Four days after leaving home for what was supposed to be a relaxing holiday in the Maldives, I am home again. After the rollercoaster days in Dubai, Bahrain, and Abu Dhabi, I need some time to settle down and let it all sink in. For the first time in thirty years, I don’t know when I will next leave home. The pandemic situation is rapidly getting out of hand, and the local authorities declare what they call an “intelligent lockdown”.
Fortunately, the weather is awesome, and I sit in my little garden to think about all the things that have happened, trying to make sense of it all, and to see a bigger picture. And then, the picture becomes very clear. I realise my lifestyle has changed beyond recognition, but mostly, that I will never have the same life I had until just weeks before, for a long time to come.
That life was dynamic life: flying for work, and then flying privately to travel more. After visiting my last country in 2017, and completing my goal of visiting all countries on the planet, I have continued to travel around very frequently. Oftentimes, after arriving home from a work trip, I would unpack, pack, and leave again. This, basically, has been my way of life for some 30 years. Near the end of every trip, I would start planning my next.
Now, however, that life has come to a standstill. The world has come to a standstill. I have no idea when my next flight will be, either for work or for leisure. The only thing I can do now, is to stay home. Even domestic travel is only allowed to urgent reasons, and no matter how much I miss being on the move, I don’t consider my desire to travel as “urgent”.
I end up reorganising my house, throwing away stuff, cleaning, painting my house, buying new furniture. I am now able to give my house the attention is has been lacking for such a long time. One big advantage is that spring is a historically sunny and warm season this year, and I take full advantage of that. In between all the chores, I stay in my garden, and read. I do sports. And to my surprise, I do not sleep more, even now that I try to catch up on all the lost hours of sleep, and all the skipped nights.
Of course, my travel blood still runs through my veins, and when measures are slowly being relaxed, I start getting more itchy. Until, one day, I see that I am assigned on a flight to Seoul, flying back through Beijing. I am elated, also because South Korea allows people to move around, they have very good testing facilities, and there are still many things in the city I want to see and do. On top of that, I will fly on the 747-400, my favourite aircraft, which was hastily retired in March and which has made a quick comeback as freighter plane.
Instead of the hotel in the city, we now stay near the airport, so I have to take a train into town. I hike Gwanak mountain, one of the ranges within the city which are wilder and bigger than you would expect of a metropole. Hiking up the rocky mountain, I get a taste of what life was like before the virus turned into a pandemic. It feels awesome, but in the back of my mind, I know that it will only last for my 24 hours in the city before I fly back home, back to a partial lockdown.
The next week, my travel partner and I visit Baarle Nassau, an enclave in the south of The Netherlands. It is a medieval curiosity, with patches of Belgium smack in the middle of The Netherlands. White crosses mark the border of the enclaves and counter-enclaves, and after my long travel drought, we take special pleasure in crossing those borders as much as we can. We keep count in the beginning, but lose it after we have crossed the border dozens of times. It feels like a revenge on the virus. What is curious in these times, is that some shops have the border running straight through them. Measures in Belgium are stricter than in The Netherlands, so it means that part of the shop is closed, while the other part is open.
After several months of severely restricted movement, infection numbers are finally coming down, hospitals are sending patients home, and the European Union is striving to open up borders. As soon as we hear that many countries will open up on June 15, we buy a ticket to Sofia. We are excited like school kids when we pack our bags - off we go!