Why our cities need us more than ever this summer

For anyone in pursuit of overseas travel, there is one essential quality: relentless optimism. You must believe that not only your journey will happen, but that it will prove a fulfilling and joyful experience – enriched with indulgence and embroidered by chance encounters.

This summer, that mindset is proving increasingly elusive. Two weeks ago, thousands of hopeful holidaymakers touched down in Spain. As their phones burst into cacophonous life, they discovered that, as they flew south, their destination had been designated a “unacceptably high-risk” destination by the UK government – and that they would need to self-isolate for two weeks when they returned, as they will be presumed to have contracted coronavirus while away.

Never mind, chorused we optimists who have decided to book late this summer: many other countries are available. Yet along with the temperature, anxiety levels have soared in the past few days. Deleting plucky Andorra from the list of potential destinations will not have caused too many tearful farewells to hopes and dreams.

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Belgium’s ignominious exit from the list of “safe” destinations is more serious. On Friday lunchtime, when finally the Department for Transport confirmed the context for quarantine-free transit, I found myself telling anxious holidaymakers heading to or from the Netherlands or Germany how to prepare for a trans-Belgian journey: enough fuel, empty bladder, no stopping, certainly no hitch-hikers…

While my appetite for abroad is undimmed (apart from thumbing through Belgium), many people have concluded that overseas travel is a lost cause this summer.

You could, of course, stay at home. I don’t know about you, but I feel I’ve done a fair bit of that over the past 20 weeks. So instead, a UK holiday beckons.

On social media this week, I asked prospective travellers where they would be heading: coast, country or city? With just short of 3,000 self-selecting responses, the shore was way ahead with 57 per cent. A solid 30 per cent seek solace in inland scenery, while just 13 per cent are aiming for summer in the city.

I am part of that small minority. And I urge you to sign up, too. One good reason: economy. For £25 – possibly less than the cost of pitching a tent on the Yorkshire coast – you can find a very comfortable room in a budget hotel in the centre of Leeds. The wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture Park, offering art in the open air, is a short way south, while trains will whisk you off to the Dales or the coast for a day-trip.

Even better, take advantage of the unseasonal void in Scotland’s capital. August, when this stunningly beautiful city is looking its best, is wasted on the Edinburgh festival and fringe. This summer presents what will be (I hope) a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appreciate the exquisite geography and architecture of Edinburgh without the drunken desecration (and I speak as a previous participant) that accompanies the cultural feast.

The city needs you. And to restore your optimism, you need the city.

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