Traveling to Europe during COVID
There we were, staring at two weeks free at the beginning of December. No holiday parties to give nor attend. What a perfect time to travel to places we’ve always wanted to see. Vienna and Krakow. And what’s close to Krakow—Warsaw! Perfect, right?
Er, not so perfect. A virus called COVID-19 threatened to throw a monkey wrench into our plans. In November, all of Austria was shut down. No hotels open, all restaurants closed. In short, Vienna was off the table.
What’s Plan B? London. We’d been there before around the holidays and loved it so why not now?
We soon discovered nothing worth getting in life comes easy. As Covid cases were spiking, travel rules and regulations were changing just as rapidly. We found it was more necessary than ever to stay on top of entry requirements.
Fortunately it took the organization skills and wisdom of a finance guy to parse the complex regulations and obtain the hordes of necessary forms. (It helps to be married to said finance guy.)
So armed with hard copies of everything we needed, we headed to Newark Airport, flew through security, lugged our bags for two miles through Amsterdam Airport (where we changed planes) then flew onto Warsaw with nary a blip.
Lesson learned: fail to plan, plan to fail.
POLAND. IN WINTER. RIIIGHT.
Sounds inviting, right? Actually it was tons better than we expected. Krakow was lovely: a medieval town with much of its architecture left intact even after World War II. The hotel in Krakow, the Bachleda, could have been designed by Ralph Lauren.
And forget kielbasa and pierogis: the meals we had at Krakow’s restaurants were divine, and rank among the best we’ve ever had in Europe.
Ditto for underrated Warsaw, which unfortunately didn’t escape the wrath of the Germans as well as Krakow, but still had plenty to offer. Our digs? A grand hotel brought modern. The bathroom alone was large enough to accommodate the 90 guests we used to invite to our annual holiday party.
One other thing you will discover about dining in Eastern Europe: the bill for a restaurant meal may be as much as 40 percent lower than what you’re used to paying. It will make you realize how out of whack NYC prices are.
OH DE LONDON!
We were equally well armed for our flight from Warsaw to London. Knowing that we were required to pre-book a PCR test and take it
48 hours after arrival at Heathrow. Then take yet another antigen test 24 hours before we headed back to the States.
Once these concerns were behind us, we were free to enjoy London Town. Samuel Johnson once wrote, “when a man is tired of London he is tired of life.” He’s not wrong.
The only thing SJ didn’t explain was how tired we would be after three days in London. We visited seven museums, ate in two splendid restaurants and saw the beautiful Christmas lights on Regent Street—as well as the puzzling Advent calendar adorning the facade of Fortnum & Mason. (We later figured it out.)
After three days in London and six days in Poland (a vacation after which we needed another vacation), we headed back to the US having had a jolly olde.
WANT TO DO WHAT WE DID? YOUR CALL
If you’re absolutely determined to go to Europe this winter (and I don’t recommend doing so in late December) please study the Covid testing and entry requirements posted by your airline (United Airlines’ Travel-Ready Center for example was excellent.) Keep up to date on the Covid stats in your destination. The Covid page on the NYT website is extremely helpful.
It was wonderful to get away. Our vacation had its happy moments (a three-hour visit to London’s National Gallery) and moving ones (a seven-hour visit to Auschwitz and Birkenau in the bitter cold.) But would we do it all again now in light of the latest developments? Probably not.
My advice to you intrepid and not-so-intrepid travelers this winter: Stay home and wear your mask. Enjoy the warmth of family.
And follow the advice of Dr. Fauci: wash your hands while singing “Happy Birthday” twice. It’s a simple way to make sure you’ll have more birthdays. Obviously, since DF has celebrated 80 birthdays and is about to celebrate his 81st on December 24, he knows what he’s talking about.