In November last year, I bought tickets for my 70-year-old parents and myself to Europe. We decided to explore seven countries and the plan was to enter from the UK and exit from Italy.
Everything was planned in great details, but as they say ‘man proposes and God disposes,’ something else was unravelling itself fast, something that was to change the world forever.
Our date of journey was 11 March. To our delight, things were normal at the New Delhi International Airport. There were less passengers but things were smooth. I don't remember crossing any thermal check-points. We had the similar experience at Istanbul airport; there were no thermal scanning or any health check-ups.
Shock and a Jolt
Our days in London and Scotland were pretty normal. Though the virus was spreading gradually into the UK, still none of the restaurants, pubs were closed, city day trips were on full blast. We visited almost every gallery, every tourist place in London.
We had a similar experience in Edinburgh, but when we were returning from Loch Ness, we got our first big shock.
India had suspended all flights from Europe. Initially we thought it would be for those people travelling from Europe to India for work or pleasure. It took us some time to realise that the government diktat was also applicable to those on vacation.
I went to the Edinburgh Airport and tried to book tickets for India. However, there were limited flights and ticket costs were hitting the roof. We decided to carry-on with rest of our trip.
Days in Netherlands
When we reached Amsterdam, the city was almost deserted. Streets were empty, shops were shutting down, restaurants and museums were already shut. There we understood the severity of the issue at hand and the enormity of the virus.
We saw the city gradually shut itself in front of us to break the chain of the COVID-19 spread. The sight was depressing.
A second jolt was awaiting us. When we returned back to our hotel in Amsterdam, we were informed by the hotel staff that Belgium had closed its borders for tourists. I called up the hotel and was informed that my bookings have been cancelled.
It was 19 March. From that day, till today (23 May) ie more than two months, me and my parents are stuck in Netherlands.
In Amsterdam, we were staying right at the centre of the city. We were excited, and counted our blessings to be staying at a top-notch place. But things started turning soon.
As guest bookings started dwindling at the hotel, we were increasing feeling uncared for by the hotel staff. One particular evening, a hotel staffer told us that the virus situation is getting out of hand in Netherlands and the Prime Minister may order full closure of hotels and other amenities.
The hotel staff told us to be prepared with our bags and luggages and in case the unfortunate announcement happens, we might have to leave the hotel that evening itself. We were perplexed. Me with my parents on a cold night and nowhere to go. That evening we felt helpless.
Thanks to some friends, we found another hotel that was still accepting guests. Next morning we checked into Marriott Courtyard, which was away from the city in a place called Hooffdorp.
We were quite hopeful that the travel ban will be over in 15 days ie on 31 March, and we will be able to fly out as per our original travel date.
My Extended Vacation
Government extended international travel ban beyond 31 March. At that time, I contacted Indian Embassy at The Hague. The embassy asked me to move to another hotel near the Nh Schiphol Airport. I was informed that there are other stranded Indian travellers there. We were provided free lodging and free lunch and dinner. Nh Schiphol Hotel was our third hotel in Netherlands.
What could we have asked for? To be stuck in a beautiful country with welcoming people and most importantly, with what they call an ‘intelligent lockdown’, which means one can move around anywhere freely but with social distancing of 1.5 meters.
A typical day for me and my family would start around 7 am. This is followed by breakfast, which usually consists of fruits, breads, eggs etc. Around 1 pm and 8 pm, we get our lunch and dinner, respectively.
In between lunch and dinner, we ‘chill’ at the hotel lobby, indulge in games like 'mafia' 'dumb charades' etc. Off late, we have started watching films. We have been exploring nearby towns and cities, with of course all the mandatory precautions.
Life in this country at these horrid times has been good, no regrets. But going back to India, my home, was the top most priority.
In Vande Bharat, a Glimmer of Hope
In the last 2 months, I have lost count of the numerous phone calls and e-mails I have made to the Embassy to get any clarity as to when we are going back home. Embassy has always responded back, and understandably has told us best efforts are being made for the same.
Beginning of May, we heard that Indian government is starting Mission Vande Bharat, to get back its stranded citizens from all over the world.
But our joy was was short-lived. There was no mention of any flight from Amsterdam in the first phase of evacuation or the second, causing further disappointment. It felt that our country has forgotten us.
My mother was especially broken, she said that she would collapse if she doesn't go home soon. In the first week of May, we got another bad news of a family bereavement. I lost my dear uncle, who was unwell for quite sometime. But the news broke us further. We will not see him again.
Going Home, Finally
Finally, we got the much anticipated date – 8 June. Though there are 3 weeks more to go, but at least we have a date.
We hear that we have to pay for our flight tickets and also for the quarantine facility back home. We have already lost huge sums of money in the trip as well as the return ticket. Importantly, most of the international flights have gone bust and as a result almost none are refunding the ticket cost. This means we have to cough up double payment to facilitate our return back home. But at least we are going home, and that what matters.
Life in last 60 days has been nothing short of a thriller. We have seen many ups and few downs. We are definitely happy and grateful to God for leading the path for us during such a tough time, and making it a vacation of a lifetime.
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