|COVID-19: France Travel Now...|
|Should you travel in France now? We did, in September-October 2021. Here's how it is.|
We (Jane Fisher & Tom Brosnahan) traveled from Boston, Massachusetts to France from September 14 to October 4, 2021. Here are notes on travel in France in the time of COVID-19.
1. "Over-tourism" is not a problem right now. Aéroport Charles-de-Gaulle was busy but not packed, even though Terminals 1 & 3 were closed and only huge Terminal 2 was being used. Tickets to sights such as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre were in demand, but usually available a day or two in advance. Most tickets are timed-entry, date-certain (ie, you enter at 10:30am on Wednesday, for example).
2. The Passe Sanitaire was easily acquired if you had an acceptable vaccination credential from your home country. The Passe was required for entry to most cafés, restaurants, sights and events, but many (though not all) indicated that your home country's credential (such as the US CDC vaccination card) would also be acceptable.
3. Mask-wearing was 99% in public transport (Métro, buses, trains), sights and events. In cafés and restaurants, few wore masks, but most seating was outside.
4. COVID Testing was readily available in pharmacies, clinics and at booths on streets (on the Champs-Élysées, a booth every 60 meters or so). There is now a fee for the tests.
5. We felt safe—safer than we feel in the USA, where carelessness and misinformation about COVID seem more common, and the rate of fully-vaccinated citizens seems stalled at 56%, while in France the total is 73% (4 Oct 2021).
1. To the Airport, 14 Sept: We rode an MBTA Commuter Rail train from Concord MA to Boston's North Station, then took a Lyft ridehail car to Boston-Logan Airport. We wore surgical masks during the entire journey. Almost everyone on the train was masked, as was the Lyft driver. We felt safe.
2. At the Airport, 14 Sept: Almost everyone wore masks inside the airport, including airport and airline staff. We had decided to fly Business Class because of the greater space between seats. In the Air France airport lounge, most people were masked most of the time (except when eating or drinking.) We felt safe.
3. The Flight, 14-15 Sept: Everyone was masked and most preserved social distance in the lounge and during boarding. All Air France staff wore face masks at all times.
4. Entry to France, 15 Sept: Having both been fully vaccinated in the USA with a vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech's tozinameran/Comirnaty) approved by the European Union, we showed our US passports and CDC vaccination certificates (cards) to the Immigration officers at Paris Charles-de-Gaulle Airport and were admitted to France.
CDG Terminals 1 & 3 were closed. Only the huge Terminal 2 was in use. Crowds were very light.
Having arrived at CDG before 06:00 am, we took a day-use room at the Ibis Hotel near Terminal 3 for a shower and a nap. (Our hotel room in central Paris would not be available until later in the afternoon.) The normally-busy hotel was not at all busy, with only one easy-going clerk at the Front Desk/Reception.
5. Airport to City, 15 Sept: We rode the RER B train from CDG Terminal 2 Gare into Paris to the Luxembourg station, as we always do. We chose an express that made no stops until Gare du Nord (more...). The mid-day train was not crowded, and everyone wore masks. We felt safe.
6. At the Hotel, 15-18 Sept: We stayed at the Hôtel des Grandes Écoles, one of our favorites, near the Place Contrescarpe (the neighborhood favored by Hemingway and James Joyce) and the Panthéon. It has a large open-air garden. Staff and guests wore masks within the hotel. In the garden, we felt safe without them.
7. City Transport, 15-18 Sept: We used the Métro when we were not walking (which we do a lot). We avoided the huge interchange stations such as Châtelet. We were surprised and gratified by the near-universal use of masks on public transportation.
8. Activities & Passe Sanitaire, 16 Sept: In principle, anyone wanting to sit in a café, bar or restaurant, to enter a museum or other public building, to attend any indoor (and even some outdoor) events, or to travel by intercity bus, rail or flight is required to have and show their personal French-government Passe Sanitaire proving anti-COVID vaccination or a negative COVID test no later than 72 hours previous to entry.
We decided to obtain our Passes Sanitaires by showing our US CDC Vaccination Certificates (cards) at a Paris pharmacie and having a pharmacist enter the information into France's health system database. The process was fairly easy and took less than 30 minutes, including waiting in line for our turn. Bring your vaccination card and passport (for identification). The cost was 20€ each. We then downloaded the TousAntiCovid app to our smartphones, scanned the QR code provided by the pharmacy on paper, and we had the required QR codes in our smartphones to show when required. (You may show either the paper copy obtained from the pharmacy, or the one on your smartphone.)
You show your Passe Sanitaire QR code and the person checking it scans it with a device to register that it is valid, and that you have been approved for entry.
In practice, we were required to show our Passe Sanitaire QR codes when entering a few restaurants, and when entering the enclosure at the Place Charles-de-Gaulle-Étoile to photograph the Arc de Triomphe "wrapped" à la Christo & Jeanne-Claude. However, in most cafés and restaurants we were told that our US CDC cards would suffice, or we were not asked for any proof of vaccination. We were glad we had the Passe Sanitaire so there would be no question of our eligibility to enter. We felt that in some places, such as state-run museums, only the Passe Sanitaire would be accepted. Our takeaway: if you have only your own country's proof of vaccination, it may be accepted at some businesses, but not all, and you won't know which until you try.
9. Masks, 15-18 Sept: In the open air, few people wore masks; but in shops, most staff and customers wore them. However, in the many bars, cafés and restaurants around Place Contrescarpe and other areas of Paris there were many open-air terraces with diners sitting close to one another, unmasked. We chose not to patronize cafés or restaurants where we could not sit at least two meters/six feet from others, with open air circulating, and we felt safe when the staff required us to show our Passe Sanitaire for service.
10. On the Train, 19 Sept: We rode a TGV Inoui train from Paris's Gare de Lyon to Nice, a journey of just over six hours. Because of COVID, we chose to buy 1st Class tickets, expecting more space around us. The accommodations on the train were quite comfortable—two single seats facing one another, but unfortunately the four seats on the other side of the aisle were occupied by a couple with two small children (3-4 years of age). The parents wore masks only fitfully or improperly. The children were unmasked, and very active, and at times coughed forcefully. The parents assured us they were COVID-free, an assurance to which we gave little credence. There was no obvious solution to this potential threat, such as moving to other seats, because the train was full. We donned N95 masks and hoped for the best.
11. Nice, 19 Sept: We arrived in Nice and took the tram to our rented apartment/flat with a view over the Port Lympia. In the evening we sat outside at a café-bar overlooking the port for a drink. Virtually all customers were unmasked, as they were outside and drinking or dining. Staff wore masks improperly. We were not worried, as there's always a brisk breeze off the Mediterranean.
We shopped for necessary food items. Everyone in the Intermarché store, staff and customers, wore masks. A staff person at the door checked for mask compliance.
12. Great time in Nice, 20-25 Sept, and no problems. In the Intermarché store, mask-wearing is required and enforced, as it is on buses and trams, and 99% of people comply. In smaller shops (butcher, greengrocer), the owner may not always have a mask, but it's airy, and time there is a few minutes at most. Otherwise, life is normal, and enjoyable.
Took an excursion to the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in nearby St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat. A 30-minute Bus 15 ride, everyone masked. Masks required in the villa, but not in the sumptuous gardens. Fine lunch down at the port in Cap Ferrat and a stroll along the sentier (trail) around the tip of the peninsula. Crowds were light everywhere—a delight after the pre-COVID flood of over-tourism.
24 Sept: The Passe Sanitaire application that I made online Sept 1, two weeks before our departure for France, has now been approved and I can download my Passe; but I already have the one I paid 20€ for at the pharmacie in Paris on 16 Sept, so I'll ignore the one done earlier on the Web.
The takeaway: the time necessary for me to get a Passe Sanitaire online was 25 days. Your time may differ.
13. COVID in France Now, 25 Sept: We think France is safer than the USA when it comes to COVID.
According to the New York Times, as of September 25, 2021, the French regions of Île-de-France (Paris & environs) and Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur, where we are traveling, have reported fewer than 1 hospital admission per 100,000 population during the past week. More...
In Massachusetts, one of the US states doing best in the battle against COVID, the daily rate of hospitalizations per 100,000 is now 8—very good for the USA, but terrible compared to France. (By comparison, West Virginia had 58 new hospitalizations per 100,000.)
As for doses of vaccine delivered, France's rate is 138 per 100 people; USA's is 117. By world standards, these are both good figures, but France's is better.
And yet the US CDC reports France as a Level 4—Very Dangerous travel destination [but see below]. (The New York Times COVID Risk Map shows most of the USA as Extremely High Risk for unvaccinated people.) [Post-note: As of early October, the CDC has re-classified France as Level 3, less dangerous than Level 4.]
14. Train Nice—>Paris, 26 Sept: What are the chances of repeating the disappointing experience we had on our six-hour train trip from Paris to Nice? A thousand to one? But we did: a couple in the seats across the aisle from us in First Class had an active, unmasked small child (3 years old?) who coughed forcefully several times during the trip. The child was not masked, nor were his parents for most of the trip.
Traveling with a child was not the problem. The lack of a mask or other cough-cover for him, and his parents without masks, was.
Everyone else in our train car appeared to be adhering to the mask rule. Everyone in the adjoining car, also. All the staff. Just...not the people nearest us, and the train was complet (sold out, all seats occupied) so no chance to move to other seats. Sigh...
So we 'lucked out' both times, and our luck was bad. We put on our N95 masks and wore them except when we went to the café car to eat our sandwiches with no one close to our unmasked faces.
When we arrived at the gigantic, thronged Paris-Gare de Lyon, mask-wearing appeared universal in the huge crowd.
15. Carnavalet, 28 Sept: The wonderful Museum of the History of Paris, the Carnavalet, has reopened after four years of renovations. We visited today. We were required to show our Passe Sanitaire before entering the building, and to wear masks during the entire visit. Admission is by timed-entry, which we had made online a few days ago. Downloaded the tickets to our phones. Metal detector check at the entrance (unload your pockets; anything that can be used as a weapon will be seized, such as pocket knife, metal fork or knife, scissors, etc). None of it really a hassle. The museum, founded in 1880 to preserve the treasury of Paris history, is better than ever.
16. Eiffel Tower, 29 Sept: We took advantage of the light crowds to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, something that had been difficult to do before COVID because of high demand. We bought our timed-entry tickets a day in advance.
(1) Our Passe Sanitaire was scanned and our wearing of masks confirmed before we were allowed to enter the tower enclosure; (2) our reserved-time ticket was scanned several times before we boarded the first elevator; (3) luckily, I had not brought along the trusty Swiss Army Knife that is normally my constant companion. It would have been confiscated (and not returned) at the security check before the first elevator. A plastic bin held a pile of metal forks, knives, screwdrivers and pocket knives—some valued at nearly $100—that had been taken from potential visitors and that they'd never see again.
On the tower's 2nd level we transferred to the elevator for the top level, which whisked us up to the window-enclosed observation deck, from which we walked up the flight of steps to the open-air observation deck. To the north we saw dark clouds rapidly approaching, and within minutes we were attacked by rain and hail.
But it lasted less than ten minutes, after which the sun was brilliant and the view spectacular, as always.
A few visitors had no masks, a few had open-nose, but in general the mask rule was observed, even on the open-air deck.
17. To the Philharmonie: Our first big event with hundreds of people was a concert at the Philharmonie de Paris in the Cité de la Musique, a place we love. We bought tickets online, rode the Métro to La Vallette, and entered by showing our Passe Sanitaire. The marvelous concert hall was 90%+ full, the concert wonderful. The audience was 98%+ masked. Musicians wore masks to enter the stage, but many removed them while playing.
18. Michelin-starred restaurant: We had lunch at Alliance, a fine-dining restaurant which has earned a Michelin star. We reserved a few days in advance. We were asked to show our Passe Sanitaire upon entry. Within the restaurant (19 diners, about 15 staff), few were masked, but presumably all had been fully vaccinated and were not symptomatic. As expected, it was a wonderful dining experience, and we felt safe because of the precautions.
19. The Louvre: We returned to the Musée du Louvre, buying timed-entry tickets several days in advance. Passe Sanitaire was required for entry, though they would probably have accepted a national vaccine credential. The gigantic museum was bustling but not packed. We avoided the Mona Lisa crowd and concentrated on the special exhibit, Paris-Athènes, which was busy, but not crowded. Mask-wearing was nearly universal.
20. The Trip Home: To meet the US re-entry requirement we got a COVID antigen test (it was negative) 24 hours before our flight time. We rode the RER B train to the airport. Because of track work, we had to go to a different destination (Mitry-Claye) and take a shuttle bus to the airport—easy enough, though a little longer journey.
We stayed overnight at the Ibis Paris CDG Aiport Hotel, masks required.
The next morning, Terminal 2E (Air France) was busy but not packed. Check-in was normal, passport control was a breeze (and had been a horror on many previous visits). Security check was somewhat chaotic and disorganized, and took awhile, but we got through it.
The flight was normal. Mask-wearing was required at all times. A crew announcement noted that US government regulations require passengers to keep masks in place except for the very moment of taking a bite of food or a sip of liquid: remove mask, take bite, replace mask. As my mouth was closed and not issuing air or droplets as I chewed, I kept my mask over my nose all the time, but not my mouth. This regulation didn't bother me, because it was for the well-being of all.
Upon arrival in Boston, the crew announced that we should have our vaccination and negative-test documents ready to show the CBP officers, though we were not actually ever asked to show these documents. Customs and immigration were as easy as ever, with no long lines or problems with luggage retrieval.
Heading for home by Lyft (driver and passengers masked, windows partially open), we reminded ourselves that we were no longer in France, but in the USA, where there was more COVID and fewer widespread protection mechanisms (testing, Passe Sanitaire, mask mandates).
We're happy to be home after a wonderful trip, but we feel less safe from COVID here than we did in France.