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Trip Report DC trip - or meet my new BFF, Paul

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This was a hastily planned trip that turned out very well. We decided the week prior to take a few days during DD’s spring vacation and visit Washington, DC. As we live about 350 miles away, we decided a drive would be nice. We ventured onto I-70 East to Washington, PA and then south on I-79 and east on I-68. Having never traveled this route before, we weren’t prepared for how desolate and isolated the drive between Morgantown, WV and Frederick, MD truly was. We laughed at some rest stop picknickers as we passed a large family with 3 huge coolers. If only we had known the scarcity of anyplace to eat for 4-5 hours, we would have relished bringing our own lunch! A lesson to be learned – don’t assume!

It was a beautiful day for a drive, although the scenery had not yet begun to turn lush or verdant with the promise of spring. We navigated traffic in DC as we found our hotel, the Washington Hilton, on Connecticut Ave. near DuPont Circle. I took full advantage of a last minute plan and got a room on Priceline for $80/night. The rack rate was $299, so we felt pretty good. I had scoured the internet and asked my Fodorite friends about parking options in DC. We had contemplated parking near Reagan airport for $12/day in long term parking. That would have involved taking the subway to DuPont Circle and hiking up a big hill. Probably about 30-60 min trek. We compromised by finding a parking garage on Florida Ave., a stone’s throw from the hotel, for $20/night prepaid overnight parking. We didn’t touch the car from the time we parked it, till we left to return home.

Arriving in the late afternoon, DD dropped me with the luggage at the hotel and parked the car. I have stayed at the WH before, many years ago, and knew this was a hotel of Vegas proportions. I had called immediately when I received the Priceline win and requested a room with 2 beds, close to the elevator. I suppose one out of two requests is batting .500, but walking half a mile to the hotel room was tiring every day. I had read review on TripAdvisor and they did give us a newly re-decorated room all done in neutral shades of taupe, brown, gray and black. The beds were comfy, although not anything special. The room was a decent size for an urban city hotel. From our experience, the Hilton could be a really swell place. It has the “bones” to be a terrific place. But what’s missing is the attention to small details, that ended up leaving a bad taste.

As stated earlier, the room décor was lovely, the bathroom looked very nice, like all the fixtures had just been replaced as well with dark cherry wood vanity and marble & glass everywhere. However, in the bathtub, there was no “grab bar” of anything to hold onto except for a very flimsy soap dish in the corner. The bathtub was slick and this seemed like a real safety hazard to me. The towel configuration changed every day we were there, never the same twice and never the correct amount of towels. The last day the maid even forgot to leave a step down mat for the shower. This may seem petty, but what infuriated me the most was that the hotel staff did not pick up dirty glasses/dishes/ice bucket! We used our glasses all the days we were there and each day had to call to have clean glasses and a clean ice bucket. After sightseeing for 10 hours, we came back with cold drinks to enjoy in our room, and no clean glasses. After complaining 3 days in a row, no comment from management whatsoever. The first night we were there, we fell into a long nap after driving all day and woke up around 9 p.m. absolutely starving. I had done some restaurant research and we went to Hank’s Oyster Bar and Grill for fried oyster dinner. Seafood is a real treat for us, as we live in the land-locked MidWest. Oh boy, this was delicious! I am not usually a fan of fried food, but the oysters were so plump and perfectly cooked, they were divine.
Now on to the good stuff – DD had been to DC on a school trip and had seen all the Smithsonian museums. So, we wanted to focus on some of the more esoteric ones. We nixed the subway, as it’s 4 LONG blocks and I am somewhat mobility challenged. As mentioned earlier, it was a schlep just to walk from our room to the front door of the hotel. We asked the concierge about buses, and took the #42 bus running along CT to within 3 blocks of the FBI building. We found our new BFF, Paul Bakery, where we had breakfast of quiche, fruit, delicious coffee and bought some treats for later.
After breakfast, on to the National Gallery of Art, East & West. DD and I both love Impressionist art, and we focused on the beautiful azalea display in the rotunda as well as all the Monet, Manet, Degas, Cezanne, etc. We wandered around and looked at our favorite periods and spent several hours here. It was a gorgeous (and hot!) day in DC and we walked from there to the Space & Air Musuem. Living in Ohio (Wright Brothers, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong), we feel a real affinity to the history of air/space travel. Have spoken with John Glenn on a couple of occasions, what a lovely guy. DD and I bought IMAX tickets and saw a few of the shows. By the time we were done, it was around 5:00 p.m. on a Friday, not a good time to hail a cab, but we couldn’t stand up any longer. We went back to the hotel and rested in preparation for our dinner excursion.
We chose Bistro la Bonne on U Street where we both had steak and frites. We had 7:30 p.m. dinner reservations and got a little worried when not many people were in the restaurant. DC must be a late dining town, because by the time we left it was packed. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was my dessert – an apple strudel. I guess I pictured a warm, puff pastry apple strudel and this was a very modern deconstruction, not to my taste. DD had a mocha chocolate confection, which was finger licking good indeed.
Saturday brought rain and colder weather to DC. Another trip on the #42 bus, breakfast again at Paul, and this time we arrived at the Newseum around 10 a.m. A point to those with mobility issues as well, the Newsuem is equipped with motorized carts, much nicer to use than hand pushed wheel chairs and I felt so much better since DD didn’t have to exhaust herself. The Smithsonian museum are free, the Newseum does charge a fee, but you can use the ticket for 2 consecutive days.

As a news-junkie and a child in the ‘60’s I really enjoyed all the exhibits. We were there from 10-3 and only covered the basement, 5th and 6th floors. We wanted to do the International Spy Musuem and wanted some time to see that as well. Frankly, I could have passed on the Spy Musuem, now that we have been there. Perhaps because it was raining, or because it was late on a Saturday, but it was dark and extremely packed. We spent about 2 ½ - 3 hours there (also a fee). We were done around 6 p.m. and needed to kill an hour before our dinner reservations, a block from there. We stumbled onto the National Portrait Gallery, which was open till 7 p.m. that evening, and it was lovely. This is where the famous Gilbert Suart painting of George Washington is located, as well as all the presidential portraits. We spent an hour here and felt it was worthwhile as well.

From there we walked a couple of blocks over to Bistro d’Oc, across from Ford’s Theatre, another restaurant I found on Yelp. Our theme for the trip was French bistro food and seafood, both treats for us. DD started her meal with a bowl of lobster/crab bisque, garnished with a coconut ginger crème, and me with a traditional onion soup. The steamed mussels in white wine were outstanding and the delicious French Fries tasted like they had been fried in lard (yum yum!). I had an appetizer of rise de veau (veal sweetbreads) in puff pastry, something no one would offer in my hometown. We shared a chocolate dacquoise cake. DD took pictures of the food, which I think the restaurant people thought meant we were food critics and they kept asking us if we were happy with the food and comped our dessert!

Sunday was a little drier than the previous day, but still pretty grim till evening. Again, the #42 bus, breakfast at Paul, and a return trip to the Newseum, where we finished what remained to be seen. I loved the Walter Cronkite stuff, as I was convinced growing up that he was my uncle. I always tear up at his broadcast that JFK has died and get a big lump in my throat. I was barely in school during the 1960’s, but it seems like history was brought to us on TV. Really enjoyed the political humor as well, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. DD did the “pretend to be a TV newsperson” and we both had fun laughing at that. From there we strolled over to the Natural History Museum to visit “my jewelry”. It reminded me of the time we visited the Louvre and the guard pushed my wheel chair up close and nose to nose with the Mona Lisa, so I could see. I adore gem stones of all kinds and the museum was packed. A guard pushed me nose to nose with the Hope Diamond and I got to gawk for a couple minutes. Frankly, I would have wanted a simpler setting and necklace, but still beautiful. The museum was just too packed for DD to have much room to maneuver the wheel chair. We ended up with lunch at the Sculpture Garden next door, which, although not cheap, was the best lunch of the 3 days we toured the museums. My turkey with brie sandwich and cranberry relish was far superior to the Mickey Ds offered at the Air & Space museum.
Dinner Sunday night was my fault. I had not planned everything, thinking we could be spontaneous and it just didn’t work out. DD wanted Italian food, which is tricky because she doesn’t eat tomatoes. We called a few places, she wasn’t satisfied. We finally went to Bertucci’s near DuPont Circle and both of us walked away with bad dinners. We don’t have Bertuccis near us, but I know it is a chain similar to Olive Garden. That they were practically empty at 8:00 on a Sunday night should have been a sign. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

All in all, a very enjoyable trip. My feet really hurt, which is a good sign I suppose that we did a lot and saw a lot. The best part of the trip? Spending time with my DD of course!

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