After living almost 100 days under a national shelter-in-place, June 21st was the beginning of Spanish life under “the new normal.” Society was able to live their life as if it were January. However, new habits, guidelines, and measures from the quarantine were still being followed.
Businesses that severely impacted by the stay-at-home order felt the most eager for tourists to begin traveling again. The tourism industry was one of the most heavily impacted. Since the beginning of March, the Valencia region lost around 2.8 billion Euros in revenue year-over-year according to Levante-EMV, a Valencia-based news outlet. These losses weren’t limited only to the region. Tourism is one of the biggest industries in Spain, according to the World Tourism Organization. As revealed by their 2019 International Tourism Highlights, the nation is second worldwide in tourist arrivals and spending.
Deciding to Begin Traveling Again
As the country opened its borders to foreign tourists on July 1st, I decided that would be an ideal time to make a trip and start traveling again. Planning was indeed crucial. The number of trains between my town and Valencia lowered from five to three. I needed to coordinate my travel time with the new train schedule. The final train departs from Valencia at 5:00 in the afternoon, undeniably an unideal time. Nonetheless, I, fortunately, didn’t have to worry about lodging. My friends offered to let me stay in their apartment.
Once I arrived, the most apparent change was the number of facemasks and hand sanitizers. At the time, the government did not insist on wearing face masks in public. It wasn’t uncommon to see someone maskless and someone else scolding them. Due to the hot, humid Valencia heat, the masks were uncomfortable to wear. They felt like sweatbands for your mouth.
Another noticeable change was the heavy use of path markers on the floor. I visited several museums that had strict one-way-only paths. Security ensured guests followed instructions. It was easy to become disoriented when following a path, especially if a floor had hallways that snaked in and out. Perhaps we will become as synchronized as the robots traveling on the Axiom in Wall-E.
Some Normalcy Amidst Fear
Dining hasn’t seen a noticeable change. People already felt accustomed to dining outside because Spaniards did that before. However, diners can now scan a QR code for most menus. Nightlife is an explicitly different story. Only a certain number of guests are allowed into a building, and they also must wear masks. However, stories of arrests or business closures of densely-packed nightclubs started to surface across the country. L’Umbracle, a nightclub very close to where I spent the weekend, had an outbreak reported two weeks after I began traveling again.
Around the time of this development, I made my second trip to Valencia. The country’s issue of the coronavirus evolved. No longer were there a few, isolated cases in remote parts of the country. Cities were finally starting to have outbreaks. Foreign governments started issuing guidelines to avoid traveling to Spain. In turn, the regional government fought unquestionably hard for an exemption. They paid a hotel to exclusively house travelers with the virus.
My second trip to Valencia required more planning and vigilance on my part. For one, I wasn’t able to stay with my friends. I didn’t feel comfortable staying at a hostel, either. As a former auxiliar who stayed past their visa, I didn’t have health insurance. In the end, I opted not to find a room at all and traveled daily to the city. This made traveling again significantly more challenging.
Fortunately, I only wanted to visit the City of the Arts and Science, a tourist attraction in Valencia. The multi-building complex had only opened the science museum, cinema, and aquarium to the public. There were many similarities to my visit a month prior; multiple hand sanitizer stations, path markers, low capacity numbers, and indicators to separate crowds. The cinema represented a good example of this. The museum officials separated groups by two rows and seats apart.
Something odd that I noticed was the water fountain at the aquarium: they were covered so that the public could not use them. Around this time, the city government had found traces of COVID-19 in the water throughout multiple neighborhoods in Valencia. Because I didn’t know whether public water contaminated with the virus posed a major threat, I felt comfortable that the authorities had shut the fountains off.
Unfortunately, the situation only worsened. As of the time of me writing this, the number of daily cases is rising. Every day, healthcare workers report approximately 3,000 new cases. In response, the Ministry of Health announced additional precautions. There is now a ban on smoking in public and nightclubs. Uncertainty is on the mind of many Spaniards as the summer holiday ends and employment and school return.