Washington D.C. is another of our favorite cities. We, in fact, lived here for about three months, visit about once a year and plan to live in the city again, for at least another three months.
Given this, we know the city quite well, have done most of the things we want to do (or at least are permitted to do in a city in which a number of the most interesting sights have very tightly restricted access. Given this, we spend much of our time visiting the few facilities we have not yet been to, revisiting old favorites, exploring new restaurants, and just walking through some of our favorite neighborhoods. We did the same this trip.
A Scenic Detour into D.C.
We were entering D.C. from the west on Friday morning. Rather than get caught up in rush hour traffic, we made a short detour, stopping at Great Falls Park in McLean, Virginia. The park contains an incredibly scenic waterfall as the Potomac narrows and plunges into Mather Gorge. After brief stops at the three viewing platform, a short walk along the river trail and a stop at the visitor center, we resumed our trip into D.C., missing all the traffic.
As a bonus, the drive into the park, along Towlson and Old Dominion roads took us past some of the largest, most amazing mansions we have seen.
Two new D.C Experiences
Our first afternoon in D.C. was devoted to two of the few things we have not done before:
- Viewing the newly completed Martin Luther King Memorial. And
- Taking a tour of the Pentagon.
The MLK Memorial not one of our favorites. Although D.C. has some incredible monuments (think Lincoln, Jefferson and the Vietnam and Korean memorials), MLK is not, in our mind one of them. Although the quotes inscribed along the wall are inspirational, and the overarching theme, “mountain of despair into stones of hope, appropriate and interestingly portrayed, we were less than intrigued by the sculpture of King, who, to us, looks, stern, condescending and looking down on people., Not, the way we remember Dr. King, or the way we would like to think he would he would have liked to have been remembered.
The Pentagon Tour was interesting, but uninspired and uninspiring. Our first perception began in the orientation room, where neither the water fountains, nor any of the interactive displays were working and where the brief booths dedicated to each of the armed forces were minimalistic, uninformative and uninspiring.
The soldier giving the tour was very good. He provided some interesting background into the background of the building: Constructed in just 16 months at the beginning of WWII, intended as only a temporary structure that was later maintained and expanded, 23,000-30,000 military and civilian employees during a typical workday, the 100,000 miles of telephone cable strung through the complex and so forth. We also saw a number of interesting artifacts, such as General MacArthur’s hat, revolver and corn cob pipe and a copy of the WWII instrument of surrender, and learned some fun details about many of the historic paintings. We also made a solemn stop at the Pentagon 9/11 memorial and chapel and learned about the security measures (reinforced walls, Kevlar-lined windows and so forth that have been implemented t better protect the structure and its inhabitants.
Overall, moderately interesting, but hardly a must-do stop in a city with so many fascinating things to do.
Revisiting Old Favorites
Our favorite of all things to do in the nation’s capital is to walk. The mall and the tidal basin (even out of cherry blossom season) is beautiful, with its grand views and majestic buildings and monuments. The downtown area is clean, well-laid-out and easily navigable. We particularly enjoy walks through Georgetown, Kalorama, along Embassy Row and through the Capitol Hill area. Although we did not have time for all this trip, we did take a pleasant after-dinner stroll through Georgetown, with its architecture, nightlife, packed restaurant s and bars and amazing half-block line waiting to pick up desserts at “Cupcake Diaries.”
We took another walkthrough the Capitol Hill neighborhood, although I did find myself subconsciously (at first, consciously later) averting my glance away from the
Capitol dome which I used to consider beautiful, but now see as a pitiful symbol of dysfunction.
Our next favorite thing to do in D.C. is to visit the incredible museums—virtually all of which are free. With time so limited, we had to limit this year’s stops to some of our absolute favorite art museums. (This means we skipped other favorite non-art museums, including the museum of American history, the Newseum and the profoundly humbling Holocaust Museum). We focused our attentions on the:
- National Gallery, especially the East Building with its Impressionist and modernist exhibits and two special exhibitions: Warhol: Headlines (his parody of popular newspaper headlines) and Antico: The Golden Age of Renaissance Bronzes (with his gilding and silvering techniques) and the West Building’s From Impressionism to Modernism exhibition which contained many of the premier pieces from the Impressionist Gallery which is now closed for renovations:
- Freer Gallery, with its Whistlers, Peacock Room (Whistler-painted and filled with Oriental Porcelains) and its large selection of Oriental art;
- Sackler Gallery, also focused on Oriental Art, with a sampling of Indian, Iranian and Himalayan art;
- Hirshhorn, which, in addition to its other paintings and sculptures, had a special exhibition of Andy Warhol’s Shadow paintings, 102 canvases in a row, mostly with the same images, in different colors; a brief walk through the
- African Art Museum, which, based on this short overview, we will spend more time during our next visit; and
- Leisurely strolls through the National Gallery and Hirshhorn sculpture Galleries.
D.C. Restaurants and Hotels
Any discussion of this trip must begin with our stay and the absolutely beautiful Kimpton Monaco Hotel. Originally build as the nation’s central Post Office in 1865; it is a grand, Greek-revival marble structure with huge columns, 15-foot ceilings, an ornate grand ballroom, marble floors, and historic skylights. The rooms are large, very comfortable and well appointed. And we can’t forget the amenities, such a the morning coffee and tea service and afternoon wine and beers hour (Argentinean Malbec and Torrentes, artisan Old Dominion beers and ales and a large, high-end mixed nut platters at each table. The service matched the décor, with continual queries to make sure that everything met our satisfaction and prompt, courteous responses to each request.
As for restaurants, we did two new lunch stops (Rasika and Café du Parc) and had two repeat dinner visits (to CityZen and Vidalia):
- Rasika, a Indian restaurant, was packed for lunch. Even so, service was extremely prompt and efficient and the food delicious. We absolutely loved our wonderful shared appetizer (the shrimp in mango sauce) and entrée (halibut in a yellow curry sauce), although we were a bit disappointed, particularly with the sauce, for the fig dumpling side dish. All, went well with naan and glasses of Gruner Veltliner and White Rhone.
- Café du Parc. Another hit. Although we were a bit skeptical when we saw a $22 Angus hamburger, we were very pleased with the trout with a light cream sauce and a mussels frite steamed in a white wine garlic broth.
- Vidalia. Although we had visited the restaurant before, our first visit was for lunch. This was for dinner. Both were very good experiences. The buttermilk-fried frog legs were tasty, although the sauce (with peppers) slightly overwhelmed the delicate frog legs. I had the rabbit (loin wrapped in bacon and legs stuffed with sausage) and Joyce the wonderful shrimp and grits (although I never thought we would ever “complain” that there were too many shrimp for the modest amount of grits). The service was very attentive and the Daedelus Willamette Valley Pinot Noir complemented all three dishes.
- CityZen. When I said this was a repeat, it was only half-true. The first time we dined at this Asian fusion restaurant was for their six-course dining room menu This visit, we sat at the bar and had a choice of menus. We chose the three-course bar menu, with each of us having different dishes: three of which we really enjoyed, three of which were, so-so, We particularly enjoyed the Roasted king trumpet mushroom with melted leek and marcona almond pudding, the braised veal breast with toasted faro and persimmon and the Citizen smores. Less impressive were the turbot fin tempura, seared sea scallops and degustation of late summer apples.
We ended this year’s D.C. trip with a day with friends, where they took us for a ride through the beautiful Northern Virginia countryside, to brunch at the colonial-era Red Fox Inn in Middleburg, VA, and then, to round out our Charlottesville and Virginia Civil War battlefield experiences, to visit to a couple more Virginia wineries.