I arrived at O’Hare obscenely early as per usual; I’m always early. I was afraid there would be a long line for security (there wasn’t), so I wound up sitting at a bar near my gate with a mimosa, a full hour before I was due to board.
The plane landed twenty minutes ahead of schedule and it took me forty minutes and two trains (one yellow and one red) to reach Dupont Circle. I was to walk to my hotel from there. Unfortunately, I walked to the wrong one. Who knew there were two Courtyard Marriotts within twenty minutes from each other? Once I was checked into the correct hotel, I quickly changed out of my plane clothes and headed back out. The National Geographic Museum was just around the corner from the hotel, so I figured it was a good place to start. The museums was housed in a large building emblazoned with National Geographic Society above the doors.
The entry fee was $15 and there were three main exhibits. One was The Photo Ark, which included many photos different species of animals, many of which had been endangered at some point in time. Another exhibit featured the history and lives of Crocodilians with live reptiles and interactive croc facts. The last was ocean related and included photography and videos from numerous deep sea exhibitions. The museum was very visually appealing, but I wish there was a little more to see. The exhibits were beautiful and informative though, and there was a great gift shop. From the museum, I walked back over to Dupont Circle to check out Kramerbooks & Café. They had a great selection and unique layout (plus a lot of travel books which you know I loved!). I ended up getting an Anthony Bourdain book because I couldn’t help myself. Though I could have browsed for a few more hours at least, my stomach was telling me it was time for dinner, so I headed down the brown stone lined Q Street towards Le Diplomate. This French restaurant was everything I wanted it to be.
The beautifully lit atmosphere was warm and welcoming. Despite being decidedly less fancy than the other patrons, I felt 100% at home. I ordered the Scallops Nicoise and stuck with water to cut costs, their wine list was quite expensive. A bread basket appeared soon after I placed my order, which I dug right into (the cranberry bread was delicious!). I happily read “Medium Raw” until my meal arrived and I could no longer concentrate on anything other than the scallops. They sat atop a bed of orzo, tomatoes, onions and peas, with a pesto sauce underneath. It was a lemony and salty and the scallops were perfectly cooked. I loved it so much. When the waiter came back, I could only nod in blissful silence as he removed my now empty plate from the table. After I had paid and left, I walked around the area for a while, taking in the pretty houses and cheerful restaurants.
Eventually I wandered back to Kramerbooks, this time to try the café. I ordered a glass of wine and a slice of apple crumble pie, which they served with 2 spoons, making me miss Mike instantly. The pie was good and I enjoyed it on their covered porch. Once I was
thoroughly stuffed with pie, I walked back to the hotel. I was feeling a little melancholy on my first night in this new city, so I felt the best way to remedy this was a bubble bath and to make big plans for the next day. I started early, leaving the hotel at 8:30am and hopped on the blue line towards the Eastern Market. When I arrived, the market wasn’t quite bustling enough yet, so I grabbed an iced latte from Pelegrine Coffee and walked around the neighborhood. Fortunately, I ran into the Capitol Hill location of Ted’s Bulletin, a restaurant I really wanted to try. One may be a loneliest number, but it is certainly a convenient one when trying to be sat at a popular breakfast restaurant on a Sunday Morning. At my tiny table for one, I ordered coffee, bacon, hash browns and a salted caramel (homemade) pop tart, on the waiter’s recommendation. The “Ted Tarts” are what drew me to the restaurant in the first place, so I was very excited to try it. The bacon and hash browns were pretty run of the mill, but the ted tart was amazing. The outside was flakey and delicious and the filling was rich and caramel-y. It went with the coffee perfectly and I relished every bit.
After I finished, I walked back to the market, which was a little livelier at that point. I love rummaging, so the flea market portion was exactly what I wanted it to be. There were knickknacks, art, antiques, clothing, and food stalls both inside and outside. Inside the market building, there were butchers, fruit stands, bakeries, and fresh flowers. Locals and tourists alike were doing their grocery shopping and haggling over steaks and dozens of baked goods.
Capitol Hill Books stood next to the market and I was drawn inside by its front window, which was literally stacked with books. The inside of the shop was no different. The shelves were chock-full of books, stacked every which way, but somehow still organized. It was two levels of systematic chaos with nooks for reading and a great used book selection. I was particularly drawn to their Graham Greene selection, which required patience and a balancing act to get through.
I was only a twenty minute walk from the National Mall and the Smithsonian Museums, so I headed that way. The first thing I came upon (that was open on a Sunday) was the U.S. Botanical Gardens, so I went in. One of the best things about D.C. is that all of the Smithsonian Museums and Galleries and all of the Monuments are free. The Botanical Gardens was no exception. The gardens were split into categories, my favorites were the orchids and the desert plants. It really is a gorgeous place to walk around.
As soon as I started to head towards the Mall, it started pouring. Luckily, I was very near to the National Gallery, which is where I sought shelter from the rain. What a beautiful place to spend a rainy afternoon! I’m no art buff, but I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the galleries. Needless to say, the artwork was breathtaking and the building itself was gorgeous. I especially loved the Van Gogh paintings, as well as this painting by Hendrik Willem Mesdag:
One of the museum guides pointed me in the direction of sculpture garden, so that is where I headed next. It was a fun walk through, with a cute café and ice rink at the center. I made my way through, stopping to take in each sculpture. Once I came to the end, I walked down the street to the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of American History. One of the benefits of free museum admissions is that you can pick and choose which exhibits you see without feeling like you have to see every single one because you didn’t pay for them. At the Museum of Natural History, I very much enjoyed the dinosaur exhibit and the “Wilderness Forever” photography exhibit that showed many of the National Parks. At the American History Museum, many of the exhibits were closed for renovations unfortunately. However, I did love the First Lady exhibition, which featured fashions and facts about the nation’s great women. The National Mall is just beyond the Smithsonian Museums, so I kept walking towards the Washington Monument.
From the top of the hill where it sits, I took in the city sights, and got my first glimpse of the Lincoln Memorial. However, by the time I made it over there (it’s a deceptively far walk) I was hungry and getting crabby. I had been walking for hours at this point, which really is the best way to see a city, but also builds up an appetite. There were no
restaurants to be seen, so I settled for a hot dog from one of the nearby refreshment stands. After I stuffed my face, I climbed the marble steps to see Abe. The upside of travelling to D.C. in the slow season is there aren’t as many tourists, however the downside, for me at least, was that a lot of things were under construction to be ready for the summer. For example, the reflecting pool was drained, the World War II Monument was under construction, some of the exhibits were roped off, the list goes on. Luckily, I had seen some of these attractions the first time I was in D.C. in 8th grade, when our teachers dragged us to every single memorial and monument, our disposable cameras in hand. This time around, I was taking pictures with my iPhone, having strangers get a few shots with me in them. The Lincoln Memorial was humbling and inspiring. I walked around the top, taking in the view from all angles. This was one of the things I really didn’t want to miss, so I’m glad I was able to see Mr. Lincoln.
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and FDR Memorial were just a little ways away, so that’s where I headed next. The MLK Jr. Memorial was simple but moving, including only a statue carved in stone and a single quote on the side: “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.”
I moved on down the path to the FDR Memorial, which was recommended to me by Rebecca of Curiosity and a Carry On. It was one of my favorites of the day, being less crowded and peaceful. There were quotes and statues throughout the memorial, including a statue of Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt (the only one dedicated to a first lady). Unfortunately the supposedly beautiful fountains were turned off for the season, but I still very much enjoyed wandering through the memorial. My favorite FDR quote was: “In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice… the path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love towards our fellow man.”
I walked back to the hotel from there, passing the gorgeous Eisenhower Executive Office Building, as well as the White House. It is awe-inspiring to walk through this city of such regal architecture. Everywhere I turned there was a gorgeous building with columns and flags, or a stately statue depicting men on horses or famous generals. It made each walk an adventure in itself.
Once I got back to the hotel, I showered and rested up for a night out in Adams Morgan, which was described to me as a hip, up and coming area. My first stop was Smash Records, a punk record store, where I bought Mike a Bad Brains (a famous DC punk band) Album and browsed their small selection of soul records.
From there, I moved over to Idle Time Bookstore. This dual level used books store has a great selection of used books and gifts and a friendly staff. I browsed through their shelves for a while before rushing off to catch the happy hour specials at Mandu. Mandu is a Korean restaurant, and they have happy hour 7 days a week from 4pm-7pm that offers half priced beer, wine, sojutinis and mandu dumplings. I ordered an assortment of the dumplings, 2 each of pork, shrimp and vegetable. They were pan-fried and so scrumptious. My entrée was chap chae, potato noodles with vegetables and beef. It came with a mound of something interesting on top, and when I asked the waiter, he confirmed my worst fears: eggs. I calmly scraped them to the side and dug into the delicious noodle dish, which was served with traditional Korean condiments. It was a pretty cheap dinner, thanks to the happy hour, so I decided to take myself out to a jazz bar I spotted back in Adams Morgan, called Columbia Station. At first, the bar was a little empty. The band, The Peter Edelman Trio, was on a break, but the bartender assured me they’d be playing until 1am.
I ordered a glass of wine, and he poured it up to the brim, which is precisely how I like it. It was quiet before the band started playing again, and I could hear the chef watching TV in the kitchen. Eventually though, once the music started, people filed in and the tables filled up. The Peter Edelman Trio are at Columbia Station weekly and I completely understand how they earned this regular gig.
They were fun and talented and what started out as a drums, saxophone and organ trio slowly morphed into a piano, drums, saxophone, clarinet and bass as the evening went on. New instruments magically appeared as the bar grew more crowded. Fast forward three glasses of wine and I’m making new friends at the bar and grooving to the music. I left there happy and tipsy, walking back down 18th street, jazz riffs echoing in my brain.