“Out and about” looks vastly different in the shadow of Covid-19.

To me, this new face of travel was particularly evident in the experience of our first real excursion out of Treviso and Veneto just last week. Three and a half months before, we’d entered full lockdown and our new reality became 98% of each and every day in our home. Thank goodness it’s beautiful, full of light and with great city center views, so if we had to be “prisoners” somewhere, this was pretty damn good.

During full lockdown (2+ months), our “allowed” trips out our front door required diligence to wearing masks and proper social distancing. By the time we entered a slightly relaxed phase, allowing more freedom of movement, these practices had become a habit.

Our trip to Liguria provided a good look at the new face of travel here in Italy.

How would it be once we left the safety and security of our home and town where we had confidence that the large majority of the populace was being steadfast in the practices proved to knock back the spread of Covid-19? We were both nervous, which is why we opted to not take the two long train rides and instead do a long drive, of which I have never been a fan.

We’d packed food and water. Check. En route, we pushed our bladders to the limit, and we had to pull into an AutoGrill for a pit stop and an always amazing espresso. The place was sparsely populated. Usually, at this time of the year, people are pouring in and out the doors. Loads of lingering and lively conversation. Not this time.

We donned our masks, doused our hands with sanitizer at the main entrance the entrances to the restrooms. Inside the AutoGrill, there was one person working the bar, pulling coffees, heating up panini, and ringing up purchases. Other people, wearing masks, waited dutifully on the spots clearly marked on the floor. Most people took coffee to go. No visible lingering. So, all that was good and confidence-inspiring.

A short train trip.

Once we’d rested up after arriving in Liguria (a couple of days), we decided to head down to Genova to tour the city and to see its world-famous aquarium. I’ll do a separate post about Genova itself (can’t wait to go back with my full arsenal of photo equipment), so stay tuned. Instead, I’ll keep this post to the new face of travel in the world of Covid-19 here in Italy.

We bought tickets online, so nothing else was required of us at the station regarding documents (and trackability). Trenitalia retains all our essential info when we book online. Otherwise, you’re now asked for additional documentation. You can’t just book a general (anonymous) ticket from the kiosk at the terminal. Smart, in my opinion.

In the booking process online we were given plenty of notice as to what to expect and how to behave at the station and on the train. Bravo!

At the station, we were obliged to follow neon lime-green floor decals to ensure we kept property security distance.

The rules of engagement clearly articulated.

Onboard, train travel is a dramatically different experience in the shadow of Covid-19.

The new face of travel means that trains have designated entrance-only and exit-only doors. Available seats are clearly marked in an every-other checkerboard pattern with BIG stickers on the seats that can’t be used. Maintaining the proper security distance is paramount.

Then, people settle into their cocoons, like in the featured photo for this post. Like the woman, many retreat into sleep. Others keep one watchful eye open to be sure other people are behaving. That would be me, in case you were wondering. A guy sitting behind us on our train was speaking loudly, all while his mask was fixed around his neck. No barrier to whatever was being spewed from his mouth along with a torrent of words. I gave him the “look,” then went to stand in the area between cars. If I’d stayed to stubbornly make a statement, that would also be saying to myself that I was willing to take a risk for my pride. No going there.

The new face of travel is no longer a social, enjoyable adventure.

Standing and reflecting on the new face of travel.

As I stood in the area between cars, safely out of “whatever” might be lingering in the air on the other side of the car window, I was struck by a very, very somber mood. That’s when my mind flew back to travel of just four or five months ago in which I witnessed unfettered socializing and lively conversation. I’ve been so accustomed to the palpable joy that comes with travel adventures. Now, travel is a very different animal, one that comes with planning and vigilant adherence to the rules created to protect us and keep Covid-19 on a shorter leash.

Putting the chatty, seemingly unworried passenger aside, the rest of the train’s occupants had their heads down and were focused on getting through the process and on to their destinations. As I stood in my dark, in-between space, I saw this woman through the door window. It’s a grainy photo and not one that I wouldn’t normally allow to pass muster from a technical viewpoint. But, I think it might be the most powerful of the images in this post to demonstrate just how the new face of travel has evolved.

Italy’s strategy has been paying off.

Ultimately, I believe we have to look at the fruits of our labors in spite of the pain of some pretty marked inconveniences. Have we seen a noticeable difference—a pronounced abatement of a crisis that brought Italy to its knees while many of our friends across the Atlantic watched in horror? YES!!!

Just for comparison, I invite you to read my post called The Coronavirus Crisis in Italy when I was looking at the front end of this thing.

Compliance of Covid-19 rules is policed regularly.
The new face of travel in Italy is yielding results.
Spotty use of masks and lack of social distancing yield an unfortunate infection cure in the U.S.

A side-by-side comparison of Covid-19 infection curves tells a powerful story.

Look at Italy and the U.S. side by side. Wow. What a difference.

Sure, Italy was slow from the get-go. We suffered from the wishful thinking that this just wouldn’t hit us as it had in China. Well, we got slapped hard enough with a tidal wave of cases and deaths that shocked people into reality—finally. It’s sad that it took that kind of toll for us to get with the program. But, we did. And Italian residents, when the restrictions were put into place, weren’t given the option to personalize their approach or decide whether they were going to comply are not. The penalties were high and the polizia were out in regular surveillance and enforcement (pricy fines, felony charges, and possible jail time).

But people stuck with it, and Conte, our PM, set a fine example with wearing his face mask religiously, and underscoring the gravity of the situation and explaining what HAD to happen before more opened up phases would commence. We needed the sobering reminders of what was at stake for the long term.

So, for a good part of three months, we behaved. It didn’t mean we didn’t worry about the damage to the economy, or our personal losses and abilities to meet our financial obligations. There was plenty of that. BUT, people understood that the longer-term implications of not doing everything to nip this in the bud would be far worse.

Habits need enough time and practice to become ingrained, to become normalized.

Fortunately, Italian residents have been corraled into adopting important life-saving behaviors for a long enough time for things to stick. And, we’ve been rewarded with an infection and death curves that have dropped dramatically.

Meanwhile, we watch the circus of inconsistency abroad, and curves heading up rather than down. I’d hoped the U.S. would’ve learned from us, but from my vantage point, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

We know we’re not out of the woods. Our infectious disease specialists are crystal clear that a small outbreak can turn into a full-blown forest fire if we don’t maintain vigilance to our practices and keep focusing on testing. There will always be people who decide that they know better than the experts and end up doing their own thing. But, if that is a small fraction of the population, we hope it can be managed and snuffed out. Face it, folks, that’s going to be the name of the game until there is news on the vaccine front. We can’t bank a future protection scenario and start living like COVID-19 is going be wrestled out of existence before accepting the reality of long term inconvenience.

The tables have turned in the new face of travel.

Part of protecting Italy’s progress is paying attention to our borders. It’s a real Catch-22 since so much of this country’s economy is fueled by tourism. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But I think the EU as a total entity is looking at whether or not to allow non-urgent travel to Europe. “Not” becomes more likely with each passing day as we see the Covid-19 curve in the U.S. on a pretty pronounced incline. So, like the U.S. was with China first, then Italy, the shoe is on the other foot and it remains to be seen if U.S. leaders will be understanding if the EU keeps hard limitations on travelers from the U.S.

A BIG caution against fatigue and impatience.

Italy isn’t immune to the very things that have been fueling the resurgence of Covid-19 abroad. Just yesterday, there was a tiny spike of new cases, mostly emanating from Lombardy (Milan). There, large numbers of the youthful population constantly have been straining at the reins to get out, socialize, and party like before. Sound familiar? So, yes, this could very well be the thing that sends Italy racing back to a tidal wave of new cases and deaths. I pray that Italian authorities are quick to act if that starts happening.

Meanwhile, I pray, I hope, and I wait.