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Trip Report Washington DC - Philadelphia - New York extravaganza

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Thanks in advance to all the people here who helped in the planning of this - both last year and this year! In 2012 we split our trip between NYC and DC, with more time in NY. This time, we gave most of our trip to DC, with just a short time in NY and an extra stopover in Philadelphia. This year was my 3rd time in NY and DC and my husband's 2nd time, but it was the first time either of us had visited Philadelphia.

DAY ONE: April 29th - our 2nd wedding anniversary :) After our flight from Paris to DC we got a taxi to the hotel (Club Quarters; metro Farragut West) and noted how much better people seem to drive in DC than in NY (the taxi ride both times in NY last year nearly made me car sick for the first time in years!). I had earmarked a couple of places for lunch just in case, but in fact by the time we arrived it was almost 3pm and we didn't feel we needed it. Instead, we just went for a walk in the neighbourhood to get our bearings and some fresh air. We had originally intended to visit the Corcoran Gallery but discovered that it was a) not free to enter and b) shut! Instead we went to the Renwick Gallery and were glad we did - there's stacks of interesting stuff in there and the staff are so friendly. We then walked around the area near the White House for a bit before going back to the hotel to relax. The lounge at Club Quarters is brilliant: free wifi, TV, drinks/snacks aplenty, and loads of comfy armchairs and handy tables. We then went to Vidalia for dinner, and we would without doubt recommend the food.

DAY TWO: We'd earmarked this day to go to the Washington Zoo as it was very close to where we'd scheduled our dinner for that evening, but could have changed the day ultimately as we ended up coming back earlier in order to rest (we were done at the zoo about 3 hours before our dinner). The reason I mention changing the day is because it was raining! Hardly perfect weather for the zoo! Some of the animals (like the red panda) did the sensible thing and stayed inside (unlike us...) but we did manage to see most of what we wanted to see. It is huge and if you have kids you could definitely stay in there from opening to closing. Can't believe it's free to go in! We'd had a good breakfast at G Street Food before coming (probably the best breakfast we had in DC) and so we were able to go round a lot of exhibits before stopping for lunch (we'd bought sandwiches from Pret A Manger before coming). Bizarre moment of the day: random American kids coming up to us and trying to high-five/fist-bump us...
After the zoo we went back to the hotel to rest a bit before going out for dinner at Mintwood Place. The head chef's cousin is my husband's boss and so we made sure to stop by to say hi to him after we'd eaten (and compliment him on the food - it is WONDERFUL). He then invited us back on the Friday (more of which later).

DAY THREE: After an adequate breakfast at the Firehook bakery, we went to the Newseum, for which we'd received a small discount on the entry fee by booking online in advance. This place is amazing and you could really spend hours in here (and we did). We had difficulty finding lunch close to the museum, though, and so walked around in circles for ages before settling upon a pizza place next to the Judiciary Square station (think it was called Uno?). If anyone has any good suggestions for affordable places to eat close to the Mall I'd be happy to hear them! After this, we hit the East Wing of the National Gallery, which we didn't have a chance to do last year, exiting via the Espresso/Gelato Bar. By this point, we were pretty knackered (and sunburnt!), and so went back to the hotel to rest before dinner, which we had at Malaysia Kopitiam, and which was excellent :) Back to the hotel for an early night :)

DAY FOUR: We started this sunny day with breakfast at Cosi - I am determined to try to make my own Squagels at home! We then went to visit the Library of Congress, which I had done once before but my husband had never done. We definitely enjoyed it, as well as the temporary exhibits downstairs, which change regularly (Gershwin, Bob Hope, and cartoons all feature at the moment). After that, we headed to the Good Stuff Eatery for lunch, which I would definitely recommend - its burgers are up there with the best ever! Sit at the window bar if you can. I'll be buying their cookbook without a doubt. We hit the Mall again in the afternoon, touring the Freer and Sackler galleries as well as the National Air and Space Museum. The former proved a calmer experience than the latter, which seemed to have all of the local school groups visiting at once. Respite was provided in the form of the NASM's Imax cinema - the Hubble 3D show is superb. As the weather was good, we then rented from Capital Bikeshare and cycled round the Presidents' Memorials, which was a delightful experience (although we were a tad bemused by all the school groups clambering over the statues at the Roosevelt memorial and nobody bothering to stop them...I'm not sure you're supposed to sit on Roosevelt's dog to have your picture taken!). For dinner we kept it simple and stayed near the hotel, getting takeaway from Julie's Empanadas. This was delish :) On the way back, I got some frozen yoghurt (from FroYo, I think), which was quite good, but still not as good as some frozen yoghurt I've had in London. Still - another successful day by all accounts :)

DAY FIVE: Georgetown day :) This was a day with a lot of walking; by my count we walked a minimum of 5 miles. After breakfast at Au Pain Quotidien, we walked down M Street, stopping at the Old Stone House and its garden...oh, and Sephora of course :D We had planned to lunch at Johnny Rockets (fond Florida memories for me there!) but it wasn't as far as I'd thought it would be and by the time we reached it, it was only about 11.30. Plus, burgers didn't appeal as much anymore given that we'd already had them yesterday for lunch - so we decided to keep on walking and see what else we could find. Turning right onto Wisconsin Avenue, we eventually found The Bean Counter on our way uphill, which furnished us with really good sandwiches that would keep us going through the afternoon ahead. Amusing that all of the sandwiches are named on a financial theme (such as "Gold Standard", "Mass Merger", and "Emerging Market")! They also do really lovely refreshing iced tea, which was a great cooler in the sunshine. Afterwards we made our way to our main destination of the day - Dumbarton Oaks - and spent hours in the house and gardens. The gardens are really the main event here, so even though the house is free to enter, I'd recommend paying to access the garden. While we waited for it to open, though, we had time to check out a couple of other nearby parks (Rock Creek is one) where we could doze and read in the sun, and we also located Tudor Place, which looks like another great stop for a historical visit. When we were done at Dumbarton Oaks we walked back as far as Dupont Circle. Even though we were just one metro stop from our hotel at that point, we did bail and get the metro the rest of the way. After a well-deserved rest, we went back to Mintwood Place, where we very kindly had dinner on the chef at his invitation. It was AMAZE. (Don't worry, we left a very generous tip!)

DAY SIX: We got an 8.00 train from DC to Philadelphia under the pretext of visiting the Barnes Collection (we had a timed ticket for 11.00). Dropped off our bags at Philadelphia station ($4 a bag, but worth it) and got a taxi to the Blue Cat Restaurant for brunch. An excellent suggestion from Fodor's! We loved it and my husband highlights it as one of the best meals of the trip (we had their huevos rancheros, home fries, fresh fruit juice, and cinnamon French toast, FWIW). The sun was beating down so we enjoyed our short walk to the Barnes Collection, followed by the art inside the museum. The second floor is much quieter than the first, but you may want to go round the whole place twice: not only for the sheer volume of art, but also because as it was lunchtime, we think most people had gone to eat by the time we went round the second time. Afterwards, we stopped at the Whole Foods Market nearby for some snacks for the train (hooray for organic animal crackers!). Our train was not until 4pm and we took a lovely leisurely wander down to the station, admiring the Philadelphia architecture and marvelling at the number of things there are to do there. We would definitely consider a longer stop in this rapidly regenerating city (perhaps a Philadelphia/DC split another year?!). From the beautiful Art Deco style station we caught our train to New York, where we would spend just two nights. Upon arrival, we made our characteristic number of errors in attempting to navigate the NY subway system (not helped by various service changes and not enough elevators/escalators), but finally made it to our hotel - Howard Johnson's in Chinatown. We weren't massively impressed with the hotel but actually loved staying in Chinatown! Saying this, though, we should have stayed there for dinner instead of heading out to Ellen's Stardust Diner as planned - while fun, it's overpriced and the food mediocre.

DAY SEVEN: We got up late and headed out for brunch at Untitled, which is located inside the Whitney Museum (which we didn't in fact know). It was OK, but we enjoyed our brunch in Philadelphia more. We had planned to go to both the Frick and the Met, but decided this was too ambitious and settled on just the Met, on the basis that we were bound to find something there that we enjoyed (whereas our guidebook focused on Flemish art in its description of the Frick - of which neither of us are fans). We did indeed enjoy the Met and found it large yet manageable (well, mostly - apart from the bit where we sort of got trapped in the American Wing...). After this, we went for a walk in Central Park, had a drink of water, and wrote postcards in the sun while a band played :) My husband looked around a couple of watch shops and we then went back to the hotel to rest before walking to our dinner, which we'd reserved at the Mermaid Inn. We went there last year and enjoyed it so much that we just had to go back. The experience didn't disappoint :)

DAY EIGHT: Back to DC now on the train, and wishing we could have stayed in New York just a shade longer. We breakfasted in the train on muffins and bottled water that we'd yoinked from the hotel's free breakfast buffet, and upon arrival in DC, set off for the Normandy Hotel, whose nearest metro station is Dupont Circle. Put it this way: it seems a lot nearer when you're walking there FROM the hotel (i.e.: downhill), without your heavy suitcases, when it isn't raining! The hotel itself is chintzy and has a beautiful lounge downstairs, as well as the added pluses of a highly comfortable bed, high-quality shower room, and Nespresso machine in the bedroom. From here we headed to Zaytinya's for lunch, which was frankly disappointing: compared to our visit last year, the food lacked refinement and service was not good. After this, we went to the International Spy Museum, which we both enjoyed, but we found the National Portrait Gallery right next to it even more satisfying. After this, we walked towards DC's Chinatown to get a glimpse of the archway at its entrance before getting a direct train back to Dupont Circle. For dinner, we decided to not go too far and went to one of the restaurants in walking distance of the hotel. Punters here are certainly not spoilt for choice, but we went for Odeon, an Italian restaurant where we were finally able to get a good pizza! While we were there, the news about the girls in Ohio was literally breaking at that moment on the restaurant's TVs. A truly amazing story; these girls are my age now and I just hope they can begin to get their lives back.

DAY NINE: Our final day. Our flight was not until 10pm so we still had nearly a full day to enjoy. Breakfast was an epic failure however: despite the area's wide choice of restaurants for lunch and dinner, the breakfast options are pitiful. This is probably why the Normandy Hotel charges $17 per person for breakfast - they have a captive audience! Not fancying this option (which was likely to be poor value for money) we chose the nearby Cosi, where we'd had an acceptable breakfast earlier in the week. However, the staff there barely spoke English and got our order wrong :( This, along with the driving rain, made for a most dissatisfying start to the morning. Nevertheless, we picked ourselves up and headed back to the hotel to dry out (as well as to check out and arrange a taxi) before visiting the Phillips Collection (which we also went to last year, but which seemed different this year thanks to their constant rotation of their collection). We then went for lunch at the Kramer Afterwords Café, which serves delicious food, including the Obama Chilli, which I highly recommend. This preceded our visit to the Hirshhorn Museum, which we found most interesting, especially one of their current video exhibits about parkour. We even had time afterwards to pop into the Natural History Museum to see the mammals and gems exhibits. I think we managed to fit a lot into this trip! All that remained now was to head back to the hotel and flop in their lounge while we waited for the taxi. The taxi driver fancied himself as a bit of a tour guide, pointing out the Watergate Hotel and Kennedy Center on the way to the airport, as well as telling us why Tyson's Corner is called that. Laden with our purchases from Kramer's (and I mean laden - my husband bought a massive biography of Johnson) we headed for the AirFrance lounge, for one last sniff of civilization before heading back to the land of the surly...!

A couple of observations of things I would improve about our trip:
1) I would look more closely into how far breakfast was included in the hotel cost, as this ended up being a significant incidental expense each day. While eating breakfast out was still cheaper than eating at the hotel, I would prefer it to be included.
2) I would also look more closely at how far the hotels were from metro stations. While it never looks that far on a map (and often isn't once you have got your bearings), it feels a long way when you're going there for the first time and have to carry your suitcases.
3) We would look more closely into TSA regulations for securing your baggage! My suitcase complied with TSA rules, so while they opened it, my case wasn't damaged. My husband, however, nicely had the lock busted on his case, which was not greatly sweetened by the TSA's polite notice.

You *may* be able to view my trip photos by following this link, but I'm not that good at working out how to share whole albums using Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=994397379754&l=41073c10ca

Let me know if it works or not :) and of course if you have any questions if you're planning a similar trip of your own!

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