Throughout my life, Italy has been very much in my soul and has been the source of many life decisions. It was therefore no great surprise that working in the travel industry was a natural fit for me. The friendships formed over the many, many years on the golden sandy beaches of this nation gave me purpose and a thirst to learn foreign languages at school; to then later continue my knowledge and fluency by becoming an au-pair in the hometowns of those friends. My appetite for learning and wanting to gain insight into other countries and cultures, all started with Italy.
Very little has changed over the 50 plus years since that first photo was taken and not a single year has passed that I have not visited Italy. So, when in early 2020, I started to see the reports on the news about the pandemic figures climbing daily, posts on Facebook from local friends caught in the endless months of very strict lockdown rules, my heart sank and a part of me cried with them.
Thanks to social media and modern communications, I was able to follow and talk to friends all over Italy - from Sicily in the far South, to Rome, Emilia- Romagna (where I used to live) through to friends in the very North around Milan and the Trentino-Alto Adige areas. Everyone affected, everyone fearful of the virus, many knowing at least someone who had passed away, many turning to their faith for comfort or humour to get them through the difficult times - but everyone, nonetheless, defiant and still hopeful for better days to return. I had feared that the heart and soul of this nation would be changed forever.
My parents (now in their late 70s) drove to Italy in July as soon as they were permitted by the FCDO to travel and all land border crossings were open. Under strict instructions from me about “no huggy huggy, kissy kissy” with their many local friends and “make sure you wear your masks” they have spent their summer in the sunshine and in a far safer environment than had they stayed back in the UK. So, with holiday leave still owing, I decided at the last minute to bite the bullet and go to join them and see for myself just how the Italians are adapting to this “new normal”.
Heathrow Terminal 5 at 06:00 was not as busy as in previous years, with some hospitality outlets still closed but many trading with new guidelines in place. Hand sanitation stations, mask wearing, temperature checking gadgets and spaced out seating are certainly now the norm. Staggered check-in/baggage drop for each flight has been introduced on the information boards which is a sensible new addition and worked really well. My British Airways flight was also professionally handled - landing forms handed out by ground staff, boarding in row blocks - and upon landing the same for disembarkation. Only those travelling together were seated together as a full row, otherwise the middle seat was left empty between strangers. Clear instructions were given regarding onboard safety, mask wearing, feeling unwell and asking for assistance. A sanitation pack was given to each passenger at the door. Small refreshments were still provided in pre-packed plastic bags. In line with Italian local policy, coats and any clothing were not allowed in the overhead lockers.