A November 2005 trip
to Washington, D.C. by Taylor Shelby
Quote: Two friends and I went to DC, where we were graciously entertained by a local.
D.C. is really a stunning city, and I'm not just saying that because I am a student of American History and obsessed with politics. I can't imagine that people couldn't find something to enjoy here. Oh yeah, and almost everything is FREE!! This is why we pay our taxes, people. Take advantage.
Here are my top pics:
The Holocaust Memorial Museum - Without a doubt, one of the most incredible experiences of my life. As a human being, you should go here.
The Museum of American History - Yes, I'm a historian and therefore a huge dork, but everyone can find something here to entertain them. It is MASSIVE!
The U.S. Archives - One of the surprising delights of the trip. I hadn't planned on going here, but it was just spectacular. It is hard not to be impressed by 300 Year old (and older) documents.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial - Harrowing, moving, beautiful.
Luna Restaurant - The fact that we ate here three times should tell you how wonderful it was. A great place for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
2. Have a game plan - We went with a couple of things in mind that we all HAD to do, and then went from there. You have so many choices that it is overwhelming, so do a little reasearch before you go. And here you are, reading my journal, so good for you! Give yourself a pat on the back!
3. As for those thing you MUST DO, do them first. Sometimes you can get bogged down in long lines or waiting for tickets. These sorts of things can eat up your day.
4. If you are staying in a hotel with a concierge, use them! Ours was able to give us anytime tickets to the Holocaust Museum so we didn't have to wait in line. It never hurts to ask!
There are also a couple of trolley companies that ferry you about the city, but I was underwhelmed by the one that we took. It will get you to some hard-to-reach areas, but you will pay dearly for it. You can read my review to learn more about that.
The hotel was completed in 1925, and as a lovely welcome to the world Calvin Coolidge held his inaugural ball. It has since been the host of an inaugural ball for ever president since. In 1933, in room 733, FDR penned the famous words "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" when he wrote his inaugural speech at the Mayflower. It is a standard for politicians and stars, and we saw many secret service agents lingering in hallways and elevators as we were there (but alas, I didn't recognize anyone!). It is also in an extremely convenient location, being only four blocks from the white house.
The rooms do not disappoint. We had a standard double hotel room but it was quite large. The beds were unbelievably comfortable with their luxurious down comforters and range of feather pillows. All of the linens were exceptionally pretty and we toyed with the idea of trying to cram one in the suitcases. We decided that, along with the Armoire, we just wouldn't be able to get them out without anyone noticing. One of the best things was the bathroom. It was enormous and with two walls devoted to mirror space, it seemed even larger. It was entirely encased in blonde and pink marble that was beautiful and the toiletries were all wonderful.
The details weren't forgotten after the toiletries. Every morning, with your free paper, they would deliver hot chocolate, coffee, or tea (your choice). The closets were stocked with wonderful seersucker robes. There was a big flat-screen TV that you could see all the way across the huge room. It was just lovely. One thing you should definitely take advantage of is the concierge. All three that we dealt with were incredibly helpful, nice, and effective. Make sure to ask them for a dinner reservation or tickets to some of the sites.
The Mayflower isn't cheap. It is a four-diamond, four-star hotel, so expect to pay for the amenities. Doubles run from $179 (in the low season, but I have no idea when the low season is in DC) to $575 on the Club Level. It is in a great location on Connecticut Avenue, just next to a metro stop and right near the White House.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 5, 2005
The Mayflower Hotel
1127 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, United States 20036
Restaurant | "Luna"
You may walk right past Luna without noticing it because it is very nondescript from the outside. It is just a simple storefront with some plants in the windows. Once you walk in, you see the walls covered with murals and paintings and artwork hanging on top of all that. There were Christmas lights strung all around the place when we were there, but I don't know if that was because it was around thanksgiving or if they are always like that. The restaurant is small, so if you go at a busy time, you may have to wait a bit. And they don't really have seating for large groups, so try to keep them small, folks.
Their breakfast was very extensive and excellent. It is also served all day for those people who wake up at 2:30 in the afternoon and just have to have a waffle (and don't think I am judging you; I am one of those people). The Belgian waffles were very good and very big. A waffle and two eggs will run you $6.95. They also had a make your own omelette section. Three toppings (from a rather extensive selection) is $7.95. And I had a fantastic bagel sandwich with eggs, cheese, and bacon served with a big pile of potatoes for $6.95. Wash it all down with delicious raspberry tea for $1.75.
For dinner they also had a huge menu and it was very hard for me to decide. There is something for everyone here. They had a huge selection of pastas, burgers, sandwiches and traditional home-style food like meatloaf. I finally settled on the Red, White, and Blue Burger ($8.95) which was a hamburger topped with crispy bacon and a heap of melty, creamy blue cheese. It was served with some of the best fries I have ever had. One of our number partook in the make your own pasta area where you could order from 4 different types of pastas in 5 different sauces ($8.95) then you could add toppings for a little bit extra. You could make some unusual combinations, that's for certain. The chili also got rave reviews (a big bowl was $5.95).
Luna is one of those places that you just wander up to and it turns out to be very memorable. The fact that we went there three times in four days should tell you how much we liked it. Hours are Sun-Thurs 8am-11pm and Fri and Sat 8am-12am.
Luna Grill & Diner
1301 Connecticut Avenue North West
Washington, United States 20036
Restaurant | "Capitol City Brewing Co."
On the day we decided to do the stuff on the Mall, we had this map of the sites. In one corner there was an ad for a place called Capitol City Brewing Co. What caught our eye is that you got a free glass with every entree. My lovely assistant and I have a bad habit of collecting glasses everywhere we go, and even though I am usually completely against eating anywhere that I find advertised on a map solely for tourists, the lure of a free glass was far too much for me to fight. Plus, it was close and we were starving after our many hours at the Capitol Building.
The restaurant we went to (there is another one downtown) is located right next to Union Station, in the building that houses the Postal Service Museum. The restaurant is cavernous, with enormously high ceilings. The main eating and bar area is on the ground, but there is also a balcony area that runs along one wall overlooking the rest of the room. In the middle of the restaurant are the large copper vats used for brewing the microbrews they serve. They were quite striking. I just love the look of highly polished copper.
Unfortunately for us, on the day we went, the kitchen was down. Right when we walked in, the hostess apologized and handed us a cut-down menu of appetizers and soup. We all saw something that we wanted, so we decided to go anyway. The good thing about the lack of kitchen was that there was hardly anyone in the place, and I imagine that on a Friday at 12:30 it is normally crowded.
The food we had was good. Instead of bringing rolls to the table, they bring wonderful chewy pretzels. Yum! It was a good start. I ordered a cup of spectacular Crab and Corn Chowder ($3), and I literally scraped the cup clean. I also had an order of spinach-and-artichoke dip served with tortilla chips ($7). It was good but very rich. I wasn't able to finish it. My lovely assistant had a pulled pork barbecue sandwich served with fries ($8) that we all thought was great. None of us ordered it, but they did walk by with a huge plate of jambalaya ($12) that looked (and smelled!) wonderful. That might be worth a try.
If you go, don't forget to try some of the locally made beers. It is a brewery after all. I had the Amber Waves Ale, which was a little bitter for me. My companions both ordered the seasonal Pumpkin Ale, which is served with the rim dipped in honey and cinnamon. It was excellent but a little messy. Our beers were $4.50 for 12 ounces.
If you find yourself around Union Station at lunch, this is definitely worth a try.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on December 5, 2005
Capitol City Brewing Company - Postal Square
2 Massachusetts Avenue Northeast
Washington, DC 20001
Don't you love it when you ask the concierge, "Where should we go for lunch?" and he really comes through for you? We were looking for something quick and simple, so we were sent down the street to Potbelly, a little sandwich shop that was famous among locals (and for a good reason, we learned).
Potbelly is a chain that was founded back in 1977 and has grown into a booming business (there are seven in DC alone). Unfortunately for me, they are mostly centered in New England and the northern states. The restaurant has an old-time deli sort of feel, with pressed tin ceilings and various antiques scattered about the booths and tables. Proceed to the counter to order.
The menu is small, but I still had trouble picking what I wanted. I eventually settled on a turkey breast sandwich with Swiss cheese that came with a variety of toppings. I am sort of a wuss, so I just got mayo, mustard, and lettuce. Their sandwiches are served hot and delicious, and I must admit that it was one of the best sandwiches of my life. The best thing? They are only $3.99. You can get lot of different meats (tuna, roast beef, meatball, to name a few) and they even have a vegetarian one if you are so inclined, all for $3.99. You just can't beat that. You can add sides like chips for $0.69 or a whole banana for only $0.50. How great it is that you can get a banana for a side?
You could also get soup for $2.69 or a bowl of their chili for $3.29. Said my friend, a local, "Make sure you say in your journal that the chili is wonderful and I recommend it." There you go, Elizabeth. If you want some sweet stuff afterwards, they have hand-dipped ice cream, homemade shakes and malts ($2.69), and really yummy-looking cookies ($0.99).
This place was wonderful, quick, and cheap, three things that go very well together in my book. The one that we ate at was on L Street, but if you want to know the other locations, you can visit their website at www.potbelly.com.
1660 L Street North West
Washington, D.C., United States 20002
Attraction | "The Capitol Building"
When we went to DC, we didn't actually have much of a plan about what we wanted to see. On Saturday morning, we woke up and decided that we wanted to go see the Capitol Building. This is one of the many sights where you get in line for a timed ticket. When they run out of tickets, they run out of tickets, so we wanted to get there early. The ticket kiosk opens at 9am, and we were there in line by 9:15am. The line wasn't that long, so we figured we would get in pretty soon.
At about 10am, we finally got our tickets, which were for the 10:30am tour. While you are in line, they tell you about the rules. Just a couple of tips: if you want to see the Capitol, leave your nunchucks, fireworks, and cans of hairspray at home. We got a lot of pleasure out of the little prohibited items list. But seriously: no food! Unless it is baby food, it cannot come in. People had to throw out their picnic lunches and water bottles (even if they were empty). They don't mess around.
Before you actually get to go in, you have to wait in a bunch of lines, listen to rules, and then go through security. It is like the airport (take off your shoes and jackets, put them in the X-ray machine, and walk through this metal detector). You wait in a room with the other 30 or so people on your tour. Then they send you up towards the Capitol Building. There are some lovely views from this little walk, but you get to see the same ones at the end of the tour, so save your pictures.
Once you get inside, you are taken first to the Rotunda, which is the room under the giant dome. They tell you all about the dome (made out of cast iron) and the statue of "freedom" on top (she is 19.5 feet tall). The Rotunda is full of statues and paintings, and our guide told us about most of them. Next you move on to the room where the House used to meet before they outgrew the space. There are even more statues in here (100 statues total live in the Capitol, two from each state). I don't want to give away the interesting parts, because then your tour will be boring, so I'll skip ahead. You finally end your 30-minute tour in the Crypt, which was where GW was supposed to be buried. It never happened, so it is empty today. This is where they have the gift shop and museum spaces.
Overall, the Capitol was okay. I enjoyed seeing it; it was beautiful, important, and historic, all the things you expect from DC. However, by the time we left, it had been almost 4 hours, which just wasn't worth it for me. There are other things I would have rather done in that time.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on December 5, 2005
U.S. Capitol Building
Attraction | "The National Archives of the United States"
I hadn’t actually planned on seeing the National Archives until Elizabeth yelled, “THEY HAVE THE MAGNA CARTA!!” My response: “Off we go!”
The National Archives is where all of our important documents live. Things like the Declaration of Independence, The US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are on view for you to see. But that isn’t the only thing worth seeing. They also have an excellent museum space that is fascinating, extremely well done, and forgotten by most visitors to Washington. Oh yeah, and they have the Magna Carta. The Magna Carta is an English document that dates back all the way to 1215, when it was signed. This is what first limited the power of the English king and is believed to be the first step on the road to Constitutional Law, meaning if the Magna Carta had never been signed, none of those other things they show off at the Archives would have existed. Anywho, I digress.
The National Archives are open for public tours daily (except Christmas Day), and you should expect a bit of a wait. It took us about 15 minutes to get through security (and it was the toughest security of anywhere I saw in DC), and then we had to wait another 30 minutes to be able to go into The Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, where they keep all the American Documents. You need to be really careful when you go in here. Pictures are allowed in the Rotunda, but you absolutely cannot use a flash. If you want to try and see if your flash is turned off, do it outside in the hall. If your flash goes off, even as you are trying to disable it, you won’t be able to use the camera anymore. And they are not messing around. Those people in there will tear you to pieces if they see a flash!
There is a lot more to the national archives than just the “charters of freedom.” They also have a large museum space called the Public Vaults, and there is a lot of wonderful stuff in there. One thing that was excellent about it is the amount of hands-on activities. You can create your own seal, make a movie about D-Day, and learn about conservation of old documents. They also had some neat artifacts, like old hand-stitched samplers from the late 1700s, citizenship papers for Albert Einstein, and old CIA and FBI records you can peruse through.
Most people left the rotunda and walked straight out of the archives, but I really encourage you to look around. It was one of the best museums I have even been in, and they did an excellent job with the display and content. Make sure to also check out the wonderful museum shop they have. It was one of the best bookstores in DC, and they had a lot of unusual stuff.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 6, 2005
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
700 Pennsylvania Avenue, Nw
Washington, DC 20408
Attraction | "The Vietnam Veterans Memorail"
The wall is shockingly moving. When you look at it from afar, it doesn't look very big and impressive, but as you walk down the path that leads you farther and farther into the memorial, it starts to overwhelm you. The wall is made up of graduating slabs of polished black marble with the names of the 58,000 men and women who lost their lives in the Vietnam war. The first slabs you walk by are only inches off the ground but as you get to the heart of the memorial (and the center of a giant 'V') the slabs are easily eight or nine feet high. And they are packed with names. Thousands and thousands of names. I don't think it is actually possible to conceive how many 58,000 is until you are standing in front of it. Reading the names that are surrounding you, causing your eyes to blur and you heart to tear in half, it's stunning. I called my father, a Vietnam veteran, and told him I loved him.
The most remarkable thing happened that afternoon. We reached the memorial right after sunset. The black stone had been sitting in the sun all day and after it went down, it was releasing the heat it had stored up. It was a bitterly cold day, but around that memorial it was much warmer. The stone itself was about 85 degrees. We all warmed our hands and pressed our faces against the stone. I know it sounds weird, but I felt such a connection to that monument. It was almost magical, in an incredibly sad way.
Even if you don't care at all about seeing this, you should. It is impossible to describe. The memorial is located on the mall, just to the right of the Lincoln memorial. Go see it. I can assure you it will be memorable.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 7, 2005
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Bacon Drive and Constitution Avenue
Washington, D.C., United States
We decided that on our last day in D.C. we would get a ticket for the Old Town Trolley Tour. We had seen the violently orange-and-green trolleys all over the city, and the map that we used was one that was given out by that company. There were a few things about it that appealed to us. First, they had a large route. The trolley takes you to stops like the National Zoo, the National Cathedral, Georgetown, and Arlington Cemetery, and provides a comprehensive route of all the monuments, which are quite spread out. Second, it is hop-on-hop-off, which I have always liked. That way, you get a chance to stop if you are suddenly so inclined. And third, the trams seemed frequent and efficient. It just seemed like a good idea.
You can buy your tickets for the tour from the company’s welcome center, from some of the stops (there are big signs that say “buy tickets here”), or from many concierges, which is where we bought ours. You CANNOT buy tickets from the drivers, so make sure you have your ticket before you get on, because otherwise you can’t ride. Your tickets last from 9am, when the trolleys start running, to 4:30pm in the winter months (5:30pm the rest of the year). Tickets were a steep $28, which seemed high for me. But we figured it would be more convenient and entertaining than taking the Metro and walking. Plus, we had hardly spent any money, since all the attractions are free, so it seemed okay to splurge.
I must say that I was actually quite disappointed with the whole thing. For one thing, the service was slow. Trolleys were supposed to come at LEAST every 30 minutes, but that was not the case for us. I had to wait for longer almost every time. And there was no excuse. It was a Sunday and there was hardly any traffic. They should have been more timely. Once you got on the trolley, things just got worse. These are guided tours, where the driver ells you stores and points of interest, etc. Out of the three drivers I had, only one was bearable. The first spoke so fast that no one could understand him, and when someone said something to him, he was very rude to them. The second driver at least had some personality, but she was a little irritating. The third was obviously bored with his job and just droned on. I am a tour guide. It isn’t really hard work, people.
The thing that finally got me was the price. It was just way too much to pay for mediocre service. Maybe if they gave you a second day free I would have felt better about it. Save your money and use the Metro. It’s quicker, cheaper, and much less annoying.
Member Rating 1 out of 5 on December 13, 2005
Old Town Trolley Tours
2640 Reed Street NE
Washington, D.C. 20018
Attraction | "National Gallery of Art, West Building"
On a last-minute whim, only 2 hours before we were going to leave for the airport, I decided that I wanted to see the National Gallery of Art. It was my intention just to breeze in for a bit and then go to the museum shop to pick up some gifts. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I am not an art lover. I can appreciate the beauty and incredible talent and I do enjoy looking at art in small doses, but I lose interest in art museums rapidly. That’s why I only thought I needed a small bit of time. I WAS SO WRONG!
Next time I go back to D.C., I will devote an entire day to this museum. It is massive and beautiful and I was completely captivated. The museum is actually divided into three sections, the sculpture garden, the West building, and the East building. The East building is devoted to modern art, but everything else is located in the West building, which is the one I saw. In this museum they have everything, from 13th-century illuminated manuscripts to architectural sculptures of Charles Rennie McKintosh, a 20th-century Scottish architect. I, however, only saw a very small portion of the museum.
When I walked in, I saw a sign that said photography was allowed. Yes, you read that right, photography is allowed. I have an affinity for the study of 18th-century clothing and accessories, so I immediately made a bee line for the 18th-century galleries. Here I proceeded to rush through and take a picture of every portrait that dated from the last half of the 18th century. It was a good thing I had extra batteries. I didn’t even have time to stop and look at anything else, except when I wandered into 19th-century French gallery and came face to face with one of my all-time favorite pictures, Woman with a Parasol by Claude Monet, of which I promptly took a picture and moved on.
After I totally and completely used up the memory on my huge memory card, I decided that I would head down to the museum shop. I figured it would be somewhat small, like the other shops I saw in the Smithsonian Museums, but I was wrong again! It was the best museum shop I have ever seen in my life: huge, well laid out, and full of beautiful, well priced treasures. I love to collect postcards, so I immediately bought quite a few of those for $0.50 each. They also had a massive selection of notecard sets that ranged from $9.95 to $11.95 for sets of 8 or 10. My favorite find was a mounted copy of Monet’s Woman with a Parasol for only $11.95, so now I can look at it to my heart’s content.
Even if you don’t care about art, stop in here and see some masterpieces. Then go shopping. It is totally worth it.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on December 13, 2005
National Gallery of Art and Sculpture Garden
4th and Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20565
Charleston, South Carolina