It took us a couple of hours of discussions before we came to a decision: we would still go.
We've had plans brewing for a significant work-from-Europe trip for some time, and we learned yesterday that the linchpin of the entire trip had collapsed, leaving us with a major hole in the middle of our itinerary, and a 100% plausible opportunity to seek refunds and not travel. That, coupled with the knowledge that coronavirus has come to Italy—our first stop—meant we needed to make major decisions, and fast.
As of this weekend, the State Department has issued level 4 warnings for two regions of Italy: Lombardy and Veneto. Yesterday we realized with a sinking feeling that, at various points during our trip, we would be passing through both Lombardy and Veneto. We spent yesterday morning researching busily, trying to separate fact from fearmongering, to first try to make a go / no-go decision, and then an if-go-then-where decision. Do we go at all? Do we take Italy off of the itinerary? Are we prepared to accept the possibility of quarantine?
Our answers came down to a single Douglas Adams phrase that Noah and I said nearly simultaneously to each other: "last chance to see."
Ever since settling on going to Italy, we've been emphatic about Venice.
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Our trip actually begins in Rome, and then travels northeast across Italy toward the region of Veneto, where Venice is located. While Venice has not yet been identified as problematic, we believe it is only a matter of time before it will be. Our conversations turned to risks versus rewards, and we eventually acknowledged the risks were non-zero but manageable. Venice is endangered due to sea level rise and climate change, and we have a rare opportunity to see it while it still stands AND while practically devoid of tourists.
Last chance to see.
The first leg of our plan takes us from Rome, to Venice, to Vienna, to Prague. We've agreed to keep that plan; we see no reason not to. After Prague, the second leg of our plan includes flying to southern Spain for a positional reset, and to gradually travel northeastward to Frankfurt, checking off a few small countries on the way. We rapidly came to the realization that our second leg of the trip was far more problematic than the first, because most of the trains out of Monaco (including the one we'd already booked) required us to transit through Milan, which is mostly shut to air traffic right now. It feels like a place we could get stuck. We would also have transited through Milan fewer than 14 days before returning to the States, which we felt was a 100% guarantee of us getting quarantined upon our return home.
If we blew up the France / Monaco portion of the trip, we needed to reset nearly an entire week's worth of itinerary, which we're in the process of doing. (Did I mention we fly out in four days?)
As a result, we cut Barcelona entirely from the itinerary. Noah and I both felt we had shorted Madrid in our initial itinerary, so we've arranged for more days in Madrid, before a trip up to Andorra. (There's a toboggan ride in Andorra we've gotta see for ourselves.) From Andorra we'll catch a bus to Barcelona—thanks to the mountains there are no flights or trains out of Andorra—and then instead of trains, we'll take a direct flight from Barcelona to Zurich, completely sidestepping France and Monaco so as to avoid transiting through Milan. We'll stay in Zurich for a few days, day trip out to Liechtenstein, and then head to Frankfurt to fly home.
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The best news: we bought travel health insurance prior to the outbreak. We are covered in case of trip interruption, which includes quarantine. (I checked.) We have a kitty-sitter for Toph who can take extra days if we need her to, and I can work remotely; if we need to park somewhere and stay longer, we can and will. We've already filed our 2019 taxes and had them accepted, so we don't have the April 15 deadline looming over us. If we need to burn some of our tax refund by staying longer and paying for it ourselves until the travel insurance reimburses us, that's okay. We don't have kids, we don't have health problems, and we don't have to be back in the States on a specific day. We have bleach wipes and lots of hand sanitizer (62% alcohol) in our bags, and N95 masks to help protect people around us if we start showing symptoms.
It's not as if staying in Portland leaves us safe and secure; it's clear the virus is already here in the community. All we can do is prepare, and make thoughtful choices.
I put this entry down in writing both for my own memory as well as for explaining to friends why we've chosen to travel now. In our decision-making process we asked ourselves if we should travel at all; only travel to some places; or if we were willing to travel, but unwilling to face consequences such as quarantine. After hours of discussion, we understood our risk tolerance: we absolutely should travel, but probably not to Milan, in the hopes of lessening the border issues when we come back home.
Here's to making careful decisions. Here's to bleach and masks and amazing photography and a willingness to get our butts quarantined in Prague, and here's to washing our hands all the damn time for the next five weeks.
Here's to Venice.