La Grande Fuga
We're back in Oz! This newsletter shares the wild experience my partner Sam and I had in getting here from Italy... Buckle up, it's a long ride.
"Quando sei in Italia, devi fare come gli Italiani!" "When in Italy, you have to live like the Italians!"
So said our cheeky neighbour, Alessandro. By mid-February, I was settled in and wholly embracing the Italian lifestyle.
The resounding church bells at 8 am and 8 pm book-marked the working day. Each morning I stood at the bar and had a quick brioche and espresso (only €1.50 all up!) before my intensive Italian classes. We respected the sacred daily traditions - riposo, a regular espresso digestivo and of course the early evening aperitivo! The local prize-winning gelateria was a dangerously short walk away and became a regular, beloved excursion. The Saturday markets were also a culinary adventure - vats of olives, calamari, and wheels of aged cheese. Even more intriguing were the glamorous Italian signore who donned their finest furs, and highest updos just to buy farm produce.
News of a deadly virus devastating Lombardia emerged, just a region away. From then on the streets became emptier, more masks covered faces, and suddenly the Saturday markets and quick espresso were no longer possible. I was entering the fourth and final week of my course. The following week I was to go to Belgium for an audition and Sam, to Bari (South Italy) for one of his own, when overnight the whole northern region including Veneto was labeled a "zona rossa". We were officially stuck in quarantine until April 3rd.
The bell continued to chime at 8 and the need for a clock or calendar diminished. Online singing lessons with Sherman Lowe proved to be just as useful, and we enjoyed painting, practicing, studying Italian and cooking authentic dishes with all our new found time. Our little balcony was our only regular venture outside, we left to get groceries only 3 times.
After one month, April 3rd finally arrived, but the quarantine was not about to end. Indeed like everywhere else, it seemed only the beginning. No doubt we made the most of our first month, this extra time to study and be together was a gift. However, our savings were promised to different times and different plans, not for waiting. We dreamt of our gardens in Australia, our family's embrace... But where we were, and with all the devastation, we weren't certain that there was even the option of going home.
Qantas released news of repatriation flights. These flights were guaranteed to drop you home with or without symptoms, and regardless of where you had been. We spent 2 days on the phone seeking advice from embassies and government departments. They told us to get to the United Kingdom as soon as possible, as boarders were rumoured to shut within the week.
So, we planned our great escape.
THE PROPOSED ITINERARY
8th April TREVISO → ROME
9th ROME → LONDON
15 - 17th LONDON → PERTH → MELBOURNE
17 - 30th 14 - DAY MELBOURNE QUARANTINE
30th - 3rd May MELBOURNE → BRISBANE
When in Rome...
4 suitcases, a bag of food, bottled water, masks and goggles packed into a comfy rental (beyond luck that Europcar was still operating!) - we commenced the 7hr journey from Treviso to Rome. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful drive. There were hills, perched with fascinating villas (ville!), medieval towns in the distance, many tunnels and trees exploding with spring flowers. The time passed quickly as it was our first proper outing in 6 weeks.
We had never been to Rome before and had originally hoped to explore this great city in the summer. Once we reached the metropolis of the city, even from the car we could see the rich history in the buildings, bridges, and colours. Policemen guarded the streets, and were often driving beside us - Rome would have to wait for another day.
Our rushed journey found us unfortunately unable to find a hotel booking last minute and with the risk of not knowing if the place were in fact sanitary, we opted to camp it out overnight in the car near the airport. We drove to Lido di Ostia, which was conveniently only 15 minutes drive from the airport. We ate fish and chips by the sea (the last of our tinned tuna and crackers). We breathed in the fresh salty air, relished the sounds of the waves crashing and counted our lucky stars to have had made it this far. No doubt sleeping in a car is not ideal, but this journey and dinner outside after 6 weeks of not even seeing any greenery, was just invigorating.
Any port in a storm
We flew in style - surgical eyewear, gloves, humidifier, two face masks, and three bottles of hand sanitiser. The check-in desk hesitated with our plan - flying to London, but not immediately transiting to Australia. A bit of worrying, waiting and some calls later, we were, to our relief, given permission to fly. Then there were police checks, photos taken, and another police interview - all this to board the plane. Finally, with only 5 other masked passengers on board The flight, we began our journey to London.
London had a completely different atmosphere with far fewer processes, only a quick chat with the border control about our flight in 6 days and we were out of the airport in 20 minutes.
The best-laid plans of mice and men...
5 days prior to our proposed flight to Melbourne, comments on a Qantas Facebook post alarmed us of the cancellation of our flight. Downloading the app and calling a representative confirmed the bad news. The reason was that the proposed flight plan was not yet approved by the government - WHAT! This was meant to be a government official flight, and was promised to go ahead! We spent the rest of the day on the phone. The solution offered by Qantas was to wait until the 16th for a different QATAR flight to Melbourne, as Qatar flights were still continuing, and the next Qantas repatriation flights were booked out. We put down the phone, looked at the Qatar website. Then we saw one flight tomorrow - 9 am to Brisbane. Ticket prices were still fairly reasonable. So we decided to sort out the Qantas refund later, jumped on the new tickets and the opportunity to arrive closer to home. In the next 12hrs - we were re-packed and headed back to Heathrow for the final leg.
LONDON → DOHA → BRISBANE
The new Qatar flight went perfectly without a hiccup. It was only a 24hr flight plan, with just a two-hour layover in Doha, unlike the 70-hour flight plans we had seen online. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the army, police, and medical staff in PPE suits. They were there to initiate the next chapter of our Australian journey - 14 days of complete isolation in an army supervised hotel. 3 buses chartered all on the flight to the Gold Coast to the designated hotel.
It's day 7 of our quarantine. My partner's family dropped a huge care package with fresh fruit, a roast chook, freshly baked biscuits, and so many other scrummy treats to supplement the food given by the hotel. We are recharging a bit of a drained battery at this time, catching up on emails, calling loved ones, practicing, and continuing with our projects. It most certainly feels as if we had someone watching over us and safely guiding us home. We have been incredibly lucky. We know many are still stuck and trying to make it back.
How are you spending your own quarantines? Any book/ film/ recipes recommendations that have brightened your time? Once I head back to Brisbane after the quarantine and also once restrictions loosen in the next month or two- I'd love to see you again. These are incredibly difficult times for all, under these circumstances, it's very easy to feel anxious and hopeless. I do hope you are taking care, staying well and if you need to reach out to chat - I'm only a call or an email away.
Take care and sending lots of love, Xenia X