Our fabulous family long weekend at the beautiful manor house near Stratford-on-Avon was sadly over and we all went our separate ways across England and in our daughter Hannah and her partner Pieter‘s case, back to the Netherlands.
We had planned a few more days in England before taking the ferry back to France and driving to the Netherlands to stay at their place for a short while.
Looking back, we are so grateful to have had the amazing party and to have spent precious time with our family as soon after, Covid-19 stopped the world in its tracks and family visits and get-togethers were no longer possible.
We had a short but pleasant stay with one of my sisters in Beckenham in South London where we had the pleasure of spending some time with two of her grandchildren and taking some lovely walks in the spring sunshine in nearby Kelsey Park.
While we were staying in Beckenham I was looking into the possibility of taking a quick trip to Australia while Jonathan flew back to Athens to oversee the last few jobs on our new-to-us Lagoon 420 catamaran before departing to rediscover and explore further the wonderful Greek islands.
At that stage Covid-19 was only just becoming an issue in most countries (although China and Italy’s experiences were beginning to get people to take notice) and everything was uncertain.
Well thank goodness I didn’t go as very likely I would have been unable to leave Australia and fly back to Europe to join Jonathan in Greece as flights into Athens were halted way before my planned return date.
After a few days in Beckenham we left for the port of Dover driving via Bournemouth to say goodbye to our very dear friends.
The weather was still very wild and the van was being rocked around like a boat at anchor by the blustery winds on Dover seafront.
We decided to have an early night as we were catching a ferry first thing the following day. We were just drifting off to sleep when a massive explosion reverberated around the White Cliffs of Dover and shocked us awake!
It sounded as though we were being shelled! We got up and looked out of the window and were relieved to see the explosions were only a sky full of fireworks out to sea right opposite our parking spot.
We realised it must be the maiden voyage party for Virgin’s monstrous bright red 17-storey cruise ship – Scarlett Lady – which was anchored out directly in front of us.
The fireworks were truly spectacular and we thanked Richard Branson for the great send off before retiring again for the night.
It was an early start the next day as our ferry was due to leave at 8am and we were meant to be at the dock at least an hour before. The weather was wild and blustery as we set off and we wondered if there would be delays with the ferries.
We soon found out that there were indeed delays as a big sea had developed overnight and the night ferries had been cancelled. We didn’t mind – being in our van meant we could have another cup of tea while we waited.
We eventually boarded a different ferry to the one we were booked on, at 9.30 for a 10am departure. Instead of landing in Dunkirk this ferry headed for Calais which meant we would save at least half an hour on our drive to Pijnacker in The Netherlands so the delay was minimal.
There were very few people on board and we had a pleasant if rather rough trip over to France.
Soon we were back in the Netherlands to spend the weekend with our daughter and her partner before they headed off to Austria for a week’s skiing. We stayed to house and cat sit!
While they were away Jonathan and spent much of the time hunkered down in their cosy little house as it was so cold!
We did venture out to Delft to distribute some posters for a Comedia Del Arte workshop and a parent and child music and movement class that Hannah was organising. Sadly our efforts were wasted as by the time these came around Covid-19 restrictions were in place and they had to be postponed.
Disaster struck our daughter on the last day of what had been a fantastic ski trip! She had an accident and damaged her knee! Luckily for her, the first person to ski up to her to help out was a renowned (for looking after top soccer teams) German orthopaedic surgeon who gave her some good advice and his email address in case she wanted to talk through the possibility of surgery and other options.
The group of friends who had been skiing together arrived back on the same day that the Dutch foreign ministry updated its travel advice for Italy, advising citizens not to travel to areas affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
By the early days of March the advent of Covid-19 in the Netherlands was becoming big news. On 6 March the first death was reported and by 12 March the government announced new measures that would be in effect until the end of that month. All events (concerts, sports) and meetings with more than 100 people were forbidden and the people were encouraged to work from home. Schools were to remain open but all Dutch universities were to suspend physical teaching until 1 April, but online teaching would continue.
On the same day in Greece (12 March) The first death from COVID-19 in Greece happened and by 13 March Greece closed all educational institutions, cafes, bars, museums, shopping centres, sports facilities and restaurants in the country.
On 16 March, all Greek retail shops were also closed, two villages with infections were quarantined, and all services in all areas of religious worship of any religion or dogma were suspended.
We had purchased our tickets to Greece departing Amsterdam on 17 March to return to our catamaran “Sunday” and were anxiously following developments in The Netherlands and Greece.
I can remember wondering if Greece had overreacted as things seemed much more laid back in the Netherlands and even more so in the UK where schools, restaurants, pubs, indoor entertainment venues and leisure centres, (even then, with some with some exceptions) were still open. These institutions weren’t closed until March 20 when there were already more than 200 deaths.
So 17 March came round and it seemed as though we could travel to Greece to return to S/V Sunday. It was hard, as always, to say goodbye to Hannah and Pieter but at that time we had no reason to imagine that they would not be joining us on the boat in May as planned.
Schiphol Airport was busy and quite crowded and we felt conscious of the vulnerability of all travellers there so we kept our distance where we could but realistically we were about to sit in a narrow tin can with hundreds of people in very close proximity so there seemed little point in keeping two metres apart in a queue!
Once on the aircraft we had only just sat down when very fortunately we were moved to the extra legroom seats with no one across the aisle from us.
We arrived in Athens around 8.30 pm and were amazed that there was no one in passport control and no notices with information about Coronavirus! Not even in Greek, as far as we could see.
We had hired a car for a week in anticipation of preparing for dropping our lines the week after that. Of course, that was not to be. Firstly because everyone arriving in Greece from 18 May onwards was required to self isolate for 14 days but in addition to that, starting from 6 a.m on 23 March, movement outside the home for all citizens and visitors was permitted only for a number of specific reasons e.g. essential travel to and from work, food shopping, visiting a doctor etc.
People were also allowed to exercise once a day but anyone leaving their home for any reason had to send a text explaining their reason for being out. The measures were to continue (initially) until April 4.
Fortunately, before the restrictions came into force we managed to get a few things done on the boat, including the installation of sunshades – made while we were away – that enclose the cockpit, giving us privacy (in the marina especially) and shade in the heat of the simmering Greek summer. We were so thrilled with these – they really do look fantastic!
Over the first couple of days we were also able to shop for food and other essential supplies such as wine and beer! Unlike Australia, the Netherlands and the UK, there didn’t appear to be any panic buying. There was plenty of everything – including loads of toilet roll!
Suitably provisioned for a good two weeks and more, we settled down to wait out our quarantine period.