What a difference a month and a half makes. When last we posted we were zipping down the snowy slopes of Sierra Nevada, above Granada. Our blog footnote included the observation that the resort would close early on March 14 due to COVID-19. At that stage Spain was still in the honeymoon period of novel coronavirus, everything south of Madrid was operational. This would last only a few more days.
We realised we’d have to cut short our trip and instead of heading to the coast for a beach break we relocated to Granada for two nights. As well as rescheduling flights this allowed us to have dinner with our friend, flamenco maestro, Andres Peña, as Andres was staging a work for final year dance students of the Conservatorium of Granada. Unfortunately he was only able to complete one week of his three-week contract and it’s unlikely the work will ever be realised. Still we had a wonderful tapas dinner with lots of hugs, the last for a long time!
After the mind numbing tedium (four hours on the phone) and the ridiculous expense (480 euros) of changing our Ryanair flight from Malaga to Edinburgh to 48 hours earlier we decided to at least enjoy walking in Granada and Malaga while still able. For all international travellers it became a mad scramble to get out of Spain before the airports closed. Airlines were price gouging like wounded bulls.
Most of Granada’s monuments closed while we were there, including the Alhambra and the cathedral, however shops and restaurants were still open.
We found a wonderful vegan restaurant a short walk from the hotel.
Granada doesn’t hide her beauty, it’s on display in her grand boulevardes and in every nook, cranny and cave.
The greatest thrill was drinking in her panorama from our vantage point on the terrace of the Alhambra Hotel, chilled beer in hand.
Amazingly, some live flamenco was still operating. At La Alborea we watched almost the last live show in Granada (there was one more performance after ours). It was an excellent tablao.
When we bussed it to Malaga on the Saturday the central government announced that all cafes, bars and restaurants would have to close the following Monday. To the casual observer Malaga was going about its business completely unaltered.
We were due to fly out Monday at 7pm so weren’t concerned about closures, but some bright official decided to go early. When we woke Monday morning everything except pharmacies and some convenience stores were shut. Our hotel didn’t have a restaurant so we went in search of breakfast and came up empty until I remembered Guadalmedina, a five-star hotel a few blocks away which I thought should have a restaurant. Only question was if they would serve non-guests.
We struck lucky with the receptionist, paid a not unreasonable sum for a five star restaurant buffet, and filled up on what would be our last decent meal for 24 hours.
We chatted (at a safe distance) with another diner, an Englishman from Kent, who was on his own as he had gallantly put his wife in the last seat available on the flight the day before. He was forced to wait another two days for his flight. We hope it took off!
Malaga airport was absolutely packed and chaotic. Despite regular public announcements I twice had to ask people (in both cases Germans) to stand two metres away. With so many flights cancelled the Ryanair queue for service was 30 metres long and moving at a snail’s pace. I felt for the young families from all over Europe who were trying to get home. So many tears….
All the food outlets except one small cafe closed while we were waiting. People queued for vending machines.
Our flight was three hours delayed, then we sat on the tarmac for two hours for no obvious reason. By this stage everyone was so relieved to actually be on board that no one complained.
At least no one complained until the cabin crew apologised for not having the regular catering on board, adding “We are able to offer tea, coffee and two kinds of chocolate bars’. When they came to serve the Scotsman sitting in front of me he took a chocolate bar. The attendant said ‘That’ll be four euros’ and the guy lost it. ‘You shouldn’t be charging for this after all that delay and if you are charging you should have made it clear up front!’, he roared in a thick accent. He had a point.
But there was more. At the time when it should have been wheels down for Edinburgh airport the pilot announced Edinburgh airport was now closed as it was after midnight and airport workers were doing maintenance on the runways. We were diverting to Glasgow. Not to worry, Ryanair would arrange buses to transfer everyone to Edinburgh airport. All well and good, but we would then be deposited at a closed Edinburgh airport at 2:30am. It was unlikely there would be taxis waiting and maybe not even a tram to the city.
As we all milled into the baggage claim area (zero social distancing observed) a uniformed woman announced that the buses would be outside but we were to wait until all passengers had claimed their luggage and go as a group. We’d learnt our lesson from a previous Emirates coach transfer fiasco so legged it as soon as we had our bags and grabbed a taxi to take us to our Edinburgh hotel.
That turned put to be a good decision as when I went to claim our 125 pound taxi fare back from Ryanair they apologised for not providing buses!
Coronavirus control in the airport was non-existent, no temperature checks, in fact no checking at all. I was relieved when I saw that our Edinburgh hotel was taking hygiene seriously. The receptionist said they expected to be taken over by the government to be used as one of the self-isolation centres.
After a very short sleep we enjoyed one day, a bright, cold spring day, strolling about Edinburgh including a brief walk on the meadows with Tristan and Evie wrapped up in the buggy. No hugs possible since Evie had had a fever and runny nose the previous 48 hours prompting Tristan and Jenny to start 14 days of self-isolation well before the Boris Johnson required them to.
Edinburgh-Dubai-Brisbane was wonderfully uneventful and I had a spare seat next to me on one flight (Stuart was not so lucky). Dubai airport was even more quiet than it had been in February.
At Brisbane airport just before baggage claim we were handed a form to complete which committed us to self-isolating for two weeks. Again there were no temperature checks or even visual checks, no staff wearing face masks and very little social distancing practiced. We took the airport parking van transfer with five other people. So much for Australia’s 1.5 metres!
A two hour drive home and I don’t think we’ve ever been happier to see our little house on the hill.
Through the kindness of flamenco and yoga friends we were kept in groceries until Woolworths sorted out some delivery slots for people like us in compulsory isolation. The fortnight passed very pleasantly. Autumn is a gorgeous time on Gypsy Hill, ideal for sowing winter vegetable and weeding. I missed the beach though and during our mandatory isolation Queensland closed its border with New South Wales which meant that even when we finished our 14 days and were perfectly healthy, I couldn’t travel to the Gold Coast see my parents.
Happily I was too busy to fret as our son Cameron, his pregnant partner Sarah (due late August) and our granddaughter Elka arrived to stay. They will be with us at least three months. Their Melbourne home had sold quite quickly and with COVID-19 restrictions getting tighter by the day and the infection rate climbing sharply, they kept Elka out of day care. Two parents working remotely in a small house with a toddler was unsustainable. Gypsy Hill was the solution. It was a huge task for them to pack up their house and store the contents, find a temporary home for the family cat, and also pack for a three-month stay. Luckily it all went smoothly and they managed the long drive with two overnights.
Unfortunately, Miette, the cat, went AWOL at her new home and hasn’t returned. She is very shy. The hope is that she is getting some food and will reveal herself eventually, but it’s been five weeks now…..
We’ve settled into a comfortable Monday to Friday routine that suits everyone. Stuart and I replicate Elka’s two days of day care, Sarah has her two days and Cam looks after Elka on Fridays. We take turns cooking dinner according to a roster and and split the bills. Some of us are better cooks than others, but we are all grateful to have food on the table and to be together.
New South Wales has been fairly strict about its COVID-19 public health regulations, however here in Ballina Shire our local beaches, bicycle paths and green spaces remain open. Walking, cycling or exercising of any kind, including swimming and surfing is encouraged (for up to thirty minutes) as long as people respect physical distancing and numbers don’t exceed a preset figure. Police and life guards patrol regularly and move people along if they are just sunning themselves.
Restaurants, pubs and cafes have converted to take away only where possible, while clubs and libraries have shut. There is no hardship involved for us at all and we thank our lucky stars daily.
With a very active toddler to keep occupied we’ve set up a paddling pool, swing, trampoline, and climbing wall.
Elka is happy to go for walks around the property collecting lemons, spotting reptiles, birds and insects, and helps out weeding and watering the vegie patch. Her favourite outings are to the beach, the lake and Byron Bay lighthouse. She’s obsessed with the ‘flashing light’ of the lighthouse which she watches almost every night while eating dinner.
It’s a joy to live with this voraciously curious tiny person and her mum and dad. But for the virus we would never have been able to spend so much time with them.
Flamenco has gone online, classes, tutorials and performances are all available and affordable. Artists are doing what they’ve always done, adapting and creating.
Australia is performing well in ‘flattening the curve’ and some restrictions are being eased state by state. Our state, New South Wales, now allows two people to visit a co-habiting household. We may have our first (outdoor) dinner guests this weekend!
All our travel plans for this year, a family wedding in the Lake District, sailing in the South Pacific (me) and motorcycling in the USA (Stuart) are cancelled. Hopefully we can reconvene next year. In the meantime my mother has celebrated her 90th birthday in isolation, my dad turned 91. Together they marked their 66th wedding anniversary. They’re weathering this storm with good humour, grace and grit.
As for us, family and good health trump travel every time!
Hope you and yours are well too.