For some reason the concept of time has been warped in my mind as of late. For example, I will say “I’m leaving for the trip on Friday” without realizing that Friday is tomorrow and I have not packed yet. Or I will attempt to plan a week long vacation without realizing that this is only the second time I have ever been on a week long trip, the first time being when on my honey moon. Sometime in July I went to DC for a week and just realized at the end of the trip how long it was, but at least every step along the way I knew how the trip was turning out to be awesome.
Pathik had a conference in Reston, VA for the week so he was mostly working while I was vacationing, but as is the theme of most of our vacations as of late, we had plenty of time to see family and friends on the weekends while we were there. Hopefully the outline below can help you plan your own DC vacay at some point.
The slogan for Reston is “Metro and Metropolitan.” Quite literally for both terms, since there is a new metro station (DC-Maryland-Virginia’s version of the subway) opening this week actually. I had to take the bus to the metro into DC from another town, but the commute was not bad- it would have been much worse if I was driving. Reston is a great metropolitan area- we were staying at the Hyatt Regency in the Towncenter which was quite beautiful: great shops, restaurants, outdoor fountains and greenery, and a small concert area right outside the hotel. I think we ate at Vapaino’s at least twice during this trip with family and friends, but it’s a great place for everyone to be able to order what they want and to split checks easily. It’s basically fancy Italian food in a fast food manner and it is customized to how you want it since the chef makes it in front of you. Reston still has plenty of casual places to eat as well, including my favorite, Chipotle. Pathik and I got whatever we wanted for lunch one of the days and sat outside near the fountain to eat. It felt just like grabbing food from Green Street and eating on the quad at U of I. We don’t get to experience those simple liberties anymore.
The hotel itself is awesome- I’m thoroughly enjoying making the most of being hosted by Pathik’s work in terms of hotel stays. There was a Panera inside the hotel so breakfast every day was set, and I tried to make the most of their breakfast menu by ordering something new every day, even their steel cut oatmeal. It tasted alright, but was just too much oatmeal in one serving for me.
Right next to the Panera was a shoe shine station where the attendant waiting for customers would see me walk by every day on my way to the bus. One day he stopped me and asked me,
“Where are you from?”
“From Chicago originally, but I live in Indiana now.”
“So you’re not from here? Well then, where are your parents?”
I made a point of introducing Pathik to him when we walked by next. The man was very sweet, telling Pathik he should be proud of whatever I was doing to stay lookin’ so young. Lucky for me I really don’t have to work that hard- it’s all in the genes!
We visited Baltimore the first day of our trip when we landed, as our friends picked us up at BWI. Baltimore is a nice city, the main attraction is this placed called the “Inner Harbor” which is kind of equivalent to Chicago’s Navy Pier but larger. It was nice to see docked sailboats again, I miss seeing the rows upon rows on the glistening waters of Lake Michigan. There were also some weird dragon-looking boats that none of us knew why they were there, but apparently they have a dragonboat festival there every year.
The downtown area is nice, with lots of shops and museum-like attractions. We stopped by this candy store called It’s Sugar, OMG did it test my self-control limits. To be fair, I wasn’t going to get any candy but of course I joined in when Pathik started picking out candy. There were lots of odds and ends at the store along with candy you can buy by the ounce in bags- we loaded up on lemonheads and a whole bunch of other sour/sweet stuff, but the store also had lots of gag gifts/toys like a pacifier with a plastic handlebar mustache on it. Lucky for our friends with babies we didn’t buy it to give to one you lucky guys 🙂
We also stopped by Ripley’s Believe it Or Not museum- and it was awesome! I’m amazed by some of the things people spend their time doing, like making a Hogwarts Castle/grounds out of matchsticks. Talk about the ultimate art project!
I think the best part about that first weekend was not the things we did/see but just hanging out with friends from college like the good ol’ days, including ending the night with a long Settlers game while being serenaded by acapella background music. It brought me back to all the late night game nights- will never forget those!
I took the metro in from Reston everyday as I mentioned earlier. It was a pretty smooth trip, even though I had to take a bus to the metro. Can you believe a metro station directly from Reston was opening the week after I left DC?
Even though I travelled into DC for about four days straight and saw many great things, I don’t think it was enough to cover everything. Somehow I missed getting a tour of the Capitol rotunda and getting into the Library of Congress before it closed 🙁 As an avid reader of Dan Brown and having read the The Lost Symbol twice, I was disappointed that I failed to make it happen, but both are at the far west corner of the National Mall and not until the last day did I realize there was a metro station near the Capitol.
However, here is a list of things I DID see:
The Smithsonian Castle : (great place to stop on the first day for a map of the mall, get a drink of water anytime and go to the bathroom anytime). It is also a great place to stop midway along the mall for some AC and a place to sit out of the sun on a hot midsummer day.
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum: I easily spent three hours in here and could have spent more, did I mention that I stood outside in line for an hour just to get in as well? Luckily some of the museums have summer hours open until 7.30pm, and so does this one. I stayed for three hours and didn’t get through everything, but I’m such a space nerd that maybe I spend more time than others reading about every rocket launch history 🙂
Natural History Museum: I think this would be a great place to bring young kids to, especially kids maybe 8 and older who can appreciate/understand all the info about science. I didn’t spend much time here, although I did look around at the exhibit about human evolution. I mainly went here for the Beyond Bollywood exhibit, which was really cool. I didn’t know Indians had been in the US since the late 19th century, many working alongside Chinese immigrants on California’s railroads and being just as discriminated against. I also didn’t know there were laws against Indian men marrying Indian women and calling them to the US until well into the mid-twentieth century. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by those things as many races have been discriminated against in American history and still do, but all this was surprising because none of this was in any of my history lessons. Why has the Indian American narrative been so diluted in the textbooks? Awareness is important.
American History Museum: Another great place to bring kids to educate them about all the presidents and their achievements, responsibilities, but the main attraction for me was the exhibit displaying the inaugural ball gown of the first ladies.
Holocaust Museum: Located on the northeast corner of the National Mall, this is another place where I easily spent three hours. I’m glad I went there first thing in the morning and able to brighten up the rest of my day by distracting myself with other things. The biggest take home message for me was that these atrocities against humans are continuing to happen, even though people think it won’t happen again- but Darfur, the Yugoslavia/Croatia war, and Rwanda all have unnerving parallels. Information about these recent conflicts is available as well. Going back to the Holocaust itself, I don’t think I’m ever going to forget the glass walls with hundreds of town names on them, all of which were predominantly Jewish towns that were completely wiped out during this time.
Arlington National Cemetery: Definitely worth going to for honoring our veterans. The Changing of the Guard ceremony was interesting to watch, especially because we went at noon, right when the sun was at its peak. I can’t imagine the rigor of having to stand at attention using every muscle in your body wearing heavy uniform while standing in the sweltering sun with hundreds of people looking on, not to mention the silence of it all that would drive me crazy. However, these soldiers do it, and it is worth seeing to appreciate the intensity with which they would like fellow soldiers to be honored.
-I’m also really glad I got to see Kennedy’s grave at the cemetary. The wall of quotes surrounding his grave is especially touching, as they are some of his greatest. It’s also really cool to see the flame atop his grave across the bridge when standing at the back of the Lincoln Monument at night.
National Cathedral: Very beautiful place made entirely of Indiana limestone! We went on the free tour they were giving, during which the docent explains the meaning behind the architecture and the stained glass. I learned that stained glass used to depict stories from the bible to make scripture tangible and relatable to lay people, since they weren’t allowed to read the Bible/couldn’t during the early-mid Middle Ages.
Monuments: I’m proud to say that I saw all of them except for the FDR and Korean War Memorial. I’ve heard the FDR memorial is very cool in terms of design, but my weary feet weren’t going to carry me all the way that corner of the mall in the heat.
BusBoysandPoets is a great place to eat. Period. For vegetarians/vegans/omnivores alike. Very ecclectic atmosphere. We loved it here so much that we spent a ton of money here two nights in a row and stayed for at least 3 hours, chatting with family/friends. Go hungry.
Nightlife in DC is good, but everything closes very early- like 2:30 am, and most places won’t let you in after 2:00am. Even if its 2:05am and you just found parking outside the W for which you were told 6 minutes before that you could go up to the rooftop. Even though they can be haugthy, it’s a good idea to try to go to calmer places like the W because I did not appreciate walking along the street with all the bars/clubs and being oggled, pinched, arm/booty brushed. I wish I was kidding.
Great place to find good food outside of the chains/limited options in DC, but its a drive. It’s also very crowded but parking is relatively easy to find on the weekends, during which it is mostly free. I’m sure its a different story during the weekdays. We had lunch at this place called Nando’s Peri Peri, a Portuguese restaurant. The Perry Perry is a sauce, and the best thing about this place was that you could add any variety of its many sauces to your dish. They had Portuguese dishes but us vegetarians stuck with regular American foods like burgers and salads.
-The metro is a great way to travel
-Wear comfortable shoes and bring a water bottle, water and snacks cost an arm and a leg out of the food trucks
-It is difficult to plan out exactly what to see when because sometimes getting in takes a long time and once inside it takes time to explore, so just decide on a few key priority places to focus on initially and fill in the rest of the time. The monuments can be seen at night too and they look beautiful at night.
-Buy your own postcard and stamp it for every memorial you see- great, inexpensive keepsake and the stamps are each location, or all available at the Lincoln Memorial.
-Good food is there but its expensive
-Go “out” in DC at your own risk