WM and I had a difficult time figuring out what to give each other for Christmas. We decided that we’d go the experience route instead and take a long weekend in Washington DC. Our goal was a balance of visiting a few museums and lazing around at a place that isn’t ours.
This trip was a little bit “let’s go places other than Disney,” a little bit “let’s go someplace cool that’s not far away,” and a little bit “we need to get out more.” Washington DC is a city that appeals to both of us and something that can easily be a day trip.
Travel: We took Amtrak to and from DC out of Philadelphia. Although we are in driving distance of DC, with the price of gas, parking, and legendary DC area traffic, it was cheaper and less stress to take the train and grab a Lyft when the walking around became too much.On the way down we had the privilege of sitting near the twitchiest Boomer couple we’ve encountered. They kept moving from row to row and in the first hour of our trip they retrieved their overhead bags twice to pull things out and put things away. There’s much to be said for the GenX latchkey kid upbringing of “watch tv/do your homework/don’t open the door or answer the phone” when it comes to being able to sit on a train or plane for 2 hours without moving.
The train ride home was uneventful, but the oddest thing about traveling by rail is the absolute lack of security compared to airlines. No bag screening. No ID required to board. Heck, you didn’t even need to show the ticket until the train was on its way.
Hotel: We stayed at the Capital Hilton, which was nice if a little dated (no USB charging ports!) and a few blocks down from Dr. Jill and Joe. I’m trying to be a smarter traveler so I signed up for the Hilton Honors reward system and linked my Lyft account so I can earn extra points.
We went from sunny and chilly, to cloudy and chilly, to rainy and cold. I didn’t want to burst into flames when we went inside, so I layered warm fleecy hoodies beneath my raincoat.
The first stop was the International Spy Museum and it was a lot of fun, even if I was a little put off by viewing the actual ice axe that was used to murder Leon Trotsky.
Display: “the rusty spot is a bloody thumbprint!”
My favorite displays were the ones that featured all of the disguised cameras and spy tools. They had interactive kiosks that gave you an assumed identity and guided you through a small spy mission. My assumed identity was that of Dr. Bailey Tanaka, a Tokyo-based veterinarian who is sightseeing in Amsterdam. WM was Micha Leventis, from Santa Fe and…a teacher. I quickly found out that I’d make a terrible spy. On the other hand, WM would make a very good spy (lots of practice with his cover identity).
We also visited the National Geographic Museum for their King Tut immersive experience and a trip through their publication museum. The Tut experience didn’t deliver anything we didn’t already know, but the delivery style was very interesting. Lots of projections and creative displays similar to the Van Gogh immersive experiences you see advertised all over your social media. This isn’t your grandparent’s museum. It’s not even the ones I grew up with. WM has a side gig running online classes for National Geographic so we were jazzed to be in the actual building. The publication museum was the ground floor of the National Geographic offices and the vestibule’s ceiling had a display of what the stars looked like on the evening the National Geographic Society was founded. There were cameras and exploring gear on display too.
On Sunday we visited the Smithsonian Institute Building, which covered the history of the institute itself and had displays from each of the three hundred (actually 17 including the zoo) museums in DC. And a giant memorial that contained the remains of John Smithson. Macabre but interesting. Next up was the National Museum of Natural History (also a Smithsonian), which required crossing the National Mall and cheesy monument photos. I was dazzled by the Hope Diamond but my favorite find was a Mayan manuscript from the 17th century (I didn’t take a photo so that’s a link to its website). I love old books and newspapers and ephemera. My favorite museum attractions are real artifacts that showed how people lived, loved, and created (and killed, I guess) and not so much replicas and reproductions. I cannot relate to dinosaurs but show me a 17th century board game and I’m hooked.
Food: Each day we had a smallish breakfast, a large meal, and a little snack with evening coffee.
Smallish breakfasts: The first breakfast was at the Starbucks a block away from the hotel. It was a regular Starbucks breakfast, nothing to write home about. The second breakfast was at Joe & the Juice, a local breakfast place which turned out to be a Danish chain with locations worldwide. I had my very first acai bowl and you know what? I could eat that every day and twice on Sundays. It made me feel I could be vegan. The third breakfast was at Blue Bottle Coffee in Union station before we came home. The coffees and pastries were great.
Big meals: Our first dinner was at PJ Clarke‘s, a local American restaurant that we later found out is a small chain with a location in Philadelphia. I had the fish & chips, WM had a burger. The second dinner at Georgia Brown’s, an AMAZING Southern cuisine restaurant. It was our absolute favorite of the three dinners. We started with fried catfish. I had seafood penne (shrimp, crab, scallops in a cajun cream sauce) and WM had country-fried steak. And all-you-can-eat cornbread with peach butter. I will dream about that dinner for months. On the third day, our Lyft driver recommended Founding Farmers for dinner It’s a local American restaurant that we later found out is a small chain with a location in King of Prussia, a suburb outside of Philadelphia. (This happens to us a lot. Ask me about our favorite place in Seattle to have pizza, MOD pizza.) We went for a late lunch. We each had a handcrafted soda (WM: vanilla, me: ginger) and started with mini cheeseburgers. WM had chicken and waffles and I had crab mac and cheese. The food was delicious, but fell a little short of Georgia Brown’s.
Evening coffee/snacks: Caffeine doesn’t keep us up at night, so we generally have coffee at 8:30pm or so as a nice little wind down the day ritual. Evening coffee when you’re not at home is more difficult because many coffee shops shut down between 3 and 6pm (heathens). The first two evening coffees were at Starbucks. The third one was in the hotel lobby bar, paired with some passable Sysco-quality desserts and surrounded by people who were there for a conference. They were taking about retention rates. My people. 🙂
This is definitely a trip that we’d like to do again, and it’s even doable as a day trip. I think next time I’ll lobby to to go the National Archives and the new (since 2016) National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Highlights: Time together, Georgia Brown’s, solid museum choices.
Lowlights: It was March for Life weekend which, this still happens? Roe is dead! (WM: “Fucking Christo-fascists.”) and our fellow tourists were firmly of that fetus-first but fuck the rest of you mindset. The bed and pillows were extra flat. And we missed Murphy, who was snug at home with my MIL.
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