ExperiencePlus! Blog

Day in the life: Canada and Iceland

Updates From People Around The World

With many countries beginning to loosen quarantine restrictions and opening in phases we have been checking in with our staff and tour leaders to see how they are spending their days. We also wanted to check in with our travelers to see how they have been doing! Here’s a little trip around the world to check in with them and get a glimpse of what is happening in their lives.

Shirley & Nino Mangione, Canada

Where do you live?
We live in Ottawa which is Canada’s capital city. A city of approximately 1 million.

Now that regulations are beginning to lift across the globe, what limitations do you still have in place? 
We were fairly lucky in Ottawa. The first COVID case was reported early March and the country pretty much shut down on March 14th. Large gatherings of any kind and all festivals, including Canada Celebrations, have been cancelled for the balance of the year. I’ve been working from home ever since. Our lockdown was not nearly as severe as in other countries. We were not locked into our homes and were able to go out pretty much at will although there were not too many places to go to. Initially grocery stores and pharmacies were open while restaurants could only offer take out or delivery. Gyms, pools, parks, hair salons and the like were all forced closed. Transportation systems were operating. People were seen out walking, at a safe distance, everywhere. Soon businesses with a storefront opening onto the street, but not malls, could open for curb side pickup. Thankfully liquor and beer stores, operated by the provincial government were declared essential services and remained open throughout although on a modified schedule.

In early May the parks reopened but with restrictions, enforcing social distancing measures. I hear the cities in Ontario collected $13M in social distancing fines. Businesses with roadside entrances could reopen but only a limited number of patrons could enter at any given time.

In early June restaurants with patios could offer an al fresco dining experience. Golf courses opened but not their club houses. You could arrive just in time to play and have to leave soon after. You can have a beer or food on the patio. Common areas in buildings and malls have opened. Gatherings of up to 10 people are permitted again.

That’s pretty much where we are at now. At the last count the total number of active cases in Ottawa was 48 with no one in intensive care.

What ‘normal’ activities have you been able to resume?
Our normal activities consist pretty much of going to the gym, cycling, grocery shopping and cooking. We do not eat out much at all except on tour with Experience Plus. The gym is still closed but we entertain close friends on occasion.

Where was the first place you went when restrictions were eased? 
I guess our favourite bike shop, as we needed new rubber, and one of the stores we buy cooking tools at. We seldom go out for diner so we did not find we were restricted much at all. I think we miss the gym and our spin classes most of all. Three months without spinning was surely noticed on our bike rides. The dentist was next as soon as we could get an appointment LOL.

Does your city seem to be getting back into its normal rhythm? 
The traffic has increased dramatically since the beginning of June. Knowledge workers are still working from home and will probably do so until late into the fall. As mentioned earlier the infection rate is well down and has been steadily trending in the right direction. There are still restrictions on interprovincial travel as most require that you self-isolate for 14 days when you enter their province. Travel prospects for the year look grim.

Have you been able to do much cycling lately? 
It was a cold spring so we got a late start but now we try to get out daily. The forecast is for a very warm and humid summer with a record number of 30C days extending into September.

Are there any habits or past times from lockdown that you will keep as restrictions ease? 
I think the concept of social distancing will remain. Do you know of anyone who has even suffered from a common cold in the past 3 months? The measures seem to be working.

Lock down was certainly difficult but what is one fond memory you will take from being cooped up at home?
We bought a small Breville electric pizza oven. The pizzas are just like from the wood fired ovens in Italy. Mmmmmm. There have been several very clever jokes floating around the Internet the best of which we shared with EP.

What are your thoughts on future travel? Where are you hoping to travel next? 
LOL we were hoping to Bike & Barge the Seine in August but with borders closed to tourists all over the world we pretty much gave up on that idea for 2020 but definitely are hoping to go in 2021.

Keneva Kunz, Iceland

I live in Iceland, which by the beginning of June was practically Covid-free. Being an island, of course, with a small population, makes it easier to close borders, and to keep track of the few people who are still entering. And Iceland is not exactly unused to dealing with various types of catastrophes – besides earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, the weather itself can be pretty devastating.

As in most other countries which have been fairly successful in dealing with the pandemic, the politicians here let the experts take over: we had daily televised briefings with the head of civil defense, the chief epidemiologist and the Director of Health. They explained, encouraged and informed – about why restrictions were necessary, who needed to take special care, etc. They even took part in some joking around and a huge online sing-along.

Responding successfully to the pandemic threat, however, was one thing, but handling the economic consequences was quite another. Around a third of Iceland‘s foreign currency earnings (and practically all manufactured goods and fossil fuels need to be imported) came from tourism – and disappeared practically overnight. With thousands of jobs of course.

Being seniors, my husband (a retired history professor) and I (a self-employed translator and interpreter) were not hit very hard when the labor market tanked. We were told to isolate, but were allowed out to buy groceries. Grandchildren were out-of-bounds, which was tough because all of a sudden schools and daycare centers were all but shut down. And here over 90% of women of working age work outside their homes. Out grandchildren did stand outside our apartment and call and wave, and everywhere people lined up their stuffed animals in the windows, looking longingly outside.

Probably because in March and April in Iceland there are not exactly throngs of people outdoors, we were always able to go for walks or other outdoor activities, like cross-country skiing, with distancing. No ski lifts. No organized sports. We live beside a lovely park area, and I have never seen so many families out walking together. And we could bike, once the snow and ice had retreated (it sort of comes and goes until mid-May). Now – end of June – things are practically back to normal with one huge difference: there are no tourists. Bearing in mind that last year there were around 2.5 million visitors to this country of 350,000 people, you can imagine the transformation.

We‘re in a bubble. Now the big question is how to open the country up again without a huge surge in infections, overwhelming the very good but very small healthcare system and sending us back to lock down.

Covid-19 has taught us just how valuable virus-free life is. Icelanders are being encouraged to spend their summer holidays in Iceland this year, not least in view of the virus situation elsewhere. Or in the nearby Faroe Islands or Greenland – which are also Covid-free. And it is incredibly strange to discover all the beautiful places we wouldn’t have thought of fighting our way through crowds to visit. Now if only the weather would co-operate! We don‘t generally fry here in the summer, but temperatures of 15-16°C would certainly be welcome.

Which is one reason why biking trips abroad are near the top of our travel list. We had hoped to either do one of ExperiencePlus‘s Expedition tours, or else a classic tour somewhere in France, Germany or Italy. Possibly meet up again with some of the great people we have become friends with on previous EP tours. We really appreciated the virtual coffee hour with former biking buddies. I haven‘t quite given up hope for this year, but we‘ll set our sights on 2021 if 2020 turns out to be no-go.

I can well imagine how tough this year must be for ExperiencePlus and all its employees and tour guides and only hope you manage to weather the storm so we can meet again soon!