After two long years, news of the lifting of the travel ban resulted in mixed feelings for me. On the one hand, I felt a sense of liberation, elation and excitement. Along with it though came anxiety.
Travel requirements varied from country to country: From downloading digitised vaccination certs, PCR and ART tests results in some cases. Finally I decided to cast my fears aside and head to Europe starting off with London and then on to Rome.
Thankfully I did not need to do any of the COVID-19 tests for the trip and that was a big plus point on deciding my destination, other than an audience with the Pope being on my bucket list.
Despite being a seasoned traveller, the prospect of travelling again suddenly seemed daunting, evidenced by having to pack and repack four times before finally taking off. I had to ensure that I had a sufficient supply of masks, hand sanitizers, both printed and digitized copies of my vaccination certs, ART test kits, which I eventually left behind with the view that I would cross that bridge when needed.
After all that, from London to Rome to Naples, Capri, Positano, Sorrento, no one even bothered with anything. My folder with printed vaccination certs remained in mint condition and unopened!
On the long flight to London crew and passengers were mandated to mask up. Remaining masked up throughout the 13 hour flight was rather uncomfortable. How do those superheroes do it?
Arriving in London was a different scenario altogether. Masks were not mandatory and left to individual discretion. Coming from Singapore, that filled me with apprehension. The last thing I wanted was to ruin my holiday by contracting COVID-19.
All around me everyone went about happily unmasked. Part of me wanted to throw caution to the winds, but the rational side of me kicked in and for the most part I was masked up.
Another setback of the pandemic was the labour crunch. Airlines like Easy Jet kept cancelling flights. Even my flight on Qatar was changed and I understand from airline staff that was due to a shortage of manpower and so they had to consolidate flights and try and manage the situation resulting in several disruptions.
Moving from a pandemic to an endemic situation has definitely impacted everyone. In London and Rome, the crowds have returned to the shopping centres, cinemas, and theatres, it is heartening to note. The younger folks returned to the clubbing scene, the seniors got together catching up for lunch, dinner or tea.
A chat with the wait staff and sales staff revealed that there is an energy that has returned with the lifting of masks and use of the dreaded trace together app. More than that, many felt that life had slowly returned to normal.
At the end of the day it’s the human interaction, they missed, the good, the bad and the ugly.
On a personal level it was great to be able to feel and touch clothes, shoes and stuff and all the missed retail therapy which beats online shopping, which saved the day in the pandemic.
In Rome, too all the big brand names, Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton etc had shoppers scanning QR codes before joining the queue to shop. Of course the stores were wooing them with fruit juices and bubbly.
Again all the staff were masked but patrons were not mandated to. It was only some foreigners who were masked.
The other huge difference since the pandemic is the absence of large tour groups from China, and there were fewer Japanese. The tour groups were mostly from the US and other parts of Europe.
Again most times the health requirements since the pandemic vary, and I was told by friends who had returned from Greece and Malta that while no one checked on vaccination status on their return to Singapore, they were asked to show proof of vaccination status.
In my travels I encountered taxi strikes in Italy, lugging heavy luggage up treacherous steps sans the luxury of lifts and escalators in most old European train stations, baggage handlers’ strike in Heathrow, lots of issues with damaged luggage, train strikes.
All of these had work arounds, but the one thing I had not bargained for was catching COVID-19 on the trip. After more than two years of not travelling, I realise that almost everyone I know who travelled during this period did come back or caught COVID-19, and thankfully were none the worse for it.
Thankfully for travel insurance — most cover hospitalization but not quarantine — and my vaccination status, I recovered in a record three days. I sat out the mandatory 7 days after which I could resume activities.
My secret that I swear by is lots of ginger juice with slivers of ginger prepared by my friend Anu, during my sequestration. My doctor however says otherwise; the key being staying fit and remaining hydrated.
Generally, some apprehension continues regarding COVID-19, but the human spirit to survive and thrive is far stronger!
What I learnt was that the human spirit is more resilient than we give it credit for. In my quaint London B&B, the revellers celebrated with fireworks every night. That spirit resonated with me. We need to embrace life and not live in fear. The human spirit is adaptable and COVID-19 has shown us that.