As this strangest of years draws to a close, I am putting finger to keypad one more time to describe my travels in the time of pandemic. My final jaunt of the year taken before the second lockdown was imposed was to Venice as September turned to October. I will preface this post with my usual disclaimer. While traveling to, and while in Venice, I observed all physical distancing, hand hygiene and mask-wearing guidelines. I observed the fourteen-day quarantine period upon my return to Ireland – which as I have previously mentioned is not that difficult when you live alone. I kept this excursion entirely to myself again, not wanting to hear people’s criticism or judgement of my decision to travel. The only person I was placing at risk by my choice was myself, and for the sake of my sanity, I thought my decision was sound.
Each year over the Christmas and New Year period, the Abbey (Ireland’s national theatre) stages a show with an extended run. These productions tend to be crowd-pleasers which suits the time of year, and also act as slightly more adult counterparts to the insanity of the panto season. For the past three years I have attended – ‘Drama at Inish’ last year; ‘Come from away’ in 2018; and ‘Let the right one in’ in 2017. All were wonderful.
It was November 2019. I was sitting at my desk in the Wastelands pondering opportunities for foreign travel in 2020. I wanted to visit places that I had never previously travelled. Destinations in Europe that fit such a description were becoming scarce. With the exceptions of the Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania. I went online and booked a trip – flight into Riga on Thursday 9th March and then fly back from Vilnius on Tuesday. A two for one holiday. As March approached there were rumblings about coronavirus. It became very real in the middle of February flying back from Rome. The guards in haz-mat suits taking temperatures of people departing struck an ominous note. In early March I decided that the Plague made it unwise to travel. The air of the apocalypse hung heavy. It felt like Armageddon. I postponed my trip until late August.
If I survived then surely things would be back to normal by autumn. Little did I know. The August flights were not cancelled, and Covid related deaths and infections in Ireland had drastically reduced. I was willing to take the risk to make the trip. Unfortunately Latvia and Lithuania were not so lackadaisical. If I was I to travel I would be expected to self-isolate for fourteen days upon entry. Reluctantly I decided not to travel. Crossing the border between Latvia and Lithuania by bus might be tricky. I didn’t want to get into trouble with the Baltic authorities. Ryanair didn’t reimburse me. Of course they didn’t – it is Satan’s favourite airline. The flight was not cancelled therefore if I was going to be charged more than the flight originally cost if I were to postpone. With a heavy heart the Thursday of departure passed. I remained in Dublin.
The following week felt heavy. This pandemic seemed relentless and eternal. On Wednesday I was staring morosely out the window at the Luke Kelly statue, hissing at the emails from my work customer as they appeared in my inbox. I was idly entering destinations onto the ‘fare-finder’ section of the Ryanair website. This is the section that offers last minute deals. What was this – a Friday to Monday return flight to Barcelona cost 40 euros. I had no intention of going anywhere. Out of curiosity I opened booking.com. What was this – three nights in a pension in the Gothic Quarter for nineteen euros a night? In other words a three day trip to one of Europe’s most beautiful cities would cost under a hundred euros. Departure in thirty-six hours. As if in a daze I clicked on the ‘buy ticket’ button, giving a little yelp of terror as I did so.
I live alone. I am not part of a social bubble with another person. Working from home each day, I can often go the entire week without meeting anyone in real life apart from the shop assistants in Marks and Spencer when I am on a yellow stickered luxury food items mission. These foods don’t require any effort other than to place them in the oven (and if truth be told I would never be able to assemble a scallop bake on my own). It’s been like this for most of the year. It’s been annoying and difficult while remaining reasonably manageable.
However in July I threw caution to the wind, and booked a flight to London for a three day trip. Having witnessed how toxic judgement can be towards people who choose to bend the rules to accommodate their personal situation, I kept this trip off social media at the time. I was unwilling to deal with other people’s reactions. Particularly from people who had either a garden or who lived with another human being. On my trip, I would follow the rules by washing my hands; socially distancing, wearing a mask and continuing my self-isolated life as normal when I returned. My conscience was clear, but I wasn’t going to trumpet my travel plans. Click link below to continue
My phone beeped to notify me that a new pair of jeans were ready collect in Dunnes’ Stores on Henry Street. I had ordered them online four days previously to prepare myself for winter. The time was 2pm. Having spent the morning drinking tea, and exchanging scurrilous and libellous gossip with a friend in London I needed to take an excursion to get some exercise. I decided to walk through Sean McDermott Street in the north inner city on my way to the shop. I wanted to see the Mother and Baby Home on that street.
Sometime on Tuesday night, I woke up coughing. I was not initially worried. Even though it has been three years since I quit smoking, each year since – as the winter draws in – I get a brief case of the remnants of a smoker’s cough. Nothing like the hollow, hacking sound that cough mixture couldn’t reach, back in the smoky days – but a faint, irritating condition nonetheless. When after two hours of coughing it hadn’t ceased, I started to worry.
It’s now seven months since the soggy lockdown was introduced. This initial stage – pre official lockdown – was when we were all sent home, told to work from there, and to maintain physical distancing from people outside your household. As I packed up my laptop and mouse on that happy Thursday, I was expecting to be back in the office in the Wastelands by April 1st. I wonder how that bag of apples I left in my locker is faring?
Two weeks from now it will be seven months since the hard lockdown came into force. It seems like a decade ago. Back then I had a trip to Latvia and Lithuania planned for Friday 20th March. Sensibly I postponed this trip to the distant mists of the future, to a time when we’d be back gamboling through Fairview Park, with the global pandemic but a distant memory – September. September was last month. Both countries were – at the time – on Ireland’s green lists. This meant that I’d be spared the consequence of self-isolating for two weeks upon my return to Ireland.
Dublin has just entered the second week of level 3 Covid-19 restrictions, to tackle the surge in infection rates in the city. Level 3 means a tightening of the restrictions from Level 2 – where the rest of the country (aside from Donegal) now sits. Level 3 means that art galleries and museums are closed; as are theatres. House parties are limited to six people from outside your home – but all have to be from the same household. Bars and restaurants – whether they serve food or not are closed – unless they have an outdoor seating area, in which case they can could cater to a maximum of fifteen people.
‘Well that’s restrictive,’ I thought to myself. On Thursdays I received a message from a friend asking if I’d be willing to take a chance on having a sociable beverage on Saturday evening (along with the compulsory €9 meal – in Ireland bars that serve food were allowed to open, whereas bars that didn’t were not – Covid respects cuisine you see, and it stops moving when a substantial meal is being consumed – or something.)
I agreed. Three weeks under a renewed semi-lockdown as the days get shorter, and a distinct chill arrives in the air sounded unutterably grim. Particularly (as I have repeatedly said) for those of us living alone in an apartment without a garden. ‘We’re all in this together’ rings hollow when the four walls start closing in on you.
With a steely resolve I went online – I wasn’t taking any chances. With such limited opportunity for revelry I decided to make a booking to make sure we got a seat.
I received a call from a friend a couple of days before the new lockdown for Dublin was declared; asking if I’d be interested in accompanying her to the Druid Theatre production of ‘Druid Gregory’ in the grounds of Coole Park in Gort on Sunday evening. She had acquired a pair of tickets for the sold out show. I had a very brief internal debate about the wisdom of traveling West on the weekend that the capital closed up shop once again. Considering I live alone, work from home and only meet a small handful of people at a socially distanced level on any given week, my decision was easy. I was going to the theatre for only the second time since March (in August I went to see Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince’ by Bewley’s Café Theatre in the Irish Georgian Society building on South William Street in Dublin.
Last week I was suffering from cabin fever. I have been quite conscientious about getting out and about in Dublin for walks during the Plague, and at this stage I could probably become a tour guide for Dublin with little training – if tourists ever come back to Dublin that is. By last Thursday however my patience was running thin. Would I ever go anywhere again? During normal times this would be the point where I’d log on to the website of Satan’s favourite airline and book a flight on a blue and yellow airplane, to go somewhere last minute for the weekend. Obviously this was no longer possible. I decided a train trip would be a suitable alternative. My destination was to be Kilkenny.