New Haven: College Visit

The Yale campus in its fall glory, photo by Michael Marsland/Yale University

Dorm life for me was never like this. At The Study at Yale Hotel, a boutique property near the Ivy League’s school New Haven campus,  the niceties abound: My room had soft leather armchairs, Frette linens and a sleek marble-floored bathroom.

From this comfy perch, I set out to have my (vicarious) thrill. I wanted to experience the Ivy League without the grueling academic workload or bank-draining tuition.

Yale University, with several well-regarded museums, a major repertory theater company and leafy campus lined with stately brick and stone buildings, is especially well-suited to such a college town getaway. Even better, much of the good life at Yale is free, even for those not affiliated with the school.

As for its location, New Haven over the past few decades has done much to improve its reputation as one of Connecticut’s rougher cities. Although the fringes remain a bit scruffy, the well-scrubbed downtown boasts many ethnic and finer dining restaurants, wine bars, and one-of-a-kind bookstores and boutiques.

This is also a town justifiably famous for its authentic, Neapolitan-style thin-crust pizza, of which most have a strong (garlic-infused) opinion. For many, there’s no place but Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, better known as Pepe’s, which started in 1925. However, I took the advice of a local and tried Modern Apizza Place, a less touristed purveyor and was pleased with the pie; it had the right combo of crackly crust, gooey cheese and not-too-sweet tomato sauce.

A cozy nook at The Study at Yale Hotel, photo by Robert DiGiacomo

During a three-day visit last fall, I easily whiled away my time. There were the the university’s two great freebie museums: the Yale Center for British Art, which is considered to have the most complete collection of works by that country’s artists of any non-British institution, and the Yale University Art Gallery, whose comprehensive holdings span ancient to modern times. For me, the star there is Van Gogh’s Night Cafe, but the other works by the likes of Manet, Picasso, Thomas Eakins, etc., are pretty good, too.

The indie bookstore scene includes the Book Trader, a haven for used titles, and Atticus Bookstore/Cafe, which is also a good spot for breakfast, lunch or a snack.

Wanting to further immerse myself in all things Yale, I also took a campus tour led by an extremely good-humored junior political science major from Iowa. Although a relentlessly positive spokesperson for her institution, she did let us in somewhat behind the curtain.

The statue of Revolutionary War figure (and Yale alumnus) Nathan Hale, famous for the line, “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country?” The likeness isn’t really accurate –– there are no portraits in existence of Hale; instead, the face is based on a random student from the early 20th century, when the statue was sculpted by Bela Lyon Pratt .

And those gorgeous, Gothic-style, ivy covered stone buildings that look like they’ve been around for hundreds of years? Most were constructed during a 1920s campus building boom. The oldest building on campus, the circa 1750 Connecticut Hall, is a Georgian-style red brick structure.

Gothic-style architectural statement, photo by Michael Marsland/Yale University

One part of Yale’s mystique remained unsettled after the tour, however. Our guide professed to know nothing about its infamous secret societies.

Still, I got a sense of the authenticity of the Yale education and the possibilities that result from having someone like the Oscar-winning actor Denzel Washington have tea at your residential college, or interning in Africa, as our guide had done the previous summer.

But as I left campus without a care in the world other than to decide between a nap, a bookstore browse or a stopover at a wine bar,  I quickly made my peace with my virtual connection to Yale.

Read more: Secrets of the Tomb: Skull and Bones, the Ivy League, and the Hidden Paths of Power