Detours with locals.
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What our City Guide writers are doing, cooking and watching during the pandemic

Five locals give their recommendations to experience Rome, Tokyo, Dublin and beyond


(Washington Post illustrations; iStock)

Erica Firpo invites friends for lunch and, a few hours later, she might change clothes for evening cocktails — because this is Rome, and it’s aperitivi hour. She isn’t defying the national emergency measures across Italy, where trips outdoors must be for an essential errand and police stop people to see paperwork. She’s socializing virtually, enjoying drinks and snacks via screens. This is the new reality.

The novel coronavirus has upended daily routines as more counties put isolation orders into effect. But people are adapting, trading tips on keeping up friendships and re-creating other senses of place. Self-quarantines and social distancing may trap you within four walls, but that’s no reason not to “explore” a city on your bucket list.


We checked in with five of our City Guide writers to see how they’re coping — from weeks of lockdown in Rome to a relatively unaltered lifestyle in Seattle — and asked what people can do to experience their hometowns from the couch.

Check our Instagram for more recommendations from City Guide writers over the next few days.



Erica Firpo in Rome

Home with: My husband and our 11-year-old daughter.

The atmosphere here: I live in the city proper; like all of Italy, it is in the “zona protetta” (a government-declared protected zone). I am not in the zona rossa, the high-contagion area.

Life on the outside: It’s quiet and empty, which is an odd sensation, because by this time of year, we are usually crowded and vibrant. The government decree strongly suggests staying at home as much as possible, but we are allowed to leave the house for some errands and to work, if that is required. I've seen people out of the house — walking dogs, jogging and walking. And I've seen the online reaction — people are mad. We’re seeing more cops giving fines.

Life on the inside: We are happy, chill and excited that we finally have online video school lessons. We want to make sure we all get along and don’t run out of things to do or watch. We’ve created a routine: working out, working, school, lunchtime, and family-video time. This can mean inviting our friends “over” to for the afternoon meal via WhatsApp, FaceTime and Skype, or our 11-year-old “hanging out” with her friends and cousins on FaceTime.


Yoga at Erica's home. (Erica Firpo for The Washington Post)

A glimpse of community: Every day at noon, we head to the windows to clap for Italy’s doctors, nurses and hospitals — it’s become a national appointment. Everybody does it. And at 6 p.m., everyone, and I mean everyone, in the country is back to the windows, balconies and terraces to play music. I don’t know who started it, but every day, the entire country plays the same song, banging on pots and pans, busting out the instruments.

It brings all of us together, and it’s one appointment we will never miss.

My tips for staying sane under quarantine:

  • Set a routine and love it.
  • Sweat. Do a daily workout, and try to do it with friends.
  • Organize digital dinners and drinks as much as you can. We maintain a social life by having aperitivi every evening with friends via Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime.
  • Reach out to a new person every day. They will love hearing from you.
  • Get out of the PJs and get dressed up — for the workout, your work, even spice it up for aperitivi hour.
  • Help out.

Experience Rome from home

Cook: Bruschetta. Once every few days, we head to the bakery and pick up bread for it.

  • Ingredients: sliced and toasted bread, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic cloves, tomatoes
  • Dice up the tomatoes and put in bowl with sliced garlic cloves (leaving at least one whole), a pinch of salt and pepper, and mix with olive oil.
  • Rub your toasted bread with a whole garlic clove, put the tomato mixture on top, and eat!

Do: Celebrity chef Massimo Bottura, of Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy, who’s doing nightly shows on Instagram called “Kitchen Quarantine.” They’re not master classes for cooking, but they do show togetherness.

Watch: 1963’s “Ieri, oggi, domani (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow).” (Try searching the English title.)

Listen:Azzuro,” by Adriano Celentano.



Seth Sommerfeld in Seattle

Home with: Sequestered alone in my apartment (as per usual).

The atmosphere here: Despite being a covid-19 hot spot, Seattle wasn’t a total ghost town last week, like some outlets reported. It’s still not a wasteland, but now people are taking the viral threat more seriously (especially since Gov. Jay Inslee essentially banned any non-store group gatherings). There’s a nervy quiet as self-isolation seems to have increased.


Seth's view, with the Seattle skyline visible in the distance. (Seth Sommerfeld for The Washington Post)

My tips for staying sane under quarantine:

As a live-alone freelancer who basically is in pseudo-self-quarantine most of the time anyway, this hasn’t been a huge shift for me. Just keep in touch with family/friends, and realize that panicking won’t help anything.

Also, are you aware that there are burritos that are microwaveable?

Shopping tip: Ignore racist fear-baiting by going to local Asian grocery stores, where the shelves have been far less picked-over by panic-purchasers.

Experience Seattle from home

Listen: The city’s own Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie is streaming live concerts daily for the next two weeks at 4 p.m. Pacific time on YouTube and Facebook. The best Seattle album of 2019 was “Four of Arrows” by Great Grandpa. “Through With Love” by Western State Hurricanes stands as the best 2020 Seattle album to date.

Watch: I don’t connect with the ’90s Seattle film classics (“Singles,” “Sleepless in Seattle”). Instead, the films of local director Lynn Shelton feel more Seattle to me (“Humpday,” “Touchy Feely,” “Laggies,” etc.).



Yvonne Gordon in Dublin

The atmosphere here: We are not in full lockdown here in Ireland — shops and pharmacies are open, and people can go outside, but most people are socially distancing and staying home. Pubs, museums, galleries, high schools and universities are all closed, and so are many restaurants and cafes. All of the St. Patrick’s Day festivities were canceled this week, making a quiet holiday. We are in a “calm before the storm” period. Businesses are dedicating special shopping hours for elderly or vulnerable people.


In Ireland, people are getting the hang of social distancing while still enjoying the fresh air. (Yvonne Gordon for The Washington Post)

A glimpse of community: People are volunteering help to those who need it, all across the country, here. Singer Gavin James streamed a gig Thursday night for charity. Some streets are organizing outdoor exercise classes to do together (while keeping six feet apart).

My tips for staying sane under quarantine:

  • If working from home, stick to your usual hours, take regular breaks and make sure to get outside and exercise, especially if you are now missing your commute to the office.
  • Keep in contact via phone, text and video calls. People around the world are going through the same fears and challenges. We are all in this together.

Experience Dublin from home

Watch: The 2003 short film “Yu Ming Is Ainm Dom.”

Do: EPIC, the Irish Emigration Museum, the world’s first digital museum. It has virtual tours of Rooms 1-7 and Rooms 8-20. There are Instagram demos this week of Irish recipes by Nancy’s Barn, a restaurant in County Donegal, so I will be trying a few of those over the weekend.



Jennifer Padjemi in Paris

Home with: Myself. My boyfriend and I have decided to be separated, since he was starting to feel sick, and we didn’t want to risk anything. (We can’t be tested without being severely ill.) We are waiting at least two weeks of quarantine to make sure his symptoms stop.

The atmosphere here: The general mood is pretty surreal. The indoor lockdown officially started Tuesday at noon. The craziness has been mostly at supermarkets, where people afraid of a shortage bought tons of food and toilet paper. Cashiers suffered, without any breaks. Some people have gone to their second residence in the countryside; Paris is quieter and emptier now.

People are trying to find a way to use their free time after work is done. Yoga classes and video calls have been the trend. The most difficult part is not knowing when this will end.


The usually bustling canal in Pantin, in Paris's 19th arrondissement. (Jennifer Padjemi for The Washington Post)

A glimpse of community: People have been applauding the hospital workers in the evening. One cool thing here is the way restaurant owners are trying to help people facing economic difficulties. And on Sunday, Holybelly, a restaurant that serves the best pancakes in Paris, gave away all the food they had pre-prepared, plus batters. People stood in line waiting with bags full of airtight containers that workers filled with food. [Here’s the video, in French.]

My tips for staying sane under quarantine:

  • Make plans for the future. I’m thinking of places I want to travel to this summer, when everything is going to be fixed, hopefully. I’m also making lists of restaurants where I want to eat, areas I want to discover in the country or thrift stores where I want to buy clothes and especially summer dresses.
  • (Re-)watch “Grey’s Anatomy.” There are 16 seasons.
  • Call your parents, friends, significant other. Try FaceTime dinners. Now is the time to find creative ways to connect.

Experience Paris from home

Watch: Amélie,” which captures a certain Paris. Touristy, but picturesque and joyful — the kind we need at the moment.

Listen: [Rap duo] PNL is one of the most successful groups of our time in France. This album has been praised by most French music critics in the past year, it’s a mix of melancholia and darkness. Aya Nakamura, the artist who broke chart records with her album “Nakamura,” made the hit “Djadja,” the song for every French party and one perfect to dance to in your living room.



Yukari Sakamoto in Tokyo

Home with: Our 9-year-old.

The atmosphere here: I live in Kokubunji, a suburb about 30 minutes west of downtown Tokyo.

Most of my work is guiding tourists to local markets. That has come to a complete stop. School is out for five weeks, and our son is home. We are spending 90 percent of our time in our tiny Tokyo home. We do homework, practice piano, watch English and Japanese kids’ programs, and cook.

Fortunately, everything is still open, and we are free to move around. We do go out daily to stretch our legs and grocery-shop. We visit local tea shops for traditional sweets and Japanese tea. There are some quiet parks in the suburbs where we can open a picnic blanket and read books in the sunshine. The only hardship so far is the inability to buy toilet paper, masks and hand sanitizer.


Quiet picnic and menu-planning in the park. (Yukari Sakamoto for The Washington Post)

My tips for staying sane under quarantine:

  • Sakura (or cherry blossom) season is upon us, so we get on our bicycles to a local park and sit under the blossoms.
  • From the Japanese perspective, the best tip I have to offer is to eat a lot of fermented foods, which are good for our immune system.
  • I started to panic at the thought of school being canceled for five weeks. My mantra now, which has helped immensely, is “One day at a time.”

Experience Tokyo from home

Cook: Lately, we’ve been making the classic comfort food: onigiri rice balls. We fill them with fried chicken, corned beef, tart pickles or tuna and mayonnaise.

Do: by watching designer Paul Smith’s videos called Postcards From Tokyo, introducing cool spots, like Tsutaya bookstore and my favorite, Kappabashi, the kitchenware district.

Watch: Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation” captures the energy of the city and has fun insights to Japanese culture. The Park Hyatt Tokyo, where it was filmed, with the city lights in the background, is a magical setting and is somewhere I recommend everyone visit.

Read more:

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