Yes we went to Paris during the COVID-19 pandemic, but before you get shocked or even outraged at this fact, please allow me to relate some of the circumstances leading up to this trip.
- For starters we booked this trip almost 1 year in advance, so at the time of the bookings, everything was fine.
- We tend to go cheap and most tickets were not refundable.
- At the time we departed for Paris, everything in Paris was normal, flights were normal and things were not changing that fast.
While not a complete list of factors that figured into our decision to go despite the COVID-19 virus, this should at least let readers know that this was not a last minute decision hoping to take advantage of cheap fares or discounts, but rather an attempt to make the best of a bad situation.
One final note before I get into the details of our adventure, this post is not intended to encourage people to do what we did, nor is it intended to make any points or statements. This post is merely an account of our adventure and some of the decisions and actions that we took.
Events leading up to the trip:
Back around June of 2019 when making plans for our 2020 vacation, we decided to make a trip to Paris France and booked our flights from LA to Paris. The initial plan was my wife and I would be going along with my adult daughter and 3 of our friends. Starting in November of 2019 we started purchasing the tickets for site entries and some ground transportation’s as well, many of these non-refundable in the event of cancellation.
As everyone knows the COVID-19 virus was made public in China around December of 2019 and not long after started to make its way out of China. Once cases started showing in Europe we started paying more attention to conditions and numbers in Europe, and through the entire time leading up to our flight departure on March 13, the spread was not that fast and numbers were not that high in France.
Near the end of February our 3 friends dropped out and canceled their travel plans, our son was planing on getting married to his fiance (who lives in Switzerland) just after we returned from the trip, so he decided to join us and then fly back with his fiance after our time in Paris. So what started as just a vacation, was turning out to be a family vacation with our adult children (30 & 31) which would be a first.
We continued monitoring the situation in France right up to our departure from Vegas on Thursday Mar 12 when I got off work, at that time all flights were normal and all the sites in Paris were open. We made the decision to continue to monitor and traveled to my parents house in CA, there seemed no reason to cancel the trip at that time, despite the US ban on travel from Europe (Schengen area), which did not apply to US citizens returning from the area.
Departure/Arrival Day – Mar 13 & 14:
On Friday Morning our son departed on his flight to Paris, and we departed later in the afternoon. The only change in conditions that we noticed on Friday was that we received an email from the Moulin Rouge indicating that they were canceling all shows and would be refunding the cost of the tickets, while waiting we checked on other Paris sites, and all showed open with no indications of closing.
We boarded our flight late on Friday the 13th (ya I know) and flew to Paris without any incidents or troubles, we arrived in Paris on Saturday the 14th just after mid-day and checked into our hotel. After arriving in Paris we received a notice that all the tourist sites would be closed and that Parisians and visitors were being asked to limit gatherings. We discussed the situation and decided that we would make due with limiting our sight seeing to the exterior of the sites as it would be easier that trying to change the flights and lodging reservations, and there was still no indication of any severe problems.
We spent the remainder of the day relaxing and did some light exploring in the immediate area of the hotel, finishing up with dinner that night. We were quite surprised to find the local restaurants and bars to be full, considering the governments request that people limit gathering sizes. While we were eating dinner on Saturday night we received a notice that our return flights with Norwegian airlines were canceled (our first real curve ball), so we finished dinner and returned to the hotel to see what was going on and to make alternate flight plans if possible.
We ended up staying up quite late trying to determine if the cancellations were a result of government flight restrictions, or just an issue with the airline itself. As there was no indications that either the US or France had imposed any new restrictions, and the fact that there appeared to be lots of availability in flights, we determined that it was most likely just an issue with Norwegian (we later learned they are one of the most in-debt airlines in existence) and we purchased new return flights with Air France, when we booked the new flights we did decide to shorten the trip. Considering sites were going to be closed and we would not need as much time, we booked our departure for Friday the 20th which was our checkout day for the time share we were staying in for most of the trip, and we canceled the last 2 nights that we were going to stay near the Eiffel Tower.
Day two – Mar 15:
On Sunday morning we checked out of our first accommodation, stored our bags and spent the day exploring the area around our hotel taking some photos of the exterior of sites like the Moulin Rouge and Sacre’-Coeur. Around 3pm we picked up our luggage and went to the time share, where we had planned to spend the remainder of our time in Paris. When we checked in the desk clerk informed us that the President of France had ordered that all non-essential business like restaurants be closed until further notice and gatherings should be limited to less than 10 people (2nd curve ball). As the unit we were staying in had a kitchen, we did not feel the closing of the restaurants would be a problem, we could cook breakfasts and dinners, and make sandwiches to take with us for lunches. At this point in time our son decided to cut his portion of the trip short and go to Switzerland where his fiance lives. There were rumors that Switzerland might close its boarders and he wanted to get there before that happened, so he purchased train tickets on line that night while we made dinner and we enjoyed a quiet night together.
Day three – Mar 16:
On Monday morning we took our son to the train station to say good by and embarked on our second full day of site seeing, visiting sites like Notre-Dame, the Louvre and the Luxembourg gardens. We were able to enter 1 church (Saint-Germain L’Auxerrois) and we visited the Pont des Arts, the bridge that couples would traditionally go to and place a lock on the railing, throwing the key into the Seine river. This is a tradition that is symbolic of locking your love for eternity, unfortunately the practice was so popular that it prevented maintenance on the wire mesh panels, so they ended up having to remove the panels and replace them with clear acrylic panels. At least some of the panels with locks were saved and used to make an art piece that was on display near the Louvre.
We managed to pick up some sandwiches for lunch that day and on the way home we stopped at a market near our hotel to purchase food for the next few days. When we returned to the hotel we were informed that the president was expected to close all non-essential services and not allow non-essential travel, meaning the hotel may have to close and even if it did not close we would be restricted to the hotel (curve ball #3). That was the “final straw” moment for us, no mater how optimistic we were trying to be, it made no sense to remain in Paris just to be there, so we went back up to the room, changed our flights to the next day (which was surprisingly easy) and started preparing to depart the next day.
We managed to be creative and eat most of the cold and frozen food that we would not be able to take with us between dinner and breakfast the next morning, and we packed the dry and canned goods to bring back to the US, ultimately we ended up leaving just some packaged ground beef and milk that we left in the refrigerator.
Day four – Mar 17:
On Tuesday morning we had breakfast, checked out of the hotel and made our way back to the airport, on the way stopping to get a refund for at least some of the train tickets that we had purchased in advance. Things at the airport went fairly smooth, and while the airport itself did not seem very busy, our flight was probably about 90% full.
The flight was long and uneventful arriving in Los Angeles at about 11:00 pm and were out of the airport around 12:30 am. When we arrive at the airport they gave everyone a questionnaire relating to where we had been and our health, they disembarked the flight slowly allowing about 10 people at a time to exit, and once we exited the plane, we were directed to a person (most appeared to be navy personnel) who we handed the questionnaire to, they then asked some additional questions and then took our temperatures. We were all told that their was no need to self quarantine and then directed to the custom’s and immigration areas where we officially re-entered the US and retrieved our luggage.
While our trip got cut short and was a little hectic, I would not consider the trip a complete bust, we were with family and were able to at least enjoy a couple of days of sight seeing together before having to come home. My wife and I tend to be optimists and try to look on the positive side, so had there been definite information before we left that all the sites would be closed and we would only have 2 full days in Paris, we would not have gone, but this was not the case when we departed. All things considered my one main regret is that we did not get my daughter to the Eiffel Tower for at least an exterior photo or two, My wife and I have visited Paris before, but this was my daughter’s first visit.
For those reading this I hope it was informative and I want to let everyone know that to date (14 days after return), non of us have shown any symptoms of the COVID-19 virus, we are all doing well. Thanks for reading and happy travels.