10 Days in Andalucia Part 1: Traveling During Corona and an Adventure with Google Maps

The Mister and I have been together for 15 years, 12 of them as a married couple. In all of that time, we have never had a summer vacation. As an archaeologist, his summers are busy with fieldwork. I’ve had the chance to travel to Greece and Italy to see him while he’s working, but trust me, it’s no vacation.

So when everything ground to a halt in the archaeology world because of the pandemic, we decided to make the most of it and finally take a real trip together. We considered several different destinations, but for the first time, we weren’t just thinking about financial concerns. We had to study things like graphs of infection rates around Europe before we could decide where we’d feel safe to travel.

When the lockdowns began in March, Italy and Spain were in much worst shape than Germany. But one trend we noticed was that despite the general badness in Spain, the province of Andalucia always had a lower infection rate than the other provinces. At the time we started planning the trip, the rate was about the same as our home state of Baden-Wurttemburg. That, paired with their even more stringent safety measures, gave us the confidence to travel there. (Though that didn’t stop us from booking only things with free cancellation policies!) In Germany, we wear masks in buildings and on public transit. But in Spain everyone wears a mask at all times inside and out, and every business has hand sanitizer right by the door.

Though that confidence was shaken a little about a week before we left. The UK declared Spain as high-risk to travelers, and the Brits cancelled their vacations in droves. The announcement was so sudden, in fact, that the UK’s own Minister of Travel was in Spain at the time. We followed the reports closely, as well as watching what the German government was going to do, and it still seemed okay to go when we departed on Aug 1.

Me showing off one of the new masks I bought for the trip.

At the Airports

Most of the time, we fly out of the Basel airport. Basel is in Switzerland, but through some fancy footwork, the airport is technically in France. This makes it much easier for us EU residents to get around without dealing with passport technicalities. We hit one snag getting there, though, because FlixBus wasn’t running their normal hourly routes. Luckily, a friend had just picked up her parents’ car from their home in France (they got stuck in New York when the travel ban went into effect), so we could catch a ride.

I really didn’t know what to expect walking into the airport. I knew there were fewer flights in general, but Basel is still a major hub for the region. What surprised me was the INSANELY long line for bad drop.

My guess is that Easy Jet had cut back on staff because of the number of flights, but the nearly hour-long wait to drop off a pre-checked bag was not just annoying, it was unsettling. Yes, at least 98% of people wore masks and wore them correctly, but hardly anyone was distancing. The family behind us was standing especially close and it made my shoulders tight for the whole wait.

After we eventually got through security, we also went through an additional health and safety check. We had already printed and signed our “health declaration” where we promised we hadn’t had any symptoms or known exposure for two weeks. Then, one by one, we stepped up to have our temperatures checked by camera. I didn’t even realize that is what was happening until I got to the other side and saw the monitors. During the trip, we also had our temperatures checked a few times using what looked like barcode readers that scanned either a wrist or the forehead. It was easy, painless, and made me feel safer.

Our First Adventure with the Car

We opted not to use public transit during the trip itself for a variety of reasons. First, we love road-tripping together and listening to Terry Pratchett books. Second, the flexibility of a car vs. having to rush around looking for the right train platform with our luggage in tow was very appealing. And the new third wrinkle, it would be safer.

I booked the car through the same site as the flight, and I had all our confirmation info gathered into a single doc. Even so, the car rental didn’t go quite as smoothly as planned. The e-mail said there would be someone waiting just outside arrivals door with a sign who would tell us where to go. Lots of people, lots of signs, but none with our name on it. We followed the signs for the car rental area of airport. Lots of desks, lots of signs, but none with the company’s name on it. Eventually, we did find a ludicrously long line of vans carting people to and from their cars, and after getting a quick dollop of sanitizing gel from our driver, we and another family piled in.

We were pretty tired and cranky by the time we finally got into our rental car, and sweat was streaming into my eyes. So I did my best to put the directions into Google Maps, then let it take over. What followed could only be described as farcical.

Beyond the fact that the app voice was terrible at pronouncing Spanish words, the route kept jumping around and changing. This inevitably led to wrong exits, multiple roundabouts, and an extra 10 minutes added to the drive. Finally, we got off the highway and onto a service road. We’d spotted our hotel sign and sighed in relief, when we spotted another sign: the rental car lot. The hotel had been across a parking lot, literally next door to where we’d just left, but the app didn’t see the parking lot as a “route.” We pulled into the hotel parking and spent the next several minutes giggling and declaring “Adventure!” (our longtime travel motto) before we were composed enough to go check in.

So, that was the end of our first day, though we didn’t consider it an “official” day of the vacation. Many more (and far more fun) days were to follow. I didn’t bother with pictures on this first day, but I’ve got TONS to share from all over Andalucia.

Next stop: Gibraltar

I’ll be posting about the rest of the amazing trip in the weeks to come, so stay tuned for more!

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