We wanted to travel by bicycle again. Definitely for 6 months, probably for a year, maybe for longer. First towards Asia, maybe around the world. We wanted maximum freedom. We have been worrying about accidents, about our body, about political tensions, about visa issues – we didn’t worry about a virus. However, let’s start from the beginning.
End of January and the beginning of February
There’s a new Coronavirus in China – people mostly talk about it because China is locking down huge regions, a curfew is introduced – the city of Wuhan, among others, is becoming a ghost town.
Do I worry since China is on our route? Not too much. Do I worry since I’m expecting a lockdown of many countries on all continents? Certainly not.
However, I start reading a lot about diseases and pandemics, from the Spanish flu to the Pest. A couple of times a day I’m checking the stats of the John Hopkins University and I’m a bit worried by the exponential growth of the people infected. After a while, and with hard measures, China seems to slowly gain control over the disease, and the curve doesn’t grow exponentially anymore.
At this moment, I’m thinking that only a country like China can handle such a disease in such a tough and ruthless way, and that all the measures such as isolating 50M people would never work in Europe. I’m not expecting that the disease will hit Europe hard. There are a few cases, but Europe seems to be prepared.
We might arrive in China in autumn, so probably the situation is already solved by then, or we take an alternative route. At this point, I’m more worried about not getting a Chinese Visa than being stopped by a virus.
Last day before departure, and the Coronavirus is back in the news. I’m quite surprised. The last days I was quite busy, last days at work, last preparations, saying good bye to family and friends – not much time to read the news.
And the news are quite sad. Italy is in a state close to lockdown, Iran has so many infections that all neighbouring countries closed their landborders.
However, we are still positive – later I would say naive. We still don’t think about a pandemic. Italy – not on our route. Iran – on our route, but there is still the ferry from Baku to Aktau. Easy to avoid, and probably solved till we arrive. And if it really starts to spread into other countries, we fly to South America. No Corona there. Easy.
Second day of cycling. We reach Linz, it’s raining, very cold, a mix of hail and snow. Our hosts talk a lot about the Corona Virus and recommend us to register with the foreign office of our respective countries, so that we get warnings from the government as soon as necessary. I’m still positive and try to not take them too serious.
We are in Vienna, and are visiting the Schloss Schönbrunn. After taking the metro, we are immediately looking for a public toilet to wash our hands. Now the virus is finally getting into our heads.
Life in Vienna is still quite normal with a lot of tourists everywhere, no one wearing a mask. We continue cycling.
We arrive in Budapest, and receive for the first time really bad news regarding our route – two Germans got denied entry into Turkey. They’ve mentioned at the border that they have been to Italy recently.
At night we go to the Akvarium Club in Budapest, where the French DJ Anetha is performing. It was a great night, nevertheless I preferred to stay away from people and I was quite reluctant about drinks.
We are sightseeing in Budapest. Things are very normal, tourists everywhere. Only when you check for the famous thermal spas, there’s a special Corona Virus warning – spas are closing earlier because they need more time for cleaning, and people with fever are not allowed anymore. The spas closed down on the 15/3/2020 for an indefinite period.
I receive a text from David, a good friend of mine. He is Romanian and is supposed to visit us in Sibiu, his childhood town. At the moment he is in Madrid for work, and has bad news. We talk text a bit more, and after a while I’m pretty sure he will not take the plane to Romania.
We get hosted in Szeged, 30km away from Romania. When we meet our host Zsofi, there is a short awkward moment, because we’re all a bit reluctant about shaking hands. Eventually we still shake hands.
Hungary is already in a state of emergency since Wednesday, and most of our conversations are about the virus. Apparently most borders to Serbia are already closed, only the highways are open with long traffic jams. The borders with Romania seem to be still open.
David rebooks his flight, he will not come to Romania. Madrid is on a red list for people entering Romania. That means everyone who has been to Madrid in the past 14 days has to go into quarantine for two weeks.
In the morning we are very sure that we at least try to go to Romania. We play basketball with our host and friends of her, and everyone is in quite a good mood. We go to the Market in Szeged and are eating a Langos, a typical Hungarian dough dish. The only difference with normal times: There is a little sink and soap to wash the hands before entering the market.
In the evening the situation is getting worse. First David tells me that Romania probably calls a “state of alert” on Monday. The could mean curfews and border closing. A few minutes later our warmshowers host in Timisoara, our next big city and first stop in Romania, cancels our stay. His girlfriend is too afraid meeting strangers. I can understand her. People are getting afraid all over the world.
Unfortunately, fear often comes with xenophobia. Beginning of March, a group of Japanese tourists got kicked out of the Leipzig stadium during a football match, because the security people were afraid they might have Corona. And from Asia we hear the same regarding tourists, who are getting kicked out of hotels and towns because of the corona virus fear. Not a good time to travel.
The feeling from yesterday manifests itself even more, it feels like we are the protagonists in an apocalyptic thriller. Everyone is quiet today, it’s a weird feeling. For the first time I receive a message of a good friend, who is asking me, if we are still continuing.
By now, cyclists all over the world are talking about the virus. In Argentina all National Parks are closing, in Peru there are roadblocks, in Bolivia some tourists get kicked out of towns, and in Thailand there are a lot of temperature checks.
In the afternoon we hear that France and Germany are closing their borders. Things are changing too fast now. A few days ago, Germany announced that they rule out borders closures. Now things have changed, and borders all over the world are getting closed.
Tiphaine and I go for a walk and discuss our options. Cycling towards Romania also doesn’t sound appealing at the current situation. Austria has already closed its border and going home overland with our bicycles and all our equipment seems like a lot of stress. Also Tiphaine is French, and we are not sure if she is allowed to enter Germany. We look at trains, buses and airplanes, and try to figure out what’s our best option.
At least our host is very supportive, and she offers that we could even stay for 2 weeks, or even a month.
First thing in the morning, I check for Flixbus – Flixbus stopped operating its Budapest – Munich line. Trains still seem to work though.
Eventually we decide to take a flight. We book a Lufthansa flight for the same day. We pack our stuff and leave our nice, cozy place in Szeged. Thankfully we can leave the bicycles and a lot of our equipment here.
On our way to the train station we notice the long lines in front of pharmacies. Only one person at a time is allowed to enter. The airport feels weird. More and more people are wearing face masks. Our plane is late – we have to wait for German nationals, the captain announces, it seems that we are the last flight out of Hungary before the country closes all its borders. In Munich we get picked up by my brother to go to my parents farm. We have travelled for 21 days.
There is a soft curfew in Germany. France has closed borders. Tiphaine cannot go home to see her family, or she might not be able to come back here in Germany. There is a four weeks lockdown in New Zealand. Three weeks for India. Most countries in South America are already in lockdown for quite a while. Many people are dying in Italy, Iran and Spain. Most borders on our planet are closed.
We are waiting. The world is waiting.