How COVID-19 left the world’s most touristy places eerily empty

Living near over-touristed sites — from the Louvre in Paris to a Gaudi house in Barcelona to Times Square in New York — comes with its own set of challenges. Along with traffic, noise and pollution came the daily task of having to navigate throngs of visitors just to get to your apartment door.

But this spring and summer, the crowds were nowhere to be found. The hot spots? They were cold.

And the residents who live around — and sometimes in — them were faced with a drastic new reality during the coronavirus lockdown. We interviewed neighbors to some of the world’s most popular places.

“The city does not look like itself at all,” said Marianne, a Parisian publicist whose apartment overlooks the Louvre. “My area usually has an electric atmosphere, with bustling cafés and restaurants and it is overflowing with passers-by, Parisians and tourists alike.”

Marianne — who asks that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons — found the closure of Paris’s iconic cafés especially striking.

“Le Fumoir, a local staple restaurant and cocktail bar facing the Louvre, was busy and lively pre-pandemic, from morning till late at night,” she said in a June interview. “It’s closed and it feels quiet and unreal. Life has been sucked out of the streets.”

A drag queen performer who lives across from the Copacabana in Times Square, Linda Simpson, similarly felt the Big Apple’s gutting emptiness over the summer.

“The vibe is very odd. I’m used to dodging throngs of tourists, and now the sidewalks are empty,” she said. “As much as I complain about how tacky and annoying Times Square can be, I miss seeing people from all over the world come to gawk at the sights. I also miss people gathering around stage doors to get autographs from their favorite Broadway stars.”

Property manager Destina, who declined to give her last name for privacy reasons, occupies an apartment catty-corner to Times Square’s enormous Sheraton hotel. She longs to interact with visitors once again.

“I feel like as a New Yorker I’ve always been an ambassador for the city, because I come in contact with so many tourists,” she said. “I can’t even tell you how many people have stopped us while we’re walking our dog to say, ‘Can I pet your dog? I miss my dog. I’m from Alabama.’ ”

She continued, “We all complained about noise and crowds, but when you went you you felt alive. It was exhilarating. Now, with no traffic, no noise and no people, it’s actually suffocating,” she said. “You don’t see the theatergoers anymore. You don’t see the people dressed up going to shows anymore. The neon lights are still on, but it’s empty. It’s almost like people just disappeared.”

Sometimes when you’re used to cacophony and people, the silence can be lonely.

Ana Viladomiu, a resident of Antoni Gaudí’s famous rippling La Pedrera, was used to pushing past the approximately 3,000 visitors streaming through a day to get to the elevator in her home.

In an interview with the Guardian, she described the solitary life after tours of the UNESCO World Heritage site stopped in March.

“La Pedrera closed its doors and I stayed inside, like a guardian,” Viladomiu said. “All I hear is my footsteps and silence.”

Though there are two other tenants in the building, and a few security guards, she is separated in her own part of the building.

“I’ve never felt alone living here, this building is always bustling,” she lamented. “Now there is nobody.”

But there are upsides to a rare stillness. Marianne cites Paris’ barren Tuileries Garden, for example, where she can imagine herself as its original proprietor Catherine de Medici. There’s ample time to examine the intricacies of masterpieces like I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid for the Louvre. And then there are the animals, emboldened to explore now-serene urban spaces.

“The Seine looks so much cleaner,” she said. “Hordes of ducks and some swans are frolicking and enjoying the deserted quays once again.”

There are silver linings: Marianne is finding that even snobbish Parisians are loosening up. “The norm here is that you can never speak to your neighbors. Yet now we see people talking between buildings, liberated from the usual cacophony of vehicle and foot traffic,” said Marianne, adding that the silence leads to activities she’d never imagined. “We watched a movie on our balcony. It wouldn’t usually be possible due to the ambient traffic and other noise. It was magical.”

Viladomiu enjoys the freedom to dress down in La Pedrera. “There’s usually so many people. I would never dare take the elevator in a nightgown,” she told the Guardian. “Now I’ve been wandering around here freely. I’m liking that a lot.”

In New York, Simpson noticed less litter and discovered nearby restaurants and stores on atypically long walks. “Under normal circumstances it’s not really a neighborhood to take leisurely strolls,” she said.

And though she misses the energy, Destina does concede that the quiet can be nice. “From a Times Square resident standpoint, it’s almost everything you ever wanted,” she said. “No crowds, no tour buses, no noise, and no construction.”

For those of us not living near or in barren attractions, the Instagram account @NobodyYouThere2020 brings them to us to appreciate from afar, documenting this new reality.

“Seeing the typical tourist attractions uncrowded is unbelievable,” said Gonzalo Colombres, one of the account’s founders. “It particularly strikes me to see places and landmarks in some cities which I was able to visit previously and now are empty.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/B_NUHckjvZW/

Stunning pictures of tourist spots from Waikiki Beach in Hawaii to the Dancing House in Prague to the Brooklyn Bridge are crowd-sourced from followers and other Instagram users.

Because while there is concern for the reasons these attractions are empty, Colombres (who is based in Racine, Wisconsin) believes there’s now an opportunity for reflection.

“I totally believe it is a time for all of us to rethink the world we want and the opportunity we have to start appreciating every given thing we have and never stop to think about,” he told The Post. “[The Instagram account] opens an opportunity to learn about countries and cities we never thought about before. As the posts grow, my top 50 list keeps growing for when we can travel again. In the meantime, if we can do it virtually, why not?”

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