Once a month or so I get an email message from WordPress telling me that a new person has started following my travel blog – it’s always flattering to discover that someone I don’t know shares my wonder at the world we inhabit and appreciates my depiction of it. The messages also serve as a reminder that I have a blog, and that it mostly sits idle between our trips abroad.
In a normal year, we’d be returning from some grand adventure this week. I would have written 20+ entries and posted dozens of photos over the past three weeks and now we’d be home recovering from jet-lag by spending time getting some sunshine out in the backyard dealing with 3-weeks worth of weeds. But this isn’t a normal year.
Our plan for 2020 was Milan à Paris with lots of side-trips in Italy – Cremona, Venice, Florence – in addition to doing a deeper dive in Milan. We lightly scratched the surface when we were there last in 2017, with many things were left undone due to a lack of time. So this time nice sojourn there followed by all the things we love to do in Paris. In short, a slightly more focused trip than our usual bounce around Europe. To that end, I started looking for apartments in the third week of January, with an intended departure date somewhere in the second or third week of March. In a good year, I begin about 2-weeks earlier than that because choices disappear quickly as people start planning. This year though laziness got the better of me and I got a late start. Finally motivated, we spent an afternoon on VRBO and some of the local agencies and found a few choice spots in both cities, ending the day making plans to finalize things in the morning. But the timbre of the world news was starting to change.
Stories were coming out of China about this nasty new virus. Wuhan was locking down, and I was having memories of traveling to and from China in the SARS-H1N1 era, little vignettes like taking aspirin 2-hours before landing in Beijing so I wouldn’t have my spring allergy fever misdiagnosed as something more serious during the temperature check at airport customs and then ending up in a Chinese military hospital. The next morning, over breakfast, we looked at each other and decided that perhaps the best thing to do this year was delay our spring trip, and instead wait until autumn. The risk didn’t seem worth it and so I spent the next few days wandering around in a cloud of disappointment, feeling like a coward. At that point, before the partial China travel ban, I was still reading articles in trustworthy newspapers written by genuine experts saying things like, “No reason to avoid travel altogether, the risk is low, just plan day by day.” Perhaps they believed that advice, and maybe they were just trying not to be alarmists. I don’t know, but it didn’t help me get over the feeling that as an intrepid traveler, one that forged ahead during previous outbreaks, I was somehow deficient.
And then a week later on the 4th of February, the Diamond Princess was locked down in Japan, followed two weeks after that by 300 cases in Lombardy, our planned Italian destination. Then more stories like an Italy-France train being delayed for hours because 2 passengers were positive and on and on and on. While I was never really worried about getting sick, my original concern was getting stuck somewhere, with limited services and no transportation out. As the stories mounted, I quickly transitioned from feeling like a travel failure to suddenly feeling like a genius. That change was reinforced over and over again as things got worse.
Nothing changed around here until our governor closed non-essential businesses and issued a “Stay-at-Home” order on March, 24th. People started going nuts, but we were spared any direct effects because we have a freezer and a pantry and we stay stocked up on most commodities. Just for fun, we did a few “Hoarder Tours” to see how bad things were. Our trip to Costco, just after the announcement, ended when we encountered a line of cars a mile long heading into the parking lot. A second trip a week later ended when we saw the check-out lines – 50 carts minimum, meaning at least a 2-hour wait. Eventually, we did get in and buy a few things because the crisis shopping had ended. The only thing we came close to depleting was our egg supply, and even then we finally found some with one meal to spare.
So, how is life now under quarantine?
No more movies, no more coffee shop visits. We’ve cut back our style of grocery shopping, which used to be going every few days, to a big shopping every week to ten days, filling in only with fresh stuff (fruit, milk, vegetables) on an as-needed basis. We have new routines about wiping down shopping carts and car-door handles and gear-shift levers and carrying a bag of alcohol wipes into stores that don’t provide them. And of course, washing our hands when we get home which is something we’ve always done that probably explains why we’re infrequently sick in normal times.
Instead of walking some wonderful cobblestone lane in an ancient part of town, we’re getting our fences repaired and shoveling the truckloads of bark mulch that we’d put off for years. Not a bad life, just different. Plenty of time to read, cook, make fudge and replace our historic walks with trips around the block. I’m still riding my bike when the weather permits but I do avoid the crowds on the multi-use path and I avoid getting to close to cyclists and runners up ahead.
Not super different than our everyday life, but very different than what we would have been doing this time of year