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:
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.
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.
Brilliant idea of the day: all museums should have daily “adults only” hours. For obvious reasons. — Gray Cargill (@SoloFriendly) October 21, 2014
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?
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.