Travel + Leisure interviews Classic Journeys guides
Wondering how the global shutdown is affecting people who travel for a living—and knowing of the close relationships we have with our expert local guides worldwide—Travel + Leisure writer Alisha Prakash contacted Classic Journeys to hear what our extended family has to say.
“Their days may look different, but there’s one common thread that runs through each story: Hope and positivity prevail, no matter the location or circumstance.”
Ulisse Riccio is a second generation Classic Journeys tour leader, six generation Neapolitan and proud son of Sergio Riccio (Classic Journeys tour leader 1996-2019).
2. Have you been put on furlough or are you still working?
If temporary leave, how long? In Italy, anyone who is not working in an essential sector is staying home. Some are working from home, but the majority of Italians (I am talking about the ones that are employed officially by a company) is on furlough. This furlough is paid for by the country’s welfare system up to 80% of one’s wage, for a maximum of 1200 euros per month. In my personal case, I am a tour guide, so an independent contractor (like a lawyer, an accountant, an architect) which is defined in Italy with the expression “autonomous worker”. There are about six million people in my situation, where if there is no work, there is no pay. So the country’s welfare system will grant us 600 euros for the month of March and possibly 800 for the month of April. Whether that is enough or not, it is not for me to say. It really depends on what type of lifestyle you are used to, if you have been ‘saving some wheat in the barn for a year of drought’, or if you have rent to pay, or you own a home etc. What I can say is that there has never been a moment in our post WWII history where EVERY sector of the economy has been destroyed, so it is very difficult to help EVERYONE at the same time.
3. How has coronavirus impacted your job?
It’s very early now to say what consequence this will have on my job in the long run, but the present situation is basically zero work. In southern Italy, in the regions where I lead (Amalfi Coast, Puglia and Sicily), we used to consider Easter the beginning of the “tour season”, which continued all the way to early November. Because of the Virus, guests cannot fly here, we cannot lead a group, restaurants cannot prepare food for us, drivers cannot take us around, museums cannot show us their treasures, hotels cannot welcome us; so you get the picture. And we do not know when all of this will end. Don’t get me wrong; I think it is the right thing to do now, and I am happy to stay home and wait it out. I have that privilege. My thoughts and prayers go to the silent army who is fighting this war for us; the doctors and nurses on the front line in our hospitals. Secondly, to the people that do not have the privilege or the resources of waiting it out, they used to get by daily with some ‘under the table’ paid jobs, and now have no parachute. We need to take care of them just as much as the ‘official’ workers. One thing that this epidemic has done, it has leveled us to just being human beings trying to stay alive. Solidarity is prevailing over profit and we are driven by something higher than just personal accumulation. Our elders, our poor, our young kids, our homeless, our community; Italy is fighting to not leave anyone behind.
4. How do you spend your time during the lockdowns?
I just became a father of my first child in September. He is a healthy boy named Lorenzo. I guess we could call him a “Corona Kid”, that generation of babies born in the last months of 2019 that have no idea or perception of what is going on. They are just so happy to have mom AND dad at home all for themselves. So that is what I am doing full time now; raising a son.
During the rare moments when we are not reading nursery rhymes together or picking up toys that get thrown across the room Tom Brady style, my wife and I like to cook. I think we are in the right country to nourish that passion, so our creativity is at a peak! Also, I found out that I like to write: I am sending Classic Journeys notes from the lockdown that they are publishing on their travel blog. In times like these, one ponders over so many things and it’s good to share those thoughts with the world. You should check it out and tell me what you think!
1: “When life gives you lemons, make cheesecake!”
2: “An Italian can do anything on a full stomach!”
3: “Pondering what’s important during isolation”
4: “There is no north and south anymore, there is only Italy”
5. What are you looking forward to most when this is over?
The lunch on day 4 of our Amalfi Coast & Capri tour. Barefoot, on the most exclusive beach on the isle of Capri, listening to the waves of the Mediterranean sea, a plate of spaghetti with clams and a glass of chilled white wine in front of me, the sun is shining, and I am in heaven.
6. Anything else you’d like to add?
I keep going back to that REM song from 1987: “It’s the end of THE world as we know it.” I just keep accidentally changing one word in the title: “It’s the end of THIS world as we know it”. When all of this is over, the world as we knew it will have ceased to exist. Changes can come slowly or suddenly. The 19th century and THAT world of leaping progress and modernity ended in 1914 with the first World War. The 20th century has come to an end with the Coronavirus. We are all getting off a train of civilization which has reached its terminus. There is a brand new train waiting for us on the last track at the end of the global station. It has no space for toxic heritage from the old world (pollution, destruction of resources, intensive farming, plastic, junk food, racism). There was a world before the Virus, there will be a beautiful world that we will create after the Virus. What scares us is the world during the Virus. Dealing with ‘now’ is never easy. But if we can tame that fear and use it as fuel for that train, it will take us somewhere beautiful, and straight into the new century. We are the ones in charge of rebuilding a humanity, let’s not waste this chance. As John Michael Stipe ended the song, “… and I feel fine.”
Atli Lydsson (as they say in Iceland, the son of Lydur) traces his lineage back through 30 generations of shark fishermen to the 9th century Vikings.
Have you been put on furlough or are you still working? If temporary leave, how long?
I am very passionate about my work as a full time guide and I am one of the lucky people that have found my absolute dream job. So I really, really want to keep on working as a guide if that is in any way possible for me. I am starting now to work on a couple of ideas for some guiding projects for the locals that I could try out when quarantine time is over here in Iceland.
How do you spend your time during the lockdowns?
Being an adventure guide normally means a lot of time away from home. In that way, my job is a bit like past generations in Iceland. For 30 generations, my family were fishermen and fish was everything in Iceland. Many of the men were out fishing for weeks and then came home for a few days in between. A guide’s life is a little bit like that regarding home and family. Now that I am suddenly home for an unusual extended period of time, I am working through a list of what I want to get done around the house, including projects on my home, maintaining my cars and researching new ways that we can show guests Iceland when travel restrictions are lifted eventually. Also, I make it a point to go out into nature at least two hours a day for hiking, biking and things like that. This is the most important thing for me to stay optimistic and sane!
What are you looking forward to most when this is over?
Because we have only about 340,000 people in Iceland and we are about the same size as the state of New York with 19 million people, social distancing means something very different to us. When our government told us to keep 6 feet apart, that seemed like we would be too close to one another! However, now that we are few weeks into quarantine, we have a totally different perspective on social distancing. And so the thing I am looking forward to most is to hug and spend time with my parents, my friends and all of the guests from Classic Journeys that come to Iceland. And then I want to go exploring again! I want to explore Iceland and I want to explore the world… I cannot wait to get going again.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I am spending a lot these days reading travel blogs and researching interesting places in the world I would like to visit. My wife and I enjoy watching nature and travel documentaries on TV. It makes me feel close to the people who share the same passion I have for traveling and exploring, and it gets me prepared so we can get going when the gates open again. There is so much to discover out there!
Read more on Atli’s life and love of Iceland’s incredible Vatnajökull National Park here.