Hey Europe! We’re Back!

25 Aug

25 August 2021.

Pre-trip excitement was laced with anxiety as our departure approached. Ever-changing flights, rising COVID-19 cases, and shifting entry restrictions made the last few weeks agonizing. Would our flight leave? Would it change again? Would the countries allow us in without quarantining? Did I fill out all the right forms? 

What used to be a simple trip — showing up for the flight and flashing a passport at immigration control — has transformed into a game of “Who’s on First?” Flying into London without quarantine would require a pre-trip negative test, but Italy would require quarantine if we so much as passed airside at Heathrow, unless we had 14 days in a “safer” country before entering. Switzerland was fine with our stopping at Heathrow, but it would require three flights over 24 hours to get from PDX to Geneva. Three hops is, from prior experience, exhausting. Not interested. 

We settled on flying from Seattle to Frankfurt and spending a night before taking a train to Switzerland. Easy. Ha! One week before we were to fly, Germany declared the US a high risk country. Luckily, for the duly vaccinated, all we had to do was register our US vaccination status in a German government website which then spewed out a QR code and no quarantine was required. 

The Swiss also have a well-defined system for getting a so-called COVID Pass (also called a Green Pass or Pass Sanitaire or COVID Passport depending on the country) in the form of a QR code on our phones. We were able to apply to the Cantonal authority in Valais prior to travel, uploading our vaccination proof. In 48 hours we had our QR codes that are necessary for entering some stores and restaurants throughout the country. It is my understanding that the Swiss-issued QR code is valid throughout the European Union so may be usable in Italy and France as well. We shall see about that in the weeks to come.

Even immigration officers are confused. We flew into Frankfurt non-stop from Seattle and immigration scoffed at the Einreiseanmeldung forms we flashed with our passports. “You don’t need those. The US is not a risk country,” he said. Not to be argumentative with an immigration official, I joked that indeed the US was very dangerous and Germany has required these since August 15. One of his colleagues backed me up. After our passports were scanned and the officer was contemplating giving me the stamp while her cohort scanned Ric’s, I tried out my ancient and rusty university German, querying “All ist gut?” The immigration official who had scoffed at our forms replied, “All ist gut. You are not the criminals we are looking for.” Who knew German immigration had a sense of humor?

The flight from Seattle on Condor was only 20% full, much to our surprise. I have been tracking this flight for weeks to see if it was ever cancelled and it was not. There must be a lot of cargo business to allow a 767 to fly that route daily with so few passengers. Likewise, our train from Frankfurt to Bern was not full. The Hauptbahnhof was not as busy as we would expect on a business day at 0800, although I have read that Germany is thriving and people are working. Like in the US, WFH must be keeping the office workers cooped up. 

And so it begins. We will spend all of September in Switzerland, primarily in our home-away-from-home in Lauterbrunnen. We rent the same apartment every trip from a lovely British family (thanks James & Michelle!). We are so at home there we even store a Nespresso machine in their lockup. With a base camp established, we’ll take some overnight side trips to Kandersteg and Bettmeralp, and we will update our book, “Walking in Switzerland’s Berner Oberland” which was published just as COVID-19 started spreading in early 2020.

From Lauterbrunnen we can enter Italy without quarantine, unless something changes. The end of September we will go to our beloved Ortisei and the Alpe di Siusi. Inshallah we will also visit Paris and wrap up our trip with two weeks in England. Coming home just in time for Halloween.

We start, however, in the Saas Valley of Switzerland, a new-to-us and lesser-known area one valley over from Zermatt and the Matterhorn. Below, a few pictures from our first evening in Saas-Grund. We have never been in Switzerland this early in the summer. We usually arrive in mid-September. Thus the late summer gardens are flourishing (no drought here) and the evenings are milder. Outdoor dining is pleasant.

Stay tuned for updates!

Creative use for old hikers.
Whimsy in the garden. The Swiss are avid gardeners and each property is tidy and colorful.
The old buildings are preserved and used, creating texture and a sense of history.


25 Responses to “Hey Europe! We’re Back!”

  1. lori5124 August 29, 2021 at 11:58 #

    Hi Laurel:
    Question: when applying to the Cantonal authority it asks for NPA. What is that? We are leaving Wed. for Italy. We thought we would try it.



    • Laurel August 29, 2021 at 12:21 #

      Lori, sorry I don”t remember what I entered for NPA. I don’t have a way to work thru that right now. Are you coming to Switzerland from Italy? Each Canton has a different process. I used Valais because that is where we started our trip.


  2. Will McAllister August 29, 2021 at 11:28 #

    Hi Laurel. Glad to hear you and Ric are back doing it! I always love your commentaries so am looking forward to your future posts. We decided to forego Europe this fall, instead touring the SE coast of the US. Current plan, however, is a return to France and/or Italy fall 2022. Hopefully travel will be drama-free by next fall!


    • Laurel L. Barton August 29, 2021 at 22:09 #

      Hi Will! At least you and Gracia will travel this year! Did you go to Palm Springs as usual? We were hoping to finally come and see our family in Seattle but had to put it off again as they have an under-12 who cannot yet be vaxxed. Maybe in November if this thing gets under control again. Until then, we could not be happier to be on the road again.


  3. Grier August 28, 2021 at 13:42 #

    I am SO looking forward to reading about your experiences! You’re off to an appealing start!


    • Laurel August 29, 2021 at 07:33 #

      We took a hike on Thursday that was worthy of you. It was really out there in difficulty for us. Will write about it soon!


  4. chloe erkenbrecher August 26, 2021 at 09:38 #

    I thought I’d lost you forever as my computer has been down for months. So glad i can read your site once more. I have an American friend who is in Paris until October, who sent in all of her documents for the Passe Sanitaire app and nothing has worked: however, their vaccination papers have worked so far. Since many of the French are unable to get this app, I’m not surprised that my friend was unsuccessful. Looking forward to catching up with you.


    • Laurel August 27, 2021 at 06:47 #

      Hello!!! We will enter France in mid-October unless there are restrictions to entry. We have our permission to enter Italy already so hopefully France will accept we’ve been in CH and IT. I think I will feel safer there with restaurants requiring the Passé Sanitaire. Although we have our Swiss approval and QR code’s, we have yet to be asked to show them. But we are eating outdoors. You’d think the trains would require them.

      Happy to know you are still out there and following along!


      • chloe erkenbrecher August 30, 2021 at 09:45 #

        Will the new restrictions on Americans traveling in Europe hinder your travel or won’t it matter since yo are already there?


        • Laurel August 30, 2021 at 11:40 #

          I think we are OK since we are here. Unvaccinated Americans are likely not going to be able to come (thank the gods!) but we are a)vaxxed and b) HERE. Updates as they occur!


  5. terahstearns@suddenlink.net August 26, 2021 at 08:16 #

    As always, I’m living vicariously through your blog! Much love and prayers for a wonderful trip!


  6. Kim August 26, 2021 at 06:57 #

    Always love to read your travel notes. Glad you made it there safely. Love to you both.


    • Laurel August 27, 2021 at 06:50 #

      Thanks! It’s been great so far. A few “maskholes” even among older people who can’t seem to get that the nose should be covered. I double-mask whenever we are on public transportation!


  7. meemcool August 26, 2021 at 06:10 #

    I just love reading your blog. Happy trails and may it all go beautifully!


    • Laurel August 27, 2021 at 06:50 #

      Thank you! It’s so nice to know people are out there reading!


  8. Katy Guadagno August 26, 2021 at 05:50 #

    Yay you made it! So beautiful! I love all the flowers. Keep posting as you adventure!


    • Laurel August 27, 2021 at 06:51 #

      Thanks!! We had a crazy-hard hike yesterday that I will write about soon. If we’d known how hard it would be we would not have tried, so we are glad we did and pleased to have survived it with no aches today. Hugs to you and Ty, but especially to our God-dog.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Ben Oswalt August 26, 2021 at 05:32 #

    Glad to see you are back!!! Hope you have been well…..we are hoping to go to Murren in May/June 2022 and then doen for a month thru Italy. I will look to your messages to get a glimpse of what the trip may be like. We are thinking of flying SFO to Istanbul, with a 2 day layover and then into Geneva to pick up our car…then drive to Lauterbrunnen. From there drive to Italy. Looking forward to staying in touch. Happy and safe travels!!


    • Laurel August 27, 2021 at 06:53 #

      Sounds like a good trip, Ben. Not sure about Turkey myself, but I have friends who loved that layover. They got quite a tour as part of the ticket. Take a look at Condor. If you can fly to Frankfurt from SFO, the prices are good and it’s easy to get to Lauterbrunnen from Frankfurt as there is a direct train to Interlaken Ost.


  10. Gina August 26, 2021 at 02:23 #

    Lovely photos.

    Surprises me, too! A German with a sense of humor! Ha! Glad you made it there safely. Have a great time!


    • Laurel August 27, 2021 at 06:55 #

      I have known a number of Germans to have a good sense of humor, but seldom have I encountered an immigration official that had one. Last time we were in Frankfurt, my backpack was scrutinized for explosives by the police. No one was laughing that time. 😬 Thanks for your good wishes!


  11. Claudia August 25, 2021 at 21:52 #

    I’m so relieved to see you made it there, and to know that, so far, all ist gut. (Those Swiss gardens and flowers are beautiful.)


    • Laurel August 25, 2021 at 22:34 #

      So happy yo hear from you! The Val Gardena will be lovely for you next month.



  1. Swiss Wrap-up | Girovaga - September 28, 2021

    […] We’ve been here many times over the past eight years but never for such a prolonged period. The length of stay was a tactical decision made when Italy was requiring 10 days of quarantine for anyone who passed through the UK, which had been our original plan. If we spent at least 14 days in Switzerland, Italy would let us in without quarantine. The Swiss were happy to have us arrive vaccinated with no further restrictions. Of course the rules vis a vis stopping in the UK and transiting to Italy changed before we flew, but we had a course set and had managed to avoid LHR anyway by taking Condor instead of British Air. All ist gut. (See “Hey Europe! We’re Back!) […]


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