For months — MONTHS — I dreamt of nothing more than packing a bag and leaving town, but something continuously stood in my path: snow, Covid-19 variants, fear, anxiety, and most especially my lack of being vaccinated.
On Saturday March 20, I received part one of my two part vaccination for COVID-19. (Since I know someone will ask, I received Pfizer and I qualify because I am obese.) I was able to get an appointment at Aqueduct in Queens, NY.
When you arrive at the front door, you present your ticket and they ask three questions:
- Have you experienced any Covid symptoms in the last 10 days
- Have you been in contact with someone known to have the virus within the last 14 days
- Have you traveled outside of the state within the last 14 days. I really needed to get out of the house and I couldn’t wait another 21 days.
The moment I sat back in the car, I looked at my mother and said, “So, I’m going to New Haven for a few days next week.” I stayed at The Blake Hotel on High Street, in the heart of the downtown area. The hotel was quiet — I mean, it was a weekday in March in Connecticut. There was another guest checking in when I did and I heard a few other guests on my same floor, but overall the place was a ghost town. For someone with extreme social anxiety, heightened by the pandemic, it was perfect!
The hotel opened in January of 2019 and is now my new favorite home away from home. The front desk staff was very friendly and attentive during the check in process as well as excellent at anticipating future needs during my stay. They have excellent COVID protocols in place – constant sanitization throughout the day, plastic barriers at the front desk as well as a strictly enforced face mask and social distancing policy for the hotel staff and guests alike. Although, without many guests on the premises, it all seemed pretty easy to manage. I don’t know that I will be able to say the same once the summertime comes. Connecticut businesses/residents seem to know what they are doing when it comes to masks though.
The rooms were like mini-apartments. I stayed in a Deluxe King Suite, complete with a kitchenette (microwave, mini-fridge, dishwasher, and stovetop.) There was a Nespresso maker in the room, but you need to get the pods from the front desk, which I already had since the front desk staff asked me about it during check-in. You can also call down to the front desk and request a fresh brewed coffee if you’d like.
I try not to watch too much television once I am laying in bed, but when I stay at a hotel, I like to pay attention to its placement. In some hotels, the rooms are so small that it feels like the tv is right on top of you. Then again, in some less decadent hotels, the television is smaller and further from the bed that I don’t even bother watching, since I end up squinting too much to be enjoyable, but that wasn’t the case here so I was very happy!
There was a 55 inch tv inside of the room (not photographed) and it was the perfect distance from the bed, mounted inside of a gorgeous wooden frame, above the dresser drawers. There was also an enormous armoire, complete with drawers, a safe, space to hang longer clothing, as well as bathrobes for guest use. I never use hotel robes simply because they aren’t made in my size, so I brought and wore my UGG robe (I linked to the Amazon product page, since I struggled to find it in plus sizing on the UGG website. I have the Seal Heather robe in 1X, in case anyone is curious. I wouldn’t recommend sizing up since they are incredibly roomy. Available from size XS to 3X. Disclaimer: I purchased this robe back in October and it was already discounted in stores, which means some sizes and colors may be unavailable by this time.)
This might sound strange, but the bathroom was one of my favorite parts of this suite. The shower floor was made of that tile that dries relatively quickly and the drain isn’t a terrifying circle under your feet. It has plenty of room if you need to shave your legs, which I did, and there’s space for you and a guest, if that’s something you enjoy. The flooring throughout the room was that reclaimed laminated wood, with differing light and dark tones creatively laced together. I had only ever seen this once before, but it’s officially on the dream interior design wish list. The door to the bathroom was styled like the door to a barn and it would slide right into place. Also going on the wish list. Love, love, love it!
The hotel has both a signature restaurant and rooftop bar, Hamilton Park and High George, respectively. I’m not sure if the restaurant has been open for dining. I dined outside of the hotel while in town. The rooftop bar should be opening again, if it’s not already, now that the warm weather is returning. Check their website for more information about reservations, hours of operation, and if you simply wish to drool over their menu. It all sounds so tasty!
At the lowest level of the hotel, was the fitness center. Yes, I am one of those people who likes to exercise while on vacation. I had to call ahead to the front desk to have someone meet me at the gym entrance and unlock the room, but it turned out that it was already unlocked. That was the first time that I’d stepped foot into a formal gym, using real equipment since February of 2020. It felt good…empowering, even. I had the entire space to myself. I wonder what the hotel’s gym policies will be once busy season starts up again. Their fitness center has a variety of equipment from dumbbells to cycling bikes. I was most excited to see that they had a water bottle refill station still accessible. Many places started removing, or at least making them inaccessible, at the height of the pandemic. I spent a little time on the Elliptical machine, since it’s really good for your knees and then I used the free weights for a bit. That bench by the dumbbells was the perfect height for me to perform some modified burpees on. So I did, and it felt amazing! I noticed that they have one machine meant for boxing or kickboxing but I didn’t have my gloves or wraps with me. Next time, I guess!
The most important and final piece of my New Haven trip — where I ate. On night one, I took myself for a belated birthday margarita at Te Amo’s Tequila Bar & Tacos. The restaurant is at the heart of New Haven, right near the green, on Temple Street. I don’t remember this place being there when I lived in New Haven, but if it was I can guarantee this would have been a regular spot. The Mango Margarita was delicious – a sweet balance of fruit and alcohol. At the suggestion of my waiter, I did a sugared rim rather than salted. I had never had a sugared rim before, but I am glad I listened. Salted might have given it a weird after taste. My body is practically impervious to tequila. It’s my liquor of choice most often. I haven’t been inside of a bar setting in over a year and it felt so good just to be out and about in a college town again. Now, because of COVID regulations, you have to order food when you order drinks so I decided to get the Guacamole and Chips, a classic, and their Burger Quesadilla. I don’t think that I have ever enjoyed a quesadilla more than I did this one. It was a perfect combo of Mexican-American and American classics. It’s my comfort food and my only regret is not remembering to order one for the road before I left town. I have something tasty to look forward to on my return trip.
On day two, I ordered lunch from Pepe’s — it’s only my second time ever doing that — it was just as yummy as I remembered it being, but pizza always tastes better when no one is yelling at you while eating it. I got myself the personal size Meatball and Ricotta pizza, a slice of the Cannoli Pie, and a salad. You can just taste exactly how homemade the ricotta was because you taste all the love inside of it. It’s an Italian thing. I had been fully prepared to walk to Wooster street myself and walk the pizza back to the hotel, but it turned out that they had started delivering during the pandemic. I had it delivered instead, but I wish that I had ventured down there myself.
It makes me cry happy tears knowing that the business is still family owned and operated. Frank Pepe‘s humble beginnings remind me of those of my own family. He came from a small town in Naples, but he came here to America — a teenager with little to no education, no money — trying to create a better life for himself. He returned to Italy to fight in World War I and only returned to New Haven after he was married in 1920. He took on various jobs before opening his own business and building, what one could certainly call, a pizza empire. His nephew, Salvatore Consiglio, opened Sally’s Apizza, also on Wooster Street. His family still owns, operates, and oversees all of their restaurants, of which there are twelve locations! It’s a proud thing to run a family business that was essentially built on a dream and hard work. Both are staples of New Haven’s Little Italy and if you don’t visit either one or both when you come through town, then did you even visit New Haven?
After a lengthy passeggiata up and down my old street, I showered and got myself ready for dinner with a friend at Jacks Bar and Steakhouse on the corner of College and Crown Street. It took me a long time to be able to walk through the doors of this place again. This is the place where I took my ex-boyfriend for dinner on his birthday. It was one of our last good nights out together and so for the last two years, I avoided even going near the door. It just hurt too much. But on this trip, I decided that it was time…time to let go of that pain and hurt, and move forward. So I called up a friend and we delighted in a mouth-watering steak dinner. I ordered the 16 oz. New York Strip — medium rare — with mashed potatoes and asparagus on the side. When steak slices like a butter pat, you know it’s well cooked. What a perfect way to end such a lovely trip!
New Haven holds a special place in my heart. That might sound crazy to anyone who grew up there and, sure, there might be other places in America that are more exciting that a small college town in Connecticut, but to me it’s home. “Home is the place when you leave, you just miss it.” Emma Swan taught me that. My second vaccination dose is next Saturday so I can say that, without a doubt in my mind, that I will be back in New Haven in no time. I’m already planning my next trip up there…my next trip home.
Is there a place that’s home to you? I’d love to hear about it!
Think of that place. Hold onto it and dream of the day when you can visit it again.