I book into my first post-Covid hotel and consider whether to wipe down the light switches. Meanwhile I take a road trip through the South Downs and we celebrate 3 days of accident-free driving.
Things are changing again. Shops, pubs and cafes are open, along with gyms, nail bars and tattoo parlours. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the virus has disappeared completely when you see the hordes of people standing around on the high street and packing into the pubs on a Friday night.
Meanwhile theatres, sports arenas and live music events remain closed. I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever go to another live music gig or travel (in the nomadic sense of the word) again in my lifetime.
A few countries have opened up for us. There is a long list of countries now considered ‘safe’ and so exempt from the government travel ban, however most of the places on the list won’t actually let us in (great to know that New Zealand is considered safe but still next to impossible to get in, for example). We are left with just a handful of countries with reciprocal agreements.
Spain was on the list and then it suddenly came off the list, leaving people confused and facing quarantine on return to the UK. It is a constantly changing situation so certainly not a time to be booking up in advance. Little Luxembourg, which is currently the European virus hotspot, remains happily on our travel list. There is often no rhyme or reason to it. It’s as if the government are picking countries out of a hat.
I hired a car for three days and drove around the Sussex Downs. The last time I drove in the UK was 2013 when, not long back from Asia, I backed it straight into a wall that was cleverly disguising itself as a hedge. I was determined not to fall for that one again this time; I am now much wiser to walls and their cunning tricks.
Three days and I didn’t hit a single thing; I feel I may be ready for some more complicated driving manoeuvres now.
Some people are still saying they don’t want to risk staying in hotels, and the suggestion is to take some kind of cleaning fluid with you so that you can wipe down surfaces the cleaner might have missed. The door handles and light switches are likely spots.
When you consider that the average turnaround time for cleaning a room is twenty minutes, you might well worry. I have rather put my trust in the ‘enhanced cleaning procedures’ that many hotels are now bragging about.
By the time I got to my room I was so exhausted that I completely forgot to clean anyway.
Road tripping around the Sussex Downs
The Sussex downs were enjoyable. It is the UK’s newest national park, having previously been two separate ‘areas of outstanding natural beauty’ (AONB). There’s not a lot of difference between a national park and an AONB, although becoming a national park can be seen as a promotion (it is now much harder for anyone to get building permission).
The Downs stretch from Beachy head (a popular suicide spot) near Eastbourne in the East down to Winchester in the west, squashing itself in between London and the South coast. They consist of rolling hills interspersed with cute little ‘English’ villages and country pubs (mostly open but not always).
I took my tent and went camping in Alfriston the first night. There was a rota to allocate shower time in the shared bathroom facilities.
By the second night it had started drizzling and I don’t do camping in either wind, rain or cold. I have what is known as a festival tent (that’s all I really use it for) and it won’t withstand any ‘weather’. So I packed up the tent and booked a hotel. They made me write a declaration that I had no symptoms and I had to decide on a breakfast time as soon as I checked in.
The walks were all still accessible and also the parking areas. Mostly the toilets were open but not always. If you are looking to visit any of the castles, museums or stately homes then you need to check, but most remain closed.
The downs are home to a selection of vineyards, but they remained closed. The area produces some fine wines; the chalky soil is ideal for sparkling wine but unfortunately the weather doesn’t always play ball. Out of an average ten years, two will produce exceptional wine and another four will produce good, drinkable wine. However four years will usually need to be written off due to bad weather. Many Sussex wines have won awards, but don’t expect the area to be rivalling France or Italy just yet.
The spontaneity has been knocked out of any travel now. No longer can we make up our mind as we go; everything needs to be booked at a specific time. Hotel breakfasts no longer consists of a buffet (for obvious reasons) but rather a menu choice and a specific time slot, which must be decided on the night before.
For people who make up a spreadsheet before they travel with timings for everything (I know a few people who travel this way), I’m sure this is fine but I felt frustrated with it all. You have to calculate how long you want to spend in places and how long it’ll take to get there.
However my main ambition for the trip had been to get out in nature for a few days and in that way I succeeded.