This is my account of travelling to a Covid-19 hotspot country. Recently, I went on a trip to Italy. It was supposed to be a pleasant jaunt to the southern city of Bari, a safe haven full of beaches and bars, one would be led to believe by the brochures and online websites depicting the city.
Upon arrival, we had our temperatures checked by five people sporting the masks which have become the symbol of the virus outbreak, anyone whose temperature peaked higher than it should be immediately separated from the group that exited the plane and taken into another room. That probably should have been the first tip-off that something was amiss in the country. I chose to ignore that and strolled out of the airport onto the next train to Bari Centrale.
The train was deserted, with maybe two or three people travelling in the same direction as us, all of them donning the face masks. As we exited the station and made our way out into the humidity of Southern Italy, there were still no signs of life. The streets were barren and laden with broken glass, but then I live in London, where that type of scene is a daily occurrence, so I saw no reason to panic and we strolled on over to the apartment we’d booked for a few days. Despite reading that the French media had accused Italy of lacing their pizzas with the Coronavirus, I was in Italy and wanted only two things; pizza and Peroni. That night was good, we found a lovely cheap restaurant and enjoyed a quintessentially Italian supper. There were no signs of reasons to panic at this point.
The weather was sunny and the other days suggested that rain was a certainty, so we took full advantage and checked out the Basilica, the beach walk, the city centre and museums. The Basilica was open, but the museums and government buildings all seemed to be completely empty. No worries yet, it was the middle of the day and Italy, much like Spain, follows a very strict siesta culture, closing from 14:00-17:00 daily.
As we wandered over to the main shopping street, we noticed military officials in place around the streets. That raised a couple of red flags for me, why would the military be positioned in a small, touristy city and where we’re all the police? There was a smattering of people around the area and we had a wonderful lunch of octopus sandwiches, apparently a delicacy in Bari and the south of Italy. I started to notice more and more people wearing masks and covering their faces entirely. The hysteria level was high here and we were hundreds of miles away from the red zone in northern Italy.
After realising everything was closed, we headed back to the apartment to cook some typically Italian pasta for ourselves, everything on the way back was closed.
We wanted to explore the surrounding regions, so we were looking at trips, which we’d done before in Spain and England, but the prices were upwards of 300 euros per person. That was a steep ask for a day trip. Another red flag. We have confined to the apartment for the majority of the second day thanks to less than stellar weather. The opera in Bari is supposed to be an excellent part of your visit and that’s something we wanted to do, but when visiting the website to book tickets, we were met with the news that the opera was closed due to the recent Coronavirus outbreak.
Cue frantically looking for ways to exit the city. Around an hour later and we had booked a flight to Cologne, Germany the next day thanks to very cheap travel deals.
The airport in Bari was almost completely empty. There were hardly any people in the security queue and even fewer waiting in the lounges for their flights. The bar was so empty that we had the entire space to ourselves and were able to make several video calls and finish two beers before the next person even came close to entering. At that point, I was more than happy to know that my hours in Italy were numbered. It was a weird sensation since it’s a country I’ve been dying to visit for a long time and it was marred so heavily by the outbreak and the limitation of normal life. The plane was almost empty despite the fact that two buses were required to transport us from the terminal to the plane.
Arriving in Germany was a breath of fresh air after a chaotic few days. Germany is a wonderful country which is incredibly efficient. The trains are dead on time and the infrastructure is just amazing.
The food is a wonderful part of visiting Germany and if you’re in Cologne, I strongly suggest having lunch or dinner at a restaurant opposite the cathedral called Gaffel Am Dom, it’s one of the best places to try Kolsch, one of the beers made in Cologne. They also make a mean currywurst and a great hamburger, which if you’re eating with a partner or friend, make a curiously delicious combination.
If you’re in Cologne, you also need to make a stop at the cathedral when you can. The building itself is a marvel of the gothic era, but if you’re lucky enough to be there when a service is taking place, then you’re in for a treat. It’s great to see such passion and togetherness, whether you believe in religion or not. The riverside walk is also extremely beautiful and you should spend a couple of hours just wandering around the area. I can imagine in summer, it would be lovely to enjoy a beer in the sun at one of the fine bars along the bank.
While strolling around the town looking at the majestic fountains, I noticed a shop for the beer Fruh, which is the rival beer in the city. It’s an interesting store since you can enjoy a glass of the product while perusing the merchandise. Luckily for us, it was international women’s day and we were able to watch the protests, which were peaceful and more in the form of a parade than an ugly demonstration. After purchasing a few things in the shop and polishing off a small glass of beer, we actually ended up joining the march for solidarity and it felt great. Not only did I feel like we were performing a moral good, but I felt a sense of relief looking around at the crowd and realising that there were very few people wearing face masks.
Germany is holding the virus off very well and I believe it’s to do with their efficient and positive health care system. I hope that the UK will take some tips from Germany and Spain’s health care systems and learn how to combat the spread before we have to start taking measures akin to Italy. All in all, Italy is a beautiful country, but it’s not great right now and it’ll take a little time for it to recover, but I really hope to go back when it’s all back on track. I also hope to revisit Germany and explore the country by train, and definitely recommend Cologne or Berlin. Have you visited anywhere in the Coronavirus danger zones? You can discuss this article and other issues with your friends on our language exchange section!
Written by: Anonymous