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October 21, 2021

Window on the World Column | Opening Up the World

Two canceled flights and two Covid tests later, and it looked like the U.S. to U.K, flight might finally be happening. It would have to be via L.A. with a layover, but it beat the boat any day and I would take it. As the jet roared down the runway from LAX, I felt euphoric. I was going home.

I felt almost young again. Nicely rested in my lovely quiet hotel near Heathrow Airport and with another negative Covid test under my belt, I was headed to the rental car place. I felt young-ish and free. There is nothing quite like the feeling of heading out on the open road in the heady knowledge that no one in the world really knew — or perhaps cared — where you were at the time. My day was deliciously uncharted with no deadlines. I had no responsibilities except to myself; a delicious sentiment.

The rental car company decided that I didn’t need the small-ish car I had reserved. No, they had a brand-new Toyota SUV awaiting my arrival with lush leather seats, automatic transmission and, thankfully, a navigation system. Having figured out how to start the beautiful black beast, and I am on my way. “Keep left,” my friend had reminded me, but I still felt unsure. At the exit, I feel the need to wait for a car to come along, so I could make sure I took off on the correct side of the road.

All of a sudden, I didn’t feel quite so young and free; I felt ill-equipped for my upcoming road adventure in England. It was nearly two years since I had been on that soil and likely three to four since I had driven over there. I turned off the radio and gripped the steering wheel in the 2-10 position like a rookie driver. I vowed to get there and all in one piece.

I won’t say I arrived at my friend’s house in the Cotwolds in a timely fashion, since I had diverted myself via my cousin’s house in Surrey and paid her a visit, following a drive-by to my aunt. These things always take longer than you think, especially once you get onto some good topics. It had been a super long time since I had seen them.

The day was glorious, and I began to relax a little from my fist clenching. I eased onto the roundabouts like a pro and started enjoying the green countryside around me and the first hints of autumn. It was nice not to see corn-colored everythings for a change. The sun shone all the way to my targeted destination of Painswick, which is one stunning part of the world. My old friend and I enjoyed bliss-filled days of sitting outside in cafes and in her garden, visiting charity shops and catching up with our worlds. It had been too long since we were face to face.

From there, I took the opportunity to cross the country — west to east — and scoop up a couple of days in my hometown, where, again, a heatwave welcomed me, and I swam in the North Sea two days in a row. My friend from the Cotswolds joined me and we couldn’t believe our luck. England is so very beautiful when the sun shines! Since I had packed for more of a mixed-climate bag, it was fun to pick up a couple of more summery items in the sales and help the local economy a little.

I was reluctant to leave, as I always am, but it was time for the last stop on my road trip — Oxford — back to the west of the country again and the home of one of my oldest friends. She and her husband treated me to a delicious dinner downtown near the colleges and I left the following morning to return the black beast back to the rental car company. She and I had become fast companions over the past few days, and I had even, finally, developed the courage to turn the radio on while driving.

Everything moved along seamlessly. I had seen many of my people and successfully made my way to the open terminal at Gatwick Airport for the short flight to the Isle of Man. I had not seen my dad or sister in nearly two years, so they were well-overdue a visit. The Isle of Man had accepted all my applications to visit, and all seemed to have the green light.

Traveling through borders in our newly re-opened world is not an easy thing to do — what with the copious testing requirements and the stacks of paperwork — but I did experience a blush of pride as I realized that I had just traveled — successfully — from the United States to the British Isles without skipping a beat.

My sister picked me up and took me to her home where I was greeted with happy doggies and a fabulously comfortable hearth. We stopped via Dad’s “palace” — also known as his bungalow — and it was so good to see where he was hanging his hat these days, so safe and well-cared for. We spent several days cruising around that beautiful island and getting to know some of the lovely spots. The weather also gave us a wonderfully warm greeting, which didn’t hurt one bit.

I flew back into Gatwick on a Friday evening and was greeted by another very old friend of mine who drove me to her home in the countryside for a splendid few days of catching up, eating delicious food and even river swimming. In three short weeks, I had crossed my home country a few times and caught up with my people. I was very content.

Now the borders of the world are slowly re-opening, the best advice I can give you explorers of the world is to read and re-read the rules and regulations of travel with Covid that pertain to your destination. There were some very teary families in the departure lounge at Los Angeles who had chosen to not do that, and they are likely still tearing through their luggage trying to find those important documents.

I had formerly taken for granted my ability to freely travel back and forth from England to America. For 30-plus years, I had done so without blinking. Covid has taught me that freedom is not to be taken lightly and every trip taken is one to be cherished. Tomorrow is not promised for any of us.

Lucy Jensen
Soledad Columnist
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