Chinese traveler shares experiences of being stuck in Europe for a year
Published: Jan 06, 2021 05:28 PM

Wang Renqiu (right) and his friend pose for a picture in Iceland with the aurora borealis as the background. Photo: Courtesy of Wang Renqiu

On Friday, New Year's Day, Wang Renqiu, a 33-year-old cycling lover from Central China's Hunan Province, posted a 2021 New Year's greeting video on Douyin, China's version of TikTok. In the video, he stands in front of his recreational vehicle in a heavy snow in Cuneo, Italy, as he wishes everyone a happy holiday.

While Wang looks happy to be in Italy in the video, it was actually never part of his plan to be there during the New Year holiday. 

"I never expected that a sudden severe pandemic would disturb my travel plans and trap me and my friends in Europe," Wang told the Global Times.

Turbulent trip

Taking a combined driving and cycling trip had long been a dream for Wang. In 2019, he spent 250,000 yuan ($38,661) to purchase a second-hand RV to prepare for his trip. 

On October 22, 2019, Wang and some of his friends set off from Changsha in Hunan Province. They entered Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region from Sichuan Province, took the Xinjiang-Tibet Highway from Lhasa and later entered Pakistan via Kashgar in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. They planned to spend nearly five months driving across Eurasia before heading to Iceland to see the aurora borealis.

Wang told the Global Times that the journey was smooth for the most part, but that he also encountered some thrilling experiences such as some small trouble at a sensitive border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan. He expressed his thanks to the enthusiastic Pakistani who helped them to pass through the border area safely. 

"He called the police station, and the police officers drove a police car behind us to keep us safe, which left me feeling grateful and touched," said Wang.

According to Wang, they spent half a month crossing Pakistan, entering Iran, Turkey, and then passing through Greece and other European countries such as Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Denmark before finally reaching Iceland by ferry.

Wang and his friends arrived in Iceland in mid-January. 

"I felt like I had gone to another planet when we arrived in Iceland. The aurora borealis was amazing!" 

Their wonderful trip in Iceland lasted for half a month. 

It was during this time that he first learned of the COVID-19 outbreak in China. 

Wang was originally scheduled to return home through the Manzhouli port along the border between Russia and China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region on February 27, 2020, but due to the epidemic, the port was closed. Most of his friends chose to fly back home from Iceland, leaving Wang and his friend Ye Zi with the RV.

"We once purchased tickets to take a Russian airline home on April 4, but the flight was later canceled in late March. Tickets after that were far too expensive, and taking plane may have increased our risk of infection, so we decided to continue our journey by driving the RV," Wang said. 

"I didn't mind as I felt that driving back would complete the whole journey." 

Wang Renqiu (center) dines with Nino's family in France. Photo: Courtesy of Wang Renqiu

Lack of understanding

In February, Wang and Ye arrived in Milan, Italy. However, due to the large-scale coronavirus outbreak in the country, he chose to drive through to the less-populated Dolomites mountain range and then to Bordeaux in the southern part of France. 

Wang said most of the people on the trip he met were very nice and warmhearted. He gave the example of a French man called Nino who learned about his story from a local newspaper and sought him out. Also a cycling enthusiast, Nino invited Wang and Ye to his house and shared French culture and etiquette with them. 

However, Wang said some of his cycling mates who got trapped in other counties were not so lucky as they had some unpleasant experiences including being the target of racial slurs such as being called "Chinese virus" by passersby. 

"Misunderstandings come from rumors and the unknown. Nino once asked me if Xinjiang was like what the media reported, and I told him 'You might not believe me if I tell you what the foreign media reported is not true, so the best way is to go there by yourself, and you will find that what our country is doing is to try to help the locals out of poverty and have a better life.'"

Wang noted that people in the world lack face-to-face communications, and he hopes more people abroad can come to China and learn more about this "great country." 

"After experiencing so much over the year, what I want to share the most is that we humans need more sincere communication, experience, mutual trust and friendship."

Currently, Wang and Ye are staying at Cuneo. He said his next plan is to return home by following their original route since he wants to take his time and have more interactions with people from different countries.

After Italy comes out of lockdown, Wang plans to take a trip around the country and then spend a warm Chinese New Year in Sicily. 

"I hope that by the spring 2021, the world will be able to overcome the pandemic, and I can then drive home by summer."

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