I hadn’t been seeking simplicity in the spring of 2020. But in these strange and often unsettling days, after 16+ years of spending several months a year abroad, my world has unexpectedly shrunk to my home, my back porch, and the streets of my quiet neighborhood. My sole companion these days is my sweet husband. Although this is home and a very comforting place to be, I find myself yearning for the places in Europe that I love.
In just a month, my world has changed and so have my plans for the next few months– as it has for pretty much everyone in the world. Like so many others, I’ve struggled with anger, fear, frustration, and now resignation. I try to remember our family motto: “It is what it is.” We adopted this motto 16 years ago when we traveled in Europe for 14 months. Sometimes it rained, or a train schedule unexpectedly changed, or something we planned to do was closed… things we couldn’t do anything about. We decided not to get upset about what was outside of our control, accept that “it is what it is,” and look for the positive.
I can’t control the virus or what the various governments decide needs to be done or when it will be possible to resume our tours. BUT I can control myself, my attitude, how I deal with others, and how I spend my time. So I’m trying hard to replace any negative emotions with optimism and hope. I want to take care of myself, encourage those I’m close to, and make the best of this unexpected time at home.
Every day since March 19 I’ve posted a photo on our European Experiences Facebook page. My theme for these posts is “If we can’t travel now, let’s dream about travel.” Every morning as I choose my daily photo, I look through photos of our many European trips and our European Experiences groups. I have thousands and thousands of photos! It’s an enjoyable and positive way to start every day.
I enjoy remembering our trips as a family and with our groups. It’s fun to see photos of the busy markets, the delicious meals, and all wonderful people we’ve met. But I find I’m most drawn to the photos of simple things: a picnic, a view, flowers in a pot, a chapel, a cat, a bicycle leaning against a wall, a pile of cherries, quiet moment with a friend.
In some ways, as we’re protecting our health and trying to economize, this time brings us back to a simpler way of life. The focus for most of us is on staying at home and spending time with our immediate family. Planning and cooking meals. Returning to an old hobby. Doing something to help a neighbor. Working a jigsaw puzzle. Taking a walk near our home. Checking in with family more frequently. Watching the daily change of the season. Planting a garden. Cleaning out a closet, maybe many closets. Sorting through old photographs.
Granted, our confinement is facilitated by modern conveniences like the internet, social media, streaming video, home delivery of pretty much anything we want, zoom gatherings with family and friends. All these things make our time at home so much easier! But I still find myself seeking simplicity.
So as I click through my hundreds of digital photo albums, I find myself most drawn to images of simplicity… perhaps that’s what most inspires me about Europe, draws me there for months every year, and brings me the most pleasure. It’s that simpler way of life in the small villages we love, living in the midst of history, the beauty of natural surroundings, our friendships with farmers and winemakers, the lack of commercialism we more easily find in the countryside.
I do enjoy my time in European cities and busy places. I appreciate the museums, historic sites, the bustling squares and piazzas, the lively cafes, the elegant restaurants. I love the Christmas markets, the festivals and special events, the chance to go to the theatre or a concert. But crowds of people… not really for me and not what fills my heart when I think about the special places in Europe that I love. I find myself seeking simplicity.
I enjoy traveling the back roads, the country lanes, the quiet trails. I enjoy wandering “off-the-beaten path,” away from the tour buses, river cruises, and crowds of tourists. I’m most happy taking it slow and following the road less traveled, a road more personal and inspiring, especially in the company of my husband, my family, and small groups of old and new friends.
Here are some images of the simplicity I love:
These are some of the memories I cherish the most. These are moments that give me optimism, strength and hope.
Spring 2020 and the Coronavirus. This is an unusual time of our lives, a hardship of sorts but also perhaps a gift… an opportunity to reflect on what’s most important in our lives: the blessing of good health, the love of family and friends, the beauty of God’s world, the simple pleasures of living.
In this season of Easter and Passover, I wish all of you health and enjoyment of the simplicity that this time can offer us. I wish you bonheur– happiness!
And as we look at old photos and savor memories of the special places we love, let’s dream of the days when we’ll experience the simple joys of travel once again.
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You might enjoy these related blog posts featuring some simple moments and experiences we’ve enjoyed:
Nature’s Paintbrush: May and June in the Luberon
A Cotswolds Experience: A Walk Along the Cotswold Way
A Chianti Experience: Our Friend Francesco
Kathy and Charley Wood founded European Experiences in 2006, offering week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe. Their trips include The Luberon Experience in Provence, France, named one of the top 50 tours in the world by National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Kathy has personally hosted over 130 Experience groups. She hosts Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Puglia, Alsace, the Dordogne, the Cotswolds, and Normandy. Charley is now mostly retired but continues to co-host The Cornwall Experience and our Christmas trips with Kathy every year.
Kathy has been traveling in Europe for 30+ years and loves sharing her special places in Europe with other travelers. The Woods have a second home in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.
Dear Kathy, I read your lovely Slow Travel piece with a little tear…beautifully written and very moving. Remembering all the lovely friends we made on your tour as well as the gentle local people and not knowing how they may have been affected by this awful virus as well as the lockdowns. And yes, dreaming about travelling again to those magical places. Stay safe all.
Deb, thanks so much! It’s good to know that my words and photos could reach across the miles. It’s interesting that the virus has given all of us around the world a shared experience. We’ve loved traveling with you, your mum and your sister… what great memories we have together.
As usual Kathy you have expressed so many of my own thoughts.. possibly this has a lot to do with my total number of trips ! SO very disappointed to miss number nine .. for this year anyway. But, I have a strong expectation that will come to pass in the future. Meanwhile I remember every trip, every door, every window, and the most minute details of gardens , views, and not forgetting markets and SHOPPING. Best of all the cherished memories of friendships made and continued. It is ten years this month since my first trip.!! And I say again “ you changed my life… “ , and I simply could never have been where you have taken me without you. Thank you for all the energy you give in organising European Experiences. Thank you and Charley for your wonderful friendship.