved here 18 years ago, but now we are hanging on to our livelihoods by the skin of our teeth. All we can do is work when we can and meanwhile marvel in this most beautiful and misunderstood Mediterranean island.
A tunnel cuts a lifeline through the limestone rock of the Tramuntana Mountain Range from the Palma road through to Sóller on the North West Coast of Mallorca. Sóller is a gem nestling in the arms of the rugged landscape. The town has retained its identity and accent despite the more recent influx of Northern European investors. The filming of John le Carré’s Night Manager series and before that scenes from the film Cloud Atlas and now the series The Mallorca Files, has attracted film crews and followers on. The mountains themselves are riddled with paths and trails in the magnificent landscape. Almond blossom has just given way to orange blossom. Every corner reveals fragrance and lush vegetation, complacent lambs or intrepid goats. The valley is at its best right now, with the last traces of snow on the highest peak, Puig Major, highlighted by brilliant sunshine; radiant heat lures you to the seashore (by tram if you like) and a cool breeze reminds you it is only just April.
A year ago, we started to endure one of the strictest lockdowns in the World. Isolated Sóller stayed relatively Covid free for quite some time. We behaved ourselves immaculately. But twice now, there have been surges in numbers. Our economy here in the town and of course the whole of Mallorca is suffering hugely due to the lack of tourists. Business closures and food banks are a sad, daily reality here in the Valley and the economy will take a long time to recover. The town has lost 24 souls to the virus and living with all this shows in the strain on our faces, but also in the resilience in our hearts.
Happily for me, my mother arrived for a short stay from the UK to celebrate her 91st birthday. That was over a year ago and she is still here! My two sons and I have been able to care for her and she has fed us in return. I don’t dare to think how differently it could have worked out.
The Mallorquin phrase ‘poc a poc’ (little by little) sums it up. We want you here, but with great respect and caution. Regulations are complicated as some are issued by central government in Madrid, and another layer dictated by local government. Spanish or non-EU homeowners are denied access unless they are legal residents. Movement between regions in Spain is only permitted for essential health, work or educational reasons. As far as I understand, non-EU citizens are not permitted to enter Spain unless for very specific reasons. EU citizens are permitted to travel under their own regional restrictions, and so thousands of German tourists have been admitted into the Balearics over the last few weeks, all being tested for the virus as they arrived. We are watching the numbers closely. Restrictions can change rapidly as local infection rates fluctuate. Until the vaccination program is more complete, the machine that is tourism in Mallorca will not gain much momentum.
Specifically, there is a curfew from 10pm until 6am. Some cafes and restaurants are open. No seating is available inside cafes and bars, and they close at 5pm. A maximum of 4 people are allowed at each table from two households only. Takeaway services are, however available during the evening. There is no mixing of households at home, (unless you live alone, in which case you can form a ‘bubble’ with one other household that cannot be changed). A maximum of 6 people from two households may meet together outside. There have been strict clamp downs on parking and access to some areas. Masks are compulsory at all times unless you are actually eating and drinking, even on the beach if you cannot keep 2m distance. You are free to walk and travel around the island as you like, but distancing, mask wearing and use of sprays and gels is essential. You will be reminded very swiftly if you forget.
Some hotels are open, others are aiming to open in May. If you can make it here and find somewhere to stay, it is heaven. The beaches are relatively empty, mountain walks quiet and the weather perfect. Restrictions may well ease in the Balearics after April 11th, but I expect a very slow and cautious start to the summer. I hope you too can stand our little corner of paradise.
Rachel – thank you so much for this superb contribution to our ‘new reality’. I send special greetings to Mrs Pepperpot (Audrey Fox) now 92 years of age and handling the disruptions around us like a trooper.
JERSEY, CHANNEL ISLANDS
Next we are moving on to Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, nestling in the Atlantic Ocean, closer to France than the UK, and yet historically and culturally aligned to the British Isles. Here my friend Francesca is sitting out lockdown, anxiously looking forward to her return to Italy. Here’s Francesca’s report:
Jersey is the largest of the five Channel Islands, all separate jurisdictions and all have handled this Covid crisis differently, apparently quite successfully. The smaller islands are all now Covid free and have no further restrictions while Jersey and Guernsey are cautiously reopening with a slow reconnection plan – which, if new cases appear or surge, will be quickly and strictly reversed.
Just before the Christmas time lockdown Jersey had over 1000 active cases for a population of approximately 110,000 but as I write, after a long three-month lockdown, we have just 4 active cases and cautious re-opening of life with the “new normal” measures to keep us safe. About a month ago, restaurants and (some) hotels re-opened with serious, far from normal restrictions to their activity – and regular almost daily control visits from Covid Marshalls. Tables are safely distanced, masks used and no alcohol served without a substantial meal, no drinks in the bar before or after, 2.5 hours max lingering over your lunch/dinner. Many people I know have not yet dined out – they would love a change from their own cooking but are still preferring a home delivery with or without friends, who now are once again welcome and legal in homes. Not over 10 persons, however – so no parties!
Travel, in a small island that people habitually leave both for leisure and business, is a burning issue and, although we are politically independent of the UK, our local government tends to follow the UK’s lead, so travel is currently illegal unless you have a valid reason to go. We have approximately one flight a day for medical reasons and air mail; around 4 ships arrive and depart daily, mostly freight. Currently our reconnection plan should allow travel to and from the UK, and Guernsey, from 26th April. I am so excited I might be able to have house guests soon! I should have a couple of opportunities to welcome dear friends, too long absent, before I head out to Italy on the first ferry for France, so I can return to my long suffering, patient husband in Italy. International travel is planned to start again on 17th May at the earliest, although the latest news from the UK may well mean this will be put off. I understand it is possible to travel now if you have a valid and very important reason for going, and of course, can accept isolation for 10 days and three negative PCR tests before normal life can resume again. Hopefully from 26th April this will change at least for our domestic travel plans.
Thank you so much Francesca for your contribution. Being on a small island like Jersey and cut off from the rest of Europe must seem, on the one hand, an ideal place to be, where the virus can be controlled and numbers of infections reduced. On the other hand it must seem like a gilded cage, from which there is no escape.
The delightful Daphne reports from Greece……..
In Greece, cases are at a historic high, at around 3000 per day, half of which are in Athens, and the health care system is severely strained, but fear is diminished as lockdown fatigue and spring set in. In terms of restrictions there is a huge disparity between theory and practice. In theory, we are under very strict lockdown and only allowed to go out briefly after sending a text message stating the purpose of our outing (eg. code 1 for pharmacy and doctors, 2 for supermarket, 6 for [solitary] outdoor exercise). Schools, shops, restaurants and bars are all shut, and travel between provinces is practically forbidden. In practice, however, enforcement is lax, the weather beautiful, and people are fed up, so we have seen a carefree reclamation of public spaces as people mask up and lounge around on park benches, meeting friends and drinking take-away coffee.
Greece is celebrating 200 years of independence this year so spirits are high, and the vaccination program seems to be going smoothly, so there is optimism in the air. The cash that has been pumped into the economy slightly obscures the fact that the real economy has been severely restricted. However, in a country so reliant on tourism, the stakes are high and the start of the tourist season acts as both a stick and carrot – a starting point and a finishing line of sorts – in everyone’s mind.
Obviously, summer will only truly begin once airports open to international flights, and it is not yet clear where these flights would originate from. The 17th of May is being touted as a possible starting date for this, but at The Vasilicos we are keeping our expectations low and have postponed opening until the beginning of June. We expect this summer to be as quiet as 2020, with no Australians, few Americans – especially in June and July – and practically no cruise ships. Most hotels will be open, as they will not be able to survive a second year out of business, and this will probably translate into lower prices. In all, summer 2021 will be cheap, sunny, and quiet for those who manage to come, but somewhat of a cliff hanger for the numerous small businesses anxiously awaiting them.
Thank you Daphne for this honest and realistic picture from Greece. Mention of the Greek War of Independence reminded me of a different kind of picture. A painting by Theodoros Vryzakis entitled ‘Reception of Lord Byron at Missolonghi’. This is a deeply patriotic canvas commemorating Byron’s arrival in Greece to support the independence fighters and their struggle to rid the country of the Ottomans in 1821. I can’t help thinking that Greek spirit and determination will prevail over the current challenges facing us all.
And a last word goes to William in the Netherlands. William runs a technology company supplying crop monitoring systems to the greenhouses of South Holland. He lives in Rotterdam.
Here in the Netherlands case numbers have been increasing and vaccine deployment is slow. The Dutch will most likely pick up the pace in the coming months. Considering their profoundly innovative culture, the Dutch people expected better. They are fed up of lockdown and despite the high case numbers the Mayor of Amsterdam and several other Dutch cities are sharing the opinion that cafe/bar terraces must open ASAP, the idea being to disperse groups from mass gatherings in parks and along the side of the canal.
By this time next month I expect to see busy terraces full of people enjoying a beer or glass of wine in the sunshine!
Thank you William, it will be interesting to see what happens in Holland as the weather warms up and the independently-minded Dutch decide to liberate themselves from lockdown.
This month’s Letter From Europe has taken us from Jersey to Athens and from Mallorca to the Netherlands. We’ve covered the whole of the continent. Our contributors reveal good humour, steadfastness and a sense of realism about what lies ahead. So what’s the key moving forwards? I think we’ve got to maintain our resilience, hang on to our sense of humour and be ready (and confident) to take back our old freedoms as soon as they are offered. Rachel talks of complacent lambs and intrepid goats on the hillsides of Mallorca. We have to make sure we fall into the intrepid goat camp. After all if Mrs Pepperpot can keep a smile on her face and a zest for life, even at 92, then we all can.
- Special thanks to all the contributors in this edition of Letter from Europe
- Rachel lives in Mallorca – she is a gifted writer, photographer and business owner
- Francesca is a sales and marketing consultant for a variety of top quality, independent hotels in Italy
- Daphne is based in Athens and is the owner of a fabulous boutique hotel on Santorini www.thevasilicos.com
- William runs a start-up technology business in the Netherlands
- Guest contributions in italics
- The first Letter from Europe appeared on 19/03 – The reality of travel in Europe – March 2021
- Daphne’s hotel is The Vasilicos – it’s a little slice of heaven on the island of Santorini. It inspired me to write a little bit of creative non-fiction a few years ago – The island of Santorini weaves her magical spell…… photos below
- Francesca is a heat seeking missile when it comes to top hotels in Italy! Just ask!
- William is CEO at www.applieddroneinnovations.nl
10th April 2021