While we are still on Santorini in Greece, we are forming an exit plan!
Firstly, we were able to finally arrange our ferry off the island, for June 6th to Athens, Greece. This is a great first step, without hindrance from the Port Authority Police. BUT, we are still being instructed to contact the ferry office the morning of our departure day, to make “sure” the ferry will run! 🤔🙄 If we do get off the island, on schedule, to Athens, we have a hotel booked for two nights which we were forced to pre-pay. Not showing up won’t mean we get our money back. This is the new normal of travel with lodging, since the disclaimers now indicate, “you are traveling during a pandemic, so know your cancellation policies;” for which there are no cancellations for not being able to actually show up, because transportation fails to operate.
We HAVE to be out of Europe no later than the 9th of June, or pay steep fines and forfeit future EU travel, so if we can’t get a working ferry, we are to contact the Syros police, to ask for their help on our visa deadline. Even if they do help, by granting a few extra days on our visa, this will not help the cost of the hotel we won’t be able to arrive on time for. It will be at the discretion/kindness of the hotel, to change our dates without penalty.
LETS JUST HOPE OUR FERRY ON JUNE 6th, RUNS!
Once we arrive in Athens, we will have a very small window to collect our luggage that has been stored at a hotel in Athens, where we left it, way back in March. Since our departure from that hotel, so long ago, (when we only planned eight days on two islands), the government lockdown demanded all hotels close. I’ve been emailing and calling the hotel in Athens for a month, now, but no response. We do know, from being in Greece, year-around hotels can open first; maybe in June. Seasonal hotels, can open later; maybe in July.
What I have done is made a booking after our June 8th departure date (checking to ensure I have till Jun 5th to cancel without penalty of funds) just so I have another form of communication through booking dot com, with this hotel. (I call this creative desperation). We really would be sad if we can’t collect our belongings, from that closed hotel, before we have to leave by the 9th. FYI, that closed hotel told me in the last conversation, even though closed, somebody would meet us at the hotel just to collect our bag, but now they are ghosting me; so, a complication, still.
Secondly, provided we can get off the island on the 6th, collect our belongings on the 7th, and get our pre-paid bus ticket changed from the date of March (the original date we were to leave Greece) to a new date of June 8th (do not know if buses are running yet, but will find out, soon, hopefully) we will ride an early bus from Athens to Ionnina in 5.5 hours. From Ionnina, Greece, we will find a taxi to take us the rest of the way to the borders of Albania. Or, if we can find a driver with dual citizenship in Ionnina, to take us to our destination on Albania that would be great! Since we are hearing Albania 🇦🇱 is opening borders June 1st, with no 14-day quarantine required, we are hopeful!
Thirdly, (if all goes well above), we have been super fortunate to meet an Albanian woman who is helping us find a hotel that is open for business in Saranda; along the beautiful Albania 🇦🇱 Riviera, where we can book for at least three weeks. From there, we will transfer to another Albania location called Vlora (also quite beautiful) for another three weeks. By the end of July, we hope travel can resume a bit easier for us, and we can take a bus to the border of Macedonia, where we will try to rent a car for a week, then hit the border of Serbia 🇷🇸 to rent a car to also tour, then the same in Serbia 🇷🇸.
Fourthly, because we could not leave Greece when we wanted to, our extra visa days we tried to save, so we can do our Rhine River Castle cruise that was canceled in May, and rebooked for August 23rd so we could go. Now, we can’t re-enter Europe (Schlegen zone countries) till around September 10th. It may be possible to rebook a new cruise date, in September, we are unable to re-enter the Eu countries on a temporary waiver. I will learn more from the cruise company on our options, if our August cruise does not get canceled.
Some facts on our European cruise:
This Rhine River Cruise is a bucket list trip for us. We planned in advance and paid for the cruise of May, when we booked, back in February. We paid $7000 for the two of us for eight days, traveling from Amsterdam, through Germany, into France, then ending in Switzerland. This is not chump change for us!
When we booked, we knew that if the cruise company, themselves, cancelled on us, their policy was to refund 100%. Unfortunately, they changed their own policy, just before they cancelled, and said 100% of monies can go towards a future cruise in 2020 or 2021. (how convenient for them). 😡….Given the businesses going bankrupt around the globe, this has us concerned. We rebooked for August 23rd, when we could only “hope” we would be granted an extension on our 90-day EU visa to remain in Europe; to which we now know we were not granted the courtesy (by the Syros Island Greek Police) to stay in the Schlegen zone.
The Good News:
When we rebooked for our August cruise, we got a much better deal on the exact same cruise, and the cruise company, in writing, said we would be receiving a $2000 refund.
The Bad News:
We have yet to get our refund, after almost two months, and when I inquire, I get told “refunds are taking longer than usual.” 🙄😥
So, that is the update, as of today, anyway, in an ever changing world of travel. In the meantime, we will enjoy our down time, which has given us renewed energy, and prepare ourselves for our imminent departure from Santorini. We have loved it so, BUT, we are ready for new adventures!
Normally, for summer months, we would be far away from any place like Europe (high season and far more expensive) plus the hot weather and crowds (well, we anticipate less crowded this year) makes it tough to tour in. But, these are trying times to travel in, period, and because it’s our choice to remain free spirits in the world; with more unknowns, than knows, we will roll with whatever comes our way, and weather it, just as we always have.