The idea of a long weekend without plans is a foreign concept to me: It feels unsettling in my very core (although an uncluttered agenda might truly do me some good.) Nevertheless, as June came to a close I felt compelled to start looking for things to do in our area, Northern Virginia day trips that would keep my husband and I entertained. You see, we always are doing something: One of us is travelling, friends and family members are visiting, we are occupied with house projects, dinner plans, brunches, grocery trips and whatever else we can fit into a 48 hour period of time.
The 4th weekend crept upon us quietly though: We’ve been so busy with other obligations that even I didn’t have much time to plan anything elaborate for the holiday. I therefore started to research on Monday, scoured through Pinterest. Google. TripAdvisor. Northern Virginia and Washingtonian magazines. Where could my husband and I venture to, that would be fun but could shield us from the heat, holiday traffic, and ensure that we’d make it home in time to feed the dogs at night?
By Saturday morning I still had no agenda and a melancholy cloud fell over me. No matter the direction of my gaze, my iPhone’s Google Maps app revealed a sea of red up and down I95. The number of possible destination spots dwindled as maroon lines elongated and the heat rose outside: As each hour passed, I lost my motivation.
At 2PM, I couldn’t take it any longer. “Wanna go for coffee?” I asked my husband, who was sitting across from me, scrolling on his phone. He looked up with one raised eyebrow, knew immediately that me asking for a hot brew on a 90 degree day implied more. But like the good sport he is, he got dressed alongside me, shuffled into the passenger side of the car, and let me plug a new address into my GPS.
When I travel for work and am in an unknown area, I seek out coffee shops because they are safe, drive me outside of my hotel room, and allow me to get a glimpse of my surroundings while en route. My coffee appreciation began while I was in college, living in Providence, RI. Prior to that, in a small town in Connecticut, I only knew of Dunkin Donuts, ordering french vanilla iced coffees, extra light, extra sweet, just to basically sift through the sugar layer from the bottom of my cup with my bright orange straw. Acquiring my coffee was transactional: I drove up to a sign, ordered my coffee, picked it up, paid, and drove away with my sugar milk in hand.
When I stepped inside the Wickenden Exchange, however, by Brown University, my world was changed forever when I watched this utopia live and breathe before me. Coffee, in this place, was an accessory. A perfect, exotic, flavorful sidekick to each soul in the space who was debating, playing a board game, reading, gossiping, studying, sifting through the daily paper. Every one of my senses stirred as music played, lattes brewed, and I sat among it all, leafing through my latest book with one hand, free fingers curled around a piping hot mug.
I’ve been seeking out similar cozy havens ever since, and luckily, I married a man that liked coffee as well. (I think he humors me with the rest of the hype.)
I digress: I found a shop in Fairfax Virginia on Google Maps, and noticed that I could take back roads to get there in under 35 minutes. Despite a little summer squall slowing us down, we arrived in what seemed like no time at all.
De Clieu Coffee & Sandwich Shop was just what I hoped it would be: laid back in design but buzzing with thinkers, dreamers, and midday-drinkers. I loved that it was more than a coffee shop, sold food, gelato, sweets and more. Combine that with a perfectly cluttered community board, a retro DJ station with records and iPods, and two dozen seating spaces, it was clear to see why the place was brimming with people at 3PM on a Saturday. Mike and I ordered our coffees and found a back-corner window seat: I pulled out Skippo, my favorite card game. Time moved slowly as we battled for victory and watched the sky change from dismal gray to bright, blue hues.
After I won,(!) we finished our coffees and started down the block to another place that I read about. Mobius Records had 29 reviews on Yelp and all rated the store 5 stars: I therefore had to see it for myself. My husband bought me a Crosley Record Player for Christmas and I have been slow to expand my collection, was more interested in the hunt of finding a good deal than rushing toward an all-star assortment.
I shrieked in excitement when I walked into the corner shop, however: It was so cool. Wall-to-wall vinyls occupied the space in neat, named lines, but what I loved most was the artist selection. In my house, I love nothing more than Frank Sinatra or smooth jazz spinning while I cook, clean, or read. I tend to save my eclectic rock favorites for my iTunes Library; There’s something about hearing an old-world sound stream from a throwback piece of equipment.
I ended up buying Louis Armstrong’s, “Hello Dolly” for $4.00, a Frank Sinatra lesser known album for $5.00, a Stevie Wonder set for $3.00, and splurged on a more current, but rare find of Explosions in the Sky. I could’ve bought more, but restricted myself: They were all there. Nina Simone, Miles Davis, and Amy Winehouse were added to my wishlist and I know that I will return soon to see what new treasures I can find.
Alas, it was time for dinner and my husband and I made an OpenTable reservation for a spot just a mile away. Dolce Vita has been on our favorites list for a while, boasting of great reviews: Inexpensive, authentic, and filling. Forever on the hunt for quality Italian spots in NoVa, this restaurant was immediately added to the top of our “love list.” Everything was delicious!
We drove home fully satisfied with our day, having done a little of everything but really nothing at all. I stared out the window as we made our way down back roads, realizing that sometimes, grandiose plans don’t need to be made. Sometimes it just about being in great company amid a buzzing backdrop, alive in the world yet more or less anonymous to those to the left and right.