It was the last day of our trip. Day 16. Tuesday, April 19th, 2022. Today was the day of our flights home.
My mother, my sister, and I all had valid plane tickets. We all had negative COVID tests in hand.
Mom and Jenn were flying Delta from Fiumicino (Rome) Italy direct to Atlanta, to connect there, departing at 1:15pm. I was flying Lufthansa from Fiumicino to Munich at 12:55pm. We were leaving out of the same airport, nearly at the same time, but from different terminals.
We spent the morning cleaning the apartment, finishing the packing, and so on. I took the trash and recyclables to the bins on the street.
Soon enough the van was at the door. We locked up the apartment and brought down our luggage. We tucked ourselves in to the van. We always masked up in every cab throughout this trip, if I hadn’t mentioned that. He drove us over to the airport.
I was dropped off first. I said my goodbyes to Mom and Jenn. Now I was on my own! I felt my “aloneness” very strongly. I imagine part of it was being surrounded by Italian-speaking people and Italian-language signs.
I found my way in to the Lufthansa check-in spot. There were only a few people in line. The clerk spoke English. My main luggage bag checked in without a problem. I was wearing a cloth mask. She pointed at my mask and said I needed to wear an official N95 one on the flight. I had some in my carry-on and said OK. She pointed me off toward the gate.
There was a long security line, so I snaked my way through that. People were not social distancing, but everyone had a mask of some type on. Many were NOT N95 masks – many were blue surgical style masks.
I went through the xray machine.
Next, there was a small shopping area, and then the room opened up into a big waiting area. There were banks of monitors with flight details. My flight was on the fifth screen, in time order, and an actual gate hadn’t been assigned yet.
I found a seat with nobody around it and waited. It had a Euro-style plug outlet and a USB outlet right by the chair.
Time passed slowly but surely. I texted Jenn to keep track of how she and Mom were doing. There was a public use piano near me that would randomly be played by people – sometimes well, sometimes not-so-well.
Jenn texted me that she and Mom had a bit of an adventure. They were sitting in a row of seats with two empty ones alongside Jenn. The seat immediately next to Jenn had a sign on it in essence saying “do not sit here / do not move this sign” – i.e. for COVID reasons. The airport was trying to maintain social distancing.
A woman and man came over and eyed the seats. The woman plunked down in the two-away seat and indicated the man should sit next to her, i.e. next to Jenn, in the “do not sit here” seat. He pointed at the sign. The woman grabbed the sign and tossed it onto a ledge.
Jenn looked at the man. The man asked Jenn if Jenn minded if he sat next to her. Keep in mind that Jenn is PROBABLY COVID POSITIVE. Jenn showed great restraint and simply said to him “the signs are there for a reason”. The woman grumpily stood up and muttered “Unfriendly people!” Mom snapped back, “not getting SICK people!”
I bet that woman would have sung a different tune if she’d gotten COVID and ended up in the hospital …
My own experience was quiet. Nobody came anywhere near me. Another twenty minutes passed. Eventually the monitor assigned a gate for my flight. I headed down the hallway.
It turns out the gate area was quite a ways away from this initial ‘holding area’ and that there were lots of shops / restaurants / etc. in the gate area. I could have come to this deeper area and waited in more comfort. That’s all right.
There were very strange sculptures along the way … just what is this?
There were more public pianos and things like public foozball tables …
Eventually I got to my gate area. It was a hole-in-the-wall corner gate area with only about half as many seats as they needed. Lots of people were standing, jammed together. It’s just as well I only got here near the loading time. The people getting off the previous flight had to wiggle their way through us.
Finally the crew started loading us by group number. Occasionally they’d point at someone’s mask, say it wasn’t a N95, and tell them to go to the local shops and buy themselves a proper mask. You’d think after the first person or two was sent away that the rest of the passengers would check their masks. But no, even deeper into loading, passengers were still being sent off to buy a new one.
I was probably in the last group to load. I was very happy to have a paper boarding pass from the Lufthansa desk person. Paper boarding passes make me happy. I just don’t trust an electronic one. What if your phone dies?? I know, I’m a dinosaur.
On board, we all had N95 masks on and wore them the entire flight. This was a short hop just from Rome to Munich. I texted Jenn until they had us switch our phones to airplane mode. We were barely in the air (reasonably speaking, 1:15 flight time) before it seemed as if we were coming down again.
The connection time between this plane landing and the next plane taking off was fairly tight – and the gates were seemingly at the opposite ends of a large terminal. So the moment we were able to leave our seats, I grabbed my carry-on and started a fast walk.
It turns out even though we were staying within the EU, from Italy to Germany, that Germany still wanted us to go through a customs-type check. They had two main lines – one for EU people and one for the rest of the world. A US couple stood at the junction point staring baffled at the options, wholly unsure of what to do. I had to explain to them what the EU line was about.
Apparently many people around me also had very tight connections because there was a lot of grumbling around me in line about why this was happening. Fortunately, the customs people seemed to understand this. They were very quick and efficient in getting us through. Then we were off at our fast walk again.
But wait, up ahead there was yet another bank of security people. This one was split into lanes by flight. There was a particular lane for my Munich-to-Boston flight.
A middle-aged woman from behind us went barging up through our Munich-to-Boston line, going past everyone else on our flight, panicked that she’d miss her flight (i.e. the flight all the rest of us were on). We let her past. The security person wearily told her to take a deep breath, that she wasn’t going to miss her flight. The woman got processed through. Then the rest of us in line got processed.
I continued my fast walk to get to the actual gate. When I got there, it was empty of passengers. I guess our straggling group from Rome was the last set of passengers due on board. The crewperson quickly processed me. With great relief, I stepped onto the plane. I was in the near-very-back of my section, on the right-side aisle (window seat) with a young man also in my row. The crew closed the doors very soon after that. An attendant told the young man that the row behind us was wholly empty, and he moved back a row. I dramatically said goodbye to him :). He responded in kind. Both of us had an empty row for ourselves for the long flight which, all things considered, was of course a good thing.
I could at last settle in. This was the last leg, quite a long flight. I had a solo row. Maybe I could even sleep.
It turns out the man who had been in my row was a vegan. Because I was now the only person in “his” row, and he no longer was, I kept getting vegan meals. That was quite fine. They were tasty. Vegan lasagna, vegan salad, etc. He got vegan food, too, so I wasn’t “stealing” his food.
It turns out I wasn’t sleepy – maybe too much adrenaline – so I ended up watching Gladiator :). The Roman Colosseum and so on. And then the Russell Crowe Robin Hood, to keep the theme going.
The woman in the row in front of me kept trying to leave her mask off after eating (i.e. while watching a movie), and the airline attendant would come by and gently remind her to put her mask back on. I’ll note that in the US on this very day, Tuesday, a ruling decided that US flights no longer required masks. Apparently on my mom and sister’s Delta flight the passengers were happily taking off their masks and deeply breathing in the communal air.
Lufthansa was having none of that.
Finally we landed in Boston. I was in no rush on this end so I let other people race and scramble to get off the plane in case they had connecting flights. Then I got off. The security line was fairly quick, to process us. And then it was down to the luggage area to get my bag.
There was no set customs process. Random people would be chosen out of the stream to go to a side area and talk about their baggage. I saw an officer stop a young man with a duffel bag. I walked right through without anyone stopping me. Then it was out to the pick-up area, where I was picked up by Bob. And then in the blink of an eye we were home! Home home home! :).
I tested myself for COVID with my home kit. It came out negative. I tested myself three days later, just in case I picked COVID up somewhere along the travel path. I was still negative. I had no symptoms of anything. So I was 100% clear from start to finish. I’m very grateful for that.
My mom wasn’t feeling well the next day, and she then gave her cold to Len, but thankfully they both tested negative for COVID. It seems she got some sort of a generic illness from someone in her travels, but it wasn’t COVID. I call that a win. They healed up soon.
Jenn, of course, tested STRONGLY POSITIVE for COVID once she got home. Not even mildly positive. A bright strong line showed up instantly. So it really seems as if she was positive when she was evicted by the Golden Tulip on Saturday and she was positive when she got her ‘cleared for flying’ test Monday at the Golden Tulip.
Jenn self-quarantined at home, and after a few days the COVID test was only weakly positive, and then a few days later, negative. She made it through the end of her illness in comfort.
I’m amazed I never got COVID throughout the days of Jenn and me sharing a room both on the Oceania Riviera as well as in the Rome apartment. Our twin beds were right next to each other, and we shared a bathroom. We were only apart the one night she was at the Golden Tulip.
All in all, the Spain-Italy cruise and vacation was a lot of fun. I loved seeing the architecture at the Alhambra, the volcanic landscape on Lanzarote, the raptors, the churches of Rome, the opera dinner, and much more.
The Oceania Riviera definitely had “COVID issues” in a number of areas. They had new staff who didn’t quite know what they were doing. Our cabin person had to be gently reminded to bring us the breakfast form, when to do room maintenance, and so on. Oceania had in place poor procedures for handling health situations, for example how food delivery should be handled to a COVID-positive room.
There were a number of passengers who were quite cavalier about safety protocols, which undoubtedly led to COVID spreading easily amongst people. That is hard for the staff to deal with. At the same time, Oceania’s crew actively didn’t tell passengers that COVID was loose on the ship. People might have paid a bit more attention to their actions if they didn’t feel completely safe in a “COVID-free bubble”.
It will be interesting to see how travel changes in the coming months, as COVID continues to mutate and become even easier to catch – but hopefully at the same time becomes less dangerous to its victims. I think one of the key lessons in here is to absolutely have travel insurance, because you never know which day might bring an abrupt change to your plans.
In any case – spending two full weeks of fascinating travel with my mom and sister – priceless!!
Ask with any questions!