14 September 2015

Washington DC

This post has been a long time coming. With the whole moving process, though, it fell by the wayside, so I'm finally sharing it today. Heads up: this is a photo-heavy post.

In lieu of a grand honeymoon week (though we do have something planned later this year!), C and I decided to hop down to DC for the weekend of 4 July. Well, let's be real: C came up with the whole thing, which I agreed to more out of "Sure, that sounds alright," rather than "I find this to be a super exciting idea!" As usual, he was right about what a good idea it was. One day I'll learn.

Early Friday morning, we made a necessary coffee run and then we were on our way. The trip went so smoothly that we got to our first stop, Arlington National Cemetery, by late morning. I have often heard of cemeteries described as haunting, mysterious, creepy, but almost never beautiful, which is what ANC was. It helps that things are well organized: graves sites near the entrance are uniform and roped off, keeping tourists off the well-manicured grass (I did see people visit people they knew, though). That sounds impersonal, but I believe it preserves the serious and almost sacred mood of the grounds. We were also able to find C's uncle's ashes in the crematorium (a labyrinth in itself).

I think my favorite part of the visit, aesthetically, was the Kennedy site. Not for the graves (and people definitely were interested in those), but for JFK's speech carved into a semi-circle down the hill from them.
"We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty. ... In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibilityI welcome it." 

Afterwards, we checked into our hotel in Alexandria and C napped while I figured out our evening's schedule and the metro system. Just a heads up: the metro system gets an A for number of locations, area of travel and frequency of transfer points. The metro system gets a D for their cards not working properly and requiring exit swipes (y u no like Chicago and just let us through?). I digress. We got into the city and were welcomed by rain as we made our way to the National Mall. The rain let up and we enjoyed the remaining hours of daylight walking by museums (most of them were closed or closing at this point) and to monuments. Unfortunately, a lot of buildings and sections of the National Mall were under construction, but the beauty of the area wasn't entirely marred. After the rain subsided, the sky was a perfect light gray that cast a nice, calm light on everything.

We continued our walk into the downtown area and, let me tell you, DC looks so much like Europe. I remarked several times that weekend how much I felt like I was in Paris. The layout of the city is just well thought out and the architecture of the buildings is really nice, too. Pennsylvania Ave is just super pretty at night. At the end of our walk, we got dinner at &pizza. There are many of these throughout DC and I think they just have a fun vibe and set up. You can get menu items (like dessert pizza! whaaat) or you go down the line, crafting your own pizza. There are so many options that I think you could probably come up with thousands of different combinations. &pizza also specializes in housemade sodas, some of which are pretty standard in taste (like burdock and anise rootbeer), but others have more of a twist, like ginger berry lemonade.

red pepper chili oil! yesssss.

Full of pizza, we headed back to the hotel and ended our day. The next morning, I woke up at 6 AM. For real. But I figured it was the best time to have breakfast where I wouldn't face a huge crowd. This hotel was a little unusual because it had healthier options I never see at other hotels. I mean, do people still eat turkey sausage? After another nap, we headed out on a very cold and wet July 4th. It rained almost constantly all day and we took shelter at the Library of Congress (not in the Library, mind you, because they stopped allowing visitors an hour before closing. :( ) for at least twenty minutes because we were those people who didn't bring umbrellas. When the rain lightened to a sprinkling, we walked over to the Supreme Court, which was much more popular with tourists than I thought it would be.

We continued our walk, looking for dinner, when we ran into a Paul! These patisseries are all over Paris and I almost started jumping up and down when I saw it. Of course, we had to stop in and I scooped up the last escargot pastry. It is called escargot because it's rolled like a snail shell, but there are no snails to be found; rather, the pastry is swirled with raisins and custard. So so good. We went on and found Pret, a cafe we went to in London, and had our dinner there. Basically, our food this day revolved around our Paris & London trip. We ate lentil soup and sandwiches at the window while people watching.

From here, we set off to the National Mall again and passed a stage set up with some evangelists who were talking about true freedom residing in Christ. There was a sizable crowd for it, but every few people, I heard someone remark on it negatively. I expected C to stop and engage in conversation with some people, but for some reason he didn't and we stayed on track to the Washington monument. Here, they were having a concert, and as the last notes ended, Taylor Swift pumped through the speakers and the fireworks went off. One of the best moments was looking around and seeing this beefy guy dancing with his girlfriend to Shake It Off. I've got that moment on camera, luckily. ;) The fireworks only lasted through a few songs and I was actually kind of disappointed in them. I didn't have time to dwell on such things, though, because all of a sudden, tens of thousands of people were headed for the metro and we did not want to get lost or held up in the crowd. C and I dashed through a crowd of slow walkers, small children and food trucks and down a metro escalator only to hit an un-moving wall of people.

There were easily hundreds of people around us, and that was only on the upper platform to pay before you got down to the trains. It was an absolute mad house and it was like we entered the grumpiest, high tension environment I've been in. I'm not claustrophobic, exactly, but I really don't like being surrounded by people (who does?), so feeling people press in on every side was crazy and I held on to C's hand very tightly so as not to be separated. Finally, the crowd started moving and we had to maneuver pretty slickly to get onto the next (broken) escalator and down to the main platform. A train was due to arrive in a minute and we kept trying to surge forward in order to have access to a door. When it arrived, the train was already more than half full and we jumped on as quickly as possible and a flood of people just continued boarding. Old, young, children, people with strollers but no infant inside (?)... Eventually, there was just no more room to be had, the doors closed and we went on. Travel time did take longer because the metro system was very much tried, so delays are inevitable. But we did get back to our stop in Alexandria and got on the first shuttle back to the hotel. I've never been more thankful for C's initiative and relentlessness.

We laughed about it when we finally got to our room, but in the moment, it all seemed so precarious. If we had patiently followed the slow crowd, missed the metro entrance like I nearly did, or not been so proactive in boarding, we could have been out for hours more. We woke the next morning, breakfasted and visited the National Archives to see original letters, revised drafts and the Declaration of Independence and other documents. No photography was allowed (though I did see some people try to get away with it), because the flash can damage the papers, which are kept in temperature controlled cases. I am not a huge American history buff. I am one of the least patriotic people I know. But seeing things like the Bill of Rights, right there, in person, with ink strokes founding fathers made hundreds of years ago...well, it's a little surreal.

Afterwards, we set off for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (or, as I thought in my head, the main event). It is one of the most gorgeous churches I have ever seen. The walls, ceiling and even floors are beautifully adorned in glittering stones, multi-colored mosaics and brilliant sculptures. We got there about an hour before Mass and wandered around different shrines. Perhaps my favorite area was an alcove where depictions of the Joyful Mysteries resided. As if that all wasn't enough, there was a basement level below full of more shrines, bookstores and a cafeteria. We could have spent much longer there than we did, but there were a few other things we wanted to do before we left.

We returned to our hotel and drove off to dinner at Nando's. After hearing and seeing people talk about going to Nando's for years, I knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity. C and I had salads and split half a chicken and a ton of chips (fries). The hot sauce selection did not disappoint and I poured multiple options onto my plate. I have been on a hot sauce kick lately, so I scooped up Peri-Peri with every chip. We were fairly full of chicken, but not too full for ice cream. Nicecream is an ice cream shop that crafts made to order ice cream with local ingredients and liquid nitrogen. I know. It was basically a constant science experiment in there. I grabbed scoops of blueberry and chocolate (C stuck with double chocolate) and we enjoyed our novelty experience outside. The texture is super smooth, almost velvety and, dare I say it, I think I liked the blueberry more than the chocolate. Wild! We savored our treat and watched billows of evaporated liquid nitrogen smoke pour out of the shop.

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