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Pandemic in the City: Is Washington DC Safe During COVID Season?

In front of a Cherry Blossom tree near the Washington Memorial

DC. I’ve always thought of it as the big city. The city where 90% of my family is from and the place that feels like a distant yet familiar home.

When I usually go to DC, it’s in the summertime. It’s crowded, full of rude people in the subway, and has a fast-paced environment that's very different from my current home in Colorado.

But this time was different. I actually had a good time in DC. It’s not the same ambiance as it was before the pandemic. COVID has touched DC just like anywhere else. Over 40,000 people having gone through it at the time I’m writing this article. But for some reason, despite the horrors of the pandemic, being a tourist in DC was a delightful, airy, and easy experience.

Why I went

Some people disagree with my choice to travel to Washington DC during a pandemic. Coming from a small town in Colorado, most people feel that staying in town is much safer than being in a big city. And that’s true. But I didn’t go to DC to be a tourist, necessarily. Being a tourist was an added benefit. But the main reason I came to DC was to see my Grandmother.

My grandmother is the matriarch and arguably the most important person alive in our family. She's 101 years old (you read that right) and she's lived in DC her entire life. She's the oldest living member of our family coming from at least 3 generations of people in the area. But the fact remains, pandemic or no pandemic, the older she gets, the less certain I am I will ever see her again.

I thought about keeping my distance and postponing my trip until after the pandemic. You know, when it’s “safe”. But the truth is, when it comes to a grandmother that old, no time is the right time. Not long ago, she was hospitalized for what I can only describe as a well-built car breaking down from natural causes. And I knew within 2 days, that I needed to swallow the cost of seeing her and just go.

I jumped on the earliest Frontier flight I could find. And went. When I arrived, I wore my mask with my grandmother the entire time and only broke the 6-foot barrier when I hugged her to say hello and goodbye. I was always conscious of my distance, breathing in her direction, wearing my mask, and distancing from her aids. At this time, I have absolutely no regrets. And I know she would have wanted to see me, pandemic or not.

But seeing my grandmother wasn’t the only highlight of my trip. Here’s what else I was up to.

What I did

If you know anything about DC in Spring, you know that it’s Cherry Blossom season. The beautiful Japanese Cherry Blossoms that line the Lincoln Memorial, White House, and Washington Memorial were just coming into bloom when I arrived.

So, I took advantage of the time of year and strolled almost 10 miles a day through the streets smelling the flowers all along the way.

This was easy to do. Primarily, because the streets of DC were empty. That’s right, the once busy and bustling DC hardly had more than 10 people on any city block at one time. I’m not kidding. Even the Lincoln Memorial which usually holds hundreds of visitors an hour had less than 20 people at 7pm on a Wednesday. Even with the Cherry Blossom Festival going on (virtually this year), I was surprised there weren’t more people around.

We did visit the Capitol, but as you can imagine, since the January 6th insurrection, there is still no access to the Capitol, and rightfully so. There is a big black fence that surrounds the entire block and accessing the Capitol is non-existent.

So, the short answer to what I did in DC was walked, spent time with my grandmother, and worked remotely. That’s all I needed to do and it was absolutely wonderful.

Where I stayed

I’m not too familiar with DC’s various neighborhoods, but somehow, I know which ones I want to stay in pretty quickly.

So, I chose Capitol Hill. My grandmother lives in Navy Yard so it was very easy for me to walk to see her from the Cap Hill area.

We choose an English Basement apartment on Airbnb that was absolutely lovely. Full kitchen, close to the Harris Teeter grocery store, and just a half-mile from some fantastic restaurants. Speaking of restaurants, I’m sure you’re curious about what I ate in town.

Where I ate

Photo Credit: Ambar Restaurant
AmBar, Balkan food in Capitol Hill, DC

For coffee and remote working, we chose The Ministry near Georgetown Law. This place has a beautiful pearly white aesthetic and fantastic coffee (and wine) beverages. I got a delicious matcha latte and my boyfriend got an Americano. We sat and worked there for 3 hours and were never bothered. This spot was perfect for working remotely and we took full advantage of that.

For breakfast, my boyfriend and I loved getting croissants and coffee from Souk. Before the pandemic, I believe you could sit inside. But at this time, it’s a grab ’n go situation. We didn’t mind. We instantly fell in love with the croissants that made us feel like we were back in Paris.

For lunch, we ate at the Navy Yard’s many fast casual restaurants. Now, I know what you’re thinking, "fast casual? I don’t want that, I want some fancy meal downtown". There is a time and a place for fancy meals. But I think for lunch in DC, the Navy Yard has some of the best fast, easy, yet restaurant-quality food I’ve ever had. We visited Roti, a modern Mediterranean eatery that gave us a restaurant-quality food experience for just $10. And that included the extra pita.

But last time I was in DC, I went to Rasa, an Indian fast casual eatery that offers a similar experience as Roti. Both are fantastic and about $10 for a delicious, filling meal.

For dinner, my boyfriend and I were craving something that we don’t usually have at home. So, we punched in “best restaurants DC Capitol Hill” on Google and what came up as the #1 option? Ambar (pictured above). This spot is a Balkan restaurant serving Serbian food.

The spot serves tapas-style plates but you can order anything on the menu in an unlimited quantity. Yep, for $35 a person, you can do all-you-can-eat Serbian food served tapas-style with a fine-dining presentation. We couldn’t believe how delicious and beautiful everything was.

Every 3-5 minutes, a new small plate would come out. Then, another and another and another. It was like a dream come true. So, we ate our hearts out and only paid $35 each + some tip and tax. It's a fantastic spot for a modern dinner date with your partner in Capitol Hill.

What the streets were like

If you’ve been avoiding DC because you think “big city, big COVID”, I have to say that you’re wrong. The pandemic has touched many Washingtonians, indeed. But, the streets didn't feel like a hectic, COVID-infested environment.

The streets felt very open, airy, and uncrowded. We walked at least 10 miles a day all throughout DC, navigating touristy spots and lesser-known neighborhood areas, and we never saw more than 10 people on one side of a city block. It was perfect for social-distancing from others and still seeing the best parts of the city.

We avoided the subway and anywhere else we knew people congregated, so I can’t speak for those places. But we did walk, take LIME scooters, and Uber from time to time.

In general, being in DC while the pandemic was going on felt easy, breezy, and relaxed.

What’s up at the Ronald Regan Airport

We flew with Frontier (primarily for the price, not the luxury) in Terminal A at the Ronald Regan Airport.

Terminal A was small and with COVID in the air, my boyfriend and I decided to practice extreme social-distancing and stand far from the main gates where many people congregated.

Not a lot of food options were open at the airport but here’s a photo I snapped of what is currently open (pictured).

Overall, I don’t recommend being in Ronald Regan for more than an hour. The airport is super easy and fast to navigate, so arriving 1.5 hours before your flight is plenty of time. And if you want to avoid the crowds near the gate, I do recommend arriving at the airport closer to your departure time and spending 30 minutes or less waiting for your flight.

But overall, DC was the

Seeing my grandmother was the purpose of the trip, but I saw so much more because DC’s streets were practically vacant. I enjoyed waking up in my Capitol Hill Airbnb, working remotely, seeing my grandmother in the afternoons, eating out around town, and walking 10 miles a day to see the best of DC. And there is absolutely something to be said for visiting DC in Spring. The Cherry Blossom trees filled the streets with a beautiful array of aromas and colors made even the grimiest part of DC look and smell amazing.

So, if you’re feeling brave and can do it safely, visiting DC during the pandemic can be a delightful, fun, and safe experience.

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