Random Thoughts on Washington, DC

by Gray Cargill on November 5, 2014

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Would you believe that although I’ve traveled to cities all over North America and Europe, before last week, I’d only ever spent one single rainy Saturday in my own nation’s capitol? That fact struck me earlier this year. How is that possible? I thought.

Washington is only a 1.5 hour flight from Burlington. You’d think I’d be there all the time. What have I been waiting for?

I think my reluctance to visit was because of politics. As our nation’s capitol, Washington is filled with politicians and lobbyists and “good ol’ boy networks” and partisan politics. I had this horrible image in my head of constantly being surrounded by people who work in government and who don’t know how to talk about anything but politics. It would be like election season in my Facebook newsfeed, with Republicans bashing Democrats, and Democrats bashing Republicans and me wanting to unfriend everyone.

To my relief, I never once overheard a political conversation the entire time I was in town. Instead, I exercised my body with lots of walking and my mind with lots of museums. It was probably one of the most educational trips I’ve ever taken. And Washington is a very solo-friendly city, based on my experience. I never felt unsafe anywhere, even at night.

I’ll be writing more about DC in the coming months, but for now, I thought I’d share some random tweets, photos and observations from my trip:

 

Constitution Gardens Lake

Constitution Gardens Lake on the National Mall is lovely this time of year.

 

One of the pitfalls of limited vacation time is the desire to cram in absolutely everything a destination has to offer in a short period of time. Washington has a lot to offer–but because it’s spread out, it’s really easy to overdo it. Things look much closer to each other on a map than they are in reality. My Day One itinerary was so overambitious, I nearly killed myself. I’d recommend focusing on one or two things per day, plus some nice meals where you can relax. After my first day in DC, I was forced to take my own advice.

Washington, DC is a very walkable city, but that doesn’t mean you need to walk everywhere. Especially if you, like me, no longer have the stamina of a 25 year-old. The metro is safe and clean and while there’s not a metro station on every corner, it will save you some walking. (I recommend buying the refillable SmarTrip Metro card before your trip. It’ll save you time and a bit of money.) Don’t be shy about taking cabs–they’re plentiful, easy to hail, and cheap compared to many cities.

 

 

My first time emerging from the Red Line at Dupont Circle was on a Monday night, after dark. I had printed up a map and walking directions from Google on how to get from there to my hotel, so I thought I was covered. Granted, I’m night blind, so it’s never a good idea for me to try to find my way around a neighborhood for the first time after dark. But I’ve never been anywhere as confusing as Dupont Circle.

I spent 45 minutes trying to find my way out of that neighborhood before I finally gave up and flagged down a cab. The only thing that made me feel marginally less stupid about this was how many other tourists I saw (in addition to me) asking for directions and consulting Google maps and looking just as confused as I was.

The place where I thought I would get hopelessly lost but didn’t was Arlington National Cemetery. I may have been influenced by the fact that it was a warm sunny day when I was there, but it was the most beautiful place to go for a walk.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery was so much prettier–and bigger–than I expected.

 

Washington reminds me a lot of London, where you can visit so many museums for free–not just the Smithsonian Museums, but the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and Ford’s Theater are also free. It certainly helps keep vacation costs down. I wish more cities were like this.

 


But even the museums that aren’t free are worth the admission price, like the Newseum and the International Spy Museum.

 

crowd at the US Capitol

“We the People”–so, so many people.

 

 

In Washington, all of history feels interconnected and meaningful. At the Newseum, I learned about how people were smuggled out of East Berlin by tucking individuals into hidden compartments in cars (like behind the front grill); later, at the International Spy Museum, I saw a model car with those compartments in it and inflatable dolls to show how people fit in them (very uncomfortably, as it turns out). At the Air & Space Museum, I got to geek out over the history of space travel, and then at Arlington National Cemetery, I sought out the memorials to the crews of the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia. I had moments like that the entire week: One thing related to another related to another.

 

 

I was a little starstruck by all the famous places I saw–the White House, the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, the Washington Monument. I wonder if walking past the White House ever gets to be “old hat” to people living in DC? And can you imagine what it’s like living there, looking out your window and seeing people staring at your home all day?

 

Outside the White House

Outside the White House

 

Washington has some excellent restaurants! I could have happily eaten all week at nothing but Jose Andres restaurants (but I did not). I barely scratched the surface of what DC has to offer foodies. I would go back to Washington for the food alone.

But I also barely scratched the surface of what there is to do in Washington. I never made it to the National Zoo, or Georgetown, or the National Cathedral. I never even got to see the monuments at night. Four days just wasn’t enough. But that’s a good thing. I have lots of reasons to return.

Before my trip, when people asked me where I was going and I told them, every single one of them would sigh and say “I love DC.” The next time someone tells me they’re going to Washington, I will probably have the same response.

Rae Morgan November 24, 2014 at 2:08 am

Thanks so much! I haven’t once missed America until I saw this post, and now all I can think about is how much fun DC was. I went in the perfect, perfect spring. I’d love to go back to the Smithsonians again!

Gray Cargill November 26, 2014 at 4:36 pm

LOL, happy to “help”, Rae. Springtime in DC, with the cherry blossoms blooming, I bet that IS perfect.

JoAnna November 17, 2014 at 6:02 pm

I absolutely love DC. I lived right outside of the city for a summer and couldn’t get enough free time to enjoy it! I’m really not a fan of the Spy Museum, but I’ve enjoyed just about everything else I’ve experienced there.

Gray Cargill November 17, 2014 at 10:05 pm

I’m envious you spent so much time there, JoAnna! Yes, it’s a great city, for sure. I felt like I was just getting comfortable with finding my way around when it was time to leave.

Krystal November 12, 2014 at 9:49 am

What beautiful photos, you make me want to go back to DC again. I was a bit surprised too that it was so solo friendly. The museums are great, and I had a wonderful time at the hockey game as well – very lively crowd. I didn’t get a chance to visit the Spy Museum though, I’ll have to check that out next time. Did anyone else have the urge to climb up into Lincoln’s lap at the Lincoln Memorial?

Gray Cargill November 12, 2014 at 9:52 pm

Thank you very much, Krystal! Haha, no I did not have an urge to climb up into Lincoln’s lap. I wonder if people have done that?

Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren November 9, 2014 at 9:32 pm

I have only been once when I was in 8th grade and took that classic summer trip with my school. I’ve been dying to go back. Your pictures are beautiful and I can’t wait to read more posts about your visit 🙂

Gray Cargill November 10, 2014 at 7:09 pm

Thank you, Lauren. Ah, the classic summer trip. I saw a bunch of kids doing the classic fall trip while I was there. 🙂

Sharon Lawrence November 7, 2014 at 3:58 pm

We were just there last week, visiting our daughter. She taught us how to use Uber to easily get picked up and dropped off by a safe driver with a clean car. Much cheaper than taxi’s. Also they send you a photo of the driver and the license plate. Pick up was within 2 to 3 minutes. You can download the app for iPhone or Android. The phone knows your location and the app finds the closest driver.

Gray Cargill November 7, 2014 at 7:20 pm

I haven’t tried, Uber yet, Sharon. I’m not sure why it feels sketchier than taking a cab to me; they’re exactly the same thing–you’re hitching a ride with a total stranger basically. You had a good experience with them, though, it sounds like?

Sharon Lawrence November 7, 2014 at 8:41 pm

I was worried at first also. My daughter lives in DC and she and her friends use Uber and another app called Lift all the time. As I said you get the driver’s photo, license plate and make and model of car, so you know you are being picked up by the right person. You rate the driver and if you rate them badly, Uber will contact you. My daughter got a full refund recently because the driver did not follow the most direct route and she was late for a meeting. Uber contacted her and said they could see the driver didn’t follow the best route. When she and I came home late (after 1 AM) we opted to use Uber Taxi. There are three choices. UberX, which is a private person with a car, Uber Taxi, which is a taxi and Uber Black Car, which is a limo. The UberX is the cheapest. We used Uber Taxi for our return to the airport with luggage. The payment and tip are all taken care of automatically by Uber. I would use them again.

Gray Cargill November 8, 2014 at 7:59 pm

Thanks very much for the information, Sharon! That helps a lot.

De'Jav November 5, 2014 at 6:05 pm

DC is a great place to visit like the fact you pointed out the museums. What was your highlight or most favorite part of the trip?

Gray Cargill November 5, 2014 at 8:20 pm

It’s really hard to choose, De’Jav. There was walking around in Arlington Cemetery on a beautiful day, and the Air and Space Museum is my ideal museum. But I had a really emotional moment at the Newseum too. And the most amazing lunch at Oyamel Mexican restaurant. Lots of great moments.

Laurel November 5, 2014 at 11:48 am

I had your same love of visiting DC–to the point that I moved here! I will say, you get a bit used to seeing the monuments and White House, but they still cause a little thrill in my heart when I see them. I still gawk at the White House when I walk past it, and take photos of the Washington Monument when jogging on the Mall. We all get our little tourist moments throughout the week 🙂

Gray Cargill November 5, 2014 at 8:21 pm

Nice, Laurel. I imagine I’d feel that way if I lived there, too. What a city to live in!

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