Drum roll please. The magician removes the tablecloth; miraculously the plates, cups and saucers all remain in place and everyone applauds. Except this time Corona removed the tablecloth and the only clapping is for the medical profession. Everything still looks the same. Almost. But it’s not actually the same.
This is how I feel about Barcelona, the city I have called home for the past four years, a city which has been ‘the’ destination for decades. The beach is still inviting, but there is rope to cordon it off to ensure that we sheep can be counted onto the sand, to ensure social distancing. The tables and chairs are out, just a little further apart, and the waiter is masked, as much to protect the customers from seeing the pain of the past few months etched upon his face, as to protect the customers from any virus threat.
We can often feel disconnected from the real world, never more so than in lockdown. Even with lockdown lifted I can’t help but feel somewhat of an observer and as if it’s still not quite real. I can go through the same actions, even if it is whilst wearing a mask, and yet it isn’t the mask that disconnects me or is unsettling; it feels like a charade.
When I travelled back to Spain a few weeks ago, from an unexpectedly prolonged stay in the UK due to lockdown, I went though the usual motions and yet it wasn’t the same. There was not a soul to be seen upon my arrival at Gatwick and a mere six flights departing. No queue for security, no queues anywhere. One shop open in the terminal. The plane was about half full and Barcelona airport deserted upon my return. All of these things are definite blessings; a return to how it used to be, it’s just sad to consider at what cost.
Will 2020 provide us with the clarity of vision we so desperately need? Mass tourism can’t continue as it has done to date. Saturation point happened several years ago and yet as with Covid 19, the numbers continued unabated. It seemed as if nothing would halt it. Cities such as Barcelona, Rome, Paris, Florence and Venice, to name but a few, were far too crowded; tour guides’ paddles no contest for the rising flood waters of Venice. Residents fed up with being invaded by a small army every day, sprayed their frustration on walls and hung banners, but as is so often the case in the south of Europe, such manifestations are ubiquitous and therefore largely ignored, Peter having cried wolf once too often.
Christmas is cherished by most. If Christmas were to happen every weekend, would we value it? Would it be as special? Presents every weekend cheapen the whole experience. Travel needs to be considered in a similar vein. As a child I looked forward to the one big summer holiday abroad each year, a holiday which might prove one of the two occasions when photos were taken that year. How times have changed.
Absence truly does make the heart grow fonder. Where prisoners once counted down the days on walls, today’s prisoners scroll through Instagram in between checking where restrictions have been lifted, desperate for their sentences to come to an end. And yet we are not being let out into the same world. We are being let out for good behaviour and lack of good behaviour will see us sent back inside. Recidivism only puts us back to where we once were.
The pandemic has forced us into living differently, but this can be a force for good. Does anyone enjoy sharing their trip of a lifetime penned in with 50m who had the same idea? I believe most people would rather have fewer trips and a more pleasurable overall experience. I suggest a return to placing a trip abroad back on its pedestal. Something for us to save up for and to cherish.
As someone who has worked as a tour guide for fourteen years, it may seem odd to write the above, but one of the reasons I set up Lucy Loves Travel a few years ago, was because I wanted to promote personalised, once in a lifetime trips. I wanted to encourage people to travel better: off season where possible; visiting smaller, lesser known destinations; experiencing life in harmony with and supportive of the local area and taking fewer, but more enhanced trips. Quality over quantity.
I want to encourage people to travel; it’s one of the greatest privileges in life to be able to visit other countries. I just want us to acknowledge the privilege and act accordingly. It is incumbent upon us to change how we live and how we travel:
‘To save your world, you asked this man to die; would this man, could he see you now, ask why?’