Coronavirus Reports from Our Guides Around Europe

My entire office staff is working from home. But we’re not alone. Much of Europe is also taking part in quarantine and “social distancing” measures to halt the spread of coronavirus. One of the rare bright spots of these last several days have been the beautiful, touching, and sometimes funny reports from my European friends, which have been trickling in from all over the Continent. It’s clear that we are all in this together.

Here are a few highlights:

From Pål Bjarne Johansen in Oslo

I’m currently in quarantine in my apartment in Oslo after coming back from Spain. Luckily my girlfriend is here with me also. We have filled up the fridge and spend the time reading, cooking, scrambling together any little work we might find, and enjoying being in each other’s company.

The Norwegian government has launched pretty heavy economical help. Even freelancers seem to be getting some, so we will get by for sure. I worry more for people in other countries where the health system is not adequate and where losing your job means no income.

P.S. Plenty of porridge eating these days…and the freezer is full of lutefisk so we should be fine 😉

Stefan Bozadzhiev in Sofia, Bulgaria

It’s good to know that across the continents and oceans we belong together, we are a community, a family! We live in uncertain times, but we do hope for the best!

I’m at my home in Sofia, not willing to take any chances to go back to Kazanlak to my family, as my mom has underlying conditions and my grandparents are in their 80s. They have all the products and meds at the moment. Yesterday I had to visit numerous pharmacies just to get some vitamins. The prices of masks, sanitizers, and vitamins are skyrocketing — of course, if we manage to find some. The good thing is that people started organizing themselves and there are numerous volunteers, helping all those who cannot leave their homes. We have never had so many volunteers, and donations to public hospitals are pouring in.

It’s so strange for me not being able to go out and do what I love: showing my beautiful Bulgaria to curious travelers and teaching them about life here. This is what I miss most now.

Now I started gardening (on my balcony) and needle felting. As I can’t make masks for the hospitals, I decided to start making felted hearts and give to the medical staff, so that they know they are not alone in this fight. We are in this together!

I am sure we will handle this crisis and will weather the storm together! Stay healthy!

David Tordi (and Bartender) in Orvieto, Italy

Our friend and fellow tour guide, David Tordi (from Orvieto, Italy), leads a band called Bartender. We flew the entire band in to entertain our annual tour guide summit last year. During Italy’s lockdown, David’s guitar trio has innovated a way to share their unique brand of uplifting music while quarantined in their respective homes. It’s a beautiful thing to see:


Other Guides’ Video Reports

Several other guides are posting reports on Facebook:

Cathie Ryan live-streamed a musical St. Patrick’s Day greeting earlier this week.

Véronique Cauquil Savoye has been posting regularly on Facebook about what it’s like to live in Paris during these fast-changing times.

And Anna Piperato in Siena, Italy, shared her thoughts from home isolation.

Tina Hiti in Slovenia

Finally, Tina Hiti shared this especially poignant story about her two young boys, who love travel as much as she does, and how their family is weathering the crisis:

“Mom, are we not going to travel anymore?” was the first response of my 10-year-old son, when he heard that the tours I was planning to guide had been cancelled. Since I don’t want to reply with “I don’t know,” I started reassuring him that this will only last for a little while and everything will be back to normal soon: “We will travel! Don’t worry — there is a lot of world out there that we still need to see…”

This conversation happened exactly on March 1st. Today it’s March 16th and I am just about to download a program for the boys that will allow them to continue “going to school” for the next couple of weeks — well, at least, that’s what we are hoping for.

I have been working as a guide on Rick Steves’ Europe tours for the last 18 years. Travel has been a passion of mine for all my life, and with every passing year, I love it even more. It is addicting, travel. In our family especially. I traveled as a child with my Mom, Dad, and sister. I found a partner in life who loves it, too — and does the same job as me. And when we had kids, we decided to travel with them as much as possible. Every room in our house has treasured memories from travels around the world. When we don’t travel for our work, we travel for fun. We just returned from an ice hockey tournament in Canada — over 200 teams from all over the world competing in what my boys think is the best sport in the world. We had the time of our lives. But then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. Our passion for travel will now be browsing through pictures and looking at our walls at home…hopefully not for too long.

In Slovenia, the first coronavirus patient appeared on March 3. It felt so distant when news started coming from China of a new virus just a bit after New Year’s. Now it doesn’t anymore. It is here, with us, spreading around, and if we don’t act responsibly it will just spread more.

When my first tours to Italy were cancelled, I was worried, scared, in disbelief…but now, two weeks later, I know I am not alone in this. As the pictures from Italy were appearing on social media, I couldn’t believe how deserted and empty everything was. And now we have exactly the same situation. From March 16th on, all our public life is on hold. Schools are closing down, public transportation is shut, the airport no longer has any flights, borders are closed, and all other things are closed too — with the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies. Our government strongly suggests that we are all in self-isolation for at least two weeks, if needed even more.

Am I scared?  I was. But now the feeling is different. The fear is there, but there comes also the strength, determination, and some kind of reassurance that all will be OK eventually. Because I know we are all strong. There is hope on every corner. Amazing doctors that risk their lives and work overtime every single day. Police, fire departments, civil protection, volunteers, medical students. People offering help to the elderly. Music being played randomly on balconies. Even nature has decided to stick with us: The sun is shining and the flowers are blooming. The situation is gloomy, unpredictable, and full of uncertainty. But I believe we will all come out stronger, wiser, and more appreciative of the little things in life that we have taken for granted for so long. Maybe this is a reset for the world, for all of us.

So how we will make it work? We will spend quality time with our kids. We will help them with school when needed, play games that were stuck deep down in our wardrobes, teach them new ones, explore our neighborhood (thankfully, we live in a village), hang out with the grandparents, and travel through cuisine — cooking meals from corners of the world that we have visited. We’re reliving our trips through photographs that have been sitting on the computer for way too long. Cleaning closets, remodeling, going back to hobbies, reading books, listening to music, exercising, biking, playing hockey in the backyard, gardening…and resting. Slowing down. Being thankful for all good things in our lives with a hopeful thought that this is only a storm, and that rain eventually needs to stop.

And yes, my dear son, we will travel again!

Stay Connected with Our European Friends

If you’re in Europe and want to share your experiences, please do so in the comments.

And if you’re touched by these reports, as I am, take a moment to reach out to your favorite guides. They’re doing their part to weather this crisis, just like we are, and we need each other more than ever.