We returned from Spain, and all we got was a pandemic

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Photo by Caitlyn Bahm One of our first priorities in Barcelona was visiting one of the Gaudi buildings. My husband and I are on the rooftop terrace at Casa Batlló. The whole place was ornate, flowing, and luscious.

By CAROLYN BAHM
Express Editor
My family has certainly been on a coronavirus journey. And I mean that literally. We just got back from Spain earlier this month. (We’re not idiots … probably … it wasn’t a pandemic when we left!)
We never traveled much when my children were little because we just couldn’t afford it. We made it to Disney World one year and Gatlinburg another year, but otherwise vacations were just visiting family. We were happy with that, but it’s nice now that we can do more.
Today, we’re able to budget carefully so that we can take a nice family vacation every year or two, thanks to flight discounts through my husband’s employer. It’s a great benefit. We typically fly from Memphis or Nashville to Toronto, and from there to wherever we’re going in Europe.
Two years ago, we went to Paris for a week. It was a dream come true, even though we got bumped from planes for THREE DAYS when we were trying to come home. (There were snowstorms across the northeast U.S., and a major computer glitch slowed up flights.)
We were bumped from both flights home that Monday, spent a night at a nearby Paris hotel and faced another day of discouraging flight bumps the next morning. They told us we could pay full price (well over $3,000 total) and make it onto a plane, but there wasn’t room left for discount fliers like us.
So we took an airport employee’s suggestion to head to London, which had more daily flights home. That involved stuffing all our gear and ourselves into a bus, which dropped us off in Bruges, Belgium, for an ice-cold three-hour wait for a second bus. (While we were shivering, I kept telling myself, “This is an adventure.”) The bus finally arrived and we warmed our bones while the bus boarded a ferry to take us to the UK. We arrived at Heathrow the next morning too late for the first two flights to Toronto and were bumped from the remaining flights that day.
Oh well. We spent the night in the EasyHotel, a budget spot ($22/night) near Heathrow. It was the tiniest room we’ve ever stayed in other than at Disney, and the bathroom was literally small enough you could touch three walls from the toilet. The room’s walls were some sort of plasticized substance that gave the room a feel like they could just turn on a power-washer and hose down the whole room in a few seconds, and the floor was a hard surface, not carpet. It was decent enough and was very clean, but the look of the place earned my nickname of “the submarine hotel.”
The next morning, we missed the day’s first flight but were immensely relieved to make it onto the second one.
Last year’s journey to London was lovely but anticlimactic, travel-wise. This year, earlier in March we went to Barcelona, Spain. We’d been planning it since the fall of 2019, in honor of our younger daughter’s upcoming college graduation and the fact that Spanish is one of her minors.
As the date approached and coronavirus cases became more prominent in the news, we hesitated. There weren’t any travel prohibitions at the time, and it wasn’t yet called a pandemic. So we checked the spread of the virus online and saw there were relatively few cases in all of Spain, and most were in a different region than the one we were visiting. It seemed to be spreading slowly enough for our trip to be relatively safe.
Pack some hand sanitizer and we’re good, right?
Well …
When we left for Spain, there were 259 cases in the whole country. By the time we returned, there were 2,277 and it had been labeled a pandemic.
Coming home, I felt like a foolish surfer who thought the weather looked fine and darted out into the waves for a few hours, returning to the shore juuuuuuuust before the tsunami hit.
We only saw a few face masks at the airports on our outbound trip. By my estimate, it was about one out of every 50 people. By the time we flew back, it was about three out of every 10 people donning a mask (not counting the many people who kept scarves across their faces). Very sobering.
We returned on the day that President Trump closed U.S. borders to non-citizens. It was a relief that we didn’t have a hitch getting back home.
There were spare seats on every plane. Lines in Barcelona were almost non-existent, although the sidewalks, parks and attractions had plenty of foot traffic. Every day there was clear, cool and gorgeous. I didn’t expect the air to be so dry, but I loved that too. I’d recommend the ease of traveling during a pandemic, but only if you don’t mind spitting in the face of fate and daring it to spit back. We were lucky.
As a precaution, my family and I immediately self-quarantined when we got home: My husband at his employer’s request, me voluntarily with my employer’s permission, and our younger daughter because her university shut down all in-person classes. With one exception before my daughter started running a low-grade fever, we’ve only left the house to pick up groceries or medicine. She’s had about 99.4 degrees fever and a low appetite for a week now, but she’s not even sick enough to qualify for testing for the coronavirus. We don’t have other symptoms. It’s worrying, but she’s strong and healthy, and I’m hopeful.
I worried because I was aching a little when we returned, but it appears that was only because I’m middle-aged and out of shape and had been walking five or more miles a day during our trip. I feel fine now. My temperature hasn’t risen above 97.4. (I typically run low like that.) I don’t think I caught “the ‘Rona.”
I’m very glad we had a great time, made memories, and made it back home safely. I’m grateful we have the options to work from home while we self-quarantine. And I’m pledging to myself to take a more careful look at local and global health conditions before I vacation again.
What’s YOUR coronavirus story or your tips for daily life during quarantine? I hope your finances and health haven’t suffered, and you’re able to take some pleasure in working from home or taking time off with your family.