Dutch Treat: ACMP to the Rescue!

About the writer: Mair Dunnell is the wife of ACMP member and avid amateur cellist Evan Dunnell.  A non-musician but enthusiastic audience, she has accompanied Evan at many music workshops over the course of their 43-year relationship.

I had always dreamed of seeing Holland’s tulip gardens in their full spring glory and was very disappointed when a planned excursion to Belgium and Amsterdam in March 2020 got cancelled a week before departure.

Happily, a Scherzo Cultural Journeys music workshop in Budapest at the end of March gave us the opportunity to try for the tulips once more.  After a lovely week of music, food and cultural adventures in Budapest ended in early April, we flew to Amsterdam on Sunday and managed to squeeze in a wine and cheese canal tour, a wonderful Dutch dinner and the Van Gogh Museum in our first 18 hours.  It’s a good thing we did because the minor sore throat and cough that had been bothering Evan on Sunday resulted in a positive Covid rapid test for him on Monday, exactly an hour before a friend from London was meeting us for 3 days of touring fun together.

It’s a strange and scary experience to have this happen in a foreign country.  You are immediately confronted with a host of questions – can we stay in our hotel, how can we get around if Evan is in quarantine, when can we go home, etc.?  The law in Holland required Evan to get a government-administered PCR test the next day and he was able to walk outdoors with a mask to the testing facility a mile from the hotel.  Luckily, our hotel had exactly the number of nights available to get Evan through quarantine before they were booked solid for 2 weeks.  I took Covid rapid tests every day and was able to get food and do other activities as long as I remained masked at all times.

I split my time between Evan and our friend Ellen from London who grew up in Holland and was anxious to share her native country with us.  She and I did get to see the tulip gardens on Tuesday while Evan had his PCR test.  After that test came back positive, we spent a great deal of time on the phone with the Health Ministry, contact tracing personnel, etc.  Numerous people warned that Evan might test positive for more than a month but assured us he would be able to get a letter that would allow him to travel after 11 days and would be accepted by airlines and the US Government.

It was clear that our trip would be extended but we didn’t know for how long so we spent more than a dozen hours on the phone postponing flights, learning exactly what our travel insurance covered, contacting our pet sitter and airport parking lot, making arrangements to file and pay our income taxes in addition to canceling several engagements, including a music weekend Evan had paid to attend a couple days after our scheduled return.  We also had to find a place to stay.  April is prime tulip season so hotels were becoming scarcer and more expensive and we didn’t know how many nights to book.  We wound up having to go to two more hotels before returning home but at least we were able to use public transportation instead of having to book special Covid-transport cabs that used plastic sheeting to separate drivers from infected individuals…

Evan kept testing positive even as he completed quarantine on Friday.  That afternoon we got through to the Health Ministry after a long hold to ask if we had to formally apply for the travel authorization letter and the person who answered told us it “was very difficult to get a letter if you’re not an EU citizen and it could take a month so you may want to contact your embassy or find your own doctor.”  This was at 4:15 and the U.S. Embassy had closed 15 minutes earlier for the weekend.  We were crushed and felt like our one sure lifeline had been cut.  Then, a minor miracle occurred.

Earlier this year, we had updated our wills and Evan wanted a good home for his extensive sheet music library.  He contacted ACMP and connected with Board member Marjana Rutkowski in Brazil who found a school that was interested in having the library.  Marjana sent Evan an email while we were in Amsterdam asking if he could provide an inventory.  When Evan told her the inventory would be delayed until he could get home, Marjana said that one of her fellow ACMP Board members was a doctor in the Netherlands and offered to put us in contact with him.  That was literally music to our ears.  Marjana gave our information to Henri van der Hombergh who was kind enough to contact us on a Sunday to offer assistance.  As luck would have it, Henri’s nephew Huub was a practicing physician in Amsterdam with an office about a mile from our hotel!  This gave us great hope if the embassy didn’t work out.

We called the U.S. Embassy Monday morning to see if they had a doctor that they wanted us to use and were scolded for calling since our situation was not considered an emergency.  We were advised that we could email to request an appointment to come in and talk about our situation.  The scolding took longer than it would have to provide us with the name of a relevant physician.

We called Huub’s office and were able to go there in person that afternoon and leave with a letter allowing Evan to travel back to the U.S.  Thank you, Marjana, Henri and Huub!

Now that we had a specific travel date, we were finally able to rebook our flight home exactly one week later than planned.  Our original roundtrip tickets cost about $770 each and we received approximately $375 credit for each of our unused return flights.  Imagine our surprise when we learned that rebooking the exact same flight now cost $2802 per person!  Welcome to the joy of last-minute booking.  We spent more hours on the phone between airlines and travel insurance and finally received special permission from the travel insurance company to book roundtrip tickets for $1350 per person and throw out the other half of the tickets because it was nearly $3000 cheaper than buying a one-way ticket for each of us.  Crazy. 

Throughout this ordeal, Evan did much better with quarantining than I expected and better than I would have done myself.  Luckily, his symptoms were very mild and disappeared quickly.  He did lots of reading and Sudoku puzzles and, as long as he was masked and gloved, was allowed to go through the lobby to walk in a nearby park.  We learned that Ben & Jerry’s makes excellent Covid medicine. 

After quarantine ended, we spent most of our time outdoors and walked for multiple hours each day, exploring most of the city’s parks and neighborhoods.  A 2-hour bike tour gave us a chance to cover a lot of ground and learn about areas where we wanted to spend more time.  We were able to enjoy most of our extra days but were still concerned about whether the airline would accept the travel letter and let us go home.  Fortunately, check-in went very smoothly and the letter was accepted without question.  I can honestly say that we have never been so happy to see airplane doors close and we hugged the heck out of each other when the plane started taxiing towards our journey home.

We will be forever grateful to Marjana, Henri and Huub for their kindness to us in our hour of need.  Who knew that offering to donate a Connecticut sheet music library to a school in Brazil would provide the critical link to get us out of a challenging situation in Amsterdam thousands of miles away?

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