20 Pledges for 2020: Lockdown isn't stopping me from indulging my flight-free travel fantasies
I wasn’t supposed to be here over Easter. Well, who was? It’s one of the great travel pilgrimages, that oh-so-long weekend bookended by two winsome Bank Holidays, just begging to be used for an adventure.
Easter is all about new life, after all – both Jesus’s and the world’s, what with all the springtime copulation bearing literal and metaphorical fruit – and what makes us feel more alive than experiencing somewhere new for the first time?
I know I’m not alone in my disappointment as I sadly seal up my unused travel tickets in an envelope and send them back to whence they came. But I don’t want to forget about my original plans as if they never existed. I want to make-believe, just for a little while, if you can bear the indulgence.
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This Easter, I was supposed to be taking one of my most longed-for flight-free escapades of 2020 – I was going to be interrailing for the first time in my life. Perhaps it’s 10 years too late by normal standards, but I was every bit as excited as a fresh-faced twenty-something preparing for their first Big Trip.
The plan was to make my way across Europe to Croatia as swiftly as possible: the morning of Maundy Thursday would have seen me checking into the Eurostar at St Pancras and buying an overpriced pastry before settling into my seat and watching the greenery of Kent rush by. We’d hit the tunnel and then, in the blink of an eye, be pulling into the Gare du Nord in Paris, where I’d change to the Paris Est to catch my next train all the way to Munich.
An overnight there? No way! Why bother with a hotel when you can catch the sleeper train? Which, in this case, makes the impressive journey from Germany all the way down to Croatia, via Austria and Slovenia – all in one night.
A day after setting off – one day! – I would have awoken in Rijeka, one of the two European Capitals of Culture for 2020. As the OBB Nightjet service pulled in at 9.30am, the sun would have streamed into the window of my couchette, nature’s alarm clock providing a much gentler start to the day than my usual irritating phone jingle.
It would be perfect spring weather for my two-day exploration of this tempting Croatian port city – temperature highs of 24 degrees with wall-to-wall sunshine, according to the forecast. Warm enough for bare arms and lightweight summer dresses that had hung neglected since last year. Bright enough to pretend it was summer, with big shades and a straw trilby.
And oh, what an exploration it would have been! I’d have wandered around the David Maljkovic collection at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art; lingered over lunch at Gardens, stuffing myself with barbequed fish and homemade bread; indulged my green thumb with a swing by Akousmaflore, an art installation featuring musical plants that react to touch; all rounded out with an evening at the Croatian National Theatre.
Culture- and sun-drunk – and, who knows, possibly wine-drunk too – I’d have meandered my way back to my hotel. Another day of exploring, which surely would have included a strong coffee savoured while looking out over the perfect blue of the Adriatic, was to be followed by the return sleeper to Munich.
But I wasn’t going to be in such a hurry on the way back. I’d have spent Easter day in the Bavarian capital, whiling away the hours admiring its centuries-old architecture and museums (and, let’s face it, its plentiful beer halls). A sleep at a newly opened hotel would have followed a big dinner – somewhere noisy and full of laughter, if my feet were fortunate enough to transport me to such a place – where I’d have drunk more beer and tried my first ever obatzda (a local speciality consisting entirely of cheese and butter, mmm).
And then, the last hurrah – the train back to France via Stuttgart. An evening in Paris all to myself, free to wander the curve of the Seine as the sun set and feel the romance of a trip taken completely toute seule. Good food; wine; music; and an overnight at the so-chic-it-hurts Sinner hotel that opened in the fashionable Marais neighbourhood last year.
And finally, home. I’d have left the perpetually busy St Pancras station after the Eurostar and strolled back to my flat, through streets teeming with people. They’d be talking, walking, running, laughing, living: all as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Maybe I’d have stopped by the overpriced but lovely boutiques of the newly opened Coal Drop’s Yard on the way. Maybe I’d have put off the return to reality for just a touch longer, stopping for a light lunch at Granger and Co or a coffee at Sons and Daughters.
A different, parallel world where none of this is happening – one that’s good to visit, even if it’s just in your imagination. I’m sure I’ll take that trip for real, whether it be in six months’ time or a year; and, when I do, I’ll appreciate all its rough edges and unexpected surprises all the more after this time under lockdown.
(And I tell you what else – that beer’s going to taste amazing.)
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