December 1 - Version 3.1

Going to Christmas Markets was supposed to be a new tradition of ours.  We went in 2018, and again in 2019.  Then the pandemic started.  We valiantly tried to get out to Europe in December 2020, but just couldn’t make it work.  We planned to come again in 2021, but weren’t sure where we’d be coming from, as we moved to Spain in January 2021.  We sadly had to move back to the US prematurely, and about as soon as we arrived in the US, we started planning a return to Europe.  We booked a trip to Tenerife for Carnaval 2022, and we booked a trip to Central(ish) Europe for December 2021.  The original plan (what we’ll call version 1.0)  was something along these lines:

When we were together in Hawaii in June, we tweaked it, not in terms of locations, but in terms of people.  Crystal wanted to invite her parents to the portions of the trip in Austria, Slovakia, and Hungary.  Justin then asked if it would be okay for his parents to come on the parts in Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany.  After discussion, Crystal’s parents, plus Heidi and Tom were set to join us on the first part of the trip, Justin’s mom was set to join us on the middle part, and Crystal’s parents were set to join us on the last part.  So we changed our Airbnbs, just a week or two after we originally booked them, to book larger places that could accommodate more people.  For Salzburg and Hallstatt we booked a second place near the first one.  We’ll call this version 1.1.

This didn’t hold, however, as the Coronavirus had other ideas, and as numbers stopped going down, and then actually went up again, it looked as though Luxembourg wasn’t going to allow Americans before 2022.  We were supposed to fly out of Luxembourg to Budapest, so this wasn’t an easy fix.  Also, around this same time, Belgium instituted new rules that required a mandatory quarantine period for people coming from certain areas (including the US).  Since we were supposed to fly into Brussels, but then take a train to Bruges, we weren’t sure how we could do that with a mandatory quarantine.  

Between all of this, we spoke with Justin’s mom and decided the easiest thing would be to eliminate Luxembourg and Trier, and also swap the order of Brussels and Bruges, plus add another night in Brussels to account for the likelihood we’d likely be doing nothing the first 24 hours.  This would leave us 3 nights after Brussels and Bruges for a third spot.  We figured that we should depart from a large city, so we’d have the most flexibility if things went sideways (again), so we looked at Amsterdam, Paris, and Frankfurt.  The flight timing for Justin’s mom didn’t work well from Frankfurt, so we decided between Amsterdam and Paris, and chose Paris.  So version 2.0 of the trip was as follows:

We changed our flight from Luxembourg to Budapest to Paris to Budapest, and got new Airbnbs for Bruges and Paris, plus tweaked the dates for the Brussels Airbnb.  We were able to keep the flight from Salzburg to Brussels, as we were flying into Brussels either way.

But then Covid struck again.  Less than two weeks before we were set to leave, Austria announced a mandatory lockdown, going into effect immediately.  It was supposed to last until December 13, so for all intents and purposes, that wiped out our ability to visit Salzburg, Hallstatt, and Bad Goisern.  When that happened, Crystal’s parents, and Heidi and Tom all decided to cancel their plans.  We were bummed out, but we understood where they were coming from.  We decided to press forward, but needed to come up with a version 3.0 in short order.  We knew we were set to fly to Frankfurt on the way to Salzburg, and we knew we needed to be in Brussels on 8 December, but in between those two bookends we had some flexibility.  

With so much in flux, we decided it would be simplest and easiest to not have to fly to Brussels, but rather make our way from Frankfurt to Brussels via train.  Looking at the map, and also looking at train schedules, we decided to add Trier back into the itinerary, and also add Cologne.  That way we could just fly into Frankfurt as already scheduled, take the train from Frankfurt, and slowly work our way northwest to Brussels by train, stopping at Trier and Cologne on the way.  So we canceled all the Airbnbs in Austria, booked new ones for Germany, and also changed our Airbnb for Vienna, as it was entirely too large (and expensive) for just the two of us.  The ones in Budapest and Bratislava we kept.  So version 3.0 ended up looking like this:

The last remaining issue was with our flight from the US into Europe.  We were supposed to fly San Diego to Washington to Frankfurt to Salzburg.  Because of the Austria lockdown, we didn’t want to take the last flight from Frankfurt to Salzburg.  Justin spoke with someone at United, and they said as long as we didn’t have any luggage, to just not get on the last flight.  That seemed easy enough, but today we were realizing it was problematic.  United wouldn’t let us check-in online because we didn’t have any of the necessary paperwork for flying into Austria, but of course, we weren’t going to actually fly into Austria.

So around mid-day we went to the airport, just to square everything away so there wouldn’t be any issues tomorrow morning.  We’re very glad we did this.  As it turns out, the United agent that told us to just not get on the final flight gave us some really bad advice.  If we’d done that, the return portion of our trip would’ve been voided.  The agents at the airport couldn’t do anything for us, they said we needed to talk to someone on the phone.  So we drove straight back from the airport to our home, thankfully just a 5-minute drive, and got on the phone immediately.  Again thankfully, the person on the phone was able to quickly fix things (we’re not sure why the person we spoke with in November couldn’t do this), and we got a new plane itinerary that didn’t have the Frankfurt to Salzburg leg.  So this “final'' itinerary was version 3.1.  Literally none of the lodging was the same as we had booked originally in June.  Thankfully we’d filtered the results so that we were searching only for units with no cancellation fees.

Now checked in, we thought we could stop worrying.  But then in the late afternoon we saw on the news that there was a heavy fog warning issued for San Diego for tonight and tomorrow morning.  We checked our plane, and it was arriving tonight, so as long as it landed, we figured we’d be able to leave in the morning.  In the early evening Justin’s shirts arrived; he needed a couple more long-sleeve shirts.  So now we were all packed.  For dinner, we tried to empty what was in the fridge, which was not a lot.  Justin asked Crystal if she wanted one of the Jalapeño dogs, and she responded “I don’t think we have any Jalapeño dogs, just regular.”  It turns out the green was not Jalapeño.  She saved Justin from having a bad night.  We watched a bunch of Law & Order on television and had a lazy night.

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