An impromptu trip – because we can…

If the past 18 months have taught us anything at all, it must surely be to take our opportunities when we can. So when Rob resigned his job for a new opportunity, and was unexpectedly on “gardening leave” during our visit to London, we readily agreed to an impromptu family holiday “somewhere warm and sunny”.

Obviously somewhere that will have us, definitely just one direct flight from London….ideally less ‘diseased’ than London. A Greek island maybe? Greece is definitely open for tourists – either fully vaccinated or with a negative test result. Easy!

The shifting sands of border restrictions notwithstanding, a villa on Kefalonia seemed like the holiday Rob and Jenna sorely needed, after pretty much a year of lockdown, with so many cancelled plans and disappointments. Sadly, Greece hadn’t quite made it onto England’s “green list” just yet, but they were hopeful that by the time they return after a month away, the rules would have changed again. Certainly, there were strong signals that the fully vaccinated would not be required to self isolate at all. But either way, 10 days isolation at home in their wee garden in midsummer seems like a smallish price to pay for a month on a Greek island, with grandparents along to provide some babysitting.

For me and Peter, the rules are different. We will return to the UK at the end of July, to catch our flights back to NZ. We will be classified as ‘in transit landslide’ for the ~48hours stopover, with no requirement to test or isolate (apart from a fit-to-fly negative test when we leave Greece)…. And anyway, the “fully vaccinated” rule may well apply to us too by then. 

In a more recent update, the “fully vaccinated” has indeed come into play, but only for those vaccinated by the NHS!

So we booked…. And then a week later, the airline cancelled all our flights!

Breathe! Remain calm.

Ryan Air was our only option. The (almost) original budget airline – less than ideal for first time parents, planning Alfie’s first flight! So we rebooked, and kept our fingers and toes crossed that the flight would actually fly.

And then, in a seemingly last ditch effort to scupper our plans, the virus threw us one more curve ball! At the 11th hour, the friends who were confirmed to look after the house and most importantly, the dog, developed symptoms and were in isolation pending test results (which did indeed come back positive).

Oh dear!

Thankfully Rob & Jenna have amazing friends. Caroline – “mum” to Westies Bumble and Bee, drove down from the Cotswolds to pick up Miso for the whole month, where we can confirm that she is now living her best ever Westie life.

Now travelling with a baby is never trivial, and for first time parents, the prospect became increasingly daunting as the pile of luggage grew and grew.  Pram, car seat, travel cot – the latter weighing 10kg!  As an aside, probably someone should have something to say about a company that sells a “travel cot” that takes up half your luggage allowance!  A month’s supply of nappies, an emergency supply of premixed baby formula (should have brought more)…  the situation for baby supplies in Katelios being a huge unknown.

Finally, the day of travel came…  we headed to Stansted (now really in London!) with our mountain of luggage.  As you may have heard, airport check-in is no longer an efficient process. With so much paperwork to check for each passenger (and diminished airline staff numbers), our half hour at the check in desk seemed almost ‘normal’. Fit to fly tests, vaccination certifications, passenger locator forms with QR codes, in addition to the normal tickets and passports – a LOT of admin!

Then just like that, we were onboard, in our chosen back row seats – with lots of encouragement and support from the staff (really can’t fault Ryan Air, they were awesome) about baby’s first flight.  The plane was around 80% full, with two wedding parties heading to their Greek Island weddings (I wanted to ask how many times they’d been rescheduled – there was certainly an air of “finally, this is actually happening” about it all). The crew had their work cut out for them as the 3 1/2 hour flight progressed, ensuring that the enthusiastic wedding revellers kept their masks on, stayed in their seats, and did NOT form a queue for the toilets!

On arrival in Kefalonia, our “Alfie pass” took us to the front of the entry queue, only to be faced with an additional step – the Greek authorities had decided to Covid-test every single adult passenger on the flight,  with a particularly convoluted process. 

Yes, both trolleys belong to us!

We watched our luggage circle the airport conveyors several times before we were “out” and free to get it.

Tempers frayed ever so slightly in 35 degree heat,  as we discovered our pre-booked taxi van driver was singularly unhelpful, the carseat was difficult to install as the van had short seatbelts, the van airconditioning didn’t work, our villa was 40 minutes drive away – and the driver didn’t actually know where it was!  Finally there – up a very steep hill, into a sweltering house, by now in the darkness, with absolutely no supplies, and the nearest store a decent hike down (and back up) a VERY steep hill.  Oh dear!

As Jenna fed Alfie, I raced around turning on every air-conditioner in the place at full blast, Rob somehow handled all the luggage…  and Peter set off down the hill for supplies, arriving back in a surprisingly quick time thanks to the shopkeeper lady taking pity on him and driving him and his supplies (including a huge bottle of water) back up the hill.  People are kind!

That was almost two weeks ago, and here we (still) are, very much happily settled in villa on the hill, with a small rental car in the driveway for getting the all-important suppliles (and a bit of sightseeing). 

Kefalonia is beautiful – relentlessly hot and sunny – with lovely people, who are persevering despite their tourist-based livelihoods having all but disappeared last year, thanks to the virus, and then a very damaging hurricane.

Everyone, everywhere has their own stories of lockdown.  In Greece, we’re told, they spent months and months in very strict lockdown, requiring permission to leave their house for anything at all.  This was effected by text message – if you needed to go out for supplies or medical attention, you sent a text requesting permission.  A 2000 euro fine threatened anyone leaving home with the return text saying they could go!  It was brutal.

Now, at least here in Kefalonia, they are happy to welcome pre-tested / vaccinated tourists, still with caution.  Masks are everywhere if you’re going indoors (even just to use the toilet) – fortunately much of the business of eating and drinking takes place outside, where things look almost ‘normal’. There are still cases out there – with three or four people testing positive each day, no doubt likely to rise as more tourists start arriving.

Meanwhile, we’re doing our bit for the local economy by eating and drinking out, a lot. It’s so sad to see the beautiful beachside taverna, in what should be bustling peak tourist season, almost empty.  Yesterday we took a very winding drive to a local winery – very well set up for tastings of some beautiful wines – again, we were the only patrons. We bought some “supplies” to tide us over for the rest of the holiday!

Mostly, we stay “home”, enjoying the family time, with the pool, the very local beach, the sea views and plenty of supplies now in the kitchen!  The days blend into each other, which is just as a holiday should be. 

With just a week to go until Peter and I start our journey home, we keep half an eye on the changing travel situation, with fingers crossed our journey goes to plan. These days, one can never be sure.

We’ll enjoy every last moment of our time with Rob, Jenna and Alfie, and at the same time, look forward very much to being home with Pip, Howard, Izzy and Matthew. Like so many families, we will continue to navigate the new world of closed borders and travel restrictions, always with an absolute conviction that spending time together as a family, in person, is an absolute necessity, despite the challenges involved.