Tales of a Travelling Englishman (Part 8 - Washington D.C., USA)

A weekly account of my travels throughout the world. This chapter focuses on a week trip to Washington D.C. before travelling to South America.

Holiday Inn Central DC

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Shady Ady on August 26, 2006

Holiday Inn Central is an ideal place to stay if you want to explore Washington, D.C., by foot, being only a 15-minute walk from the Washington Monument and only 6 blocks from the White House. Recently renovated, the hotel is three stars and contains 212 guest rooms spanning 10 floors.

One thing that impressed me about Holiday Inn Central was the array of amenities on offer. It has a 24-hour front desk, room service, free newspaper, laundry service, safety box, and fitness suite, and room prices include breakfast. The breakfast is very handy if you want to save money by skipping lunch, as they have an all-you-can-eat buffet with a wide variety of cuisine. I managed to sneak muffins and fruit out with me to save on buying snacks when walking around the more expensive downtown Washington. The hotel also offers underground parking, but at $25 a day, it’s extremely pricey.

All rooms come air-conditioned and are extremely spacious, normally containing two double beds. They also have cable TV, coffeemaker, radio, hair dryer, iron, and ironing board. On the top floor there is a swimming pool, which is not only nice to relax in, but also gives exceptional views across downtown Washington. The hotel also offers high-speed Internet access, which I have to say costs a fortune and is a right rip-off. If you have to use, a little tip is to open a few Web pages at the same time and download a document or two. As the computers used are very old, doing so much locks the computer up. When reporting this to the front desk, they restart the computer and log you in using a special code, which gives you 99,999 minutes for free. Not bad if you originally only put $1 in!

Although the hotel has a restaurant and bar, I wouldn’t recommend eating here for dinner. Not only is it overpriced, but the service is pretty poor. Due to bad weather, my girlfriend and I decided to eat here. On arriving, we were seated at a dirty table. After requesting to be moved, we were moved to another dirty table. After waiting 10 minutes for our order to be taken, we decided enough was enough and ventured out into the pouring rain to seek food elsewhere.

For price, I think it will be difficult to find a better placed hotel for less. Our room cost $109 per night. I am not sure if they charge by the person, but if they do, you can easily get away with paying for only one or two people and getting four into your room, as they don’t check every person entering the hotel. Holiday Inn Central is located on the corner of 15th Street and Rhode Island Avenue. Take I-95 to Rt.50 west and then take New York Avenue to Mass. Avenue. Go under the overpass and turn right on to 15th street. Holiday Inn Central is one block on your left.
Holiday Inn Central DC
Washington, United States, 20005

1409 Playbill Cafe

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Shady Ady on August 26, 2006

The 1409 Playbill Café is located on 14th Street, approximately a 15- to 20-minute walk from the Washington Monument, and is situated in one of the more affluent areas of Washington, in a gay-friendly part of town with a nice, relaxed atmosphere. There is a wide variety of cuisine choices in this area, all at much reasonable prices than you would find in more downtown Washington. My girlfriend and I chose this restaurant, as it was only a few minutes walk from our hotel and was recommended in a number of magazines as having an excellent selection of vegetarian food.

The restaurant, enhanced by colourful walls, which are decorated with paintings, playbills, and head shots of Broadway legends, did indeed have an excellent selection, and although the food was very good and excellently priced for the quality and quantity you received, the service was not in the same league. Where you were supposed to stand and be seated by a member of staff, there was no one there, and after waiting 10 minutes to be seated, we decided to get a menu and seat ourselves. During the whole of this time, we were in full few of the bar staff, less than 2m away, who didn’t once come to our assistance. When a waiter finally came, he made a unsatisfactory grunting sound after passing our table, I believe because we had rudely sat ourselves down instead of waiting to be seated.

After taking our order, we did not see him again, and instead the bar staff brought our food to the table, the same bar staff that had let us stand for 10 minutes to be seated. Saying all of this, though, I cannot fault the food on offer, especially if you are a vegetarian. The jacket potato with broccoli was listed as only a starter, but could easily have served as a main course; it was that big and tasty. Between my girlfriend and I, we chose four vegetarian starters at $3 each, and there was more than enough to go around, even after walking around The Mall all day long. Drinks start at $3, with imported beer starting at $4.

Although I wasn’t that impressed with the friendliness of the staff or the service, I would still recommend this restaurant solely on the quality of the food and the very reasonable prices. The cafe also hosts cabaret shows, music shows, and plays of up-and-coming troupes, and there is a small theatre at the back of the restaurant that seats 50, known as The Phoenix. The restaurant seems to attract a varied, fun-loving, friendly clientele and is a great place to sit with a quiet drink and people watch. More information on menus, shows, and prices can be obtained by phoning the cafe at (202) 265-3055. The restaurant is open from 4pm to 2am Sunday to Thursday, 4pm to 3am Friday to Saturday, and 11am to 3pm on Sunday.
1409 Playbill Cafe
1409 14th St. NW
Washington, D.C., United States, 20005
(202) 265-3055

Baltimore National Aquarium

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Shady Ady on June 25, 2006

I must admit that ever since I was a child, aquarium’s haven’t always been a place I have really enjoyed, up until recently when I made a trip to Newport Aquarium in Northern Kentucky, which was brilliant. Therefore this trip to Baltimore Aquarium had high expectations.

The aquarium is located in Baltimore’s Inner Harbour and houses more than 10,500 creatures in their naturalistic habitats including stingrays, sharks, sea turtles, bullfrogs, phytoplankton, monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and puffins. Each exhibit is beautiful, looking more like an art project, with the amount of colour and objects in them and are easily the best I have scene. There is a lot of information available about each exhibit and the creatures they hold but this was not easily readable with the amount of visitors. Some of the information is put above the tank, which means straining your next muscles every time you want to read it.

Over 1.6 million visitors pass through the doors of the Baltimore Aquarium each year, and I think half of these visited on the day that I went!! I have never known a place so busy in all my life, and for me this was the biggest downfall. Making money may be their main objective but squeezing as many visitors as possible into the aquarium took everything away from my enjoyment. You have little choice over how much time you spend at each exhibit, with it depending on how long it takes before the thousands of people queuing behind you push you out of the way.

It would be made better if people learnt how to queue for each exhibit, as it was quite infuriating when you had queued for 10 minutes to get a good view and then a family comes in from the opposite direction and takes up your place. Probably my biggest annoyance was the use of flash cameras throughout the aquarium, even though large signs at the entrance of the aquarium inform visitors that this is not allowed. Okay, many of the offenders were young children who probably don’t know any better, but I would have thought the parents who they were standing right next to might have known better.

Cost to enter the aquarium for adults is $21.95 or $24.95 if you want to see the dolphin show. I didn’t have the pleasure of the dolphin show so I can’t really comment on this. Opening hours differ depending on season but between March and August it opens at 9am and closes at either 5pm, 6pm, or 8pm depending on the day.

More in depth information regarding opening hours and directions can be found on their website at http://www.aqua.org. Tickets can be bought here as well. For more details phone (410) 576-3800, or email visit@aqua.org.

This place has so much potential. Unfortunately I would only recommend this aquarium in the off season when there are less visitors, or if the weather is bad.
National Aquarium Baltimore
501 E. Pratt Street
Baltimore, Maryland, 21202
(410) 576-3800

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Shady Ady on September 2, 2006

Museums normally celebrate the achievements of humanity activity; the Holocaust Museum showcases the worse. The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime. Other groups, such as Gypsies, the handicapped, Slavic people, and homosexuals were also killed. The exhibits on display are some of the most moving, tragic, and unbelievable representations of history I have witnessed. Normally for me I get restless and bored after spending 2 hours in a museum, but I happily spent more than 6 hours here.

Upon entry to the museum, you are given a mock passport of a real person, charting their history through the Holocaust, allowing you to feel emotionally connected as you walk through the exhibits. The museum uses documentary films, videos, audio-taped oral histories, and items such as a freight car, used to transport Jews from Warsaw to the Treblinka death camp, and Star of David patches that Jewish prisoners were made to wear to portray the history of the Holocaust. Especially stirring is the Hall of Faces, a narrow, three-story-high space crammed with framed photographs of the 3,000 Jewish residents of a single Lithuanian town, who were murdered in September 1941, and the collection of shoes of murdered Jews, where the mixed smell of sweat and leather can still be smelt. Some of the images on show can be very disturbing, and I would not recommend it for young children.

The adjacent Hall of Remembrance provides a space for quiet reflection after your experience walking through the exhibits. In addition to the permanent exhibition, the museum also has a multimedia learning center, a resource center for students and teachers, a registry of Holocaust survivors, and occasional special exhibitions.

Amongst the museum staff are Holocaust survivors willing to talk about their experiences and answer any questions you may have. I had many questions to ask, but after my experience in the museum, I wasn’t feeling like asking questions. To me, it felt wrong and insensitive. I can imagine, though, for people, who were alive during the Holocaust, it is nice to share your experiences with someone else who went through the same things.

As with other museums in Washington, entry is free and tickets can be obtained on the day of your visit at the museum, or in advance by calling www.tickets.com (800) 400-9373. If you are collecting your tickets at the museum on a first-come, first-serve basis, it is essential to get there as early as possible, around 8am to avoid disappointment and a long wait. The museum policies are quite strict. As expected, no eating, drinking, or smoking is allowed, and all visitors pass through metal detectors upon entry. Photography, video, and audio recording is also prohibited.

The Holocaust Museum is open from 10am-5:30pm every day, apart from Yom Kippur (October 2nd) and Christmas Day. Hours are extended on Tuesdays and Thursdays from April through mid-June until 7:50pm. For more information, visit www.ushmm.org, or call the museum on (202) 488-0400.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, Sw
Washington, D.C., United States, 20024
(202) 488-0400

Week 38 - A Vivid Imagination!

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Shady Ady on June 23, 2006

Well, finally after 3 years of work, and god knows how long spent writing my thesis, I have finally gained my Masters degree, passing with a Merit. I was a little disappointed with this, especially my thesis mark, which was the lowest in all my 3 years of study! Obviously it goes to prove that the less time you spend doing a piece of work, the better the marks you get!! I have also managed to get my visa sorted for Ecuador as well, which is a relief and finally means I now have everything sorted for the next part of my trip.

As per usual the World Cup is keeping me entertained. Unlike the first England game, the last two I have watched in bars, hoping for a little bit of atmosphere. So when I walked into a local bar down the road from where I live, and saw about 20 people, some of which were decked in England colours, I thought my wishes had come true. It wasn't until I got closer though that I realised, these weren't English but in fact Americans, all shouting for England. It seems that here in America, you don't have to support your country if they aren’t any good. This was confirmed upon entering a sports shop when after one of the shop assistants recognised I was English, told me in a broad American accent that like England, his team had easily made it through to the second round. Obviously I was a little confused at this, seeing that the USA had been knocked out a day earlier. See my confused expression, the shop assistant exclaimed, that Germany was his team, and you can't go wrong supporting a team like Germany. I was always brought up supporting the country in which you were born and live, but I must be wrong!! I was later informed that Americans hate to lose, so by supporting a team that is actually good at 'soccer' you lose less often! Genius!!!

I managed to watch the third England game in one of the main pubs in Washington DC, and luckily I found myself surrounded by fellow English men, which gave a bit more of an atmosphere to the game. In future though I have made a mental note that it is not a good idea for pre-match preparations to include a trip around a Holocaust Museum. Constantly seeing graphic image after graphic image for this length of time is certainly not good for morale or enthusiasm!! Saying this though, the Holocaust Memorial Museum was an eye opener of how evil the human race can sometimes be and a memorial I would recommend to anyone visiting Washington, DC.

The 10-hour journey to Washington DC was definitely worth it, not only for obtaining my visa. I was a little apprehensive seeing that Washington, DC is said to be one of the most dangerous cities in America, but I failed to see any of this dangerous side when I was there. Being as stingy as I am, Washington impressed me even more as all of the museums and art galleries are free. Although if you want to get in many of them then you have to start queuing at 6 in the morning, and with a free breakfast on offer there was no way I was going to be doing that!!

Obviously I partaked in all of the typical tourist sightseeing, including the White House, State Capitol, Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial made famous by Martin Luther King, and to a lesser extent Forrest Gump. But the thing I found most intriguing about Washington were the homeless people. Now I know almost every big city has homeless people, but it seemed that almost all of the homeless people in Washington suffered from one type of schizophrenia or another. It was almost impossible to walk around and not see this. During the 4 days I spent there I saw one guy riding an imaginary bus, who then stopped his imaginary bus to let on some imaginary passengers. Another guy ran past riding an imaginary horse, whipping it ferociously in an attempt to go faster. There were also the numerous people who must have thought they were Martin Luther King himself giving a momentous speech about a democratic and equal society in front of thousands of people. Unfortunately, they weren’t talking to anyone. It just goes to show what you can do if you have a vivid imagination!!

The only downside with Washington while I was there was being stuck in the middle of a horrendous thunderstorm while on the way back to the hotel. As we were walking through a park with the only cover being trees we decided that getting wet was less of a risk. By the time we had walked the 500 yards out of the park we were already as wet as we would have been jumping fully clothed into a swimming pool, and we still had a 2-mile walk back to the hotel! Unfortunately I had decided to wear a slightly tight fitting shirt, not because I wanted to look buff, because of the weight gain experienced in the past few months. Because of this it meant I had to parade through the entire downtown of Washington as though I was taking part in a prestigious wet T-shirt competition. I have no doubt in my mind that if it really was a wetT-shirt competition I would have walked away with first prize. To help vent some of my anger and embarrassment I decided to stick the V-signs up at numerous cars who failed to stop at the pedestrian crossings for me, which was infuriating. None of the cars though knew what I was implying with the V-sign though, as in America they only know the one finger salute. How rebellious!!

I have now been living in Louisville for 4 weeks and I swear the house I’m living in is haunted. I have always been skeptical of such things until now but when you are home alone and start hearing doors opening and footsteps all the time then you start to wonder. At least I wasn't as unlucky as my girlfriend who, after taking an afternoon nap, awoke to hear footsteps walking towards her and then someone sitting down on the edge of her bed. When she opened her eyes there was no one there at all. Very freaky indeed!! Because of these ghostly experiences I have decided the best measure to take is to sleep with the light on. Quite pathetic when you remember I’ll be rubbing shoulders with Colombian guerrillas in the next few weeks!!

Other than this, I have yet again been amusing myself with my sarcasm, and the fact that most people don’t understand it at all. While watching the World Cup I was asked why only one African team was still in it. I replied by saying that all the others had unfortunately been shot for being rubbish. Upon saying this I was met with a look of shock, horror, and disbelief. It still amazes me after all my time here how little my sarcasm is understood. Maybe it’s just me that’s the problem here!!

My next email will be sent from California as I’ll be travelling there next Monday before I fly to Costa Rica. Although I’m intrigued to see the difference between California and where I am currently living, I’m not really that excited about the prospect of a 55 hour continuous bus journey. The trip to Washington was bad enough but 55 hours is going to be a killer! I'm sure though that there will be enough interesting characters to keep me entertained.


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