My crazy two months in Europe during the Pandemic

Here is my story on how managed to travel across Europe during a global pandemic.

After sports, traveling is my second biggest passion in life. I guess it comes from my family genes as my father used to be a pilot and traveled frequently and I sort of picked up the slack. This story is about how a young sportswriter from Montreal, Canada went to five different countries in a span of eight weeks.

Before the pandemic, I used to work in customer service for many different companies and to me, my plan at the time was to work and use my salary to travel and watch sporting events. For a while, it seemed to work but there was always the hurdle of getting approval from work to travel to live my passion.

I dreamed for the day that I could wake up, work in sports, and be paid for it and I was getting pretty close. I spent a year in Toronto in a college specialized in Sports Broadcasting for TV and Radio. That was honestly the best experience of my life and that experience got me to where I am today.

I am to this point on the cusp of landing a potential job and the only reason why I haven’t is because of the pandemic. If it was hard before to get my foot in the door the pandemic made it almost impossible.

But I digress this isn’t the story and let’s get to the part where I started my adventure, On April 3rd after spending three works working at home I was laid off from my employer as the situation got worse and we entered the first big lockdown.

I thought this could be the perfect opportunity to grow my name, my brand, and get more exposure in the sports media world. It all started when I applied to FanSided to cover my team the Montreal Canadiens and the journey starts there.

TORONTO, ONTARIO – AUGUST 21: Max Domi #13 of the Montreal Canadiens is defended by Robert Hagg #8 of the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on August 21, 2020 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

It seems every week I was adding another media outlet to my resume and list of work and thank god for that otherwise I would have probably died from boredom with the city on full lockdown. I ended up agreeing to contribute to an American sports website called VAVEL USA, which was probably the best move I made during the pandemic.

VAVEL USA was an international sports newspaper online that had media pass capabilities in almost every sport. This was great for me because my dream was to cover live events as a writer and have full media access.

Just a small footnote my dad now lives in Paris with my dad’s side of the family and I usually went one to two times a year to see family. I am very much into Tennis, and one of my dreams was to cover Roland Garros or the French Open in Paris, and my editor made me aware we could apply and see what happens.

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 15: Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a backhand against Andrey Rublev of Russia during Day 1 of the Nitto ATP World Tour Finals at The O2 Arena on November 15, 2020 in London, England.

Two weeks later I got an email saying I was approved but only in a virtual setting, I was kinda disappointed, but my editor said it was huge and that it could lead to bigger and better opportunities.

After much discussion with my mom, she thought I could do it from home but after much thought, I decided that being in the same timezone could be advantageous and since my dad lived in Paris, was only a plane ticket away.

My mother was someone who was very paranoid and scared with COVID so for her, travel was a risk, but for me, I saw the opportunity. I booked my flight several days later and I was off to Europe thanks to financial support from the Canadian government.

I found the cheapest ticket possible a mere 300 dollars Canadian to fly from Montreal on TAP Air Portugal with a short stop in Lisbon. As most people know in Europe there is a zone of 26 countries called the Schengen Zone.

This zone basically means domestic travel and is the equivalent of traveling from Montreal to Toronto with no passport or passing through immigration. I mention this because for the first time I experienced something I had never experienced before.

When I arrived in Lisbon I passed immigration and flew to Paris where for some reason I had to pass the passport control again at the airport. The lady behind me in line mentioned to me it was the first time as she had flown regularly between Portugal and France and never had to show her passport.

This made me realize that even with a Schengen Zone every country was keeping their border airtight thanks to a circulating virus.

MADRID, SPAIN – MARCH 16: Departure board announces a Lisbon flight cancelled as Portugal closed its border with Spain at Madrid Barajas airport. Spain declared a state of emergency effective immediately for 15 days, significantly limiting mobility in the country as the government seeks to stop the expansion of the novel coronavirus on March 16, 2020 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Pablo Cuadra/Getty Images)

I managed to get to my dad’s apartment and got to work right away covering the tournament for the next two weeks. While covering the tournament I had looked at other events on the ATP calendar for other events and saw events in Cologne, Vienna, Antwerp, and Sofia.

I got the approval once again from my editor and applied to all of them with mixed results, Cologne had said no before sending me another email saying yes, Vienna just said no, Antwerp was full virtual with zero onsite, and Sofia was at the time too far away to give an answer.

I had never been to Germany and it seemed like a good investment especially in a business trip concept. I managed to find a cheap train ticket and booked a private room in a cheap hostel for the duration of the tournament.

Cologne was a two-week event so I would have time to experience life in one of Germany’s nicest cities, I’m just assuming since I haven’t been to Germany before.

Everything was pretty convenient as I arrived at the train station which was literally one block from my hostel and across the bridge from the Arena where the event was being held. I enjoyed waking up every morning crossing the bridge over the River Rhine which is absolutely stunning.

COLOGNE, GERMANY – NOVEMBER 03: Kölner Dom is seen on November 03, 2020 in Cologne, Germany. (Photo by Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images)

During the two weeks, I decided to test my luck with another event this one a UEFA Champions League soccer game and my favorite team Real Madrid was playing in a group with a team from Italy, Ukraine, and Germany.

The German team said no due to covid they were limiting media, Madrid told me they were limiting media as well so I applied to cover the games in Ukraine and Italy not knowing what would happen.

A couple of days later I surprisingly got an answer from the team in Ukraine, It was in Ukrainian so at first, I thought it was a scam. When I google translated it the email was a confirmation my application had been approved and that I was credentialed for a game the next weekend in Kyiv.

Funny enough I had applied for the wrong game but my editor pushed me to go saying it was great that they were noticing me and it was good exposure for the site. I honestly didn’t know what to think, Ukraine to me was that far eastern country that seemed so far, distant, and cold that it really didn’t seem like the place to visit.

Let me add something quickly whenever I look to travel somewhere I always spend days researching online and watching Youtube videos to see exactly what is life like over there and always check to see if the price fits in my budget.

I also need to check thanks to Covid what every country needs for entry whether it was a negative PCR test or even if there are quarantine measures in place. For the record, I never had to do a PCR test during my travels.

Back to the story as I was preparing to end my coverage in Cologne and plan my trip from Germany to Ukraine. The airport in Cologne didn’t have a flight to Kyiv but I found a flight with LOT Polish Airlines from Dusseldorf to Kyiv with a layover in Warsaw.

One thing I love about Europe is the cheap flights and for 150 bucks this was worth it so I booked it and the next day I woke up early to catch a train from Cologne to Dusseldorf Airport to catch my flight to Kyiv.

It was a long day but after two flights I finally made it to the Ukrainian capital on a surprising full flight. I got once again to passport control and was asked if I had health insurance and answered no but who had COVID insurance.

Apparently, I wasn’t aware but Ukraine has developed their own COVID insurance and it was dirt cheap 3 euros for 3 days covered up to 30,000 euros for anything related to Covid. I literally had to pull out my laptop at the border and buy it thanks to some appreciated help from a Russian.

Now, whenever I travel to cover a sporting event I always try to find the cheapest room that is closest to the venue to avoid taking taxis or public transportation in a country where English is not the main language, also not to mention the added costs on a tight budget.

The hostel I found was literally on the left side of the Stadium and the room was sick, 50 dollars a night for a two-floor suite with a private bathroom, TV, and double bed. This trip compared to the last was a very short 3-day trip so for me it was like going in and out.

Everything went so fast I literally spent half a day outside out and about and managed to find a mall where I had lunch before the big soccer game. The game was everything I expected and more as I was sitting in the media tribune at midfield and again one of the greatest experiences of my life.

The game even had fans in attendance and it was great to see even in a small capacity that made the game a lot more lively. The next morning I headed back to Paris to take some much needed time off after spending the last 3 weeks on the road.

The next event on my schedule was Sofia and just days before the tournament started I got the approval email and my next trip was planned and booked heading back to Eastern Europe. Once again I was pretty lucky to find cheap flights and a cheap hotel this time flying direct from Paris to Sofia.

The hotel was 5km away from the venue but needed to take taxis every day but once again I was pretty lucky as it cost me under 20 bucks a day to cab back and forth between the hotel and the venue.

SOFIA, BULGARIA – SEPTEMBER 10: People walk and trams run on Graf Ignatiev Street in the center of Sofia on September 10, 2020 in Sofia, Bulgaria. For weeks now thousands of people have been taking part in daily protests against corruption, demanding the resignation of the government of Boyko Borissov, in power since 2009. (Photo by Hristo Rusev/Getty Images)

Now Sofia was a totally different story, I actually got to go out and explore and see life in the Bulgaria capital which was pretty cool. It was interesting to see how every country in Europe was handling the pandemic and to me, it seemed like life had reached normal.

The streets were packed with people out and about enjoying life with restaurants packed and a pretty cool atmosphere. There was this one street Vitosha boulevard that had restaurants lined up on each side and the road closed for cars to let pedestrians walk.

In a normal world, these restaurants would be open 24 hours but thanks to the pandemic restaurants would be closed at 10:30 pm. I even got to experience eating traditional Bulgarian food with a fellow Polish colleague which consisted of meat and potatoes and it was pretty phenomenal.

They even had a casino across the street from my hotel which I had the chance to visit and found a hostess from Edmonton which was pretty cool to see a fellow Canadian in a foreign country.

It was a pretty cool city to visit and it was great being able to walk into a restaurant sit at a bar and enjoy a meal, something I hadn’t done in a very long time. This trip was probably one of the greatest experiences of my life and it gave me hope even during one of the worse years in world history.

It pushed me to keep things going and keep working hard and making my dream a reality to one day travel the world as a paid reporter whether it’s TV, Radio, or Print. I flew home the next week and due to the 90-day rule, I await the month of March before I can jet off once again.

Let me just say the 14 days I spent in quarantine when I got home was totally worth the two and a half months I spent away and I look forward to the next adventure.