Somehow it quickly became fall and we found ourselves back in Washington DC. DC is truly one of my favorite cities despite the current political climate. We’ve made a lot of friends during the times we’ve spent there. We find the city easy to maneuver and our host this time had a parking pass for us which meant we could leave our car parked unless we wanted to travel outside the city. And we were amazed that when we did use the car, it was rarely a challenge to find a parking place near our Airbnb when we returned.
There is so much to love about DC. Walking down the street we constantly hear a variety of languages. The population is so wonderfully diverse. Because we have a son in the city, we get introduced to new local bars where we feel like we’ve known the bartender forever. As we walked downtown on the weekend before Halloween, we encountered literally hundreds of folks dressed in costumes. DC is fun! While the food is expensive, there’s virtually every kind of cuisine we could imagine. We had a great outdoor lunch with family and also found a new Mexican place as well as a great French bakery for lunch in Columbia Heights this trip. But there are still so many we want to try. Vietnamese…Thai…
Our Airbnb is between 14th and 16th Streets in a really pretty part of the city. Our host has so many beautiful plants. It’s like entering our own garden. We are a short walk from the bus and with our senior metro cards it costs us less than $2 roundtrip downtown. Such a deal!
And we never run out of interesting places to visit. One place we often return to is the Looking Glass Lounge on Georgia where we often join Patrick and his roommates to compete in their trivia game on Tuesday nights (though I don’t think we add a lot of knowledge to the team). Before the game began we were talking about where we were headed next and what we planned to do during our month in DC. One of Pat’s roommates asked if we had ever been to Decatur House. Funny, in all of our visits we had never heard of it. It’s located on the corner of Jackson and H, right around the corner from the White House (and right next to the office building where Pat works!) and although we had walked past it on numerous occasions, we were not familiar with it.
Later that week we decided to check it out. We were met by a woman who explained there are two guided tours a day and we were in luck, the next would begin in 10 minutes. And it was free! The docent explained that the house was built in 1818 by Navy hero Stephen Decatur with money he was awarded for his heroics during the War of 1812. Decatur was a visionary in that he saw, even at that early date, the advantages of being close to the White House. Decatur house, built in Federal style and designed by Benjamin LaTrobe, was the site of many elegant events throughout the early years of our country. After Decatur’s death in 1820, the result of a dual, his widow sold the house to John Gatsby, a noted DC real estate figure who added a building for slave quarters. These quarters are still part of the tour. Gatsby rented out the home to important DC figures including Henry Clay and James Monroe. Later it was sold to General Edward Beal of California whose descendants owned the home until 1956 when Marie Beal left it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We found it interesting that there was a move in the early 1960’s to tear down many of the historic buildings surrounding Lafayette Square to make room for office space. Luckily Jackie Kennedy stepped in and promoted the historic value of the area.
The house is absolutely gorgeous with winding staircases and beautiful woodwork. The state seal of California is set in the floor of the great dining room (added by General Edward Beal). In one hallway, the guide pointed out a fake door reflecting the need for symmetry.
I was thrilled when the woman in the bookstore at Decatur House pointed out St. John’s Episcopal Church was just a block down the street. This is the church Jon Meacham mentions in his biography of Andrew Jackson, as the Little Yellow Church, (and it’s still yellow) the place Jackson often worshipped. St John’s is also known as the Church of the Presidents. The plaque on the church points out that all presidents since Madison have occasionally worshipped there. President Lincoln is said to have been the most frequent presidential worshipper slipping into an obscure back pew for Wednesday evening services. We were disappointed that the church was not open.
The National Geographic Museum was another stop on our list. Again, this was a place we had missed on previous trips. It’s not a large facility but definitely worth the trip. Because it’s close to the centennial anniversary of the women’s right to vote, the special exhibit is Women of Change.
There were spectacular pictures, as only National Geographic photographers can provide, along with descriptions of women’s contributions since the beginning of National Geographic in 1888. The general admission for seniors is $12 and that got us into all the exhibits. Before touring the exhibit we watched a 45 minute overview of Women of Change. Truly a great way to spend an afternoon. We will definitely go back!
The new permanent fossil and dinosaur exhibition had just opened at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum so one Sunday morning we met up with Rockville family to have a look. Wow!
When you can capture the attention of a 9, 7 and 4 year old for nearly two hours you know it’s got to be good. We walked among life size models of the great giants of the earth and were fascinated every step of the way.
And people are so friendly. On a lovely warm Saturday afternoon we went to the University of Maryland v Indiana football game. There’s a new policy in college football that requires women to put their belongings into a clear plastic bag (purchased of course at the stadium) before they can enter. I was totally confused when after buying one, we put my son’s girlfriend’s purse in the bag and also mine. Security didn’t check what was inside; once it was in the clear plastic bag it was assumed to be okay. This struck me as very odd. Once inside the stadium, I heard a staff member say, “You can’t wear that in here.” I looked up to find a smiling face who was teasing me about my Indiana University sweatshirt! LOL
While it was still warm we took an overnight trip to the Ocean City.
We had a lovely stroll on the boardwalk and then later went out to a Penguins bar to watch the game and choose from their selection of “Pittsburgh eats.”
We were amazed when the Uber driver asked us if we had seen the flooding. What? It hadn’t rained. The next day when we drove back to DC we were in for quite a surprise. The winds off the ocean were so strong and the tides so high that several streets were blocked off because of all the water. We’d never experienced flooding without rain. How odd! How scary. The Chesapeake Bridge is a really pretty one but this time on our way back to DC we were stuck in bridge traffic for over two hours. Not a pleasant experience.
I’m beginning to feel like a real DC resident. I sort of have an idea of where places are located in relation to other places but the triangular shape of the district still throws me for a loop every so often. One of my favorite places, that you may remember my mentioning in a previous blog, is Politics and Prose a wonderful bookstore that regularly hosts authors talking about their new books. Gail Collins, author and columnist for the New York Times was scheduled to give a talk about her new book, No Stopping Us Now: A History of Older Women in America. It’s not as close to our apartment as other places but with the help of the GPS and the Metro apps on my phone we figured out how to get there. Bob, ever accommodating, agreed to go along. We decided we’d have pizza first at the Comet Ping Pong right next door to P&P. So we allowed plenty of time. We walked about 4 blocks to what we believed was the right bus stop. But when the bus pulled up and I asked if it was headed to Connecticut Ave the driver very politely explained that we needed to cross the street and get the same number bus headed the other direction. After the bus pulled out, a woman who had just stepped off that bus, explained again exactly where we needed to be to get the right bus. (I told you we encounter the very nicest people!) So we walked across and waited…and waited…and waited. In our experience with DC busses we’ve always found that if we’ve missed a bus, we’d never had to wait more than 10 minutes at the longest for the next one. We continued to wait. Finally after more than forty minutes, the bus pulled up. Once we boarded we understood the problem. It was nearly 5 pm and there were very few people on the bus. Obviously, we were not on a well-traveled route. We got off several stops later, transferred busses with no hassle or wait and in a short time we arrived right across the street from our destination. The pizza was great; Gail was wonderful. Of course, I bought her book and had it autographed and in far too short a space of time we were on our way back home (via Uber).
Another reason I feel like a resident is I now have lost count of how many times we’ve been to the Kennedy Center. During the month we went twice. (Such a luxury!) We first went to see Nat King Cole’s 100th Birthday Celebration. Picture this, the Kennedy Center Hall, Nat King Cole’s music and Dulee Hill, singing and tap dancing and Patti Austin, and BeBe Winans, among others. As if that wasn’t enough, Nat’s brother, Freddy Cole at age 88, appeared on stage and sang, “This Can’t Be Love.” We were blown away!
Later in the month we returned to see Shear Madness. Every time we have come to DC in the past few years, we’ve seen that it is playing but we never knew anything about it. Bob took the time to check it out. It seems this is an improv production. The story takes place in a beauty shop with the outcome determined by the audience of the day. It was hysterical! The play is performed in the Theatre Arts Performing Lab, a very small venue. During intermission, the players interact with the audience but they always stay in character. We chatted with one of the “detectives.” When the second act began, the detectives were taking questions from the audience in an attempt to solve the mystery. Bob asked what the detective, whom we had just interacted with, was doing at the time of the murder. We laughed out loud when he responded, “Bob, I’m shocked that you would suspect me!”
One of the most unusual experiences we had was tracking down Rachel Carson’s grave. Our son, Stephen, had pointed out to us that Ms. Carson, was buried in a Rockville Cemetery, not far from his home. Rachel Carson, a preeminent scientist and pioneer of the environmentalist movement, was born in Springdale, Pennsylvania, the same small town in western Pennsylvania where Bob’s family is from. In fact Bob’s grandmother had been a friend of Rachel’s mother. And although Rachel was older than Bob’s aunts, they knew one another in high school. So we made the trek one sunny afternoon to Parklawn Memorial Park where Ms Carson is buried. We found the office and I went in and asked if they could direct me to her grave. To my astonishment, neither the receptionist nor the person who she called down to direct me had ever heard of Ms Carson. I tried to explain, but they couldn’t seem to grasp that this was probably the most famous person who is buried in the cemetery. The woman who was trying to give me directions via a cemetery map finally got frustrated with the process. She said we should just follow her golf cart and she’d get us there. When we got to the general area, we began to walk and read tombstones. Finally we came upon it.
She asked me where I was from and I explained Michigan. “Oh,” she responded, she was from Grand Rapids. Wow! Almost every time when we meet people from Michigan they’re from the Detroit area, not the west side of the state. I explained I was from Big Rapids “Wow!” she explained her brother went to Ferris and was currently in Big Rapids. Once again…small world! She gave me a big hug and we each went on our way. I still think they should promote being the burial place of Rachel Carson. Could be a great fund raiser on her birthday or Earth Day!
Entertainment, great food, wonderful people, historic places to visit. Once again, we thoroughly enjoyed our time in DC and are already planning our next visit.