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.

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