While it wasn’t the same experience as our carefree vacations of the past, it was exciting to pack up the car and hit the road again.
As the time grew closer for my husband and I to take our long-awaited road trip, we began to have serious doubts about leaving our bubble at home. Even though the stops were carefully planned, the COVID-19 cases were surging in the southern states where we were going. Coming out of Florida, we wouldn’t be heading into a situation any worse than our own, but we were still concerned. We even had tests for the virus in preparation for the trip; we were negative and didn’t want to return home positive.
Rather than canceling, we decided we needed the change of scenery and could do this safely, so we shortened the trip to just two stops. With hypervigilance in high gear, we packed up our pandemic, essential travel kit, and our Tibetan Terrier, Rhythm, and hit the road.
The lobby was eerily quiet at The Omni Hotel at The Battery during check-in with just one masked woman behind the desk. She informed me that the only food and beverage outlet open that day was the pool bar, a sign of the times for a hotel that’s usually very busy during the summer. The Omni is attached to Truist Stadium, home of the Atlanta Braves, and a major entertainment and dining venue, The Battery.
We unloaded our car, as they wouldn’t handle the luggage, and took our luggage up to the room, which was an upgraded suite with a balcony overlooking the stadium. (There are some advantages to traveling when practically no one else is). We were also treated to a Braves scrimmage that evening, as the team practiced for their upcoming season opener sans fans. The Instagram photos from this experience led to interviews with two Atlanta television stations, (since the only way to see the Braves play at home right now is to stay at this hotel).
After watching part of the scrimmage, we headed into The Battery for dinner with my son, who lives in Atlanta. Some of the restaurants were closed, but perhaps that was because it was Sunday. The open spots were quiet and had limited seating indoors, and many people were dining outside, as we chose to do. Other than the restaurant workers, most people were not wearing masks, so we stayed distanced and used copious amounts of hand sanitizer. As my first time away from home since the first week of February, it was refreshing to see family in person and have an evening out and away from depressing news on the television.
Next stop -
Asheville, North Carolina
We felt we could navigate things safely in Asheville since it was a very familiar destination for us. We were thrilled to escape Florida’s stifling heat for cooler mountain air and check out the new restaurants and breweries in town. We also knew we could stay socially distanced with a wide range of outdoor activities. When I learned that North Carolina had a mask mandate in place, I was even more on-board with visiting. I knew that if any town could come together and do the right thing, it would be Asheville’s community, and sure enough, most everyone we saw in town donned masks.
When we checked into the Kimpton Hotel Arras downtown, everyone had masks at the valet and front desk. During our four-night stay, we handled our luggage, left used towels outside the door where they were replaced each morning, and did not have housekeeping service inside the room. Their hotel elevator is limited to two people and only stops at the requested floor, so you never have contact with another guest on the lift. We were impressed with the property’s front desk and management staff. They were very engaging, making our hotel feel like our home away from home and that we were all in this together.
It seemed that many restaurants in town were well adapted to the social distancing limitations with either limited indoor seating or only outdoor dining and contactless ordering. Many were also open fewer days of the week and with shorter hours. Places like City Bakery, which usually has very cozy and close indoor chairs and tables, now only offers takeaway with just a few tables outside. We had two meals in the hotel where they were only several patrons in a wide-open space with a high ceiling, so it was never a concern. Our other two evenings out were at two fantastic, new to us, restaurants that only offered outdoor dining – “Forestry Camp” and “Benne on Eagle” at The Foundry Hotel.
Outdoor activities are plentiful in and around Asheville. One evening we took the Asheville Rooftop Bars Tour. The owner required masks in their van and kept groups separated at the venues, but we opted to drive ourselves. A downtown walking tour with Asheville by Foot was also an excellent way to learn new things about the city while staying outside and distanced. On our last day, we spent time at the Biltmore Estate, one of our favorite places. A stroll around the village, lunch at Village Social, and a horseback ride through the grounds was the perfect end to our pandemic getaway.
People are traveling. There were many cars, campers, and RVs on the roads and license plates from all over the country. We see the same situation in our small tourist town in Florida. We learned that weekends are quite busy in Asheville. We could tell that more tourists were arriving throughout the week, just as we were about to depart.
It was reinvigorating to have a mental health break and reconnect and engage with people in person. Even so, it is exhausting to do the proper things required to protect yourself and others, and if not mindful, it would be easy to become careless. Our routine of wiping down the entire hotel room upon arrival, including constant hand washing and sanitizing, social distancing, and mask wearing, feels fairly secure, but demanding. Surprisingly, I can’t wait for the chance to do it all again sometime soon.