After a year of bemoaning the fact that we no longer live in a tourism mecca, I decided that finding places to go in the United States might be a viable way to scratch the travel itch. And it just so happens that our daughter lives and works in DC, an easy 6 hour trip north on I-95. I travel light: a small rolling suitcase stuffed with essentials–handy books like the DC travel book and the National Gallery of Art Masterpieces, along with homemade lasagne, chili and sour dough bread for Lindsey. I have some goals in mind including the Andrew Wyeth exhibit, the White House Garden tour and a stop at Hillwood Estate, Marjorie Post’s grand home.
3 p.m. Grasses and Turf
Construction in the larger DC area is never complete. I veer from the GPS directions and get off the freeway at Dale City and decide to take US 1 through Old Towne Alexandria and into the city. It’s not that this will be any faster but I can’t fathom sitting in traffic. US 1 is also under major construction but once I get to King Street, I feel rejuvenated. Although the progression is slow, at least I can look at some great townhouses and funky new restaurants.
I arrive at the National Arboretum only to be met with a locked gate and stern security guard telling me I’m not on the invite list. “I’m here to see my daughter; I’m sure she’s expecting me.” And then, around the corner glides Lindsey and she escorts me to the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. I was unaware there was an event scheduled, but apparently I’m right on time so I might as well pick up my SWAG bag, grab a glass of wine and pretend like I belong. We were celebrating Grasses and Turf and the major contributions research has made in growing hardy varieties of grass. It’s topics like this that keep the arboretum going strong. We strolled through the grounds, scouting monarch butterflies and taking note of the fall color change happening all around us.
5 p.m. DC’s Road to Hipster Square
It seems every city has it’s own version of Hipster Square; what once was a bustling hubbub of shops, restaurants and bars in the 60’s then tragically went into decline and now has somehow resurrected into a hubbub of newer shops, restaurants and bars for today’s discriminating urbanite. H Street is just that sort of place for DC. Home to a weekly farmer’s market and soon-to-appear streetcar, H Street is a delight any time of day. We stopped in at Matchbox for a beer–I was wowed by the Vanilla Porter–and a pizza with kalamata olives and prosciutto accompanied by an order of chickpea fries and scallion yogurt dipping sauce. Plenty of food for two gals.
10 a.m. Hillwood Estate and Gardens
The day dawned bright and sunny with just a hint of coolness in the air. It was a fine day to visit Marjorie Post’s grand manse in the hills of northwest DC. Our visit began with an well-produced introductory film about the Post family and her desire to establish a museum she could live in. Marjorie, the heir of the Post Cereal fortune and also the mother of actress Dina Merrill, managed to amass a huge collection of 18th Century furniture as well as a pirate’s chest full of Russian artifacts, many of which she bought for a song while stationed with her third husband, ambassador to Russia following WWII.(another notable husband of Marjorie’s was EF Hutton…and now you’re listening.) Hillwood was just one of Marjorie’s 3 homes (another is Mar a Lago in Florida) but I think it’s the only one she designed to show off her various collectibles. Our admission gave us access to the extensive gardens which were bursting with beds of yellow, orange and white mums which nicely anchored the football field-size green yard. We also took a guided tour of the home including her modern kitchen, extensive Sevres china collection and over-the-top dining room, bedroom and projection room. Lindsey and I both agreed this home rivals that of William Randolph Hearst’s Castle in California.
2 p.m. National Gallery of Art–West Gallery
From Lindsey’s apartment, it’s a quick metro trip to the Mall, that great expanse of green grass extending from the Washington Monument to the Capitol Building. Lining the Mall is the majority of the Smithsonian Institution’s museums and our favorite is located right in the middle. The National Gallery of Art includes two buildings: the West gallery, featuring classical art and the East gallery, housing modern and contemporary art. How I love the West gallery…the high ceilings with skylights open onto numerous galleries, each with a unique presentation of period art. We went straight for the Impressionists and spent time getting reacquainted with our little friends. It was a delight to watch an artist reproducing a favorite piece: Monet’s The Woman with a Parasol while another favorite image: Renoir’s Girl with a Watering Can was just to his right.
In the adjacent gallery was a special exhibition of Andrew Wyeth’s works titled “Looking Out, Looking In.” Always a fan of his painting titled “Christina’s World,” this collection presented his paintings of windows and gave a good history of the relationship with Christina and her brother and the farmhouse he spent so much time painting.
7 p.m. Ford’s Theater
In DC, it’s all about connections. Lindsey has a friend who hooked us up with tickets to Ford’s Theater, infamous for being the place where Abraham Lincoln was shot. The show was “Driving Miss Daisy,” and I commented that this was a production made for cruise ships–quick change scenes, funny leading characters and over in about an hour. The crowd loved the show–standing ovation included! Lauren, our host for the evening, gave us a brief tour following the show and enlightened us regarding the presidential booth so regally decorated.
9 a.m. National Presbyterian Church
We had planned to attend a lecture by David Brooks and Andy Crouch, titled Culture and Power, at the National Presbyterian Church on Saturday morning. It promised to be a fascinating topic to explore with two great writers. But Brooks had to reschedule his talk to Spring 2015; Lindsey and I decided to check out Andy Crouch and appreciated his presentation on power and the need for Christians to use it effectively. We agreed that the talk, and attendance, would have been enhanced with Brooks in attendance.
11 a.m. Georgetown
All these visits to DC and I’d never ventured out to Georgetown! Really, a big mistake on my part now that I know how much is packed into this little college town and surrounding neighborhoods. The big draw for many is Georgetown Cupcakes, made famous by the reality TV show, DC Cupcakes. We waited in line for 45 minutes for 1/2 dozen of the tasty treats. I have to admit, the cake is moist yet firm and the frosting is simply delectable (I would have bought a container of frosting to scoop and savor for the rest of the day). The rest of our visit was spent darting in and out of quaint little specialty shops and walking along the tow paths of the C&O Canal, an indulgent place to spend a warm, sunny fall afternoon.
4 p.m. National Gallery of American Art and Portrait Gallery
Past visits to DC have been focused on the museums and monuments on the Mall. Lindsey let me know there is a gem of a museum near Chinatown on 8th and F streets. The National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum focuses on individuals who have made significant contributions to the country. Most visitors begin their tour with the President’s gallery which includes each of the presidents in all his glory. Some interesting images of Kennedy, Nixon and Clinton were on hand as well as our favorites like Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson. Popping over to the other side of the museum we spied a great neon map of the United States. A wonderful use of light and color with mini-TV screens showing looped images of each state, like the Wizard of Oz for Kansas, earthquakes and Richard Simmons for California and big-bad tobacco for North Carolina. And the best part? a little TV Camera captured our image and displayed our faces on the TV screen placed in Washington DC. Nice touch.
9 p.m. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Everyone knows that the city after dark is a great time for monument gazers to alight. We took the car across the bridge and spent our time wandering the paths around the Tidal Basin. This was my first time gazing the MLK Memorial and I have to say, it is truly awe-inspiring. The imposing figure of Dr. King cut out of white granite, titled The Stride Towards Freedom, is surrounded by 16 quotes of his spanning his career. At night, the white radiates into the blackest sky with the Washington Monument standing proudly over his left shoulder.
8 a.m. White House, South Lawn
I was convinced that a weekend as good as ours was going to be a wash out come Sunday. I swore to Lindsey I heard rain pelting the windows during the night. When we opened the blinds all we spied was another gorgeous day. Off we went in search of donuts, coffee and The New York Times–all to keep us occupied as we waited for tickets for the White House Fall Garden Tour. We waited about an hour and with tickets in hand, we lined up with our new best friends for a chance to make our way across the South Lawn. I don’t think a better day could have been in store for viewing the grounds.
12 p.m. Old Ebbitt Grill
Brunch is what you do on Sunday. We walked across the street from the White House and put our name on the list for a table at Old Ebbitt Grill. It was a short wait, too short to read any of the Times so after our order was placed, Lindsey and I dug into the paper. I can’t think of anything better than a hot cup of coffee, booth seats and the Times. For lunch we ordered the Eggs Chesapeake, a special version of Eggs Benedict with lump crab cakes and a hollandaise sauce to die for. This will be my go-to brunch food for years to come. And you know you’re in a classy place when, for a side a fruit, they serve pomegranate seeds with grapes.
2 p.m. American History Museum
Our last stop was to glimpse my all-time favorite flag display, The Star Spangled Banner at the American History Museum. I’m not sure what makes it so darn attractive: perhaps it’s the dim lights or the faint sounds of Civil War music being played in the background or maybe it’s just the dramatic presentation of the flag itself. Simply jaw-dropping. Since photography is not permitted, I offer instead my second favorite display at the museum: the Greensboro, NC lunch counter:
On February 1, 1960, four African American college students sat down at a lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and politely asked for service. Their request was refused. When asked to leave, they remained in their seats. Their passive resistance and peaceful sit-down demand helped ignite a youth-led movement to challenge racial inequality throughout the South.
When considering all the different museums I’ve been in around the world, I can’t help but have a little pride at our collection of works in Washington DC. I left the city inspired by Americans who have done great things before me and a challenge to carry on their work back in my neck of the woods.