It’s been three years since I arrived in Bonn for my PhD, and the thing I enjoyed the most about my small-town German life was the accessibility to the rest of Europe. With an airport and Cologne railway station nearby, I travelled across the European Union pretty frequently, with Italy being my favourite spot. France, Belgium and the Netherlands too, were always a hopping distance away. (How nice it was to be able to say that!)
This year, although travel resumed around May or June, it was definitely frowned upon. Come July and it suddenly became “acceptable” to go out—Germans take their summer vacations very seriously. My friend and I too gave in and travelled to Italy for a 10-day trip in late July. To be as safe as possible, we booked a superbly expensive night train from Munich to Venice because it offered private, two-people compartments with cosy berths.
Walking in overcrowded Venice was always a luxury, but when we arrived in the city en route to our final destination (a village), that’s pretty much all we did. It was heartbreaking to see how much the tourism-dependent businesses were struggling—many were shut down or sold off—but the gondolas were running. We soon rented a car and drove to Portofino, where my friend had a family home. In the postcard-pretty coastal town, we spotted several locals from Milan and Genoa, staying at their colourful holiday homes. We, however, spent our days hiking along the craggy coastline by the Ligurian Sea in Portofino Regional Park. We visited the town’s busier areas only to stock up on groceries, so we could cook our own meals. It was a side of Italy I could get used to.
Sticking to the same rationale of avoiding people and cities, we planned a week-long hiking trip to Slovenia a month later, around August-end. Hiking has never been my first preference on trips, but pandemic times call for pandemic measures. Once again, we went armed with an arsenal of sanitising wipes, disinfecting everything from train windows to steering wheels of rented cars. To deepen the isolation, we rented a cabin in the woods on the outskirts of the mountain town of Cerkno.
Our trip’s last leg involved taking a train to Ljubljana, and renting a car for the rest of the journey. It was incredibly scenic, with us taking that week to drive and hike through emerald, sun-dappled forests. On some afternoons we picked mushrooms for lunch, on others we went up to hunters’ observation decks to spot bears. We also hiked in the Kanin Mountains which are part of the Julian Alps range between Italy and Slovenia. At an elevation of over 6,500 feet, the landscape was arid, but we had friendly goats for company. And for some of that time, we almost forgot what had brought us there in the first place.
(*The person’s name has been changed in order to protect their privacy)
Lubna Amir travels in the search for happy places (which invariably involve a beach) and good food. When she’s not planning her next escape, you can find her curled up with a book or researching recipes.