Going back to the UK

Not for good, I hasten to add!

I was last over in the UK in tragic circumstances last October – the trip was to say goodbye to my terminally ill sister, although I never got to see her before she died. Tracy was taken into hospital just a few days before I arrived there, and because of the virus, I wasn’t allowed to go into the hospital to see her.

The pandemic has meant that I was unable to support mum and dad through the toughest time, and I missed Tracy’s memorial service, and could only watch online. But we’re getting through it, and flights started again from Almeria to London a couple of weeks ago – the first in months and months. So, I decided it was time to get over to see Mum and Dad and booked my flights for 12th August. We think this will be the ‘window of opportunity’ to travel, as the experts seem to be warning us already that the winter will be tough again, possibly with restrictions being brought back in. If I don’t go now, I’m not sure when the next opportunity will be.

The requirements at the time of booking were to self isolate on arrival, with PCR tests on day 2 and 8, and the optional test to release on day 5, despite having both Pfizer jabs. I booked the day 5 test as I wanted to be able to visit the grandchildren whilst in the UK, who I haven’t seen now since November 2019. Just four days later the rules changed so that fully vaccinated EU citizens did not have to quarantine – hurrah, I thought. I arranged a refund for the the day 5 and 8 tests, which I will say are still stupidly expensive at £200 for the 3 test package. I will still have to have an antigen test here in Spain within 72 hours of travelling to the UK, which is another €40.

Add on to that the fact that Easyjet have changed their baggage policy, so I’ve had to book hold luggage. What used to cost €60 return is now up to €450 with all the tests – are we starting to see a return to the 70’s when only rich people travelled?

When we moved here we were careful to pick somewhere reasonably close to an airport (40 minutes), and that had flights all year round to both London for me and Birmingham for Roger. Some of the trips we had in the past from Peterborough down to London in the car have actually taken longer than going door to door Almeria to London! We promised family we would be back twice a year to visit.

Then came the ‘will they won’t they put Spain on an amber watchlist’ – which would mean going back to self isolating for ten days, plus tests on day 2, 5 and 8 again. Today we saw some news and it looks like that isn’t going to happen – not this week anyway!

There are currently 1 million Brits on holiday in Spain alone – if Spain went onto the UK’s red list, where would they put everyone when they arrived back in the UK? I can’t see there being 1 million spaces in Government hotels!

Getting back into Spain will be much easier – as I have had both jabs, I just need my proof of that and nothing else – no further tests, no self isolating. Even though there’s no requirement, both of us have always self isolated on return though – we live in a village with an elderly population and so it seemed the right thing to do.

To be honest, neither of us would’ve travelled during the pandemic ‘just for a holiday’ – our trips back have been for terminally ill family and funerals only, and I wouldn’t be traveling now if I thought mum and dad were coping well with losing my sister.

This virus isn’t going away, and I think there has to come a point where we start to learn to live with it. All the way though this we’ve done exactly what we’ve been told and we’ve had the jabs – all on the promise that this is the way to get back to normal.

We used to enjoy traveling – I love airports and find people watching in them absolutely fascinating. Sadly now, it has become an angst ridden experience, and an expensive one at that.

I’m sure though, that being able to hug Mum and Dad, and give those grandchildren the biggest cuddles ever, will make it all worthwhile.

Something a little like normal …

After the last year of lurching from one lockdown to another, there’s a lighter feeling starting to settle, something a little like being closer to life pre coronavirus. We are still officially in a 4th wave, but it seems to be more under control than previous peaks.

Last weekend we welcomed some lovely friends here to stay – our first guests for almost 16 months. Our friends were ones we had lost touch with and not seen for over 12 years. We recently got back in touch when we decided to rejoin Facebook after a break from it for several years, only to discover they too were living in Andalucía! It’s a very small world!

Last Thursday saw the opening of the provincial borders, so although the region of Andalucía is still closed, you can now travel freely within Andalucía. The curfew was also reduced, and we can meet up with 2 other people inside or 4 outside (I think anyway, it’s hard to keep up with the changes!)

The State of Alarm that has been in place across Spain for over a year comes to an end on 9th May, and apparently is not intended to be extended again. What this actually means for us in terms of restrictions isn’t really clear yet. Some regions are calling for a further extension in order to maintain restrictions, and if not agreed, there is a public health law that they could use in order to maintain some restrictions – we can only wait and see what happens.

In our village, some things are beginning to return to near normal – our cafe is open again now that the owner, Antonio, is out of hospital – he got covid last September and spent about 50 days on a ventilator. Although he is unable to work, his family have re-opened the cafe, and Antonio is able to come and sit outside for a while to chat to customers – it is lovely to have him back! The village feels more alive again now the cafe has reopened.

There are still no flights to and from the UK into Almeria airport, but fingers crossed these will resume again soon so I can visit the family. I haven’t had a hug from the grandchildren for 18 months, and Mum is desperate for a visit – lockdown was so hard for them with my sister getting cancer and me being so far away.

Throughout the pandemic, it has been law here to wear a face mask at all times when outside (except when you’re actually eating and drinking at the cafe!), unlike the UK. For me, this is the one thing I am most looking forward to ending at some point… maybe next year??? They have now declared that you don’t need to wear one when out walking in the countryside, or when you’re swimming (😂), so that’s a step in the right direction for me. We do have a municipal pool in the village, which remained closed last summer – it would be great if this could reopen this year.

Whilst the vaccine rollout has been hugely successful in the UK, most European countries are lagging behind, with simply not enough vaccine being delivered to provinces – we are just moving into the 50-70’s age group here, so it could be another month or more yet before we get jabbed at this rate. It will be interesting to see if this picks up.

Living where we do, we haven’t felt the impact of the pandemic as much as those living in towns and cities – we spend most of our time going about our normal daily tasks, rarely seeing anybody – exactly as we planned when we moved here! Going out once a week to get the things we need used to be fun, but for the last year it’s been go out, get what we need, and get back home. With the cafe reopening, we can at least resume our Wednesday coffee and tostada tradition when we go to the market!

Let’s all hope now that the light at the end of the tunnel starts to shine a lighter brighter so that we can all get back to the old normal as opposed to the new normal, which hasn’t been normal at all!

Fiestas during the pandemic

Spain loves a party! And what must every party have … fireworks, lots and lots of fireworks!

Spain’s love affair with fireworks!

Each village has their own series of fiestas throughout the year, and we made the effort to go to most of them during 2019 – they’re all about the community coming together, and we thought it was really important to be a part of that.

Last year, of course, everything was cancelled. I can’t tell you how sad it made people feel .

Yesterday was Santa Ana day. As she is the patron saint of our village it’s a big deal here. For those that may not know, Santa Ana was Mary’s mum (Jesus’ Granny). Obviously we’re still living with lots of restrictions, but our village was declared covid free a couple of weeks ago.

I take my hat off to the Ayuntamiento for the way they managed to celebrate yesterday – obviously no parades, no brass band etc, but what they did do was bring in a churros van and everyone in the village got free churros and chocolate in the morning – pop along to the van, pick up your freebies and take them home to enjoy. Then at lunchtime there was mass, which was streamed on Facebook, accompanied by fireworks. And last night, a huge firework display for everyone to watch from their balconies, again, streamed live on Facebook.

Free churros for everyone!!

The amount of thought that went into organising a safe way for everyone to celebrate is astonishing, and is testament to how well local government works here.

Each town or village has an ayuntamiento – a town hall. Each village also has an elected Mayor. The Mayor (here it’s a lovely chap called Carmelo, who, just like the rest of us, farms oranges) works with the other committee members to run all aspects of the village.

Bearing in mind there’s only 380 people in our village, we have a municipal swimming pool, a floodlit astroturf football pitch, a small theatre, and a handball court. A small army of workers constantly sweep the roads, cut the trees, paint the walls and benches etc – every week some sort of maintenance is happening to keep the village looking lovely.

So the next celebration is Easter of course – usually there’s a parade here on Palm Sunday and then lots of community events over Easter – we’re highly unlikely to be able to have anything close to a normal Easter here, but we all have a little heart after yesterday that we’ll find a way to make it special.

Easing of lockdown restrictions in Spain

Spain went into lockdown back in March just before the UK and I was lucky to get the last flight back into Almeria from the UK – if I hadn’t come back early I would still be in the UK now, over two months later!

The lockdown here was one of the most restrictive across Europe. Two thirds of Spaniards live in flats and spent that first 6 weeks unable to leave their flats unless they were shopping for essential items. Children weren’t allowed to go out at all (unless they had to go out with their parent where no one else could care for the child). No daily exercise was permitted and only one person could be in a car to go out for essential items. Pretty hardcore stuff. Those that thought we were mad for living out in the campo were suddenly a bit jealous as we still had our freedom out here, and daily life wasn’t too different for us.

A couple of weeks ago we transitioned into the start of an easing of these restrictions, and last Monday we went into the second phase.

Just to make things confusing, the first stage was phase 0 and the second stage is phase 1 😂. Some places, such as Madrid, didn’t meet the criteria to move to phase 1, so they’re in phase 0.5 😂 It’s nigh on impossible to know what you can and can’t do! Luckily, Almeria has been pretty good – not too many cases compared with elsewhere in Spain, so the move to the next phase was never going to be an issue here.

We still can’t leave the province (not that we need to!) and there are still no flights out of Almeria – really hoping I can get back to see my poorly sister soon, although with two weeks quarantine both ways it would hardly be worth it, as I wouldn’t be allowed to see the family in that time. With my sister being so ill, she can’t have any visitors in case she gets the virus – mum and dad go over and wave to her through the window – brain cancer at any time is devastating, but this pandemic has made it even harder for everyone in the family. It would be good to see her again though, and to support mum and dad.

But, last Wednesday did see us going food shopping together for the first time since March! It was quite an event!

Cafes are allowed to open again, but customers can only use the outdoor terrace and with a maximum capacity of 50%. There are stringent hygiene requirements too and twice daily disinfecting of the premises, which has meant that lots of cafes have chosen to stay closed, fearful of getting it wrong, including our one in the village. But we did stop at a different cafe whilst out shopping – there wasn’t a whole load of social distancing going on, but we didn’t mind – it was lovely to see people out laughing and kids running around again.

A few more shops were open so we were able to get some bits – only shops that are less than 400 sqm can open, and the number of people in there at any one time is limited, but it’s a step forward.

So fingers crossed we’re in the road back to a more sociable life with the freedom to travel again …