In March, the coronavirus pandemic changed the world as we knew it. As cases climbed and countries went into lockdowns, we checked in with a handful of By The Way City Guide writers to see how they were coping with their own quarantines and the “new normal.”

With the year now coming to a close and new lockdowns across the globe, we’re revisiting our writers to see how their cities have changed in nine months; how they persevered through a challenging year; and what their hopes are for 2021.


Jennifer Padjemi in Paris

What is the current status of restrictions in your city?

The situation is critical. The number of infections is higher than this summer, and after Christmas, the number went from 3,500 cases to more than 8,800 patients that tested positive for the coronavirus.

Restaurants, movie theaters and public spaces like fitness centers are still closed except for the shops and supermarkets. They are supposed to open on the 20th of January. However, the decision remains: The new coronavirus variant that appeared in the U.K. may change the situation and threaten a lockdown in January.

What have been the biggest changes to your city this year? How have local businesses fared? Have customs and traditions changed?

Every small business has been obliged to change its habits. Restaurants propose deliveries and takeaway, but most of them receive aid from the government (up to 10,000 euros, which is around 12,300 dollars, or a percentage based on the previous turnover). It’s still early to know which establishments will close definitely or not.

Customs and traditions changed a lot because restaurants, bars and cafes are an essential part of the Parisian culture: sitting, chatting long hours, etc. It’s been challenging to banish it after a summer where everything seemed back to normal again.

However, it’s pleasant to see how Paris became an outdoor city. Last summer it was impressive to see this amount of terraces improvised on parking lots and pavements. Even during fresher and shorter days, people are more outside, strolling in parks, (re)visiting some monuments like the Sacré-Coeur or unknown areas of the city, usually crowded with tourists.

Have there been unique ways individuals or businesses have found to deal with the pandemic and its isolation?

I’ve seen more cafes and bars offering coffee to go than ever before — even warm wine and waffles/crepes as you can usually find in Christmas markets during winter. It has been a lovely part of the creativity toward the [pandemic]: the city seems different, somehow more likable, and now invested by its people, more groups and families enjoying the natural spaces.

What have you personally been doing to pass the time at home?

I’ve been writing (a book), working, reading, watching TV shows, movies and (re)decorating my space to be cozier than ever before.

I am aware of my privileges — having a home and still working — but it’s been a challenging time even as a freelance writer who used to work from home. Everything became hard to accomplish: deadlines, writing, having ideas. It became difficult to focus on something other than the news and the chaos happening in the world.

I also had the coronavirus; it was a scary time having all the symptoms (fatigue, cramps, loss of smell and taste), but not knowing when it would finish. I’m covid-free now, but I pay attention to my social interactions, especially with my parents.

Biggest lesson you learned in 2020?

The fact that everything can happen in a day, we should not take life for granted. It’s a time when we saw a real social dislocation between privileged people with huge apartments and a second residency in the countryside and the rest: precarious students, poor people, isolated women and others.

In terms of traveling, it forces us to reconsider how we see our city, rediscover it and enjoy itself instead of going away every two months. I can’t wait to travel again but maybe less and better, having in mind what happened in 2020. I also want to compare our different experiences with people worldwide since it was a unique one.

What are your hopes for Paris in 2021?

I hope we can have new beginnings, not just going back “to normal” because was it the case? No more lockdowns, no more coronavirus, reopening of leisure and culture places, restaurants and more work for the people that lost their jobs because of the crisis. I want us to reflect on the importance of supporting local businesses, independent libraries, restaurants, farmers, etc. It’s a chance we have; we should celebrate [it] while we can.


Seth Sommerfeld in Seattle

What is the current status of restrictions in your city?

Well, despite incessant calls and texts from our mothers/aunts/grandmas because they read some sketchy Facebook post with poorly Photoshopped pictures, the federally declared “anarchist district” of Seattle is very much still standing and decidedly not on fire 24/7. So that’s a positive!

After being one of the early hot spots for covid-19, Seattle has now more or less fallen in line with the national patterns (i.e. it was mostly controlled through October and has been rapidly spiking in the past two months).

In mid-November, recently reelected Gov. Jay Inslee instituted a new series of restrictions: Indoor gatherings are prohibited; restaurants must be takeout only; churches and grocery stories can only operate at 25 percent capacity; and gyms, movie theaters, and museums all have to close for the time being.

What have been the biggest changes to your city this year? How have local businesses fared? Have customs and traditions changed?

While Seattle’s tech titans managed to easily keep rolling with remote work in 2020, it’s been an absolutely devastating year for the artistic community that makes Seattle a place where people want to live despite all those tech bros. While there’s been the obvious knock on the creative classes (closed venues/museums, no touring, no communal collaboration, no festivals), there’s also the fact that so many of those same folks work part-time in fields that were also devastated by the pandemic (bartending, restaurant work, event staffing). According to the Washington Hospitality Association, more than 600 restaurants (around 20 percent of the city’s total) have closed for good this year. It’s an absolutely devastating figure.

Seattle customs remain largely intact, it seems. Notably, Seattle’s famous standoffishness (a.k.a. the Seattle Freeze) was basically social distancing before it was “cool,” so the general vibe when milling around hasn’t changed dramatically. Though it’s certainly surreal watching Seattle Seahawks games and witnessing an empty home stadium instead of seeing and hearing the legions of fans, known as “the 12th man,” creating deafening noise. (But the team’s winning despite the eerie silence.)

Have there been unique ways individuals or businesses have found to deal with the pandemic and its isolation?

As noted in the last Seattle By the Way missive, Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard really pioneered the quarantine live-stream concert fad (before it lost steam because people realized covid wasn’t going away in a couple of months).

Seattle’s most creative covid business has been Canlis, arguably the city’s premier fine-dining establishment. As soon as the virus hit, owners/brothers Mark and Brian Canlis shifted the menu from high-end cuisine to burgers and bagels for easy takeout. Then they started selling ready-made multicourse family meals, to-go cocktail packs, and set up a crab shack in their parking lot. They added entertainment for their customers via nightly piano feeds, weekly virtual bingo games, a drive-in movie theater and a scavenger hunt.

But the crème de la crème was undoubtedly Canlis Community College. The six-week program taught students about food, drink and Seattle culture through very well-produced videos. Lessons covered everything from wine, dumplings, Filipino food and canning to music theory, cannabis, haircuts and local Asian history. The videos are now up for all to see on Canlis’s YouTube page.

What have you personally been doing to pass the time at home?

I’ve been maintaining my Animal Crossing: New Horizons island, binge listening to bands’ catalogues to rank every release (the Beatles, the Mountain Goats, Taylor Swift, Talking Heads, etc.), selling old Nintendo 64 T-shirts on eBay for shockingly high prices, watching the Gonzaga men’s basketball team dominate to an unreal level, dancing alone in my room to the best local album of the year (Deep Sea Diver’s “Impossible Weight”), and not going to sleep until 4 or 5 a.m..

Biggest lesson you learned in 2020?

The biggest thing I learned in 2020 is that the phrase “avoid [it] like the plague” needs to be retired from the lexicon. Because Americans steadfastly refused to avoid the plague.

What are your hopes for Seattle in 2021?

I’m hoping that all our cooped-up frustrations lead to an events boom. Just wall-to-wall concerts, art exhibits, theatrical performances, etc. That’s the city’s heartbeat, and I want it to feel alive and perhaps a little overstimulated.

But mainly, I want to see my pals again. I want everyone in Seattle to be able see their friends. Seattle Freeze be damned — I just want to be warm to everybody.


Yukari Sakamoto in Tokyo

What is the current status of restrictions in your city?

We are fortunate that in Japan the number of coronavirus cases are not serious as in the United States. The number of deaths in the United States per day recently is about the total number of deaths in Japan.

Japan’s culture encourages consideration for other people. Mask-wearing is at about 100%. Most of the businesses in Tokyo are open. We are free to move about. And since most people are wearing masks it feels safe to be out. Kids are in school, movie theaters are open, and we can go to restaurants. Sporting events have about fifty percent spectators who are asked not to cheer out loud. Watching sumo on television it’s amazing to see the fans celebrate a victory by clapping but not cheering.

Workers are encouraged to work from home, but some still commute into the city for work. Homes in Tokyo are for the most part very small, and it may be hard to find privacy and space to work remotely.

What have been the biggest changes to your city this year? How have local businesses fared? Have customs and traditions changed?

The biggest impact has been the borders being closed to tourists and the postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Summer Games to 2021. Tourism to Japan has been booming these past few years, and sadly many have been affected. We are seeing the trickle-down effect as hotels and restaurants lose business but also suppliers for food and sake.

Local festivals and events where people gather have been canceled. Museums are open, but many now require reservations made in advance. Sadly, some restaurants and businesses have closed. Others are on the brink of closing as the borders are still closed to nonresidents.

It feels that most people are following the request of the government to not gather in large groups and to limit family gatherings to immediate family. Sadly I have not seen my elderly family in almost a year. We’ve decided to wait until it’s safer to meet, so will not see each other during the New Year as is our tradition.

Have there been unique ways individuals or businesses have found to deal with the pandemic and its isolation?

The government introduced a campaign with discounted vouchers for travel and eating at restaurants. The “Go To” project was very popular, but it is halted as coronavirus numbers are on the rise.

Some businesses are holding seminars on Instagram Live. Two sake breweries Masumi and Dewazakura did a joint event with two brewers sharing tasting notes of their sakes. Sou Sou, a fabric shop from Kyoto, holds seminars, including one on their materials and using the fabric for making masks. These are saved so that viewers can watch later if they missed it.

As for dealing with mental health and isolation, I think more could be done. October saw more deaths due to suicide than by coronavirus.

What have you personally been doing to pass the time at home?

We are eating most of our meals at home, and I have been testing recipes for a cookbook. I have been riding my bicycle and exploring new areas in my part of Tokyo. I’ve discovered a bamboo forest and charming gardens that are brand new to me. That is one of the amazing things about Tokyo — there are many hidden gems throughout the metropolis.

Biggest lesson you learned in 2020?

Eating for your health, more fruit, vegetables and fermented foods. Learning not to sweat the small stuff — except for stocking up on toilet paper.

What are your hopes for Tokyo in 2021?

Hoping that the borders reopen to tourists. It would be nice if the Olympic Games isn’t canceled. Having tourists return to Japan will help many businesses return to normal.


Lianne Kolirin in London

What is the current status of restrictions in your city?

As with many places, the situation has been fluid for months now, and restrictions are changing on a regular basis. November saw a second national lockdown in England, but just before that the government introduced a tier system, whereby different areas face different restrictions depending on how high the case level is. This was initially a three-tier system, with one being the most relaxed and three being the harshest.

However, cases have seen a massive spike in recent weeks, not to mention the variant of covid-19 that has surfaced in Britain. On Dec. 19, prime minister Boris Johnson introduced a fourth tier, in which he placed London and much of the southeast of England. It came into effect just hours later. Life in Tier 4 is not dissimilar to a full lockdown.

Londoners and others in Tier 4 were not allowed to mix with anyone indoors over the festive period, except for those in their “support bubble.” As of Dec. 26, millions more people in England have moved into Tier 4 in a bid to get a handle on infections. There is no indication of when this might change and whether children will be able to return to school next month.

What have been the biggest changes to your city this year? How have local businesses fared? Have customs and traditions changed?

Businesses are obviously struggling, as I’m sure they are all over the world. It has been particularly hard for the hospitality industry, which has been operating on a stop-start basis.

It has been really sad to see the posters on the Underground, which usually keep us informed about all the great shows and events coming up in this wonderful city. Now, on the odd occasion that I go on the Tube into Central London, all I see are signs about keeping your distance, wearing a face covering and adverts for all the wild things happening in the spring of 2020 — eerily post-apocalyptic.

At the same time, while central London has been far quieter than usual over the past few months, the suburban high streets have often been a hub of activity. When limits have been loosened, people have been keen to get out and happy to stay local. It seems people are frequenting local shops, cafes and restaurants — when they can — a lot more than in former times.

Have there been unique ways individuals or businesses have found to deal with the pandemic and its isolation?

Over the past few months the hospitality industry has been forced to adapt, with many introducing covered outdoor seating, often with heaters — a make-or-break factor as the winter starts to bite. Some have gone to considerable expense to ensure they can stay open while remaining covid-safe — only to be closed down yet again.

During the spring and summer months, it was relatively easy to keep up a social life and indeed our spirits. Despite its reputation as a buzzing city, London is also awash with beautiful green spaces. So it was a pleasure to meet up with family and friends outside for a walk. Rather than going out to eat or socialize, people got together in the fresh air — whether for a barbecue in their garden or a picnic in the park.

Like millions of people around the world, we have come to rely on Zoom and other video conferencing services to keep in touch, informed and entertained. Many people have also joined WhatsApp groups for the residents of their streets, which has for some proved to be a real lifeline, particularly those alone or vulnerable.

What have you personally been doing to pass the time at home?

I am a freelance news reporter and editor, and as 2020 has seen no shortage of news, I’ve been exceptionally busy. At times it feels like I have been working around-the-clock, though things have certainly been easier since September when our three boys were allowed back to school with all the other pupils. Remote learning looks like a distinct possibility again for January, though for just how long remains to be seen.

And if they don’t go back to school just yet, they will be more than happy to keep busy indoors — particularly as we have recently welcomed a new puppy into our family.

I love to swim, but with the on-off restrictions I had to find another way to exercise and so got pretty into yoga with the fabulous free YouTube sessions run by Yoga with Adriene.

I also love walking and the great outdoors, so have taken great pleasure — and sanity — from discovering the secret green gems in our local area that I had no awareness of before. It has been the main way to keep up with friends and also to see my mother, who although she is local, is medically vulnerable and lives on her own.

Biggest lesson you learned in 2020?

Well it was certainly worth having taught my boys to cook! At times we’ve had around-the-clock catering, which was a definite bonus.

Genuinely though, I’ve definitely come to realize that health is all important and that the small things in life are the ones that count. We might not be able to go very far or take advantage of the many wonderful riches this city has to offer, but we can still get to keep in touch with the people we care about — be it through going for walks or further afield with the help of technology.

What are your hopes for your London in 2021?

That life will return, and with it all the visitors from all over the world who come to see what’s so special about London. That said, it would be good to learn some lessons from 2020 too — to value our green spaces and put the environment first. It was good to see fewer cars on our road during the first lockdown so that we could breathe cleaner air and hear the birds tweeting. But we can only keep this up with improved public transport, and that will mean we never have to travel on the Tube again lodged under someone’s armpit and breathing in their germs.


Erica Firpo in Rome

What is the current status of restrictions in your city?

From Dec. 24 to Jan. 6, the entire country of Italy is in a strict lockdown, pretty close to what it was like in March and April. We will be allowed be able to walk around freely on Dec. 28 to 30 and Jan. 4, but for the most part, we have to stay at home unless for necessity (food or pharmacy).

What have been the biggest changes to your city this year? How have local businesses fared? Have customs and traditions changed?

Our biggest change is that Rome is quiet. We have little to no tourism. There are no crowds and no traffic, and the center of Rome is pretty empty. The outer-lying neighborhoods (where more Romans live) are more lively.

Overall, there are a lot of closed doors and disappearing businesses. Restaurants are doing their very best to stay afloat, and it can be tough. On a positive note, there is much more outdoor life and outdoor seating. Everyone (who can) is taking advantage and expanding or creating great outdoor areas. Cafes, which traditionally offer indoor counter service, now have outdoor spaces. Evening bars are offering brunches and early afternoon aperitivi.

The cultural changes are how we greet each other. No more “baci e abbracci,” or hug and kiss. Now we elbow bump and always give each other space.

Have there been unique ways individuals or businesses have found to deal with the pandemic and its isolation?

Italy’s museums have done an incredible job of bringing its visitors “into” their spaces with virtual tours, behind-the-scenes visits to show what goes to make a great show or maintain a great site, creative social media, and clever digital events — all of which is and will be a great resource to future visitors.

What have you personally been doing to pass the time at home?

Anything to get off the devices: reading more (actual print books), a variety of indoor exercise, and I feel like we clean and reorganize at least once a week.

Biggest lesson you learned in 2020?

Take every day one hour at a time.

What are your hopes for Rome in 2021?

As more and more people are focused on eco-minded transport like scooters and bikes, I hope Rome finally implements a viable bike-lane network. And I hope the city institutes more incentives to keep residents and local businesses in the center.


Yvonne Gordon in Dublin

What is the current status of restrictions in your city?

Dublin and the rest of Ireland have gone back into Level 5 restrictions because of a new wave of coronavirus cases — people are being asked to stay at home and exercise within five kilometers (three miles) of home. Household visits and social gatherings are banned. We are not allowed to travel to any other county in Ireland. Museums, libraries, hair salons and gyms are closed, and from midnight on Dec. 31, all shops except essential retail are closed. Restaurants, cafes and pubs that operate as restaurants can only do takeaway food or delivery, and hotels are limited to essential (non-tourist) travel only.

What have been the biggest changes to your city this year? How have local businesses fared? Have customs and traditions changed?

The pub scene has always been a big part of Dublin’s culture, and one of the biggest changes in 2020 is that many of Dublin’s traditional old pubs have not reopened since March. Only pubs that served food were allowed to reopen after the first lockdown, under various levels of restrictions (depending on coronavirus numbers), but all pubs are closed under Level 5. Limited indoor or outdoor dining were allowed at various times, but they are not allowed now.

Sadly, some pubs and restaurants have said they will not reopen after this — favorites like Dice Bar in Dublin 7, the Queens in Dalkey, Shack Restaurant in Temple Bar and the Runner Bean cafe on Nassau Street. Live music is another big part of city life that has fallen silent — with streets and venues all quiet these days.

On a good note, there has been a greater focus on the outdoors and exercise — more people are out walking and cycling and there have been steps to make the city and county more cycle- and pedestrian-friendly. Funding was allocated over the summer months to improve facilities such as cycleways and pedestrian areas, to allow plenty of room for exercise and social distancing. Some roads were turned into ‘pop-up cycle lanes’— a conversion of part of the coast road from BlackRock to Sandycove into a dedicated cycle lane has led to plans for 25 km more cycle lanes along three other routes in the area. Meanwhile, some streets were pedestrianized and outdoor benches and tables were added in other areas.

Sea swimming has also become more popular — with higher numbers of swimmers at favorite spots like the Forty Foot, Seapoint, Poolbeg and Dalkey, where even Matt Damon was spotted swimming during the first lockdown, when he was here with his family for a couple of months. People are using less public transport and more people are working from home rather than commuting to city center offices. Like in many other cities, many arts and cultural events and festivals went online in 2020.

Biggest lesson you learned in 2020?

The biggest lesson I learned was to slow down and focus on the things and people that are important — and also not to put things off, as you never know what will happen. As a travel writer, I am usually away from home a lot, but this year I got to know my local area more and I renewed my appreciation for the coast where I live, getting out on the water to swim or on paddleboards and kayaks whenever possible.

What are your hopes for Dublin in 2021?

The vaccine rollout is just starting here, and we are all hopeful that things will get back to normal in a few months and that as many businesses as possible, especially in hospitality, retail and tourism, will reopen. Dubliners are also looking forward to welcoming back tourists and visitors to the city, to hearing live music on the streets, to visiting outdoor markets and to enjoying cultural events.

Irish people and Dubliners are resilient — after the last financial crash, there was plenty of creativity, and when things start to get back to normal in 2021, it will hopefully bring a new wave of ideas and creativity.

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