Erasmus in Venice: Did I catch the Coronavirus for my birthday?

(Erasmus in Venice - Diary - One week by myself)

Dear Venice,

It's a week since I've written something... Lots of events have been restricted and there have been lots of cancellations and changes... Well, I have felt quite overwhelmed.

But if by writing and sharing this information, it may interest other people, then why not?

So here are all the main events which have happened in the meantime.

P. S. : Caution, I must clarify that this article has nothing to do with adding to the coronavirus "panic". I have adapted to the fear, sensations, and feelings that I have experienced this week, but it's nothing serious. You have to see this article as a diary entry of my life story, and not as a description of someone complaining they are ill. I am really happy to be here in Venice, and to be able to share what I'm seeing and experiencing!

Thank you and good reading!

Erasmus in Venice: Did I catch the Coronavirus for my birthday?

22nd February: News that the University was closing down

Let's start from the beginning: everything started on 22nd February.

Last Saturday, all students in Venice knew that the universities were going to be closed for a week because of the Coronavirus. From that moment, there weren't that many people infected so it was a little surprising, but at least it made us happy! (a mini-holiday where we could go to see our family).

It was that same day when my Korean friend I met briefly during an evening event organised by ESN Venice told me about her plans for the following week: a little 3 day trip to Romania then a 3 day trip to Budapest! After all, it isn't often that we have a week off! And also, living in Italy also means having different borders, being closer to countries you've never visited before. So, I jumped on the idea of going!

23rd February: planning a last-minute holiday

Very keen on the last-minute spur of the moment idea of going away with a girl I have just met, I dedicated my day to booking places for the holiday and to packing my bags.

As my friend had already booked her flight to Romania, it made me think and I took a long time considering the different means of transport I would take.

As I have explained in the guide, taking my environmental impact into account it's essential for me!

I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't catch a plane again. But at the same time, all the other available options (train, bus... ) take at least 24 hours to get there.

That's when I started to become oppressed by my own dilemma: the trip or my values? I felt like I had a big knot in my stomach, I really needed some advice to help me make a decision.

I therefore decided to look around on the Internet, and I found out about the Swedish concept of "Flyskam", literally, "flight shame". Reading this Wikipedia article on this phenomenon, I could totally recognise myself in the description.

After that, I ended up going onto a forum where one girl was telling her story which was exactly the same situation as mine, and she was also asking for help. There was a mixed and varied response, but I was stuck on one which really bothered me: "If you blame yourself for leaving a trace of carbon whilst travelling in a vehicle, you must act as a consequence. In this kind of observation, ten thousand supporters aren't worth your recognition. Everyone should deal with their own beliefs. "

It was that comment which made me cry and the voice inside my head said: no, that's not okay.

It may seem insignificant for some people, but for me they are respecting my values.

As I thought I was already committed, I was happy to realise that it's never too late and that nothing is impossible: after all, even if I was set on going there, I still hadn't booked my plane ticket!

That's why I rethought about Greta Thunberg and her 30 hours of travelling by sailing boat to go to The United States.

I therefore had the means and time to think of another possibility I hadn't already thought of, and it resulted in this question: "Why not leave today on a night bus, spend a day in another city, then take the night train to Romania where my friend would meet me?"

And since then, the knots started to untangle and everything was clear: I found a night train which went from Vienna to Budapest, so all that was left to do was find a bus which went to Vienna on the same day.

Once I put it all together, I reserved the bus and the night train, and I even planned my day in Vienna, full of nice activities, and to celebrate my birthday.

It was the first time I had planned something so spur of the moment and reserving it last minute, on the same day. It was really exciting, even if preparing for it took an entire day.

The news which changed everything

The moment I was about to leave to catch the night bus (which was going to depart at 1 o'clock in the morning), I received a message from my friend with an article "Romania have decided to put Romanians coming from Italy in quarantine", "Austria wants to close its borders with Italy"...

I froze at that moment, because I was literally at my apartment door, having already handed in my room keys to the owner, my bag on my back, and en route to the station.

"- What does that mean?"

"- I'm sorry, but we are going to have to cancel the trip... My parents also told me that they didn't want me to go, it was too risky with the virus. "

At that moment, I must admit that I felt distraught at first, but then relieved.

The intense preparation and planning really took it out of me, and because I was tired, I would have found it a struggle to walk all the way to the station.

I therefore went back inside my apartment, and I fell asleep straight away, without even having the time to find my huge suitcase, which was put aside waiting for me to return from my trip.

Erasmus in Venice: Did I catch the Coronavirus for my birthday?

24th February: Did I catch the coronavirus on my birthday?

After a good night's sleep, I still found it hard to believe what had really happened. I was still there, in Venice, in my bed, dressed, in a totally empty room, "like new", (given that I wasn't supposed to come back), nothing to do with messy situation from the day before.

After waking up, I couldn't stop myself from looking at the news. Ahh, what a huge mistake!

The figures of people infected by the virus had soared, and the articles available on the Internet made this phenomenon even more frightening!

As I had used up all the food before leaving for the trip (which I had intended on doing), I left early in the morning to buy something for breakfast. I was just about to pay when suddenly I had a thumping headache! "Oh no, that's not a good sign... "

I went back home and settled down without eating. I went back to sleep for a while, but that's not always the best thing to do...

After having read so many articles on the coronavirus, it was difficult to know whether it was simply just tiredness, or was it actually me who imagined having the virus! Luckily, I asked the landlord if I could take my temperature to see if I had a fever - so that's what I did - and guess what... nada!

I admit that was quite a relief, and I was happy to know that it was all in my head (surely it was the placebo effect after having read so many articles on the symptoms of the coronavirus).

After that little misfortune, I told myself it was time to regain control!

Afterall, it was my 20th birthday, which isn't something to be ignored. And even if I wasn't feeling great, I wanted to at least spend some time with other people.

I love doing something special for my birthdays in general. In particular, doing things with others, because I feel fulfilled and content, I don't need anything else. However, other people do...

For example, one year I went litter picking in the streets in Paris, then left presents and kinds words in its place... Last year I also roamed the streets with an organisation for homeless people.

But unfortunately, I couldn't find anything like that to do here... I asked myself "Is it really necessary to do something extra-big to celebrate my 20th birthday?"

As I have only just arrived in Venice, barely a week ago, I still didn't have many friends, and a lot of the friends I had made, went back to their home towns because of the Coronavirus in Venice.

So I simply asked my Korean friend (the one I was supposed to go on a trip to Romania and Budapest with) if I could visit her campus and spend a bit of time with her, and that's just what I did.

We had dinner together, we spoke about things, we laughed... We got to know each other more, and I found out where the island of Giudecca was for the first time, the island where I'm going to be living in a few days! (yes, I count on moving to the Junghans student campus).

In the end, the evening was really simple, nothing extraordinary compared to other birthdays, but I had a really good time and I was very happy. We should never underestimate the power of simplicity and the little things in life...

25th to 27th February: tensions of the virus increase

I continued my REALLY bad habit of looking at the figures of people infected in Italy every morning. 152... 275... 380... 538... the rapid rate at which it was spreading made the atmosphere even more oppressive!

It was strange to find out that the Carnival had been suspended without having been able to see the famous "Mardi Gras": the most festive and popular day of the Carnival.

The streets were really empty, even if there were still tourists around who didn't seem to be that worried.

Something I should mention is about the masks (and not the ones they use in the Carnival, but the ones which protect you against the virus): it's a week since they have been out of stock! A friend of mine wanted to order one online, but the cheapest she was able to find was for €50. What a joke!

Another thing which contributed to this unpleasant atmosphere, was to see the residence (where I'm currently staying) empty little by little. Whilst there are normally around 90 students living there, in just a few days, now there are no more than 20 of us! In general, people who are staying there are those who live too far away, or who find it more even more risky to take public transport.

Very quickly, they repeated the security measures to us: avoid gatherings, wash your hands whenever possible, avoid touching your face etc...

All this agitation has made me not want to go outside and see the city (anyway all the museums, libraries and schools are closed... )

I took advantage of these few days to draft some articles for Erasmusu : one which speaks about inspiring travellers and explorers who have made history, and one about a conversation guide for when you meet new people (during Erasmus for example)! (Yes, that may seem a strange subject, but that really interests me, and I find it so useful that I wanted to share everything I knew on the subject!)

In my halls of residence (called Domus Civia), some people became ill and they had to eat separately from us, leaving some distance... that sent shivers down my spine, because suddenly, as soon as someone sneezes, we daren't go near them that evening!

But in the end, this unusual atmosphere can also have its positives! For example, as there aren't many of us in the residency, I got to know new people who I hadn't spoken to in the past. I also made a new Russian friend, who I talk to during almost every meal and she has also showed me how to make Russian pancakes (oladis)!

I found out that in Russia, this week was the transition week from winter to spring, and there's a tradition in which you have to eat at least one pancake a day. If I had known, I would have started on Monday haha!

Erasmus in Venice: Did I catch the Coronavirus for my birthday?

Coronavirus and fear for others: To return or not to return to Paris, that's the question.

Whilst I am writing these next few lines, there are now 1350 people infected in Italy and 130 people in France.

Understanding that the symptoms are no "worse" than the common flu, and learning that many people infected are asymptotic (they are infected but they don't show any symptoms), I finally realised that I don't have any reason to panic.

To be honest, I have a very healthy lifestyle and I have total confidence in my body in terms of contracting the virus. My true worry regarding the virus, are the more fragile older people!

Despite the fact that my parents asked me to return to France until the university opens again, I prefer to stay in Venice. Of course, the longer I stay in Italy, the higher risk I have of getting the virus.

But if I decide to go back (and on the way I get the virus, or if I already have it without knowing about it), the horror would be that I would take the virus with me!

Of course, a 14 day isolation doesn't bother me (although it's true that it's a long time... ), but in any case I wouldn't want to take the risk of being in contact with my parents or my pets (because I am less sure that they would fight it).

There you have it, all that to say that I spent my week thinking about this decision, at moments I thought that I would go back. I told myself no, then I changed my mind... Anyway, that was really the thing I was worried about.

28th February: moving in and turning a new page

The 28th February was my last day at the Domus Civica residence (which I haven't stopped talking about in my first articles in this blog) because tomorrow I'm moving into the Junghans university campus in Giudecca.

I don't know if I have already explained why I was moving, so I'm going to do that now:

To find accommodation in Venice, they recommended me to go through the organisation ESU Venice, which is in charge of managing student accommodation. I contacted them in November, and I was able to reserve a single room in Giudecca. However, ever since I signed up, I saw that it said, "room available after the 1st March". It was so annoying given that the course was supposed to start in February.

I then got going with looking on my Mum's Facebook (because with her job as a comedian, she has created a network with some really amazing contacts), and I posted on it (which said, "any advice for cheap accommodation when studying in Venice?"). Several people responded with "look into the convents!"

So, I did some research, sent loads of emails, and the only positive response I received were about Domus Civica, the place where I'm staying.

It's an old convent (that's why I think the word "residence" is more appropriate, reserved for students only).

I was very lucky to have found a place, because I arrived in Venice slap bang in the middle of Valentine's and Carnival. So, you can imagine how few places were available in hotels and the prices of AirBnB apartments were extortionate!

Normally they only accept people who are going to stay for the whole year or for a semester (and there's a rigorous process of interviews, admin paperwork, compliance with the rules etc... ) but they were so lovely to me, they accepted me even though I was only going to stay for 16 days, skipping all of those steps!

I wanted to share all that with you, because the staff were all so kind and welcoming, the students too, I have never felt excluded! And even the food is included, so it's super practical and it saves you a lot of time.

So, if you are researching a place which isn't too over the top to stay in Venice whilst you study, you can do it with your eyes closed!

Anyway, this is a small homage to them before I leave. I have dedicated this day to packing my suitcase and preparing for the move (once again), for my transition to the university campus, which I hope will be full of new encounters and lots of good things!

I also spent my evening with my new Russian friend who has taught me a lot of things, showed me many documentaries on Russia which are so cool, and even gave me a little notebook. Anyway, these small gestures are really touching so I really appreciate it... thanks again Lika if you end up reading this!

Erasmus in Venice: Did I catch the Coronavirus for my birthday?

29th February: Did I bring the virus to the university campus?

I was ready to leave the convent just after waking up with my huge suitcase! On the way to the campus, I lost one of the wheels to my suitcase... So, a little piece of advice of the day: you can't rush the process when it comes to choosing your suitcase for Erasmus, it would be annoying when it gives way in the middle of your journey haha!

But I arrived safe and sound. Moreover, I arrived just in time that an Italian girl showed me the way to the campus, and she explained how it all worked. It was fate because she was in fact an old tutor and student rep of the campus (and even an old owner of my room)! So, I couldn't have bumped into a better person to explain everything I should know in detail to me and to answer my questions!

By the way, a little spoiler: I'm thinking about doing a detailed article on the Giudecca campus, you never know if future students will consider renting accommodation there.

Because even if I really love my bedroom, having to cook was a little discouraging (or rather, the fact of having to buy my own hot plates, oven, cooking things etc... . That may be obvious, but since I came straight from the convent where everything was provided, suddenly I was caught off guard).

So, a new piece of advice: if like me, it bothers you to have to buy all the kitchen equipment just for 4/5 months, anticipate when the Erasmus students from the previous semester are going to leave! A lot of them want to clear out their things, and will be willing to give them away or sell them at a small price.

After quickly settling in, I met a friend of a friend who lives on the campus to have a coffee with and get to know each other... Because yes, don't hesitate to ask your friends to introduce you to their friends! That will guarantee you more connections and friendships.

I then returned to the residence to get my food and some of my other things back which wouldn't fit in my suitcase... Put it like that, this may seem like an insignificant detail, but it was on my way back that I started to feel really bad.

Already in the middle of having lunch with my Russian friend, I had lost my appetite and I couldn't concentrate on our conversation, as I had such a stinking headache and suddenly felt tired...

So, I had a rest until dinner, when I had suggested eating with my Korean friend. And, yet again: I had no appetite, I found it hard to listen and to concentrate, I had a headache and I had slight nausea...

I wanted to keep that to myself in order not to make them panic that evening...

1st March: Have all the symptoms returned?

I therefore decided that on the first day of March, not to see anyone and to leave my room as little as possible.

I slept for 10 hours, (which I haven't done in months, since I'm used to sleeping around 7 and a half hours a night), and despite that exception, I still didn't feel great. I wasn't able to eat anything other than liquids without having a stomach-ache!

I'm not going to linger over the details because I'm not sure if there would be anyone who would still read what I'm writing here, but basically the symptoms became apparent little by little throughout the day (sudden changes from hot to cold, burning in my mouth, diarrhoea, runny nose, headache, feeling weak, lack of concentration... )

To be honest, it's really unpleasant because it kills your productivity and takes away all your energy to do whatever, but at the same time it isn't too unbearable. For that reason, I preferred to wait for the following day to see if I miraculously woke up with no symptoms.

Erasmus in Venice: Did I catch the Coronavirus for my birthday?

2nd March: Hello doctor?

Well obviously, as you probably doubted, that wasn't the case when I woke up the next day... That's why I decided to finally call the famous green Italian number: 1500.

My first thought was: can you explain to me why they have chosen classical music which is sad and gloomy to play whilst in the queue on the telephone? It was quite funny, because it really reminded me of funeral music.

Anyway, after waiting for 10 minutes, I was able to speak to a lovely woman who forwarded me the number which deals with calls from sick people in Venice.

This time, I had the right to listen to Jazz music whilst in the queue, which really made me want to dance! After 20 minutes, someone finally picked up the phone and they gave me a doctor's number. Okay, so I called this famous doctor and I ended up listening to its answerphone with a message in Italian which unfortunately I couldn't understand...

So, I decided to go to ask for help directly at the reception on campus and they told me to contact ESU Venice, the organisation which manages the campus, via email.

As I thought that email wasn't really the most efficient and quickest form of contact, I preferred to contact the tutors on campus, who gave me a thermometer to check my temperature and after they were able to contact an Italian doctor nearby.

That's exactly what they did, and the doctor told me to check my temperature again, 3 more times throughout the day, then to call back at 8 o'clock in the evening.

Anyway, stay tuned...

(Oh yes, because of the date I'm writing this article, it's still the 2nd March and it's 4 o'clock, so I still haven't seen the doctor and I don't know if I really have the virus or not haha!

Honestly, I'm not worried because the symptoms will surely disappear in the week, but I just hope that if that's the case, the campus won't be in quarantine... But who knows, maybe I'm just ill and it doesn't have anything to do with the Covid-19? So many questions without answers!)

Anyway, this diary entry ends here for today... But I will let you know really soon!

So, thanks Venice,

  • For your experiences and the virus which I can't forget to mention haha
  • For your very lovely university campus
  • For the welcome received by your inhabitants and students

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