Guest Post: Reluctant Traveler: A Capital Idea

By Rebecca Borman

bec-closeup-twoWhen a wave of heat and humidity hit me, as soon as I stepped off the train at Washington’s Union Station, I knew I was in the south.  I wouldn’t be needing the sweater I wore on the somewhat chilly train.  I caught a cab and enjoyed a few minutes’ drive through our nation’s capital, truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  When the cab pulled up to the Fairfax on Embassy Row, I noted that it was, indeed, on a quiet street in that area.  Too quiet?  I had come for the big city experience.  When I got to my room it struck me that this hotel was the exact opposite of the new and very modern hotel in NY.  The Fairfax is an historical building, very lovely and classic.  It was a nice contrast.

I needn’t have worried about being too far from activity.  I asked the desk where I might find a convenience store and some restaurants, and their directions said a block either way would get me what I wanted.  Oh, yes, it did!  I was an easy block from Q St., with its Dupont Circle metro station and just about every kind of restaurant and store you could desire.  In fact, I was only a couple of blocks from what might be the best bookstore in the country, Kramerbooks, and its excellent café, Afterwords.  Ahhh, I was happy!  I checked out the area, ate a late lunch, and went back to change into my Nationals jersey, because a Nats game was to be my evening adventure.

My good friend Cathy met me at the main gate of Nats Park, and after very girlish screams of delight at seeing each other, we bought waters and peanuts and found our very good seats.  Through batting practice and the game, we caught up with each other’s lives and talked about mutual friends.  There are many reasons I love watching baseball, and one is that there’s room during the game for conversation.  Although the Nats lost, there were some exciting moments, and it was treat to watch my team in the Park, with one of my best friends.

The next day I got a leisurely start; two evening activities and very busy days had worn me out.  Eventually, I took the metro to Woodley Park/Zoo, just one stop away from Dupont Circle.  It’s about a half mile walk to the zoo, which seems longer because it’s all up-hill.  Once I got to the zoo, I reveled in the fact that, like so much in DC, IT IS FREE!  I hadn’t been there in several years, and I was happy to see some attractive improvements.  But, of course, the real reason I was there, the real reason pretty much everyone goes there, was to see the star attraction:  the pandas.  It was very hot and I feared the pandas would eschew the yard for their air conditioned inside quarters.  But, both the adult and the baby panda were out and about.  So cool to see!

DC pandas

As I walked downhill to the metro station, I realized I was hungry.  No problem.  There are plenty of restaurants to choose from in Woodley Park.  I stopped for a quick bite to eat, then got back on the subway for my short ride back to Dupont Circle and my hotel.  I rested and cooled off in the room a bit and then took a walk around the area.  I had a drink at La Tomate, a place where I had in the past often met a friend for Sunday brunch.  More walking took me past other familiar sights, places I had known and enjoyed when I lived in the area. As it was getting to be time for dinner, I got back on the metro, going the other way this time.  I would go to the city’s somewhat new “Penn Quarter” area, and have dinner at Legal Seafood.  All I can say is: 8 raw oysters and a delicious crab cake made me a happy lady.

My first day and a half in our nation’s capital were lots of fun, but there was more in store for me.  One of the events I most enjoyed when I lived in Virginia was the annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall.  Every year, the festival celebrates cultures from around the US and the world.  This year’s emphases were on Basque culture and “the sounds of California.”  I walked around for several hours, learning about Basque music, food, games, art, and crafts like cheese-making and boat-DC herbsbuilding.  I watched a demonstration of Basque cooking and, of course, choose Basque food for my lunch.  While I ate, I sat on the lawn and listened to a good jazz band in the California area.  Once I had seen everything there, I ducked into the West Wing of the Smithsonian Museum of Art, just on the other side of the Mall.  It’s a beautiful space, and the cool air felt good.  And, how could I be in DC and not visit the Medieval and Renaissance art exhibit, especially Leonardo da Vinci’s Genevra, the only one of his works in the Americas. I spent about an hour there, then left the cooled air of the museum and walked back to the Smithsonian metro station.  On the way, I passed the Festival Store, and found a couple of things I couldn’t live without.

After I got back to my hotel, I had a call from my son, Erik.  Coincidentally, he and his family were in the area visiting friends and my daughter-in-law’s family.  He wondered if we could all meet up somewhere for dinner.  That sounded great to me!  After a back and forth discussion, we decided on Clyde’s in Penn Quarter.  I looked forward to seeing everyone and to another good meal.  But, I also had a bit of a problem.  When I planned this trip, I was determined to eat at two restaurants:  Legal Seafood (check) and Old Ebbitt’s Grill.  There were no reservations to be had at Old Ebbitts for our large group.  So, I would have to make a solo visit on my way to dinner.  I sat at the bar and enjoyed a glass of wine, 6 of the best oysters I’ve ever eaten, and conversations with several other patrons as well as the excellent bartender.  (Another check!)  It was a short walk to Penn Quarter, where I met my family and had a fun dinner.  My grandkids were excited to tell me all about their adventures, and I was eager to tell my own stories as well.  It was a lovely way to end my two days in Washington.

The next morning, I had breakfast at a Dupont Circle restaurant, shopped a little in Kramerbooks, then got on the new silver line of the metro to travel to Vienna, Virginia, where I would attend a wedding and festivities surrounding it.  It was a great way to end my East Coast Swing, as I got to catch up with a number of much-missed friends.

I’m learning that sometimes going back to familiar places is as fun as traveling to new ones!

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