To understand why we engaged in this craziness, read this: Nervous But Committed: Why I’m Traveling Abroad During the Pandemic
To discover what it was like trying to get to England, read this: Omigod, Omicron! COVID Travel Abroad Is Not for the Faint of Heart
Day 1 . . . 5 days ’til Christmas: After getting settled into our Airbnb (which henceforth shall be referred to as “the flat”), the combination of jet lag and my powerful cold forces a 90-minute catnap while the husband runs to Morrison’s® for provisions.
Call up the husband’s brother (let’s call him “Nigel” because what other name screams England! more than that? I’ll tell you: none), who picks us up for our long-awaited joyful reunion with big hugs all around. Back at his house, he administers at-home COVID tests straightaway. Minutes later our negative results are confirmed. Pleasant catching up ensues.
Hear worrying news about possible COVID restrictions, but details—namely what and when— are maddeningly vague. Last Christmas the government restricted family gatherings. Since gathering with family is THE ENTIRE REASON WE CAME HERE, I’m understandably anxious.
Day 2 . . . 4 days ’til Christmas: After sleeping 11 solid hours overnight, figure I have jet lag beaten into submission (I will later be proven wrong). Go to Nigel’s and play fetch with canine nephew in muddy field. Human niece and nephew tag along. Learn Boris is promising “no new restrictions” for Christmas, but the looming question is what will happen from Boxing Day. Discover that hospitalized family member will soon be transferred to local hospital—very welcome news, indeed. Return home to official “Day 2” test results: we’re both negative . . . another hurdle cleared.
Day 3 . . . 3 days ’til Christmas: Still ailing, get guilt-tripped by husband into going for a run with him, but I get revenge by keeping the pace frustratingly slow. Stroll the market taking place in the town square. Pop into a few shops. Eyes boggle at new charts of COVID cases in UK. Read news stories of train service being disrupted due to employees catching Omicron. This is worrying news, as we must take the train down to London to fly out. Decide to keep an eye on situation but not obsess over it since there are 289 other things that can go wrong on this trip so why should train troubles get all the attention? Receive email from Delta® asking us to choose our first class dinners for return flight. Feel briefly like royalty. Realize with a shudder that if evacuation flight home is needed, it won’t include such niceties.
Day 4 . . . 2 days ’til Christmas: With Europe—and indeed all the other countries that make up the United Kingdom—quickly imposing tough new restrictions, England holds back. This may not be good for England in the long run, but it’s good for us. We do receive our share of bad news, though: the husband will not be able to visit his ailing relative in the hospital. Strict rules dictate that one person and one person only can visit during the entire length of hospitalization. That person was already designated as the husband’s mom, so it can’t be changed. Phone calls will have to suffice, but they are a poor substitute, especially at Christmastime.
Day 5 . . . Christmas Eve (early morning): The husband wakes up with a sore throat. Worry returns, but at-home COVID test kit provided by Nigel proves useful. Husband tests negative. If instead it’s the onset of the cold I came down with just before departing the States, he’s in for several days of agony. Read news about hundreds of US flights being cancelled due to Omicron-related staff shortages. Realize that Omicron can get ya even if it doesn’t get ya, if you know what I mean.
Day 5 . . . Christmas Eve (mid-morning): Bad news: we’ve been exposed. Neighbor who we chatted with over at Nigel’s a few days earlier has tested positive for COVID on at-home test. The husband goes to the chemist (translation: pharmacy) to stock up on “free and ubiquitous” at-home tests, but, consistent with the test kit shortage we’ve been reading about in the news the last few days, he can’t locate one. Husband jokes that travel disasters make good blog posts. I retort testily that I don’t want blog fodder—I want us to get home on time and without COVID, even if it makes for a boring post. My dear readers will understand.
Day 5 . . . Christmas Eve (noon): Surprise! Hospitalized family member who “probably won’t be released before the new year” is suddenly coming home. The husband and Nigel scramble to figure out logistics and make his transition easier.
Day 6 . . . Christmas Day: Husband wakes feeling very under the weather and takes our last at-home COVID test. It’s negative and now I’m completely convinced it’s the same bad cold I am still suffering from, though not as intensely. Nigel has been testing daily, too, and remains negative. Start Christmas Day having distanced, masked, and very brief visit with family member just home from hospital, then proceed to Nigel’s House of Pandemonium, which includes screaming children, two dogs, several adults, and scores and scores of toys covering every surface. Husband’s illness progresses to the point where he has to leave. No thermometer handy, but I can tell he’s got a fever. He’s basically where I was the day before we left for England and he can finally understand why I considered cancelling the trip. He returns to flat mid-afternoon to sleep while I stay with his family. I return to flat at 9pm, where husband is clearly suffering.
Day 7 . . . Boxing Day: Husband rasps from bed that he needs a COVID test. I’ve been neglecting running for most of this trip (don’t judge me—I’ve been ill!), but spring into action, donning my running gear and high-tailing it to Nigel’s for some COVID tests as fast as my short, out-of-shape legs will take me. Once again, test is negative. Wonder if COVID would actually feel less awful than this bad cold he’s gotten from me. He sleeps until 11:00am. Spend most of the day in the flat, which is fine because it’s both a Sunday and Boxing Day—literally nothing is open. Go for a short walk in the afternoon with beloved uncle. Husband goes “for a nap” at 4:00pm, but doesn’t get out of bed the rest of the night. Later in the evening he gets kicked while he’s down: the Arsenal-Wolverhampton Premier League game we were due to see two days hence has been postponed due to COVID and injuries. Figuring our once-in-a-lifetime, money?-what’s-money? VIP tickets are non-refundable, I mentally ready myself for the hassle of making my first ever travel insurance claim.
Day 8 . . . last day in Newark: The husband just doesn’t seem to be improving. Takes our last at-home COVID test. It’s positive.
Call evacuation insurance but they won’t come to our rescue until we back it up with (more accurate) PCR test. Can’t find any quick turnaround tests locally. In a frustrated fit of pique, declare Newark a two-bit backwater. Check the bigger nearby cities of Nottingham and Lincoln, but all appointments are booked until the day we fly out of London. Part of the problem is that the entire country effectively shuts down between Christmas and New Year. (The other part of the problem is, of course, Omicron.) Emit string of expletives toward England and its so-called “festive season.” Soon hear that Nigel tests positive, too. This is turning into a real clusterfuck. Realize there’s nothing for it—we have to go to London as planned. Book one of the few remaining PCR test slots in London for following afternoon to the tune of several hundred more dollars. What’s that saying? In for a penny, in for
a pound thousands of pounds? Learn England will not enact any new restrictions before New Year. Woo hoo—restrictions are now the least of my concerns.
Day 9 . . . To The Smoke: Take early train to London and Tube to hotel. By some miracle our room is ready for check-in at 9:00am. Get some fresh air by walking to Shoreditch for PCR tests, with results promised by midnight. Next problem: we need to use up our British pounds since our bank told us that, in times of plague and pestilence, they will not buy back the notes, (string of expletives was already emitted toward bank before we departed the States), but nothing’s open and the husband shouldn’t go in stores anyway until his COVID status is certain. Never mind. The most important thing is that we both test negative. Will worry about having hundreds of dollars trapped inside useless Monopoly money at a later date.
Hours later, we get PCR results: I’m negative . . . WHEW! And the husband?
Call to activate evacuation insurance. Inquire how long it’ll be before evacuation commences—we’re told they don’t know yet but they will get him out sometime before the end of England’s mandatory self-isolation period. We look at each other, eyes wide with incredulity: THAT’S 10 DAYS!!! Rules state COVID-y people are effectively prisoners. Realize we are in hotel whose websites states they “cannot allow people to self-isolate for COVID under any circumstances.” However, we booked and arrived before we got the positive result, and where else exactly is the husband supposed to go? Find out Nigel’s PCR is positive, too (as was neighbor’s), but other relatives are negative, thank goodness.
Discussion ensues: We had previously agreed that if one of us tested positive and the other didn’t, the healthy person would go home as planned, the same way the Top Gear (now Grand Tour) boys do when one of them has car trouble on the road. While idea seemed reasonable and practical at the time, I, as the healthy party, suddenly find it disloyal and mean—a heinous act of betrayal and abandonment. Discuss staying with husband, but time is against us and he’s insisting I go. We won’t know when the evac will happen or if I’ll be permitted on the evac flight, and regular flight leaves in 15 hours. Reluctantly agree to leave him behind and start writing World’s Worst Wife Award acceptance speech in my head.
Day 10 . . . Departure Day (for one of us, anyway): After tearful, guilt-filled early-morning goodbye to husband, make my way to Heathrow on the Tube. First-class ticket makes check-in and security experiences smooth and easy, but I’m wracked with worry. Enter Virgin Atlantic’s first-class lounge—by far the nicest I’ve seen. Log into their wifi but phone problems that have bedeviled me the entire trip (old SIM card, the husband thinks) continue and we can’t FaceTime. Texts will have to suffice, which is tricky when I’m drinking a latte with one hand and a mojito with the other (shameless, I know) while also trying to cut my Eggs Florentine. (Seriously. Do I have NO shame? The husband only has Pot Noodle and some Cup-o-Soup packets back at the hotel . . . and maybe a few stale Twiglets.) Learn they’re hoping to evacuate him in 1-2 days, which provides much-needed ray of hope.
Board plane. Feel massive guilt enjoying any of the 1001 creature comforts of this rare first-class voyage, but hope that by the time I reach Detroit, I’ll hear good news that’s real and not just theoretical. Drink welcome-aboard champagne in disappointing plastic cup and eat delicious, restaurant-like dinner accompanied by Pinot Noir in a real glass wine glass (how will I ever go back to coach?). After hedonistic Meal of Shame, watch The Beginners (so-so, a little contrived), cry, put seat in bed position and try to sleep, cry, watch The Audition (very good), eat my first ever airplane hamburger (not bad), watch the Friends Reunion Special (fun, though most of them look like they’ve had botched Botox jobs), do crosswords, cry.
Arrive Detroit where my phone finally works properly. FaceTime husband and get worst news of all: evac people have said Minneapolis airport is refusing him entry because he’s not a US citizen and it’s not a medical emergency. WHAAAAT?!?!?! Immediately commence freaking out. He tries to reassure me it’ll all get worked out, but in head I’m planning what I’ll
say to scream at the evac people if he’s still not sprung by the time I get home. Call my mom whose been anxiously awaiting updates and we both have a brief, panicky cry over the situation and our utter helplessness. Hang up and wonder briefly, in a moment of bitter self-absorption, if I can at least get a book deal out of this whole mess.
A few hours later, just before I put phone on “airplane mode” as people are boarding, I check email. Mood soars and heart sings! Evac people have filed a flight plan that gets the husband out on New Year’s Eve, just two days hence and he’s arriving at Minneapolis airport. Emit string of joyful interjections toward Covac Global, but am prevented from jumping for joy by securely fastened seatbelt. Wonder how they resolved it? Bribes? Threats? Realize I don’t care—just want to see husband. Get home. Have merry reunion with the bunny. It’s 7pm, but body thinks it’s 1am. Go to bed and cry self to sleep, utterly spent.
Day 11 . . . penultimate day of 2021: Jet lag ensures I’m wide awake by 3:30am. Spend morning unpacking and FaceTiming husband. Avoid contacting airline to see what happened with the husband’s unused first class flight. It all seems too overwhelming right now. Avoid contacting travel insurance—after all, the husband may buy some snacks at his scheduled refueling stop in Goose Bay, Canada, which I sure as shit am going to claim. Then remember his copious wads of cash are all in British pounds. Wonder if Canada would accept legal tender from
its former colonizer/oppressor Commonwealth overlords. Realize they won’t let his COVID-riddled body off the plane, so it’s a moot point. Go get post-trip PCR test (it’s free—thank you Governor Walz!) and realize only a few, now quite mild symptoms remain from the awful head cold I came down just before this dramatic trip started nearly two weeks earlier. Have final FaceTime call with husband before he catches some ZZZs ahead of his evacuation adventure.
Day 12 . . . New Year’s Eve: Wide awake at 3:00 this morning. Wait. Jet lag is getting worse? Realize this is perfect time to call airline about unused flight. Phone robot tells me there’s high call volume (yeah, right) and wait time is 7 hours and 18 minutes. Hang up—phone doesn’t have that kind of battery life. Emit string of expletives toward Delta Airlines®. Stick champagne in fridge and do some scurryfunging ahead of husband’s arrival. Get my PCR results: I’m negative. Wonder how I could spend 24/7 with Captain COVID and not catch the disease. Conclude it must be excellent genes and favoritism from the gods. Eventually, husband arrives home to a tearful embrace . . . once they get him out of the ambulance. His priorities are 1. shower, 2. alcohol. Soon I learn that it was a much more challenging transport experience than either of us expected. We’re in bed before midnight, but that happens every New Year’s Eve.
Day 13 . . . New Year’s Day, 2022: Make resolution to never, ever travel abroad again. Like every weight-loss resolution I’ve ever made, I won’t stick to it, but breathe sigh of relief that we have this great big country to explore and all upcoming travel bookings are domestic. Drink celebratory champagne and hit publish on this post, bringing to a close this dramatic travel saga.
Unknown date many decades in the future: The husband and I, warm in our bed, die within minutes of each other. Arrive at pearly gates hand in hand and discover we could have had a few more years on Earth if it hadn’t been for the life-shortening stress of the COVID England Christmas Trip all those years ago. Smile knowingly at each other and shrug, accept glasses of welcome aboard champagne (in real glass champagne flutes), and make a toast to the fact that we have no regrets.
None at all.
The whole damn English COVID Christmas Saga:
- Nervous But Committed: Why I’m Traveling Abroad During the Pandemic
- Omigod, Omicron! COVID Travel Abroad Is Not for the Faint of Heart!
- Uncertainty & Stress, Joy & Cheer, Illness & Disappointment: It’s Christmas in England!
- Getting Back to America If You Contract COVID Abroad: A Handy Guide
- A COVID Christmas Carol (A Blog Takeover by The Husband)