I’m pleased to report: Italy is recovering well, they are happy to see Americans, and the hurdles were all worth it for me.
I enjoyed visiting a “new Rome.” I went to sites that were new to me, like the Testaccio neighborhood with their street art and diverse foods, and the Borghese Gallery and Gardens. It was also new in the sense that it felt very open and uncrowded. There were few foreigners and only light crowds at the main attractions. Most of the tourists were Italian, visiting from all over the country.
We met a few Americans, mostly while boarding our Covid-tested flight in Newark, NJ, and standing in line for our Covid test upon arrival (a 2.5-hour process). They were like us – they jumped on the first plane they could once Italy opened.
Covid-testing overkill? Yes. Between Haley and me, we took 7 Covid tests in 36 hours. That’s in addition to our vaccinations, which haven’t counted for anything yet. But that’s coming.
In July Italy is supposed to drop their outdoor mask mandate. They’ll also follow other countries’ lead and relax the Covid-testing requirement to allow an exemption if you’re fully vaccinated or have proof you’ve recovered from the virus. This is great news for travelers.
I reminded myself that Italy was traumatized by Covid-19. They were hit early and had a brutal second wave. So, they are being careful. But in chatting with one local woman about the lockdown and restrictions, the rules change regularly, and often the residents don’t know what the requirements are.
We saw that confusion. From daytime to nighttime, indoors and out. Some wear masks as intended, some wear “chin bras,” and some wear nothing. Depending on where you are, a museum guard might give a reminder about proper placement, but that’s mostly indoors. Outside it was hot. Mask wearing became much less common in the heat.
Restaurants are back to normal with indoor and outdoor seating, families dining together and groups gathering to watch the European Soccer Tournament.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to have made this trip. Yes, there were hurdles and hassles, but looking back, they were all surmountable. Having navigated the process, I feel more confident that we can travel again soon. I think by September many of the requirements will be streamlined, vaccines will factor in, and hopefully crowds will still be relatively light.
For those ready to explore, I am tentatively booking a Rome-Orvieto or Rome-Amalfi Coast excursion to do some of what I did: experience the Vatican with reduced numbers and enjoy some time in the countryside or seaside, visiting wineries, caves and old friends.
Sept 24-Oct. 4. Let me know ASAP if you’re interested and would like more information. I’ll probably limit it to 8 guests to simplify. It will be the trial run for post-Covid Cypress Tours! And if fall doesn’t work, there will be many options for 2022.
My Italian friends were happy to see Americans, and many are anxious for travel to pick up again. Italy’s Covid case numbers are down and the vaccination rate is about 50% and growing. Sixteen months later, we are collectively restarting international travel.
Here are some tips and learnings from the trip:
- If you’re flying internationally, allow plenty of time at check in and during layovers. A two-hour layover in Munich was used up completely with passport control, paperwork, changing gates, and a random security check.
- Know the requirements for each country you visit. Your airline will help (and I can too), but read news articles and travel blogs to know the latest. Restrictions are changing almost weekly (for the better if you’re a traveler!)
- If you can, take only a carry-on bag. Of our six flights to/from Rome, our tightest connection was in Denver coming home. With my carry-on in hand, I breezed through Customs without waiting for my checked bag. (It took me awhile to turn the corner on this, and that’s another story, but there are great resources online and I’m happy to share my technique. It has changed my traveling life!)
- The lightweight disposable masks are coolest when it’s hot out or for a long duration like an intercontinental flight.
- Save images of travel docs on your phone, either with a photo or using the scan feature on the iPhone Notes app.
- Bring a portable phone charger for long travel days. (I noticed my phone battery draws down faster when using cellular data there.) If important docs or boarding passes are on your phone, you wouldn’t want to lose access if your battery dies.
- Download your airline’s app. A lot of pertinent info can be easily found on the app, you may be able to upload required documentation, and they’re good about updating flight status, gate info, etc.
- United and its partners were serving meals and beverages on board, including alcohol.
- The restaurant cars on the "Freccia" fast trains were closed, but you're allowed to bring with you food and drinks of your choice. Just clean up afterward. And BYOC - bring your own corkscrew. #lessonslearned