During the German occupation in 1941, the people of Guernsey were struggling. All farm animals were confiscated to feed the soldiers. Some were given potatoes to plant.
One family managed to hide a pig. When they decided to cook and eat it, they quietly invited a few friends to share the momentous feast in secret. Tummies rumbled, their mouths dripping with saliva. They leaned in to smell the perfectly cooked meat and lingered, savouring it for as long as possible. It’s been a long time since they’ve had a decent meal, but each knew it would be even longer before they’ll taste anything like it again.
They were hungry, but what they were really starved of most, was fellowship, the company of each other. You may recognise this scene from the movie The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. A good movie based on a 2008 novel written by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. The characters may be fictional, but the war and the German occupation of Guernsey from 1940 to 1945 was real.
Sixty years later, at the end of 2020, we don’t have armed soldiers on patrol to violently enforce curfews and strict rules here in the UK, but that hunger for companionship and fellowship is as alive now as the famine spreading through third world countries.
All over the world, people suffer, losing jobs, homes, loved ones. Not because of war, but because of an ever-spreading virus that caused a worldwide pandemic. Because of the drastic government regulations put in place to fight the invisible enemy that has replaced those armed soldiers from the 1940s. Many are literally starving. Most yearn for fellowship, for the company of family and friends as we are separated from each other to stop the spread of Covid. Yes, it was a tuff year, upside down and downright scary, but it wasn’t all bad.
Off To A Good Start – Italy in Janaury
Our 2020 started on a high, in northern Italy at Lake Garda and Scaliger Castle. This was where we ended a ten-day tour around Italy from Milan to Florence, Pisa, and Cinque Terre travelling on a budget by public transport – mainly trains – kids in tow. Yes, it can be done and be surprisingly enjoyable.
In fact, it should be done. Not only for the iconic places we saw; Ponte Vecchio, The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the sinking castle of Sirmione, and the cathedrals of Milan and Florence; but for the unforgettable memories we made ice-skating on Christmas day in Florence, watching the indescribable sunsets of Cinque Terre, exploring Milan with friends and family and having a ball at Gardaland while feasting on chocolate-covered waffles and white hot chocolate marshmallow drinks to warm our cold hands. To name a few.
It all made for a kick-ass start to the new year filled with promise and excitement of more adventures to come in 2020.
The FCO advised against all but essential travel to Wuhan in China – the epicentre and origin of the Covid-19 outbreak – on the 23rd of January 2020. By the 31st of January, the first two cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in the UK.
It Got Better – Japan in February
My mom came over to the UK from South Africa to stay with us while B had to work in Japan for a few months. This, of course, gave me the chance to join him in Tokyo for a week in February while Granny looked after the children. But first B and I snuck off to London for a night to attend The Destinations Holiday & Travel Show at Olympia and to celebrate his birthday and our anniversary.
I made good use of my time away with B to explore Tokyo and the Japanese culture as well as one can in only a week. I did as much as I could. From guided walks and rickshaw tours through popular districts to magnificent Mount Fuji, bustling local markets, cherry blossoms in Ueno Park and the ultimate cultural experience in a Japanese home. A traditional tea ceremony where I was patiently taught how to prepare and enjoy a authentic Japanese meal. I even learned how to write my name in Japanese calligraphy and how to fold the iconic origami crane. It was amazing!
While I was living out my most vivid travel dreams in Japan, the coronavirus was slowly spreading in the UK and already 984 cases and 4 deaths were confirmed in northern Italy where we had been only a month ago. My own mom fell gravely ill while I was away, but she only told me about the extent of it when I got home. It took her many weeks to recover. In hindsight, we now think she had Covid-19, but we don’t know for sure.
We went into isolation as a family from the day that I got back from Japan.
There were 23 confirmed Covid cases in the UK by the end of February.
March came and went in what set the precedent for coming months, a haze of days and nights flowing into each other until you didn’t know if you were coming or going and which way was up. Many days I didn’t even get up, stayed in my pj’s and binge-watched Netflix like the rest of the nation who had nowhere to go.
We isolated and stayed home for months, not going far from home unless absolutely necessary, shielding my mom, homeschooling the kids and ordering what we needed online. I made the mistake to follow the news and closely watched the coronavirus outbreak spread, wrapping its ugly tentacles around the globe. A frightening experience that was so different from the adventures of January and February.
The first death in the UK from covid-19 was reported on the 5th of March 2020 and the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced funding for a vaccine. By mid-March the risk level to the UK was raised from moderate to high, markets fell, the FTSE100 plunged by more than 10%, people were panic buying, especially toilet paper, and festivals and events were cancelled. This effected us and our household income directly as B’s work is related to the events industry.
By the end of March Prince Charles, the prime minister and many officials had Covid-19, parliament shut down for a month, churches were closed, thousands of jobs were cut, we clapped for frontline workers, our freedom of movement was severely restricted. There was a sharp rise in reported cases of anxiety and depression, travel was mostly grinding to a standstill, more than 10,000 people were in the hospital with covid and there were 1,789 covid-related deaths in the UK alone.
B returned from Japan earlier than expected due to the virus outbreak, with very little work on the horizon. The British government did a stellar job to support businesses with financial loans and an effective job retention scheme that made monthly furlough payments to employees possible.
In April, Queen Elizabeth II said that “coronavirus will not overcome us” when she made her first-ever Easter message to the nation, Captain Tom Moore turned 100. By the end of the month, Boris said we’re past the peak, that restriction would be eased and that schools would reopen in phases from June.
There were 26,097 recorded covid-related deaths in the UK by end of April. On the 31st of May, the number of people who died after testing positive for Covid-19 rose to 38,489.
I kicked June off with a little bicycle accident, injuring my left foot and ankle so that I was out of action for months. GP’s were already overwhelmed and spread thin, so my injury earned very little sympathy or attention in the face of a deadly virus that was killing thousands of people worldwide. Medical care for people with life-threatening illnesses had to wait for treatment as hospital beds were flooded with covid patients.
What I needed was a good physio, but they were not working due to the pandemic. They took x-rays, confirmed that nothing was broken, reluctantly gave me the last pair of crutches and sent me home with instructions to be back on my feet and to return the crutches after two weeks. Ha! Four months and a few private physio sessions later, I walked with a slight limp and returned their crutches.
Elsewhere in the world, fires were burning in cities as #BlackLivesMatter protests caused riots and widespread violence, eventually reaching the streets of London. South Africa was facing harsh times as the corrupt ANC government embezzled most of the covid relief fund, leaving nothing to boost or save an already struggling population and a crumbling health system unprepared for future outbreaks or emergencies. In the UK, it was reported that people under the age of 30’s income were the hardest hit by a pandemic that mainly targets the elderly and vulnerable. Deprived areas were hit twice as hard as affluent areas, rural areas were better off than urban areas.
The covid-related deathtoll in the UK was nearing 55,000.
Up and Down the Stone STeps Of Portugal On Crutches
With all the time I had on my hands, I came across land and ruins for sale online at absolute bargain prices in central Portugal. As travel restrictions were easing, we flew out early in July to finalise in person the purchase of a small piece of land and to see what living conditions were like for ourselves. Why were these places being sold so cheap?
We made a road trip of it, hired a small car at Lisbon airport and drove to the central region to stay in Pedrogao Grande for a few days. Then to the coast where we stayed in a popular seaside town and surf hotspot, Peniche, for a few more nights.
Central Portugal is hot in summer and very cold in winter. Mountains and lakes provide all you need for an adventurous outdoorsy lifestyle. This is where many Portuguese come to spend their summers when tourists take over and flood coastal towns. It’s also the perfect place for off-grid living.
Rural areas are sparsely populated with many houses abandoned as people leave for the promise of a better income and a brighter future in cities or abroad; a problem in many European countries. The Italians went so far as to put abandoned properties up for sale for one euro in a bid to revive these places.
The drive along the Atlantic coastal highway from Figueira da Foz all the way to Lisbon was great, right up our alley and filled with idyllic holiday towns. I wanted to buy a house in every place we drove through, the next outdoing the one before, but I would have to play and win the lottery first. Dreams dreams dreams!
All we know about Portugal is that we will be going back as often as we can, that the food is amazing, the wine is good and the people are fantastic. We can’t wait to take the kids.
When we returned from Portugal, our focus was to get my Mom back to South Africa. Her return flight was cancelled about three times by British Airways due to Covid-related travel restrictions. She was supposed to return mid-July for important eye-surgery in her hometown, George, but that was also cancelled because of the pandemic. We eventually managed to get her on a flight in October. She missed her previous flight because she did not have a negative PCR test certificate.
I cannot tell you how stressed and frustrated we all were with the whole process. With all the cancellations and communications, emails and extra expenses! My mom’s poor nerves were at an end by the time she was finally able to board her flight home. All in all, she was stuck in the UK for almost 4 months longer than she was supposed to visit.
The New Normal
A phrase everyone’s already tired of! After a wet summer holiday and a short camping break to the west coast in a teeny tiny glamping pod (not recommend for a family of five on a rainy weekend although it is much better than a tent), September rolled around and the schools reopened. Life returned to a semblance of normality.
When you’re slowly losing your mind while struggling to cope with things outside of your control, a routine – the very thing that I’m apparently hardwired to avoid – can be a lifesaver.
Three days camping at Tamar Lake near Bude in North Cornwall just before schools start again. The Pod worked well,…Posted by Family Travel Explore on Wednesday, 2 September 2020
I don’t think I ever wrote that post where I shared my ultimate opinion about homeschooling while travelling full-time and there’s a good reason for that. I can sum it up in a few sentences like so: Homeschooling is great for people who have to or want to, but while we have a choice and while the kids enjoy school and while it suits both them and us, school is the best place for them. Oh look, only needed one sentence for that.
Once school and extra murals started again, things got better and I loved being back in our routine. For some strange reason, when we had nothing to do, I did less. When we got busy again, I started doing all the things I enjoyed, the stuff that keeps me going, those things that give you a feeling of satisfaction and purpose. Purpose. A very important ingredient to life I’ve discovered during the big isolation and lockdown of 2020.
It’s almost over
The last few months of the year can be summarised as uneventful but happy and peaceful for us at home. Thanks to lockdown, we explored more of our local countryside on our bikes and on long walks. We even attempted a failed hike to the next village with our older two children on a cold windy day. The walk was abandoned half-way when we passed a train station. We unanimously decided to skip a few miles and fast forward to the nice forest bit at the end before we checked into a lovely hotel for the night.
The rest of the world seemed to be in a general state of chaos based on the headlines. Think terrorist attacks, ongoing riots, the absurdity of North Korea and whispers of world war three, civil wars in third-world countries, crimes against humanity, human trafficking on a mass global scale, and tension between the US, China, Australia and whoever else matters. Jo Biden won the US election and Trump still refuses to hand over the throne.
Then, just as vaccines are rolled out in the UK, new strains of the coronavirus rear their ugly heads. Christmas is cancelled, but at least Boris managed to strike a Brexit deal with the EU. We’re back in full lockdown.
1,828,284 People have died globally so far from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak as of January 01, 2021 (Source: Worldometer)
As a family, we had an amazing time together over Christmas and last night, B and I had a full-on dance party with the kids from 7 pm to midnight, all dressed up and everything! We taught them how to sakkie-sakkie, two step and waltz to the Klipwerf Orkes.
We left everything on the dancefloor and nailed the Just Dance stuff on YouTube, sang karaoke and played charades until Alicia Keys announced that it was time for the count-down on BBC 1. Matt had twelve grapes (one for every gong) and a glass of bubbly ready for each of us. We hugged and kissed on the last clang of the gong and deeply, sincerely wished each other a very happy different new year. We were blessed to start 2020 on a high and we are blessed to end it even better; happy, healthy and together! The in-between is now in the past and we’re all ready to move on.
I hope that 2020 was not too hard on you. If it was, we pray that things will get better and that you can hold on to hope, faith and all that is good.
They say that we shouldn’t look forward to the new year because Mad Max played out in 2021. We all know how that goes. Things are still so uncertain, but never the less, we WILL look forward to a better year ahead, full of love, happiness and health.
Happy New Year!