Driving through Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic

The last time I was in Denmark was December 2019 and because of COVID-19 we stayed home most of 2020. My plan was to drive to Denmark in the early spring 2021. I started to prepare (mainly by buying and installing that cabin diesel heater that I wanted to buy for the car for ages but couldn’t really justify it because we hardly use the car in the winter. But since sleeping in the van in central Europe with a child a heater can be not just nice but a necessity) but more important to read about the different travel restrictions. The fastest route from Ukraine to Denmark goes through Poland and Germany. Germany was all the time open for transit but Poland wasn’t and when I read the official site for the Polish border guard it sounded like you would be put directly into isolation and not let out until you had a negative Covid test. After a while the rules changed (or at least EU citizens and the family members were allowed to travel through the country). When we left, we still weren’t sure how the rules were enforced at the border but it seemed like the worst-case scenario was that we would have to pay 50 USD each for a fast test and if that was negative, we were free to go.

We left home Sunday at noon and drove almost to the Polish border making just one stop in Ternopil where we also went for walk at the lake – very nice until it started to rain.

We spend the evening in the nice historical town Zhovkva (https://www.ukraineinsideout.com/en/interesting-towns/zhovkva) where we slept right in front of the castle in the center of the town.

The next day we drove to the border. 6 km before the border the trucks were already queuing up. We stopped to buy diesel and I asked the guy who worked there it this wasn’t unusually with so many trucks – he said for a Monday it was pretty average since the Polish border guys didn’t let any trucks in on the weekends.

We could just overtake the trucks and the lines for cars didn’t start until about 500 meters before the border. A woman selling coffee from her little trolley told us that we could skip the line since we were travelling with at child (our 3-year-old daughter) but since we were stuck between trucks and cars this option wasn’t possible. However we didn’t have to wait more than 45 minutes before we could enter the border area. I got a little carried away when we were let into the border area so I drove around a plastic barrier blocking a part of my lane to get to the real area were the cars and documents are checked. When the young custom officer saw that she started to shout at me and I had to turn around and drive back and thereby I lost my position as the first car in the line.

Except for that everything went smooth on the Ukrainian side – on the Polish side the first border guard we saw first measured our wrist temperature and asked if we had written down the address of the place where we would self-quarantine. I replied that we were just in transit on our way to Denmark and then she just said ok and we could continue into the actual border area. We were now getting closer to the final moment of truth 😊 – the border guard (also a girl). Checked our passports and asked for our marriage certificate since Ukrainians because of the pandemic weren’t allowed into Poland unless they were living, working or studying there. But EU citizens (me!) could travel through with my family (So the first time in 5 years marriage we had some real benefit from the marriage). Since our papers were all fine the boarder guard decided that she had to find some other reason to send us back to Ukraine so she decided that she wanted to test all the lights on my car. I have never heard or seen this before – border guards are not responsible for traffic regulations.  I got into the car, turned on the light, used the brake turned on the indicators – and the boarder guard just showed with her hands that I should continue. Somehow she didn’t see the light she was looking for because finally she shouted (or maybe screamed) in Ukrainian: “Does anybody hear understand Ukrainian??? Turn on the reverse light!!! I put the car in reverse and because I wasn’t sure the light worked, I also activated the extra white outdoor working light that the car also has on. That seemed to satisfy her, but now she wanted to hear the horn – It hardly made a sound (and I had tested it just a few days ago) so I turned on the engine and ‘honked’ again this time much louder – Finally I had passed the test 😊

The next stop (just a few meters further) was custom. Here they asked in Polish if we had any alcohol or cigarettes and how many liters of diesel we had in the tank. We said, 0, 0 and 45 liters. They looked a bit at the car and asked again about alcohol and cigarettes and we said we didn’t have any. Then they took our documents and looked at them and asked if we didn’t have any alcohol….. Alcohol and cigarettes are very cheap in Ukraine and on the border some people seem to earn money just by crossing the border with a liter of vodka that they can sell on the other side and then going back again – we felt like we were the first people in history that had left Ukraine without alcohol or cigarettes.

Well, we got into Poland and we didn’t have to get Covid-19 tested and we didn’t have to get into quarantine – so far so good. We didn’t have any other Covid related problems in Poland and in Germany there wasn’t any border control – we did receive an SMS with links to the rules about quarantine but ignored it since we were just driving through. The 2 days in Poland and the 1 day we spend in Germany we did feel a bit guilty all the time when we were parking, resting or buying food -since we were supposed to be in transit and get through the countries as fast as possible. A few times we saw the police and fell even more guilty 😊

Here we were playing in Germany and feeling guilty….

This is where we slept in Germany, maybe we were technically breaking the rules but here we couldn’t infect anyone.

I knew from my research that getting into Denmark wouldn’t be that easy. My daughter and I should be able to enter Denmark without problems but my wife needed a negative Covid test. Fortunately had the Danish authorities paid Falck (a private company that in Denmark runs most of the ambulances) to set up a test facility in Germany close to the Danish border. I had read that the test costed 40 Euro but people with a valid Danish work contract could get tested for free. The guy that gave my wife her test result asked for a contract she replied that she didn’t have one and wanted to ask if she should pay with cash or credit card – but before she could say something he just said: “never mind – have a nice day”.

The tested and the test facility in the background

At the border to Denmark we (of course) got stopped. I showed them our passports and he asked for the Covid test for my wife and since it was negative, we were let in to my fatherland. The only thing left was 4 days home quarantine and a negative PCR test. We home quarantined with my parents and then we all got tested on the 4th day and the next day we were again allowed to enter society and since we were now the owners of a fresh negative test we could also go to a restaurant which we did.

We stayed in Denmark a bit more than 4 weeks. In that time I got vaccinated against Covid-19 (with the vaccine from Johnson & Johnson that together with the AstraZeneca vaccine was removed from the Danish caccine program – but given to the volunteers that wanted to have it).

On the way back to Ukraine we wanted to spend some time at the Baltic See in Poland. Tourist were welcome in Poland with either a negative Covid test or a proof of vaccine. So since my wife only had gotten the first dose of AstraZeneca (which she got already in April in Ukraine) she again had to get tested before we left Denmark.

When we entered Germany we again got the SMS about quarantine which we again ignored. The were no control and the German-Polish border but about 100 km from the border the polish border guys stopped us at the road side – they spend 10 min checking our passports – so now I know for sure that there is no warrant on any of us… But they didn’t care about Covid vaccine or test. The same thing happened when we entered Ukraine. According to the rules anybody should present a negative test or a proof of vaccine upon entering Ukraine and if not home quarantine two weeks (but with a negative test the quarantine can be skipped). Nobody asked or cared at the border. We had however another little incident there. Just before the Polish-Ukrainian border we stopped to organize the car a bit but just when I opened the door a woman got out of a car with German license plates and asked in Ukrainian if we could, please, please take them to Ukraine. I assumed that there was something wrong with the car and that we should pull them (last time I pulled somebody with my car I broke the transmission) so I was about to say no. But it turned out that she couldn’t get the car into Ukraine because she was a Ukrainian citizens in a German car. In Ukraine a 15 year old car cost 3-4 times more than it does in Poland and you can’t import cars older than 8 years. So people buy an old car in either Poland or Lithuania and drives it with the foreign license plate. It is illegal but so common that even when you order a taxi you shouldn’t be surprised to see that it has Polish license plates on. (My neighbor who is a police man drives a car with Lithuanian license plates). So well apparently the Ukrainian government wants to stop this so the poor woman couldn’t enter Ukraine because she needed a special document that I have never heard about. This would under normal circumstances not be a big problem. Her elderly son that she was going to visit lived in Ukraine just 30 km from the border and he was already waiting on the other side. But here the problems started because he couldn’t cross the border because of Covid-19 restrictions and they were not allowed to cross the border on foot because only border crossing on vehicles were allowed here. They had tried for more than an hour to convince other driver to take them but they had been turned down. I don’t know how many cars that had actually been because this was in the middle of nowhere and it was a lazy sunny Saturday afternoon. But since I was relieved that I didn’t had to pull their car I said no problem. I couldn’t smell any scam but I also didn’t want to get stopped on the border and then their suitcase was full of drugs, weapons or Russian propaganda…. So while the mother was bringing her car to a parking lot we asked the boy to show us what was in their bags. It all looked very innocent so we all got in the van that was now more than full. There was nobody waiting at the border and after the usual halfhearted inspection of the car and the very thoroughly inspection of the documents we could enter Ukraine and handle the family over to the elderly son who was waiting in a car on the road outside the border area. I was just happy and relieved that the 35-year-old van had again made the trip from Ukraine to Denmark and back.

Here are a few pictures.

We visit the island Fanø in Denmark where I used to live – the beach is enormous

In Poland we saw two electric bikes with solar roof – we saw them 3 times, 2 different days so they were covering many kms pr day

In Poland we took a rest on a campsite – it is nice to get a hot shower and spend some time as a tourist