Summer Staycation in the City

Since the beginning of the global pandemic, my partner and I have erred on the side of extremely cautious. We stopped going to the office several days before our offices closed, which was already on the early side compared to the rest of New York. We literally did not leave our apartment building for weeks until we finally stepped out to get tested for coronavirus and its antibodies. We didn’t go out again until a few weeks after phase 4 of reopening had begun in the city, and only to pick up food from local restaurants in lieu of asking someone to deliver it to our apartment.

But we have been burning out… pretty hard. I think we have been mentally checked out for over a month, to be honest. Every single day was a huge struggle, and for me, I was sinking into a familiarly bleak place: small pleasures were no longer pleasurable, I wanted to sleep all day but when I finally went to bed I couldn’t fall asleep and then I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, keeping up with conversations was tedious and difficult, I had no appetite for the comfort foods I had stocked up on.

It became obvious that time off was necessary. Many of my coworkers had come to the same conclusion around the same time, and I suspect many of you and yours did as well. We have been living this new reality for months now, and summer brings with it a hazy lethargy during a normal year, but this year it was just exhausting to not experience it as usual.

Actually “getting away” was essentially out of the question for us. We had only just started getting comfortable venturing out of our building on foot, so trying to rent a car or even board a train felt like a really big leap that we weren’t quite prepared to make. This especially factored because we were so mentally depleted that we honestly couldn’t spare the brainpower to think about the risk management with trying to leave the city for our precious week away from our responsibilities.

baked bread
Photo: Stephan Mahlke

At the end of the day, we really only need to get away from the obligations that burden us to make it a successful vacation. Getting away physically is a privilege that most do not have and that we don’t feel comfortable taking advantage of at this time. So, in addition to sleeping on the air mattress in the living room to create that ~away from home~ feeling, here’s how we spent our little staycation in the city.

cleared road near buildings
Photo: Hardik Pandya

Day 1. We slept in — late! It was an extremely lazy morning; we turned off our alarms and put on eye masks so that we didn’t feel remotely compelled to wake up until late morning, let alone get out of bed. When we did get out of bed, we decided to walk to the nearest Xi’an Famous Foods location, as they recently reopened for take-out. This was a very long and leisurely walk, since they closed the location nearest to us, which was already a bit of a schlep. But the weather was truly gorgeous, so we enjoyed the long stroll during the middle of a workday, when fewer people were in the street. Armed with our biang biang noodles, we walked towards the water to eat at a table on the pier. Bellies full of the spicy noodles we haven’t had since February, we enjoyed a long stroll along the water and relaxed with video games and Legend of Korra when we arrived home.

aerial photography of sea waves on seashore during daytime
Photo: Christian Van Bebber

Day 2 . Beach day! One of the amazing things about New York City is that there are multiple beaches that are accessible by public transportation, a fact I only learned a few years ago myself, despite growing up near the city. (When you grow up in New Jersey, there’s really no reason to visit the New York City beaches; we have the Shore.) This was the day we were most nervous about, to be honest, because it required public transportation, which we had not taken since before the pandemic. This marked our first trip on the subway since March, and we made the rest of our trip on the ferry from downtown to the Rockaways, which I highly recommend. I want to do a separate write-up about our day to Rockaway Beach, but it was kind of a perfect day. It was the hottest day of our staycation without being uncomfortable – that perfect sunny, dry heat that is needed when you are coming out of the water but isn’t oppressive before you get in. I feel so grateful that we have beaches that we can access without a car, for the glorious ferry ride there and back, for the ferry shuttle that took us up and down the beach for free, for the food vendors who made the day yummy, and, as always, for the sea, which heals me every time. Cleaning sand afterwards is annoying but it’s always worth it.

brown and white cat on gray textile
Me, basically. Photo: Keenan Barber

Day 3 & 4. These were luxuriously lazy days. We literally just stayed home, ordered some bagels to enjoy for the first time in months, took indulgent naps in the afternoon, enjoyed leftovers, and made desserts in between playing video games and watching more Legend of Korra. For two people who are used to packing in a lot of fun on vacation, these days were blissful and really necessary. It also rained quite a bit these 2 days, which just added to the cozy, lazy feel but also helped bring beautiful weather to come later.

white, orange, and black textile
Photo: Jennie Clavel

Day 5. Most of this day was a continuation of the indulgent laziness but I decided to pack a picnic for us to enjoy in Central Park, since my husband often laments that we don’t spend enough time there even though we love the park and it is not prohibitively far from us. It felt good to have my shoes off on Sheep’s Meadow, spam musubi and chocolate cake in hand, with the wind in my hair and the moon (my best friend) shining down on me as we packed up our blanket. Again, the weather was incredible; we even felt a slight chill by the time it was dark.

green trees near body of water
Photo: Hector Argüello Canals

Day 6. Originally, we were going to attempt a trip up to Hudson Valley to hike, potentially with some other people. But those plans were cancelled, and we realized we didn’t quite feel comfortable leaving the city anyway. Instead, we decided to go back to Central Park, but this time walking as much of the park as possible, from the north end to the south. We made sure to stop by Seneca Village, which we learned about from this video from Vox and was a big motivating factor in our little journey through the park.

We walked through the North Woods, strolled through the Conservatory Garden, across the street from where I spent spring breaks volunteering in college, and meandered our way north to south, east and west and back and back, covering as much ground as we could while still visiting landmarks like the Shakespeare Garden, Belvedere Castle, Bethesda Terrace and its Minton tiles, and more. With all of the stairs and hills, we still got a good hike in, and walking for 4 hours through a park that spans almost 60 blocks definitely got our step count up.

standing woman wearing brown coat toward display fruits
Photo: Eddi Aguirre

Day 7. Send Chinatown Love is hosting a self-guided food crawl for the month of September, so we set out on the 1st for our first trip back to Chinatown since March. I remember buying a big bag of rice before quarantine, knowing that we wouldn’t be back for a long time. Send Chinatown Love focuses on helping businesses that don’t have a web presence – oftentimes immigrant-owned, cash-only, with little English proficiency – find an online platform and new customers. I really care about this community, so going during a work day when there aren’t many people out seemed like a way I could finally do so. (Since we don’t live near Chinatown, we haven’t been able to order food for delivery from these businesses.) We stopped by several of the businesses and hope to be able to visit the others later in the month.

All in all, we had a truly lovely staycation, getting to explore parts of the city that we don’t normally get to see. New York is so special in that I am able to travel to the beach and a slice of forest and, of course, Chinatown, without ever leaving the city or even needing a car. I foresee us spending more time doing this over long weekends and occasional days off.

Unfortunately, I don’t think one week was enough for me to bounce back, but it is Labor Day weekend now, in the United States, so I’m hoping this extra day will help me get back to feeling myself.

Do you have any recommendations for ways I can staycation in New York? We’d like to visit the other Chinatowns and the other boroughs, in general, since we don’t often venture out of Manhattan. I also think about maybe visiting the house I grew up in, across the river!
What staycation things do you do at home? I liked setting up our guest bed setup for ourselves in the living room because it mixed things up enough that it felt fresh and new for us, and my reunion with my bed was sweet, just like when I come home from somewhere else.

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