It was in a restaurant in Casco Antiguo, the historic medieval district of Seville, that we learned the Spanish government had declared a state of emergency and was putting the country into Covid-19 lockdown. So, we switched from lunch mode to hyper-planning mode – changing our travel plans, cancelling, modifying, and rebooking trains, planes, and accommodations in the hope of leaving Spain, though Paris, and getting home. The next morning, day one of our escape from Europe, we made our way from Seville to the historic Andalusian city of Granada by train, with the hope our catching a flight to Paris the next day.
In the morning, the staff at our Granada hotel told us it was only a twenty-minute drive to the airport, but we decided to allow forty minutes, then an hour, to prepare for traffic jams and airport lineups of travellers desperately trying to get home.
In the end there was no traffic, no crowds at the airport. We waited in the nearly-deserted terminal for well over an hour before any other passengers arrived. Most flights had been cancelled, but our flight to Barcelona was still on the departure schedule. We hoped that our connecting flight from Barcelona to Paris would also be flying.
All services and shops (there weren't many at the small Granada airport) had already been shut. Police crime-scene tape blocked access to the shuttered cafeteria. Even the vending machines and chairs were behind the barriers.
Our flight, though not cancelled, was delayed. For a long time. We waited in the departure area along with a surprising number of passengers, all of whom had arrived in the last minutes before the scheduled boarding time, clearly not sharing our anxiety about traffic delays and airport lineups.
There was no air traffic at the airport, so we were pretty sure that when the next plane finally arrived, it would be ours. By the time we were allowed to board, hours late, and then began taxiing along the runway we were worried that we might not be in time to make our Barcelona connection.
The Barcelona airport was surprisingly busy, though in hindsight we realize that tens of thousands of travellers were trying to get home. Luckily, the loading gate for our flight to Paris was immediately next to our arrival gate, and loading started within a few minutes.
We had made our Paris flight... at least, we were sitting on the airplane. But there was another delay of... an hour, two hours?, as we sat on the tarmac, before finally taking off for Paris.
It was well into the evening, hours past our scheduled time, when we arrived at remote and desolate Terminal 3 of Charles de Gaulle Airport. It was here that decades of travel skills kicked in to help us maneuver our way home. The first skill was Mark’s foresight in having arranged a ride from the airport with Rui, the Paris driver we use to get us betweeen hotels to airports – instead of counting on catching a cab at the airport.
We walked out of Terminal 3 into an empty parking area. There were no buses, no taxis, no shuttle vans, but there was Rui. (We wondered how the other passengers on our flight were going to find transportation.) Rui grabbed our luggage and immediately warned us, in French, that the merde was about to strike le ventilateur. The government of France had intervened and was shutting down the city and the country, using the army to enforce the lockdown decrees, closing up... well, pretty much everything.
And that brings us to Skill Number Two – Diane’s superpower ability to understand Rui’s rapid-fire frantic French, her brain somehow able to tap into resources implanted in high school French class. We heard from Rui how uncertain the situation was. Pointing out the unbroken line of car lights on the other side of the freeway, heading out of Paris, he told us those belonged to Parisians who were fleeing the city for summer homes in the French countryside.
Even food was becoming scarce, Rui told us in horror.
Online, from our hotel back in Seville, the earliest Air France flight we had been able to book was for Friday, so we thought we were going to be spending five nights in Paris. Mark had reserved a room at Hotel Monge in the 5th Arrondissement for that period. But, while waiting on the tarmac in Granada, we received a message from the hotel advising us that they were closing the next day, meaning we only had one night available. We told Rui that maybe the next morning we'd find an Air France office in Paris to see if we could arrange for an earlier flight.
Non, non, non, Rui told us – we should check with Air France right now, while we were at the airport, even though it was late in the evening. And this is where the third skill (or superpower, if you will), came into play. With Rui’s help (we now thought of ourselves as a sort of Three Musketeers) we were able to find the exact Air France office at the nearly-deserted Charles de Gaulle Airport Terminal 2E – the one that was handling all emergency ticket changes.
Our fourth skill, if you can call it that (as you probably know by now), is that we don't fly economy. So, in the somewhat hectic Air France service area, we were able to get in the shorter line for those holding premium tickets. At the desk, the helpful Air France agent was able to change our departure date from Friday to... the next morning! But there was a catch. We would have to fly economy. And we had to fly through Toronto. Both of them things we had vowed never to do again.
Flight information in hand, Rui safely got us to our preferred Paris accommodations at Hotel Monge in record time, what with the drastically diminished traffic. While Mark checked us into the hotel, Diane scampered down the street to the grocery store on Rue Monge she frequents, one of the very few stores still open anywhere in Paris. She snagged food for the evening and, more importantly, the last half-bottle of Louis Roederer rosé champagne, chilled.
Covid Chronicles: Escape from Europe – The Final Days
–Diane & Mark
photographs copyright Mark Craft