Opening Up for the Vaccinated
The one-year-old pandemic had an immediate impact on this blog, as 60 percent of my visitors until March 2020 came to research travel to Portugal — where to go, where to eat, and the country’s rich cultural heritage. With lockdowns around the world to control the spread of covid-19, that traffic vanished almost overnight. Richard’s class will be online again this year, so we won’t be returning to see which of our favorite restaurants have survived. Portugal endured a recent spike, and a lot of places remain closed down.
Several years ago, I attended a session for travel bloggers, where the presenters suggested we write more about the places where we live if for whatever reason we can no longer travel. This post, therefore, goes into the category of “tourists at home,” enjoying what our hometown has to offer and advising visitors to enjoy it from a local’s perspective. Our embattled governor has lifted many of the travel restrictions that were inconsistently enforced in any case, so visitors from elsewhere in the United States will not have to quarantine upon arrival.
Other restrictions have been lifted as well, most notably the ban on indoor dining, which ended last month. At first, restaurants were limited to 20 percent of capacity, then 35 percent. As of March 19, the limit is 50 percent, which makes dining in a New York City restaurant pleasant, since diners won’t feel as though their table has been joined by a group of loud strangers. Yes, tables in ordinary times are very close together and most restaurants’ design amplifies the noise. The pandemic has added one more bonus to the New York City dining experience — outdoor structures that often reflect the whimsy and creativity of the restaurant as well as some unproven public health practices to adapt to the weather. Diners can enjoy their meals inside inflatable bubbles and summer-camp-style cabins. The mayor has announced that these outdoor structures will last beyond the pandemic and add a touch of European-style outdoor dining to the New York experience.
For the tourist at home or from elsewhere, museums are also open and have been since last summer. They have restricted capacity, so timed tickets are required. If you’re visiting, that means you need to think ahead and schedule more than some tourists (looking in the mirror, here!) are known to do. Each museum has a website where you can order tickets in advance. On the plus side, your timed ticket means you will be able to see the exhibit in relative peace without the stampede of visitors that crowd your view and reduce your experience.
One of my favorite museums, the New York City Tenement Museum, has had to close their indoor exhibit because of the nature of the exhibit — a guided, immersive tour in a very tight space. Faced with extinction because of their unique challenges, the Tenement Museum began a major fundraising campaign. With some of the money, they are using the months of closure to fix up the existing exhibits and restore the top floor, which will highlight the experiences of Black residents of Lower Manhattan. When tours of the tenement building at 97 Orchard St. resume, think of families living in crowded apartments, often sharing a bathroom in the hall, and how easily contagious diseases spread through the building. In the meantime, the museum is offering a guided outdoor tour of the neighborhood on Saturdays, and the excellent shop is open at that time as well.
I recently received my first vaccine and by early April will be among the fully vaccinated. At that time, I plan to visit the various neighborhoods of the city in search of new attractions. Many of these will be pop-up events, unscheduled but a delightful surprise for anyone who happens to be there. Others are art installations to be appreciated outdoors in socially distanced groups as artists address the impact of the past year’s events. As a taste of what’s to come, I offer the set of the TV show “Russian Doll,” set in the East Village in the 1980s. I was not a fan of the first season, but I know the series has many fans, and the East Village is one of those neighborhoods where a lot of TV shows and films are made. If you’re interested in seeing movie and TV sets, a stroll through this neighborhood may be worth your time.