Travelling In Covid Times

We set off from Kent at about 530 – John so kindly drove us to Heathrow in his car – and it was very good to have friendly chat along the way. We were a bit apprehensive with procedures being new. And it turned out we were right to be. Probably the most stressful and exhausting 24 hours I can ever remember.

Heathrow was like a ghost town. Terminal 2 very empty. We presented at Turkish Airlines check in and showed passports and our PCR test results and then the check in lady wanted our letter of approval for quarantine from the TRNC Ministry of Health. We explained that under the latest regulations, if you are entering quarantine on the basis of age (over 70 and companions or under 12 and companions) you don’t have to get prior approval, you just have to show proof. No, this was not so. Much conferring with people who came back and forth and shaking of heads. No you have to have a letter. I remonstrated, showed them our quarantine approval on the official TRNC entry app. No. Back and forth to the main Turkish Airlines desk who made calls to Istanbul. Utter confusion. Bear in mind that the letters from the MOH take at least 3 days to obtain because they go through a medical vetting process for all the other non age related categories who are entering quarantine. Which is why, they have very sensibly decided that it is unnecessary for people entering based on age to have to do this, wasting their time as well.

In the end, I found the wording on the TRNC official website, despite my shaking hands and peaking blood pressure. There it was in black and white on the official website and they then, backtracked a little and agreed to call Cyprus Immigration to clarify. We then had to send photos of our quarantine approval (from the app) and our title deeds, etc out to Cyprus for them to see. An hour and a half passed…. my blood pressure was through the roof. In the end, it was all thumbs up and apologies.

Ah… one last hurdle… it says you show age with an ID Card, do you have an ID card as in the ID Card TRNC citizens have instead of a passport???? Again, explanations, no they mean a passport or generic ID card that proves your age…. back and forth again…. YIKES….. finally, apologies and boarding cards……. I held my breath over our overweight baggage but whether out of pity for our grey faced, stressed out states or whatever, nothing was said at all…….

We staggered through to the departure lounge where no outlets were open selling any alcohol. Which was a very great pity at that point in the day. Or perhaps not…… I might have downed a bottle!!!!! Note to self: always wise to carry printed pages of official guidance on which you are relying and don’t assume airlines will have them or in fact understand them if they do…… I can’t complain too much. Turkish Airlines had to be thorough. If we’d been turned back in Cyprus, they would have been fined and also had to repatriate us at their own expense. They had to make sure it was all correct and it is complicated and quite new. Very complicated.

The flight was just the weirdest ever. A very new, spotless 777-300 and maybe maximum 30 people on board. No problem social distancing! I think Bob and I were the only ones in our section. We had plenty of room. I read a bit and slept. Bob watched a film. It took 3 hours to reach Istanbul. They served dinner (chicken or pasta LOLOL) but…… no alcohol…… not sure if that’s down to covid or Ramadan…… sigh…. never mind……

The new airport in Istanbul is lovely. Absolutely massive and has lots and lots of shops and food outlets. It wasn’t at all busy and we easily found a comfortable corner to sit in and have coffee and some snacks. Much more like a beautiful shopping mall than an airport.

It was here that my day got a bit worse. My phone contract is with 3. Bob’s with Vodaphone. He’d bought a data pack for using data in N. Cyprus and Turkey before leaving home. 3 told me that they would send me a link as soon as I switched on in Istanbul and that I would buy it then – £5 a day. Except it didn’t work….. It wouldn’t let me buy the pack. This was very worrying because the quarantine apps we had to use which linked to the wristbands we were getting on arrival in Cyprus have to be on 24 hours a day, attached to data and the internet. Hmmmm….. I managed to buy £20 of data but it said it could take 4 hours to register. It didnt register in the 3 hours we were in Istanbul. I still didn’t worry too much because I knew I could get wifi at the airport in Cyprus and at our house so it was really just the taxi journey between the two where I would “disappear” if the data didn’t activate.

It’s only an hour and a bit flight from Istanbul to Nicosia. This was a full flight, spaced out as best they could. Bob and I had a row to ourselves. It was ok. On arrival, I still had no data but I connected to wifi and the app was ok. There were multiple queues into a healthcheck where you showed your PCR result and a landing form giving your address and in our case we showed the apps on our phone signalling we were home quarantining. So, that went smoothly and we went to the next step which was another PCR test- swabs of throat and nose, but a fast process sort where we sat and waited for the result. Both negative again. On to passport control and he gave us 90 days which will be fine. Bags were waiting for us by then, so we scooped them up and last stop was the desks where the wristbands were put on and paired to the apps. Stern warning about keeping them switched on. The app activated with a two hour timer which is to give you a chance to get to your destination and notify them you are there. They then know where you are and can monitor that you stay there. Except of course, mine disappeared on the way to the house.

And then worst of all, we got to the house and our internet was down…….. My phone was completely dead now – no data, no wireless to connect to and actually no ability to make calls either. We were so tired and frazzled….. hard to think straight especially as it’s 30C out here……. Eventually, we rang our internet provider on Bob’s phone and they ran some tests and promised to come tomorrow as the problem is outside with the wiring. This is good news because they are not allowed to enter the house of course while we are quarantining…… In the meantime we messaged our dear, kind neighbours, Alan and Lesley who let us piggback on their router so I could get onto the internet. Oh yes, in the meantime we’d had a conversation with the quarantine monitors to the effect that the police would call within the hour to haul me off to the lockup and there would be a fine too probably….. This had induced a bit of a headless chicken panicfest. So, rang them back and they were happy to see me back online and we all had a little chuckle about them sending the cops up!!!!!

After this I managed to get 3 on the phone and they had a look and said that the problem was that I had a data price cap activated and that had over ridden the “data passport” I was trying to buy and also locked the phone down for use…… They have taken it off, I have a data passport which is costing £5 a day until I can get on the internet, but at least it is a solution and not the end of the world……. This took about 4 or 5 hours to resolve and by the end we were crawling around unpacking and getting things out of our lockups. There are A LOT of jobs to do. A LOT. Even the taxi driver sort of gave a whistle…….. But not today. Today we will sleep and later on sit out in the cool with a g&t. Believe you me, this isn’t going to be a holiday for quite a few weeks…… Tomorrow we will start to make a list of what we can do and what we will have to get help for.

We are now in quarantine for 10 days and at some point around day 7, they will come to the house and give us another PCR test which will trigger the release on day 10. We then have to return the wristbands and we get out deposits back. It’s a really good system actually. It just doesnt work too well when you screw up your data plan like I did. Bob’s Vodaphone deal worked perfectly. Or it did until about 5 minutes ago when HE had a call from the monitors saying he seemed to have disappeared. Seemed all right at our end. This may turn out to be a rather trying 10 days……

We are very tired now……..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz