Travelogue Washington D. C. 2000
Stop #6 on my 2000 Round-The-World trip
This Travelogue is Incomplete
Wednesday March 22, 2000
Today's flight is a United airlines 777. It is so nice to be back on United again, flying from London to Washington Dulles airport. It was an uneventful flight. I am amazed at how many different kinds of seats they have. These business class seats seem to be some kind of missing-link intermediate between the old business class seats and the new ones. They are fairly comfortable and have in-the-seat video displays, but donít have the fancy 10-way electrical adjustments, and there is no laptop power port. It is strange to be on a brand new 777 and not have the latest and greatest seats. Hi ho.
I am staying with a cousin Rob and his wife Stephanie in Virginia, about an hour outside of D.C. Their house is quite beautiful, set beside a little stream in the remains of a young eastern forest. A very pleasant place to stay.
After all the travelling I've been doing lately, a laid back evening and a home cooked meal are extremely welcome.
Thursday March 23, 2000
The only important agenda item for this trip is to go to the Indian embassy so I can get a visa to go on a scuba diving trip next month. Borrowing my cousin's car I drove into D.C. to the Indian Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue. With only a 15 minute wait I dropped off my passport. It's not clear what issuing a visa entails, but they will return my passport to me in the evening.
After leaving the embassy I headed down towards the center of D.C. to get some breakfast and look around. I was imagining a plethora of deli type places offering any kind of breakfast 24 hours a day like in New York, or at least the occasional Waffle House, as in the south. Downtown Washington D.C. seems to have neither. After walking around for 1/2 hour and asking the occasional person, I gave up looking for a cooked breakfast and had a really good bagel and lox at a bagel place on 19th.
My next stop was the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial to see the famous cherry blossoms. They are at their peak of bloom right now, which is about two weeks earlier than normal. The trees were quite beautiful, though the crowds were pretty heavy. I was really taken aback by the number of people that were out there on a Thursday in early spring. I cant imagine what they would be like on a weekend. That is one of the surprising things about the United States. There are just so many people here that it is hard to go to any kind of attraction without being overrun. By contrast, there are so few people in Australia that you can go to the #1 attraction in the country on a beautiful day at the height of summer and have no crowds at all.
The Jefferson Memorial is certainly a bombastic structure. It is big, Grecian, and imposing with a truly colossal statue of Jefferson at its heart. I haven't seen anything in the rest of the world that really matches the size and self-importance of Washington D.C. monuments. Perhaps the tomb of Napoleon in Paris comes close. Ah well, Jefferson was a great thinker and a hell of a guy, even if he did own slaves.
"The Mall" and the Washington Monument are just a short walk from the Jefferson Memorial. Heading up that way I passed the Bureau of Engraving and Printing which was sporting huge cloth banners announcing an exhibit of US currency including the $100,000 gold certificate! Wow! I couldnít pass that up. Walking up the steps I observed the 3 doors, one barricaded closed, one marked "exit only", and one marked "entrance to gift shop only." Hmmmm. So, I asked the guard who directed me around the block to the other side of the building. Whistling a sunshine-tune, I did the 10 minute walk around to the other side of the building where I learned that I could get in line for 20 minutes to do a 45 minute tour of the Bureau including all the printing presses and so on. But, I'd better hurry up because the last tour leaves in 10 minutes. I'm not sure how the math works exactly to wait in line for 20 minutes for a tour that leaves in 10, but I decided to leave that matter alone as I really wanted to see the exhibit, not the tour. The response, "Uh, what exhibit." "You know, the exhibit of US currency including the fabulous $100,000 gold certificate being advertised on the huge banners on the other side of the building." "Well, I donít know about that, but we have some displays about how money is printed along this corridor, sir."
So, I respectfully read all the displays about how money is printed, and how the new $20, $50, and $100 bills are easier to read and harder to counterfeit. I really didnít want to do the tour, so I left. 5 minutes later I had made it back around the block (I found a short-cut), and walked up the stairs to the door marked "entrance to gift shop only." No namby pamby Bureau of Engraving and Printing guard was going to stop me from seeing the fabulous $100,000 gold certificate! Sure enough, in the gift shop itself were a series of display cases with examples of all the current US currency, all the bills of the previous issue, silver certificates, and big as life the fabulous, incomparable, and incredibly valuable $100,000 gold certificate. They even had facsimiles of the $100,000 gold certificate in a case a short distance from the real certificate, in case seeing the real one just wasnít enough for you. Feeling much richer for the experience, I headed back out into the sunshine.
After enjoying the Washington Monument and taking a dozen photos of the Lincoln Monument and the reflecting pool, I noticed that the National Gallery of Art wasnít too far away. Having spent so much time in the great museums of Europe in the last two years, it struck me with a start that I have never been to my own nation's National Gallery! Well, distrances in D. C. are truly decieving, especially on "The Mall". What looked like a short walk turned out to be a solid 1/2 hour hike, and while I was happy to be walking around outside on this beautiful day, I really wanted to be spending this time inside the gallery and then buzz back to the Indian embassy. By the time I got there I realized that I only had about 45 minutes, so I made a beeline for the Dutch masters.
Vermeer's A Lady Writing absolutely glows. What a beauty. Many of the works by Pieter de Hooch and other Dutch and Flemish artists were equally gripping. After the Netherlands, I rushed downstairs to survey the German painting (van der Weyden, et als.) and then headed out. Right outside the door I grabbed a cab to take me back to the car, and then drove north to the Indian embassy where my passport was waiting for me with my spanking new visa.
The drive back home was made somewhat confusing due to the fact that the road I had taken into town was carpool only from 4:30 to 6:30pm. I have seen many carpool lanes in my time, but this is the first time I have been faced with an entire carpool highway. Nonetheless I managed to find a route on lesser roads and made it back just in time for another nice dinner at my cousin's home.
Friday March 24, 2000
What a beautiful day! Spring has sprung in our nation's capital. To enjoy this fine weather and start the process of getting back in shape, I went on a terrific local bike ride with Stephanie and a friend of hers. The traffic was relatively light and the off-road trails were great. Some of the local trails are former rail-road trails that were converted to multi-use paths with the help of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy <URL> (one of my favorite charities.) When the American railroads were built, much of the land was granted to the railroad companies by the government. As many of these railroad lines have fallen into disuse, the land reverts to the government. Some years ago the US Congress passed a law which "railbanks" these right-of-ways as a resource for the use of the American people. Itís a really smart move, since these nice, open, straight tracts of land are impossible to recreate once they are broken up (as formerly happened.) In recent years many stretches of railbanked land have been turned into multi-use trails for use by joggers, cyclists, roller-bladers, and equestrians. In Seattle, the most used "park" in the city is actually the Burke-Gilman Trail, a much beloved multi-use trail. Of course, railbanking, and the turning of railbanked land into trails, is constantly under attack by adjacent land owners. They want the government to give or sell the land to them. They never had a problem when the land was a railroad, but heaven forbid it become a trail. This always makes me laugh when I think about the situation with the Burke-Gilman trail in Seattle. Adjacent land owners fought it tooth and nail, claiming it would lower their property values and bring in crime. Often they extracted various concessions from the city as a condition of allowing the trail to be built. Nowadays real-estate for-sale signs will promote how close these houses are to the trail, and those that are right on the trail sell for a premium. But I digress. The ride this morning was excellent.
My taste of the National Gallery yesterday had be craving more, so after my ride I headed back into town. Rather than deal with the problems of traffic that I encountered yesterday, I decided to take the metro into town. It was super convenient running from a Park & Ride a few miles from my cousin's house right into the middle of The Mall near the Smithsonian's original castle. The whole process was a breeze, taking about 1/2 an hour to go from its farthest point in Virginia to The Mall. Very impressive and convenient.
I exited the underground Metro to a gorgeous and sunny day. I was actually too hot! Zillions of people were out on The Mall, wandering about, laying in the sun, and running after their errant children. Again I was surprised by the deceptive distances in D.C. The metro stop appears to be a short distance from the National Gallery, but in reality it was a 15 minute walk. Given the fantastic weather, I was more than happy to spend extra time out of doors.
For this visit I got an audio guide ($5) and was surprised to learn that they are only available in English. How exceedingly xeno-unfriendly! It is quite startling after seeing how well European museums treat foreigners. America still has a thing or two to learn.
The National Gallery of Art has quite a large collection, but a surprising lack of descriptive materials on the works. The audio guide only covers a tiny fraction of the pieces and the museum is almost devoid of written commentary. Some rooms have cards explaining the works in that room, but there are no discussions of the pieces on the walls. In some sense this does cut down on some of the crowding that can occur when large numbers of people try to read lengthy commentary placed next to a painting. However, part of the richness of the experience of museum going is gained by learning about the background and interpretation of the pieces displayed.
<Discussion of what I sawÖ>
After my thorough exploration of the main building, I headed over the the modern collection housed in the East Wing. The East Wing is a beautiful building, very modern with exciting angles and clean lines. Both inside and out it is a terrific piece of architecture. Upon entering the first thing you see is signs pointing to an exhibit of "Small French Paintings". I thought, "hmm, well that doesnít sound that interesting, but it shouldnít take long". In I went. It was a very pleasant surprise to discover that these "small French paintings" were all Pissarro, Cezanne, Seurat, Manet, Renoir, etc. It is a truly lovely exhibit. I' afraid the rest of the works at the East Wing really didnít do much for me. I used to be very interested in modern art, but having spent so much time looking at the works of great masters over the last two years, modern art no longer speaks to me. However, there was really only one piece that really blew me away: Andrew Wyeth, Snow Flurries. Wow! <more commentary on Wyeth>
The trip back was as easy and uneventful as the trip out, reconfirming that the metro is really the way to go.
Saturday March 25, 2000
The weather today is astonishingly beautiful. Warm, clear, eggshell blue skies, birds singing in the trees. Ahhh, Saturdays in spring. Not wanting to miss a second of this splendor, Steph and I went for another great bicycle ride. Other than that, today is basically a day off. I find that when I travel for months at a time, I just have to designate "days off". Though I wanted to see more of what D.C. has to offer, I needed a respite from tourism even more.
In the evening we went to downtown Washington DC to Olive's (1600 K Street) for dinner. We arrived early, so we went across the street to the St. Regis hotel to their absolutely fabulous bar. What a spectacular room - grand and yet comfortable at the same time. I had a terrific Bombay sapphire martini that floored me in 3 sips. When our reservation time rolled around we crossed K Street again to Olive's and met up with Rob and Steph's friend Joanna. Olive's is a very attractive restaurant decorated in pleasant warm tones of brown. Quite a contrast to the stark black and white restaurants that I have been to lately in Europe. It is run by a famous restaurateur of the Wolfgang Puck school who has similar places in Boston, Aspen, Tel Aviv, New York, etc. I started with a magnificent appetizer of sautéed fois gras on a duck dumpling with marinated baby carrots and 15 year old balsamic vinegar. The main was very nice and extremely filling squash tortellis. All the food was very good, though we found the place a bit too noisy for intimate conversation. It has very high ceilings and would benefit by filling some of that space with sound absorbing fabrics or foam.
After dinner the four of us returned to the bar at the St. Regis for Fonseca 10 Year Tawny port and more conversation, finally finishing up the night at around 12:30 - the latest I have been up in a while. An excellent time was had by all.
Sunday March 26, 2000
What a spectacular spring day! My cousin Rob recently got a cool new Trek road bike and was kind enough to let me try it out for a 15 mile road ride, with him on his older bike. It was a great bike and a super ride, but I am really out of shape and suffering from the remains of the cold I caught in Prague. Thankfully Rob took pity on me and didn't push too hard. Since we were on find road bikes, we spent more time today on trafficked roads that Stephanie and I had done on the prior days. A lot of Virginia drivers seem to be very unfriendly to bikes. We were each honked at several times during the ride. Oh well.
The rest of the day was spent playing with the kids, cleaning out the garage and getting ready to head to the airport for my trip home.
The checkin at Washington Dulles airport was uneventful. I am flying a Boeing 757, which only has coach and first class. As a result my business class round the world ticket puts me in first. This is a very old plane with an equally old first class cabin. It always takes me by surprise when I get back to the domestic US travel and find that first class is less comfortable than business class on an international flight. Hi ho.
It is a beautiful day to fly, and I am looking forward to getting home after 3 months on the road. The end of another round the world trip.
>>>Question: Saw Francois Clouet painting: is this the same woman as at the Louvre?