Travel Briefs

In Istanbul, Turkey, Hagia Sophia, a museum since 1934, was declared to be an active mosque on July 10. The first Friday prayers in 86 years were held in the building on July 24. Despite the conversion, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdog˘an has promised that the building will remain open to visitors of all faiths. During Islamic services, the Byzantine frescoes and icons will be covered, as human images are prohibited in Islam.

Originally built in the 6th century as a Byzantine...


The US and China have traded consulate closures.

On July 23, the US Department of State ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the order was made because of acts of espionage and to protect intellectual property from being stolen by Chinese agents, though no evidence of any theft was disclosed.

On July 24, the Chinese government gave the staff at the American consulate in Chengdu, in southwestern China’s...


In western France, a fire burned parts of Nantes Cathedral, or the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul of Nantes, on July 18, destroying its organ and the large, 17th-century stained-glass window on its façade. Firefighters put out the fire before any structural damage was done.

A volunteer warden of the cathedral admitted to starting the fire after being questioned by police. No motive was reported as of press time.

The fire occurred a little more than a year after a fire...


Many countries are restricting visits by US residents. However, employed Americans who can work remotely may apply for “nonpermanent resident” status in some countries, providing opportunities for them to then travel to countries closed to US residents.

• The Caucasus country of GEORGIA introduced a new entry visa in July that would allow foreigners who are employed outside of Georgia and working remotely to reside in that country.

According to the country...


France’s government announced a ban on outdoor heaters at restaurants, cafés and bars on July 27, citing their environmental impact. The order also includes a ban on restaurants keeping their doors open while using air-conditioning, another waste of energy.

A government official stated that the ban would not begin until after the winter of 2020-21 so that restaurants hurting during the COVID-19 pandemic can seat people outside with heat, to help those businesses recover.


On June 2, for a second time, the European Commission delayed the date for the implementation of the European Travel Information & Authorization System, or ETIAS (June ’20, pg. 4).

North Americans will need to apply for ETIAS authorization (and provide certain biographic information) before traveling to Europe. The starting date, originally delayed to mid-2021, has now been pushed back to “late 2022” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once it is required, an...


A new high-speed rail route in Italy, from Turin (Torino) in the north to Reggio Calabria, located on the “toe” in the south, began operation on June 4. Previously, Reggio Calabria was serviced only by non-high-speed trains, and anyone traveling between the two points by rail had to switch trains in Rome.

The southbound train leaves from Turin’s Porta Nuova station at 8 a.m. and arrives at Reggio Calabria’s Centrale station at 6:50 p.m. The northbound leaves at...


The UK’s National Trust, an organization that works to preserve historical places and which owns many sites of interest in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, began opening some gardens and parklands to visitors in June. At press time, 135 parks and gardens had reopened to limited numbers of visitors. At each site, every visitor must book a visit in advance.

For a list of open sites and instructions on purchasing tickets, visit