Long considered the ‘coffee shop desert’ of Manhattan, the Upper West Side now boasts coffee and pastries to rival the Stumptown’s of Flatiron and the Blue Bottles of Brooklyn. The uniting appeal in the coffee shop explosion of recent years lies in owners’ singular commitments to both quality and happiness.
A couple of weekends ago, I took my first ever, entirely alone trip: three days in Venice over Easter weekend. Nervous at first to be completely on my own, I arrived feeling slightly on edge and uncomfortable. But having done my research and knowing exactly how to get from the airport to the actual island of Venezia, I arrived safely and with no problems. And I knew almost immediately that the weekend would be a success, because as I stepped off that shuttle bus, something new and unknown hit me square in face, reminding me that everything would be alright….
Let me just explain that last statement in saying that for the last four months, Paris has been damp and grey almost every day. Not as if I’m complaining about being in Paris, but human beings, we need sunlight. We’re like plants. We die without sun.
Not only was it sunny, but on top of that, I was surrounded by the sea. That’s another thing I didn’t realize I missed so much; in Manhattan, we are an island, completely surrounded by sea, and I think there is something profound, something centering and deeply human about being near the water. Seeing that Paris is completely landlocked in the center of France, and the only water we get is that of the Seine (believe me, you DON’T want to touch that), I guess I had been missing my big, wide-open expanses of sea that I had taken for granted back home.
So first thing I did: buy a vaparetto pass, sit in the front seat of the boat way up at the tip and ride out into the bay of San Marco.
Second thing I did: lunch.
A friend had told me before I left that I should go to “Trattoria Alla Madonna” near the Rialto Bridge, and that if there, I MUST get the squid-ink pasta. Although I wasn’t planning on going right off the bat on my first day in Venice and I had no clue where the place even was in the first place, I stumbled across the restaurant and figured that like the sun and the ocean, Venice had made my lunch decision for me.
The squid-ink pasta I ate in Venice was the best thing I ate the entire weekend. It was daunting, even for me who eats everything, to slurp down black squid-ink, I was surprised at the freshness of something that so resembled the color and texture of tar. Nonetheless, the sauce tasted like the sea (a flavor that oyster and urchin fans understand), but also had a deep earthy richness. It tasted like foie gras of the sea. Needless to say, the pasta was also cooked to perfection.
I am now fully convinced of the beauty, luxury, and complete pleasure of solo-travel. Of course we need other people in our lives, that’s a given. But today, where we are constantly plugged-in, surveying our own lives and the lives of others via whatever social medium of the moment, or even simply committed to our families, friends, clubs and professors, breaks from this constant commitment and responsibility are desperately needed. For me, at least, this is true, and I wouldn’t have known for not having been brave enough to go to Venice alone for three days.
And most importantly, I wouldn’t have eaten squid-ink pasta.