My desk at home is usually positioned such that, when I look over the computer monitor, I can see out over south Brno and two sets of train tracks. I can watch the trains, which, every 15 minutes or so, rumble past, leaving Brno and travelling to points unknown.
In the spring, however, the desk was perpendicular to the windows so that my wife and I could sit opposite each other as we worked. The city and the country had gone into quarantine because of the coronavirus pandemic and we both had weeks of “home office”.
This alignment made the side walls, both of which are dominated by a large map, quite important. In my case, a big map of North America became my background for Zoom meetings, Microsoft Teams calls and Google classroom lessons. I didn’t do it on purpose, but it worked to reinforce that I am an American living in the Czech Republic.
But the fact of the matter was that I liked to peak over my monitor to see the large map of Europe, which was on the opposite wall. Every time a meeting got boring, I could stare at the many colored nations of Europe and dream of visiting them all.
You can’t be an expat without travel. Movement is a fundamental part of the definition: you get the “ex-“ because you leave your native country. Not everyone can pack up their lives, move to a foreign land with a difficult language and lay down roots for a new life. There is much anxiety and pressure involved.
Yet, that little bit of anxiety is something that most expats enjoy.
I, for one, miss that excitement. The year 2020 has sucked for many reasons. One big reason is that travel was pretty much cut off. Brno is a great place to be an expat because it is at the center of Europe. It is easy to imagine adventure in every direction. Plane travel is relatively cheap. Trains are an experience in and of themselves. And having a car offers the ultimate freedom of taking spontaneous trips (even with kids).
Now, there are few options. Hotels are closed. Who knows if there will be a ski season. This year-old coronavirus has spread to every part of the globe and killed more than 1.3 million people, regardless of ethnicity, religion, wealth or power — and it has even kept us from even venturing out into different parts of Brno.
I had many trips planned for 2020. All winter the kids had asked about our Easter-week trip to Caorle, Italy, on the northern coast of the Adriatic Sea. Later, I was to meet my sister and her soccer-playing son in Scotland in June to watch the Czech Republic play in Euro2020.
Both were adventures un-had.
Particularly annoying was the fact that, until the summer, I wrote a monthly travel column for BrnoDaily.com, the local English-language online newspaper. I had lined up trips to the German cities of Dresden and Leipzig, and even had access to their photo databases. I had re-read Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five to prepare for Dresden and I had boned up on the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and the classical music of Johann Sebastian Bach to orient myself in Leipzig. Neither trip materialized.
Vienna, a city to which I had had the occasion to travel a few times in 2019, was a place that I wanted to visit regularly in order to understand it a bit better. Instead, it became an even bigger mystery, with yet another terrorist event to add to its surprising history of international intrigue.
My son is crazy about dinosaurs. We had hoped to visit Berlin in order to visit a paleontological museum. No dice.
And, finally visiting the Vysoké Tatry in Slovakia was simplified to another trip to the nearby Jeseníky mountains — which was a great trip, but the only real get-out-of-Brno vacation of the year.
Even a trip to Prague fell apart when we realized that non-essential business at the US Embassy, which had to be done midweek, would not be worth it if we couldn’t spend a couple of days in the city visiting kid-friendly entertainments.
In the end, this year will break a personal decades-long string: I will not visit salt water in 2020. This is, admittedly, an insignificant factoid in the greater scheme of things. But it was a personal guideline that I followed in order to, no matter how busy or convoluted my life had become, always find a way to travel, if only just to hear the waves crash against a beach at least once a year.
Now, all we can do is plan — and hope — for an adventure-packed 2021.
Were you able to satisfy your urge to travel this year? Where did you go? Or, how did you compensate? What are your travel plans for 2021?