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11 Oct

I decided to travel abroad in the middle of the pandemic…

In September, I booked a flight from Manchester to Milan 24 hours before take-off. Insane, I know, but after realising I’d spent the past six months sat working from the same table I sit to eat my dinner, it hit me all at once that I needed a break. My partner and I also realised our eight-year anniversary was approaching, so why not?  

Initially, when I saw people travelling and going abroad a few months back, my thoughts were – why risk it? But now, after months of people going away and seeing the world, I’d come around to the idea, as long as it was safe.  

Italy is one of my favourite places in the world – so much history, beautiful views and of course incredible food. I looked into how hard it had been hit in terms of tourism since the pandemic, and it actually broke my heart. The World Travel & Tourism Council recently released stats that show the absence of tourism is likely to hit Italy with a huge €36.7 Billion loss. 2.8 million jobs, created by the travel and tourism sector in Italy, could be lost and it is expected the country will take years to recover.  

With all of this in mind, we decided to book a city break to Milan as we had never been before and who can resist the Italian capital of fashion. Reading up on local rules and restrictions beforehand, it sounded like a safe enough choice and wow, we were right.  

Unfortunately, the flight over was a totally different story. We felt safe in the deathly quiet Manchester Airportwhich for once, was actually really clean. However, the RyanAir flight was just chaos. After months of not really seeing anyone other than familiar faces in safe surroundings, it suddenly felt very unnerving to board a flight with hundreds of other strangers.  

We even watched the previous flyers walk off, and within about ten minutes we were sat in our seats. We were also sat in a row of three next to a stranger, but thankfully he moved to sit with his partner fairly early in the flight. It was really busy, with barely any empty seats and so many people wearing masks incorrectly.  

The staff did try on two occasions to ask everyone to cover their mouth and nose, but nobody listened. At this point I started to think have we made a mistake, is this unsafe? As soon as we arrived in Milan, this thought left my mind. 

On arrival, it was instantly noticeable that the country had much stricter restrictions in place than in the UK. Mask wearing is compulsory indoors until seated, locals wear them walking around the streets and you can’t walk 100m without spotting a sanitizer station. If you pulled your mask down slightly or forgot to put it on entirelyyou were told within seconds to pop it back on.  

As we couldn’t predict how safe it would actually be, we decided to book a hotel a little out of the centre, The Radisson Blu Milan. It was still really easy to get to from the centre and the airport (around 10 minutes), which made us feel more comfortable knowing we were away from the hustle and bustle. Now, I can’t express enough how safe we felt in this hotel from the minute we arrived. The precautions made us feel secure and the staff made us feel so at ease with it. It is difficult to tell when someone is smiling behind a mask, but the team did such a fantastic job! 

They explained that due to the pandemic, a few things would be a little differentthe spa and pool were shut, the minibar was empty, but they were on-hand if we needed anything and would safely deliver drinks to the room when requested. You could also have breakfast in bed if that would make you feel more comfortablewe gave this a go one morning after a few too many wines and it really was a delight. The room was absolutely spotless, as was every other area in the hotel, and we were welcomed with sealed and boxed cocktails in our room, which were delicious.  

Once checked in and settled, we ventured into the centre of Milan with some very handy tips and directions from the front desk team. Originally, I was actually quite nervous, but once we were out and about these feelings disappeared. We hopped on a short bus into the centre, which only had a handful of socially distanced passengers and once in the city, I realised most people were wearing masks and all were keeping their distance from others (something that just hasn’t caught on in the UK).  

We then visited a couple of the major tourist attractionsSforzesco Castle, Duomo di Milano and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. These beautiful and usually bustling destinations were so amazing to see, but they were all pretty empty which felt strange. This did however allow for some serious photo-takingwith no groups of tourists or selfie sticks in the background.  

To get from A to B once in the centre, we used rental scooters from Dott. I loved this as it meant we didn’t have to share public transport with strangers and they were actually really fun and convenient, I would definitely recommend giving them a try if you visit Milan. You can also use them in strict cycle lanes, so it feels super safe.  

After ticking the touristy destinations off our list, day two was spent exploring Milan’s beautiful bars and rooftops (this was my favourite day and I’m not ashamed to say it). The first spot was Ceresio 7, a beautiful bar restaurant with the most gorgeous pool and terrace area. With the typical temp checks on arrival, all of the seating was cleverly done so you were distanced from other groups and we sat outside. The staff made us feel incredibly comfortable, especially our server Dario who offered us several food suggestions for that evening. 

We then headed to The Roof Milano, where we ate way too much food, drank way too much wine and watched the most incredible sunset. This was when it really hit me how fantastic it was to be away and in the sunshineafter all those months stuck at home.  

On the last day of our trip we hopped on a train to Lake Comowhich was so insanely beautiful I can’t even describe. The train over was empty, all of the restaurants did temperature checks but also had amazing outdoor seating areas and it was just bliss. I didn’t know it was so accessible from Milan, so we are already planning a second trip back purely to explore Como. Food and accommodation here are extremely affordable, so I would definitely recommend to anyone who enjoys a break by the water.  

When it came to leaving Italy, I was literally trying to convince my boyfriend we should quit our jobs and never come home. After months of feeling quite down in the dumps in the UK, scared to leave our homes because so many people aren’t abiding by the rulesI just felt really safe.  

We both work from home now anyway, and although we have no symptoms, have no plans to socialise with the outside world anytime soonI would 100% encourage anyone in need of a break and a boost to find a cheap flighthop on that plane (masked and sanitised, of course) and have a few chill days somewhere beautiful like Milan. I guarantee, you’ll feel so much better afterwards.   

Jess MacDonald
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