Wish you were here?

Foreign travel right now is a hassle at best - and impossible for some. Four JC writers reflect on the countries they yearn to visit...


Panoramic view of Tel Aviv, Israel

Is it the bond she feels with the Jewish state, or the delicious breakfasts that make Angela Epstein pine for her regular holidays in Israel? 

A non-Jewish colleague asks why I holiday so often in Israel (or rather why I did, before Covid flattened my travel plans). Where to begin?
Do I talk about the flag-cracking heat of a Tel Aviv summer as you sweat through the Carmel market  in search of yet another Magen David bracelet or fake DKNY watch? Or do I mention those long days on Netanya beach where you’ll probably meet more Mancunians than  at Old Trafford on a Saturday afternoon? Which is great if, like me,  you’re from Manchester.
Indeed, I could explain that a visit to  Israel  often plays out like a live action version of the old TV show, This is Your Life. Old faces from school, youth groups or university  seem to sprout on every corner (I’ve never forgotten the time my husband nearly gave one former B’nei Akiva pal heart failure when he spotted her on the promenade in Eilat and bellowed her name).
But in truth, it’s more than all this. There are so many reasons why I love going to Israel. And why, having been an habitual visitor for so many years  I’ve missed — so, so missed — making even one trip during the pandemic
I could tell my work mate that it’s not the perfect place for a holiday. Not least because of some of the chutzpah-dik hotel prices.Or the fact that if you give a  “shmeer” you get a mile (as a friend of mine — a  welcome and generous regular at one of Israel’s finest hotels — could testify). 
But there’s adequate compensation almost everywhere you look. Not least in those Israeli hotel breakfasts — a runway of watercolour salads, hummus and cheese cake — always cheesecake. Although I haven’t missed the frantic pressure of exhorting the kids to squirrel away food for lunch too.
Like many people I also have fathomless emotional ties to Israel which make this continued absence so difficult. My brother — who made aliyah 38 years ago — lives out in Gush Etzion. It’s always wonderful to visit his gated yishuv high in the mountains where the heat of the day is mitigated by the welcome cool of those sweetly scented evenings. I long to idle  away the hours, catching up with my gorgeous sister-in-law, their children and grandchildren — a need which has been agitated by the fact our youngest son recently emigrated to Israel too
But even if  you don’t have family in Israel, how can you not miss  that  visceral  connection too? It’s accelerated by a visit to the kotel  —even if it’s for the zillionth time. Or simply, it’s that feeling you get when  the dot-to-dot lights of the Tel Aviv coastline speckle the night sky  as  your plane begins its descent.
Perhaps above all I miss visiting a place where I don’t have to downplay that I’m  Jewish. Because this crazy, hot-headed, unpredictable but always wonderful country is our ancient homeland. Israel I miss you. If only for those breakfasts, I promise I’ll be back.


New York City is where Stephen Pollard wants to be —  but  there’s no prospect of an imminent visit

I am not what you would call an adventurous traveller. When I was inter-railing, for example, between school and university, my friend and I booked every train we would take — and a seat — in advance and arranged all our accommodation before we left north London, mapping out our entire three-month trip to the day so we knew exactly where we would be on any given hour.
I have carried on in this vein ever since. I know what I want and when. And now, I can summarise this in three words: New York City.
I am happy to visit all sorts of places — or rather, cities. Cities are the physical expression of humanity’s triumph over nature and as such represent all that is best about our species. And since the US is the national representation of humanity’s belief in freedom, it follows that US cities are the Platonic ideal of the city. San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas… I would trade anywhere else on earth (except possibly Melbourne) for any of these. But really, there is one US city that I actually need, that I have to inhale and absorb. 
NYC is the echt city. It is everything I want, in the land of the free. That unique feeling you have in Israel knowing that being Jewish isn’t anything different? It’s there in spades in NYC, too. All my life — culturally, linguistically, physically, emotionally and lots more — I’ve looked to the US as the greatest nation on earth, with the NYC its greatest city. And as soon as I sit in a yellow cab from JFK I feel home. So to me, no year is complete without a trip to New York.
I can live with being stuck at home for months on end. Having had to shield, lockdown has been pretty rigid for me. But I found it surprisingly bearable. The only real privation has been the knowledge not that I would be unable to travel across London but that I would be unable to visit NYC. 
And it gets worse. Because I am immune-suppressed, the vaccine has had no effect on me. Which means that while everyone else is looking forward, at some point soon, to being able to travel again, I cannot. Until the scientists come up with a way to protect me and the rest of the 500,000 of us for whom the vaccine is useless, the tube is too dangerous, let alone an airport and a plane.
Which means no Second Avenue Deli, no Union Square Café, no Carnegie Hall, no Zabarts, no H&Hs, no none of that — and even worse, none of my New York friends. The only Broadway I am going to see is Mill Hill Broadway.
New York… I am pining for you.

When Keren David lived in Amsterdam she was homesick for London. Now the tables have been turned  

I am sitting outside the Blauwe Theehuis, a café which looks as though a flying saucer has landed in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark. I’m sipping a koffie verkeerd — called the ‘wrong coffee’ by the Dutch because it is so deliciously milky.  I’m bathed in dappled sunshine, there’s a gentle breeze, a busker is playing, the air smells of cinnamon and roses and (of course) weed.

I’m not, of course. My regular visits to Amsterdam have come to an abrupt end, thanks to Covid-19. My last visit was with the family in 2019, a long weekend to celebrate a clutch of simchas  — silver wedding, graduation, birthdays. I assumed I’d be back in about a year.

The irony is that now I’m homesick for Amsterdam, having been homesick for London for much of the eight years that I actually lived there. We moved to the Dutch capital in 1999, at a traumatic point in our lives. I pined for family and friends, for Waitrose and John Lewis, for the ability to understand the conversations I overheard on the bus. All I wanted was to go home.
But I learned to cycle. I walked everywhere. I discovered Amsterdam’s canals and parks, its courtyards and cafés and  quirky little shops, I bought tulips by the armful, I ate herring, I sang in a Jewish women’s choir. I discovered Indonesian food. My kids ate poffertjes — tiny little sugar-coated pancakes. We all made new friends. I studied art history, helped by the fact that we lived in the same street as the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh museum. I fell in love with my new home.
And ever since we left, 14 years ago, we’ve made regular trips back, a chance to revisit old haunts, dip back into our old lives. It’s not exactly a holiday, more a reminder of how we drew on our resources to adapt and survive. It’s always rejuvenating, always special.  
 Until now. 
I compensate by learning Dutch — my Dutch was always terrible — and by watching Dutch films and TV series. Currently it’s Blood Pact, a series on All Four about a mild tax man drawn into a friendship with a violent criminal. It’s set in Amsterdam South, where I used to live, so I scan the background of violent scenes to see if I recognise the streets. I’m stupidly thrilled when I do. 
And I go to my local park, order milky coffee and close my eyes. And pretend that I’m back at the Blauwe Theehuis one more time. 


For JC Travel editor Cathy Winston the pandemic meant no hoped-for trips to Cairo, Namibia or Guatemala — and the challenge of  filling empty newspaper pages …

Last night I went to Egypt… in my dreams. After 18 months of not making it beyond the borders of England, my subconscious evidently decided the only cure for thwarted wanderlust was to provide the travel I’ve been craving since the pandemic hit.
Before Covid, it’s no exaggeration to say my life revolved around travel: as a travel writer, I’d normally go on a couple of trips a month, ticking off destinations on my increasingly long wishlist from Madagascar to the Myanmar.
Starting 2020, I was toying with the thought of visiting Guatemala, Vietnam, Namibia, and returning to Egypt to show my then seven-year-old daughter a country that’s fascinated me for decades. But Covid-19 had other plans.
As borders closed and flights were grounded, I spent months asking the question, how on earth do you fill several pages of newspaper every week when no-one’s allowed to go anywhere? At least that depressing challenge of ingenuity distracted me from my own repeatedly cancelled holidays, a diary empty of work projects, and the literal layer of dust gathering on my passport — I needed antihistamines when I went to check it hadn’t expired.
Because while I love exploring the UK, if I could be anywhere, I’d be… well… anywhere else! 
I want the bubble of excitement in my stomach as the plane lifts off the tarmac and the sun setting over desert dunes, the rainbow of tropical fish on a reef, market stalls of fascinatingly weird foods, towering temples and dramatic landscapes unlike anything I’ve seen before; in short, the chance to be a stranger in a foreign land.
Failing that, I’d settle for a traffic light system which doesn’t treat you like an irresponsible risk-taker for planning more than a fortnight ahead and acknowledges that Tristan da Cunha isn’t top of most people’s holiday list. For now, I’m crossing my fingers for a planned week in the Canary Islands — Cairo will have to wait.




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