A Travellerspoint blog

England

Getting out of the UK

Not sure I will even post this. This one is really just for me.

There was a new variant of COVID that popped up in the UK not too long ago. We are in Bath and things are pretty good here but there is a chance the whole country will go on lockdown and we would be stuck. We have been self isolating here in Bath for at least a week. We have had almost no contact with people. We decided we need to get out while we can. The problem was where? We looked at everything - . Spain, France, Ireland, Mexico, Caribbean, even going back to the US and ending the trip. We ran into road blocks left and right. For days we looked at websites and went back and forth about what to do and in the end we decided to go to Mexico. Head back toward home but not go home yet. (We can’t go home for another month because we are renting our house). We chose Cancun because it was one of the few places that we could fly to without breaking the bank and we could easily get out of when we wanted to head home.

We finally made a choice but that is just where the fun started. As soon as I booked the flight, I saw something on the airline website about travel restrictions. I always like to have more information so I clicked on it. The US was requiring COVID test for all people coming from the UK. Which was fine. We are not going to the US, we are going to Mexico. However, our flight goes through ATL. Do we need to have it? In short YES.
OK that is fine, we don’t mind taking the test but now we have to find where we can take it. That is another two hours on the internet and Shelley finds us a place. The only place we can take it, in time for our flight, is London. Which is in tier 4 lock down and is an hour and a half away. It is also the center of the new COVID strain which is 70% more contagious.
We don't want to go to London unless it is to fly out of here but now we have to. We are getting ready to go to London tomorrow. Any other time, “Going to London tomorrow” would be a wonderful statement. Right now it is making me nauseous. I have been nauseous for days. I am generally not a nervous guy but my stomach has been in knots and I can’t seem to relax.
This whole trip we have been careful and have felt pretty safe. This is the first time I am scared. Imagine getting COVID on the way to get COVID tests. Irony would be a really big bitch.
Tomorrow is the 28th of December (the original day we were supposed to go to Lisbon) and we fly out on the 30th. Hopefully we don’t run into anything else. Tomorrow is a long day of train rides that we don’t want to take, going to a place we really don’t want to go. I’ll write more later.

( Jan 7th 2021) It is a little over a week since I wrote the 1st part of this and I wanted to finish while it is still fresh in my mind.

So the day we went to London for the COVID tests, we left about 8:30am, our tests were at 1:30pm. We had to pack lunch because everything was closed in London, so there was nowhere to get food. The train rides were uneventful and not too many people, however the cost to ride the train was twice as expensive (Maybe to try to discourage people from traveling). Once we got to London we had to take the tube (their subway) to get to the test. Again, this is the last thing you want to do when there is a more contagious strain of COVID out there.
It takes about 40 min. to get to the testing area by the tube and we have to wait for about 30 mins to an hour to get the test. The test is very uncomfortable. We have to get both our nose and throat swabbed.
By the time we are done, it is about 2:30 and now we have to work our way back to Bath. We will get our results in 36 to 48 hours but our flight is in 40 hours, so we spend the next day and a half worrying about getting the results in time.
The next step is to book a train to the airport. A train is the only way to get to the airport from Bath. There is a bus but it doesn’t get there until after our flight. So I go to book the train and this time it is 4 times as expensive. I have no choice so I hit buy and it says “sorry sold out.” Panic sets in. I refresh the search and the price goes up. I still have no choice so I hit buy and “sorry sold out”. This happens a few more times and by the time I get train tickets the price has increased to 6 times the amount we paid a week ago for the same train but we have tickets.
The next day we pack and get our COVID results, negative. We are ready to go. We hopped the train at 5:30am. The train that was so expensive and kept saying “sold out” was pretty much empty. The rest of the trip to the airport goes pretty smooth. No problems with the train, we check our bags, the airline checks our COVID results and we get through security with time to spare. The flight is long but fine. It’s not very crowded and we know that everyone on the flight had to have COVID tests, so we feel pretty safe. Before we took off we booked a room near the airport in Cancun for one night. We did know if we were going to be able to get on the flight, so we waited until the last minute to book a room.
We get to Atlanta and switch planes. Everything has been pretty smooth up to this point and the flight is only about 2-2.5 hours Cancun. We board the plane and it is packed. Delta has crammed this plane full. I don’t understand why it is so packed and the dumbass Americans are halfass wearing masks and no social distancing at all. I am having thoughts of getting off the plane and just flying back to Portland. We have been traveling for over 4 months now and this is by far the worst disregard for COVID safety I have seen anywhere. Isn't it good to be back in the States?
On the flight it dawns on me why the flight is so crowded. It’s New Years eve weekend and these yahoos are going to party in Cancun. Now I know that is something that I should have thought of but with all that was going on it never crossed my mind. Doesn’t matter now. We are on our way.
We land and the “20 somethings” are pushing to get off the plane so they can party and all I can think is: “I hope you bring in the new year facedown in a mexican toilet!”
We get off the plane and we get in a pretty long line for customs. Well I think it’s a long line but it’s going to get longer. There are two people checking passports. One is checking Mexican nationals and flight crew and the other is checking everyone else. It's moving pretty slow. Then the one person checking everyone else, gets up and leaves for like 30 mins or more. In the meantime more planes land and the line gets a lot bigger. I am guessing there are 250 to 300 people in line now.
The one customs agent finally comes back to very loud applause and cheers. The line moves again. People are getting very upset and we hear arguments behind us which sounds like people trying to cut in line. Finally a second person shows up and it moves a bit faster and we finally get through. We catch our shuttle to the hotel and fall into bed. In total over 24 hours of travel. 2 hours on a train to the airport, 9 hours to Atlanta, 2.5 hours to Cancun, 2 hours in customs and the rest of the time waiting in airports. One very long day and one very long week but we got out of the UK.
About 5 days later. The whole UK went tier 5 full lockdown. We got out just in time or we could still be there.
We ended up in Cozumel and will be here until Jan. 26th then home to Portland. That both makes me happy and sad.

On a side note, with all the places we have been on this trip Cozumel is the most cautious place in regards to COVID. All places like restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores. They take your temperature, hand sanitizer and have you step on pads to sanitize for your shoes. Everyone is wearing a mask inside and out. Unless of course they are Americans but even most of them are doing it. I can’t speak for all of Mexico but Cozumel has their shit together.

Posted by tatehomberg 03:22 Archived in England Comments (0)

Stuck in the UK

So, about a week ago we traveled from Inverness to Bath, England. We had spent our 3 weeks in Inverness planning the next half of our trip. We planned to spend about 10 days in Bath over the Christmas holiday and then head to Portugal on the 29th of December. New years and my birthday would be spent in Lisbon. Well, I don't see that happening now.

I am going to give you the whole story.

Our trip to Bath started a little rocky. We had booked a place through hotels.com and about a week before we were leaving, we got an email saying our booking was cancelled. After several hours on the phone we found out that the people that own the place we booked were just not renting the place anymore. I guess it was a covid thing. However, we still needed a place to stay. After a day and half on the phone and yelling at 6 different people from hotels.com we got another place. It was twice as expensive but we got hotels.com to pick up the additional cost. Problem solved!!!!

We have been here about a week and we like Bath. Cool little town and great for Christmas. We have done some day trips to Stonehenge and Glastonbury. Saw some great history. It has been a nice stay. However, some COVID issues started to come up. First off, London and southeastern England were raised to a tier 4. Which is Lockdown. London is about an hour and half train ride from Bath. It is not that close but also not that far away. Bath is currently in the much lower tier 2. Restaurants and shops are still open with restrictions in place. So, we are still in a pretty safe area.

Then, a few days ago, some news started to come out that there is a new strain of the virus that is 70% more contagious and that is what has caused the lockdown in London. After that news started to come out, EU countries started to close their borders to any travel from the UK. Flights, ferries and trains were all blocked. The country we were traveling to had not yet closed but it looked like they might.

In an effort to get out of England before things got really bad and before Portugal closed their borders, we changed our flight to the 23rd. We moved our flight up a week which cost us about 4 times the original cost. It was really hard for us to do but it seemed like the best choice. At this point I need to give credit to my wife for helping me to see that it was the best choice. Even if our process is a bit bumpy, we balance each other really well.

Now I wish I could say that was it, but at this point 40 countries have now closed their borders to the UK, including Portugal. Our fight was just canceled. We are currently without a plan to leave the UK and not even sure when we would be allowed to leave.

All that sounds bad. However I am going to focus on the positive stuff. (this is not my strong suit, so be patient with me).

  1. 1- Bath is only tier 2. We are currently not in lock down and most things are open.
  2. 2- We have a place to stay. The owner of the apartment we are staying in has been wonderful. He has told us we can stay as long as we need and that he won’t overcharge us. Really nice guy. I met and talk with him today.
  3. 3- Because our flight was canceled, we should get all of our money back. Even the money we spent to move up our flight.
  4. 4- We like Bath. If we have to hunker down here, it is a nice place to be.
  5. 5- Then thought countries are closing their borders, most are only doing it for 48 hours to a week. So things might open back up soon.

All that being said, we currently have no plan. We have no flight and don’t know how long we will be here. We are exploring all options, including coming back to the US. Right now we have to wait and see what happens and what flights out of the UK look like. I was just looking at some flights right after the new year.

I think we are here until after the new year and we will just have to hope that all of England doesn’t go tier 4 in the next few weeks. I am really not sure what is going to happen from here but I want everyone to know that we are safe and we are being very careful. We love you all and we might see you sooner than planned.

(Again, forgive all the mistakes in this entry. It's midnight here and the words are running together.)

JT

Posted by tatehomberg 00:13 Archived in England Comments (0)

The Scramble to the UK and another border to cross

Oct 17th: As I am writing this, I am on a plane and we will be landing in London in about 30 minutes. We were, of course, supposed to travel to the United Kingdom, but not today. We were going to stay in Venice for five nights, and we spent one. Obviously things did not go as planned.

This next part is going to be a bit of a flashback…………….

Oct 16th: We have been watching the news about the COVID increase across Europe, but it is still nothing like the US. I had been checking UK.gov for travel restrictions updates almost every day. I even signed up for their alerts so that I would get an email if anything changed to the UK’s travel policy.

Even though we have been doing research on every country in Europe and their travel restrictions for months, everyone I talked to kept asking me,”is the UK going to let you in?” Like I had never thought of that! Everything I was looking at said yes, the UK would let us in. Italy is a corridor country and we only needed to spend 14 days there to meet the UK’s requirements and we have been in Italy around 25 days. We are planning to be in Venice for 5 more days for even 30 days. Twice the required amount.

On the train to Venice, I was still worried that something was going to go wrong. Our experience entering the Italy border had put some fear into me. Then I got an email from British Air saying that we had an upcoming flight and if we had spent 14 days in Italy we would not be required to quarantine upon arrival. This email just took a huge weight off me.

Being from the U.S. puts a bit of a target on us because the U.S. has done so poorly with COVID. However, this email just spelled out that no matter where you are from, if you spent 14 days in Italy you could come into the UK without having to quarantine. This was huge because now I had it in writing! We were gold!

Oct 17th: So we arrived in Venice yesterday and I woke up today at 5:56. I didn’t want to and I tried to go back to sleep, however nature kept calling, so I got up. I was planning on crawling back into bed but I started messing on my ipad and pulled up emails and other websites. I have been trying to stay on top of things and the UK.gov website has been one of my big information sources. I kept checking the site because our next border crossing would be to the UK after Venice. I clicked the usual pages, but then something new pops. “Italy will be removed from the UK corridor list effective 4am Oct 18”.

OH SHIT!!!! Our flight to the UK is on Oct. 21st and today is Oct. 17th. If we want to go to the UK, we need to leave today.

Now there are a lot of reasons that we chose to go to the UK that I'm not going to go into here (it had to do with the Schengen zone), but in short we needed to fly to the UK before the deadline. That gave us less than 24 hours, which meant we needed to change our flight.
Because I was up so early and saw this news in time, we were able to change our flight but at 4 times the cost of our original flight. Nevertheless, we booked it. The problem now was- would they let Americans into the UK that were coming from a country that was about to be taken off the approved list? We had to take our chances.

Our flight was at 8pm, so we spent the day in Venice but my stomach was in knots the whole day. Shelley was worried too and of course, Savannah picked up on our feelings and was concerned as well. Shelley and I reassured Savannah and put on our happy faces but we were both still nervous.

Finally we headed to the airport, checked our bags and headed to our gate. The hard part would be at the end of the flight, at passport control in London. Or so we thought!

As we headed to our gate, we had to go through a passport check. I thought this happened at the end of the flight but apparently it happens twice. Once to get out of the country you are currently in and once to get into the country that you are going to. However, I am thinking that getting out of Italy won't be hard. They don’t want us anyway! This will just be a stamp and move along. Well, I was wrong.

We got to the young woman in uniform at the checkpoint and handed her our passports. She smiled and seemed very nice.
“Americans?” Yes we are. “Are you military?” No we are not. She looked very confused. “Why are you here? How are you here?”
We explain that we are teachers and we are traveling for educational purposes, but this just Seems to confuse her more. “ You are not military?” No we are not. Next thing she starts yelling back and forth with a colleague in Italian. The only word I can make out is “Americano”.
Shelley understood a bit more that she told me about later; however, it is clear that this lady is trying to figure out how we got into her country. We play up the teacher thing and even throw in travel writing. She asks us more questions about teaching and then asks if we have any proof that we are teachers. Of course, we didn’t bring any teaching ID (which would have been handy for many reasons - teachers, bring your ID!).
I finally tell her that I can show her my school email, and she nods. I pull out my phone and scroll through several emails, and she takes the phone to flip through them herself. She seemed unconvinced until she got to one email that had nothing to do with my school but an online teaching website I use. Thankfully, that seemed to do the trick and stamp, stamp, stamp, off we go to the airplane.
Oh my God, if it's that hard to get out of a country, what are we going to run into when we try to get into the UK?

The flight was about 2.5 hours and I tried not to think of the UK border check, but that is what was on my mind the whole time. We land, head to the passport check and try to reassure each other - “the worst that could happen is they make us quarantine for 14 days in a hotel room in the most expensive city in the world”!

We go through the queue and are waved over to a British gentleman at passport control. We hand over our passports, and he smiles and welcomes us. He is very nice and asks for some additional paperwork that we had to fill out online. He looks everything over and says “Enjoy your stay in London” and hands over our passports.

OH MY GOD, we are in!!!!! That was so much easier then I thought it would be. We pick up our bags and start to walk by, when he says “Oh, and don’t forget to stay inside for 14 days.” My heart sinks! Just as I am about to say “what??????” He says “Oh I'm sorry... forget what I just said. You’re fine! I just see so many people I got mixed up.”

My heart starts to beat again and we start walking before he can change his mind. We get around the corner and breathe a sigh of relief. Part of me thinks, he did that on purpose! Let’s scare the hell out of the dumb-ass tourist. In the end, we made it to the UK and here we stay for, at least, the next two months.

Posted by tatehomberg 14:15 Archived in England Comments (0)

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