Sunday, June 21, 2015

A Capitol Idea! (cont.)

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Our last full day in DC was set aside for Arlington National Cemetery, a beautiful but solemn place. We took our time waking up, breakfasting, and getting on the metro. A short walk from the closest metro stop, and we were at the welcome center. There, you can learn more about the cemetery and pick up some handy maps to help you navigate through it. (Arlington is large, and the number of graves there is still growing. There are still 25-30 funerals there per day.)

For utility's sake, we each bought a ticket for the hop on, hop off bus that takes you throughout the cemetery. We got off at the first stop - the Eternal Flame. I'm not sure what to say about this. President John F. Kennedy, Jackie Kennedy, and two of their children are buried here, and the graves of Ted and Bobby Kennedy are nearby. It's odd to me that such a present tragedy is such a tourist attraction, but I guess all of Arlington is like that. I felt the same way when we visited Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It's almost as if I'm not ready to be a vacationer in these places yet.

the Marine Corps War Memorial
From there, we decided to walk up to Arlington House, which was Robert E. Lee's home. We toured the gardens and the little museum about the Lee family. We also visited the nearby Tomb of the Unknown Confederate Dead. From there, we decided to walk over to the Memorial Amphitheater (a gorgeous space) and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We stayed at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for a while. There is something so poignant about it. That even though we don't know who those boys are (It contains soldiers from WWI, WWII, and Korea.), they are not forgotten. They are watched over. Their sacrifice mattered. We watched the changing of the guard before boarding the bus again.

Oddly, though, the bus didn't take us to the Marine Corps War Memorial, which I definitely wanted to see. I asked our bus tour guide about it, and he mentioned that they'd routed around it for the morning due to ongoing funeral services. Not willing to miss it, hubs and I hopped off the bus again at the welcome center and hoofed it.

The memorial was much larger than I thought it would be. And because the buses weren't running, we had it largely to ourselves. We walked around it, learned all about the men it honored, and thought a good long while about what sacrifice really means.

By this time, my stomach was rumbling. Because the Marine Corps War Memorial is on the edge of Arlington, we were actually quite close to some restaurants. We decided to have a seafood lunch at Quarterdeck. It's a local bar/restaurant, nothing fancy to look at. What's notable is what shows up on the plates! I had a freaking AMAZING crab cake sandwich. No filler. It was a thing of beauty! Throw in some fries and wash it down with a Coke, and I was one happy diner!

After lunch, we walked back towards the Marine Corps Memorial. The buses were running again, so we hopped one back to the welcome center and caught the metro to our little apartment. As we were leaving the next morning, we spent the afternoon packing and getting our things in order.

We stopped for a delicious dinner at Boundary Road, this cool bar/restaurant we'd been walking past all week. OMG! So good! I couldn't believe we'd waited until so late in our trip to eat there! We started with specialty cocktails (I tried the I'm Thinking About Getting a Vespa, and hubs chose the Bootsy Collins.) and a plate of feather-light periogis. (I was diplomatic and shared these with hubs, though after my first bite, I thought about grabbing the dish and making a run for it.) The menu at Boundary Road is locally sourced and changes often, so I may break your heart with details about dishes that may not be available when you visit. That said, I chose a rich, fruit-studded duck breast, and hubs had a gorgeous plate of sausages and potatoes. It's safe to say that you'll enjoy eating here. The food is tasty and inventive, and the service is friendly.

The next morning was our last morning in DC! We had worked with our Congress person's office to arrange for a tour of The White House, so after breakfast, we set our sights on one of the most famous addresses in the world - 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

We arrived early, and after several security checks (They even have a dog sniff you.), we were in! We actually got to see quite a bit more of The White House than I thought we would. Rooms at the beginning (library, china room, vermeil room) were roped off at the door, so you could peep in but not stand in the room itself. Rooms later in the tour (blue room, east room, green room, state dining room, etc.), you got to walk through, albeit watched closely by Secret Service members and guides.

The Bradshaws at The White House!
You learn all kinds of things about the history of The White House and how the first family uses it during this tour. I found it very interesting to stride through rooms that have been witness to so much of our nation's history, and I liked that The White House makes a good impression of our country for visitors. I was so glad we chose to arrange this visit!

FYI - You can't take any photos inside The White House (sob!), but you can take some out front (with the house in the background) after your tour is over.

After our tour of the White House, we grabbed a quick lunch at a nearby Le Pain Quotidian, then it was apartment-airport-home!

I must say, I'd been to DC on an advocacy trip once before. We visited different Congressional offices to sit down with reps/senators and their staffs about issues. And I left that trip feeling demoralized. (We basically flung talking points at one another, then everyone went home. It was frustrating.)

But when you go to DC as an American tourist, you leave feeling proud of your country, how it was founded, and what it means. It's a completely different experience. I heartily recommend the latter, even if you can't avoid the former! I loved, loved, loved our week in the city, and I'm so thankful hubs and I were able to experience it together!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Capitol Idea! (cont.)

This is Martha Washington's tea set! And in the
background, you can see one of the few surviving
camp chairs commissioned for George Washington
during the Revolutionary War.
On day 5, we headed for Georgetown after breakfast. We had reservations to tour the house and gardens at Tudor Place, the home of Martha Washington's granddaughter. I learned all kinds of cool things about George and Martha Washington and their descendants during this visit!

The house, which is stately without being ostentatious, sits on about six acres. There are beautiful landscaped gardens all around it, featuring a small tea house, some lovely fountains and the family's garage (complete with a 1919 Pierce Arrow Roadster on display). The tour of the gardens is self-guided (using a map provided by the attraction). After we'd lounged around a bit, taking in the air, we proceeded to the house for our tour of the interior.

Our very knowledgeable guide started in the conservatory, and from there, we poked through American history in the kitchen, sitting rooms and bedrooms. We learned that the Peters family was related to the Lee family, and from a high window in the house, one could see a high window at Arlington House (across the river, on land that is now Arlington National Cemetery). The children of both families would hang colored banners out of the top windows to communicate with one another.

The herbaceous border at Dumbarton
Oaks makes a good hiding spot!
You can also see lots of Washington-related artifacts in the home, including Martha Washington's tea set and one of only a few surviving camp chairs created for George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Really interesting stuff!

After our visit to Tudor Place, we headed to Cafe Bonaparte for lunch. I could have eaten at this snug little creperie nearly every day (and would have, if it had been closer to our apartment). I chose a cheesy mushroom crepe and a lovely, fresh salad. The food is soooooo good here! Tables are quite close together, and the eat-in space is tight, but it's totally worth it for the delicious food and reasonable price point. I couldn't leave without trying the nutella strawberry crepe, which was just as good as it sounds.

After lunch, we set our sights on Dumbarton Oaks, which we'd heard is one of the most gorgeous gardens in the DC area. We weren't disappointed! At more than 50 acres, the grounds are sprawling, and they are planned and planted so thoughtfully that it's complete joy to walk through them. Think gorgeous rose terraces aflame with blooms; hidden fountains and plinths; benches and pools placed so as to encourage quite reflection; and vistas that surprise you.

There are all kinds of pockets to explore. I loved the pebble garden from the terrace above almost as much as I loved walking through it. A grand ellipse features a ring of trees around a truly gorgeous fountain, and the herbaceous borders provide a good spot for hiding! Even the kitchen garden was beautiful and well-tended.

Dinner at Ethiopic! Yum!
Touring the house/museum at Dumbarton Oaks is completely free, but I never even got in there. I was too busy strolling along flower-soaked paths, sidling up to statues for a closer look and just enjoying. Oh, how places like that make me wish I were rich! Give me flowers!

After hours playing in the garden, we caught the metro back to our little apartment. We decided to stay close to home for dinner. A local place, Ethiopic, looked adventurous. Plus, online reviewers raved about it. In we went.

What fun! We ordered the lamb and the small vegetarian sampler. The lamb came in a little crucible, piping hot and tender. The vegetarian sampler featured four delicious treats, plus lots of spongy, pliable bread. I loved this place! We were careful not to order anything too spicy. The food was delicious, and the servers were very knowledgeable about the menu. I sipped a glass of spicy red Ethiopian wine and happily ate with my hands!

The next morning, I grabbed a quick breakfast and headed straight for the Library of Congress. I was hoping that I might be allowed in the Reading Room, but they don't allow casual visitors in there. I contented myself with soaking up the history in front of the Gutenberg Bible, marveling at the fancy main hall, and snooping through the free exhibits on display. (One of the tour guides, touring an adult group of visitors in front of the Gutenberg Bible, asked them what Gutenberg was famous for. Crickets. I weep for humanity.)

The Library of Congress. Man, everything they
have is better  . . . 
Then, it was off to the Hirshorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. We communed with Rodin in the sculpture garden, later poking our heads inside to see the contemporary work on display. Interesting things to see everywhere you look here. I loved the Belief + Doubt piece in the basement. Amazing. Couldn't leave until I'd read every word. And Dan Flavin's neon-based installations. So cool to look at and bounce shadows from. I had to walk in under The Dangerous Logic of Wooing, which anyone (even someone with NO art history classes) can tell is just plain dirty!! Hubs and I hooted and hollered and probably embarrassed the poor docent who was there to make sure we didn't damage the art!

On one of the days of our trip (and I, sadly, can't remember which one), we also spent some time at the National Air and Space Museum. I almost held my breath when I saw Orville and Wilbur Wright's first operational plane. I mean, I traveled to DC on a direct flight. It's hard to wrap your head around that contraption of wood and canvas as the first father of the pressurized aluminum tube you rode in on, kwim?

I also loved seeing Amelia Earhart's little red Lockheed Vega, Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, and some of the exhibits on commercial flight through the years. Hubs was completely enchanted with the space flight part of the museum. (I could NOT get over some of the exhibits on life in space. In the section on Russian astronauts, there was a dusty little can of "beef tongue with jelly" on display. All I could think of was those astronauts loading that onto the shuttle, carefully avoiding eating it during their entire time in space, and bringing that can back, unapologetically, unopened.)

This place is massive, and we didn't spend nearly enough time here. We'll be back next time!
There are all kinds of cool contemporary installations
at the Hirshorn.

We grabbed a quick lunch at a sushi spot, then headed for the U.S. Capitol. We had tour reservations! FYI - Right now, they're doing some restoration work on the Capitol dome. There's scaffolding all around the outside of it, and a big white donut on the inside, blocking your interior view of the dome as well. As a result, this tour ended up being something of a disappointment. The whole place was packed, and our tour guide pretty much rushed us through the whole experience. (I did learn some cool things, though. There's a crypt underneath the center of the Capitol. It was originally intended to be the final resting place of George Washington. However, he died before the building was finished, and his family buried him at Mount Vernon. They declined to move his body once the Capitol was complete, so the single crypt underneath is empty.)

Look who I found at the U.S.
Capitol! It's Rosa Parks!
While we did see some neat things, if I were to tour the Capitol again, I'd arrange it through my Congress person's office. I bet you'd get a less harried experience that way.

After our tour of the Capitol, we hopped a cab to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I'd really wanted to see at least one performance here. However, the headliners the week we were in town were an opera and a ballet, and I didn't think hubs would be too excited about that. As a result, I'd booked us tickets to Shear Madness, which they billed as a comedy. It ended up being an interactive murder mystery show, with very broad humor. While not unenjoyable, we were clearly not the target audience. (There were LOTS of teen aged school groups there.) Though I wouldn't go see this show again, I did love poking around the Kennedy Center. Views are gorgeous, and we had a nice pre-show snack in one of the on-site cafes.

The Kennedy Center is beautiful,
inside and out.
Afterwards, we decamped to District Commons for dinner and enjoyed one of the tastiest meals of our trip! We decided to get a variety of small plates, starting with the hot pretzel baguette, served with spicy mustard for dipping. We also got the roasted mushroom flatbread, the shrimp cocktail, and the pig board (an amazing meat and cheese board). We finished with the Boston cream pie (drizzled with a delicious salted caramel sauce). Heavenly. Prices here weren't cheap, but the food was so good that I didn't care!

Bellies full and happy, we took a cab ride back to the apartment.

More to come . . .

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Capitol Idea! (cont.)

Dorothy's ruby slippers!
After an indulgent brunch the next morning at Batter Bowl, we headed off to see America's founding documents. We had timed entry tickets for the National Archives, which house original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. (In the exhibit space, they also have an original of the Magna Carta. Fascinating.)

We breezed in, and after a short wait, we were in the room with the documents. They are so old, and the ink on them is so faded, that they are hardly readable. They are kept in sealed cases to protect them from the elements, and no photos are allowed.

But for such fragile scraps of paper, they are powerful. The ideas they convey are still strong, more than 200 years later. It's fascinating to stand before them.

After spending some time breathing in the history, we went to the exhibit space. There are some really nice interactive exhibits that allow visitors to page through the history of major cases related to the founding documents. (Think a big tabletop that's one big iPad. You select certain amendments or clauses, then learn more about the court cases that have helped define them and set precedent. High-tech.)

Thomas Jefferson's writing desk. It's said he
wrote the Declaration of Independence on it.
Afterwards, we stopped for a quick lunch at Paul Bakery, where we chose some quiche, salad, and sandwiches, with a tasty dessert to finish. This place was quick, casual, budget-friendly, and delicious. Also very conveniently located.

Then, we moseyed on over to the National Museum of American History. Tops on my list were the Star Spangled Banner, Ben Franklin's cane, and Dorothy's ruby slippers. (I have to admit, I sung our national anthem as I stood in the dim lighting in front of the Star Spangled Banner. There is something so moving about it.) I loved this museum! Julia Child's kitchen, Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves, a piece of Plymouth Rock! We also went through the whole "America on the Move" exhibit, which was really cool!

One item that I searched for, but didn't find, was Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe hat. After looking for it a while (in vain), I asked a museum staffer where it could be found. He told me that it was temporarily on display somewhere else. A sad moment.

All of that history made us hungry for dinner! We had reservations at Oyamel, and we were in for a treat! We sampled all kinds of goodies: warm chips with homemade salsa, a beet and avocado salad with citrus, some delicious shrimp with lime and garlic, tasty pork tacos, some carnitas and chicharrones. We washed it all down with their salt foam margarita, which I really enjoyed. (Salt in every sip!)

After dinner, we caught the metro home and turned in early.

Bartholdi Park
We started our day on Tuesday at Bartholdi Park. We wanted to check out this small park, featuring a gorgeous fountain designed by the same artist who sculpted the Statue of Liberty. The garden was in gorgeous bloom, so we took our time, admiring different parts of the park and enjoying the views from a variety of vantage points.

Afterwards, it was a quick hop across the street to the U.S. Botanic Garden. We were lucky in that it was a beautiful day! Before going inside, we explored the National Garden, a mix of quiet pathways through pools of water and a beautiful rose garden. Then, we entered through the conservatory. This garden reminded me very much of the San Antonio Botanical Garden, which we visited during a family vacation last spring. The garden court room is long, with rectangular pools, murals, and beautiful plants. Behind that, you'll find the jungle, which features tall palms, epiphytes, and a catwalk that's fun to amble across for a high-level view of the space.

The National Garden at the U.S. Botanic
Garden - every rose was blooming!
The garden also features several conservatory rooms: orchids (gorgeous), desert plants, plants from Hawaii, etc. There's also a fun little outdoor children's garden, which several small people were immensely enjoying on the day of our visit!

After a quick stop for lunch (a crisp shrimp Caesar salad and sorbet trio at 701 Pennsylvania Avenue - a little place we stumbled upon), we headed towards Ford's Theatre. I had booked us advance timed reservations for this visit (essential, as it's very popular), which was one of the must-sees for our trip. This year marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's assassination, and I'd heard the theatre had a special exhibit to mark the occasion.

First, you stand in line to be admitted. Then, you're released into a basement (?) exhibit about Lincoln and his presidency. There were some really interesting displays in here, particularly the ones about Lincoln and his family. (And some hilarious anecdotes about his time in office. Long lines of petitioners routinely queued up at the White House to ask Lincoln for government job appointments. When Lincoln came down with a mild case of smallpox, he was recorded as saying, "At least now I'll have something to give everyone." Heh.)

Exhibits at Ford's Theatre
After enjoying the exhibits, visitors are ushered into the theatre itself. It's still a working theatre, so you may even see a set on the stage. A museum volunteer then talks you through the events leading up to (and immediately following) Lincoln's death. His box at the theatre is still decorated with patriotic bunting, and I'm told that no ticket buyer is ever seated there.

Afterwards, we crossed the street to the Peterson House, which is where Lincoln was taken for medical care after he was shot, and where he died. And here, the museum had a very special, very touching exhibit in honor of the anniversary of Lincoln's death. They had on display the coat he wore the night of the shooting, the American flag that had decorated his box (which they wrapped his wound in), the dark velvet cloak that Mary Todd Lincoln wore to the theatre that night, and the gun that John Wilkes Booth used to kill him.

And there, right at eye level, was the stovepipe hat. It was a jewel of a discovery for me.

Sign in front of the Peterson House
Our visit to Ford's Theatre ended up being the complete highlight of our entire trip. I found this attraction so incredibly moving, so sad, so human. It will stay with me a long, long time.

We popped back to the apartment to freshen up for a night out. We had dinner reservations and theatre tickets, and we didn't want to be late! Off we went to Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar for a delicious dinner. I chose the creamy carbonara with a glass of Oregon pinot gris. Heaven! I hadn't had pasta the whole trip (unusual for me), and this meal really hit the spot.

Then, it was a short walk to the theater at the Folger Shakespeare Library for the opening night performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

The cast and crew at the Folger Theatre
were amazing in this production!
Now, I'd worried about buying these tickets. I wasn't sure how much hubs would like the show. He's usually pretty good about going to musicals with me, and he doesn't mind the occasional play. But I was concerned that something absurdist would be a bit much.

How happily wrong I was! First of all, the cast and crew did an AMAZING job with the show. The whole cast was awesome, but Ian Merrill Peakes as The Player completely ran away with the script. We laughed and laughed and laughed! Hubs totally loved it! It was a great evening!

A quick cab ride home, and we tumbled into bed.

More to come . . .

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Capitol Idea!

Hubs settling in at Old Ebbitt Grill
This spring, hubs and I celebrated a landmark anniversary. To mark the occasion, we headed off on a week-long trip to Washington D.C., without little man.

Those of you who have kids will understand what a huge deal it is to go on a vacation without them. You feel, by turns, unbelievably free, inconsolably heartsick, and a wee bit guilty for having so much fun without them.

Hubs and I caught an early, direct flight straight to Reagan International, then took a cab to our sweet English basement apartment, which we rented via Airbnb. The place was two blocks from Union Station, offering easy access to the city. It also boasted a foyer, living room, full kitchen/bar (with a washer/dryer), bedroom, and a decadent bath (big whirlpool tub, giant walk-in shower, etc.). Within a block, there were several great restaurants and a grocery store. We chose wisely!

After dropping off our bags, we headed straight for Old Ebbitt Grill for lunch. We had reservations, and I was glad we did, because two huge groups entered the restaurant right before us. We were seated quickly, and we tucked in to a steak sandwich with fries (him) and a cup of clam chowder (me). The restaurant has a long and storied history, and it's located very close to the White House, so it's popular among tourists. We sated our hunger, then hit the National Mall.

The National Mall
I'd walked the mall before, but hubs hadn't. We took the long loop, starting at the Washington National Monument, walking all the way down to the Lincoln Monument, then circling back around to the Jefferson Memorial. (I love to read the speeches in both the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial to myself when I visit there. There's something so resonant about it for me.) The weather was GORGEOUS, and we took frequent breaks to rest our legs on benches, people-watch, and admire the scenery. The fountains at the WWII Monument were playing, and the scaffolding has all been removed from the Washington National Monument. Plus, I got to see the FDR Memorial, which I'd missed on my previous trip to DC. (I found this memorial particularly moving.) We took our time and snapped some amazing photos during our tour of the mall.

I'd never seen the FDR Memorial before!
We finished up our day at Bistro Bis for dinner. This place was a find! Hubs had the steak frites (no surprise there), and I chose the trout l'ardenaise (fish sauteed in a delicious concoction of caper, lemon, and brown butter, with green beans and potatoes). The food was delicious here. We were famished after being on our feet all day, and we ate. It. UP! Service was impeccable. I washed my food down with a gorgeous glass of Oregon pinot gris, and we shuffled home and to bed!

The next morning, we'd originally planned to rise early and head to Eastern Market for browsing and breakfast. But we slept in! We poked around our neighborhood mid-morning and found what was to become our daily breakfast haunt - Batter Bowl Bakery. They had beautiful pastries, big fruit bowls, and quiche. I think we ended up breakfasting here every day of our trip, just because it was so delicious and convenient. (What can I say? Morning is a tender time. I want things to be easy until 9 a.m. or so, especially on vacation!)

We gobbled the golden puffed pancake, a breakfast sandwich, and big cups of strong coffee, settling into our cafe chairs to plan the day. We decided to start with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

We loved Batter Bowl Bakery!
The great thing about so many of the museums on the National Mall is that admission is FREE. So you can pop in and pop out of them as often as you like. We marveled at the impressive rotunda (which features an 8-ton, 14-foot-tall African elephant), then headed upstairs, straight to the gems. I spent a good amount of time staring into the depths of the Hope Diamond. (I think it was winking at me!) It was early in the day, and there weren't too many people in that part of the museum, so we were able to get very close and be leisurely about it.

Afterwards, we ambled over to the rest of the gem and minerals gallery - brilliant sapphires, diamonds, rubies and more. They were so shiny and pretty! I kept noticing these small, very round smudges on the glass in front of the gems. It took me a while to realize what they were - nose prints! People were so hypnotized by the glittering stones that they kept leaning in closer for a better look, until their noses actually touched the glass!
The Hope Diamond definitely winked at me.

Then we took a quick spin through the insect zoo (sponsored by Orkin - hilarious!), stopping to get up close with a few live tarantulas. We saw some of the dinosaur/fossil collection, but as that part of the museum is currently being remodeled, I don't think we got the full effect.

We got a bit hungry, so we stopped in the museum cafe in the basement for a quick sandwich before moving on to the Ocean Hall (with its blue whale suspended from the ceiling and its GIANT squid laid out in a long glass case) and the mammals (Hippos! Zebras! Lions! Polar bears!) and human origins galleries.

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner! We had reservations at the nearby Zaytinya - a Greek restaurant - so off we went. We loved this place! We tried tons of small plates -  crispy Brussels sprouts, a fish special, tender little keftedes, plus tons of pita bread. I had a glass of Lebanese wine, and we finished with dessert - the Turkish coffee chocolate cake, which was gloriously gooey inside.

We rode the metro back to the apartment. Though we did LOTS of walking while we were in the city (in part because the weather was so lovely while we were there, and in part because we wanted to see everything), we found the metro to be very easy to use. You can buy a Smart Trip card at kiosks in the metro stations, loading them with funds. Then, you just use them until the money runs out. You can re-load the cards with funds as necessary at the kiosks. Easy. If WE can figure it out, anybody can!

More to come . . .