DC Vacation: Day 17 & 18, Downtown

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May 9, 2010 by Evin

Washington, DC has so much to offer, not the least of which is free entry to the museums of the Smithsonian Institution. We set aside two full days to explore downtown DC and ‘The Mall’, a museum and memorial-rich area of the District spreading from the Lincoln Memorial to the U.S. Capitol flanked by museums lining Constitution and Independence Avenues.

We took to the Tidal Basin by paddleboat on Tuesday morning. It was a windy and somewhat chilly day for April in DC, but seemed sunny and warm to us. As the only boat on the water, we had pure views of the Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, and Washington skyline. There is limited three-hour parking by the dock and at that hour plenty of available spaces welcomed us.

Jefferson Memorial


After an hour on the water ($10), we drove to Chinatown and Penn Quarter (near 7th and H Streets NW) for lunch. I usually like to go to Potbelly there, but that day called for some California Tortilla so we could get our Tex-Mex fix. In hindsight, that was the wrong choice, but mediocre Mexican-style food keeps us from missing great Mexican food while in Ireland. We parked in a street spot that had a broken meter. Something you should know if you are driving/parking in DC is that if you park at and leave your car at a broken meter without reporting it, you can [and will] be ticketed. I rang the number on the meter and reported its issue and was provided with a confirmation number to use if ticketed. Thinking it would save the meter police time, I wrote a note stating the time the meter was reported broken, the confirmation number, and the date then put it on my dashboard before proceeding to lunch.

Mediocre Fish Tacos

After lunch, we proceeded to our third parking spot of the day on Madison, one of two small one-way streets on either side of the National Mall that has free three-hour parking. No meters, no rush-hour restrictions, and fierce competition for parking on weekends and Screen on the Green evenings. While my car waited for us there, we explored the American History Museum.

Independence

The American History Museum was recently renovated and we’d not been there in a few years so it was nice to be back. Some things were very different, but mostly it was just a new and improved version of the same museum I grew up with. There is one change that I am not fond of and that is the gift shop. They once had two separate decent-sized gift shops – one with general goodies (including replica Jacqueline Kennedy Onasis jewelry and sunglasses) and the other with only music. The Smithsonian collected old recordings, archived them and remastered when necessary. They amassed an astounding amount of original recordings, most that would otherwise have been lost to the world. I don’t mean just the first in-studio recording of a particular artist, but rare otherwise unrecorded versions of traditional American folk songs or spirituals. Keeping in mind it hasn’t always been as easy as it is now to record sound, the wax albums and other delicate vessels of music’s rich history would fade into decades past without significance if not for preservationist. So, they’re still doing the work, but the fabulous gift shop is no longer there. Rumor is they are moving to a digital shop. No matter how technologically advanced the world gets there will always be one thing that every house needs though and my favorite one in America now resides in this museum – Julia Child’s New England kitchen. When I grow up, I want one just like it.

My Favorite American Kitchen

The day was complete after spending time with our nephew, Quinn, at the park. Boy does the lad love the swings!

Father and Son

Wednesday started early so we could watch Quinn eat. Yes, we’re the doting aunt and uncle thinking he’s cute even when he’s chewing! I began to wonder if he will forever associate the sound of a camera’s shutter with his Aunt Evin.

Still breezy and sunny, we went to Arlington Cemetery just across Memorial Bridge from the Lincoln Memorial. It is a monument of sorts to the dedicated men and women who have given their lives for the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of their fellow Americans. Most notable for visitors are the Custis-Lee Mansion, the Kennedy grave sites and the Eternal Flame, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Many, including I, have family who have served our country in the military and are now interred at Arlington so even though it is a popular destination for tourists, I still see it as a final resting place for thousands of Americans who looked, worked, and gave beyond themselves for something they believed in.

In the Shade of an Old Oak Tree

Though I usually prefer to get my Low Country foodie fix at Georgia Brown’s, the parking is a bear there at lunchtime. Instead, we drove to Union Station by the U.S. Capitol for lunch. If you’re in and out in under two hours and have had your parking ticket validated at Union Station, it costs just $1! Can’t beat that!! Neither B. Smith’s or Georgia Brown’s is what you’d call ‘cheap eats’, but definitely memorable with great care paid to ingredients and decor.

Cream and Gold Coffering

Known for its southern hospitality and rich cuisine, B. Smith’s served up everything on my wish list – sweet tea, fried green tomatoes, cornbread muffins, biscuits, catfish fingers, and sweet potato pie. This photo is of my husband’s Smothered Fried Chicken. To read about and see my lunch, visit my post about Lunch at B. Smith’s in my other blog, Cooking Peas & Q’s.

Smothered Southern Fried Chicken in Gravy

Our day was tainted ever so slightly with the stress of afternoon traffic. In DC not being let into your necessary lane of traffic can have a domino effect, in our case it meant that instead of heading to Arlington we ended up in Anacostia. The cars that honked at me then passed me, keeping me from getting into the exit lane made me want to cry. Has anyone recorded and evaluated the meaning of honking in traffic? I know there is the ‘excuse me’ honk and the ‘hey, stop! I’m here’ honk then the ever popular ‘get moving,’ ‘hurry up,’ ‘go already,’ and ‘I’ve got places to go and people to see’. Misused but truly a favorite is when someone thinks you have space to go and honks encouragement not knowing you really need to get over two lanes. Overall, driving in DC is a harrowing experience that I would avoid if I had the choice.

My advice to visitors is to take METRO which is easy, clean, and fast for getting around the greater Washington DC area. Just remember that you need your pre-paid METRO card to enter and exit and DO NOT EAT OR DRINK in a METRO train. This is punishable by fine or arrest as we learned from Fawn Hall’s mistake in 1987. In fact, from what I can tell the WMATA police have their own set of rules so just because something is legal doesn’t mean they won’t fuss at you about it so when in doubt, don’t do it on METRO. An example is when a friend had a spare concert ticket and was giving it to someone he met on METRO when the METRO police stopped him and confiscated the ticket saying he was scalping. They did not back down even when both parties explained no money was being exchanged. It was very disappointing considering it was a sold-out gig at the 930 Club. Sigh.

That night, we had Indian take-away with dear friends on my parents’ block. Lots of laughter, fun, and catching up. It’s moments like that when I miss having neighbors who are best friends, but then I remember distance cannot dampen true friendships.

Saveur India Does Dinner

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