It was supposed to be a graduation trip for their daughter, Sarah-Grace. Instead, a European vacation in early March turned into a race to stay one step ahead of COVID-19 for the Ramsay family of Port Alberni.
“Germany and Denmark was the original plan,” said Michael Ramsay, who is a captain with the Salvation Army in Port Alberni. He and his wife Susan, and daughters Sarah-Grace and Heather all embarked on what turned out to be a whirlwind trip around Europe and Scandinavia.
“We were planning on a quick visit to Sweden too. Denmark was the ultimate goal of our trip.”
Sarah-Grace has always wanted to go to Denmark; she is a huge Metallica fan, and drummer Lars Ulrich is from Copenhagen, Denmark. This trip was to be a celebration of her graduation.
Their Spring Break trip was booked months before the coronavirus pandemic began appearing, and because of a scheduling mixup the family departed a week before Spring Break, on March 7, out of Seattle.
Although coronavirus was in the news before their departure, countries were not closing down and shelter in place orders weren’t even a consideration yet. So the family left. “At the time, there was a lot of deciding,” Ramsay said.
“When we left we didn’t think it would reach the levels that it did. Like many other people we weren’t aware of the severity and speed it was travelling at the time. If we had the information at the beginning of the trip that we did at the end, it would have been different decision-making.”
They landed in Germany and spent a couple of days visiting attractions such as the Gutenberg bible and Hameln (also known as Hamelin), of Pied Piper fame.
The COVID-19 disease spread quickly, and so did border closures. “The speed really caught us off guard,” he said. “My wife (Susan) was very good at keeping on top of the news feed about it. That meant we were able to keep one step ahead of it as well as plan a safe route back.”
At first they thought they would be able to come back at the end of their scheduled trip. It quickly became apparent that wasn’t the case. Complicating matters was the fact they drove to Seattle and flew from the United States—they weren’t able to fly back the same way once the border between Canada and the U.S. closed.
Twice, they had to purchase new airline tickets, and they had to leave their car with a friend in Seattle.
“It was surreal, because while we were fleeing we were trying to see as much as we could.”
Most indoor attractions in the countries they visited were closing, so they tried to find outdoor monuments. When they ventured away from Ribe, Denmark, where they had booked accommodation, they were interviewed twice by news organizations because there were so few people out and about.
One restaurant was open: the Hard Rock Café. It was the saving grace for Sarah-Grace, who was disappointed that her graduation trip had to end early.
The family spent very little time in Denmark, which was her ultimate goal. The Hard Rock Café was full of memorabilia from bands she liked, including one of Lars Ulrich’s drum sets from Metallica.
Just before they left Denmark, they were able to make a quick stop at the site of The Little Mermaid, a bronze statue by sculptor Edvard Eriksen. The sculpture was commissioned in 1909 and unveiled in August 1913 in Copenhagen. It can be seen at the Langelinie Promenade on Copenhagen’s waterfront.
Denmark’s borders remain closed to international travellers. The Ramsays took a ferry to Sweden, then another a few hours later back to Germany. They drove inland to Frankfurt, where they were able to catch a flight home.
The adventure didn’t stop when the got home to Port Alberni. The Salvation Army was in the thick of offering assistance to the city’s vulnerable citizens during the early days of the pandemic.
The Ramsays were quarantined for 14 days, but they began helping even before the jet lag kicked in.
“That’s one of the blessings in this day and age with Messenger, Zoom and telephones,” Ramsay said.
“I’m still able to do stuff from my living room.”
While it may not have been the trip of a lifetime the Ramsays envisioned when they booked their tickets, they will all have stories to tell about their European vacation in 2020.
Susie Quinn is the Alberni Valley News editor.
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