What would you create if no one would see it? If you didn’t need to Boost Engagement or Capture SEO Traffic or Push Product or Increase Your Digital Footprint? If what you set out to make wasn’t content, but simply art?
I’ve been reading and watching and scrolling, but lately, I’ve been most inspired by things I’ve seen offscreen. Like the man with the molasses voice singing “Earth Angel” on the subway, the car falling silent, strangers letting their headphones drop and their eyes lock: Damn, this guy is good. “Support the artist if you can,” he said without irony, the soft plink of his keyboard swallowed up by claps. Not everyone paid him, but most of us thanked him. He smiled back. He knew.
Across the car, a young girl sketched with a furrowed brow, stealing shy glances until she held up her finished masterpiece: me. In her drawing, my Beats by Dre were replaced with a tiara, my tired eyes large and sparkling. What a joy to see the world that way — more joyful still to capture it just because.
While they were creating, I was bemoaning my failure to thrive in the super-speed age of snackable content. Blogs have been all but replaced by apps, and it’s hard to do long-form, mixed-media work and not feel like I’m wasting my time. Instead, I’ve been doing most of my writing in a Google Doc titled “ANGST + RAGE” that I pray is never leaked for the sake of my exes, a habit that keeps me sane but that adds up to… what? Nothing useful. Nothing beautiful. Nothing I can point to and say, “I made that.”
I started taking watercolor classes a few months ago, just to remind myself how it feels to create without profit in mind. It’s both freeing and maddening to have a hobby I’m truly bad at. I don’t often do things I’m bad at. I like to feel safe — from danger, from failure, from judgment of others and myself. If I try and fail, will I hate me more or less?
The answer is always, always less. Creating, even with the intention of sharing, has never been about collecting validation from as many people as possible — something that can be easy to forget when churning out content for a faceless internet. That’s a recipe for restlessness. An endless pursuit of a fix. Content is a business, and it’s different from creativity, which is both selfish and servile in nature. Creativity is where the desire to say “I made that” meets the hope that an audience — be it 5 or 500 or 5 million people — might find it useful and/or beautiful.
I believe in creativity, not just content. I believe in making and sharing — that those are ends in themselves. I want to make art, as pretentious as that can feel to say out loud, for myself and the 5 people who need to find it at the precise moment they do.
The young girl’s mother told her to put her drawing away and “leave the nice lady alone.” It broke my heart a little. I hope she went home and drew 12 more princess pictures. I hope she never forgets how. I hope she always sees the world that way: large and sparkling, and worthy of capturing just because.
Yes, the rumors are true: I’m back to commuting, vacation requests and starting emails with “Hi so-and-so” even when there are nine previous emails in the thread all CLEARLY addressed to so-and-so. (Kidding, I would never. First name + comma, MAX. If so-and-so has a problem with it, you can let him know I charge by the word.)
I fully expected to love freelancing. And I did…for a while. It’s liberating to call the shots on your own day — what hours you will and won’t work, what projects you will and won’t take. It’s luxurious to roll out of bed, log a few productive hours in your PJs, hit the gym and the grocery store when there are no crowds, wrap up your work over happy hour and spend the evening as you please, with the knowledge that there will be no alarm to wake you should you stumble into some good times on a Tuesday. It’s especially satisfying to sign on from a hotel pool deck, reapplying sunscreen between emails and feeling like you’re getting away with something illegal.
Furthermore, I’m glad to have the knowledge that I can support myself freelancing. It’ll make me less likely to stay in a job that’s not the right fit, or to freak if I find myself on the wrong side of layoffs (more likely than not in my industry). This time around, I stumbled into the best-case freelance scenario: a steady gig with a great team that valued my contributions and paid me like clockwork, meaning I had relative stability during the three years I was self-employed. I don’t know that I’d be so lucky again, but I understand the rhythm of freelance life, and I’m confident I could make it work with some hustle.
There’s a tendency, particularly among millennials, to glamorize the HASHTAGBUILDINGMYEMPIRE lifestyle over more traditional paths. Perhaps naively. After the honeymoon period ended, I found that self-employment — even best-case-scenario self-employment — had some serious drawbacks.
This isn’t to say that one is point-blank better than the other. I think both could suit different types of people, or even the same person at different times of life. But having a more balanced understanding of the pros and cons could have saved me from the panicky grips of this is not my beautiful cubicle-free life. I thought I’d share my experience for anyone considering ridin’ solo, ridin’ solo…or simply wondering what it’s like when you can do a full day’s work without pants on.
Read the job description. For me, the appeal of freelancing was being able to focus only on the parts of my job that I liked. Three years ago, that meant writing, hard stop. I didn’t want to be going to meetings or wasting the hours I wasn’t creatively “on” sitting at a desk. And heaven forbid someone disturb me when I was.
The reality is…that’s not reality. When you’re a contractor, you’re always looking for your next gig — which means you’d better be down with self-promotion, and you’d better be prepared to spend a good chunk of time pitching things you’ll never be paid to write. Hopefully, if you’re creative, you enjoy that process somewhat. But you can’t bill brainstorming hours, or the considerable time you’ll spend marketing your skills and promoting your work to strangers.
Then there’s invoicing, which is a pain in the ass but the only way you’ll see a paycheck. For some clients, you’ll also have to do post-invoicing, or v professional nagging to figure out when or whether you’ll ever see said paycheck. Saving money is always important, but especially when you don’t know whether you’ll be paid in six days or six months. Running out of cash can put a real damper on your bohemian best life.
This seems like a good time to mention taxes, which are even more terrible for self-employed peeps than they are for everyone else. For starters, there’s a significant “self-employment tax” to cover Medicare and Social Security costs. Another tax if you live on the edge and don’t get independent health insurance. Since you’re being paid in full for your work rather than having a percentage of your income withheld from each paycheck, prepare to be staggered by the amount you owe, especially if you don’t file quarterly. Even with write-offs, I was nowhere close to breaking even. Lemme tell ya, it was rough.
Know thyself. Being self-employed means being your own boss! Awesome, right? Well, not if you’re a really mean one. Imagine if all of your conversations with your boss went like this:
You: I did a thing!
Boss: Wow, this…this is shit.
You: What? I worked really hard on it! I think it’s a good start!
Boss: Terrible. Dreadful. What are you even doing here? I don’t know why we hired you.
Boss: Burn this. Make sure nobody ever sees it.
You: Yes ma’am, burning it now ma’am.
Boss: And then you should probably just quit for the day. Better luck next time.
Yeah, so clearly I have issues. But if you’re prone to perfectionism and/or negative self-talk, you might find that you have a hard time getting out of your own way long enough to do half of what you’re capable of, much less to really thrive. In my observation, the most successful solo riders are the ones who aren’t afraid to learn as they go, produce unfinished and occasionally bad work, and constantly course-correct without being overwhelmed by self-doubt.
Many ~sensitive artists~ I know don’t function this way. As much as we might resist structure (or actually need some flexibility to capitalize on our creative ebbs and flows), it’s helpful to have things like deadlines! and constructive feedback! and people who hold us accountable to how we’re using our time. Without those things, it can be easy to start lots, finish little, and wind up with pretty much nothing to show for the tortured hours you gave to ~the process~.
Of course everyone should challenge those imposter-y feelings. They’re something that even the most confident person will struggle with occasionally, and they’ll hold you back whether or not you’re self-employed. But it’s worth asking yourself honestly if the risk of getting stuck in your own negative feedback loop will be good for your career, to say nothing of your mental and emotional health.
On that note…
People need people. Look, of course your job isn’t (hopefully) your only social outlet. But as banal as small talk and office gossip can be, a daily dose of socialization plays a huge role in making us feel human. There’s a reason solitary confinement is the highest form of punishment short of death.
I never set out to be a mole person. But going freelance while living alone, moving across the country and trying to build a friend group from scratch was not ideal.
If only I’d joined a co-working space. (These are freaking expensive, by the way. I’m sure it would help, but there are ways I’d rather spend half my monthly rent.) If only I’d had a great relationship or a social life robust enough to balance out the fact that I was spending my days at home. If only I were raising a family. If only I had the type of head-down obsession with work that made everything else obsolete. All valid! But I didn’t, and if YOU don’t, you might really struggle with the isolation factor.
It’s nice not to put on pants. But it’s also nice to have a reason to wear pants. It’s nice to have people to compliment you on your pants! It’s nice when putting on pants feels quick and easy and natural, because when getting ready and leaving the house aren’t part of your daily routine, they suddenly seem like way more effort. It’s nice for putting on pants to be the norm and not the exception, so you can fully savor every pantsless moment.
Pants are a metaphor, by the way.
Boredom is (still) the enemy. I was thrilled to discover that I could get by doing way less than 40 hours of work while living in an affordable city like Portland. That’s the dream, right, Tim Ferriss? Less work, more everything else?
IDK, man. Like anyone who’s ever wished for a glut of free time, I had big plans for how I’d use it — for new hobbies, frequent travel, volunteering, cooking all of my meals from scratch, and having wild adventures I could leverage for my writing.
I did some of that, sometimes. But I really believe that for 90% of humans, too much free time breeds a lack of urgency to do much of anything. And a lot of time to feel anxious about everything.
It makes sense. When we’re busy, we’re highly aware and respectful of our limited free time. We pack it with cool, exciting activities because we know that’s the only time we’ll get to do them — or we laze hardcore and OWN IT, because we’ve earned it and need to replenish our energy for later. I’m always amazed by how much I can do in a day on vacation, or how much I accomplish during the packed weeks I think will be miserable. At the end, I feel tired, but satisfied — and inspired to do even more.
When any day can be a weekend, you don’t feel the same drive to schedule cool, exciting activities, because there will always be time to do them later. I’d rarely work a full 8-hour day, but rarely take a full day off, so I never felt truly rested. I fell into a ho-hum routine of doing minimal work, super-long workouts (fun for me, but maybe excessive, and certainly at the expense of other things I wanted or needed to be doing), spinning the hamster wheel of chores and errands, spending a lot of time on social media and spending a LOT of time wringing my hands over insignificant things that would have worked themselves out if I’d simply had more to distract me from them.
This is on me. Maybe you think I’m lazy AF. I can be, sometimes. It’s fun to be (mindfully) lazy AF! But I also know I’m not the only one to experience this. Think about all the celebrities who turn to drugs, or influencers who feel “overwhelmed” by grueling days of taking selfies with flat tummy tea. Too much free time (and isolation, which often comes with it) is mentally and physically draining. Anxiety is compounded by missing the sense of self-worth that comes from working hard.
If you’re good at filling your plate and/or have unlimited disposable income to spend your free time doing glamorous goals-y things (but maybe still not, see: celebrities)…you might love having a 4-hour work week. As for me, I’ve come to realize that LESS work means MORE stress. And right now, I benefit from having some structure to make sure I keep doing the most, in a good way.
OK, OK — I didn’t HATE freelancing. It taught me a lot and allowed me to take my own path in my own time. I admire people who can do it well, and I reserve the right to revisit it if and when I feel ready. I hope you found this illuminating, or relatable, or at the very least, I hope it infused your Sunday scaries with a glimmer of gratitude.
Now I gotta go laze hardcore. I have work in the morning.
“Can I ask you a controversial question?” he said, leaning in.
“Sure,” I replied. We were two hours and as many drinks into a date that seemed, by all measures I knew, to be going extremely well. He’d been complimentary of my appearance and my intellect, finding subtle ways to touch me that — rather than causing me to stiffen and scoot my chair back — evoked that telltale jerk behind the navel that means, I think I like this guy.
Then he said the words that changed everything.
“What is it you prioritize that makes you identify as liberal?”
Cape: Vintage, similar here. Sweater: J.Crew. Pants: Zara. Boots: Topshop, similar here. Earrings: CC & La Dame. Bracelet: Vintage, similar here. Sunglasses: Cramilo. Bag: Vintage, similar here.
Shit, I thought. I had known this was coming. There were signs: He was a finance executive whose Southern drawl had lingered through his Ivy League education and stint in the military. At 6’9”, he possessed the kind of clear-eyed Aryan good looks that made me doubt he’d ever had to fight to finish a sentence, much less get his basic needs met in an oppressive system.
I didn’t want to hold these things against him. He was driven, well-spoken, intellectually curious — the kind of person who might have succeeded even without his sexy-white-male privilege. What’s more, I know I spend most of my time with others who see the world through blue-tinted glasses. I’m open to challenging my views, though there are topics I find it hard to debate without shutting down.
I’d tested the waters the day before, mentioning that I was on my way to the Women’s March in NYC. “Wearing a girl power crop top, so enjoy that visual,” I’d added. I’m not like a regular feminist, I’m a cool feminist!
“Get it!” he’d responded. “Do great things, talk soon.”
OK, I thought. He knows, and he doesn’t hate it. So…we’ll see.
Unfortunately, I hadn’t prepared very well for the politics portion of the program.
“What is it you prioritize that makes you identify as liberal?”
“Um. Social issues?” I said blandly, my mind screaming, Health care! Women’s rights! Human rights! Fucking everything! “Why don’t you tell me more about your views?”
“Ask a better question,” he responded.
“Fine,” I said. “Did you vote for Trump?”
“Is that a yes?” I said.
“No,” he sputtered. “But I don’t like your question. It’s simple. I asked you what you prioritize so I could learn more about you, not judge you based on how you voted.”
“It is simple,” I countered. “Voting for Trump tells me what you’re willing to overlook to get what you want. So you didn’t, then? Did you vote for Hillary, or did you not vote?”
“I wrote in General Mattis,” he said.
It was hard not to roll my eyes. Of course you did, I thought. Of course you see no issue with wasting your vote, because nothing that happens as a result will affect you whatsoever.
The dismissive rage I felt startled me. Suddenly, I hated his confidence and his good looks. I hated myself for being attracted to them. I wondered how eyes so clear could see the world so differently.
It was a tense moment, but we got through it. In fact, having long passed polite, we went all in on each other, barreling gracelessly through a couple of other delicate subjects. While I’d always rather skip the small talk, even I knew it was a lot for two people with little more in common than a mutual physical attraction.
I could tell, leaving, that something felt off. Still, I texted the next day to ask if I could see him again, clinging to that behind-the-navel jerk that had made me feel such promise. He responded that I was an interesting person, but that he would be more comfortable being friends.
It was a kind, polite, maddeningly respectful rejection — one that made me feel sadness rather than dismissive rage. It would have been easier if he had ghosted me. Classic Republican! I could have railed. Out of sight, out of mind.
I don’t believe in staying neutral — not when the stakes are so high. But a world observed only through blue-tinted glasses is bound to be a bit distorted. Maybe I could stand to be more amenable to a red streak. Maybe I’ve got one, and I just don’t know it yet.
I do know this: Dismissive rage is easy. It’s more comfortable in a world that’s ruled by just one color. But for better or worse, a world that deals in both is far more interesting. And I learned that day that a red streak isn’t a deal breaker…at least not for me.
Want to know how I landed on Venice? I literally googled “best places to travel in February.” It came upon multiple lists, and it had the cheapest plane fares out of everywhere else that came up on multiple lists. Great. Done. Sold. I’d set a loose intention to take one trip a month this year, time and funds permitting, and now seemed as good a time as any to take Best Life Tour 2018 international. I bought my ticket, booked my Airbnb…and did virtually no other research.
You have to understand that I’m not really an “itinerary” traveler. I’ll put a few of the tourist-y spots on my list, and maybe choose a neighborhood to explore each day. But I don’t like to be on a schedule, and I don’t really care all that much about physically seeing things I can google. I’m much more interested in getting the feel of a place by wandering the streets for hours, taking photos and talking to strangers and eating seven meals a day because vacation.
Which brings me to Venice. “Venice is like Disney,” one shopkeeper told me, and I agree: enchanting, fantastical, evoking nostalgia and engaging the senses…and also, full of tourists and best experienced with a partner for, like, three days max.
That’s not to say it’s not worth a visit. Venice is a charming city full of history and, under the right circumstances, probably really fun. But it was not a great choice for a first-time solo traveler, and a week was (way) more than enough. I’mma tell you why…as well as what you should do when you visit, hopefully with slightly more planning than I did.
Passports, Flights, and Dolla Dolla Bills
Before I get into Venice, I want to do a quick brain dump on things I learned about international travel.
First of all, the reason I haven’t made it out of the U.S. sooner (save for a few family vacations as a teenager) is because my passport was expired. As a chronic procrastinator, the thought of getting new photos taken, applying by mail, paying a fee and then waiting months for the payoff was never something my reward-driven Taurus brain prioritized (yes, I can and will blame all of my flaws on astrology). Then I’d see a great last-minute travel deal and curse myself for not being able to grab it, unless I wanted to pay a private agency hundreds of dollars to expedite renewal.
Then I learned about the New York Passport Agency, a government office that will renew your passport in 24 hours for just $60 extra. The catch? You must be able to show proof of travel within two weeks to be eligible. So I booked my flight to Venice with an expired passport and, 14 days out, booked it to Hudson Street with new photos and all required documents. It was basically like a trip to the DMV, which I guess isn’t the highest compliment, but the staff was efficient and I had no issues with the renewal. I was in and out in 90 minutes, and my passport was ready for pickup the next day. These offices are everywhere, so that’s a little life hack if you need your passport renewed quickly and affordably.
I flew Turkish Airlines, with layovers in Istanbul both ways. No complaints there. Each transatlantic flight had two meals, plus one on my two-hour connecting flight to Venice. For airplane food, it was actually quite tasty: traditional Turkish entrees with mezze, dessert, and free alcoholic beverages. I will say that all of my flights left late but arrived on time, so I’m not sure what kind of midair voodoo is happening there, but I don’t care.
Let’s talk money! Italy uses Euro. Many places take credit cards, and you can find ATMs or change stations in all major shopping districts, so don’t stress about getting more money out if you need it. But there’s often a minimum €50 withdrawal, plus fees, so it’s better to exchange a bunch of cash before you go and carry only what you want to spend each day. I also find that this helps me stick to a budget while traveling, with any “plastic” purchases being extras I stop to consider as I would any purchase at home. Common-sense advice, but not all of us have common sense, SO. We’re just sharing and learning here, sharing and learning.
And while we’re stating the obvious: Call your bank before you go, buy an international power adapter, and make sure your cell is enabled for roaming (AT&T charges $10/day for texts and data, which is worth it to me for a short trip). Beyond that, there’s not a whole lot you need to do to prepare, save for whatever research you want to do on your destination.
I’ve traveled solo quite a bit in the U.S., and I’ve never had any issues with finding company when I wanted it. But I have to say, I underestimated how much being in a foreign country with a language barrier would complicate that.
To clarify, most people, especially those who work in service, speak some English. I could always get directions or find out the price of my cappuccino (€1.30, or you’re getting the inflated tourist rate). When my laptop died two days in (v stressful, as I was working remotely and charging my phone via USB) and I stormed the streets in a panic to find an open store that could sell me a European iPhone charger on a Sunday, I had multiple people offer to let me borrow theirs once they’d deciphered my frantic mime. People are fundamentally good basically everywhere. I could always get what I needed.
It was really hard to engage beyond that, to the point of forming meaningful connections or even just sharing a laugh. There isn’t much of a traveler culture in Venice, and because the city runs on tourism and a good chunk of the population is transient, most locals seemed pretty indifferent. I understand, but it was at odds with the (perhaps overly romanticized) image I had in my head of the warm, welcoming, passionate Italy from which I would emerge with a million crazy stories and Eat, Pray, Love-style epiphanies. There were days where the only words out of my mouth were “ciao” and “grazie,” which was frankly a little crazy-making. I wasn’t just alone — I was lonely.
Additionally, I didn’t realize how reliant I am on the concept of sitting in bars and cafes to meet people. Neither is really a thing in Venice. You can stand at a counter for a quick snack (cicchetti), or you can pay a cover charge to sit alone at a table. But there’s not really a happy medium that’s designed to foster connection if you didn’t come with a group, and it’s weirdly much harder to strike up a conversation with someone you’re standing next to than someone you’re anchored to by way of a seat. My favorite nights were the ones where I showed up to a full restaurant that offered to squeeze me in with another party. I wish I’d known how to create more of those moments for myself.
Anyway. I’m sure it was partly me, and I’m sure it gets easier with practice. But I’m all about keeping it real, and so I do want to say that I don’t think this is the easiest place to have a super-social solo travel experience, even if you’re pretty outgoing. I’d love to know if this is consistent with your experience in other parts of Italy and, if you travel solo, your favorite ways to meet people outside of bars.
Living + Moving
Venice is divided into six sestieri, or neighborhoods: Cannaregio, Castello, San Marco, San Polo, Santa Croce, and Dorsoduro. You can walk everywhere, though not always directly — bridges connect bordering sestiere at one or two points, and that’s where the maze of canals begins. Embrace the maze. Get lost in it! One does not come to Venice to be efficient.
For longer hauls, public transportation is the ferry, or vaporetto. There are no roads and no cars anywhere except parts of Santa Croce, which connects the island of Venice to the mainland. It’s trippy and adds to to the charming, old-world feel of the city. A single ferry ride is relatively steep at €7,50 — you can buy multi-day passes at a discount if you plan on moving around a lot. There are also water taxis or, of course, gondolas, which I passed on because I’ve already done the “It’s a Small World” ride at actual Disney. #sass
I booked a studio apartment in Cannaregio, which wound up being a wonderful home base for the week. It’s a historic district that’s largely residential, meaning it has all of the architectural charm with less of the crowds and craziness. I loved getting to see how the locals live, making daily trips to the lush street market and restaurants that didn’t seem straight out of Little Italy. And I was only about a 20-minute walk from Rialto Bridge and St. Mark’s Basilica.
Cannaregio has its own attractions. The Jewish Ghetto, where the Jewish community was banished in the 1500s and maintains a cultural center today, has a history museum and a cluster of Jewish-run businesses. (Fun fact: The word “ghetto” originated here. It comes from the Italian word “geti,” referring to these segregated, often low-income communities.)
The Fondamenta della Misericordia is a stunning canalside walk by day and a place to see and be seen after dark (more on two of my favorite restaurants, Al Timon and Paradiso Perduto, in the next section).
Ca’ d’Oro, an intricate marble palace that’s now a contemporary art gallery, is breathtaking to see up close. So is the Casino di Venezia, the oldest casino in the word, dating back to 1638. (No need to go inside, though. Slot machines look the same on every continent.)
And if you’re Catholic (or just a fan of cool architecture), you should definitely put Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Madonna dell’Orto, and I Gesuiti on your Best Church Tour 2018 list.
Food + Drink
What can I say? Italy lived up to its reputation as carb heaven. I didn’t have a bad meal here. For brevity’s sake (can I say that 2000 words in?), I’m going to combine my pizza and pasta highlights into one.
Pizza is my Achilles heel and all-time favorite food, so my standards are extremely high. The regional specialty is deep-dish “focaccia-style” squares, but there are plenty of traditional Neapolitan pies to be found, which tends to be my preference. The slices pictured above, from Antico Forno, made an easy lunch just blocks from Rialto Bridge. I also had takeaway pizza from Pizza 2000 in San Polo and Arte Della Pizza in Cannareggio. Like I said, no bad meals, but no gushing 5-star reviews either. I found all of them undercooked and a bit bland. What can I say, this all-American hack loves a greasy pepperoni slice from her favorite delivery joint in Brooklyn.
Go hang a salami, I’m a lasagna hog! No, really, if there’s lasagna on the menu, I WILL order it, as I did at Al Bacco and Da Luca e Fred. The latter gets my vote, especially at lunch time, when the shouty local businessmen descend en masse for the daily special (which is actually based on day’s market finds, not the kitchen’s odds and ends). It was quite a sight to behold. I also enjoyed the spaghetti bolognese at Ristorante La Cantina Venezia, where warm service, excellent Malbec, and the company of a kind French family made an already satisfying meal a memorable one.
A few other spots that stood out:
Paradiso Perduto. This restaurant was recommended by my Airbnb host as the spot to mingle and people-watch. I showed up alone at prime time one night and immediately could tell that it was special — warm, lively, with music and laughter rising like the aromas of fried fish and fresh pasta. I eat out quite a bit, and it’s rare to find a place with capital-V Vibes like that. I made my way to the hostess.
“Ciao! Can you do one for dinner?” I asked.
“No. We’re full for the night.” she replied. It was 8pm.
“I don’t mind waiting, if you can squeeze me in later,” I said. “I’m visiting from the U.S. and I really wanted to come here.”
I was crushed. But I showed up again the next night…to find the same woman doing the seating.
“I remember your face,” she said. “OK. You will wait, one hour minimum.”
I thought the “one hour minimum” was just something they said to scare off casual drop-ins. But I waited two hours, nursing an aperol spritz and wondering if I was being set up for some sort of viral tourist prank. Finally, she led me to a table where some benevolent souls had agreed to let me join their party: one Italian and two fellow travelers in from Scotland and Texas.
I was so delirious by the time I got seated that I wound up ordering a massive appetizer platter of seafood and vegetables as my dinner, which, don’t get me wrong, was fresh and on-point. But my memories from Paradiso Perduto are really the joys of trusting a good vibe, saying yes to an out-of-the-box experience, and reveling in feeling like part of the crowd. We shared a lovely meal, and I was so glad I’d stayed. Even if I didn’t go viral.
Al Timon. “We are a steakhouse, but I can make you pasta if you want,” the owner said, leading me to a table. LOL, I thought. By that point, I’d eaten nothing but pasta for days on end and was feeling a bit anemic. Gimme dat meat.
I wound up ordering lamb shanks, which were tasty but also came with the best fries I have EVER. HAD. Seriously, I’ve never cared about French fries before King’s Highway in Palm Springs, and now I can’t get enough. Thick-cut, lightly browned, perfectly seasoned and salted. I know I’m a weirdo for gushing about fries in Italy, but they made an impression, OK? Anyway, this is another scene-y restaurant that’s ideal to visit with a group (or a great place to conjure the nerve to join one).
Al Pasticceria Dal Mas. Mamma mia. My mouth is watering just thinking about these absurdly expensive pastries (they’re priced by the kilo and come to about $10 apiece, but…worth it). I had a chocolate thing and an almond thing (technical terms), and they were both so good that I came back the next day and got them both again, plus a raisin thing. Go and eat all the things.
Osteria Bancogiro. I took myself out for a nice lunch here on Valentine’s Day. The brick-vaulted dining room was almost as posh as my meal, fish cooked in parchment, which came tied up in a bow like the best lil’ Valentine’s gift one can order at a restaurant. I also got tiramisu to impress my cute waiter with my cool-girl down-to-eat tendencies.
When he brought the check, he told me about his favorite spot to watch the sunset. I stupidly ASKED HIM TO WRITE DOWN THE NAME FOR ME instead of asking him to take me there and I have to stop talking about it now because the memory of my own lack of game makes me want to emotionally eat another tiramisu.
Dodo Caffe. I don’t know, do you see anything less than perfect about this?
The Irish Pub. Goes to Italy, eats French fries and visits an Irish pub. Don’t hate!!!!! This was the closest I found to a traditional dive bar. It scratched a rowdy itch.
Shopping + Sightseeing
You can find a million more comprehensive guides to Venice, so I’m not going to tell you to go to the Guggenheim. But here are a couple of things I can add to the conversation.
Carnival. So it turns out the reason Venice is one of the “best places to travel in February” is because of this festival, held annually in the weeks before Lent. There are masked balls, parades, and scads of people roaming the streets in costume. I caught the tail end, and I didn’t go to any events but loved seeing the intricate costumes out in the wild (oh hey, Sailor Moon).
Bisnonni. Another good thing to know about Venice is that business hours are just suggestions. Like…maybe we’ll be open, if we feel like it. The one thing I did research before my trip was where to find the best vintage, and this place came up time and time again. I tried to come twice before I finally found my way in (this is a theme, and yes, I am still a Taurus).
Once I got in the door, I got the royal treatment: the owner, Paolo, watched me try on a few things before pulling a heap of others that were right up my alley. This is also where I got the scoop on the “Disney-fication” of Venice. We commiserated about the made-in-China shops, and I found a dope suede coat and leather box bag that I successfully haggled down by 20%. Venice 2018: I’m willing to wait for it.
La Maison de La Sireneuse. The quirkiest vintage-meets-modern boutique I ever did see. It’s more accessories than clothes, with costume jewelry and novelty handbags made (or at least embellished) in-house. It’s a 10-minute walk from Bisnonni, so a nice little crawl of San Polo is worth doing on the off chance you find them both open. And even if not, this part of town is very photogenic.
Burano Island. This is your “new continent, who dis?” photo op.
Burano is a 45-minute ferry ride from the north side of Venice. It’s known for two things: its colorful buildings, which are plotted and protected by law, and its beautiful lacework. In the shops that line the main drag, you can watch artisans stitching household goods, clothing, jewelry, and pretty much anything you imagine could be made out of lace. Come with room for a bowl of risotto di go, made with fish stock. I enjoyed the version at Riva Rosa.
T Fondaco Dei Tedeschi. The draw of this otherwise ordinary shopping mall is the free rooftop terrace. If you don’t feel like battling your way the top of St. Mark’s, it’s a great place to get a bird’s eye view of the city. It’s also my cute waiter’s sunset hang. RIP, my love life.
And thus concludes this novel of a post. I hope I don’t sound overly down on the trip — I’m of the mind that some experiences are for fun and some are for learning, and this one happened to be more of the latter. But it didn’t scare me off of international travel or even international solo travel, as you’ll see in the next few months.
“Oh! So…what are you going to do there?” was pretty much everyone’s response when I announced my plans for a long weekend in Palm Springs, California.
Irrelevant, I thought. Not be freezing, I thought. Lay by the pool and drink margaritas before noon, I thought. Must one DO THINGS on vacation?
Co-ord: Nasty Gal. Sneakers: Adidas. Choker: Catbird. Earrings: Madewell. Sunglasses: ZeroUV. Scrunchie: Anbala.
Honestly, it was a fair question. Palm Springs isn’t exactly Cancún — well, unless you’re over 70 — but I wasn’t there to party. I was there to get out of town, to replenish my vitamin D stores, and to post up with my laptop somewhere I could wear a bikini and drink the aforementioned margarita. Because self-employed millennial living her best life.
I usually Airbnb, but since I was only staying a few days, I decided to upgrade and book a hotel. Actually, two hotels, because indecisive millennial living her best life.
My first stop was The Saguaro, a technicolor Shangri-La with a strong social media presence.
If I were Carrie Bradshaw, this is where I’d tell you my Shangri-La turned out to be Shangri-blah.
With its colorful walls, mountain views, and fleet of donut and unicorn floats, the place was made for photo ops. Unfortunately, the experience didn’t live up to the Instagram factor. The Saguaro is more budget-friendly than some, but bills itself as a luxury boutique hotel — so things like free breakfast (the hotel has two decent restaurants, but you’ll pay through the nose for your avocado toast), working bathtubs (my drain plug was broken), and water glasses (I ask you?!) would go a long way.
Context is everything. If I had booked a room for a bachelorette party or Coachella crash pad, I probably would have enjoyed the live music and poppin’ pool scene. Since this was a solo trip to work and relax, I was less than thrilled with the noisy, impersonal feel and distance from downtown. If you book here, go in with your eyes open (and your sunglasses on): this is a Best Western painted neon. Except THEY have free breakfast.
I’m glad I stayed there first, because by the time I got to Holiday House and heard the words, “Hi! Can I get you a glass of welcome rosé?” my head just about exploded.
Then I took a look around. They’re still wiping me off the patio.
I mean, I think the photos speak for themselves. The good vibes and attention to detail were unreal, right down to the pinstripe bathrobes and Malin + Goetz toiletries.
Suit: Urban Outfitters. Sneakers: Adidas. Earrings: CC & La Dame. Sunglasses: AlwaysUV. Scrunchie: Anbala.
Yes, Virginia, there WAS free breakfast, complete with homemade banana bread and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. I regret to inform you that my bathroom had only a shower, bringing my grand total of Palm Springs baths to zero. But my margarita count made up the difference.
This will be a short and mostly photo-free list, because the running theme of my meals was “good food in bad lighting.” I ate simply to make the most of dat Cali produce (please see basic avocado toast pic, above), but there were a few standouts.
- Date-walnut shake at Great Shakes. Date shakes are a Palm Springs specialty, so, you know, when in Rome. The gal at the counter recommended adding walnuts to cut the sweetness, which was successful. It was also so rich I had to lie down for several hours. But it’s fine, because resilient millennial living her best life.
- Buffalo cauliflower burger at King’s Highway. This is the restaurant inside the Ace Hotel, a cheffy “roadside diner” that used to be a Denny’s. I loved this (vegan) burger, but perhaps even moreso the shoestring fries, which aren’t usually my thing. My waiter explained that they’re dusted in flour before frying, so that could explain the appeal #glutenforever. Don’t sleep on the Oaxacan Sunrise cocktail, a wonderfully smoky mezcal-honey-ancho chili-lime situation.
- Cauliflower gratin at Workshop Kitchen+Bar. Apparently I was feeling the cauliflower on this trip, but I’m feeling anything that’s swimming in brie and topped with edible flowers. The roasted Brussels sprouts with Chinese sausage were overly salty, but I wish I could have tried more of the small plates and the wood-fired pizza, which smelled like heaven. The industrial-chic space is a beaut, with high ceilings, a cozy back bar, and lots of outdoor seating (with heat lamps).
- As for my hotels, I can co-sign the avocado chicken salad at Holiday House and the nachos at The Saguaro. Also the celery-jalapeño margarita, which 100% of my Instagram pollees agreed was basically green juice and thus a fine accompaniment to breakfast.
Turns out there are a few things to do besides loaf by the pool. (Or golf, but IDFW that).
Vintage shopping. Lots of old, rich people = lots of old-rich-people treasures. The Uptown Design District on Palm Canyon Drive is lined with with antique and vintage stores, most of which housed some real gems amongst all the Lilly Pulitzer. This isn’t a bargain shopping experience — I was forced to abandon a couple of finds (among them, Dior bondage pants and a ’70s yellow Courrèges suit) due to sticker shock. My favorite stop was The Frippery, which was well-lit, well-organized, and featured a wide range of price points.
The Purple Room. Palm Springs has a robust LGBT community, and drag culture is a huge part of the nightlife there. I was lucky enough to catch a show at The Purple Room, a “supper club” with live entertainment that sells out weeks in advance. Every Sunday night, owner Michael Holmes hosts a parody of “The Judy Garland Show” featuring musical numbers and stand-up bits in character as the late, great Judy G and her contemporaries.
It turned out to be such a special, only-in-Palm-Springs experience. I was the youngest patron by at least 40 years, but I sat at the bar and buddied up to a couple of retirees who were VERY interested in the art of taking selfies. A few of the old-timey sing-alongs were lost on me, but the energy was delightful, and the 5pm dinner and 8pm curtain suited my East Coast body clock just fine. I’d recommend this to anyone looking for a unique evening in Palm Springs — just be sure to book well in advance.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Exactly what it sounds like: an 8,516-foot ride up Mount San Jacinto with 360-degree views of the Coachella Valley. Straight up: This is a tourist trap. But if you (like me) love a view but don’t really need to spend to spend half your day hiking to get it, I don’t not recommend it.
The round tram car rotates so that everyone gets a front-row seat, which keeps the stress levels and sense of general human decency at a healthy level. The air is crisp. The view is nice. You know if this sounds interesting to you.
If I’d had another day, I would have taken a day trip to Joshua Tree — particularly the sound bath at the Integratron, which was out of commission during my visit. I also would have liked to visit Pioneertown, though I think it’s probably more fun with a group.
And that’s that. Good times and no sunburns were had by all. Palm Springs, thanks for being a rockin’ first stop on Best Life Tour 2018.