Greetings from Orcas Island in the Pacific Northwest. read on for an update to what we have been up to during the pandemic.
It has been quite a year, hasn’t it? Like many of you our plans have been completely altered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Frankly, it has been quite unsettling.
When we left Stephenville in 2017 we made a conscious decision to totally change our lifestyle. Our elevator speech went something like this. “We sold our house and most of our stuff and now travel Europe fulltime. To extend our travel budget we do WorkAway, WWOOF, and Trusted House Sitters. We also started a travel business, Euro Travel Coach, creating custom itineraries and leading small group trips. We spend our summer months at our family cottage in Quebec.”
Suddenly, none of that rings true anymore. The border is closed so we can’t get to our home in Canada. We’re still living out of the same suitcases we packed in September 2019. We have been couch surfing since March. Non-essential travel to Europe is shut down and all of our clients have cancelled or delayed their plans.
We joke about being homeless and having to couch surf, but to be clear, we are very lucky that the pandemic has not hit us as hard as many people. We are privileged and we know it and we are blessed beyond measure with good friends and good fortune.
Here is a quick recap of the past year. After traveling in Eastern Europe, leading a Small Group Tour in Piedmont, Italy, and tasting wine in the Mosel Valley, Germany, we came back to the States in December 2019 to help our daughter Chelsea and her husband Sam move to Madison, Wisconsin.
We spent three months with them renovating their home. The big project was gutting the kitchen and starting from scratch. I think it turned out pretty well.
At the end of February we left Madison for Barolo, Italy where we stayed with friends who run our favorite bed and breakfast there, La Giolitta. The plan was to help them with some renovations and work on our Italian and their English. We got to visit La Vite Turchese for a nice bottle of Barolo and take daily hikes through the vineyards. But after a couple weeks the coronavirus was exploding and we made it back to the US just as Europe was closing around us.
Chelsea and Sam welcomed us back and the four of us quarantined for 14 days. At the end of that quarantine Madison was pretty well shut down as well. Four people, one bathroom, Sam working from home: It was tight but we made it work. We actually had a lot of fun, but I’m sure it is not what any young couple would imagine after buying their first house!
In April Chelsea and Sam made possibly the best decision of the year, to foster a dog. After two days, that turned into a foster fail, and Andy became the newest addition to the family! He makes us laugh everyday and has helped us keep our sanity.
Mom and Dad at Mom’s 80th birthday party
Mom and Dad at Mom’s 80th birthday party
In early summer drove to Wooster, Ohio to visit family and help my parents with some medical issues. It was very good to spend time with them.
Finally in June, our wanderlust got the best of us and we carefully embarked on an epic road trip to visit friends in Nashville, Tennessee, Bella Vista, Arkansas, and Westcliffe, Colorado.
Travel is difficult during a pandemic. We didn’t want to get sick and we certainly bring the illness into the homes of friends we visited. We packed enough food for the drives and only stopped for gas and bathroom breaks. We made sure our friends were comfortable with us visiting and followed whatever guidelines they were comfortable with.
In Westcliffe we stayed with friends from Texas we have known since our kids were little and have stayed connected all these years. We stayed at a family cottage near the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Colorado. It reminded us in many ways of our cottage in Quebec. We spent a week with them and then they graciously let us stay for another few weeks. It was the first time Betsy and I had been alone since we left our cottage back in September.
During our stay Chelsea and Sam, our son David, and his girlfriend Abby came and spent a week with us. David and Abby were living in New York City at the time and it was a nice change of pace for them. It is always good to have family together.
Not all of our bucket list destinations are in Europe, so our next move was to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks. Spectacular! We took daily hikes and stayed away from the main attractions and lodges during busy hours. Out on the trails we rarely saw anyone else and if you go see Old Faithful first thing in the morning the crowds are much smaller. You also do not need to sit with the crowds to get a good vantage point.
It did feel odd to us trying to avoid human contact as much as possible. Some of our most rewarding moments of our travels over the years have come by striking up conversations with people we meet along the way. We very much look forward to the days when we can travel more freely again.
From Yellowstone we stayed with more friends in Bozeman, Montana, hiked around Devil’s Tower, ran into the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally near Mount Rushmore, drove through the Badlands, and ended up back in Madison. We spent the rest of the year bouncing between Madison and Wooster.
One of the frustrating things about not having a house is not being able to offer David a place to stay. He decided to leave New York for a while. Not much going on there right now for an actor/musician. He is now working at the ski hill in Crested Butte, Colorado. He is getting to ski as much he wants and has also found a group of musicians to play with. He has even played a couple paying gigs! Not too many musicians can say that right now.
In the fall Betsy was interviewed on NPR’s Here and Now. A very kind and generous woman who heard the show reached out to us and offered us the use of her home on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington. Orcas is part of the San Juan Islands in the Salish Sea about 80 miles north of Seattle. Not having spent much time in the Pacific Northwest, we took her up on her kind offer. We packed the cooler with sandwiches and headed west.
We can see Vancouver and the mountains in Canada from the deck. We take daily hikes in the State Parks on the island. When we arrived there was one active case of COVID-19 on the island. When we do see someone on our hikes they mask up as we pass nearly 100% of the time. Most restaurants are closed because of a combination of COVID and being here in the off-season. Our only contact with people is at the grocery store.
Mount Baker from the top of Orcas Island
Nice lunch spot in Moran State Park
Looking west from Orcas Island
Islands as far as you can see
Betsy by one of the enormous Douglas Fir
Check out our Facebook page for more pics and stories of this beautiful part of the world.
We are still practicing habits we formed during the pandemic while living with Chelsea and Sam; Meatless Mondays and Thursdays, Taco Tuesdays, snowy nights around the fire pit, and alcohol free weeknights. This last one seemed the reasonable decision after three months of home renovations followed by two months of quarantine when IPAs, wine, and Spritzes were flowing freely most evenings!
We are enjoying being alone together, cooking, and eating by the fireplace most nights. The home is very isolated and a good place to hole up as the pandemic continues to rage. Maybe being a vagabond right now is not too bad. Like I said, we are blessed beyond measure. We are looking forward to getting to our cottage and traveling again.
Dreaming of travel to Europe when things open up again? We can help with that! We are here for your custom trip planning to Italy, France, Ireland, the UK and all of Europe. We are experts in creating custom travel itineraries and leading small group trips to European destinations. We also book European cruises! Feel free to reach out via email — We’re always available to talk about travel!
We can also help with trips in the US while we wait for Europe to open up. We’ve traveled extensively throughout the US and visited many of our National Parks as well as wine regions, major cities, and tourist destinations. We just love to help people travel!
Greg Ball – Greg is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group tours to Europe. In his previous life he taught Woodwinds and Jazz at the university level for 30 years. As a professor he took his bands to England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and England. Since “retiring” he and his wife/ETC co-founder Betsy travel Europe nine months out of the year. Together they have visited over 40 countries and counting! He loves cooking, hiking, listening and playing music, and wine and holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.
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