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Julie planned to spend a few months in Italy. Within weeks, she was desperately flying back home.

On February 20, Dr Julie Crews travelled from Western Australia to Bologna in Northern Italy.

The academic and lecturer, who had begun learning Italian just six months prior, was hoping to travel around Italy and immerse herself in the culture for two-and-a-half months.

Within just three weeks of arriving, however, things drastically changed.

Watch: Mamamia’s Claire Murphy breaks down your most asked questions about COVID-19. Post continues below. 

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Upon arriving in Italy, Julie spent a week in Bologna undergoing intensive Italian classes. Things felt relatively normal in the city.

“Schools were shut down but supermarkets were open, restaurants were open. It was still very much business as usual. It was actually quite vibrant,” Julie told Mamamia.

After a week of Italian classes in Bologna, Julie travelled via train to a small suburb, which was located 20 minutes away from Venice. In that small town, Julie moved in with a family, as she began tutoring their six-year-old son.

“[After I moved there], things started to drastically change,” she told Mamamia.

“At first, there was school isolation as schools were closed. But then it became this whole thing where you had to stay in your area,” she explained.

“The family I stayed with – they couldn’t go outside their area or they risked getting issued a fine.

“It was a huge difference. There were suddenly signs up in all of the cafes and restaurants stating that you have to keep a metre apart from others.”

During her time staying with the family, Julie witnessed the streets of Venice becoming noticeably quieter.

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Rialto Bridge in Venice, which is normally teeming with tourists, looks noticeably quiet, Image: Supplied.
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An empty restaurant in Italy, shortly before restaurants were closed. Image: Supplied.

"Within the three weeks that I was in Italy, things changed pretty quickly," Julie recalled.

"It was so eerie because Venice is always full of tourists. I could just wander through the streets of Venice and not see anybody else," she added.

"All the [people who work on] gondolas are normally flat out taking tourists along the canals. Instead, they were all just sitting there in their gondolas."

For Julie, simple things like going to the local supermarket soon revealed just how serious the lockdown conditions were.

"Just before I left [the town near Venice], I went down to the local supermarket. It was a small supermarket and there was a guard outside. You had to wait until one person walked in and then a few moments later, they'd let in another person," she said.

"I know the same thing was happening in the bank," she added.

"With the one metre apart rule, if bars and restaurants didn't abide by that, they could get fined and they were very heavy fines."

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Over time, the streets became more deserted. Image: Supplied.
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The streets soon became incredibly quiet. Image: Supplied.

Julie noticed the impact of the lockdown on Italy the most when she returned to Bologna hoping to head back to Australia.

"[The family I was staying with] couldn't take me to the main railway station because it was out of their zone so I had to get two trains to get back to Bolonga," Julie recalled.

"When I got off the train, there were police and military everywhere and it was just eerily quiet. Everybody walking out of the train station was questioned by police and there were police in the streets making sure that the rules were being followed," she added.

"By the time I got to the apartment, I realised that it was a lot quieter in the streets. The amount of people on the streets had just diminished rapidly.

"That night, my last night in Italy, I was the only one in the restaurant I visited. When I woke up the next morning, I found out that cafes and restaurants were shut as of that morning and there was talk of the railway network shutting down. It was quite dramatic."

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Although Julie originally planned to return to Australia on May 8, the conditions meant that her plans quickly changed. After it became clear the lockdown would not ease anytime soon, she made the call to change her flight plans.

Getting home itself was quite a challenge. In order to get to the airport, Julie had to have a decree written and signed to prove that she was moving out of the area to go home as police and armed guards were waiting at every train station.

Eventually, Julie made it to Bologna Airport. But shortly after arriving, Julie's flight home was suddenly cancelled hours before it was due to leave.

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An empty train in Italy. Image: Supplied.
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Armed guards and police were present at train stations. Image: Supplied.
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"When I walked into the airport I expected chaos but it was just eerie. On the departures board, there were all these red lights saying cancelled and my heart just sank," she recalled.

"After my flight was cancelled, I went to the Emirates counter and fortunately because I was there early enough, I was able to buy a one way ticket to get home," she said.

"The woman at the counter said, ‘Oh my god, you’re so lucky. Emirates has just put through a notice that we’re grounding our flights as well. You’ve got the last flight out.'"

Julie believes that if she didn't get that final flight home to Australia, she would have been stuck in Italy until at least the end of May.

Upon arriving in Perth, Julie's temperature was taken. She also wasn't allowed to leave the airport until she had a mask on.

Now, under new government guidelines, Julie will spend the next 14 days in social isolation at home.

"I'm home and my partner just moved out for two weeks and is staying elsewhere," she said.

"We’re being asked to think of other people at a time like this. And it’s in everybody's interests to do that."

Mamamia's daily news podcast, The Quicky, finds out what life is really like in COVID-19 lockdown. Post continues below.

After monitoring the news in Australia during her time in Italy, Julie noticed a difference between how the two countries responded to the coronavirus outbreak.

"They had supermarkets like everyone else [in Italy] but I didn’t see any panic," she recalled.

"They’re very laid back, the Italians, very pragmatic. I didn’t see what I was reading was happening in Perth. There weren’t people abusing each other in the shopping centre over toilet paper. There weren’t empty shelves. There was still toilet paper on the shelves.

"I think we need to just realise that living in a highly civilised society doesn’t make you immune from having no control over something like this – you can’t control what’s happening right now.

"We need to get back to basics and be thankful and grateful for what we do have. There’s people fighting over toilet paper. But two thirds of the world don’t use it. Two thirds of the world live on $1 a day if they’re lucky. They don’t have fresh water. That’s very, very basic. But that’s the reality. Australians, I think, don’t know how lucky they are.

"When you’re home, there’s no place like home and Australia is a wonderful place to live."

Feature Image: Getty / Supplied.

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