We went to Spain, and all we got was a pandemic

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Photos alone can’t really convey the intricate design, size and grandeur of Barcelona’s La Sagrada Familia, inside and out. Construction began in 1882 and is expected to be finished in 2026. When completed, it will be the tallest religious building in Europe and one of the largest churches in the world. The vault of the main nave (central body of the church) is 45 meters tall, or more than 10 stories, and the interior is ablaze with natural light from the gigantic stained-glass windows. It’s peaceful even with other tourists milling around and admiring its beauty. It’s not a cathedral because it doesn’t house a bishop’s headquarters, but Pope Benedict XVI elevated it to the status of a basilica in 2010. Photos by Caitlyn Bahm.

My family has certainly been on a Coronavirus journey. And I mean that literally. We just got back from Spain earlier this month. (We’re not idiots … probably … it wasn’t a pandemic when we left!)We never traveled much when my children were little because we just couldn’t afford it. We made it to Disney World one year and Gatlinburg another year, but otherwise vacations were just visiting family. We were happy with that, but it’s nice now that we can do more.

Carolyn Bahm

Today, we’re able to budget carefully so that we can take a fun family vacation every year or two, thanks to flight discounts through my husband’s employer. It’s a great benefit. We typically fly from Memphis or Nashville to Toronto, and from there to wherever we’re going in Europe. (We eventually hope to visit other continents, but Europe should keep us busy for quite a while.)

Two years ago, we went to Paris for a week. It was a dream come true, even though we got bumped from planes for THREE DAYS when we were trying to come home. (There were snowstorms across the northeast U.S., and a major computer glitch slowed up flights.)

Last year’s journey to London was lovely but anticlimactic, travel-wise — just the way I like it.

This year, earlier in March we went to Barcelona, Spain. We’d been planning it since the fall of 2019, in honor of our younger daughter’s upcoming college graduation and the fact that Spanish is one of her minors.

As the date approached and Coronavirus cases became more prominent in the news, we hesitated. There weren’t any travel prohibitions at the time, and it wasn’t yet called a pandemic.

So we checked the spread of the virus online and saw there were relatively few cases in all of Spain, and most were in a different region than the one we were visiting. It seemed to be spreading slowly enough for our trip to be relatively safe.

Pack some hand sanitizer and wipes, and we’re good, right?

Well …

When we left for Spain, there were 259 cases in the whole country. By the time we returned, there were 2,277 and it had been labeled a pandemic.

Coming home, I felt like a foolish surfer who thought the weather looked fine and darted out into the waves for a few hours, returning to the shore juuuuuuuust before the tsunami hit.

We only saw a few face masks at the airports on our outbound trip. By my estimate, it was about one out of every 50 people. By the time we flew back, it was about three out of every 10 people donning a mask (not counting the many people who kept scarves across their faces).

Very sobering.

We returned on the day that President Trump closed U.S. borders to non-citizens. It was a relief that we didn’t have a hitch getting back home.

There were spare seats on every plane, and my daughter got a row to herself more than once. Lines in Barcelona were almost nonexistent, although the sidewalks, parks and attractions had plenty of foot traffic. Every day there was clear, cool and gorgeous. The dry air was unexpected, but I loved that too.

I’d recommend the ease of traveling during a pandemic, but only if you don’t mind spitting in the face of fate and daring it to spit back. We were lucky.

As a precaution, my family and I immediately self-quarantined when we got home: My husband at his employer’s request, me voluntarily with my employer’s permission, and our younger daughter because her university shut down all in-person classes.

With one exception before my daughter started running a low-grade fever, we’ve only left the house to pick up groceries or medicine. She’s had about 99.4 degrees fever for a week now, but she’s not even sick enough to qualify for testing for the coronavirus. We don’t have other symptoms. It’s worrying, but she’s strong and healthy, and I’m hopeful.

I also worried because I was aching a little when we returned, but it appears that was only because I’m middle-aged and out of shape and had been walking five or more miles a day during our trip. I feel fine now. My temperature hasn’t risen above 97.4. (I typically run low like that.) I don’t think I caught “the ‘Rona.”

I’m very glad we had a great time, made memories, and made it back home safely. I’m grateful we have the options to work from home while we self-quarantine. And I’m pledging to take a more careful look at global health conditions before I vacation again.

Next year, our daughter expecs to be working and studying in Korea, and if so we will make that our next destination. I don’t think I could stand to go a year without seeing one of my daughters. (It’s been hard enough staying away from my infant granddaughter for the past few weeks, for her health.)

If my daughter’s Korea trip gets postponed, I think we’ll opt for tourism in the good ol’ United States for a change. I’ve always wanted to visit Yellowstone. And I wouldn’t mind seeing Niagra Falls again or gazing up at the giant sequoias and redwoods of California.

Tell me about you

What’s YOUR Coronavirus story or your tips for daily life during quarantine? I hope your finances and health haven’t suffered, and you’re able to take some pleasure in working from home or taking time off with your family.

If you have some quarantine photos of life at home or at work these days, please email them to me, and we’ll share the best in next week’s paper.

Bartlett is such a strong and supportive community. We will survive this together.

CAROLYN BAHM is the editor of The Bartlett Express. Contact her by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to carolyn@magicvalleypublishing.com.