As Europe was slowly getting back to lockdown at the beginning of November, I decided to flee the locking up France to the island of Greece called Santorini. I managed to get quite a great AirBnB deal for a two-bedroom apartment at 37 Euro per night, not including the weekly booking discount. However, in the first week I landed on the island, Greece government announced nation-wide lockdown, and my plan of island hopping was ruined. I dare say though that my life during the lockdown was not so bad. Well, at least I had a spacious apartment of my own with a glamorous view, access to cheap wines, and the weather was not terribly cold and damp.
My over-one-month stay in Santorini can be summed up as “not-so-sober” with an average of one bottle of wine per day along with several sticks of souvlakis (yum!). Despite bringing my yoga mat with me in hope that I will pick up again yoga practice and handstand, the plan was dropped dead due to my insobriety from drinking. The only healthy part perhaps was that I managed to strike a week or two of intermittent fasting.
Finally, at the end of November, I managed to get my long-awaited flight back to Bangkok booked and confirmed with Thai Airways, which has gone under bankruptcy due to Covid-19 crisis (as well as terrible management, as had long been mentioned by many renowned financiers for years). Upon the flight confirmation, I then faced with unbelievable steps and documents of getting back to Thailand, including one of my own creation – booking an alternative state quarantine accommodation (ASQ).
Having spent 2-3 months of lockdown in my tiny place in Fontainebleau, I sank deep into a severe medical depression, resulting in months under medication to ensure that I can live a decent-enough life. I do not wish to go back to a random place with no fresh air and a rat hole again. Therefore, my days of searching for an economical ASQ began. Eventually, after several emails stating the unavailability of the rooms, I managed to get a place that ripped my wallet off completely. Surprisingly enough, the approval process of by the Thai government was, for once, very swift. I managed to get a Certificate of Entry (COE) within hours upon uploads of all the necessary documents. Yet again, surprisingly, the way back from Santorini to Paris was far less than ideal.
The costly and the cancellations
While my flight from Paris to Santorini was very cheap and direct, the way back from Santorini to Paris was very costly. Due to the regional Covid-19 lockdown, there was barely any flights from Athens to Paris, let alone from Santorini. Plus, the ticket price is very pricey – at over 500 Euro. I ended having the find an indirect way to get to Paris, which is to fly to Amsterdam from Athens, then take a train to Paris. Eventually, my travel plan to Paris ended up being:
Santorini –[ferry]-> Athens –[plane]-> Amsterdam –[train]-> Paris
The hassles did not end with just booking. I have arrived 2-hours before departure at the Santorini Port only to find out that the ferry has been canceled and ended up buying another ticket that will leave five hours later. Fortunately, the later ferry is not canceled again. On this note, I still haven’t received any refund for the canceled ferry …
The French document
After spending a night in Athens, my flight from Athens to Amsterdam is no where smoother than the ferry ride. While the flight was not cancelled, upon checking in at the very empty airport, I was told by the ground staff “we have to check whether or not you can use this document to get into the Netherlands. You will know when you are at the boarding gate” – referring to my visa extension document that is valid until end of this year.
My visa was originally expired in August. However, with the extended duration of the study, I was issued an extension paper to my visa. It would not have been a problem at all has the document been in English and the font size of the expiry date is more prominent. With everything in French, I ended up having to explain to the ground staff at almost every airport. Athens seems to be the most problematic though.
The biggest showdown was, of course, at the gate. After having been jittery for over an hour, the boarding started and I was queuing up. The middle-eastern-looking guy in front of me was pulled off from the line for suspicion of having a fake ID. I then was looked at by the same officer and the boarding staff right away was saying “oh you are that guy!” referring to “the person who may have problem with passport” – I guess.
Another officer came and looked at my document, and the conversation went as follow:
Officer: Your visa is expired. You cannot fly
Me: I have this document. It is a visa extension document.
Officer: But it says here that your August is the expiration
Me: No. The number there is the original expiry date. The small number here is the new expiry date.
Officer: [Pull out a magnifying glass and look at the paper very closely]
Officer [to another officer in Greek]: #$#%@#$#$%@#$%@!
Officer [to me]: Is this a student visa?
Then I was allowed to board the plane. Luckily, there is no other immigration in Amsterdam; otherwise, it would have been the most troublesome flight of my life…
The connecting trains
In ordinary circumstances, there typically are many direct trains from Amsterdam to Paris, but this is not an ordinary period. I was shocked to discover when I was trying to book a train to Paris that all there were only a few direct trains from Amsterdam to Paris. I ended up having to take an unbelievably complicated route to get to Paris:
Amsterdam -> Antwerp -> Kortrijk -> Lille -> Paris
On top of that, the train ticket agency only could book my trip from Amsterdam to Lille, and I then had to use another website for Lille to Paris. The entire trip to Paris ended up costing nearly 200 Euro – which eventually made my total trip to Paris costs nearly 500 Euro…
On the day of the travel itself, I arrived at the train station early to avoid any problem of missing the train, especially since there are many changes in between. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there is an earlier train to Antwerp, and decided to get on a train right away.
Then, once I got to Antwerp Station, I was lost. This was not the first time I was at the station, but somehow everything seemed so strange and big… Well, everything is big when you are traveling with a heavy backpack, a heavy luggage, and a heavy tote on an empty stomach. I finally managed to find a board showing departure time and of trains Kortrijk which was leaving in 15 minutes. However, my stupidity did not end there. I ended up could not find the right platform where the train is leaving – also because the platform number differed from the board. With only a few minutes left before the train departed, I half-walked half-ran with all my stuffs to the train… at last.
The hectic train journey didn’t end there. The last part, which is from Lille to Paris, was probably the worst. I originally booked a train from Lille-Flandres Station to Paris at around 7 PM. However, I arrived 2 hours early and decided to change the ticket to another train that leave an hour earlier. With one hour on hand, I decided to buy some foods from McDonald’s – my first meal of the day before the trip. However, after getting the food, I couldn’t seem to find the right platform for my train, and I stupidly didn’t ask the staff for it. Only until 5 minutes before the train departed, I asked the staff and was told that there is another station 5 minutes away called “Lille-Europe”, which is where the train departs.
Although I was reassured that it is only 5-minute walk, I ran to the right station right away. With my baggage and the rain, I ended up being slower than I should have been. By the time I arrived at the station, the train was already departing. With my luck, I was able to change the ticket just in time before I have to pay for another ticket. In exchange for the good luck, my dinner bag broke because of the wetness from the spilled cola and the rain, so I ended up having to buy another dinner set. Thanks God, that’s the last tricky part of the journey.
My troublesome travels didn’t end just when I arrived in Paris from Amsterdam. In fact, more to come. Between then and my flight back to Thailand, I had to pick up my luggage from Fontainebleau, where I kept my stuff at my friend’s place. While I travelled to Fonty from Paris via train, given the cheer number of luggage – 2 big ones and 2 small ones – I needed to take an Uber back to my place in Paris.
My Uber back to Paris was quite peaceful up until we were about to reach Marais, where my Airbnb was. The driver discovered that there was a demonstration in that area and the police has blocked the road into the area. An hour or two were spent driving around the area to find ways to enter Marais, yet he miserably failed. He ended up offering to park the car and walk me to my place. As he said so, I checked Google Maps and found that the walk from there to my place would last 30 minutes – which is not very pleasant given the load of my luggage.
Fortunately, I managed to convince him to drive against the direction of the road, and we managed to sneak in a bit closer to my place – 15-minute walk instead. At that point, rather than having him find a space to park the car and walk me home, I decided to walk home myself. Part of the reason was that he would have to drive a bit further out to find a parking space – meaning longer walk. Another was that he postponed a dinner with his son multiple times during our ride and I felt a bit guilty…
The walk back was very exhausting, not just because I had to carry a lot of stuff, but also because I haven’t had a single piece of food since noon (it was already 6 pm then). Also, I felt as if I was a homeless man carrying all the stuff along the walkway. The only thing that may help me to look a bit less like a homeless person was probably the brand of my suitcase.
The worst part in this moving-out journey was the 3-floor climb up to my apartment. I completely forgot to check for an elevator; as a result, I had to bare the consequence of lifting all the luggage 3 floors to my room. It was quite difficult and tiring since each bag is very heavy (one is even 30+ kg). I ended up having to do half a one luggage for half a floor at a time – totaling up to climbing 9 floors in this journey.
My move from Fonty to Paris lasted 9 hours – from 10 am to 7 pm…
My last obstacle to coming back to Thailand was the immigration. On the complete contrary to what people experience, where immigration officers reject the entrance, I was almost kept in France due to the silly misunderstand and ignorant of the officer. Here is the conversation:
Officer: This is not good.
Me: What do you mean by not good?
Officer: Don’t you understand? Not good means not good. Not good.
Me: Why is it not good?
Officer: It’s not good.
Me: But this is the official French visa extension document.
Officer: What date is today?
Me: 18 December
Officer: It’s already passed.
Me: What do you mean?
Officer: Look at this number [scribble scribble]
Officer: 18 is more than 3
Me: Yes. But what does this have to do with 3?
Officer: It’s here! [pointing at my document’s expiry date, which is 31]
Me: No. That number is 31!
Officer: It’s not good. It’s not good. You cannot leave unless you have money to pay tax.
At this point, another officer talked to my officer – seemed to explain to him that the number is actually 31. Then my officer turned to me.
Officer: Okay. You may go. But you actually cannot fly with this document (which is ridiculous considering it is a visa extension document and I have flown with this several times…).
And that’s a wrap for my journey back to Thailand. I’m happy to report that I’m still safe and sound with negative Covid test result. However, I strongly believe still that I have already had it unknowingly haha
Until next time then!