“In front of the Livraria Lello bookstore in Porto, Portugal in dire need of a haircut and an ironing board.”
By March, things turned to custard. Most volunteers went home, few of us remained, cooped up with our host families to wait the lockdown out.
I won’t go into detail about my lockdown experience, but when we were “liberated” after two and a half months and my placement finished, I was determined to see as much as I could, and I did. Seven (or eight?) countries to be exact, before I finally flew out of Milan in October and back to my supposedly Covid-free country.
So, what happened between June and October? I travelled, with the lurking possibilities of lockdowns and travel restrictions/bans in the back of my head like a sleep paralysis demon. Here are some of the quirks of that extraordinary time:
* Iceland will let travellers who have already had Covid skip quarantine
* Covid-19: Moderna seeks US, European regulator approval of its ‘strong’ virus shots
* The knock-on effect of Covid: airlines shedding weight, cutting fuel costs
Europe is bracing for a long, hard winter, with leaders urging people to endure just a few more months of discipline and self-sacrifice. Published December 2.
1. No crowds or lines (kind of)
I never had to wait more than 15 minutes to enter a tourist attraction such as the Colosseum, Louvre, Uffizi etc. Sure, there were tourists there from god knows where (there always will be), but there was no visibility issues or dilemmas when wanting to catch a glimpse of a revered painting (a perk!).
The longest time I had to wait for anything was in a queue outside a Spanish post office. And no, they don’t cut in line like the strange stereotype makes out, not even under time pressure, especially considering the post office only stays open for three hours at a time.
2. The East Berliners didn’t care about the ‘rona
Who would have thought – East Berlin had a total of three masks, including mine, and the happening places along the riverside such as the techno clubs and youth hangouts were packed out (in August).
You’d think a mask-wearing culture would take off in Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, considering half of the unemployed artists who live there don the most bizarre garments (think Judas Priest back in the day, chains and all). Apparently, they’re too cool for masks. Poor form, Berlin.
3. “Are we doing masks on or off for the photo?”
Imagine… you’re standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, and a friend is about to take an Instagram-worthy shot of you. But wait, you’re wearing a sweat-soaked mask.
Does this ruin the “vibe” of my future Insta post, or does it save me from having to do some awkward smile or worrying about the excessive length of my nose? Or will people think I’m irresponsible for taking it off in the photo even though I’m outside and two metres away from the other tourists, but how can I prove it? Maybe if I clutch it in my hand awkwardly… yeah, that’s it.
4. “Why are you here?”
It’s fair to say that it was a weird time to travel, as most people weren’t, especially those from outside of Europe.
I was legally allowed to, and I followed all laws surrounding distancing, mask-wearing, curfews and the rest. However, travelling during that time did raise some eyebrows when I had to hand over my passport or was required to tell a ticket officer at a museum where I had heralded from. I would have to explain everything, about the volunteer program in Spain etc.
“A rather quiet old town square in ‘peak tourist time’, August in Prague.”
I decided the best strategy was to try and blend in to avoid these interrogations, so I bought some vintage bollés, grew my moustache out, and pretended to watch and “take in” the Italian news in rural espresso bars without having to make excessive conversation with the barperson. I scraped by using “un café”, “por favore,” and “grazie” – well, I thought I did… until a woman in a small Lombardian town responded to my “ciao” with “good morning”. I tried.
5. Forgetting a mask; tragedy!
Like forgetting your wallet at a cafe (it happens, watch out), forgetting a mask can send you into a tizz. In Porto, I left my mask at a restaurant, realising five minutes after. Upon returning, it wasn’t there.
My spares were at my accommodation 45 mins walk away. Could I hop on a tram to get back? No. Get a taxi? No. Could I do anything, like go into a nearby pharmacy to buy another mask? No. Fair enough, but my only option was to do the walk of shame back in a huff, up the steeply inclined side streets looking like an anti-masker drop kick.
After this learning curve, I always kept five masks on me, always.