From Chiara Chrysafuli
“You’re naughty!” cried a tall blonde housewife with hearty red lips. She was admonishing a Portuguese lady because she had silently changed her place to fly to her friend. “We need to know where everyone is sitting at all times!”
Earlier, the same hostess had greeted me on board, offering one-wrap disinfectant wipes placed in a large basket. After 17 years of traveling to Greece, I immediately thought of the little red candies wrapped in plastic that I filled my pockets with – they were in this basket, by the door of the plane. A few hours later, as I sipped my first iced coffee overlooking Rafina’s harbor — my legs more impatient than ever before immersing myself in the dreamy white sky of the Aegean Sea — I wondered: Am I reckless to travel?
Each of us has a different “pandemic” comfort zone, but if there is a country that does not seem to be struggling with the services offered to tourists in these difficult times, it is Greece. I had no clear idea about this until I landed in Athens at the end of July, and this idea remained firmly with me until I left the country at the end of September. This long period of time during the night-changing varieties of news left me with vivid impressions of the journey during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to Greece. So if your legs itch, come on board with me.
# 1 Preparation
The first thing I had to do was plan my trip a bit so I could fill out a PLF: Passenger Locator form. In the passenger location form, each tourist must declare their next 14-day address (es). You do not have to provide a hotel name, as you can sleep with your brother. Immediately after submitting the form, I received a confirmation email. At midnight before the day I left, I was sent the important information I had to carry with me: my unique barcode.
# 2 Departure
Are you afraid of getting tired of wearing a mask for too many hours? I took comfort in looking at the airport staff: cleaners, shop assistants, police officers, security guards. This made me refrain from complaining – after all, I was still going on vacation.
Inside Terminal 1, it took me 12 minutes to check my luggage, 15 minutes to go through the security checks, and I was asked to show only my bag of liquids. The thing that impressed me the most was to witness the empty and dark airport in Lisbon pastels (and for once – without a McDonald’s queue!). During the boarding operation in Lisbon, I was asked to show the PLF. There was a woman who didn’t know about it, and I let her argue with the airport crew. The rest of us, adapted to living in the present, lined up and climbed smoothly. My flight was not too full, so some social distancing was possible. Aegean Airlines doesn’t seem to have a good reputation for this on social media, but my experience was rather the opposite.
# 3 Arrival
Inside the airport, we lined up for a few minutes while the rows were split: those that were being tested (left) and those that weren’t (right next to the exit). On this occasion, our plane was completely tested, while a plane coming from France was missed.
Funny or maybe not, when I tried to respect social distancing, a policeman called me (in Greek) to move on because the queue was getting too long. Four cabinets with movable curtains like a hospital were arranged on the side, and two women dressed as astronauts were waiting for me. One scanned the PLF barcode while the other inserted a swab into my throat. Before I could even put on my mask, they shouted “NO!” Within 30 minutes after landing, I was already out of the airport, breathing without a mask after 8 hours (changing a full-time employee).
# 4 And then, what?
24 hours passed and no one contacted me – or the relatives I had to put in the PLF – otherwise the health protocol would follow. In this article I will save you the splashes and adventures. (Please!)
# 5 I don’t want a virus in my luggage
Before leaving the country, I wanted to take a test for COVID-19. I was going to visit my 94-year-old grandmother in Sicily, and Italy had put Greece in the group of high-risk countries, along with Croatia, Malta and Spain (also known as the most beloved destinations of Italians). Taking a test in Greece was a doubly good choice, as was avoiding self-quarantine when I arrived in Rome.
I called the airport in Athens for information, after which I was directed to the medical platform, where I could buy the test online (70 euros). The test can be conducted in section 3 for arrivals at Athens Airport, without reservation. You just have to show your order receipt and in a separate area the nurse will take your sample (this time it was through the nostrils – but it was gentle). I got the result exactly twelve hours after I took the test. The thing you need to make sure is to give them the right email address, otherwise you will wait forever.
Bureaucratic differences between countries make travel more difficult than it should be. Furthermore, in Italy, no one bothered to check whether I had actually declared the truth by stating that I had a negative test result. But my grandmother died yesterday and those 70 euros allowed me to see her for the last time. Until yesterday, I thought that meeting her saved me the thought of throwing money. Today I wonder, “How expensive can it really be not to follow our ruthless instinct?”
The traveling scene, among all other areas of our lives, is not just changing – it has already changed. There is no longer a “new normal”: things are as they are. The feeling is a bit like the introduction of the euro. The first to learn were not those who converted from their old currency, but those who surfed into the unknown.
From 11.11.20 at 06:00 to 30.11.20 at midnight all passengers on international flights entering the country must show (in addition to the PLF form and QR code) a negative molecular test (PCR) for COVID-19, held up to 72 hours before arrival in Greece.
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