Dreaming of your next travel adventure? Look no further.
Updated: Apr 5
Hello Stephenville! What an unusual time to be starting a travel column. We are in a self-imposed quarantine right now and haven’t even been in our car for well over a week. But we know this will eventually pass and our travel adventures will continue.
For those of you who don’t know us, my name is Greg Ball. I spent 27 years teaching music and directing the Jazz Ensemble at Tarleton. My wife Betsy taught International Business at the University as well. We raised our children, Chelsea and David, in town and for a quarter of a century called Stephenville our home.
We have many fond memories and many good friends from our time there. However, in 2017 we decided it was time for a change. We sold our house and most of our stuff and started a new adventure. For the past three years we have been traveling about 9 months of the year and spending our summers at our lake house in Canada.
In that time we have picked grapes on a winery in Italy, dog sledded in Norway, helped renovate an historic home in the Lake District in the UK, explored ice caves in Iceland, spent a weekend with a bunch of rowdy 20 somethings in Riga, Latvia, and much more.
This past December we helped Chelsea and her husband Sam, move into and renovate a house in Madison, Wisconsin. We spent three months with them and had a wonderful time. We finally got the new kitchen up and running but we were anxious to get back to Europe.
We had an offer from friends of ours in Barolo in the Piedmont region of Italy to spend a month with them. The plan was to work on our Italian and help them with their English. We would also help around their B&B while getting to live like a local and learn more about this part of Italy we love so much.
We flew out of Chicago at the very end of February. Betsy was somewhat concerned about the news of the Coronavirus we had been hearing about but I thought we would be fine. After all, the percentage of people affected was so low at the time and I thought it would be OK.
We had a great time with our friends Daniela and Franco. We hiked through the still dormant vineyards every day, we met famous wine-makers and made new friends, and our Italian was getting nominally better.
When we arrived there were fewer than 300 confirmed COVID 19 cases and the attitude of many of the people we met was that the government was over reacting, over testing, and over reporting. The news was bad but there was a definite, “It can’t happen to me,” kind of attitude floating around.
But the numbers kept increasing and peoples’ attitudes changed as well. A nearby hospital reported its first case and that weekend Prime Minister Conte imposed severe travel restrictions in much of northern Italy.
In the two weeks we had been there the number of confirmed cases had risen from less than 300 to over 10,000. We left Italy on March 11 and spent a few days in France. After President Trump announced his European travel ban from the Oval Office we managed to find flights back to the US on Saturday, March 14 from Paris.
The trip home was a bit of an ordeal. You can read more about it in our latest blog, My Reflections on Our Time in Italy During Coronavirus.
Since our return we have been quarantined with Chelsea and Sam in Madison. The US is about two weeks behind Italy in terms of the outbreak. It has been interesting to see similar attitude changes as the number of cases increased here.
This is real. Stay home. Enjoy the time with your family. Until we can travel again we will share some of our experiences over the years. If you have travel questions or an area you’d like us to write about let us know.
Greg Ball is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group tours to Europe. In his previous life he taught Woodwinds and Jazz at the university level for 30 years. As a professor he took his bands to England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and England. Since “retiring” he and his wife/ETC co-founder Betsy travel Europe nine months out of the year. Together they have visited over 40 countries. He loves cooking, hiking, listening and playing music, and wine and holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.