A year of regrouping, relocating, and refocusing

It wasn’t the best year or even the worst, but 2020 was definitely the strangest I can remember. It was challenging to say the least. A deadly pandemic, nationwide riots, despicable politicians, and a long-distance move tested our resilience and patience. On the other hand, the love of our family and friends, our optimism, and the ability to roll with the punches got us through.

The year began benignly enough. In late January, Simon, Splendid and I attended IMM (International Media Marketplace) and the New York Times Travel Show in NYC. This was our third year, and this time we came away with press trip invitations that would take us to Italy and Croatia in March and April, and cities in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Tennessee in September and October. We also received invitations to visit Fort Wayne, Indiana and Fayetteville, North Carolina some time during the summer.

It was January, and our calendar was filling up faster than ever before. We were on Cloud 9 as we taught our second Introduction to International Travel course at our local community college in February, and prepared to leave for Europe early in March.

The year was off to a great start, but by the time it was over, it had morphed into a monster of epic proportions. We were fortunate to have suffered no losses among our family or friends, but watching the devastation wrought by the deadly Covid19 virus upon countless lives and livelihoods was crushing.

Covid Chaos Abroad

Rumblings of a deadly virus originating in China and cropping up in Northern Italy didn’t deter us from boarding the plane to Milan on March 3. Throughout our abbreviated trip, Splendid was a real trooper. Despite it being her first sojourn abroad, she guided me as if she had been doing it for years. Nothing phased her.

Looking back, however, traveling overseas was an insane thing to do. It showed how little we knew of Covid and it’s potential for destruction.

As I wrote in a post last Spring, we spent two weeks chasing around Europe trying to outrun the virus. I also wrote about the devastating effects of lockdowns and severe restrictions on the travel industry. At the time, we all hoped Covid would burn out in a couple of months, and travel would return to normal. What the hell were we thinking!

Penny and Splendid in Milan (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
Penny and Splendid in Milan (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

Travel restrictions eased as Summer began, but international travel was – and still is – off the table for most of us. Despite the easing of restrictions, the tourist season in Europe was severely impacted. By the end of 2020, many countries, including the U.K., were back to imposing severe restrictions on both international and local travel, due to a sharp increase in Covid cases and fatalities.

On a personal note, we have been unable to visit our families in England and Israel. We have a new great niece and a great nephew but we probably won’t see either in person until they’re walking and talking. And my youngest cousin and his wife are first-time grandparents to a baby boy we can’t cuddle either. On the bright side, we have FaceTime and WhatsApp to fill the gap. At least we can experience all that cuteness to some degree.

Covid Chaos at Home

Upon our return to our home in New Bern, we self-quarantined for two weeks and took appropriate precautions when we began to venture out again. What we encountered was a society divided. Some scoffed at the idea of face coverings, while others went to the opposite extreme, sanitizing everything, including the kitchen sink. And oh, the public shaming that ensued from both side! 

Our so-called leaders bear much of the responsibility for this mass insanity, since they couldn’t resist politicizing Covid for political gain. The damage they did, and continue to do, is immeasurable and deplorable. Shame on them all!

As for my personal perspective, the Libertarian in me naturally resents being told by government officials I neither like nor trust to wear a face covering. It’s a flagrant infringement on my rights as an individual. But in the case of Covid, the situation warrants more consideration. The bottom line is that my individual rights don’t include putting others at risk. Although the effectiveness of face coverings in protecting the people around us is still open to debate, I choose to err on the side of caution and wear the damned thing.

Wearing a face covering and sensible sanitizing weren’t the only obvious effects of Covid, however. Zoom meetings, shopping on Amazon, and binge-watching helped us stay productive, keep in touch with loved ones, and retain some semblance of sanity. We took long walks, watched virtual tours of places we wanted to visit, learned to make pasta in a virtual cooking class, and found more time to learn how to refine our individual crafts than ever before. Making lemonade out of the Covid lemon included: starting a new series, “The ABCs of Travel” on my blog to inspire you to dream and plan for the future, becoming a contributor at Travel Awaits, an online publication with over a million readers per month, and making sourdough bread on a regular basis. We also managed to visit Fort Wayne and Fayetteville, making good on our invitations from IMM. If living is the best revenge, we’re one up on the Covid grinch, at least thus far.

Drone View of the River Front in Fort Wayne, IN (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
Drone View of the River Front in Fort Wayne, IN (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
Drone View of "Iron Mike" Standing Guard in Front of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, NC (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
Drone View of “Iron Mike” Standing Guard in Front of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, NC (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

Chaos in the Streets

On May 23, George Floyd was brutally killed by Minneapolis police officers. He was by no means the first black victim of police brutality, but his anguished cries of, “I can’t breathe,” and his pleas to his dead mother as he suffocated, tore at our hearts and set of a firestorm of protests and rioting across the nation.

As with Covid, the incident and its aftermath were shamelessly politicized to the point where the truth got lost in all the rhetoric. Perhaps the only good thing that emerged from the tragedies of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others, was that many of us began to make a genuine effort to understand the black experience, And in doing so, we found our society sorely wanting in the areas of fairness and equality.

New Town, New Beginnings

My trip to Lala Land in 2019 left Simon and me with much to consider regarding where we were living. Our community of Fairfield Harbor sat near the end of a five-mile two-lane road. The nearest supermarket, pharmacy, and Chinese take-out were a 10-minute drive from our home. The only taxi to be found was an Uber driver who drove when he felt like it – which wasn’t very often. Our local hospital wasn’t equipped to handle the severity of the H1N1 virus I had contracted, and I had to be transferred over 100 miles to UNC-Chapel Hill, or I would have died. Kevin lived five hours away, and Gary nine. We realized something had to change.

We chose Greenville, South Carolina as our future new home, because it was a larger – but not too large – city with more services, excellent hospitals, affordable cost of living, and most important, much closer to our boys. It also happens to be the friendliest city in the U.S., according to Conde Nast Traveler.

The short version of this story is that we put our house on the market, knowing we couldn’t purchase a house in Greenville until it sold. After a few month of little movement, we switched agents, and the day after our house was listed, we had an excellent offer.

Now the challenge was to find a house that met our requirements before our closing date of December 16. The housing market in Greenville was so hot, many houses went under contract as soon as they were listed. But we found a great house in a pretty neighborhood, close to shops and services (including Simon’s beloved Home Depot), and the price allowed us to make a cash offer. The whole thing could have gone South at any time, but we had a secret weapon.

The Power of Pudge

When we switched agents, Suzanne, who had an excellent reputation as a seller’s agent, made a few suggestions for sprucing up the exterior of our house. One was to cover the standpipe by the front door with a garden ornament. Simon found an adorable gnome, and it was on sale at half price no less. We named him Pudge.

Introducing Pudge (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)
Introducing Pudge (©simon@myeclecticimages.com)

Well, as you know, the house sold in a day. So, when we drove to Greenville to see this too-good-to-be-true house – move-in ready, great kitchen, enormous sunroom, and a fenced back yard where Splendid could safely play – I insisted we take Pudge along for luck.

When we arrived, another couple had already seen the house, and our agent, Angela, told us there were appointments scheduled for the afternoon.

It didn’t take us long to decide to put in an offer, so Angela – a phenomenal buyer’s agent – took a photo of Simon, Splendid, Pudge, and me sitting on the front steps. She then included it with the offer.

It didn’t take us long to decide to put in an offer, so Angela – a phenomenal buyer’s agent – took a photo of Simon, Splendid, Pudge, and me sitting on the front steps. She then included it with the offer.

Final Thoughts

I am in the sunroom, writing this post in the fancy recliner that Simon bought me for Christmas. It’s automated and has a charging port in the right arm. The rest of the room is filled with boxes we have yet to unpack, but my space is secure from all cardboard intrusions.

The main part of the house is looking more homey by the day, and when we get some pictures up, it will look even better. So will the sunroom, because most of the boxes in here contain pictures.

We were fortunate to be able to have both boys here for Christmas. It was just the four of us and three lovable dogs. We hung out, played cards, watched movies, ate, and generally enjoyed each other’s company. We even managed to get a tree up.

After a tumultuous year, ending it on a high note was just what we needed. Simon and I are looking forward to our fourth IMM event later this month. It will be virtual, but we hope to line up some press trips we can actually take later in the year.

We have no travel plans for the first half of 2021, but are signed up for TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) North America in Washington State coming up in August and TBEX Asia in Thailand in October. While in the neighborhood, we plan to visit Vietnam, Cambodia, and Japan. Now that a vaccine is on the horizon, perhaps we can hope for a return to what passes for normal.

I’ll finish the “ABC’s of Travel” series – “M” is for Milan is up next – and increase my pitches to travel publications. Simon will have new opportunities to take photos and fly his drone in our new town. The possibilities are endless.

We only know a few people in Taylors, the suburb of Greenville in which we live, but hope to make new friends despite the Covid grinch who won’t go away. Of course, we are looking forward to visits from our New Bern friends, as well as friends from far and wide, before we take off on our next travel adventure.

Yes, 2020 and Covid have kept us from traveling, and kept us staying home more than we like, but at least we were able to relocate without disrupting travel plans. In the past 12 months, we have grown closer to family and friends, despite the distances. We are incredibly fortunate to have children we don’t just love unconditionally, but like and respect. The people – not to mention the dogs – in our lives are true treasures who make each day special.

Simon, Splendid, and I wish you a happy, healthy, and fulfilling year. What are your 2021 plans? We’d love to hear about them in the Comments.

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