I remember that the charm of South Ealing’s Dorset Road had begun to dim for us Winterbothams in late July. Typically, the entire family would have been packed in a rental van, off exploring Europe’s sparkling coastline on our summer holiday; instead, we continued to move about in the same few blocks of suburban London that had become our entire world for the past few months. It wasn’t that me or my three younger siblings felt like we were confined to a bortisal, all of us had been doing our best to keep morale up, but that inexplicable feeling of summer bliss felt amiss, like an Aperol spritz sans the prosecco—tart effervescence needed to lift the spirit.
Tracy, my mother, knew that even though vacation plans had been cancelled, us kids not only needed a break from the monotony of pandemic life, but also from the disruptions the virus had already caused us on the cusp of real adulthood: university graduations had been missed, jobs had been lost, and we all dearly missed our friends. Mum took a call and booked a week’s all-inclusive package vacation on the Greek isle of Corfu. In lieu of travelling along a coastline or through several European countries, we would do a quick trip to an island where social distancing would fit as seamlessly into our travel plans as we could hope in these times.
The only part of the journey that I recall being slightly worrisome was the bottleneck of British tourists outside Corfu’s Ioannis Kapodistrias International Airport. Stansted Airport, in London, had been a breeze: plenty of space, loads of sanitising stations, and a flight with spread out seating. At the small Greek airport, on the other hand, there was some confusion with the coaches picking up the large number of British tourists. The crowding made it difficult for us to maintain appropriate distance.
But once we arrived at our idyllic stay, the hotel employees and cleaners were a picture of reassurance—temperatures were checked, and the staff wore masks and gloves while interacting with us or handling our belongings. The moderate size of the hotel made it manageable for us to socially distance from others with ease, especially since it was running well below its capacity. We all had our own corner of the pool to lounge in, soaking up the sunlight or burrowing ourselves in a good book.
One image in particular that stood out for me was seeing that many of the larger hotels had their lights shut off and the pools drained, a surreal reminder that the virus was still disrupting tourist destinations that had opened up. Many of the restaurant owners and employees we spoke to were quick to mention that tourist flow was still around 60-70 per cent below average. While that was a worrisome figure for the restaurateurs, it did make eating meals outside the hotel a relatively stress-free endeavour for travellers like us. This allowed us to fully enjoy the grilled swordfish and sizzling souvlaki that filled the dinner tables of the small restaurants that dot the island, while I passed enough morsels of succulent meat to avaricious street cats to fill their bellies for a week. When we weren’t relaxing on the shore, we took part in water sports, another safe way to enjoy ourselves without thinking about the stubborn virus.
The whole atmosphere was so inviting, but the look of Corfu really challenged what I imagined a Greek island looked like, you know, feta-hued facades topped with blue domes. Corfu looked like Italy to my eyes, the historic district packed with Venetian-style buildings oozing peach and apricot pastels. There was also a decent amount of Greek-style revival architecture I see a lot of in London.
When we returned home, the charm of Dorset Road seemed to have been restored, the rows of semi-detached Edwarian homes full of fresh air and life. We crossed our threshold knowing that our pine-green door wasn’t shutting us back into a world of frayed-nerves, but was welcoming us back to a home happy to hear of our adventures, our cheerful voices bouncing right up the chimney.
Julian Manning can usually be found eating a crisp ghee roast with extra podi. The rare times his hands aren’t busy with food, they are wrapped around a mystery novel or the handlebars of a motorcycle. He is Senior Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.