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Escaping Lockdown

Holiday Ideas & Foreign Travel
TaurusTheBull
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Escaping Lockdown

#354266

Postby TaurusTheBull » November 7th, 2020, 5:11 am

Hi,

Whilst not spoilt for choice, one can only visit one place at a time, and so I started researching, early in September, the limited destinations available. Coming back to potential self-isolation wasn't a problem, dwarfed by a desire to escape endless doom-mongering.

Bulgaria seemed fair game, so I booked an early October Easyjet flight to Sofia for £24.99. It was three-quarters full, but I boarded last in order to avoid the middle seat I'd been "randomly" assigned. Sure enough, most eople were bunched together, with a few empty rows, one of which I chose.

Bulgaria requires masks on public transport and in shops, but it didn't seem to have the spiralling case rates, yet, that were starting to plague much of western Europe. Takeaway beer is possibly the cheapest in Europe, which is always welcome, but Bulgarians don't seem to abuse it.

I spent a couple of days in Sofia, three in Bansko, hill-walking before the ski season, and three in Philippopolis, these days known as Plovdiv, with it's impressive Roman remains.

In Covidian times, international borders tend to be in a constant state of flux, so I didn't hang around, taking a bus from Plovdiv to Istanbul whilst it was still possible, especially as the route back had recently opened. After a two-hour wait at the border, the dozen passengers on my bus passed through Turkish immigration without so much as a temperature check, as was the case at Sofia Airport.

Turkey is slightly stricter on masks, with occasional police reminders in Istanbul. They are supposed to be worn in all public places, but many people tend to wear their masks at half mast or under their chins. Outside of Istanbul the situation is more relaxed, with perhaps half of people wearing masks everywhere.

British passport holders can now visit Turkey without a formal visa, getting 90 days on arrival. Whether this persists into 2021 is anyone's guess, but Turkey is not in the EU. A pound bought about 10 Turkish lira, which was a bit confusing when looking at the money changers' boards, since they only seem to allow for one figure before the decimal point.

I stayed near Taksim Square, walking down to Galata Bridge, over to the Blue Mosque and it's famous antecedant, Hagia Sophia. Both were a tad disappointing, undergoing renovation work, the ceiling of the Blue Mosque hidden from view. Despite Hagia Sophia's recent conversion back to a mosque (from a museum, an Ottoman mosque and initially a 6th century church), both are open to visitors outside the five daily prayer times.

The fast train (YHT) to Ankara is cheaper than the bus, but tends to be booked days in advance. Turkish buses are comfortable, though, with drinks and a snack served en route. All the buses I've taken have been less than a quarter full, presumably virus-related rather than seasonal, particularly as services seem to have been cut back.

To travel in Turkey at this time it's necessary to obtain an HES number online, linked to your passport and enabling the government to track potentially infectious people. That's the theory, but temperatures are seldom checked.

Another quirk of travelling in Turkey is that booking.com is only accessible via a VPN, and the Opera browser has this option.

Tourism is down, and I initially'met more people from Ukraine, Russia and Iran than from western Europe.

Ataturk's Ankara mauseleum can be seen for miles around. His free museum is a victim of the pandemic. Accommodation is cheap, 5-8 euros for a dorm bed, sometimes for a room, often including breakfast. In Ankara each bed in my 4-bed dorm (only two beds occupied both nights) had it's own TV, impressive but potentially noisy.

I was en route to Cappodocia. The bus stopped alongside the large salt lake at Tuz Gölü, and continued on to Nevsehir. From here I walked 15 km, via Nevsehir Castle and the old hill town of Uçhisar, down through the dusty valley, to Goreme, the main tourist centre. Many pinnacles of volcanic tuff dot the valley, some of which have caves carved into them. These date back to at least Roman times, the painted crosses inside supposedly telling a tale of folk seeking to escape pre-Christian persecution.

I came to Goreme in February, many years ago, when it was snow-covered, and I cannot remember any hotels, staying in Nevsehir. These days, the town is overflowing with tourist accommodation, but the development has been done with a degree of taste. The scenery, not to mention the history, is truly impressive, and there are even a couple of ancient underground cities south of Nevsehir.

The most annoying thing about Goreme is the preponderance of ATV (quad bikes) tours, especially at weekends, heading to and from the next village of Çavuşin.

Goreme is also known for it's early morning balloon tours, but with rich foreigner numbers down, there is less hot money around these days. Apparently €80 for half an hour is cheap compared to pre-Covid prices.

I took a quarter-full night bus from Goreme, via Konya and Alanya, to Antalya, a city of about 1.2 million, founded as a Pergamene colony during the 2nd century BC, by Attalos II.

This is tourist central in the summer, with many small pansiyons tucked away down side streets. The city has developed around a big bay, looking west onto the impressive Beyğdalari (Bey Mountains). The Kaleici, or old town, surrounds the touristy harbour, many bars and restaurants lining pedestrianised alleys to it's south.

As elsewhere in Turkey, many stray cats and a few big dogs lounge around in the parks and alleyways, protected by law and fed by locals.

A few days later I headed west to the town of Fethiye, another summer tourist magnet due to it's picturesque coastline and popular beaches. Antalya bus station, as Ankara, had temperature and security checks.

El Camino pub-hostel has splendid views over Fethiye marina and bay, and a bed in the 4-bed dorm, together with breakfast, was 60 lira, about £6, although the lira was slowly losing it's value against major currencies, slipping nearly ten per cent in October.

By late October most foreign tourists had gone, if they were ever here, in the year of living dangerously. Weekends brought out more crowds, mostly Turks. There are normally ferries to Rhodes, curtailed this year by Covid and the recent political spat between Greece and Turkey.

I pushed north-west, via Mugla, to Bodrum, by minivan or dolmus. These are now supposedly cash-free, but most people pay cash to the driver, except within municipalities, where local cards can be used, like the Oyster card in London.

Bodrum has plenty of history, the former Halikarnassos, founded by Greeks in the 11th century BC, and 5th century BC home to that doyen of historians, Herodotus. Famous for it's Castle of St Peter overlooking the bays, it's main draw these days is for tourists, and quieter, more scenic places can be found further along the peninsula, notably at Gümüslük, an "alternative" village at the western end, with wonderful sunset views towards small islands west of Kos.

My posh room in Gümürslük was booked for about €8 including breakfast, rather surprising, and sure enough, I was told on arrival that the price should be €18. They gave me the cheaper price for the night I'd booked, but when I notified booking.com of their mistake the next day in my review, they editted out the relevant comments and continued to offer the cheaper price. The moral of this story is that, like so many big companies, booking.com accept criticism of anyone but themselves...

With lockdown likely in England, and already implemented in Wales, my preference was to head back south-east to Fethiye, especially with daily temperatures still in the mid 20s celsius. The more northerly tourist spots of Pammukale and Ephesus could wait until December.

The weather broke on October 29th, National Day, but only for 36 hours, and as the sun re-appeared next day I made my way along the scenic bayside to the gravelly beach at Çaliş, a pleasant hour's walk from town. A few English voices emanated from the cafes and bars here. There are lovely views out of the large bay, facing the afternoon sun, with Rhodes looming to the south-west.

I've never been one for roasting on beaches, but lying on Çaliş Plaji under the autumn sun, fanned by the onshore afternoon breeze, was bliss.

That evening, I heard about the earthquake near Samos that brought down several buildings in Izmir. A couple of hundred miles away, across mountains, bays and islands, Fethiye felt nothing.

Turkey's most famous beach is Ölüdeniz, a sandy strip about 12 km south of Fethiye, over a high saddle covered in conifers. Off-season public transport was very limited, so I hiked up to the saddle and down towards the bowl, in which sits the ghost town of Käyakoy. It was formerly the home of 6,500 orthodox Greeks, some of whom were expelled or transported to forced labour camps by the Ottomans in WW1, and in 1923 those who remained were relocated to Greece as part of the population-swap.

In the event, I saw the bowl stretching out below me, with Ölüdeniz on the far side of another small saddle. It was too far, so I retreated back to town.

Despite it's obvious popularity with foreigners, Fethiye is an identifiably working Turkish town, exemplified by the big local bazaar held on Tuesdays and Fridays.

This area of Turkey has many traces of Lycian civilization, pre-dating the Hittites, Greeks, Persians, Alexander the Great, Romans, Rhodians, Byzantines and Ottomans. Lycia was a province of Anatolia, dating back to around 1,000 BC. Fethiye was founded as the Ancient Greek city of Telmessos in the 6th century BC. Despite many earthquakes, one as recently as 1961, the city still has some Lycian remains, most notably the Amyntas cliffside tomb dating back to 350 BC.

I decided to visit the Lycian peninsula, heading first to the small town of Kaş, near the southern tip, on the Turquoise Coast. The bus headed through an arid limestone landscape peppered with polytunnels, until we reached the coast, at Kalkan.

Kaş has developed on the hillside leading down to the sea. It used to rely heavily on oranges, lemons, bananas, vegetables, almonds, honey and fishing, but these days the main emphasis is on tourism, diving and yachting. Like much of the coast, the rugged scenery is splendid.

The Greek island of Kastelórizo lies 5 km offshore, and in normal times there is a daily ferry to the island.

I stayed at Can Mocamp, just out of town, overlooking the marina, and a short walk further out to a couple of deserted beaches. The tranquil Mediterranean in November felt like the English Channel in August.

The Lycian or Teke Peninsula contains the ruins of several ancient cities, such as Patara, Xanthos and Myra. I noticed something much older, but not of human hand. Above my swimming spot was an extensive, unusual, layer of very brecciated limestone. Subsequent research revealed that this may well have been the result of a meteorite impact.

At the lookout point above Kaş, there was an unmistakable circular shape to the sea, surrounded by the headlands either side of the town, and the facing island of Kastelórizo. As the sun dipped towards the horizon, a dozen people trickled in, below the huge Turkish flag, with chairs, folding tables, beer and crisps. It's that sort of view.

Last night Southampton beat Newcastle to go top of the League for the first time since 1988. What a strange year! Saints can't go further north and I can't go further south. From here on in, in the circumstances, we'll both be winging it...

Cheers
Taurus

AF62
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Re: Escaping Lockdown

#363177

Postby AF62 » December 5th, 2020, 3:02 pm

Not quite escaping lockdown, but escaping tier 2.

After our planned holiday in May being cancelled and a reluctance to book anything during the summer due to the continual changes and uncertainty, by the middle of October I was not looking forward to a grey and cold December so took a look at what was available and the rules at that time.

Madeira topped the options list; not on the Foreign Office ‘do not travel’ list but no quarantine on return. The only hitch was needing either a negative COVID test before departure or having a test on arrival. The latter is a gamble since if you don’t test negative then it is a quarantine hotel and put on a flight back home, but the positive is it is free of charge and you can travel to your hotel and wait the 6 to 12 hours for the result.

Looking at the various tour operator sites there were certainly some bargains available. I usually book flights and hotels separately, but this time I thought I would take advantage of the additional protection available from booking a package. In addition the tour operators seemed to be able to offer the hotels at far cheaper prices than the hotels were listing on their websites as part of the package (although I appreciate they were likely prepared to negotiate - but I couldn’t be bothered to only achieve the same end result).

So holiday booked in October and then came lockdown v2 with international travel for leisure theoretically banned, although there seemed to be little or no enforcement, so with a travel date two days after the lockdown was scheduled to end we were a bit twitchy about whether it would be extended or the new tier rules.

Anyway no extension to the lockdown and the new tier rules not limiting international leisure travel, off we flew yesterday.

Flight out was pretty busy - 90% full, but pleased to see good compliance with the rules on the plane, and several individuals being told by the airline staff that their masks with valves did not comply so they would need to swap them for something that did.

A 15 minute delay in landing to let the wind subside enough to allow the plane to land, and it was probably one of those landings which appear on YouTube with the plane appearing to land in sideways with the wings going up and down - but that is normal for Funchal airport with the runway stuck to the side of the mountain.

Excellent organisation at the airport and through passport control and had the COVID test done within about half an hour - with staff handing out free water and bananas whilst we waited.

Although you have to wait at your hotel for the negative result to be emailed to you, you are limited to the hotel but not limited to the room (or that was what the hotel told me) so free to use the restaurant and bar whilst waiting. Whether that is actually correct or not... Anyway negative test through by 9pm after having the test at 12 midday so legally free to do whatever we want now.

And so today enjoying 20c sunshine, bars, restaurants, and shops all open. Some restrictions such as restaurants closing at 10pm and masks required not only in shops but also outside on the streets - and that seems to be a 90% compliance in busy areas but 25% or lower if you are on the boardwalk away from others.

Very few tourists out here so the hotels and restaurants are grateful to those making the trip - apparently November was appallingly bad due to lockdown v2 killing the expected UK trade.

It was taking a gamble booking this, but overall glad I did so and looking forward to the next couple of weeks here.

neversay
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Re: Escaping Lockdown

#368736

Postby neversay » December 22nd, 2020, 12:41 pm

@AF62 I'm not jealous in the slightest... :) (seriously, I am)

However, not wishing to put a downer on your good experience, by way of contrast: my aunty in her 80s took the travel window to head to her holiday home in the Canaries. She's now in intensive care with Covid-19 and her medical bills have already exceeded £10k which her insurance company is refusing to pay.

AF62
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Re: Escaping Lockdown

#368993

Postby AF62 » December 23rd, 2020, 7:18 am

neversay wrote:@AF62 I'm not jealous in the slightest... :) (seriously, I am)

However, not wishing to put a downer on your good experience, by way of contrast: my aunty in her 80s took the travel window to head to her holiday home in the Canaries. She's now in intensive care with Covid-19 and her medical bills have already exceeded £10k which her insurance company is refusing to pay.


Sorry to hear about your aunt, and poor show by the insurance company unless there is a reason for their refusal.

However when weighing up where to go I considered there was a significant difference in risk between Madeira and some (not all) of the Canary Islands.

Since virtually the start of COVID, Madeira has been taking strong steps to minimise the risk on the island - negative tests needed, cruise ships stopped, masks everywhere including outside - and mask wearing and hand sanitisation taken seriously. On buses and in shops whilst I was there I saw 100% compliance with masks and using hand sanitiser on entry. There was nobody claiming an exemption that it was ‘too hard’ to wear one because of some vague excuse or wearing it with their nose sticking out - with one exception - an elderly English man entered a shop I was in not wearing a mask. The reaction of the staff was unbelievable. It was like he had wandered in with an AK47 and pointed it at them. They screamed at him to ‘go away’ in no uncertain terms, whilst he bleated about it being hard to speak whilst wearing one.

Meanwhile the Canaries was one of the original hotspots, and seemed to me to have been doing what they can to minimise the impact on their tourism industry rather than bearing down on COVID - so for example when Spain introduced mandatory negative tests for visitors to the country, the regional government in the Canaries said “nah, not here, come on in”. And the result is that COVID is running wild again on some of the Canary Islands, particularly Tenerife.

Anyway I am back in the UK now for Christmas after a fabulous time feeling safe, but if permitted under the ever changing rules I will be ‘getting the hell out of Dodge’ in January and heading back down to the sun in Madeira or somewhere similar.

neversay
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Re: Escaping Lockdown

#368994

Postby neversay » December 23rd, 2020, 7:24 am

Understood @AF62 and I wasn't being critical. In her case she didn't weigh the risks.

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Re: Escaping Lockdown

#369004

Postby swill453 » December 23rd, 2020, 8:48 am

neversay wrote:However, not wishing to put a downer on your good experience, by way of contrast: my aunty in her 80s took the travel window to head to her holiday home in the Canaries. She's now in intensive care with Covid-19 and her medical bills have already exceeded £10k which her insurance company is refusing to pay.

Did her EHIC not cover her?

Scott.

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Re: Escaping Lockdown

#369202

Postby AF62 » December 23rd, 2020, 4:16 pm

neversay wrote:Understood @AF62 and I wasn't being critical. In her case she didn't weigh the risks.


Absolutely. The key thing about doing *anything* now is to consider the risks and the 'what if' to make sure you are happy with it. But most people don't.

swill453 wrote:
neversay wrote:However, not wishing to put a downer on your good experience, by way of contrast: my aunty in her 80s took the travel window to head to her holiday home in the Canaries. She's now in intensive care with Covid-19 and her medical bills have already exceeded £10k which her insurance company is refusing to pay.

Did her EHIC not cover her?


In Spain tourists tend to be routed towards the large number of private hospitals that exist, rather than the state hospitals which are unfairly looked down upon, and you need to be quite forceful if you want to be treated in a state hospital in order to use the EHIC - something an 80 year old might not be up to arguing.


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