A guest post from Nishtha of MagicandBliss on the European adventure no one expected: months of pandemic honeymoon lockdown in Amsterdam, Netherlands! Here’s what it was like for this Indian traveler.
It has been over a year since we set out for our honeymoon from Delhi, but I still remember that day vividly. We were so excited to finally embark on our newly wedded life doing something that we both loved: travel. As we travelled to our dream destination, Iceland, little did we know that our European honeymoon would turn into an adventure of a lifetime.
On March 10, 2020, we took a flight from Delhi to Reykjavik via London. Everything was “normal” back then: no temperature screening at the airports, only a handful of people wore masks. But something life-changing was unravelling fast.
On March 11, one day later, the WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. At that time, people did not take the news of coronavirus very seriously. Knowing how sparsely populated Iceland is, we did not fear contracting coronavirus ourselves, and happily continued with our honeymoon as planned.
Or so we tried. Four days into the trip, we got our first big shock: India had suspended all flights from Europe till March 31, and gave a day’s window for Indians to return.
Returning from Iceland itself would have taken us more than a day, and the airline prices had already hit the roof—staying back for additional 14 days in Europe was still cheaper than taking that return flight. We took a leap of faith and decided to continue with our trip as planned.
Just as we had started taking things easy, we got our second shock. This time, European nations were in talks to impose border closures, barring entry for non-EU citizens in response to the rapid spread of the virus. Scared of getting stranded in remote and insanely expensive Iceland, we decided to cut our trip short by two days and rushed to our next destination: Amsterdam.
Pandemic honeymoon in Amsterdam, anyone?
Upon reaching Amsterdam, we understood the severity of the pandemic. Streets were deserted. Restaurants, museums, and other tourist destinations were already shut. We stayed at a friend’s place thinking that it would just be for two weeks or so… but we were wrong, as we all now know.
The Indian government decided to extend the travel ban further to curb the spread of the virus. We had lost all hopes of returning home, and frustration gradually started setting in. Being in a foreign land far away from the familiarity of home amidst a global crisis started taking a serious toll on our mental health.
Our travel insurance had already expired, meaning we couldn’t have availed affordable healthcare in case of a medical emergency. Like other stranded travellers, we began hounding the Indian embassy, hoping to find a way out. The embassy was under tremendous pressure, and while they couldn’t give us clarity on a return date, they did arrange decent accommodation and food for stranded travellers, and helped with online visa extensions for travelers whose visas were about to expire.
New month, new home in Amsterdam
In the first week of April, we shifted to a new home: the apartment of my father-in-law’s colleague, An. She lives in Belgium, but prior to the pandemic, An worked in Amsterdam and travelled back to Belgium on weekends to stay with her family. She was kind enough to let us stay at her apartment in Amsterdam without charging us a single penny.
Worried about our situation, An immediately couriered her only pair of apartment keys to us. She was very warm and helped us settle into her home by checking in with us almost every day. We now had an apartment all to ourselves, giving us the freedom to live, eat, and isolate for weeks without needing to worrying about paying expensive European rent… all thanks to An.
What was it like to live in Amsterdam during the pandemic… and how did we manage?
Once we had an apartment to ourselves, things became a lot easier.
Thankfully, I’d packed my laptop, and I could resume my work remotely. My day started at around 8 AM—almost 12 noon in India. Considering my situation, my colleagues kindly did not force me to start earlier, and I worked til late to ensure I finished my work. Access to WIFI was initially an issue; even though we had a local sim, data packs were expensive, and were soon exhausted by Zoom or Google Hangout calls. However, we managed to find an office WIFI which wasn’t password protected, and got a jugaad for unlimited internet connection.
In between work hours, we managed cooking and cleaning in isolation, like the rest of the world amidst the global lockdown. Fortunately, supermarkets were nearby, and we began enjoying our little trips to Albert Heijn and Jumbo (Dutch supermarket chains).
… but it was not all cheerful and smooth as it may seem. Working remotely (from a different time zone), daily cooking and cleaning, and the daily follow-ups with the embassy (the worst of all) dampened our spirits. It wasn’t quite the honeymoon we had planned.
At the same time, given it was our honeymoon, we realized that we worried too much about the future when we actually had no control over it. Rather than fretting about what we couldn’t change, we decided to spend our energies on positive pursuits and make the most of our situation.
On weekends, we rented a car and traveled to the beautiful villages of Netherlands. We were fortunate to witness the famous Dutch tulips in full bloom. Amsterdam’s clusters of canals lined with brick-façade buildings were a treat to our eyes and kind of made us forget about all our worries (… at least for a little while).
As the number of cases dropped in Amsterdam, we started exploring more of the city via trains and trams. We strolled the beautiful lanes of Central Amsterdam, shopping for essentials at an Indian grocery store in a different corner of the city. During the week, we made time for exercise by going outside for a run (yes, running was allowed in Amsterdam) or relying on home workouts when the weather was too windy.
Small as they may seem, these routines helped us remain sane in a situation where we did not know when or if we would ever be able to return to India.
A surprise return with Vande Bharat
At the beginning of May, there came a glimmer of hope for our return to India: the Vande Bharat repatriation program.
We eagerly looked up at the evacuation schedule… only to realise that there was no mention of Amsterdam in the first or second phase of repatriation. All our hopes were shattered yet again.
However, the embassy assured us that they were in talks with the program managers, and that repatriation would happen soon. Hope as we might, we weren’t ready to believe them.
Luckily, we were proven wrong. By mid-May, the embassy started emailing us forms to fill out, and soon we were finally given a date of return: June 8, 2020.
And the luck didn’t stop there. To our surprise, an earlier flight departing on May 31 had been arranged as part of the Vande Bharat program. Just one day prior to its departure, we called to the airport to purchase the tickets.
After almost three unplanned months in Europe, we were finally going home.
Repatriation to India: all’s well that ends well
We boarded the flight on the evening of the 31st. Even though the cost of repatriation flight was quite high, all the seats were occupied. Social distancing protocols literally could not be followed inside the flight.
We reached Delhi on 1st June, 2020, and were mandatorily quarantined for 7 days at a hotel. Police cars escorted passengers from the airport to our respective hotels to ensure that no one escaped the mandatory quarantine.
Looking back on our unexpected pandemic honeymoon
Now that I look back, I realize that our unusual experience was a blessing in disguise: it actually helped us slow down and live day-to-day.
Despite all the uncertainty and ambiguity in the world, we found ourselves slowly adapting and accepting the situation ,and could focus all our energies on staying healthy and trying to enjoy our elongated time in Europe as much as possible.
It’s safe to say that those three months were by far the biggest adventure of our lives… and the wildest honeymoon we could ever have imagined.