In transit - Balkan Dreams - CycleBlaze

August 19, 2020

In transit

At PDX

So I’ll just keep a running commentary of how this is going.  we made it out the door and to the airport without incident, although Rachael didn’t care for the fact that the taxi driver was unmasked at first.  And we didn’t really care for his politics either, which he felt free to share.  Other than that though, he was interesting to listen to because he talked about his childhood growing up only blocks from our AirBnB.  He used to play at  Mount Tabor, and would crawl deep into the lava tunnel before the city sealed it off decades ago.

The airport is very quiet.  We had a scare at check in, when after several iterations the agent kept insisting that we could not fly to Zagreb, as she read through this morning’s entry restrictions.  Did something change overnight?  We all enjoyed a good laugh once we understood that she thought Zagreb is in Germany, not Croatia.

Less fortunate was the young woman at the next counter, trying to get home to London.  I’d been chatting with her while waiting for the Air Canada desk to open, and was a bit concerned for her.  She doesn’t have a through ticket, so she’d have to collect and move her baggage when she transfers in Canada. Baggage carousels are on the other side of customs; but she’s not allowed to enter Canada, so she can’t board.  Just a lesson, in case you’re tempted to fly now - make sure you have a single ticket, with your baggage checked through to the final destination.

There’s not much open here this morning, but Elephants Delicatessen is. They serve up a great frittata.   

Fueling up for the flight at Elephants Delicatessen.
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At YVR (Vancouver)

An uneventful flight, on a half-empty flight with a row to ourselves; followed by an uneventful arrival at YVR, but not into Canada.  The directions when we arrive are reasonably clear, so there’s little anxiety about what to do.  We complete an arrival form And have our passports scanned, but we aren’t actually entering Canada.  We just follow the signs for international connections to the departure gates, and settle in for a six hour layover.

It all feels quite safe in the airport.  Everyone is masked, and there aren’t many other travelers so it’s easy to maintain a healthy distance.  Not much to do for the next five hours but watch the minute hand creep along and wonder how the PCR tests are proceeding.

An update: after hanging around a few hours, I see that the previous comments weren’t quite accurate.  At least here in the international wing, it’s not just quiet - it’s virtually deserted.  We’re wearing masks because it’s required, but it feels excessive.  Most of the time there are only one or two people within fifty yards of us.

An update: a narrow escape!  They almost didn’t let us board, but after a 15 minute discussion they relented.  I’ll expand in this in Frankfurt.

Leaving PDX.
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Interesting stroboscopic effect, with Whidbey Island in the background. It’s a bit concerning seeing the blades falling off the propeller.
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Jen GrumbyWhoa! I knew about the stroboscopic effect, buy didn't know its proper name and had to read up on it.

Very cool, yet slightly unsettling, example.
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1 month ago
Here’s a familiar sight, looking across Fidalgo Bay to Anacortes. We were biking here just a few days ago, across that trestle bridge just to the left of another falling prop blade.
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In Vancouver. Not a terrible place to hang out for six hours.
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The wait goes a bit faster with a Colbert monologue.
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Unrelated to today, but an image to remember. This is the Oregon delegation for the roll call of the states to officially nominate Biden for president. I like the fact that our spokesperson is an activist whose been participating in the BLM demonstrations; and, of course, that it was staged at the Banfield overpass I crossed a few days ago. This was a spot I thought I might have left my glasses, but I don’t see them.
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Jen GrumbyA beautiful moment at the Hollywood MAX Station!
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1 month ago
Boarding for Frankfurt starts in about a half hour, so we’re starting to get some congestion at the departure gate. Not so much though that everyone can’t manage to stay widely spaced.
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At FRA (Frankfurt)

So, that was frightening.  Fifteen minutes before boarding our Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, I’m paged to come to the boarding desk.  There’s a concern about the duration of our stay.  We have today’s flight to Zagreb, and a return flight from Athens on a January 11th, but no departure from Croatia.  We’re deferring booking that flight until we know for sure whether we can get into Greece, but we plan on leaving on October 29th.

There’s a lot of confusion over what the issue really is.  At first, they say we need to have already purchased a departure flight from Croatia, to demonstrate that we won’t overstay the 90 day limit.  Then, they want to know if we’ve booked all of our accommodation in Croatia, as another indicator of how long we intend to stay.  And finally, they fix on the return date of January 11th, which is beyond 90 days.

This conversation lasts what feels like about 20 minutes, and by the time it finally resolves the plane is half loaded already.  Four different Lufthansa agents repeatedly huddle, look up regulations, and keep coming back saying I can’t stay beyond 90 days.  I point out that Croatia is a non-Schengen country, and that I can stay there up to 90 days and then also stay 90 days in the Schengen Zone, which includes Greece.  They believe I’m incorrect.  I point out that we did exactly this two years ago, and nothing has changed in the meantime.

At the last minute they pull in a fifth person to consult with, and a minute later finally agree to let us board.  We rush on before they change their minds, and are almost the last boarders on the flight.  Yipes!

After that, the flight seems pretty uneventful, but long.  The plane is about half full, and we have a row to ourselves.

Ten hours later we land in Frankfurt where we’re sitting for another six hours, watching our emails and hoping our Covid test results come through.  And, hoping that when time comes to board our Air Croatia flight there won’t be any questions about whether we’re allowed to board.

Not the most comfy way to pass six hours.
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Six hours later, we board our Air Croatia flight to Zagreb.  We’ve been watching our inbox for our test results, but they still haven’t arrived.  Disappointing, but not a surprise.  It’s still only 9 AM Pacific Standard Time, so it’s early in the day - and the estimate was 2-3 days anyway.  Maybe they’ll arrive in the next hour and a half.

We’re at a gate that involves a bus shuttle to the plane, and the bus is quite crowded.  It’s the only time in the whole itinerary we’ve felt exposed.  Everyone is wearing masks, but some do better than others.  Right in front of us is a very cute young girl, maybe 5 years old.  She’s masked, but she’s only got it over her mouth.  She’s leaning over the back of her seat, with her exposed nostrils resting on top of it.

We’re on another prop plane for the final flight.  It’s noisy, but we follow a dramatic route that traverses the northern flank of the Alps, rounding the eastern end and descending over Slovenia.

Looking south across the western Alps.
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Rounding the eastern end of the range. Out the windows on the other side of the aisle we see the plains of Hungary.
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An hour and a half later we land in Zagreb and immediately check our mail.  Foop - the test results still haven’t arrived, so we assume that we’re bound for a quarantine at the hotel until they come through.

Then, customs.  We present our passports, and the agent immediately asks to see our PCR results after seeing that we’re from America.  We tell her that we’ve taken the test, but the results aren’t in yet.  She looks at our paperwork we received when the tests were taken, and politely tells us we have a problem.  The test needs to be taken within the last 48 hours, and ours look like they’re 56 hours old.  I point out the location and the nine hour time difference, and she smiles, hands us back our passports and a Covid information sheet, and welcomes us to Croatia.

I ask if we need to quarantine until our test results arrive, but she smiles and says we’re good to travel.  The thought crossed my mind to ask if we could take her photo, but I suppress it.  No sense pushing our luck.  I’ll just have to remember.

WE’RE IN!!!

We’re staying in the Hotel Astoria, the classy place we got upgraded to when our first hotel cancelled on us.  It’s a fine old building and we’ve got an elegant suite, a place we never would have booked intentionally.  We’ll have a look around sometime before we leave, but I think it’s time to call it a day.

A half hour later, my test results arrive, and I’m negative.  Only missed by an hour!  Rachael’s come in another half hour later, and she’s negative too.

WE’RE IN!!!

Checking in at the Astoria Hotel.
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Keith ClassenBon Voyage guys ! Looking forward to following along with your adventures.
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1 month ago
Suzanne GibsonThey sure are keeping you in suspense! As you are us! Well, you got as far as Frankfurst, anyway. Hope you now made it to Croatia.
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1 month ago
Andrea BrownFantastic news! Have a good rest, you earned it.
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1 month ago
Jon AylingWhat an Odyssey - enjoy Zagreb guys!
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1 month ago
Patrick O'HaraCongrats! That must have been a little nerve-racking! I hope that you both get a well deserved sleep, and get adjusted to the time change with ease. You can put this one in the story vault, eh? Good for you both for taking a risk in the name of another adventure! Tail Winds....
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jon AylingThanks, Jon. It’s hard to believe we’re really here. Best of luck with your own plans. We look forward to following along.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Keith ClassenThanks so much for following along, Keith. We’ll do our best to keep you entertained and amused for the next few months. If all else fails, I can always just lose my glasses again.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Patrick O'HaraThanks, Patrick. You’re right, it was more than a little unnerving. It feels like a brilliant move now, but it could have been quite different. I really thought Vancouver was going to bounce us back south for a few minutes there.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Suzanne GibsonThanks, but it wasn’t Frankfurst. Vancouver was furst, and Frank was second.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Andrea BrownThanks, Andrea. We both feel a bit giddy this morning, pinching each other to see if we’re dreaming.
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1 month ago
Jen GrumbyWhat a journey! And the tour hasn't even begun yet.

Hope you've gotten some solid rest.
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1 month ago
Susan CarpenterWell done you two! Congrats on taking a chance and being steadfast through the roller coaster of the last few weeks. Looking forward to your adventures! I'm so jelly :)
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1 month ago
Scott FenwickTrue to your form, Scott and Rachael – well planned and executed. A little puck luck helped, too. Kudos.
Pat and I have a tinge of envy on your Balkan Dreams but you are encouraging us by showing that it can be done! Good luck to you both and for now we will have to enjoy living vicariously through your travels.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Susan CarpenterThanks, Susan. It’s been a roller coaster alright, and we’re both beyond ready to return to our version of normal. Hopefully this will still look like a brilliant decision months from now, but it sure feels right now. As a great man once said, Life without risk is not worth living - or something like that anyway.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Scott FenwickThanks, Scott. We did put a lot of thought into it, and we feel rewarded. I’m thinking of the poor woman back in Portland finding that she couldn’t fly to London because she had a layover in Canada and couldn’t enter there.

And luck certainly helps. In the end, you can’t get past finding the right or wrong person to interact with. Will they be knowledgeable? Will they be of good will? Better to show up with a lot of arrows in your quiver and be ready for anything.
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1 month ago