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Staff stories: where in the world we spent Christmas and New Years

From fairytale winters to sunny South African landscapes, here's where we spent the festive period.

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The festive period is a time of togetherness, celebration, and obviously, piles of comfort food. Depending on which hemisphere you find yourself in, Christmas might involve lots of sunshine and a day trip to the beach or a cosy Christmas dinner at home with present opening by the crackling fire.

As travel is very much our thing at Newmarket Holidays, the team spent the holidays all around the world - from the Bavarian Alps to the sun-kissed wineries of South Africa. With the pandemic and the ever-changing restrictions at play, our adventurous staff were lucky to catch up with family and see a bit more of the world while they were at it.

Here’s what they got up to:

A very Bavarian Christmas

  • James Toms - Digital Marketing Manager at Newmarket Holidays

I spent Christmas in Bavaria, Germany. My wife and my two daughters flew over on Saturday, 15th of December, and due to other commitments, I was due to fly out the following week. But then I woke on Sunday to a flurry of increasingly panicked text messages from my wife as it turned out that the German government was rolling out new restrictions on UK travellers from midnight. But there was no need to worry. My wife had very quickly booked me a flight to Innsbruck, Austria. From there, the plan was to spend the day in Innsbruck and explore the Christmas markets before driving to her parents’ place in Bavaria.

So, I packed my suitcase and booked a taxi to Gatwick. Fortunately, the airport was empty and I sailed through security! The flight was on time and I felt safe during the whole journey, with everyone wearing masks, as per the requirements. The descent into Innsbruck Airport was stunning. You approach the airport through a valley and then loop back around and come back down the other side of the valley before landing. Upon leaving the aircraft we were met outside the terminal by border staff checking vaccine certificates. This all took seconds.

Innsbruck was bustling, particularly the Christmas markets. There aren’t many cities in the world where you see people walking down the street in their ski boots! 

As for Christmas itself, my family and I spent it on the outskirts of a quaint riverside town called Wasserburg am Inn. I was lucky enough to see my first-ever ice hockey match in nearby Rosenheim, where social distancing and masks were required. The day before the flight back, we needed to do pre-departure, monitored LFTs. We ordered the day two test several weeks before we departed so we had these at home waiting for us (there’s no need for these now). In the end, our return flight was empty.

Despite the extra steps, it was worth it to be able to travel again. Having missed seeing our family last Christmas, we were very keen to see them this year. The spectacular Bavarian scenery and my impromptu trip to Innsbruck was a bonus.

Wineries and sunshine in South Africa

  • Kelly-Anne Ellis - Creative Copy and Communications Lead at Newmarket Holidays

As we all know, there’s no place like home. And when South Africa (my home) was taken off the red list, just a few weeks before I was meant to travel back, it really did feel like a Christmas miracle. I flew to Johannesburg, where my family lives, before stopping off in Durban, and finally, Cape Town – a special city that I think should be on everyone’s wish-list.  

Given the news reports and the fact that South Africa was the first country to bring awareness to the Omicron variant, I was slightly hesitant about what the travelling experience would entail and what things would be like once I was there. However, the entire journey proved to be surprisingly easy and stress-free. I had to take a PCR test 72 hours before departing, as well as fill in a Passenger Locator Form but apart from that, and wearing a mask throughout, of course, it felt like a normal flying experience.  

Luckily, my return was timed with the removal PCRs and LFTs, the day two PCR test and self-isolation upon arrival. This meant that I just had to book a day two LFTs and fill in a Passenger Locator Form to come back to London.  

Once in South Africa, there was a very relaxed feel with regards to Covid as hospital admissions had dropped and the new variant had already peaked. Masks are worn everywhere, even on the streets, and to enter any shop or restaurant you have to sanitise your hands, but there was no sense of panic or fear, and everyone seemed to be going about life/their holidays without worry. 

The night before New Year’s Eve, the midnight curfew, which had been in place for almost two years, was also lifted while I was there – a big cause for celebration.  

My holiday was mainly centred around catching up with my family and friends, absorbing as much sun as I could (without burning) and sampling the incredibly priced sushi and wine. The highlight of my trip was undoubtedly the Cape Town section. Here, I revisited some of my favourite spots, including Babylonstoren and Constantia Glen – two wine farms backed by spectacular scenery and serving up charcuterie boards that I think about daily.   

The wintry delights of Poland

  • Bartek Gasienica - Website & Connectivity Manager at Newmarket Holidays

This past Christmas, I travelled with my boyfriend to my hometown Zakopane in Poland, which is at the foot of the Tatra mountains. We made the journey to spend Christmas with my family. I hadn't seen my parents in over a year, so it was important for me to make sure this happened. 

We rented a car there, as this was the best way to avoid close contact on public transport. The trip came at the best possible time, as my hometown was already white and ready for Christmas. It was snowing, cold and 100% worth it! We had lots of family and friends meetings, expected and unexpected, which is all part of the joy of Christmas. Great food, great company, white Christmas, what else do you need?!

Due to the pandemic, I was nervous right until we boarded the plane, but I think the key is to be prepared. 

Just ensure you have all required documents and tests done and ready. If you are up to date with requirements and regulations, there is nothing to worry about. I saw someone on our return journey who forgot to take a test before coming into the UK and unfortunately was not able to make it in time.

An Argentinean summer

  • Kate Liberty - Head of Marketing and Brand Marketing at Newmarket Holidays

I hadn’t been on a proper holiday for 3 years and during lockdown last summer, so I wanted something magical to focus on for the end of the year. Which is why I booked a trip to Argentina for my family. I knew there was only a small chance that we would actually get away but most companies offer flexible booking options, meaning we had nothing to lose if the trip didn’t go ahead. You can only put your plans on hold for so long and working in the industry I wanted to be able to experience what travel was like right now.

The run-up to the trip was a bit of a rollercoaster. Argentina was closed to tourism for most of the pandemic, so two months out we were prepared for it not to go ahead. Around six weeks before the trip, the country opened up so we began planning the biggest holiday we had ever taken as a family! Then a couple of weeks before we were due to go, the Omicron variant news broke, and countries began shutting down again, so we just planned and hoped it would happen, with the knowledge that it might need to be rescheduled for 2022.

The testing and forms were a minor inconvenience and were far outweighed by the benefit of being abroad. One of the criteria that was more unusual for Argentina was having to prove our travel insurance covered Covid-related scenarios. I would recommend doing that if you’re travelling – so if you did need to reschedule or your plans changed, you would be covered. We chose to travel independently and booked all the elements as we went, but for those who like to plan, I recommend going with a provider that you can trust and preferably with someone on the ground who can help you, should the need arise.

Once we got there, everything felt very normal. It's summer in Argentina from December to February, so it was a lovely relaxed atmosphere. Everyone wore masks on transport or indoors, but the weather was so glorious that we dined outside most of the time. Almost everything was open normally, we were there over Christmas so for a few days, many attractions and restaurants were closed but even on Christmas Day, we found plenty of restaurants and bars open as we walked through Buenos Aires early evening.

We flew internally down to Patagonia and there were no tests or forms on the internal flight. There, we got to see some wildlife, including a snake! Outside of the tests, it was a completely normal holiday. We felt really honoured to have such a unique experience as there were virtually no other tourists! I can honestly say I didn’t realise just how much we needed to be somewhere else for a while – it felt truly magical!

Serena is a writer based in London. Born in Malaysia and raised in Australia, she calls the UK home despite only recently acclimatising to the dearth of sunshine. Her writing has appeared in The Independent, Business Insider, South China Morning Post, i-D, Refinery29, Glamour, Vox, Metro, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, and Cosmopolitan. She has also published a book of aerial photography: How Women See The World. Throughout her decade-long career, Serena has told the stories of Arctic explorers, human rights activists, award-winning chefs, refugees, and the UK’s last lighthouse keepers.

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