Is it possible to travel during a pandemic when much of the world is in lockdown? It is a question that I have been getting a lot lately and quite understandably so. The short answer: well, yes it is. The slightly longer answer: it is, but it takes some extra work, quite a bit of extra work, actually. Not that I’m complaining, we knew beforehand when making the decision to start the trip anyway, despite the current situation that it would involve adaptation and extra effort, but how exactly it would play out, I had no idea.
Most of the work goes into finding out what the rules are for every country and then making sure I stick to them, to the letter. And it involves a lot of testing. But, as has become clear for everyone following my slow progress toward Turkey, at the moment it involves a detour as well.
The original plan was to go from Vienna through Hungary and Romania to Bulgaria and then into Turkey, spending a short time only in Europe. But by the time I was about to set of to Hungary, it had closed its borders completely. So, I had to look for a way around. The next stop thus became Croatia. The fastest route from there to Turkey would have been through Serbia, but Serbia had such complicated rules for taking the dog across the border, that I felt it was better to look for yet another way. So, from Croatia we went to Montenegro (crossing briefly through Bosnia), and then from Montenegro on to Macedonia, passing through Albania and Kosovo on the way. Soon I will drive to Bulgaria and finally be back on the intended track toward Turkey.
All of the different countries have their own rules and requirements for travelling. Most require a covid test, but which kind is a constant question. For France a simple antigen test was enough (back in January), and for Italy as well. For Croatia, Macedonia and Bulgaria a PCR-test was mandatory. For Montenegro nothing at all.
Not only the test differ also the locations I had to take them in. I have been tested in a hospital (Macedonia), private laboratories (France, Montenegro), drive through testing lanes (Netherlands, Austria) and even a make shift lab in a car dealership, where I had my nose poked right next to a bright red Ferrari (I inquired if one would get the Ferrari if negative, but the lady behind the counter did not find that very amusing…).
Additional measures also vary per country, and sometimes even per region (Italy). For France I had to sign a ‘declaration of honour’, stating I did not have any corona symptoms now or in the past two weeks. For Italy I had to fill in a paper stating where I would be staying for the orange regions, but for the yellow regions nothing was asked. For Austria it was necessary to register beforehand where you would be staying, go into quarantine for 5 days, take a test and if negative you were free once more. Thank goodness for the internet, where by now a number of websites give a good and constantly updated overview of all corona measures globally. Relying on the national websites of each country is often not really an option, either because the information is not in English, or is almost impossible to locate (confusing government websites is apparently a global thing).
The border checks are sometimes very strict and sometimes not at all. Crossing into Austria my online registration was checked to the letter, and the police visited the address where I registered two days later. I was nicely quarantining there, so all was well, but still… Coming into Italy nobody asked anything, but on my way out I was stopped by police twice to see where I was going and if I had been tested. The test result was checked at the Croatian border but not in Montenegro, was asked for when crossing into Kosovo even though technically it was not necessary when only in transit, but was not mentioned in Albania or Macedonia.
At the moment I am awaiting the results of my latest test here in Skopje. Where in most places you receive the result by e-mail within a few hours, here I have to go back to the hospital in the afternoon to pick them up in person. I wondered for a moment if they did that so you can be quarantined on the spot in case of a positive result…maybe I should bring Kaira along when I go to pick up the results, just in case? (only kidding).
Because the rules change constantly, it is not possible to plan more than a few days ahead, and not possible to really plan anything definite until the latest test results come in. This is one reason why I am looking forward to crossing into bigger countries like Turkey, where I can at least cover some distance without having to cross a border. It is also why, though I really regretted it, I decided not to stay in Albania, but make the most of my Montenegrin test and drive as far as I could in one go. Oh well, it is what it is, and all things considered I am glad, given my own health situation, to be travelling at all. So, for now we keep taking it step by step enjoy the ride and take it as it comes.
PS. I just went to pick up the result. Negative, so all is well, Bulgaria here we come!