November 3, 2020 – So, what’s it like traveling during a pandemic? My COVID-19 trip report from Split to Barcelona and back.
Traveling during a pandemic – a good idea?
Let me start by saying that I do not encourage anyone to travel during a pandemic unless you absolutely have to or are 100% healthy.
In my case, I have not had to travel for any reason since the COVID-19 outbreak in Croatia in early March.
That is, until now.
You see, when COVID hit Croatia like a hurricane back in the spring, my partner, who had been playing for a water polo club in Split, was thanked for his time and left without a job and an apartment 48 hours before Croatia went on lockdown, and the EU borders closed. He left for Australia in a hurry, his homeland, and a safe haven where he could still train with the Australia national team to prepare for the Summer Olympics. We were quite naive at the time.
We said goodbye, not knowing when we’d see each other again or if he’d ever make it back to Europe, given the circumstances, but we remained hopeful.
Fortunately, a contract arrived from Barcelona in the summer, where his career would continue whenever he could get there. And as the COVID situation developed in Europe, a journey that was meant to begin in September finally surfaced in October. After 7 months, he was back in Europe. I booked a trip to see him a few weeks later.
While seeing him was my priority, I was also the safe keeper of three massive bags of his belongings – and I needed to get what I could to Spain.
We monitored the status of flights and corona developments in the days leading up to my departure on Thursday, October 29, and as the cases rose around Europe, the less hope I had that things would go smoothly. However, I was ready for whatever the outcome, with a negative COVID test in hand.
Unlike the first wave, flights were not abruptly canceled this time around, and my first leg from Split to Stuttgart on Eurowings was on schedule.
I arrived to Split Airport an hour and a half before I was to take off and was greeted by a rather empty check-in, although not a totally unfamiliar sight this time of year.
Since I was traveling on two different airlines to get to Barcelona (Eurowings to Stuttgart and Vueling to Barcelona) and was checking a bag, I technically needed to enter Germany. Remember, Croatia is on Germany’s high risk list, and unless you have a negative test, you need to go into self-isolation once you’ve entered.
The flight attendant panicked before knowing I had a negative COVID-19 test in hand and assured I would have no issues. She then checked the entry forms for Spain to make sure I had everything I needed. I did.
The security line at Split Airport – heaven.
After I made my way through security and passport control, I waited at the gate. One cafe and the Duty-Free shop was open. All seating was marked, so passengers maintain a social distance.
It wasn’t long before the gate area drew a crowd, and I was beginning to think that the nearly empty seat assignment I saw just a few days before was no longer. Perhaps it had something to do with Germany announcing a lockdown on November 2.
Masks are mandatory in the airport and on the flight. Numerous airport employees ensured everyone was not only wearing a mask but the right one. Cotton masks are not permitted on flights, and disposable masks were distributed if anyone needed one.
It was good that everyone followed the mask rule because, unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to maintain social distance on the way to Stuttgart.
Smooth sailing so far, that is, until we disembarked the plane in Stuttgart and into passport control chaos. You see, all passengers are to be given a Public Health Passenger Locator form to fill out on the flight. This is then to be collected by the flight attendants at the end of the flight. Our Eurowings flight attendants failed to do so.
Not only were over 100 people pushed into the passport control area from my flight and another that arrived at the same time, but there was no order, nor was there anyone to ask for help. A good half hour into waiting, an officer arrived with the forms, calling for everyone who needed one to fill them out as they are required at the window.
A photo of my form from one of my return flights on Air France
But the only forms they had were in German.
Crowds then gathered at the walls as we looked for translators to help us fill out the form. Some passengers yelled and the police had to escort someone out.
Since I wasn’t staying in Germany and had a flight in just a few hours, I did not need to provide a temporary address and wrote ‘not staying.’ Once I finally made it to the window, they quickly looked at my passport, form, and negative test, and I was on my way to the baggage claim. Even though that went quickly, the entire passport control process took over one hour.
After I picked up my bag and went outside for fresh air before checking in for my next flight, a call from my partner made things worse:
“It looks like there is a ban on movement in Barcelona now. I am not sure what it means for you traveling, but it comes into effect at 6 am on Friday.” It was 3 pm in Germany on Thursday. I knew I couldn’t do anything until I got to Spain, and there was no turning back from Stuttgart now. I accepted that my 3.5-day trip to Spain might be extended.
I made my way up to departures to check into my Vueling flight to Barcelona with two hours to spare. The woman at the counter said nothing about the new measures, nor did she seem worried.
“Can I see the QR code on your entry form for Spain?”
And I was on my way to security.
My Vueling flight to Barcelona was not nearly as full, and a seat between my row buddy and me had me feeling much safer than the Stuttgart fiasco I had just experienced. Two hours later, I was in Barcelona and only needed to scan the QR code at the airport to ensure I was healthy.
The atmosphere in Barcelona was not nearly as morbid as I anticipated. The COVID-safe hotel we booked took our temperature upon arrival and asked a series of questions about whether we had been infected or had any symptoms. Masks are mandatory inside the hotel and everywhere outside – and everyone in Barcelona followed the rules.
Hand sanitizer is placed at the entry to all shops around the center, which I noticed is used by 99.9% of people entering. While restaurants and bars are closed, delivery and pick up thrive, and the options were endless.
However, not everyone was pleased with the new measures on movement, and on Friday evening, the first day the measures came into force, some protestors were violent.
“Hundreds of people chanting “freedom” and “this is theft” took to the streets of Barcelona on Friday to protest against tough new coronavirus lockdown restrictions. Violent clashes with police lead to at least 12 people being arrested.
Bars and restaurants have been closed in Catalonia since the middle of October. But confronted by the spread of the virus, a 10 pm curfew has now been introduced as well as a ban on people leaving their home towns during all saints weekend,” reported EuroNews on Friday.
“The measures imposed by the government of Spain and the Catalonian authorities more specifically don’t have any logic to them,” said one protestor. “They make no sense. What they should do is take more measures for hospitals, provide them with staff and material to help them to overcome this pandemic- not impose measures of social control on us,” they added.
Police raced up and down the street of our hotel, where angry protestors burned trash bins 100 meters away. “I don’t think your delivery food is going to make it,” the hotel receptionist said.
Our food came, in the end, and the disarray lasted a little over an hour.
On Monday morning, my wonderful weekend in Barcelona came to an end, though I did have my hesitations about how I would get to the airport during a curfew that lasted from 10 pm to 6 am (my flight was at 6:20). I ordered a taxi with the hotel reception who assured me there would be no issues. My taxi arrived at 4:30, and I was at the airport 20 minutes later. The streets were empty.
Getting through El Prat Airport was a piece of cake, considering I was traveling with only my carry-on back to Split. The line for checked baggage, however, was long – even at 5 am.
It was a rather eerier morning at the airport as most everything was closed until 6 am – or closed due to the pandemic.
I flew Air France from Barcelona to CDG Paris, which was mostly full. I was one of the lucky ones to have no one in the middle seat.
Arriving in Paris was a dream. Airport employees could be found at every point to make sure crowds never formed and passengers were getting where they needed. On my rather long walk to my connecting flight to Zagreb, I even noticed an Antigen Testing Center.
CDG felt awfully familiar, and not so much unlike the travel we are used to. Apart from the travelers in Hazmat suits.
Most shops and food stops were open, though seating areas were closed off.
Our temperatures were checked before boarding the Air France flight to Zagreb.
The flight to Zagreb was unexpectedly full and included a Spanish Judo team and young Europeans escaping to the capital for looser measures. I have never been more relieved to get back to Croatia in one piece.
Only one more flight to go before I was back in Split…
Zagreb Airport was covered in signs reminding passengers to wear masks, keep a distance, and wash their hands.
There was even a group of Americans waiting to board my flight!
Markers reminding us to social distance were also found on the bus to our plane.
The last leg of my journey, from Zagreb to Split on Croatia Airlines, was also surprisingly full. We were greeted with hand sanitizing wipes as we entered the plane.
After a painless walk through Split Airport, I was on my way home to self-isolate, just to be safe.
Traveling during a pandemic, would you do it?
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