Traveling to Europe During a Pandemic: My Rhine River Cruise Experience
I just returned from a Rhine river cruise with AmaWaterways, which was overall quite spectacular. The trip began with a pre-cruise stay in Italy, then the cruise began in Switzerland, and sailed (floated?) through France and Germany before ending in The Netherlands.
Prior to my trip, reports from earlier travelers were about how nice it was to travel to Europe with less tourists around. The same was probably true for my trip, but it wasn't as thought the streets were deserted anywhere I went. Even in the small town of Strasbourg, France, the streets were quite busy. Honestly, this is also a happy sight, considering what it means for the travel industry--it's back!
When traveling to Europe right now, there are some things to consider. The main thing is that each country is different, and it is very interesting to observe how each country handles COVID. Also, considering that each country has its own requirements, that might help guide you in your travel decisions. Do you want to visit one country and deal with their rules, or do you want to deal with many? For me, it was a bit frustrating to decipher everything before the trip, but it was worth it. One reason to use a travel advisor is so that they can help you, and that is why I'm sharing this information freely. It's also nice to travel via river cruise because they make sure you know what is going on, and they take care of testing before flying home, etc. This is my experience with each country:
Italy--a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) was required. This involved an online application, which immediately provided me with a QR code. Interestingly, I never had to show this in Italy. However, in the country, most people were wearing masks inside buildings, and even some people were wearing them on the streets. In at least one restaurant, it was necessary to show proof of vaccination before dining. On the trains, nearly all passengers wore masks.
Switzerland--My trip from Lake Como to Basel, Switzerland involved a 30 min stop in Zurich. It was interesting to observe the difference in "attitude" in the train station, as well as on trains in Zurich and Basel. Fewer people were wearing masks, both in the station and on trains. Prior to my trip, Switzerland required an application for their COVID pass. This just involves going to the website, entering your personal details, and uploading your vaccination information. There is a fee for this, but it was processed overnight. On the app, your QR code shows up automatically, and you are also provided with a pdf to print. Before entering restaurants, bars, etc, you must show the QR code and ID, but once inside, you are considered safe to move around without a mask.
France--France also has their own COVID QR code. The process is similar to Switzerland's application, but it is free. I applied for it at least a month before the trip and didn't receive the QR code until just before the trip. There is no app for their code--you print it or save the pdf to your phone. The time in France was only one day in Strasbourg.
Germany--Interestingly, nothing was required for entering Germany. There were no forms to complete or QR codes to acquire. However, mask wearing appeared to be norm.
The Netherlands--This country made the news (travel news, anyway) several weeks ago when they decided to require quarantine for anyone entering the country. Fortunately, before my trip, they relaxed their rules again, and we were free to explore Amsterdam. In fact, I was shocked when I visited the Rijksmuseum to find that it was very busy and that very few people were were wearing masks. I cut my visit short! Similarly, on trains and other indoor spaces, most people were not wearing masks. Apparently, The Netherlands was scheduled to tighten their rules the day after I left, and I can see why they need to!
As I said, it was worth it to jump through each little hoop ahead of time. I had many wonderful experiences along the Rhine and would do it again. On the other hand, maybe it would have been fun to just spend a week in Bordeaux or Provence. The beauty is that we have the freedom to travel now, and we get to choose how we wish to travel. I'm always here to help, and planning Europe trips is my favorite. Contact me!