Escape doesn't have to mean hopping on a plane. For now, it simply can't.
Not only is unnecessary travel is on hold; we've now been asked to stay home except for essential trips (e.g. food or medical prescriptions) and "brief" exercise outings within 2km of the front door.
The 2km rule is for "brief individual exercise", Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has clarified - you can bring children, but must keep two metres away from others for social distancing. No gatherings are permitted.
These are unprecedented times, and we all need to play our part in the fight against Covid-19 by staying home.
But there is a silver lining -back-to-basics family time and mini-adventures can take place at home, too.
Call it 'micro-travel'. Even a step into the garden can provide a welcome dose of fresh air and optimism (it is spring, after all). Who knows, you may even inspire memorable trips in the months and years ahead, when we are free to travel again.
NB: Covid-19 restrictions and public health guidelines are changing rapidly, and we have updated this feature since the lockdown announcement of March 27. Please follow the latest public health guidelines.
How: The Big Five and African safari adventures remain bucket list items for now. But what about bugs and creepy-crawlies hiding in plain sight? Start by lifting up rocks and logs in your garden. Add a magnifying glass for extra magic... kids will love an excuse to get icky and gross. Can you spot and list your own 'Small Five'? Use paintbrush and small glass jar for closer inspections, and to avoid harming your discoveries.
Resources: ipcc.ie; biodiversityireland.ie
Tip: Make your own arts-and-crafts bugs when you get back inside (egg cartons are good for eyes).
How: Dreaming of galaxies far, far away? You'll need a clear moonless night, but there's boundless inspiration above our heads. Astronomy Ireland posts specific timings of stuff to see on Twitter (@AstronomyIRL), from passing satellites to planets, while SkyView Lite is a free app that deciphers the constellations - though remember that bright screens spoil 'night vision'. Turn the lights off and start by looking out the window... or dressing warm and heading to the garden.
Resources: darksky.org; astronomy.ie
Tip: Binoculars are a good bridge between the naked eye and your first telescope.
How: Change your life one species at a time, as birders might put it, by spotting birds and listening to their songs. Buy or order Eric Dempsey's field guide, Finding Birds in Ireland, or check out Birdwatch Ireland's archive editions of its junior Bird Detectives magazine online. Naturalist Chris Packham has also set up a new Twitter page, The Self-Isolating Bird Club (@SIBirdclub), to share images of garden birds taken by people staying at home. From its hedgerows to its coasts, Ireland is a unique habitat for birds, making this a perfect hobby to cultivate for when we can spread our wings again.
Tip: Don't scrimp on the binoculars (you'll need 7x to 10x ideally).
How: One strangely hopeful note to the coronavirus crisis is the fact that it's unfolding in spring, when nature is budding and the promise of growth is all around. That can feel sad, but it can feel inspiring, too... from your garden to your brief exercise walk (while social distancing, of course). You don't have to travel to Japan to be bowled over by April blossoms, for example, magnolias have an intoxicating smell, and bluebells will be sprouting shortly... and you may catch whiffs of wild garlic (above) in hedgerows too. Why not harvest a few bunches and blitz them up with nuts, olive oil and a bit of Parmesan cheese when you get back inside?
Tip: Draw pictures of blossoms, garlic flowers or bluebells (the bells are surprisingly intricate).
How: Most phones and tablets come with simple movie-editing software, so why not set aside some time to create a family masterpiece? It may not fill the cinema vacuum, but it is a creative way to turn screentime on its head. Ireland's FÍS Film Project has lots of tips to help primary school-aged budding filmmakers, from storyboards to camera angles and sound effects. Keep things simple with a short script, lists of props and equipment, and don't overcomplicate things for younger kids. Think small... but big, too. Why not create a few zombies, raid the attic or repurpose old clothes? This can work in a garden, or inside.
Tip: When it's all done, arrange a premiere with popcorn, gala outfits and red carpet razzmatazz.
How: Big hikes are off the agenda for now. But there's nothing like confinement for getting to know your 'hood' and we bet there's plenty you've never noticed within a brief walk before: that historic house, crumbling stone wall or landmark. Start your 'micro hike' by researching with a map of the area (old-school paper, or satellite view on Google Maps) and see what makes you curious. Focus on any aspect: 'bad architecture' could be a big hit, for instance, while a 10-minute burst of internet browsing might throw up old estates or hidden cemeteries. Remember to keep your walk brief and within 2km of home, and social distance by staying two metres or more away from anyone you pass.
Tip: Turn a 'boring' familiar walk into a scavenger hunt... or share your discoveries with your schoolmates.
How: If ever there was a time for gardening, this is it. Clearly, not everybody is lucky enough to have their own outdoor patch, but even a small window box of herbs makes for an activity... and a bit of hope as the seedlings sprout and evolve. Choose herbs you can cook with later, like basil, chives, thyme and mint (in a separate pot... it's a bit of a bully). Follow planting instructions on the packs, but most herbs will grow in any plastic container (pop a hole in the bottom for drainage), on a sunny windowsill in multi-purpose compost.
Resources: garden.ie; kidsgardening.org
Tip: Sunflowers are great plants for young kids - they grow fast, tall and you can change pots as they grow. Give yours a name... just be sure not to under- or over-water.
How: Messy Nessy Chic is an addictive website blending travel, Francophilia and randomly curated stuff from the internet, and one of its tips for things to do at home "other than banging your head against the wall" is to create a bathroom collage using wallpaper paste and book, magazine and comic pages. While you may not want to let the kids loose on the loo, a nature collage using items found in the garden is just as easy... or this may be the perfect time to start a scrapbook.
Top tips: Kids can make witches' potions from garden (or kitchen cupboard) hauls. Adults can reward themselves by inventing a new cocktail... after bedtime, of course.
How: It will be some time before we can take car journeys around the countryside again, but the essence of great picnic experiences remains the same - even if you do it in your garden. Rule No.1? Plan ahead. Check the weather, have a rug to sit on, and let the kids help pack and plan the 'menu'. You'll need to bear it in mind when you do your big shop, and things we often forget to bring out include a wine opener (ahem), cutting board, sunscreen and, of course, wipes and hand sanitiser.
Tip: Rained off? Granted, an indoor picnic won't be as scenic, but at least it'll be bug- and wasp-free.
How: You can put anything to use in an improvised obstacle course... and we mean anything. Yup, the time to clear out the shed has arrived. Try sticks and pegs for a high jump (or limbo dance), throw balls into buckets, crawl under a blanket, balance on an old plank, build a single-deck house of cards (it's surprisingly tricky to switch from athletic activities to hands-on concentration), bounce a ball on a racquet five times, carry an egg on a spoon, make a 'river' to jump... the list is endless. And you can time them, too.
Resources: mykidstime.ie; mummypages.ie
Tip: Get old water pistols out for squirting options (great for parents to release, ahem, pent-up energy).
How: The early days of Ireland's coronavirus restrictions were greeted by surreal sunshine, but we all know it... rain is coming. The more you embrace it, the easier it will be. Earn your cosy time on the couch with a spell in wellies in the backyard or driveway, some puddle-jumping or mud-painting, bringing bath toys outside, hunting in the garden for worms or snails (they love the wet), engineering miniature dams, measuring the rainfall, or even building little boats from sticks, leaves or coloured pieces of cardboard. You can finish it all off with a good old water fight, before retreating indoors.
Resources: Plan for the weather on met.ie.
Tip: Have a reward ready for afterwards... warm baths or showers, hot chocolate or the promise of marshmallows toasted on the fire.
How: Now that we're all living, working and schooling in each others' pockets, we can dream about that next trip more than ever. Take note of which new activities and hobbies take root... less of a birder and more of a gardener? Is there an avid astronomer or epic hiker emerging? While you're playing a game or working on an activity together, spark the conversation about where you can take your new skills on holiday. It may sow a little hope, and provide a dream for when it's all over.
Resources: independent.ie/travel; nationalgeographic.com/travel
Tip: Keep lists, photos and an ideas scrapbook. These times will pass, but preserve the memories.
NB: All information correct going to press, but details may change at short notice. Check websites before visits, and follow public health guidelines at hse.ie/coronavirus.
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