For decades, Donald and Mary Jane Maypole have been traveling the world, but none of their previous trips prepared the retired couple for their most recent visit to Barcelona, Spain.

Instead of wandering through the city, the Maypoles found themselves locked down in their apartment because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Overnight it became a “ghost town,” they said. The streets were deserted, businesses and tourist venues were closed. Grocery stores were out of staples like milk and eggs, if they were open at all.

Monday, March 16, the Maypoles caught the last flight from Barcelona to the U.S. On Tuesday, they kicked off 14 days of self-imposed isolation at their home on the shores of Lake Minnesuing, just in case.

“But we’re here and we’re feeling good, and it was an interesting experience,” said Mary Jane Maypole, a retired nurse.

The couple, both in their 80s, have visited Spain many times.

“Barcelona is just such a beautiful, elegant city architecturally. It’s just a fascinating city,” Mary Jane Maypole said.

The people are very kind and considerate, said Donald Maypole, a retired social work professor from the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

They left for Spain on March 3 and planned to spend a month in a rented apartment. At first, they enjoyed going to the theater, museums and walking through the city. A few days before they caught their flight home, things changed. It started with a sign on the front door of the Picasso Museum declaring it closed. They asked a young woman walking by what was going on.

“She’s the one who informed us that the city was in lockdown and that all the public programs, all the schools and museums and tourist sites and shops were all being closed, and that was the first we knew of it,” Donald Maypole said.

Part of the problem, he said, was that they don’t speak Spanish and couldn’t follow the local media reports about the COVID-19 pandemic. The full impact of the situation didn’t hit them until they spoke to the young woman.

The next day, the streets were empty.

“It happened overnight,” Mary Jane Maypole said. “From the time we went to the museum, found it closed, by the next morning the city was totally closed down.”

“It was a ghost town,” Donald Maypole said, and they were told police would fine anyone they found out on the street.

The couple decided to change their return date and fly home early. Their flight was full of people who were fleeing the country, relieved to be getting out.

They changed their minds just in time.

"It turns out that the flight we took out of Barcelona was the last one to be able to enter the country," Mary Jane Maypole said.

When they returned home, they learned restaurants were closing in Minnesota. They called ahead to ask the cat sitter to pick them up a gallon of milk and leave before they got home.

Their trip back was a good experience, and they didn’t have trouble with long lines. Everyone was very helpful, they said.

The pair, who have been married for 56 years, said they have plenty of interests to keep them occupied during their 14-day isolation, and they have people they can call on to bring them groceries.

The coronavirus may cause U.S. citizens to experience the grave situations other governments have found themselves in, Donald Maypole said.

“This is very serious. People are dying every day; the cases are just increasing exponentially and the governments are struggling to deal with the situation, the same as what we’re going through here in this country and will be going through,” Donald Maypole said. “We’re just starting what the impact of this virus is.”

The social distancing measures officials have imposed are vital, he said, to halting the spread of the pandemic.

“They're absolutely necessary and might not be sufficient,” Donald Maypole said. “Our government, state and federal, have to get the appropriate equipment to the caregivers.”

In the meantime, it's up to all of us to keep the disease from spreading, he said.

“Now is the time in our country where the Democrats and Republicans are going to have to pull together, because we are just now starting and have not gotten control of this ... pandemic, and it’s only going to get worse,” he said.

Despite the excitement in Spain, they plan to travel again.

“We love being overseas,” Mary Jane Maypole said. “We love the experiences and the learning and the culture.”

But it did change one plan.

“We were going to take a cruise this year,” she said. “We will not be taking a cruise now.”

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