At a recent dinner party a friend asked, “What do you do when traveling in Europe and test positive for Covid-19?” Different countries have different rules and the rules are subject to change at any time for any specific place. I told him our story, in far less detail than this article, about what happened after Kelley and I tested positive for Covid while staying at Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki in Greece last June.
This is a really long piece that will surely allow the reader to sense the boredom and tediousness with nothing exciting happening that I felt while isolated five days in a hotel room in Thessaloniki, Greece. At least you can leave this page at any time you choose without consequences.
Testing positive for Covid-19 in Greece after a week in Lisbon
Testing positive for Covid-19 in Greece after a week in Lisbon was a shock to my system. I had not been feeling sick before I tested, although I had woken up from a nap at the Hyatt Regency with a hoarser than normal cough for a couple of minutes about 5 hours before taking a Covid-19 test required to fly to Lisbon the next day. In the meantime Kelley and I had been swimming, drinking beer and dining in the pool area of the Hyatt resort.
Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki was planned for a one-night reward stay using 8,000 points during a quick excursion to Greece. The only reason we had flown to Greece was to earn elite status renewal in Aegean Miles+Bonus program. My frequent flyer addiction to elite benefits had its consequences.
After informing the Hyatt front desk we had tested positive for Covid-19 I was given the choice of staying the next 5 nights in isolation for 330 EUR per night or leave the hotel that night for a more affordable place to remain in isolation.
I booked the Holiday Inn Thessaloniki online for 8 nights for 73,000 points using the Chase IHG Mastercard 4th night free benefit. My cost to buy 73,000 IHG points was $365. That worked out to about $46 per night.
5. Can I quarantine at my hotel if I am diagnosed with COVID-19?
Visitors who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 upon arrival can optionally isolate at their booked hotel, as long as the length of their stay at the hotel covers the isolation period.
Day Zero Covid-19 Isolation – Arrival at Holiday Inn Thessaloniki
We arrived at the Holiday Inn Thessaloniki around 10:30pm after a 25 minute ride from the Hyatt. We traveled with our KN95 masks on and fully opened the back windows of the taxi on a warm night. The taxi driver was not wearing a mask. In the city we glimpsed ancient monuments and churches as we passed by at 35 mph. I paid 25 EUR to the driver and we wheeled our luggage into the lobby.
What is the protocol for greeting hotel staff?
Hi, we are sick with Covid-19 and came to your hotel to expose all of you through our interactions.
The front desk receptionist checked us in and I mentioned we were staying at the hotel for Covid-19 isolation. It was unclear to me by the desk clerk’s response if she had understood me. We were given key cards for a sixth floor room at the very end of the hallway.
Step One: Cancel future hotel reservations we would miss
Feeling wide awake after the events of the previous three hours, I sat back on the bed pillow against the wall and started checking our upcoming hotel reservations in Portugal. We were going to miss at least three hotel reservations. Fortunately, Holiday Inn Lisbon Continental, where we were due to check in the next day, had a 4pm day of arrival flexible cancellation that put 78,000 IHG points back into my account.
To my great disappointment, we had to cancel our stay at Ritz-Carlton Penha Longa in Sintra that I booked for 39,000 Marriott points per night. Our original itinerary had us going to Lisbon, Sintra, Porto, Coimbra and three nights at Barcelo Angro Marina on Terceira, an island in the Azores. That itinerary changed when Kelley planned to meet friends in Lisbon during the Azores trip. Then Porto was canceled when I added a 2-day mileage run to Thessaloniki. As it turned out, we only saw Lisbon out of all the places in Portugal I originally planned for our 22 nights trip. Kelley let her friends know she was stuck in Greece with Covid.
Our third hotel booking to cancel was Solar Antigo, a boutique hotel in Coimbra, Portugal’s historic university city. I made the reservation through Booking.com and technically the free cancellation date had passed. I contacted the hotel through Booking.com and they waved the room charges with a ‘get well wishes’ reply. Remarkably, I was not out any points or money for canceling our hotel stays over the next 8 nights.
Step Two: Research what to do about Covid-19.
My face felt congested like I would feel if I had allergy symptoms and took a Sudafed. There was a dry itch in my throat that caused a cough every 10 minutes or so. Kelley joked about me having psychosomatic symptoms since I had not displayed these symptoms before the Covid-19 positive test a few hours before. I did not have a runny nose and my head just felt a little buzzed. I couldn’t really tell how I felt from Covid-19 since we had been moving around Portugal and Greece for about 40 hours with only 4 or 5 hours sleep. Kelley did not feel any symptoms.
1:00 in the morning and we had no food and only two small plastic bottles of water in the mini-fridge. I needed to figure out how we could get food for the week, besides eating room service meals.
I looked up Greece regulations for tourists testing Covid-19 positive. Basically there was no requirement for a doctor examination in Greece unless you were feeling really ill. The primary reason to have a doctor check-up for asymptomatic and mildly symptomatic persons was if you planned to make a trip interruption insurance claim. I did not plan to file any claim.
Time to lay my head and sleep.
Day 1 Covid Isolation – Research and Food
In the morning I studied Covid news for Greece. The country had eliminated proof of vaccination and negative Covid test for entry in May 2022. Face masks were not required indoors and masks were only required on local public transportation since the beginning of June.
After studying the news, I learned Greece was currently seeing cases spike from about 10,000 cases per day the week before to 20,000 cases per day with the peak surge expected in two to three weeks time at 25,000 to 30,000 cases per day. Greece official policy appeared designed to let Covid-19 run rampant during peak tourism season and deal with reimplementing restrictions in September or October, if necessary. While the timeline of the peak surge was fairly close to predicted, the actual peak caseload in mid-July for Greece topped 50,000 cases per day. That would be like 1.5 million cases daily in USA.
Portugal, similar in population to Greece at a little over 10 million residents, had seen their peak surge happen about two weeks before our arrival in June. Most likely we picked up Covid-19 during our week in Lisbon before flying to Greece.
My Covid-19 symptoms did not change during the day with an itchy throat and cough every ten minutes or so and a buzzed head.
Researching Food and Drink Options
In the morning I looked up food delivery options and came across efood.gr. The website offers restaurant and grocery order delivery. I studied nearby food options for restaurants and grocery markets. After finding a supermarket with low prices around the corner from the hotel I meticulously pieced together an online order for about 40 EUR of groceries. Orders over 30 EUR had no delivery fee. Google Translate helped me with text that did not translate into English automatically on the website. Placed my order with my Hyatt Visa card payment and received a payment rejection.
Then I went to PayPal to try and pay that way and another order was rejected.
We decided to order lunch from Holiday Inn room service. I did not find a restaurant menu in the room. I explained to the desk agent that we were isolating in our room with Covid-19. She brought a menu to our room and asked me to be sure to wear a mask when I opened the door. Opening the room door to a masked woman wearing latex gloves kind of hit me with the surreal reality of our situation during the handoff of the leather binder restaurant menu. I called in our order and she explained when the food arrived it would be left in the hall with a knock on the door.
Holiday Inn Thessaloniki salmon, fries and Mythos beer.
Unlike flu, Covid-19 had done nothing to quell our appetites.
There were some English language news stations, maybe CNN and BBC, and some English language TV shows and movies with Greek subtitles we saw during the week. Sports, primarily European football, dominated the channels. TV entertainment was minimal for the week.
In the afternoon I gave eFood.gr another try to order dinner and again was unsuccessful with my online payment. I was able to order a pizza and two beers for 17.50 EUR with payment on delivery. A staff member came to the room for payment and placed the money in a plastic baggie for the pizza delivery man.
Another try for an eFood.gr grocery order from the supermarket using my Costco Visa was rejected. But this time I at least received an email asking if I recognized the charge. When I replied ‘yes’, my 40 EUR order went through for groceries. But it was 18:30 by then and the order would not arrive until the following morning.
At least we had plenty of pizza and bread to hold us for the night.
The great thing about room 630 is a mini-refrigerator, table with two chairs and a high ceiling room. Unfortunately, no scenic view from the main window. The only window that opened slightly was over the bathtub.
The only business we could make out was the XXX shop in the building across the street.
At least once a day I stood on the edge of the tub and opened the window to breathe outside air for a minute. Air temperature in the 90s most of the day and loud traffic noise and exhaust fumes from the busy street below kept me from leaving the window open.
After 24 hours in the room I was restless and bored. To make matters worse I was unable to watch some of the Amazon Prime Video shows I selected due to being in Greece. That is how I ended up watching Long Strange Trip – a 30-year look at the Grateful Dead as one of the films available in Greece.
I’d bought several Grateful Dead albums in the 1970s, but did not really get into their studio sound. I’d read Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test in high school. New Year’s 1978 my sister and I watched hours of the Grateful Dead’s 8-hour concert broadcast live on KQED-TV. That was the final show ever held at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom. A housemate during my first year at Humboldt State University in Arcata was a major Deadhead who had followed the band around the country for a couple of tours and actively participated in trading concert recordings with other Deadheads. Kelley and I went to a Grateful Dead show in Sacramento in 1986. A 4am to 2pm work shift every weekend at a food laboratory in Sacramento allowed me to pay my way through University of California Davis, but meant a drug-free Dead concert experience for me. All these connections is my way of saying that I had been around Grateful Dead’s music for decades, but never really tuned in deeply before my week spent in Greece isolating with Covid-19.
Sounds of the Dead kept my mind occupied for our week in hotel isolation.
Day 2 of Covid-19 Isolation
Plan for getting back to Lisbon, Portugal
Getting back to Lisbon weighed heavily on my mind. After studying our travel options with one-way ticket prices on Aegean from Thessaloniki to Lisbon priced over $500, the simplest economical way back to Portugal was flying Aegean Airlines to Madrid and taking a bus to Lisbon. There were cheaper options with Aegean flights to Albania or Serbia, then connecting to another airline to Madrid, but I figured the fewer countries we had to transit, the better. Spain did not have a Covid-19 negative test requirement for air passenger arrivals and Portugal did not have a test requirement for land crossings. Portugal dropped its air travel Covid-19 negative test rule two weeks later.
I booked tickets flying Aegean Airlines Thessaloniki to Athens to Madrid for $180 each. Then I booked two hotel nights in Madrid, a city we had never visited before. Flixbus would get us back to Lisbon, Portugal with a 9-hour bus ride for €35 each.
The mental weight was lifted.
Time to party.
Morning brought loads of food and beer to our door. My order was more suitable for a rock show after party than medical isolation.
My 40 EUR order from Sklavenitis super market:
- 12 bottles of Mythos beer at € 1.52 per 500ml bottle
- 3.5kg watermelon for € 3.15
- package with two loaves white and wheat bread € 1.92
- 250gr sliced German Gouda cheese € 2.88
- 300gr sliced smoked turkey € 2.75
- Mitsekeli carbonated water, 4 bottles, € 0.34 per 1.5lt bottle
- 350gr jar of peanut butter € 2.55
- Buy 2 Get 1 free 200gr pack of stuffed coconut cookies € 1.28
- 500gr pack of Bonora chocolate cookies stuffed with cocoa € 1.45
- Bonora sliced rustic bread 750gr € 1.00
- 4 packages of 150gr Megval Vanilla cream (I thought I was buying yogurt, but turned out to be pudding).
Day 3 Isolation
By the morning of Day 3 isolation sinus congestion in my face cleared and my throat was no longer itchy. It seemed to me the worst of Covid-19 symptoms had passed. Now boredom and restlessness really took hold and I listened to Grateful Dead live show recordings to pass the time.
Called down to front desk to request toilet paper as our supply was running low. A couple minutes later a knock on our door revealed a bag with six rolls of toilet paper. Holiday Inn Thessaloniki staff really took care of our basic needs during our stay.
I made another €31 order from Sklavenitis with free delivery:
- 150gr smoked salmon € 5.28
- 200gr hummus € 1.98
- 200gr smoked turkey € 3.08
- 125gr blueberries € 1.90
- 5 Mitsikeli 1.5lt carbonated water €0.34
- 500gr Greek cherries € 1.68
- 10 Mythos beer 500ml € 1.52
Sandwiches, fruit, beer and water kept us fed all week with cookies for snacks. Kelley laughed at me buying all the cookies, but she became addicted to those coconut cookies that lasted through the final two weeks of our trip.
At least we drank more water than beer.
We had a couple more efood.gr restaurant orders for hot food during our isolation stay.
Day 4 Isolation
I’m bored. Sleep, wake up, scroll through Twitter, listen to music, pass out, wake up, drink, eat, listen to music, scroll through Twitter, pass out…repeat.
Day 5 Isolation
Still bored. Sleep, wake up, scroll through Twitter, listen to music, pass out, wake up, drink, eat, listen to music, scroll through Twitter, pass out…repeat.
We were scheduled to fly out the next afternoon and I had an uncontrollable urge to walk around Thessaloniki to see something of the city before we left Greece. I waited until evening to head out into the city when the temperature had cooled down a bit from the hot daytime temperatures and took a 150 minute walk. I’ll post a Thessaloniki photo essay in another article.
Day 6 – Free from Covid-19 Isolation
The inside lobby and restaurant of Holiday Inn Thessaloniki were attractive spaces.
My only photo of Holiday Inn Thessaloniki exterior was taken the last morning of our stay after I visited Sklavenitis supermarket in person.
All the graffiti Kelley saw in the city during the taxi ride to the airport left her with a negative impression of Thessaloniki. I, on the other hand, have positive memories of Thessaloniki from the hours I spent walking miles around the city observing the vibrant street life.
All in all, Holiday Inn Thessaloniki allowed us to isolate for Covid-19 for the required five days in relative comfort without busting our travel budget like the Hyatt Regency Thessaloniki would have done.