Travel in Times of Corona

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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.

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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.

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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.

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An Ode to the Joy of Travel Moments not just monuments

 

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Joie de vivre may be a French expression, but it is the Spanish who truly embody it. Whilst any conversation between you and your average Spaniard will be heard by the entire city (my neighbours seem particularly keen to ‘chat’ with Barcelona and me, every day, particularly about each other), they truly are some of the most content, loveliest, most even-tempered and kindest people I have ever met. Indeed, one of my greatest joys of living in Spain is the Spanish and, fortunately for me, the behaviour of some of my fellow Brits in Spain hasn’t ever been held against me (although this may be due to the fact that being above average height and blonde means I am Dutch in the eyes of most Spanish).

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There absolutely are some truths behind some stereotypes; there are reasons they exist. In Barcelona we are a hotchpotch of nationalities and my closest friends are American, Polish and Russian (and yes, we did walk into a bar together 😉 My American friend is relentlessly upbeat, my Russian friend approaches her series of dating disasters (several of her dates stole the tip she left for the waiter) with a shrug and “oh well, my grandparents got together in a gulag”, my Polish friend offers ‘honest advice’ on my Russian friend’s dress sense and I act as the classic British diplomat, my speech bubble belying my thought bubble. There is much to divide us, but what binds us, above everything else, is our shared humour, our shared love of travel and our love of life.

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I work entirely with American clients in my work as a tour guide, and almost every single American group has turned up concerned about being perceived as loud and obnoxious. It is at this point I realise Americans really do need to travel more, if for no other reason than to understand that if they want loud, they should try being in a museum with a group of Italians or at a football match with the English, ten p(o)ints down 😉

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But in all seriousness, I always tell them that this simply isn’t true. In fact, and I am not just saying this because I work with Americans, they are the most popular tourists (and I am not just saying that because they tip 😉  The reason is that the majority of Americans that I have taken around Europe are kind, enthusiastic, have a sense of fun and are blown away by what they see; they make me see things through their eyes, eyes which are wide open in amazement at the sites which are all too familiar to me and most other Europeans.

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