Driving along a deserted six lane autostrada for three hours felt like something out of an apocalypse movie.
My partner and I were on our way to Milan, to catch an unexpectedly early flight back to Melbourne.
We had spent eight months living the “dolce vita” as we travelled, explored, and ate our way around Italy. We looked after dogs, cats, chickens and fish as a way to see different parts of the beautiful place we were calling home.
Our base was a town called Treviso, 30mins north of Venice. When we first heard of COVID-19 we decided to take up a dog sit in Florence as central and southern Italy had not yet experienced the horrors of its northern counterparts.
Florence got locked down two days into our stay. Tourists disappeared. Nervous murmuring was taking place on every street corner. We then found out Treviso had been “red zoned” i.e. no one was allowed in or out without a good reason.
We needed to get back to our apartment ASAP. The military were patrolling and checking people for ID at the train stations. Our passports were in our apartment in Treviso and so we nervously caught a fast train back clinging to our rental agreement and basic Italian language skills in case we were asked to explain our movements. Sadly, the military ignored us as they focused on ID’ing young black men.
We got back to our apartment and stoically (or stupidly) lived out quarantine life, optimistically thinking that the rigid rules would keep us and others safe. Borders closed, airline companies went into redundancy and finally we received the message that DFAT would not help people to return to Australia if they got stuck. Our decision to return early was made for us. We packed up our apartment and took our dystopian drive down the hwy to Milan.
Our route was Milan - Rome - Abu Dhabi - Melbourne. Milan to Rome was fine. In Rome it was a shambles. There were queues of people everywhere, all flights from Italy to the Middle East had been cancelled. We raced from terminal to concierge to admin desks: �“there are no more flights to Australia” “you cannot get home” “we will not provide accommodation” “call your embassy”
Now this may sound like the end of the line but after eight months of Italian bureaucracy we’d learnt that there’s always another option. We used our negotiation skills to good use and finally organised a flight to Melbourne via Doha that was leaving the following day. This came with the lovely caveat of “I cannot guarantee you will get home from Doha.” Sleep wasn’t great that night.
On landing in Doha we were corralled into yet another “red zone”, a roped off hanger consisting of uncomfortable chairs and a toilet block. We were bussed water and food and not allowed out for a stopover of 20 hours.
We touched down after 70 hours (since Treviso) and drove directly to our final quarantine. We spend 14 days appreciating home soil… and our Australian passports.
Many thanks to Alex Simmons and Lauren Mcburger for sharing their experience of fleeing Italy. Alex is a passionate environmental engineer. If you would like to support his re-entry to Australia you can learn more at his website swmconsulting.com.au