A Tale of Two Christmases

by belinda

We’ve been in The Netherlands for over a week now and I’ve spent much of it decompressing. Undergoing a release from the most intensely stressful few days before we actually arrived here. Remember when I wrote this? Well, that was nothing. Covid yanked the pressure switch up a notch, for everyone around the world really, but the timing was such that the switch got yanked just around our departure date.

We were all set to depart South Africa after Christmas, being able to enjoy time with family before we left. But before Christmas we started to hear rumours about a new strain of the virus that had been found in the UK, and I saw on Twitter that the same strain had just been discovered in SA. I had a feeling the Dutch were going to ban flights from SA, so the next morning we called the airline and switched our flights to THAT SAME EVENING and suddenly, we were actually leaving a whole lot earlier than planned.

You can imagine the emotions. Suddenly needing to pack and find important things and then OH! let’s have an early Christmas meal so we can celebrate as a family, even though we haven’t bought any food and hardly have any gifts. But we did it, we had a fake Christmas, with a roast chicken and some chocolate mousse, and we cried quite a lot, and celebrated as best we could, while our bodies and brains hummed with the stress of changed plans and hastened farewells.

The direct flights to Amsterdam leave Cape Town airport at midnight. So you have to drag your sleepy kids there, along with all the bags, while you’re crying because you’re highly stressed, and your children are crying and clinging to their grandparents, and you’re worried about your in-laws getting home in time for curfew, and you’re panicking because there’s probably some vital document you’ve forgotten.

As we got to the airport and walked towards the bag drop area (we’d checked in online and already had our boarding passes), we saw lots of scrunched up faces and general dismay and we knew something was up. “No one is permitted to board the plane ,” they told us, “only cabin crew can return to Amsterdam, we’ve been ordered to do this by Schipol”. No explanation was given at that point, but I knew that we were a day too late. We’d missed it, we’d been banned already.

More tears, this time because we CAN’T leave, so back we go to my in-laws, after receiving a text message that our flight’s been moved to the following night via Frankfurt (obviously this flight was subsequently cancelled too). At this point, we didn’t actually know if we’d be able to move countries at all. If we can only get there after 31 December, things may get complicated due to Brexit and us having British passports. Can we even go? Have we just sold all our belongings and uprooted our lives, to then be stuck in limbo for who knows how long?

Fast forward a few days and flights from SA were then reopened to travellers with a negative COVID test – hooray. The issue is that all the labs in the Western Cape were overrun. You could no longer book a test online at Pathcare. The testing centre round the corner from us had closed due to them not being able to handle demand. Another one nearby said they could only guarantee results within 72 hours, but you have to be in possession of a test result not older than 72 hours in order to be able to board the plane. And then 11 hours later, your test still needs to be not older than 72 hours in order to enter the Netherlands at immigration. Do you see the Maths problem here? We also didn’t want to put ourselves at risk by queuing with potentially Covid positive people at a non-travel testing centre.

Eventually we heard of a private company who send trained paramedics to your house to take the test, who then submit the specimen to a different lab… they said they could “hopefully” get the results back in 48 hours. Hopefully. So okay, let’s move flights again, and just cross all our fingers that we get results in time to board, and that the plane actually takes off. In the meantime, as we waited with bated breath for our test results, we actually ended up being in SA for Christmas so we had another meal, scraped together a few more gifts for the kids, and celebrated twice!

It turned out that we did get our negative test results in time. And the plane did leave. We entered The Netherlands by what felt like the skin of our teeth. We are here. And I still can’t quite believe we made it. It felt like an extremely complicated obstacle course or scavenger hunt – having to race around the world collecting documents that are almost impossible to get, all within insane time frames, and always with emotions brimming at the surface, like a bubbling cauldron.

It’s taking some time to unwind, to get the cauldron down to a low simmer. I’ve been sleeping 10 hours each night. I’ve been doing yoga. We’ve ordered bicycles. I bought the kids some more warm clothes online – and they’ll probably be completely the wrong sizes as they use a different sizing system here. The Netherlands is also completely locked down (only grocery stores open) so we’re using this time to try get our lives set up, as much as we can do from behind our computers.

It hasn’t been easy but even with all the restrictions, it’s still exciting being somewhere completely new. Everything is different: the air, the food, the sounds, the streets, the people, the light. We’re taking it one day at a time. Just like everyone else around the world right now. It’s all we can do, I guess, with the future being so uncertain.

Practise patience and gratitude, as we remain still, and wait, in the in between.

Sending love, and hope you are all hanging in there.



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Marietjie (Mitzi) Riley January 4, 2021 - 5:10 pm

Oh my word, Belinda … this story is hectic. Know that we think you are inmensely brave and that we wish you all the best … lots of love from the 3 Rileys xxx

MrsFF January 4, 2021 - 5:33 pm

Oh my heart…. I actually was close to tears just reading all that drama. I don’t cope well with stress … but glad you all made it . Wishing you all the best as you settle in

Kate Berry January 5, 2021 - 9:26 am

My stress levels just reading this! you guys are superheroes! anything is possible – you’ve proved it x

Andrew Perkin January 6, 2021 - 10:45 am


Have you been to NL before? This place will astonish you with its beauty (especially from spring), jacked-up-ness, safety and opportunities. Just as soon as we get past this blerrie lockdown.

My 2 Jan flight on Swiss was also cancelled, ended up booking an entirely new flight on KLM on Sunday 3 Jan, after we heard rumours that Level 5 was possibly coming back (and international flights cancelled). I was deathly afraid I’d be stuck in SA without medical aid, and at massive Covid risk. Got my PCR test at ORT on 2 Jan, and here I am. Ten days of penance but at least if anything happens, I have zorgverzekering!

Holler if you need any advice / info.

belinda January 6, 2021 - 10:54 am

Thanks Andrew! We visited NL in our 20s but that seems worlds away now! Yip I can’t wait to experience it post lockdown, and once Spring arrives too. What a stress getting here for us all! Thanks so much for the offer of advice…it’s such a different world, so we need all the advice we can get:)


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