When we drove from England to Hungary two years ago it was a simple and pleasurable journey. Starting from the Hull-Rotterdam ferry terminal in the Netherlands, we passed at a leisurely pace, passing through Germany and Austria along the way.
However, trying to follow same route in July 2021 proved to be rather more complicated and eventful.
We are fortunate to have a holiday home in Hungary by Lake Balaton, but the Covid-19 pandemic has of course very much limited our opportunities to visit. Homes need to be maintained and after a year left unattended, we decided we needed to visit to carry out some essential maintenance on our holiday home.
We waited until after July 19th, when some travel restrictions were lifted by the UK Government, so that our travel insurance would be valid within the countries we were visiting. We did check with our travel insurance company to make certain that would be the case.
We then checked that we would be able to enter Hungary and received an e-mail from a Police Chief in the the north-west of the country indicating that crossing the land border from Austria to Hungary was unrestricted and there would be no quarantine requirements. The situation was different for air travel.
Germany had just opened up to doubly-vaccinated UK citizens and we were able to book the new Holiday Inn Express Erlangen near Nuremberg for an overnight stay along the way. Austria was not a problem and our careful checking of the Netherlands Government website indicated that transiting the country within 12 hours would present no problems, provided we filled in their quarantine form and had a rapid Covid-19 antigen test within 72 hours before departure.
Finally we booked with P&O Ferries on a flexible basis to travel from Hull to Rotterdam on a Friday evening crossing. This would allow us to drive across Europe during the weekend when most lorries are banned. A rapid antigen test could be obtained at the Hull ferry terminal just before departure for about £30 each. So all was plain sailing. Or so we thought!
The first fly in the ointment was an e-mail from P&O Ferries indicating that we needed a PCR test within 72 hours before departure. That was not our interpretation of the regulations on the Netherlands Government website, but so be it. PCR tests proved difficult to organise in the North Lincolnshire area where we live, but we managed to arrange tests for the Wednesday before departure at our local Boots Chemists at a cost of £85 each.
We noticed that the Stena Line website stated that only a rapid antigen test was required for travel to the Netherland. Confusing! Finally the day before our PCR tests, P&O Ferries informed us that we did not need a PCR test. Fortunately we could cancel our tests without any payment – not the case with some PCR testing companies.
Everything was in place for our journey. Then a surprising bombshell. We received a text message from P&O Ferries at about 2-o-clock in the afternoon on the day of departure indicating that we would not be allowed on the ferry as we would not be able to enter the Netherlands.
Frantic phone calls to P&O Ferries‘ offices in Hull, Dover and Rotterdam all confirmed that we would not be allowed to board the ferry. The timing was strange. Had there been some incident that morning when the ferry had arrived in Rotterdam that had led to the last minute text message? We have complained to P&O Ferries and asked for an explanation, but have yet to receive a reply.
It was important that we travelled to Hungary that weekend and so were forced to rebook, this time on the P&O Ferries route from Dover to Calais for the following morning, at a very high peak season fare. We travelled the 250 miles down to Dover and stayed overnight at the Travelodge by the ferry terminal (arriving at 10 pm), having first cancelled our original ferry booking and overnight hotel stay on the way.
Journey from France to Hungary
There was no problem entering France. It was simply a matter of showing our double-vaccination certificates. We had filled in the French Declaration d’Honneur forms, but these were not requested. The ferry was fairly empty with passenger restaurants closed, but we had an excellent breakfast in the truck drivers’ lounge at a very low cost.
The journey from Calais to Erlangen was trouble free with no border checks, even when we passed from Belgium to the Netherlands! The hotel in Erlangen required us to show our vaccination certificates (otherwise rapid testing was an option) and to wear good quality face masks in the hotel.
The scenic journey from Erlangen through to Hungary was largely trouble free, although there was a one hour delay at the Germany-Austria border as three lanes of traffic were reduced to one at the border post for no apparent reason. There was no checking on the border on entering Hungary from Austria.
Within Hungary at that time there were few Covid-19 cases and as a result no precautions were being taken to prevent transmission. Let’s hope this doesn’t lead to an Autumn surge in cases.
After three weeks in Hungary, we returned to England, but this time were allowed to travel by P&O Ferries on the Rotterdam-Hull route. Meals were available on the ferry but not surprisingly the usual live entertainment was not.
We had to take a rapid antigen test within 72 hours of departure. This was available locally in Hungary at a cost of about £25.
Also we had to book Day 2 PCR tests in the UK and pay for them. After much searching, and getting frustrated with the very poor UK Government listing of approved suppliers, we used Nationwide Pathology at a cost of £40 each. The booking references were required for the UK Government online Locator Forms. These were required in printed form or on mobile phones for boarding the ferry and for entering the UK. On our return home in England, our PCR test kits were awaiting us.
However, when my wife took the PCR test on Day 2, the phial that received the swab fell apart when she tried to seal it. We immediately rang Nationwide Pathology to request a replacement test. Eight days later and the replacement test has not arrived, even though we had phoned twice and sent an email. I was going to recommend Nationwide Pathology, but definitely not now and I don’t know of any testing company I could recommend.
Was it all worth it? Certainly it would not have been if we were simply travelling as tourists from England to Hungary, but our holiday home needed attention. We hope to return later in the year, but if we cannot, then our home can now await us another year.
We are a lot wiser now with regard to the confusion surrounding travel to Europe during the pandemic and the poor service that was offered by a PCR testing company.
POSTED 29th AUGUST 2021 by STEVE HANSON.