LW was back in DC after working in Haiti for almost a year, Cleverly and I had flexible schedules, we found bus tickets and an affordable place to stay, and soon we were walking Lincoln (LW’s adorable dog) in the DuPont neighborhood under cold, sunny skies. We hadn’t seen our friends or their lovely city in about a year and a half. We had a marvelous weekend.
Washington really is a lovely city and compares well with Paris, St. Petersburg, Beijing, Istanbul, and other cities we saw in our travels. The different neighborhoods are walkable and have beautiful architecture and interesting restaurants, the metro is convenient and affordable, and of course the museums and other attractions are legion. It is generally expensive, though budget options can be found and many museums are free. We cut corners on lodgings and some meals, and splurged on a few non-essentials.
Above: Cleverly at Union Station
I couldn’t get tickets on the Chinatown bus as we had done in the past. We traveled on a newer bus option for a little under $60 for the two of us round trip. It was a double-decker bus and we sat upstairs beneath a glass roof! It was sunny and clear on our trip out, and the views were beautiful. On the way back, we sat in the first row on the upper floor so we had an amazing view, especially when we went through snow a few times. “Like a movie screen,” observed Cleverly. Both buses were clean and quiet and comfortable. The bathrooms were extremely clean and well-equipped. The D.C. location was gorgeous Union Station.
Hindu statue at Sackler Gallery
We stayed in a semi-legal shared apartment I found online. Clearly this is a business as the man has many listings. It was very similar to places we stayed in Mongolia and China with two bunk beds in each of two bedrooms in a fairly new apartment complex. It felt like a youth hostel in a two-bedroom apartment. The ‘host’ posted a stock photo that looked nothing like him in person and repeatedly told us in emails that we were his ‘friends’ and not to mention the site we found him on if we spoke with building residents or staff. The other guests were from all over- South Korea, Scotland, China, and the US. People were very friendly and two of them mentioned they are longer-term residents doing internships in the city. I liked the shared-space, international vibe, and the location was very good, just a few minutes walk to the metro. The place was clean and the neighborhood (near NoMa metro station) felt safe. We really didn’t spend much time there, but could have cooked and done laundry there if we chose.
Postal museum next to union station We arrived on a Friday at Union Station. It is a grand marble building with soaring arched ceilings and many shops. Trains, buses, subways, and cabs come and go here and I felt like we were in Bucharest again, or London. Right next door was the National Postal Museum, way more interesting than one might predict. There were displays on transportation, including tuktuk-style vehicles and airplanes, and on mail crime. Mailboxes and stamps throughout history and from different countries are also on view (above photo). Check out the actual planes:
We met LW in the DuPont Circle neighborhood and got there a little early. We were lucky enough to meet a mural artist at work near the metro station. Check out Jay F. Coleman in front of his city-sponsored mural on a disused metro stairwell:
Mr. Coleman is a sculpture and mural artist who also taught special ed for years. He was very friendly and upbeat. Cleverly draws a lot and was excited to meet a fellow artist. What a great first few hours in the city!
We were so happy to see LW and Lincoln the dog after all of our travels and theirs. We started out with dinner and walking around the Adams Morgan neighborhood. We had pizza at a chain originally from LW’s hometown of Atlanta GA, then we had cupcakes at this cute bake shop.
The next day we went to the Phillips Collection, a modern art museum. I had never heard of it, but it was amazing. Modest in size, but with many pieces by artists even I know such as Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Renoir. LW was especially interested in a series of prints about the Haitian ex-slave and revolutionary leader Toussaint L’oveurture. It was really colorful and informative. That night we had Turkish food with a bunch of foreign service workers and government workers who have riveting stories of their work and the effects of the new US president on their jobs. The next day we celebrated the Chinese New Year at a dim sum brunch with more of LW’s friends. Hooray for the year of the rooster! Then we spent the day at Mount Vernon.
Squee! I am currently reading about and crushing on US revolutionary figures, mostly due to being a shameless fan girl of Hamilton the musical. Anyway, I couldn’t get Ron Chernow’s Hamilton (the biography that inspired the musical) from the library because of a waiting list of over 200 people. So I read his Washington, a Life instead. So good!! And that led me to want to see Washington’s home of Mount Vernon. It is a large property, about 500 acres on the Potomac River. Though some parts are seasonal and were therefore closed, and the mansion was closed for renovations for two weeks (giving us a 50% discount on tickets, but I would have happily paid to see the mansion! Must return!), there was still a lot to see. We saw the slave quarters, gardens, a 16-sided barn designed by GW for threshing, a working blacksmith, Washington family graves including George’s and Martha’s, and the outside of the lovely mansion. The splendid museum is divided into sections on enslaved people of Mt. Vernon and on GW’s life and times. It looked very new and had videos and animated displays. I bought the Hamilton book at the gift shop and am now happily reading another superb Chernow book. All I’ll say for now is that we in the US could really use, right now, some intelligent, driven but humble, honorable leaders with a fraction of the integrity of the founding fathers. Thank you, General Washington, and rest in peace.
Our last day, because it was next to our metro stop, we visited a new, flagship store of a company that sells outdoor gear. Their prices are out of our budget, but I got to feel superior since we hiked the Himalayas in second-hand shoes and, anyway, I wanted to see the historic building it occupies. It had been built for an ice company in 1931, then later served to house Eisenhower’s inaugural ball and the first US Beatles concert in 1964. They still have some stadium seats as decoration, and there is a nice courtyard.
We hit two more museums and the Smithsonian castle before saying goodbye to friends and the city. The Hirshorn museum had stellar modern art:
The Sackler Gallery has Asian art that helped me deal with sadness from leaving Asia where we saw such beauty daily. The middle photo is the Cosmic Buddha with engravings telling Buddhist mythology.
The Castle tells the unlikely happenings that led the wealth of Mr. Smithson, a British national who never came to the US, to create this extraordinary institution. And I got this composite photo of myself rendered in images from the Smithsonian collections!
Alas, we had to leave Monday afternoon. Bye for now, Washington! See you, LW and friends! We hope to come back soon.