Our story starts in late February 2020 on the roof of Riad Tizwa, Richard our friend & the owner tells us he’s had a few cancellations and it’s all to do with this virus everyone’s started talking about. I tell him not to worry, it’ll be nothing and over in a few weeks. How wrong I was. This was the start of the pandemic as we now know it, a couple of days later we return home and within three weeks we are in our first uk lockdown. The world comes to a silent standstill and we are housebound for the coming months. This short story accounting all our experiences and endeavours to regain our freedom to travel. Most importantly how we got our chance to travel again, buckle up you’re in for a bumpy ride of laughs, tears and tests.
Lockdown wasn’t spent baking banana bread, exercising or learning a new hobby. It was absolutely awful, coming from myself, one of the most positive people around. We walked and walked and walked, so much so I can’t stand to wander those routes ever again. I’m not joking, they make me remember those dark days and times and they hold no joy whatsoever. And on every walk, which was a daily occurrence thanks to Boris and our daily exercise, I asked Adam when will be able to travel again. He shrugged his shoulders gripped my hand and I shed a little tear or two as I knew in my heart it wasn’t going to be anytime soon. I know to others it seems silly and non important, but travel is my life. We both live to travel and being a travel blogger I suddenly felt utterly redundant. I tried to keep my blog going but boy it was hard. However it’s my love and passion so giving up wasn’t an option. The other dreaded task we had was to deal with the the increasing number of trips we had cancelled, with many pre booked travels and no end in sight disappointment kept rolling on in. Applying for refunds became the new replacement to booking travel.
The first glimmer of hope came in early July when we had some restrictions loosened, we jumped at the chance and took a trip up to Edinburgh. Scotland felt so good after so long being cooped up indoors, admittedly a bit quieter than usual we were going to have to get our heads around the new norm. However looking at the positive great deals were to be had and we enjoyed a super stay at the Doubletree Hilton with a castle view, thanks to a cheeky upgrade on arrival and warm welcome. We spent our time exploring, enjoying eating and drinking out again, plus catching up with the Bee brothers in their hometown. Seeing friends after this long felt fantastic and life was good.
September saw us take our first flight in over 6 months to Turkey, Bodrum to be exact. It felt brilliant to be packing again and looking forward to our brand new adventure. The only difference was mask wearing and temperature checks, as long as it meant we could travel we were happy to comply. The flight was full, many other people as eager as us to get away and it was fine. We met Paula onboard after the generous geordie offer of a pek sandwich with best butter, Adam couldn’t resist and we all spent the rest of the flight chatting. We are still social media friends today and I will always remember her instant kindness, that’s the people of the north east for you all heart. The trip reminded us of how life used to be and even with the few restrictions in place we had a terrific time. We returned tanned, vitamin d topped up and truly happy. Time for the next, not so fast the rest of 2020 began to resemble the previous miserable months of lockdown. Cancellations came back into the inbox and we felt back to square one.
After lockdown two and three we waited with baited breath to see when we could be free again and the date was set, Monday May 17 th. A week or so before Adam and I took a punt and booked Madeira for that very day, as Grant Shapps was about to announce our travel traffic light system and inform us where we could go abroad safely. We tuned in for the announcement and our lucky stars formed in our favour Madeira was a go! Just a few small tasks beforehand, time to test and get my covid jab. Two days to travel and I turned up for my vaccine at a local city pharmacy, relief was what I felt as it had been an endeavour in itself to get mine. I waited and waited for the age groups to drop and was even told in the kindest manner to stop ringing 119 to keep enquiring when I eligible. Even having argued that my mum is immunosuppressed and I’m in close contact with her didn’t seem to matter. The day had come and I would one step closer to what would make travelling easier and less costly. I know it seemed crazy after 14 months of a pandemic but this marked our first ever pcr test, in the form of a fit to fly certificate. Oh I also forgot to mention the trip hung in the balance whilst we drove to the test centre, as we weren’t sure we would be allowed to enter after the EU decided to play political games last minute and didn’t want Britain added to the list of countries allowed to enter Europe. Madeira said we could go and it was back on, nerves jangled enough we took our test and prayed for the best. With our results not back till the next day we were in for a long wait, the next morning mine came back negative but Adams were missing. A few frantic phone calls later he got his result and we set off in the car Manchester bound for Madeira.
Checked in and our documents verified we could relax and enjoy a rather empty airport. With a pret and peruse around duty free we were ready to board and jet off after nearly a 9 month wait. Seat belt fastened and taxiing the tarmac we were moments to freedom, then the voice of the captain came on, never a good sign so soon. We were going back to the stand as there was an issue with the plane, my heart nearly leapt out my chest and the words so close yet so far came to mind. 90 minutes later we took off with the problem taken care of and the smile across my face couldn’t have been wider! Our time on the island was incredible and completely surpassed our expectations. Never having previously thought about Madeira as a destination, covid restrictions meant we were destined to go and to dispel a few myths it isn’t just for the older generation. It’s for food lovers, sight seers and thrill seekers. One of the first and best in my opinion was the Madeira safe app, making your travels a little easier. Where you uploaded your info and relevant documents that made for an easy airport transition. Meeting new people including a Cheshire housewife on holiday for her son’s wedding, enjoying exploring and learning to love life again. We met a brilliant bunch of people at our sea front hotel near Funchal, we laughed until our bellies ached and were all just thrilled to be abroad again. What was lovely was we helped each other through navigating tests and filling in forms that were new to us all, Adam became the star rep ending up on friends balconies making sure they felt at ease in uploading test results online and Tom from Chronomics had a lot to answer for… They never said travel would be easy but it’s always worth it. Our first taste of travel in 2021 and we were ready for more.
Madeira made me want to return, my mum was in desperate need of a break before she broke down having worked throughout all the lockdowns and this seemed just the medicine. As the island was green for go and she was fully vaxxed it made perfect sense. Mid June came and bags packed until the news broke Madeira was going amber, OMG. Throwing a spanner into the works of our trip, we had to think fast and decided to proceed. Many more tests booked in later, we knew on return we would be incarcerated at home for at least 5 days should our test to release be negative. We weighed up the positives and they seemed outweigh the negative. Spanner number two the flight cancelled as I was walking into my pcr fit to fly test, we chose another thankfully the next day and the test centre let me reschedule. Happy 38 th birthday to me. Stress central but we still had a trip, with Adam kindly driving us through the night down to Manchester we made our flight at 6 am and Adam got home just in time to start work. Our week was wonderful, the weather, the chilled vibes and spending some quality mother and daughter time together. It had been too long. And like always it’s not the places you go but the people you meet, we met Claudia from Germany, after a chance morning chat by the pool after a picture taken. We bonded over our joint love for travel, as it was her first trip to Madeira I offered a few tips for things to see and do here. We are still in touch. Flying home wasn’t as straight forward as we expected, with the travel traffic light system change many flights were cancelled due to the reduced number of travellers. This meant our direct return flight was now making a pit stop on Porto Santo to drop off and pick up some seriously pissed off passengers, they weren’t the only ones. Never have I ever had onboard security check with bags on laps and after a seriously humid 2 hour wait we were eventually airborne. Returning home we had a date with quarantine and it was quite the experience, everyday without fail we were contacted by phone from the isolation team. To check we were at home and ask the same questions over and over. Day 5 allowed us an escape as we had to go and take our test to release at a testing centre. Thankfully by midnight we were free and it was technically day 6. I’m almost sure those released on prison licence aren’t checked as much.
Late June would see us bound for Montenegro, wait correction that was cancelled twice due to you know what and with the help of a travel friend, who is a manager at Dawson and Sanderson in Newcastle. She helped us navigate the limited options available, we chose Malta. Then the weekend before we were due to fly I got the call to say that Malta had changed it’s entry requirements, to only allow double vaccinated travellers in. To which I wasn’t, so back to the drawing board. With only days to go till we left, we had to think quick and the Spanish islands were a go. Majorca it was! I hadn’t visited since I was little and it was Adams first time. Sorted at last and again thanks to Donna, I got my second vaccine at a walk in clinic before I left the country. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time needed to qualify as fully vaccinated, so I had to take a pcr test at the genome centre in Lanchester which was kindly gifted to me. However having both jabs would make my next travels possible. Landing in Palma saw us having to wait in the biggest queue to passport control, so much so it made headline news… I wasn’t sure if it was a consequence of leaving the EU or understaffed and ill equipped to deal with the tourist surge. Having spent some time trying to identify our bus transfer, we had to laugh when we discovered that our hotel was a mere 5 minutes away and we could have walked it faster.
What made this trip memorable were our walks into the beautiful Palma City and all the people we met during the course of our ten days on this Spanish island. Especially all the fab folks on our hotel rooftop, whose conversation and appetite to return to travel again left us feeling positive, thanks and you know who you are. Sometimes a holiday isn’t a holiday without a bit of drama, spending our last couple of days chilling by the pool we witnessed what we are now calling ‘flip flop gate’. Adam has a radar for identifying trouble makers, in short a group of non residents who were locals managed to gain access to the rooftop pool and bar. Where they seemed to hijack the small area and Bluetooth sound system, with zero regard for others. A french lady who had just arrived had put her belongings including her sandals by one of the free beds, next thing we knew her sandals had disappeared. It transpired the group had took them and I informed the hotel manager while Adam confronted the group. After an awkward standoff the sandals reappeared and the group made for a sharp exit. I considered rebranding as SOS, save our sandals and Adam ordered a San Miguel. Flying home into football fever, World Cup final day all the talk on the flight was where people would watch the match. Obviously we know how that went… Tested on day 2 and back to business we were quite confused when we were contacted a week later to say we needed to isolate, due to a positive case on our flight from Majorca. Problem was it was the day before I was due to fly to Lisbon and I had just had my lateral flow to travel also negative. Hundreds of pounds later, the trip was transferred to the following week and we were house bound for three days. The joys of pandemic travel!
Portugal beckoned a week later. My dad and I enjoyed a fabulous five nights in the stunning city of Lisbon, a trip that was again rearranged from 2020. It lived up to all expectations and more, made extra special by being able to meet Pats Madeira in person. If you are looking for an expert to help you navigate the city and further, go with Pats. We also took day trips to Sintra and Cascais on the train, which I can’t recommend enough. This visit left me wanting to see much more of Portugal and made me thankful of our visits to Madeira. The people are friendly, welcoming and they will remind you the Portuguese have a close affiliation with the brits. This goes back hundreds of years. Testing in Lisbon was terrific, we received two free tests at a pharmacy near our hotel. As everyone at the time was entitled to a free lateral flow test, which could also be used for your pre departure back to the uk. A very nice touch I thought.
September seemed to arrive super quick and our special return to the Red City to celebrate Adams big birthday and our wedding anniversary. Until… a week before it was rumoured that the uk would put Morocco on our red list. That was the longest and most stressful wait ever. It’s not as bad when you only have two people to consider, but we had a party of ten and Adam & I felt responsible to make everything run as smoothly as possible. Morocco remained on the amber list which allowed us to travel, as fully vaccinated travellers we no longer had to test to go or follow the isolation on return. The trip was a huge highlight of the year, spending a memorable week with our friends and family showing them Marrakech and more. Some were experiencing Morocco for the first time and commented that they felt like they had had a once in a lifetime experience. We also enjoyed an extra week to ourselves and loved being back in our second home. This was our first chance to return since February 2020 and it felt fantastic. Adam and I had other planned flights for later in 2021, sadly Morocco closed it’s borders and we are now awaiting the news on reopening.
Gone are the days of 5 pound flights, or so I thought. September and October saw us take advantage of Ryanair’s flight sales. Booking trips to Gdansk and Wroclaw, for £9.99 and £4.99 respectively each way. Cheaper than a taxi from my house to the airport… Both were return visits and brilliant. If you haven’t been to Poland please check out my previous blog posts on Gdańsk and Warsaw.
November neared and I was keen to take some more trips before the year end, as I had a funny feeling that we were on borrowed time travel wise and I could sense a new wave incoming. Your gut instinct is normally right! Porto and Faro would see us end the year of uncertainty discovering Portuguese cities for the first time. Porto was probably one of our favourite city breaks, what a place. Adding in a visit to the wine lovers heaven, the Douro Valley, it was the cherry on the cake to a top trip. Porto is a foodies dream, with some of the best places to eat dotted around the city and make sure to stroll over the bridge to Gaia for port tastings and super sunset spots. We will return for sure and we can’t express how amazing it really is here. The weather gods were on our side in Porto and we discovered from the locals that this week was in fact chestnut week. One which they can’t explain but always brings good weather. They say the world is a small place, it is, sitting in the row in front on our flight home were people we met from our first trip to Madeira. Faro was a last minute booking due to our Marrakech flights being cancelled, we enjoyed some winter sun on the Algarve and escaped Storm Arwen. We delayed our return as Adam wasn’t a fan of fly of flying into storms and landing in 70 mph winds. He says it’s the best money he’s ever spent!!
2021 was a success for Sostravel despite all the challenges, it was worth all the stress, tears, form filling and tests. I always remember saying to Adam when we open up we need to go hard or stay home. We have many many new memories and I know it’s been awhile since I wrote a blog post. But that’s what happens when you are out there having fun and I wanted this piece to be different from my previous. I had much to tell and I have missed you all. One thing I will say is that the travel industry can only survive with us all supporting it and each other. As we enter this new year I hope we will see all travel restrictions lifted and it become as accessible as it once was.