Maybe I’m crazy for traveling during a pandemic, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I wanted to get back to France mid COVID.
In October, I made a big decision to leave my home in Uzès to go to the States to help my family with some business matters. I promised myself I’d stay with my son for six months max. Little did anyone know the Coronavirus was around. Much less, that it would literally paralyze the world.
The Big Wait
My six-month plan stretched to eight. Every day, I read news stories about the virus in Europe and in the US. I kept a daily record of new virus cases and deaths. My macabre chart proved that if I cared about my health, I would be better off in France than in Atlanta. Georgia.
For one thing, should I contract the virus, medical care would be assured and more affordable for me in France now that I am in the French health system. If I were to come down with COVID in the US, I couldn’t depend on available hospital space. Nor could I assure I could afford a long term hospital stay or potential rehabilitation.
From my emergency hospital experience and rehab in France eighteen months ago, I knew I would be better off there. (Read more here …)
Once my mind was made up, I just had to wait until traveling from the US to France was opened and available. With a current Carte de Sejour and tax documents proving I’m a French resident, I didn’t expect any problems with border control on either side. Just in case, I had all types of official papers ready to show on request.
Lockdown ended, and the world was letting loose. I took the plunge. I booked the overnight Delta Airlines flight from Atlanta to Charles de Gaulle (CDG) in Paris, a train to Nimes, and a taxi to Uzès. In close to 24 hours, I was literally transported from one space to another. It was as close to time travel as I ever expect to experience
When friends and blog followers, primarily through Facebook, found out I was taking the leap back to France during the virus, they asked me to document the journey. Many people have their own reasons for wanting to travel to France as soon as possible. So here it is .. a near blow by blow recap, including photos.
Back to France Mid COVID
Step #1: Departure- Atlanta Hartwell Airport
Atlanta’s airport, the busiest in the world. Well, not today. The few people at the airport were distancing, very respectfully, and most wore face masks. There were no restaurants open. The food court was empty. The only store operating was Hudson’s newsstand. The choices of snacks and drinks were limited, but hey-ho, I wasn’t there to eat — just water, please.
When it was time to board, passengers were admitted to the gate standing six feet apart. The exception was for groups traveling together.
Back to France Mid COVID
Step #2: The Flight
My usual choice for airline tickets is Economy Comfort. I need a little extra legroom. Before buying my ticket, Delta assured passengers we would be spaced a minimum of every other seat. After boarding from the back of the airplane, it was apparent the promise was real. There were two seats between the other passenger occupying the middle positions and me. An aisle and an empty seat separated me from the person to my right. There were many seats and rows that were vacant. No reading material was in the seat-backs, except for emergency instructions.
Before takeoff, the attendant announced a COVID declaration would be passed out to all passengers. The simple, one-page document included statements that either you have had Covid, or not. The attendants picked up the signed papers before landing. That was it. No other paperwork was required.
During the flight, meals were served, but we were not offered in-between snacks or beverages. The attendants did pass through the aisles numerous times with trays of water and juice in small plastic cups. The atmosphere was eerie and quiet. Everyone wore masks, and pretty much stayed in his or her seat. I entertained myself by watching the movies Little Women and Harriet, but no sleep.
Step #3: CDG Airport to TGV Train Station (Gare)
Arriving at Charles de Gaulle Airport in the early morning after an overnight flight is always a bit disorienting to me. Nothing ever looks quite the same. Since I was in no hurry to meet my train that was scheduled around noon, I took my time and I recorded the route with photos. I was meeting another American ex-pat who lives in Uzès, who was arriving from Dallas. I promised I would text landmark photos to her so that she could find her way to the Gare. We were traveling together from here on the TGV train to Uzès.
Happy that I was traveling with only carryon luggage, I passed quickly through the baggage area en route to the TGV station, The self-imposed baggage restriction made me feel better about making the trip. The fewer people I came into contact with, the better, Packing for the trip, however, was a nightmare!
Just like Atlanta Hartwell Airport, CDG was basically deserted.
Back to France Mid COVID
Step #4: TGV Train Station (Gare) and Train to Nimes
Now that I recognize the icon for the trains at CDG is different from the airport shuttle, finding my way around is much simpler. On some visits through CDG, I’ve had to find the shuttle to get to an airport hotel. For this trip, I needed to get to the TGV station. There is a difference!
Fortunately, there are now a few signs along the route that help make the distinction between the shuttle and trains quite vividly.
Arriving at the TGV terminal, I saw the number of people standing around had increased significantly. Places to sit were clearly marked, and most travelers respected the guidance. Groups of armed guards walked around the waiting area frequently, scolding people who weren’t wearing masks. Eating or drinking in the area was forbidden since it would require taking off face protection.
Train to Nimes Pont du Gard
Like clockwork, the train to Nimes Pont du Gard arrived right on time. Usually, there is a double-decker train with a dozen or so cars that goes the route to Nimes/Montpelier. This time it was a single-level train with, maybe, ten passenger cars. For the first time along my journey, I was bumping up next to other people while trying to stow my luggage and find my reserved seat. Every place in the first-class car was filled. The saving factor was that everyone was covering their nose and mouth. A conductor came through the train several times to check for masks. During one inspection, I was scolded for letting mine slip below my nose.
Sur le nez!
The dining car was closed, but I’d brought along a snack and a drink I picked up at the train station. Eating and drinking were allowed on the train.
Step #5: Nimes Pont du Gard GARE
To make my journey as safe as I possibly could, I chose to come into the new Nimes Pont du Gard train station because… well, because it was new. The station in downtown Nimes is quite old, and it’s in the middle of town. The Pont du Gard station is brand, spanking new. Exiting the train and finding my waiting taxi was a breeze — and all out in the open spaces.
How do I feel to be back in France? Ecstatic! I’m voluntarily quarantining for two weeks. No one even mentioned it along the way … except for the taxi driver.
Nevertheless, being a shut-in is helping me get acclimated to the time difference and food. Yes, my friends stocked my refrigerator with my favorite things … anchoide, tomatoes, cucumbers …. and wine, of course!
Hopefully, this step-by-step view of my trip back to France has answered some of your questions about traveling. On June 15, the restrictions for travel to France for European visitors is being lifted. There is no indication when tourists from countries outside Europe may be allowed to enter France.
Meanwhile, stay tuned … there are a lot more Barefoot Blogger adventures to share with you!