“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes
My newsletter this month was going to be about our return to travel after two long years of Covid. In 2020, we signed up for an ocean cruise to Norway and Iceland, figuring by 2021, a vaccine would be developed and Covid would be under control. We figured wrong, so we postponed the trip for another year, until August 2022, along with our travel buddies, Robert and Joyce. Nothing was going to stop us now. We got our second booster shot. As an extra precaution, I wore my mask in public places and stopped going to Zumba class at the Y because all the huffing and puffing spread droplets like crazy. I packed my suitcase weeks in advance and followed our destination cities on the weather channel every day. I bought new waterproof hiking shoes. I packed gloves, a wool hat, and my zip-in fleece lining for my rain resistant jacket. I was ready for anything!
Then our friends called on the Monday before we left. They’d spent Saturday with their son and he just tested positive for Covid. This was the last day we could bow out of the trip without losing our payment. They decided not to take a chance on getting sick and being quarantined to their room for ten days. We considered postponing the trip also, but when we thought of all our preparations, we weren’t ready to do it all again. We were sad our friends wouldn’t be with us, but we boarded our plane on Thursday, fully masked, and washing our hands like we had OCD. We were off!
It was raining when we landed in Oslo, just as predicted. In fact most of our days on the trip were rainy, and twice the wind was so gusty, I nearly was blown over. We couldn’t hear our tour guide over the howl of the wind. But that just made the sunny days all the more glorious! The second day in Oslo was a balmy 68 degrees with perfect weather for exploring this beautiful city.
The food on the boat was incredible. I ate crème brule, tiramisu, fresh fruit tarts and other desserts almost too pretty to ruin with a fork. I vowed I would only have dessert with supper, but by the second day, I threw caution to the wind and enjoyed sweets at every meal.
We saw spectacular waterfalls, hiked mountain trails, and explored picturesque towns on the fjords. Traveling on the upper glassed-in deck through miles and miles of fjords in the dusk seemed other worldly, like a journey into outer space.. We were lulled to sleep at night by the gentle motion of the ship.
It began with a runny nose. I only had four benedryl capsules along. It was midway through our journey, a complete day on board traversing the North Sea. We ran out by the time we reached the Faroe Islands. Our stop, Torshavn, had a pharmacy and we picked up more medication. My symptoms disappeared, but Michael started getting congested. By the time we got to Iceland, his head cold was worse. He didn’t feel sick, just a case of the sniffles. Our first stop in Iceland was a little town called Seydisfjordour (try to pronounce that.) In 2020, a series of mudflows hit the town after days of heavy rain, destroying 39 houses and resulting in a complete evacuation. As I wandered through the outdoor display commemorating this mud slide, Michael went back to the ship to take a nap.
By this time, many of our fellow passengers seemed to have “allergies,” with head congestion and coughing. I’d stopped wearing a mask. Eating and drinking necessitated being mask-free. One of our shipboard friends remarked, the boat was a petri dish of contagions.
On our last day in Iceland, I started to get the sniffles too. A cold, rainy, blustery day, we declined the two hour walk around Reykjavik city center in the morning and went back to the ship instead. Our afternoon excursion, the Blue Lagoon, was a geothermal lake with water as warm as a hot tub. The rain disappeared on our drive to the steaming pool, so beautiful and mystical and comforting. The walk-up bar certainly helped our disposition.
By the time we boarded our flight home, I felt tired and sick. Luckily, negative covid tests were no longer required. We both would have extended our stay quarantined in Reykjavik. The minute we arrived home, we tested ourselves. Positive. How ironic that our travel buddies who postponed their trip due to Covid tested negative while we caught Covid on the cruise.
My doctor called in a prescription of Paxlovid, which helped with the tightness in my chest. The medication made my mouth feel like I dined on rusty iron shavings, When I couldn’t smell the morning coffee, I knew I had the classic symptoms, no taste, no smell.
However, I wouldn’t classify it as “no smell.” I call it Covid nose. All I could smell was a sickening sweet ammonia-like scent in my nostrils. My friend’s son who also had Covid called it “George.” George took up residence in our noses, wiping out any pleasant or unpleasant odors. No banana bread baking, no rotten potatoes in the truck bed, not even a mist of hair spray registered with George.
When I finished the series of pills, my taste gradually came back. But George seems hard to dislodge. I’d like to evict him, but he’s stubborn.
My mind was stretched to new dimensions on our trip. I experienced many adventures on this journey, met some interesting people, including an Asian former nun and an elderly English lord, and reveled in the beauty of God’s creation. We wandered in a world so different from the green, rolling hills of Wisconsin. A world where a troll or a ghostly apparition seemed just around the corner. Travel opened our minds and the people we met opened our hearts. Before traveling, I dreaded Covid. Many nights I lay awake after possible exposures: a crowded bathroom at Devil’s Lake with no mask, waiting for take-out in a bar of unmasked drinkers, attending a funeral of a dear friend. I was so afraid I’d get sick enough to end up in a hospital all alone. I got Covid, anyway, but thanks to vaccines and available treatments, I survived with a mild case. Now my mind won’t go back to its old limitations of fear and apprehension. I’m mentally over Covid.
Maybe this newsletter is about the value of travel after all.