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Escape From Europe: How One Lake George Couple Got Out Of Dodge Just As COVID-19 Took Hold

Bolton Landing's Billy Trudsoe and his wife, Ivana, were on vacation in Central Europe. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and all hell broke loose.

Billy Trudsoe and his wife, Ivana, at the Slovakia/Austria border, the day before they flew home. (Billy Trudsoe)

Just a few short months ago, if you had told your coworkers you were going on a European vacation in March, you might’ve been the subject of more than a few jealous whispers. But once the COVID-19 pandemic swept through European Union borders, all but shutting down usual tourist hotspots like Italy and Spain, Europe quickly became a no-go zone—with tourists stuck in the middle of hell, live-tweeting their fears (it’s still happening, daily).

That’s exactly the wave Lake George couple Billy Trudsoe and his wife, Ivana, got caught in during a recent trip to Central Europe to visit family in Slovakia (Ivana’s originally from the Central European country). “We usually take a trip in March for a month,” says Billy. Both work at restaurants—Billy’s the Executive Chef at Blue Water Manor and Ivana works at Beyond the Sea, both in Bolton Landing—and head out each year around early March when business is at its slowest. Billy tells Saratoga Living that he and his wife had been aware of the COVID-19 outbreak before they’d left the states, but that it didn’t cross their minds to cancel their trip because of it. “We were kind of naive, thinking that it not really a big deal,” says Billy. “Then it unfolded in a drastic way that changed our minds about the situation really quick.”

The couple had originally flown into Vienna, Austria, arriving there on March 2. From there, they picked up a rental car in Slovakia’s capital of Bratislava at the airport; toured around the Czech Republic for a few days, hitting top tourist sites such as Plzeň’s Pilsner Urquell Brewery; and spending a few days in Prague. They eventually made it to just outside of the city of Prešov, in Eastern Slovakia, where Ivana’s family lives—about 4.5 hours east of Bratislava—on March 12. Then, a nightmare scenario unfolded before their eyes. Like most modern tourists, Billy had been active on Facebook throughout his trip, posting about the sites and such that he and his wife had been visiting, while also writing updates about the spread of COVID-19. On March 13, his posts took a turn for the ominous, when he dropped a news link saying that Slovakia was about to close its international airport and borders. After that, Billy was only posting updates about the virus’ spread—and by the 15th, he and his wife had to dump their original travel agent and buy their own tickets home. But they still needed to get out of Slovakia. So, on March 16, Billy posted this update to Facebook: “Austrian border closing tomorrow we must go now praying we can get across.” Friends and family held their breath.

Remember, the Trudsoes still had their rental car that they needed to bring back to Bratislava. The situation quickly became a complex game of Choose Your Own Adventure: They had to drop their rental car off at the now-closed Bratislava airport, hail a cab to the Austrian border and then walk, by foot, across the border, and then get a second cab to their hotel in Austria. (In a series of smartphone videos Billy recorded and uploaded to Facebook on March 16, we learn that his father-in-law’s boss would end up driving him and his wife to the border—and you see a marked change in Billy’s and Ivana’s appearance: at some point, the couple acquired aquamarine medical masks to cover their mouths.) They eventually made it across the Austrian border, somehow got a flight back to the states and, after a short layover in Germany on March 17, touched down at Newark International Airport that same afternoon. They ended up getting back to Bolton Landing later that night.

While it was certainly a relief to get home, the Trudsoes arrived back to an Upstate New York where things were just starting to heat up. (Governor Andrew Cuomo’s mandatory statewide lockdown would occur just five days later.) When Saratoga Living asked Billy whether he was worried about his job security in the hospitality industry, he didn’t seem too preoccupied by it. “I’m fortunate, because I’m a year-round employee,” says Billy. “Blue Water Manor bought a sister property that’s called The Barrel, which has a hotel, another restaurant, so I have year-round employment.” But the same couldn’t be said of his wife; she’s now unemployed. (Billy noted that both The Barrel and Blue Water Manor were currently shut down, but at least the latter was tabbed to reopen on May 1.)

Instead of just getting back into their normal routine after their harrowing escape from Europe, the Trudsoes decided to do a two-week, non-mandatory, self-quarantine, just to be safe. “We document our temperatures twice a day to the Warren County Department of Health,” says Billy. He was actually proactive in calling the county when he and his wife got home. And while the quarantine has certainly cramped their style a bit, Billy and his wife have been taking it in stride—and even become quasi–local celebrities, with stories (like this one) published about their ordeal in the Glens Falls Post Star, Albany Times Union and even People.com. “Really, the reason why we’re reaching out to some media is just to let people know to take this seriously,” says Billy. “People of any age can die from [COVID-19]; I’ve got a lot of ignorant people that I’m friends with on Facebook, and they’re driving me nuts. I can’t stress enough for people to take this seriously and try to keep their distance from other people. It’s scary.”

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Will Levith

Will Levith is Editorial Director at Saratoga Living and Capital Region Living magazine. He's a native Saratogian and graduate of Saratoga Springs High School. His work has been published by Esquire, Playboy, Condé Nast Traveler, Men's Health, RealClearLife and many others. He lives in Troy with his wife, Laura, and dog, Esopus.

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