Prior to arriving in Crete on June 5th, 2021, it had been 8 months and 9 days (251 days) since we had been on a plane or in a car. We smashed our old record by nearly double the time.
As for our last journey on public transportation, it’s still March 13, 2020. That puts us at 1 year, 2 months, and 24 days (450 days). This stat is starting to get ridiculous.
It’s hard to imagine this but travel is more complicated now than it was last summer. I wrote extensively about the traffic light system and traveling to an amber-list country in my prior post. In short, the traffic light system outlines the rules and requirements for ENTERING the UK from abroad.
Our two-week vacation in Crete was not without its stressors.
This vacation was originally booked for May 2020 and included a one-week stay at a hotel in Chania. In the spring of 2020, and as the pandemic was in its early days, the hotel notified us that our reservation would be pushed to the same dates in May 2021. There was no option to cancel so we said fine.
In the summer of 2020, there was a tiny window of time when we could travel to Greece, so we decided to stay in Rethymno on the island of Crete and save sightseeing in Chania for our May 2021 vacation when this pandemic was under control ha ha ha.
We enjoyed our time in Rethymno so much that we decided to add a one-week stay in Rethymno to our May 2021 vacation. When it was all said and done, we were booked to stay one week at the hotel in Chania and one week at the villa in Rethymno in May 2021.
In early May 2021, the hotel contacted us and told us that they would not reopen until June 15th and asked what we wanted to do with our booking. We knew we preferred to stay in a villa over a hotel but up until that point, the hotel booking was non-refundable and we were stuck.
We opted to cancel the hotel booking and were refunded the full amount.
Next, we set out to find a villa near the town of Chania (pronounced “hahn-ya”). We narrowed our selections but waited on the decision to book for a couple of days.
At the time, the Delta/India variant was starting to cause a surge in cases in northern England and Scotland (this variant now accounts for 96%+ of all cases in the UK) and we were afraid the government would completely close international travel again and didn’t want to get ourselves into a booking that was non-refundable. As it stood, both of our flights and our Rethymno villa were still fully refundable.
A few days later, our outbound flight was canceled. As soon as we rectified that situation, our return flight was canceled.
With an accommodation and flight cancelation rate of 100%, we were starting to wonder if this was a sign that we should not travel to Greece. On the other hand, we’d spent two-thirds of this pandemic locked in our flat and needed a break so we decided to go for it.
We booked a new return flight, re-booked our Rethynmo villa to fit into our new flight dates, and booked a villa in Chania. We were ALL IN.
Gatwick airport was a ghost town. I did a casual headcount as we walked through the airport and I counted about 150 people.
As detailed in my prior post, there were two requirements to enter Greece for people arriving from the UK who were not fully vaccinated.
- Complete a Passenger Locator Form (PLF) no later than 23:59 on the day before arrival
- Take a PCR test within 72 hours prior to arriving in Greece
Note: As of June 22, 2021, Greece now accepts rapid antigen tests in addition to PCR tests. There are different requirements for fully vaccinated visitors and visitors who have recovered from covid. For up-to-date information, consult Greece’s official travel website here.
We presented our PLF (one per family), our negative test results, and our boarding passes to the easyJet representative at the beginning of the roped and totally empty queue. She glanced at our documents and then handed us two slips of paper to represent that our documents had passed verification.
The “paper slip” process was in stark contrast to the multiple verifications we were subjected to last summer when traveling from Heathrow airport to Greece – and we weren’t even required to possess a negative covid test to travel last summer. Officials verified we were in possession of a completed Passenger Locator Form nine times on our outbound journey last summer!
Documents verified, we proceeded to the self bag drop area and then to Starbucks to wait out the next hour or so until our gate opened.
From the moment our driver dropped us off at the curb (British English: kerb) at Gatwick airport to the moment we go through security was 15 minutes. This was another stark contrast to our experience last year when it was total slow-motion and two hours was barely enough time to make it from curb to gate.
There were about 60 people on our outbound flight which was lovely!
Greek immigration (Chania airport)
Three-and-a-half hours after departing Gatwick, we touched down in Chania. Our plane was the only commercial aircraft at the airport.
It took about five minutes for the plane to disembark and another 10 minutes to get through the stamp-stamp booth.
Stamped passports in hand, we descended the steps to the baggage claim/covid testing area where we met by lad in a military uniform who glanced at our PLF and negative test results.
He nodded and then stared at me for an extra-long sentence and I pleaded in my head for him not to select me for random testing (I’d been selected last summer). He smiled and pointed us to baggage claim. I let out a sigh of relief.
Thirty minutes after touching down in Crete, we were in the car and on our way to Fos Villa located in the outskirts of Chania.
As per usual, Peter and I divided and conquered the baggage claim and car rental duties, not that this was necessary given the only people in the baggage claim and arrivals hall were the 60 people from our flight.
We rented from Budget this time ‘round purely based on price and, well, you get what you pay for. We were given a beat-up Peugeot 208 with a crap ton of kilometers on it and a clutch pedal that was missing its rubber covering.
There were also mechanical problesm with the car and when I rent a car, I expect that car to be free of mechanical problems. The tire pressure light was continuously on and one of the headlights (British English: headlamps) was dead.
The tire pressure issue was a recalibration issue and could be ignored. The headlight issue was not discovered until three or four days into our vacation when we were driving at night for the first time. This was not something that could be ignored.
I emailed Budget the evening of the headlight discovery and they called me the next morning with my options: stop at a garage (American English: service station), get the light bulb replaced and Budget would reimburse us, or bring the car back to the airport and swap it out.
We had a huge chunk of time to waste between checking out of our Chania villa and checking into our Rethymno villa so we opted to bring the car back to the airport where we swapped out the car for a complimentary upgraded (and slightly larger) car. The upgraded car was nice to drive but not great to park at the Rethymno villa (the villa’s fault, not the car or driver’s fault!). More on that later.
Coming up next, the adorable (and livable) town of Chania.