A Travellerspoint blog

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)

Oct 31st update (JT)

Travel update

Sorry, I know we have not posted anything for a bit.

So I am going to start writing some just little short updates about what we are doing and what is coming up. Now, Shelley is the writer in the family, so she takes care of the more detailed and better written stuff. I am just going to write some quick notes, so please forgive me if things are not written well or if I misspell stuff, cause that happens all the time.

So lets see if I can do a quick update. We have left London and are in Edinburgh Scotland. We spent about 10 days in London which was great but expensive as hell. I am glad to be somewhere a bit cheaper and it has also been a bit more relaxing here.

We only have a week here. We were going to try and stay at least one more week but the place we are staying was not available so we are just going to head to Inverness on Wednesday. In case you don't know Inverness is in the Scottish highlands and is up near Loch Ness. It's about a 2 hour train ride.

As you know COVID is ramping up all over the world, including here but still no where near the levels in the US. We have been hoping to find a place to just settle in for an extended stay but we have not found one. We are hoping that Inverness will be that place. They have very low COVID cases and if we like the town and the place we are renting, we might try to extend our stay. The other options are to head to even more Northern Scotland in hopes of seeing the Northern Lights or maybe coming back to Edinburgh and staying several weeks.

COVID makes it very hard to plan ahead because restrictions and rules keep changing. As of right now we only have things planned until Nov 11th. We really are making this up as we go.

So that is my update. I hope that was not too long. I am going to post one later that I wrote about getting into the UK but that one is long and I really should have Shelley look at it and help me polish it up a bit.

As you can imagine Scotland is just beautiful with weather like Portland. The people here have been great as well as the people in London. They have been sweet and very helpful.... Of course, we tell them we are from Canada.

Good night all. I hope to post another update when we get to Inverness. Hopefully we will know what our next move is by then.


Posted by tatehomberg 15:07 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Santa’s grave and other reasons not to visit Bari

Santa’s grave and other reasons not to visit Bari

Feeling surprisingly rested after our trip across the Adriatic in a Jadrolinija ferry (10 PM to 8 AM), we armored ourselves in all of our luggage and ventured off the ship. Here was the moment of truth - are they going to let us in?

There were no signs, so we just started walking over to an official looking building with a queue area set up with orange plastic barricades. They waved us in, took our temperature, and we entered the building to see three booths with windows. The middle one was open, so we gingerly approached the sour-looking man seated in the booth. Not just impassive - this guy had resting “fuck you” face. We tried to smile charmingly (hard to do through a mask) and said buon giorno. No response.

He just looked at us. Not even asking for our passports or the paperwork we had to fill out in triplicate to enter Italy. We passed the stapled papers and our passports under the slot in the glass anyway. He took them without a word or acknowledgment and began looking through them. Shelley pulled up Jamie’s negative test results on her phone and pushed it under the glass as well.

That got his attention! He took the phone and looked at it carefully, scrolling up and down. He pushed the phone back (only having seen one coronavirus test result). Still without a word (or change in expression), he gathered all of our materials together and left.

We looked at each other and shrugged - at least it wasn’t an outright denial. While he was gone, we became aware of a conversation two booths down between another customs agent and what sounds like another American. The English words we overhear are United States. American. Impossible.

We look at each other and try not to react. We hear a pleading female voice say “but we are coming from Croatia”. While we wait for our own agent to return, we hear her explain that she has done her research and thought she could come in via Croatia. Their agent only says “Impossible.”

We dare not draw attention to ourselves but exchange a look of panic. We both take a deep breath as our (still silent) agent returns with a man who is obviously his supervisor. He addresses us in clear English to ask where we are going and Jamie explains that we are in Bari for a night or two then on to Naples.

“Then where? Back to America?”

For some reason, instead of explaining our plan to travel through Rome, Florence, and so on - Jamie says, “The United Kingdom.” Which was going to be true (eventually) but turned out to be a stroke of genius in this instance. The man handed back our materials to the original agent, said a few words in Italian, and left.

Mr. Happy, our border check guy, flipped through our papers and passports, still not saying a word. Now we are just standing there looking at him and trying to unobtrusively listen to what is still happening two booths over.

“We didn’t come from America - we came from Croatia”, the woman pleads. “I did research on the internet… I can show you.” Her border guard keeps cutting her off with “No. Impossible.”

The silence at our booth is becoming unbearable, when we hear a loud “clunk” and see him holding a passport under a machine. We hold our breath as we see him holding a stamp. One, two, three - and he pushes our passports back under the glass.

Not even daring to speak (not that he seems to require a “thank you” or “good-bye”) - we take the passports and walk past him, through the gate into a lobby. We walk quickly, expecting someone to stop us. We can still hear the poor lady trying to plead her case, which sounds exactly like our situation. Maybe she didn’t stay long enough in Croatia. Maybe they didn’t have COVID tests. We don’t know why we’re in and they are not, but we don’t look. We just keep walking.

We step outside into Bari, Italy and check our stamped passports, lightheaded with relief. Shelley collapses onto a bench, finally allowing the pent-up tears to flow - a release of the fear and stress, but most of all empathy for the fellow travelers who weren’t going to make it to this moment of relief on the other side.

Bari is a worn down port town, covered with graffiti and showing signs of wear - beat up boats, scooters with torn seats, closed and battered gates over shops. Our AirBnb host allowed us to check in early, so we met her mother on the street after following GPS to the address. Not a bad place, but our most expensive one to date, due to my mistake in booking - always put the number of people in the Airbnb search! I had mistakenly left it at one when I booked, so when she realized we had three people she jacked the price. I should have listened to my better judgment and cancelled - it would have saved me some hassle down the road. Rule #1 of travel - listen to your instincts!

No need to tell a long boring story of problems with AirBnB hostess and her dismissive responses to the lack of wifi and other promised amenities - we just decided to cut our losses and leave for Pompeii a day early.

We took a couple of hours to wander around Bari - some neat stuff, but hardly worth the stop. The best thing to see is the St. Nikola church, home of - you guessed it- Santa Claus. Or to be more precise, his tomb. It was definitely a weird moment, taking your kid down to see Santa’s grave.

Apparently there are miracles attributed to the body of Saint Nicholas, which lies in the basement of the church. The body supposedly secretes miraculous liquids, but my Italian wasn’t advanced enough to ask for a sample of Santa ooze. Would’ve been a cool souvenir though!

With AirBnB issues, online ticket buying and website crashes, and problems finding the bus to Naples, Italy is starting off with some bumps. However, we made it and are on our way to Pompeii - where their issues really put our little annoyances into perspective!

Posted by tatehomberg 00:17 Comments (0)

Travel guilt

Travel guilt-

We were finally able to reach Mom and Dad! The whole first week of our trip, we tried continuously to get through to Shelley’s parents in the little town of Forest Hill, just outside of Alexandria in central Louisiana. Email, WhatsApp, Alexa - we experimented with a range of technology as we grew increasingly worried.

What a reversal! They’ve been so worried about us taking this trip and concerned about how to contact us in an emergency - and then one came to Louisiana.
Hurricane Laura ravaged Louisiana, and places that were usually safer from the most dangerous winds and rain (because they’re farther inland) were in her path.

When we got through, Mom and Dad told us that they had boarded up the windows and rode it out, listening to the whistling winds and remembering the sounds of Hurricane Audrey in 1957. They hoped they wouldn’t have a repeat of 2005 - when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita kept them on a generator for weeks.

Interestingly enough, had Coronavirus not changed our travel plans, we would have been visiting my parents at their home in Louisiana when Laura hit. We actually left right before, flying out of Dallas hours ahead of the storm.

After the hurricane, we were finally able to get through to my parents. Through Alexa, we saw them - living in their camper. There was no power in the house, despite the generator. Luckily, they had air conditioning in the camper (August and September heat and humidity is often unbearable without it) and were well-stocked on food and water.

Still, the discrepancy of our news - “We swam in the Adriatic, ate cuttlefish risotto and are snorkeling in the Blue Lagoon tomorrow!” and theirs - “We’re better off than most. People are crammed into hotels, like your aunt and uncle. At least they found out that their house in Lake Charles is still standing.”

It’s jarring. It’s heart-breaking and guilt-inducing. Why are we here instead of there? Should we be blissfully enjoying our travels when it feels like America is undergoing one catastrophe after another?

Watching the news of wildfires, riots, rising coronavirus cases, and of course, the neverending Trump circus, we feel both guilty and relieved. We come from Portland, where our citizens are still proudly earning the nickname of “Little Beirut”. We come from Louisiana, enduring one of the longest and worst hurricane seasons in history. We come from the West Coast, battling fires that have decimated some of the most beautiful places on earth. We come from America - divided and devastated.

Should we be traveling when things in America are falling apart? Did we rightfully escape or wrongfully run away? Is there a difference? Isn’t it odd that traveling away from the United States seemed like the safer choice?

Reading news articles, I find one on “travel shaming” - and it speaks to my worries about our trip (and this blog). I’m sure that are some that judge our choice to travel in these very uncertain times.

I can say it was an incredibly difficult decision, and it’s one that we continue to question daily. We were lucky to be able to take a year sabbatical (and as teachers, a damn good year to do it) and to be able to travel. We made the right decision for our family - but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t guilt and uncertainty.

Update: Our hearts sank when we heard the news about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, a true American hero. A children’s book about her life was one of Savannah’s favorites (it was hard not to laugh when she protested bedtime by yelling, “I dissent!”).

America, please do the right thing. Be better. The world is watching.

Posted by tatehomberg 12:07 Archived in Croatia Comments (0)

Savvy Travels- Pompeii

Savvy Travels- Ep. 3

Savannah explores the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum! This is the third installment in her educational videos as she travels Europe.

Click this link below to watch:

Savvy Travels- Pompeii

Posted by tatehomberg 10:39 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

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