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March 2020: Emergency Evacuation from Europe

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​Days sick: 0
Days danced: 0
At the beginning of March, everything seemed a bit bad in Italy, but we were still planning to spend a few days in Sicily. By the end of the month we were more than two weeks deep into a required quarantine in the US.

Mike & Becky’s chocolate shop in Brussels, Belgium.

A Delightful End to Belgium

When I woke up on March 1st, my foot still hurt. Two weeks before, I’d pissed off my left foot by walking to a dozen chocolate shops in a day, so this was limiting my options in terms of doing my research in Brussels. So instead, I just tried to enjoy my time. I spent another couple of very late nights with a new chocolate friend, who forced me to take a bit of a (needed) break from work things.

It was a really great start to the month. Just before he left for Paris, I had a very productive interview for this month’s first podcast episode. Judging by how the start of the month went, honestly, I could never have predicted that we’d end March in week three of quarantine at home, the cases of Coronavirus topping 250,000 in the US alone. I mean, maybe I’d have predicted it, but it wouldn’t have been in my top 10 guesses.

By the time I finally arrived in Berlin late on March 3rd, I was already working on re-scheduling travel around Italy in the face of BOTH travel conferences I planned my trips around being cancelled.

Taking trains to Berlin, I already saw some people donning masks in the train stationed, though at the time there were fewer than 100 confirmed cases in Germany (there are now almost 100,000). Most were still unaffected, however; there was even a pigeon that came into the coffee shop in the Cologne train station, just pecking away with no care in the world. But I guess they don’t really get coronavirus.

For my week in Berlin, I walked around the city a bit, visited around a dozen chocolate shops (including a nice chat with Belyzium), and ate mostly Vietnamese food. Honestly, Berlin is just not for me. There were lots of pee smells and homeless people and overall, just a massive sense of apathy. On our last day, I gave a guy outside of a bank my can of peanuts, and while he apparently smiled when he looked up and saw them, I felt so bad for him that I never even looked back.

It felt like much too little. It incensed me to see everyone smoking with so many homeless people filling the streets; if we spent the same amount on helping the homeless as we do on cigarettes, the world would be a much better and happier place— especially Berlin.

Belyzium Chocolate.

Ending The German Chapter

We probably should’ve taken it as a sign of what was to come when we called an Uber to take us to the wrong airport. From the €50 cab ride to missing our flight to Italy, almost everything that day should have been a warning of what was to come with the craziness of the virus. Once we realized there was no way we could get on that flight, I immediately went into crisis mode.

I was searching for where we could head next, problem-solving because all I wanted was to leave Berlin ASAP. This eventually happened. The German couple who also missed the flight also ended up treating me like I’m Google and had all the answers. But, by the end of the day we ended up catching the bus to Dresden, a German city near the Czech border. We spent 2 days in a beautiful apartment in Dresden, cheap and central, eating anything but German food as we planned our next move.

On our second night, we decided on Prague, then Athens, and then Barcelona; we booked a place in Prague and flights to Athens shortly thereafter. Mom got fed up with a price increase when she went to book another night in the Dresden apartment, so we decided to head straight to Prague the next day. This added up to 4 full days in the Czech Republic.

The day after our bus, the Czech government declared a lock down on all travel from Germany. We crossed the border just in the nick of time! Fate is fate is FATE. We still had to have our temperatures taken on the bus, and the guy who took my temperature muttered something about my beaming smile as he exited the bus, but I got a kick out of it. I guess most people don’t offer a wry smile when confronted with a guy in a hazmat suit.

The setup at the Czech border.

Arriving in Prague, Then Bye

When we got to Prague, it was dark, cold, and rainy— welcome to eastern Europe! Over the next 4 days, we managed to find Vietnamese food every single night. Almost immediately after arriving, we also booked our flights to Barcelona and on to Porto, with me constantly changing my projected writing projects. Our outlook changed by the hour.

By the time our flight to Greece was changed with no warning on Friday night, the camel back-breaking straw had arrived. Everything was getting worse by the hour, and we were giving in. We booked flights back to the States via London, for 36 hours later; I’ve never booked something so close to departure. Then again, I’ve never been fleeing a country. On Monday morning, the Czech Republic was closing its borders for 10 days.

Even when arriving in Prague, we really thought we’d be continuing on. There seemed to be plenty of tourists out and about, and for our first three days, plenty of places to eat great food for decent prices. But everyone was just being so nasty. Literally. People coughed and sneezed into their hands with no regard for anyone else. It’s like they didn’t even look at newspapers. Weeks later, and that’s proven to be part of everyone’s downfall.

A famous scene in Prague.

By Saturday, however, all restaurants and cafes had to close down and we knew we’d made the right decision. Europe during Coronavirus was people sneezing into their hands and coughing into each palm, not wearing masks. Most people didn’t seem to be taking it seriously in a practical sense, though they’re rushing to grocery stores just as everyone is around the world. It feels like anyone with a cough is leaving it to the air, for the virus to exponentiate itself.

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Finally the governments seem to be responding in kind, though it may prove to be too late; only time will tell. Boarding our flight to London, we were truly worried we wouldn’t make it on our connecting flight, but as it turned out we had nothing to worry about. We ended up sitting on the plane in London for an extra three hours, getting home just before midnight, only to wait in several more lines upon arrival at Dulles.

They took our temps and had us fill out a paper, and then requested we self-quarantine for 2 weeks, which we’d already been planning to do. It was about what we’d been expecting, but it was still a weird end to a very long and strange day.

OPEN chocolate samples in Prague amidst all the craziness.

First Unexpected Weeks in The US

Mom & I were stuck at home for our entire 2-week quarantine, except for two trips out to Whole Foods and two careful trips to pick up take out from small local restaurants. Even right after I arrived, there was a weird desperate feeling in the air, as if everything is uncertain. Even as I was inside, trying to find ways to unwind during this tragedy, I couldn’t seem to sit still. I felt stuck, just wasting my attempt at a vacation away, taking some product pictures & going on random walks on days with nice weather

I reluctantly worked on a few articles for the next week as I struggled with the mental & physical toll of just not being able to go outside. Every time someone asked me what I did that day, I could never name more than one or two accomplishments. March ended so crazily differently form how it started. The only bright light in all this, other than my parents, has been the several shipments of chocolates we had sent to the house.

For the first week I was back, my nighttime reflux returned, so I had to up my medicine dosage once again. It was really disappointing. Most stressful staycation of my life, for sure. Even at the end of March, as I played board games with my parents every afternoon, weird things kept popping up. I started feeling my left thigh going numb like all the time and it freaked me out, so at the very end of the month we tried to make an appointment with the doctor to start addressing my many health concerns, but nobody was taking appointments (you have to go to the ER if it’s that bad). So we wait.

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