Notes from a travel writer’s notebook during coronavirus lockdown

We’ve had to hit pause on our travel plans for now. But guess what. I am still traveling and you can, too.

THE WESTERN WALL stands empty of worshipers amid the coronavirus crisis. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
THE WESTERN WALL stands empty of worshipers amid the coronavirus crisis.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
I travel the world.
No, not now. At least not physically traveling.
We’ve had to hit pause on our travel plans for now. But guess what. I am still traveling and you can, too.
You see, there is a tiny silver lining in all this. We can still make a list of all those places we’d like to go next. At the same time, we can recall those lovely memories of sights in cities and countryside we have visited in the past. Just to think of those wonderful journeys will help us get through this horrible pandemic.
So much of travel trickles into our lives before, and after, a big trip, We have memories of special Caribbean, Baltic and Mediterranean cruises, of sailing down the Danube, a romantic honeymoon tour of Florence, Venice and Rome, a visit to the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, the Western Wall. ·      
Travel is a state of mind. There are hundreds of ways to travel without leaving your house: Research and plan a forthcoming trip, watch an online virtual tour, work with a travel professional, savor a travel guide or book. Plan a trip a year from now. We’re all armchair travelers for now. I’m indulging my wanderlust at home. So can you.
Make a list of all the places you want to visit and research those destinations. We have a lot of time on our hands these days. Indulge your wanderlust.
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We can even travel, well, without traveling. Through computer technology, virtual reality can place us inside an experience, instead of viewing a screen in front of us.
We’re immersed and able to interact with 3D worlds. For example, you can climb Everest through an hour-long recreation in virtual reality. “While the mainstream uptake of VR has been limited by the quality and quantity of the releases, and the high cost of headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Quest, it is still improving,” according to a BBC travel article.·      
Some travel lovers tell me, if you still have trips coming up, don’t cancel, postpone. Frequent travelers are always planning. Like people all over the world, my neighbors, fellow travelers, are thinking and planning journeys as they stay at home. I talked to some of them in my hometown. Here’s a few examples of what these residents of Boynton Beach, Florida, told me: 
When the virus broke out in the US in early March, Malcolm Bernstein found himself stuck in South Africa visiting his elderly parents. He luckily just made it back to Florida – where he and his family winter – in time to reenter the US. Malcolm, his wife, Denise, and daughter, Jodi, had to get back to Canada where they reside, and on arrival were quarantined for 14 days.
Avid travelers, they are waiting for normality to return, but they do have a list of future destinations: Belize, Azores, southern Africa, the Greek islands and South America. They’re constantly checking the Travel + Leisure magazine website, the Discovery Channel and National Geographic magazine.
David and Arlene Sebso were about to depart on a long-awaited trip to Israel next month. Their tour company allowed them to carry over their trip to 2021. “I’ve always wanted to visit Israel, especially Jerusalem, to see the city’s architecture,” said David, himself a retired architect. Even though he’s never been to Jerusalem, he envisions it as “very intimate, with shops on narrow streets and people intermingling.”
Ron and Marcia Leventhal, fervent travelers, had booked a cruise for this past March, which they postponed. They also are bent on planning a trip in the US next year.
They’re passing the time of staying home in this social-distance atmosphere by being online and researching a few destinations. Possibilities: Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains along the Tennessee-North Carolina border and taking a boat tour down the Mississippi. “There is a lot to see in America,” Ron pointed out.
For the last several summers, Sydney and Donna Epstein spent time with a small group of friends in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. Now they are looking forward to next summer, flying down to Aruba to sun on the fabulous beaches of the Caribbean island. · 
    
As to the memories of previous trips taken, there are a number of meaningful, historic, inspirational, memorial Jewish sites in Europe. Perhaps, like this writer, on a future visit to Paris, after this virus nightmare ends, others might want to stop at Temple Victoire, at 44 rue de la Victoire.
 For me, it will be a return visit. I remember that Friday night services are inspirational and meaningful indeed, and are attended by many travelers from all over the world.
I specifically cite this synagogue, because recently, it closed, for the first time in 150 years because of the deadly virus. Even World War II, and during the terrorist attacks in 2015, it remained open. The virus forced it shut.
I always will remember my visits to this beautiful, austere building frequently referred to as the “Rothschild Synagogue,” because members of the renowned family attend services there. Built in 1874, in neo-Romanesque style, it is lavishly decorated with marble and stained glass and is dominated by opulent candelabras. It is often called the “Cathedral Synagogue.”  ·      
Instead of being out there on the highways and byways of the world, most of us are observing the stay-at-home safety rule in the midst of this virus. Which is why I thought of the famous World War II ballad sung by Vera Lynn, “When the Lights Go on Again All Over the World.” The song, it is said, was inspired by the blackout during the London blitz. Substitute stay-at-home for blackout, virus for bombs, and the feelings must be emotionally the same as those dark days in the early 1940s.
 In the final analysis, better days will return when the lights go on all over the world and the world of travel will return and we will utter, bon voyage, again.
The writer, a travel writer and travel-lecturer, is the author of the just-published fourth edition of A Travel Guide to Jewish Europe, A Travel Guide to Jewish Russia and Ukraine, (both  Pelican Publishing) and Klara’s War, A Novel (Marion Street Press). Follow him at twitter:@bengfrank