We left the lovely warmth of Spain and returned to the bitterly cold winter of Western Europe. The original plan for the trip was for us to explore Cologne before heading to a small town near Aachen, where we’re staying over at a friend’s home.
Cologne was bitterly cold, and the strong gusts of winds literally almost knocked people over. Geoff went inside to see the cathedral, while I guarded our luggage outside and hid in a nook away from the wind. Eventually we went into a bakery to grab some lunch, and admire the cathedral from a distance.
Unfortunately, the cold isn’t the only issue. Just as we were about to board the flight from Alicante to Cologne, a friend of mine send me a message to say that due to the spread of COVID-19 in Europe, Singapore will be closing her borders to all travellers (except citizens and residents, who much then go into a 14-day quarantine) who had been to Spain and Germany, effective 15-Mar-2020 at 23:59.
Besides, we had just been travelling in Europe and Asia, and thoughts were running through my head about having contracted COVID-19 and spreading it to my friend who has so kindly hosted us…
Escaping the EU
Our original flight itinerary would see us leave Germany on 17-Mar-2020, which means that we won’t be able to board that flight! A call back to Air New Zealand got us sorted with a new route via Hong Kong, but we haven’t realised then at that time of the call that Hong Kong too started to close her borders, effective 14-Mar-2020. We need to change that flight again.
Options were racing through our minds… should we leave Germany and fly to Finland, where it’s likely to stay open to international borders for longer due to her perhaps more isolated location? Or maybe we should consider Iceland instead? What about going to Thailand immediately, while we still can, and then sorting another flight home from there…? The EU is slowly becoming the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, and countries are quickly shutting their borders to more and more EU countries.
The eventual solution came much closer to where we were. A quick online search suggested that Frankfurt could work. Another call Air New Zealand and another 40-minute wait later, we got a new flight that departs Frankfurt on 14-Mar, and it would see us land in Singapore on 15-Mar in the evening, before 23:59. We just have to get to Frankfurt somehow (via an express train from Aachen, as it turned out, and we can easily get to Aachen via local train connections).
We slept well that night on that Friday, 13-Mar-2020, and depart the following afternoon.
Home At Last
Our Frankfurt to Singapore flight was rather uneventful, but our Singapore to Auckland flight had a little medical emergency that saw us made an emergency landing in Brisbane so that two passengers could disembark and be checked into a hospital. We were assured by the flight crew that the medical incident is not related to COVID-19, which is nice to know. This unscheduled stopover delayed our entry into Auckland by 2 hours, which means we need to be rebooked for our Auckland to Christchurch domestic connection flight, but it doesn’t matter at all. We are all glad just to be on home soil.
A few days later, we both developed cold symptoms. A slight fever, sore throat, and cough. Owing to our recent travels, we were eligible to be tested for COVID-19. We both turned out negative results, which is a relief.
Further good news came in the form of an approved insurance claim. We had to spend NZD 1,000+ to alter our flights, and were able to claim NZD 800+ back after deductibles. While it’s not a massive amount, at a time where pretty much all travel insurances are voided by the pandemic declaration, this is very much appreciated.
I’m so grateful to that friend of mine who alerted me to the Singapore border closure, for the VoIP service that I had which easily saves us hundreds of dollars in international phone call fees, and for the fantastic mobile data connectivity that I had at that time to make VoIP calls work as well as it did. Just one day’s delay would probably see us still stuck in Germany at the moment.
In addition to that, we are also extremely grateful for the fact that Spain declared a state of emergency a day after we’ve left, which caused many airlines to start cancelling their flights into and out of Spain. And as a bonus, my travel insurance did not have a pandemic exclusion clause – despite the pandemic declaration, my insurance policy is still in force!
Last but not least, I’m grateful to my German friend who had hosted us, despite the risks of possibly contracting COVID-19 from us. Having someone else other than ourselves to talk things through calmly, and having support from a local in the event that we might need to stay longer than planned, is very much appreciated.
There are many things to give thanks for in just these two weeks. I have always said that I am a very lucky bear. If I have a guardian angel, s/he must be working overtime. Perhaps it’s karma. I will pay it forward.