News from the world of travel, and the world in general, shifts at hyper-speed these days. Locals in previously locked-down destinations, including Italy, are tiptoeing back outside in spite of the coronavirus, while much of the rest of the globe remains in quarantine. It’s a spring like no other, where caution mingles with fear, hope with realism.
For now, most of us are satisfying our wanderlust by plotting future trips and setting out on virtual visits. Here are tips for touring a World War II museum from your sofa, insights on what’s happening at Europe’s UNESCO World Heritage sites, and hints at how the U.S. travel industry might move forward during the pandemic. The spirit of exploration is alive—and our feet will soon follow!
Italy’s cautious reopening
After the Italian government declared a national quarantine on March 9 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, photographer Francesco Lastrucci used his time in lockdown to archive his photos, paint watercolors, garden, and “live the slow life in general” at his home in Florence. But as soon as restrictions eased this week, Lastrucci was out with his camera.
Last weekend, cyclists and pedestrians crossed Florence’s Ponte Vecchio. “Everyone was more or less keeping social distances, everyone was wearing a mask,” says photographer Francesco Lastrucci, “but the interactions that people had missed for so long were back.”
“What I saw the moment I reached Piazza Santa Croce in late afternoon, just a couple of minutes’ walk from my door, was a mix of serendipity, harmony, and relaxation,” he says. “The square has always been at the center of our social life and it is such a relief to see it come back again.”
Although the scene in Piazza Santa Croce proves that Italians still know how to appreciate la dolce vita, much of Italy remains closed: retail stores, museums, theaters. Cafés and restaurants will open for takeaway only. Travel within regions is restricted to Italians visiting family members, and travel between regions is forbidden except for work or health reasons. The novel coronavirus continues to claim lives, and the country faces a deepening recession.
Yet, Lastrucci says he found a mood of joy and leisure on Florence’s streets. “Never in my life had I seen Florence without tourists,” he says. “Seeing Florentines enjoying and being in awe of their own city and their own landmarks, as if they were seeing them for the first time, was surprising.”
Honor the end of WWII
But the coronavirus has forced the staff—still employed thanks to the federal Paycheck Protection Program—to get creative. “We’re offering live programming online, showcasing items from the vaults, running interviews with vets, and producing a new podcast on FDR’s death and Truman taking the helm,” says Gemma Birnbaum, the museum’s director of media and education.
Via Zoom meetings and Facebook Live, the museum has been reaching 100,000 people a week, a number that may soar May 8 at 11 a.m. CST, when a webinar with 95-year-old former POW and B-24 pilot Jim Baynham sees him recounting tales of the war’s end and his time in a German stalag. “We miss interacting with museum visitors and the vets and concentration-camp survivors who speak there,” says Birnbaum. “But we’re digging deeper and showing our audience different things.”
Post-pandemic, Birnbaum says “museums have a long road to recovery. We’ll be taking our guidelines from the CDC and local hospitals before we figure out what that’ll look like.”
Learn how to forage via Zoom
Social distancing isn’t hard for Pascal Baudar, a 58-year-old forager who seldom frequented grocery stores, even pre-pandemic.
“People like me thrive best during emergencies because we are perfectly set up for them,” says Baudar.
Living at the foot of California’s Angeles National Forest, Baudar sources 60 percent of his diet from the wilderness to create enticing meals such as wild radish roots pickled in kimchi vinegar, acorn hummus, fermented mustard sauerkraut, King Oyster mushroom nuggets, and black mustard pasta with lamb’s quarters (a wild green).
With in-person tours on hold, Baudar has turned to Zoom to teach others how to forage—whether it’s around the backyard for fresh sage or hunting in the local hillsides for wild mustard.
This Thursday, discover which flowers, berries, roots, and bark to seek out for homemade beer with Baudar’s “Wild Beers and Ancestral Brews” virtual foraging class. As you prepare your happy hour kip, you’ll also learn about the medicinal or psychotropic purposes of wild beer.
Help Uganda’s rhinos
Dog and cat adoptions have skyrocketed in the U.S., in part because many people are working from home. If you love animals, but don’t want the hassle of daily walks or litter-box duty, you can “adopt” a southern white rhino, or at least contribute to its care and protection, at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Uganda. The sanctuary’s goal is to reintroduce the rhinos to Murchison Falls National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park, where they once roamed.
Contribute to the Rhino Fund Uganda, and it’ll help support 30 endangered animals living at the sanctuary, the only ones in the country. “We’re struggling to get funding, and game poaching is on the rise,” says the Rhino Fund’s executive director Angie Genade. For an adoption fee of $500, you’ll get a letter and periodic status updates on your horned friend, whether it’s feisty three-year-old Ajabu or Nakitoma, a mischievous one-year-old. Funds also go toward salaries for field and anti-poaching staff at the refuge, which Genade says has seen its income completely evaporate since temporarily closing March 24.
Go clubbing in Berlin and Montreal
Though they’re an ocean apart, Berlin and Montreal share an obsession with late-night live music and clubbing. Their scenes may currently be quieted by the pandemic, but both are finding virtual ways to make the beats go on.
In Berlin, after coronavirus-combatting regulations closed down nightclubs March 23, two arts groups, Clubcommission Berlin and Reclaim Club Culture, launched the United We Stream series of living room, livestream DJ sessions (including groovy light shows), which happen every evening. They’re free, but donations are suggested. So far, the project has raised €500,000 to support 250-plus temporaily shuttered clubs and their employees. “Clubs are part of Berlin’s culture,” says spokesperson Rosa Rave. “They’re where people find joy and refuge.”
Tune into the musical scene of Montréal—home to acts like Quebeçois rap group the Dead Obies and indie rockers Arcade Fire—with its tourism office’s new stay-home Spotify playlists. Options include a set inspired by MTL’s legendary coffeehouse scene and a lineup of jazz songs (including ones by venerable pianist Oliver Jones) that’ll have you dreaming of next summer’s Montreal Jazz Festival (this year’s event was canceled).
How to still visit UNESCO sites
Europe’s UNESCO World Heritage sites draw tens of millions of travelers, art lovers, and history buffs each year. France’s Mont Saint Michel; the palaces of Potsdam, Germany; the archaeological wonders of Olympia, Greece; and hundreds of other crown jewels and hidden gems make the continent the world’s most popular cultural tourism destination. Because of the pandemic, most of these sites closed to visitors in early March. But site managers are taking advantage of the unexpected emptiness to renovate and restore their monuments and gardens.
They’re also using this downtime to create spectacular images, videos, stories, quizzes, and virtual tours to share wonders with would-be travelers stuck at home dreaming of—and planning—future journeys. Learn about and virtually visit 34 fascinating European World Heritage sites at visiteuworldheritage.com, a UNESCO/National Geographic project highlighting sustainable ways to see the sites.
The travel lockdown is causing major challenges for most of these places, as well as for the patchwork of public and private agencies that manage them. Maintenance and restoration of World Heritage sites is mainly funded by tourism revenue, through ticket sales and taxes on tourism businesses and local citizens, all of which have plummeted. Heritage management agencies in European cities and countries will have to be creative and efficient, and rely on local volunteers and responsible travelers to restore and sustain conservation and public access for these shared treasures of humanity.
Just landed: travel news
- Art, re-energized: The HOFA Gallery Los Angeles, partnering with digital art investment platform ARTCELS, morphed its live exhibition into a virtual one, “XXI,” where art lovers can invest in—or simply gaze at—works by the likes of Banksy and Jeff Koons through May 18. On May 21, Beijing’s UCCA Center for Contemporary Art reopens after a months-long closure with “Meditations in an Emergency,” an exhibit responding to the coronavirus with paintings, videos, and photos from the past 15 years that raise questions about life, death, and globalization. Artist Angela Su, whose work was made for 2018–2019’s eerily prescient “Contagious Cities” project, has described civilization’s evolution alongside pandemics as a “deadly tango.”
- Travel industry ideas on reopening: How can U.S. hotels, airlines, and other tourist attractions operate during (and, soon—we hope—after) the coronavirus pandemic? It’s a tricky question that the U.S. Travel Association, with input from both the Centers for Disease Control and industry members, attempts to answer with a new set of guidelines the lobbying group dubs Travel in the New Normal. This “layered” approach includes suggestions that hotels, museums, and other businesses adopt no-touch entry and payment systems, utilize barriers to protect workers and guests, and incorporate enhanced cleaning protocols.
- An on-the-road podcast: Two Barcelona-based filmmakers and self-professed “ramblers” profile a fresh city each week on the new travel podcast Passport. The episodes go beyond guidebook must-do lists to focus on offbeat, sometimes odd local culture, from an underground mini city in Helsinki, Finland, to the “peace walls” that still divide Catholic and Protestant neighbors in Belfast, Northern Ireland.