Sunday, September 22, 2013

Adventures in D.C.

Hey there!  Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying our stroll into autumn.

Well, Amy and I went to Washington, D.C., last weekend.  We left on Thursday and got back on Monday night.  We had a really nice trip.  It was sort of busy, but it was fun.  There's something about breaking up our normal routine and exploring a different place that makes me feel sort of rejuvenated.  The stress relief of a vacation, for me, doesn't necessarily have to come from laying around, but from just getting away from normal life and doing something different (although I'm not opposed to slow paced vacations, either). 

(18 8th Street NE, D.C.)
We got into D.C. on Thursday night after delays that were caused by storms.  We stayed in an apartment in the Capitol Hill District.  We rented it through Airbnb.  It was a cool place.  It was close to
(out in front of our digs)
the Capitol and museums and Eastern Market and  Union Station.  It worked really well for us.
Thursday night we walked to a restaurant in the neighborhood called Cava Mezze.  It had Greek-inspired food with small plates.  Tasty, and a nice, cozy ambiance to unwind in after travel delays and a bit of weather.  Good dinner.  I think Amy enjoyed it as well.
Friday morning we got up and walked to a breakfast place called Ted's Bulletin.  The weather was beautiful on Friday and throughout most of our trip.  We had clear skies and temperatures in the 60's and 70's.
Ted's Bulletin had good food, but sorta slow service.  They pride themselves on their homemade pop tarts, which were really good, but pretty decadent.  We split one, and it was sorta like a really big cookie with a cherry fruit filling.

"We're allowed to ride these things into the Capitol, right?"
After breakfast we rented bikes from Capital Bikeshare and rode down through the our neighborhood, around the capitol, and over to the National Gallery on the mall.  Capital Bikeshare works pretty well.  You can sign up for a day pass, and then take rides for up to 30 minutes before leaving your bike at another bike station (which are scattered all over the city).  If you ride for more than 30 minutes there are additional charges, so it's meant for bike commuting as opposed to riding around all day.  It was pretty cool.  There's a company in Austin that's going to put in one of those systems, and I think that it could do really well if they operate it as efficiently as the one in D.C.
(National Gallery = cool)
(the National Gallery
apparently has a picture of
one of Amy's old dogs, Murphy)
We went to two different wings, modern and classic, of the National Gallery of Art.  Very cool.  I really like art museums, and the National Gallery is a very impressive one.  It's got paintings by everyone from Picasso to Monet to Matisse to Lichtenstein to Hopper.  We had a really nice time wandering around the museum.  Honestly, you could probably spend a number of days in just the two wings of the National Gallery if you really wanted to give the artwork its due.  We also wandered around the neighboring sculpture garden, sat outside and enjoyed some sunshine.  Very impressive set of museums.  It's sort of amazing and awesome that the admission is free.

We visited the National Museum of American History.  We saw the Star-Spangled Banner (the flag from Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 which inspired our national anthem) and visited a number of other exhibits, including an exhibit about the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and the march on Washington for civil rights in 1963.

After that, we walked the mall to a bikeshare station and rode home (and I'm here to say that Capitol Hill is an actual hill- I had to shift down a gear on my bike!).  The beautiful weather made biking a really nice way to get around town.

(very impressive monument.  Heavy stuff)

(there's at least one honest man
depicted here)
(every once in a while they build a monument
to someone who was neither a politician nor
a war hero)
We ate some pizza as an early dinner while relaxing at the apartment, and then walked over to Union Station to catch a moonlight trolley tour of the monuments on Friday night.  The tour was really, really cool.  The monuments somehow just sort of stand out a little more at night.  I can't really articulate exactly why, but the lighted monuments just somehow seem sort of different and especially impressive in twilight and darkness.  We saw the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, the FDR memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima), the MLK memorial, the JFK Eternal Flame, the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the WWII Veterans Memorial, the White House, and a lot of different views of the city (including the tidal basin).
(the mall at night)
It was a really cool tour.  Amy found out about it somehow, so big kudos to her.  I'm not sure I would have ever realized what a fun and interesting experience it would turn out to be.

On Saturday morning we got up and went over to Eastern Market.  Eastern Market has a sort of warehouse market that sells meat and fish and produce and whatnot, and on the weekends they have an open air farmers market/artists market that takes over the surrounding streets.  It was really cool and only blocks from our apartment.  We ended up eating a brunch that included a shrimp po' boy and cheesey grits with shrimp from a place called Puddin'.  Outstanding food.  Made us both very happy.  Afterward we tried out a few mini donuts from a place called DC-Donuts.  They were also really good.  Small donuts that you put in a bag and sprinkle with powdered sugar, honey, cinnamon, or some of the other toppings they had on hand.  Good food out in the sunshine amongst some pretty friendly people (although a number of them seemed a little suspicious when we told them that we were from Texas- we quickly corrected our pattern and started introducing ourselves as "from Austin").
We wandered around Eastern Market for a little while.  We bought a small print from a local artist that depicts the row houses in the Capitol Hill District.  I think we'll hang it in out bedroom at home.  We took the metro down to the mall and hopped in line for a tour of the Capitol.

(two freedom lovin' ladies who
enjoy hanging out in capitol
(Amy listens to Mono Ensemble while
visiting the Capitol rotunda)
The Capitol tour was pretty cool.  For some reason they don't show the senate or house chambers on the weekend, so we didn't see those, but being the humble introverts that they are, our nation's leaders have not been especially shy in packing every nook and cranny of our very impressive capitol building with ornate artwork, statues, and monuments that are meant to remind visitors of the power and and majesty of these United States.  The Capitol tour covered some of the history of the structure as well as an explanation of various pieces of art in the rotunda, the old House Chamber, and other places.  Very good tour.
Afterward we wandered back to our apartment after stopping off at Eastern Market to buy a little fruit.
We relaxed for a bit, and then walked over to the Library of Congress to meet Jaci and Josh.

Jaci and Josh are friends of ours who moved to D.C. from Austin about a year ago.  Josh still works remotely for a tech startup in Austin.  Jaci works as a government librarian in D.C.  They're good friends.  We were sad when they moved away from South Austin.

(if you study this picture closely you
may be able to spot two people
who were getting very little work done
in the LOC reading room) 
So at the Library of Congress we started out by filling out some applications and getting library cards to the LOC.  In addition to being a really cool souvenir, the library card grants you access to the LOC reading room.  The reading room, as it turns out, is not the simple, quiet facility that the name might suggest.  It's actually a sort of awe inducing, extremely ornate chamber with a soaring ceiling, elaborate artwork, and lots of books.  It's one of the coolest rooms that I went into while in D.C.  (and keeping in mind that we also went into the National Gallery and the Capitol, that's saying something).
The Library of Congress is very cool.  It's a cool building with great architecture that was built for a really cool purpose.  Aside from the reading room and the Gutenberg Bible that's on display in the building's entry hall, there's also a large collection of books that were sold to the library by Thomas Jefferson in order to help reestablish the Library of Congress collection after the original collection was burned during by the Brits the War of 1812.  It's a pretty weird feeling to stand and read the spines of books that Thomas Jefferson probably flipped through around the time that our country was founded.

(Jaci and Josh and me and Amy.
And baseball!!)
After the Library of Congress we went back to our apartment with Jaci and Josh.  We dropped stuff off, changed some clothes and headed to Nationals Park for a baseball game.  We went to see The Nationals play against The Phillies, and even though we didn't really have a dog in the fight, we joined Josh and Jaci in rooting for the home team as they continued an unlikely struggle to secure a wildcard spot for the playoffs.
Well, to make a long story short, The Nationals lost, but we still had a really good time.  The stadium, which is in D.C.'s Navy Yard neighborhood, is very cool.  We ate some chili, drank some beer, and got to hang out with Jaci and Josh.  It was a fun evening, and The Nationals kept it close enough to keep the game interesting.

Sunday morning we had breakfast at a little French cafe sort of place called Montmarte.  Eggs benedict and bloody marys.  Yum.  I don't really remember what we did after that.  I think we walked the neighborhood for a bit and relaxed.  In the afternoon we hopped the metro again and headed out to see Jaci and Josh's place in Alexandria.
(Amy and I in Alexandria)
They have a really cool place, and the area that they live in is very nice.  Right near the Potomac, with a scenic hike and bike trail very close by.  I watched some football with Josh while Amy and Jaci went into Old Town and did some window shopping.  Later, Josh and I hopped a bus and caught up with them for dinner.  We went to a place called Virtue Feed and Grain in Old Town.  Had good crab cakes and some tasty local beer.  We walked back across town to the car and took a ride over to Del Ray where we had some good ice cream at a place called Dairy Godmother.
(Celementine takes Josh for a walk)
It was a fun trip.  It was good to check out Jaci and Josh's place and to spend time with them.  We also got to see their dog, Clementine, who we've known since she was a puppy.  Clementine gets pretty excited about people in general, but I'm pretty sure she remembered me and that I'm one of her favorite people.

So we left Jaci and Josh and hopped on the metro with smiles on our faces and songs in our hearts.  We'd had a good trip and had a very nice visit with friends.  We didn't really have any solid plans for the following day, but we thought we'd maybe go see one more thing in the morning (maybe the Supreme Court?) and then head for home.
Somewhere before McPherson Square two guys on our subway car got into a heated yelling match.  One guy sounded drunk and was taunting the other guy, challenging him to start a fight.  The other guy initially sort of shrugged off the insults, but as they got louder and more insistent the second guy got madder until he finally got up and confronted the other guy in the back of the car. 
It wasn't much of a fight in any sort of conventional sense.  I never saw the loudmouth in the back throw a punch or even do much in terms of physically defending himself (which is kind of weird given the fact that he was basically egging the other guy on to start a confrontation).  The other guy hit him once or twice, knocking him down onto his seat, and then punched him in the face (well, pounded might be a better word) like 15 times or more.  He hit the guy hard and blood went flying.  People in the train car were running away from the fight to the front of the car, and some older woman was yelling that Loudmouth was dead.
I was watching the fight.  I stood up, but stayed with Amy.  The train rolled to a stop a McPherson Square and the insulted fellow, now covered with some of Loudmouth's blood, turned to all of the people now at the front of the car and said something along the lines of, "I'm sorry y'all had to see that" before stepping off the train.
The train took off again and someone yelled to hit the emergency stop button.  The train stopped again, this time at Metro Center.  Everyone exited the train and took off.  We got off, too, but I poked my head into the back of the train to see how the guy was doing who got knocked down.
He was a mess.  There was a lot of blood everywhere, and he just sort of looked at me.  He tried to get up, but I told him to stay down and wait for help.
Metro employees showed up.  The police showed up.  People who weren't on the train came over to see what was going on.
In the end, EMS came, and I ended up having to give witness statements to the police.  They're still calling me now that I'm back in Austin, trying to see if I could identify the guy if they came up with a picture of him.  I'm not sure.  I guess it depends on how similar all of the guys look in a lineup.

So that was how Sunday night ended up drawing to a close.
Monday morning we slept in a little bit.  It was overcast and a little drizzly and the perfect weather had turned a little bit more dreary.  I got up a little before Amy.  I noticed a lot of siren sounds passing by on the streets around the apartment.  I thought the number of sirens was a little weird, but it's a big city, so I didn't think too much of it.
We went to breakfast at a place called Le Pain Quotidien.  We were eating our food when I got a text from my dad asking if I had heard about the shootings at Navy Yard.  It felt weird.  We had been seeing the occasional emergency vehicle race by while we were walking to breakfast, and we had been at Navy Yard for the baseball game only two nights prior.
I checked CNN on my phone and saw that they had shut down flights out of Reagan, the airport that we were supposed to be flying out of.
Things were strange.  We finished eating and walked back to the apartment.  Initial reports on the internet and TV said that there were multiple gunmen who were armed with rifles.  The whole thing was taking place at a Navy facility, so people were speculating that it might be an act of terrorism.
It was sort of raining, and we didn't know if our flight would be delayed, so we scrapped any plan to wander around town.  We got ahold of Josh and decided to just head out to Alexandria, so we could be closer to the airport and hopefully away from any traffic congestion or metro problems that might be caused by the situation at Navy Yard.
Our afternoon ended up being nice.  We hung out with Josh a bit and joined him at a Chinese place for lunch and then walked a trail along the Potomac with Clementine while he got some work done (he works from home).
Later in the afternoon he took us to the airport and we hopped our plane.

It was a really good trip.  Everything was really pleasant, although Sunday night and Monday morning were definitely a little intense.  But we had a really fun trip, and we enjoyed D.C.  We just stumbled upon some weirdness there at the end...

Hope everyone has been doing well!  


Anonymous said...

Looks like a great trip. Relaxed, fun informative, seeing friends, criminal assault - what else could you want?

J.S. said...

Who is this? Just curious. :-)
Anyway, it truly was a good trip. Somehow all of the craziness there at the end didn't seem as crazy at the time. It all seemed weirder in retrospect once we got home, especially as I was telling people about the trip. I've realized that somehow stories about nice dinners, tours, and bike rides somehow don't interest people as much as subway assaults and mass shootings. C'est la vie!