“You’re very brave to travel abroad in these times,” we were told by various friends and acquaintances, both at home and abroad, when referring to our recent trip to France. The underlying message was that we were being foolish to risk our health by boarding a plane and going to the area in central France where we have spent our summers for the last few years, but had to miss it last year.

During those visits we have learned to love the easygoing way of life there, the beautiful countryside and the friends we have acquired. It goes without saying that we have also enjoyed the restaurants and the interaction with the local population, enabling us to exercise – and hopefully improve – our command of the French language.

Admittedly, the bureaucratic and medical requirements associated with travelling these days were a heavy burden. In addition to filling out complicated forms before each flight, we had to be tested for the Coronavirus as well as taking out health insurance which, because of our advanced age, has become very expensive.

Nonetheless, we were not daunted, and although the weather in France was mostly cold and occasionally even rainy, we considered the money well-spent. It seemed strange to have to wear sweaters in July, and even sit ensconced in a blanket when inside, but it was no worse, and perhaps even better, than enduring the sweltering heat that prevailed in Israel just then.

Getting away from our usual routine, however enjoyable, turned out to be good for us. We both managed to read books at a rate we cannot aspire to in Israel, to enjoy one another’s company without having to compete with all the other demands on our partner’s attention, and to ‘wind down’ in a way that is simply impossible for us while in Israel.

Driving along a country road is a pleasure in itself, and the courtesy and consideration displayed by drivers is unbeatable. Even on the motorways drivers hardly ever cut in on one another or engage in tailgating – behaviour that is almost the norm in Israel. Hand-sanitising gel is to be found at the entrance to every shop, restaurant, business or café, and there are constant reminders to keep distance from others.

Our last couple of days were spent en route for Paris. We stayed overnight in the town of Orleans and managed to visit its impressive cathedral with stunning stained-glass windows portraying the events involving Joan of Arc. Stricter regulations to prevent the spread of Corona had just been introduced in France, and so we were required to present our ‘Green Passport,’ before we could enter the breakfast area of the hotel. Before touring the buffet there each guest was required to take a pair of large black plastic tongs (pince) with which to take food (see photo). I wonder if anything like that is being tried by any Israeli hotel.

Going through the airports at either end was more complicated and demanding than in the past, and the cramped conditions on the plane were no great pleasure. But despite all this, it was worth it. We’re happy to be home, in the bosom of our family and friends once more, but we’re not sorry we made the effort. I don’t know how long we’ll continue to feel the psychological benefit, but I’m enjoying it while I can.