This post is intentionally out of order so we can update everyone on how we have spent the past week dealing with the rapidly accelerating tidal wave that is COVID-19.
First, we want to assure everyone that we are well and safely hunkered down in Cascais, Portugal at least until the end of April. Somehow we have managed to stay one country ahead of the wave. We want to acknowledge our family and friends for their concern, support, and advise. The whole world is in this together.
If you've been following our blog, you'll know that we have code-named travel day as "adventure day". Well...this past week we've had 4 action-packed "adventure days". Here goes...
1. Valencia to Barcelona
On Monday night we had a lovely farewell dinner with our new friends in Valencia - Hop, Douglas, and Dan - these guys were the best, more about them in a future post. At this point our plans were: 2 days in Barcelona, 1 week in Vienna, 1 week in Prague, and then off to Lisbon. Tuesday morning (Richard's birthday) we caught a train to Barcelona - carefully keeping our distance from other passengers - to visit a few museums that were sold out on our first visit and to catch a plane to Vienna.
Over dinner we remarked how eerily quiet Barcelona had been that day - our waitress confirmed that tourism was way off due to COVID-19. We started to seriously question our upcoming plans, but Richard seemed determined to soldier on.
2. BARCELONA to Vienna
A quick bus ride got us back to Barcelona airport for our afternoon flight to Vienna. Upon arrival we enjoy perfectly timed connections in the unusually quiet airport. Our AirBnB host sadly confirmed for us that all events of over 100 people had been cancelled until further notice across Austria. Somberly we walked down to the corner for a simple pizza dinner where we decided that going to Prague was now off the table and staying a full week in Vienna was now questionable.
3. VIENNA to Lisbon
The next morning we read about the US travel restriction orders - this thing was really moving fast. We also read that Valencia had cancelled the remainder of the annual Falles festival that we had just left in progress. In a text message exchange with our friend Daniele we learned that he was stuck in Malaga, Spain, trying to return home to northern Italy. His advice: "Do not waste time. Airlines are shutting down everywhere. When I say don't waste time, I mean don't waste an hour!"
With all of this news, finally Richard came around and we decided that we'd better give up on Vienna and try to get to Lisbon as soon as possible. Trying to change our TAP Air Portugal flight on-line proved impossible and their reservation line disconnected us three times. Our only recourse was to go to the airport and make the changes in person.
After waiting in line for about 20 minutes - and watching one Austrian lady shout at the agent at the top of her lungs and a young US couple spend thousands on a flight they had to run away to catch - the Austrian Airlines agents informed us that TAP actually has no reservation personnel at the airport. Not sure what to do next, we tried booking a brand new flight on TAP's website - but they don't allow same day booking online! We ended up booking seats on the very same TAP flight through Austrian Airlines. We'd be on our way that night! But not before having at least one glimpse of Vienna. Nancy asked the tourist info lady what we could do if we just have one hour to see the essence of Vienna! We set off on the subway to see the opera house (closed until further notice), and to have a midday toast to a crazy world at the famous Sacher Hotel. We had their signature torte (a very rich chocolate cake) washed down with a Kir Royale for Nancy, and a Sacher Caffe (with a drizzle of chocolate liqueur) for Richard.
Then it was back to the apartment to quickly pack our bags, inform the AirBnB host that we were bailing on Vienna, and back to the train station to get to the airport. Thinking we'd done this already a couple of times, Richard didn't rely on Google Maps to find his way. Unfortunately, the airport trains are not consistent and we ended up missing one train and having to ask for help twice, before finally making it to the airport for our 8:00pm flight to Lisbon for a two-night stay at a hotel near the airport.
4. LISBON to Cascais
Our final destination was Cascais, a coastal resort town a 30 minute Uber ride west of Lisbon. We have expat friends living there, Jacqui and Jay. It would be a great place to settle in for a long stretch - as our daughter-in-law Rachael had predicted we'd need to prepare for, weeks earlier.
At this point we hadn't finalized an apartment, so we booked a couple of nights at the Cascais City Beach Hotel that had opened only 3 weeks earlier - everything was brand new and beautiful. While we were there we secured a great AirBnB apartment that was offering a 20% discount because it was newly listed. We snatched it up for a six-week stay. Richard, determined to find a piano to rent, tracked down a musical instrument store a minute from the hotel. None available to rent, but for a comparable cost he walked away with a small Yamaha keyboard. We'll figure out later what to do with it at the end of April.
Now that we are settled into the apartment, we are preparing for a "lock down" similar to Italy's starting tomorrow. Already grocery stores have implemented limited access - customers wait in line, one is allowed in as one leaves, everyone is directed to hand sanitizer at the entrance, and all of the clerks are in masks and gloves. The good news is that Portugal is implementing these measures in advance of a serious outbreak. Hopefully the plan works.
We're all in this together. Please use the comments section to share with us how you are doing. Know that we love you and miss you. Stay safe and hope for the best.
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Nancy McCabe &