Thursday, June 22, 2017

Turning 30 in Washington DC: Day 4

Monday, June 5

Monday was our last day in DC, and with a flight that left at 7:00 PM we had a good chunk of the day to continue exploring. The only downside was that it was raining...there are only so many activities you can do with a dog in the rain. Plus, we had to check out of our AirBNB by 11:00, which was also limiting. 

After a quick Google search, we settled on visiting the National Arboretum, which was just a half hour drive away or so. I'd never even heard of it, but was marvelously impressed! It's essentially a huge park curated with different collections of trees and plants. One collection has a tree from every state in the US! 

There are also an arrangement of columns from the Capitol Building that were present for a number of presidential inaugurations, including Abraham Lincoln's. When they renovated the Capitol, the columns were no longer strong enough to be used structurally, so they were moved here and set up for display. Another bonus: the Arboretum is free to visit!

Also on site you will find a beautiful herb garden, bonzai museum, lovely visitor center, and vast grounds you can tour with a variety of different plant collections. We spent some time walking around the Asian Collection, which eventually led down to a picnic area by a river. This would be a really lovely spot on a sunnier day. As it was, the tree canopy protected us from most of the rain and the temperature was still warm enough to enjoy a casual stroll.

With some extra time before we needed to head to the airport, we did some drive-by tours of Logan and Thomas Circles to see some of the architecture, and made our way over to the National Cathedral. Learning that you had to pay to go inside, we spent some time having Dave run around on the front grass and taking photos. Always a good idea to tire a pup out before a long plane ride!

We stopped in Virginia on the way to the airport and picked up some burritos for lunch, which we ate in the car because it was raining and we have a dog, so patio seating wasn't an option. Let me tell you, Virginia certainly doesn't do Mexican food the way California does. A bit of a sad last meal to end an otherwise excellent vacation.

My Overall Impressions

DC is a great place to go visit! There are so many options of things to do for all ages and interests, and it can be a really affordable vacation since so many of the attractions are free. The activities that did cost money were generally reasonably priced. You can easily spend a week here and never run out of options of things to do, but you can also just focus in on key points of interest and have a fulfilling visit without feeling like you missed out. 

The drivers are terrible, so if you don't need to drive I'd stick to the Metro and Ubers. Driving here can be pretty stressful, so save yourself the headache. If you do decide to have a car, make sure you are good at parallel parking or are prepared to pay $$$ for a parking garage. Getting early starts to your day will help you avoid crowds and heat, and there is still a lot to do after the sun sets so go ahead and spend the afternoon relaxing in air conditioning, by a pool, or having a picnic in the shade. Bring lots of sunscreen and bug spray. If you are a bicycling person, they have a bike share where you can pick up and drop off bicycles at various locations that would be a great option for visiting the different memorials and getting around the National Mall, which is huge. The city overall seems to be very dog friendly, so don't hesitate to bring your pooch with you on your visit. Great food, nice people, and a very pleasant experience all around. I will definitely add this to my list of places I could return to for another visit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Turning 30 in Washington DC: Day 3

Sunday, June 4

On our last full day in DC Todd enjoyed some urban exploration while I slept in in our comfortably air conditioned apartment. We had a mellow day planned and spent the morning researching places that offered dog-friendly boat rentals. 

We decided on Tidal Basin, which has a great view of the Jefferson and MLK Memorials, as well as the Washington Monument (which has a pretty good view from almost everywhere, I've discovered). We wanted to rent a boat that looked like a giant swan but it was too small to bring Dave with us, so we settled on a paddle boat just like the kind my grandmother used to have when she lived on Hood Canal in Washington state.

Jefferson Memorial

In direct sun with no shade and a pretty substantial current, boating was hard work!! We only stayed out for about an hour before heading back, but it was certainly a fun adventure and an even better workout. 

After boating, we picked up lunch at Shake Shack to see if the burgers lived up to the hype. In terms of fast food, it's clearly better than something like McDonald''s still fast food. I wasn't terribly impressed, and wouldn't go out of my way to eat there again. But this review is coming from a Californian who doesn't like In-N-Out, so...there's that. 

We had a restful afternoon and headed back out to watch the sunset at the National Mall and take some photos in front of the Capitol Building. There was a concert going on during this time, which was a pleasant addition to our warm evening stroll. We topped the evening off with ice cream from one of the many food trucks parked on the perimeter of the lawn.

Once the sun went down, we went to view some of our favorite monuments lit up at night. It's a totally different experience than seeing the monuments during the day, and I highly recommend it to get a well-rounded introduction to the city. Just beware of all of the bugs!! We got chewed up taking photos of the WWII Memorial at night, and could see enormous swarms above the lights near the water. Yuck!

Capitol Building

WWII Memorial

Found it!

Jefferson Memorial

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Turning 30 in Washington DC: Day 2

Saturday, June 3

Thanks to jet lag and high levels of adventuring the day before, we got a late start Saturday morning and headed out to visit some of the monuments and memorials. Unfortunately, this combination of weekend timing meant the crowds were out in full force and parking was a bit more of a challenge.

Driving in DC is not for the faint of heart. Turn signals are apparently only suggestions, pedestrians ignore traffic lights and walk into oncoming traffic, and no one thinks twice about cutting you off. The road signs seem to contradict one another, and GPS elects to inform you of your turn just moments before you should take it. We ended up taking some accidental excursions into Virginia and Maryland, which provided the opportunity to practice our patience/positive attitudes as well as see some of the surrounding areas. What struck me was the amount of green vegetation--so thick and dense, it reminded me of Puerto Rico. 

It was a very hot day with minimal cloud coverage, and with lots of walking and creative driving we were able to see some of the main points of interest including the Washington Monument, as well as the Lincoln, Jefferson, FDR, Vietnam, and WWII Memorials. 

Lincoln Memorial

Hot Dog!

FDR Memorial

Dave legitimately started barking at the statue dog.

Jefferson Memorial

Despite Pennsylvania Avenue being blocked off in front of the White House, we were also able to catch a glimpse from out front. Dave, dressed in a very presidential suit, was a hit with other tourists. Strangers kept asking to take photos of him, and then would politely ask me to step out of the photo(!)...I should start charging for this.

White House

In the afternoon, we met up with Dave's girlfriend, Maya, under a tree next to the Washington Monument. Maya is an Instagram sensation with nearly 95,000 followers. They have been sending each other gifts and photos online for the past year, and finally got the chance to meet! Maya's brother Winston and their friend Minnow joined us for a couple hours, and it was so sweet watching them play. 

Dave and Maya

That evening we met up with my friends Nick and Kate again for dinner, this time at a popular Korean restaurant. I'd never had Korean before, so it was a delicious adventure for me! I would definitely eat there again, and enjoyed the outdoor patio seating where Dave could beg for scraps from under my chair. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Turning 30 in Washington DC: Day 1

Entering a new decade can be a little daunting. For many, turning 30 can signify the end of a decade of freedom and limited personal responsibilities. To avoid feeling any kind of despondency as I usher in a more "adult" period of my life, I decided to take a celebratory extended weekend getaway to Washington DC.

Many people have asked me, "Why DC?" My reply: "Why not?!" I've always wanted to go see our nation's capital, and my hunger for history, art, and culture can easily be fed here. Plus, Dave (my dog) has a girlfriend who lives in the area, so it was really a win-win.

Thursday, June 1

It took a whole day of travel to get to DC from San Francisco. We had to factor in driving to the airport during the morning commute, parking off site, planning extra time traveling with a dog who will need to visit the pet relief area before embarking on a 5+ hour flight, getting lunch, etc. With the time change, we ended up getting to Dulles Airport around 10:00 PM, had to rent a car, drive to downtown DC, pick up some dinner at the one grocery store we could find that was open by the time we got there. We ended up rolling into our AirBNB just after midnight. I will never forget the feeling I got when we rounded the corner approaching the city and I saw the Washington Monument and Capitol Building lit up (I actually gasped so loud and so suddenly Todd thought something was wrong, which isn't a great idea while driving in unfamiliar territory).

Here we go!

Our accommodations were truly a dream. We had rented a complete apartment on the bottom floor of a row house in an adorable Victorian neighborhood in the Shaw district. It was much more spacious than I expected, and newly renovated from top to bottom with modern amenities. Our host was delightfully professional and charming and made sure we were totally comfortable during our stay. I can't say how essential it was to have our own kitchen, washer/dryer, and parking space! It was such an improvement on staying at a hotel. 

View of our apartment from the bedroom.

Dave is checking out the bed

Friday, June 2

We woke up early on Friday to start our first day of sightseeing. As an art history major, it was (of course) crucial that we visit the National Gallery and Smithsonian Museums. Since Dave clearly couldn't join us on these excursions, we dropped him off at doggy day care at Wagtime, Too. I had found them online and they had great reviews and were happy to accept Dave as a visitor without a trial period. They had an adorable pet shop attached with all kinds of treats, toys, outfits, etc. Definitely a place I would love to frequent if we lived locally!

We headed down to the National Mall to start our day of exploring. It was a Friday morning around 10:00 or 11:00, and I was amazed at how much free street parking was available! There was also hardly anyone out and about on the lawns in front of the Washington Monument, so we stopped and took a few photos on our way to the museum.

Look! No one else is here!!

Our first destination was the National Gallery of Art. We focused on the West Building, which houses the more classical art collections (contemporary and modern are in the East Building, which we skipped). It struck me how, again, hardly anyone was there and we were able to walk right in through the light security screening. No lines. No hassles. And also totally free to visit! The guides in the office were extremely helpful in providing us with information on the exhibits to help focus our visit, and we spent the morning viewing some of the most amazing pieces. 

Of course, I was taken by all of the heavy hitters (Da Vinci, Raphael, Van Gogh, Monet, Degas, Rembrandt, etc. etc. etc.) as anyone would be, but I was particularly interested in some of the pieces by Thomas Cole and Vigee Le Brun, whom I had studied in art history classes but hadn't paid particular attention to. I was also somewhat underwhelmed by the Vermeers we saw, though I understood they had loaned one or two of their Vermeers out to another museum for a temporary exhibition, so perhaps we missed the best of them. 

Recognize this fellow?

One of my very favorite Raphael paintings

Taking a break from museum-ing

We also saw a fabulous exhibit on French art collected by Americans, and an exhibit of drawings and sketches from a variety of artists including studies for major paintings by famous artists like Picasso, Da Vinci, and more. My favorite part was seeing the artists who set up easels and were creating their own renditions of various pieces in the museum. Real art in action. 

Even moving quickly through the galleries, there is SO MUCH to see you can easily become overwhelmed and overstimulated. I'm sure there is plenty we missed, but we broke for lunch and rejuvenated ourselves in the Pavilion Cafe to escape the heat. 

The afternoon took us to the Natural History Museum, which by this time was packed with school tour groups. The crowds were such a stark contrast to our morning experience in the National Gallery it was a bit much to take in. The museum is, of course, marvelous and we enjoyed walking through the exhibits of dinosaurs, mammals, and mummies. Highlights included the gems and minerals gallery  (where we saw the Hope Diamond and Todd was a bit disappointed it wasn't more impressive! Ha!), a sort of "best of the Smithsonian collections" exhibit called "Objects of Wonder" and a photography exhibit of the 21st Annual Nature's Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards. Every one of these photos was truly a masterpiece, and was an obvious favorite for us both.

Hope Diamond

One of the photography winners

Next we headed to the Smithsonian Castle. The information office for the collection of museums is there, and we also spent some time looking at the exhibits which gave you a brief flavor for each of the different museums. It's a great idea to check this out if you don't plan on seeing all of the museums during your stay, and almost no one else was in there when we were, which allowed us to browse at our own pace in relative peace.

We spent our remaining time in the Museum of American History, where we enjoyed seeing the exhibits for the American Presidents and First Ladies, the star of which was naturally Abe Lincoln's top hat.

In the evening we picked up Dave from day care and met up with some of my friends who were also visiting the area. We met for dinner at Right Proper Brew Co., which was just a couple blocks walk from our apartment. The nightlife in DC is so vibrant and youthful, and many people were out enjoying the warm weather and socializing. I definitely noticed the humidity and how warm it stays at night in comparison with our dry California heat and lower evening temperatures. Delicious food and excellent conversation ended a great day.