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Adventures in DC (with a bite of Philadelphia and a lick of Baltimore)

Adventures in DC (with a bite of Philadelphia and a lick of Baltimore)

Old Apr 4th, 2016, 07:32 AM
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Adventures in DC (with a bite of Philadelphia and a lick of Baltimore)

I took a red eye flight from Seattle to DCA and then a taxi to Union Station . I enjoyed Union Station; the architecture is terrific and I hadn't realized there were shops to keep me entertained while I waited for the train. I rode the Acela because it was the next train out. I'm not sure I would do so again, but even a little time saving felt good when I was so tired. I liked the set up for the Acela- 2 chairs face two chairs with a table in the middle. I also liked (although I didn't realize it at the time) that the Acela has fewer stops than the others. But at the end of the day, it's still Amtrak- and Amtrak seems to make even the simplest aspect of transportation overly complicated. And yet insecure- I found it a little worrying that no one checked my ID, other than the ticket counter. On the positive side, the seats in both Acela and the regular trains are STILL more comfortable than Delta economy class.

Then I went to check in at the Independent Hotel and they were very nice to let me check in when they found out I'd been awake since 6am the previous day. I was very, very impressed by the Independent. Front Desk staff was nice, my room was beautiful, and it was the perfect balance of small yet not overly friendly. (It's probably a bit odd but I don't care for B&Bs because often the host is overbearing). I think I did see in one of the reviews that noise from the adjoining club is an issue- and that is somewhat true. If you are a light sleeper, I wouldn't recommend staying there on a weekend, but the weeknight was fine. But in all other aspects, the Independent is fantastic and I'd definitely go back.

I stayed up late to eat dinner at Talula's Garden. It's a farm to table place, and it's one of those restaurants you walk into and know it's to your liking. I had the pre fixed 8 course option with wine pairing- my, what a treat. This mouse nearly had to roll out afterwards. What impressed me the most was the service- just excellent all around, and my server was kind enough to give me a list of recs for DC.

The next day, I headed out to Reading Terminal Market and Mutter Museum. I enjoyed Reading a little too much; I probably would have fit a lot more into my trip if I had avoided it entirely. The Mutter was very interesting partly because I'm in healthcare, but it would also be interesting if you are into history in general or if you are hypochondriac. But it's crowded and much more time consuming than I had counted on, so it was my only museum of the day. I also went down to check out the area around the Liberty Bell; go EARLY if you want tickets to Independence Hall as they are all gone around 10, and I passed on the Liberty Bell because the line was about an hour. I'll just have to go back to Philadelphia. What a shame. In all seriousness- 2 nights is not nearly enough time. I wasn't expecting to find so much to enjoy about Philadelphia. The slavery exhibit near/in the Bell complex is wonderful and one really gets a sense of what religious freedom meant to early Americans. I may be going back later this trip for the UPenn Museum as I am disappointed I missed out on that.

That evening I wandered through the the city hall courtyard and around the neighborhood looking at architecture. William Penn and co. were quite striking. Two unexpected pleasures. First, I think my favorite public art ever might be the Grumman Greenhouse, a Cold War Navy plane that looks like it has crashed to the ground- when one walks to the other side, one sees that the side of the pane has been replaced by glass and has flowers growing in pots. The second pleasure was Franklin's Fountain, a most excellent ice cream parlor. (I'm a mouse, I like to nibble here, nibble there, nibble just about anywhere...)

On Saturday I went back to Reading Terminal for a peeps donut. And the Mexican place waylaid me- I highly recommend their flank steak tacos. Then back to the train station for the trip back to DC.

I checked into the Willard Intercontinental, walked up to DuPont Circle for dinner, and then over to see the monuments in the dark. The Lincoln Monument is as beautiful as ever. Last time I was in DC they had built but not opened WW2- it's another monument that is wonderful in the dark, and it was unexpectedly touching. Both of my grandfathers have died since my last trip- both served in the Pacific, one on a ship, one as a pilot. I got a bit choked up.

I went over to see Korean memorial- I thought it had lights at the feet of the soldiers, but I must have misremembered. Still one of my favorites, though. I kept going back and forth over giving up a few days to go back to Philadelphia and it's largely because of the monuments and architecture in DC. It's just so very walkable and there's always something new to notice.

For dessert, the concierge recommended Coco Sala, a restaurant that takes it chocolate very seriously. Dessert was delicious and nearly too pretty to eat. I think I still prefer my mojito to be chocolate free though!

My thoughts on the Willard: I wasn't wowed. I thought the room was comfortable and it would be a solid choice for business travel. I liked the decor. But I felt that the service I usually experience at a hotel of that caliber just wasn't there. Nothing huge- but if I had paid advertised price, I would've been less satisfied. I would return if it was business trip, but not for leisure.

Brunch was varied and delicious. Then I walked to the Sackler Gallery. I nearly skipped this because Freer is closed and that's more along the lines of my interest. But the peacock room exhibit was interesting. If you're in the region, check out the Turquoise Mountain exhibit in the basement which is about relief aid, education, artisan conservation in Afghanistan. Loved it!

Monday was laundry day, Museum of American History, and (very quickly) Museum of Natural History. For the rest of the trip (unless otherwise noted) I am staying at Hostelling International. It reminds a lot of HI Chicago: excellent security, modern design, and large. Also like Chicago; it's not in a "neighborhood" location, so count on walking at least a few blocks for food or whatever. But it's safe at night and it's walkable to the Smithsonian. (And they give us our own plug in/nightlight & 2 pillows! If you are a frequent hostel goer, then you totally know how awesome that is!)
Shake Shack for dinner- it's good, but I'm going to attribute its cult factor to the fact those poor, deprived city folk have never had a rural tavern burger. Seriously, it tasted exactly like the burgers I used to eat at a bar in the middle of nowhere farming town with my grandpa. The only difference is the bar would have a few old timers, a few kids, and the church ladies...Shake Shack has got a line out the door nearly all day long!

On Tuesday, I woke up horribly early and decided that this might as well be the day to get a ticket for the Washington Monument. I was in line before 7 and thought it was long then! But between 7-830, the line quadrupled behind me. I asked the Monument clerk when they ran out of tickets- 9AM! And that likely means not everyone got a ticket because the line was not speedy (I got my ticket at 10 til). So I'd show up at 6 if you try on a weekend. Or maybe don't bother. It's not that I didn't enjoy seeing the inside of the Monument. It is interesting, especially the state stones you see descending. It was a clear, beautiful day. But it's a one and done activity, and those 2 hours felt very long. If you go: bring coffee and jackets if it's cold, water if it's hot. There's no shelter or real wind protection.

I missed my Capitol tour, which is a bummer, not horrible though as I've been before. I headed to Blue Duck Tavern for breakfast. I definitely recommend the fries and the chicken biscuit- delicious! But a bit on the pricy side, I feel.

I spent the afternoon at Hillwood Mansion. The gardens are beautiful even this time of year; they must be glorious during the summer. I recommend the docent led tour of the house; while you can enjoy the house and its collection without a tour, I found the docent to be very knowledgeable. Also, it gives you a better idea of who Ms. Post was- what a character! Don't miss the orchids in the greenhouse or the Japanese Garden, which was definitely a highlight for me.

Toki Ramen for dinner. I enjoyed walking around H street- it has a really interesting history as an immigrant neighborhood. Toki Ramen was delicious, but not the best I've had. I think I'm spoiled from ramen in SF and Seattle, though. They did have a really interesting variation of steam buns that involve fried chicken covered with chile sauce. That definitely helped clear my sinuses.

Milk Bar for dessert- another of those NY fads, and one I don't understand. (Cereal? Really?) But it turns out that pretzel flavored frozen custard is pretty delicious.

Wednesday: I slept in and then headed to Renwick Gallery the next day to see the Wonder exhibit. I think that this was one of the high points of my trip. I usually love museums in general- DC especially- But I really wasn't feeling it this trip. I'm not sure if that was due to the hordes of school children, my evil allergies or the fact that I have been to DC before. Maybe all three? But the Wonder exhibit brought the smile back and the Renwick is a beautiful restoration. So well worth the time.

Headed to Georgetown for dinner. Attractive neighborhood; a lot of familiar chains, though, so I didn't bother shopping. Perhaps someone will be able to clue me in here: what's with no/little water in the Canal? My guide book mentions barges, and I'm assuming that's a summer thing. Is the water low this year or do they just fill it later near summer??

Anyway...I ate at Filomena's, which I knew was Italian when I booked it, but nothing else. Turns out it's a really cute old school Italian restaurant- tuxedoed waiters, old fashioned service, and more than generous portions. It also goes all out for Easter; the Army of Rabbits probably outnumbered the guests and some were nearly human size! Loved it all- but it's very difficult for me to NOT like a place that can make both gnocchi and a lemon drop martini properly!

After dinner, I took a cab to the Tidal Basin. Alas, was not quite early enough to beat the hordes of night tours. However, I enjoyed walking along the water and I did get to check out the FDR and MLK memorials. I enjoy the quotes on both, and it was a pleasant after dinner stroll...with my headphones on, at least! The cherry trees are beautiful- I especially enjoyed the ones that lean over the water- but the wind yesterday clearly stripped a lot of petals.

Wicked waffle for breakfast. Foodies, stay away, but the kids would've loved this place. My tastebuds did not approve but I think it gave me a much needed dose of salt- I felt much better afterwards.

Then adventures at the zoo...

I saw the baby panda! I was really lucky; I made it just in time to watch bei bei and his mother play with bamboo and climb about. I also got to see both lions; the male lion vocalized quite a bit and then the female lion came trotting to the front! But the sloth bear stole my heart; he/she was right up against the glass snorfling at us. I went back to the clouded leopard enclosure for feeding; the feline was quite the opinionated old dame. I couldn't resist the gift shop but finally ventured back to my hostel to rest.

For dinner, I went to Founding Fathers. Whoever suggested that, thank you so much!! Delicious cocktails, prosciutto bruschetta and lobster Mac and cheese...best meal in DC. (No guilt. At all. It was that amazing).

On Friday, I went to Air & Space and the American Indian museums. I enjoyed American Indian; it's well designed with a few very in depth exhibits. I definitely recommend it to anyone with kids. A lot of school curriculums seem to spend very little time on indigenous peoples, and if they do include it into the curriculum, I feel like many kids are left with the impression that it's all in the past. The American Indian museum even had an exhibit on the Salmon Wars, which I enjoyed, especially since I finally found out who Billy Frank Jr. is. Bellingham recently changed Indian Street to Billy Frank Jr Street; I knew about the change as I use it every day but I hadn't noticed an explanation in the news, although I'm sure there was some kind of article on the topic.

I always think I'll be bored at Air & Space, but I always find something new to see. This time it was the aeronautical exposition and the SkyLab. Disappointed I didn't get to Udvar Hazy but I'm adding that to my list for next time.

Then for the last hour I went to the Natural History Museum again for the gemstones and the butterflies. Butterfly exhibit was sold out, but I did learn you can buy advance tickets online. So I'd recommend doing so if you know exactly when you'll be there.

On Saturday, I spent the morning in Alexandria. I really enjoyed the Apothecary museum- it's one of those rare, completely intact institutions. Fascinating. I also wandered though the Torpedo Factory. The art was fun, but I really enjoyed the Alexandria Archeology exhibit. Sometime in the future, I'm going to plan a Civil War history trip. I really wanted to visit Gettysburg or Manassas this trip, but there just wasn't a day that I felt like venturing out of the city. So much to see so little time!

I took Amtrak to Baltimore that afternoon. Partly because I'd never been, but also partly because on Thursday, the Hostel moved me to a larger dorm to make room for a school group. Not a huge deal- it wasn't an awful move, but my new bed was right next to the very noisy AC, so the Hotel Monaco in Baltimore was just too much of a temptation. The B&O railway building that houses it has an amazing entryway; even if you don't stay there, I'd recommend walking in and going up the staircase to the lobby. My room was just fine; they could definitely improve maintenance and housekeeping, though. But the king bed was a glorious break from the hostel twin, so no complaints.

I walked down to the Inner Harbor for the Aquarium and the light festival. I found the 9/11 memorial moving. The National Aquarium is an amazing facility, with one caveat. I found the dolphin tank depressing. It could certainly use a makeover. But I have mixed feelings about keeping large mammals in captivity. I was there at the end of the day, and missed the shows, so perhaps my opinion would have been more positive had I learned more about how they treat their Dolphins. Anyway, aside from that, I was impressed. The Australian exhibit is absolutely amazing, the Amazon exhibit is on par with Vancouver BC's exhibit, and the reef exhibit is very well designed. In terms of facilities and range of animals, I think National has both Monterey and Vancouver beat- but I prefer both of those over National because I think National doesn't do nearly as good of a job on the education/conservation front. On the other hand, I got to pet moon jellyfish. I haven't seen a moon jellyfish touch tank before, so that was pretty cool.

Next I went to the Light festival. It was a fun way to see the Inner Harbor. I'd like to return to Baltimore someday to explore it a little more. I was bushed and went to bed around 11.

Sunday was supposed to be my last day in DC. Unfortunately, at some point, a train hit a back hoe, and caused delays across the board. If any of you got caught in that, I'm so sorry. When I left the station, they'd just announced that the late afternoon trains would also be delayed for an unknown amount of time. I caught the 220 MARC back- hadn't even realized it the MARC ran on the weekend! The only good thing was that the Marc is cheaper than Amtrak. It takes longer; unfortunately this resulted in having to cut the Textile Museum and the Newseum. Disappointing, but oh well. It could have been worse; saddened to hear that at least two people died in the Amtrak accident. Several passengers injured, as well.

I forgot to mention that before boarding the train for Baltimore, I had time to kill. I spent a very happy hour in the Postal Museum, which is now on my top 10 DC list. Interesting exhibits- everything from early postal service to anthrax to postsecrets. Best of all, it seems to be a fairly quiet museum, so it's one to check out if the crowds on the Mall become too suffocating. The building itself is also worth checking out.

I went to Natural History for the butterflies and Mammals room that evening.

Final morning. End of trip gloom was descending...I decided that I really needed real coffee to fight it. Ventured to La Colombe coffee- which was really good, right up there with intelligentsia or the places I've been to in SF or Seattle. Best of all- their pastries are so, so good. Real pastries, not overly sweet like so many places. Wish I would have found this place sooner!

Notes about DC this time of year. Don't rent a car. Bring your walking shoes. Taxis are really good here but it adds up at certain times because the Monuments/White House area just gets gridlocked. And weather is crazy- I thought I'd overpacked but I ended up wearing both summer and winter clothing lol. Taxis are not so great in Baltimore- bring cash or (preferably) avoid. Don't sweat it if you don't get White House etc. tickets because there is just SO MUCH more to see in DC. And pace yourself- I was smart this trip, didn't do as much as I usually do- and the trade off is I didn't get sick/burnt out/injured as I have on previous trips.

So ends this mad adventure of the marvelousmouse. Hope y'all enjoyed it- or at least hope it was helpful to someone planning their own DC trip.
marvelousmouse is offline  
Old Apr 4th, 2016, 08:56 AM
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Great report -- glad you liked Philly.

> Notes about DC this time of year.
> Don't rent a car.
> Bring your walking shoes

The last two statements are true about DC at EVERY time of the year. NEVER try to see DC by car.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 03:56 PM
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On your next trip to Baltimore, don't miss the American Visionary Museum at the foot of Federal Hill. Very interesting.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 04:29 PM
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Camden Yards is within walking distance of the Inner Harbor if you're an O's fan. There is a Circulator bus that I will check out the next time I'm in Baltimore.
The USS Constellation (sister ship to Old Ironsides) is also in the Inner Harbor.
You can take a water taxi out to see Fort McHenry.
In Washington, the information center for the US Forest Service is SE of the Washington Monument. It is the brick building among all those marble buildings. Among other things they have Smokey Bear's desk.
NW of the Washington Monument at the north end of the Ellipse, you will see the Zero Milestone which has a good view of the south lawn of the White House.
I think Joe Boardman will be glad to get out of Amtrak before anything else bad happens.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 07:30 PM
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Do you have an aversion to the DC Metro system?
There is a station at DCA that serves the Blue and Yellow lines. http://www.wmata.com/rail/maps/map.cfm
With the blue line you transfer at Metro Center to the Red line to get to Union station. The escalator is not very handy with luggage to get up to the Amtrak station but there are elevators.
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 08:02 PM
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Great trip report to three cities I've gotten to know quite well over the years. I'm impressed at how efficient you were in DC... you really hit a lot of the Smithsonian highlights. I don't think you should feel the least bit guilty about spending too much time in the Reading Terminal Market... it's a real highlight of Philly; I also LOVE the Italian Market there. Speaking of markets, if you ever make it back to Baltimore, that city has some that I really dig-- Cross Street and Lexington Markets, just for their energy. I'd recommend a return to Baltimore to see some of the Inner Harbor-adjacent neighborhoods--Federal Hill, Fell's Point and Mount Vernon.

Thanks; you've given some great suggestions for when I return to these cities! Best wishes, Daniel
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Old Apr 4th, 2016, 10:29 PM
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Tomfuller- yep, I saw the USS Constellation. Very cool. Sadly, I think it was too early in the year for that particular water taxi to run- which was fine, as I really only had less than 24 hours in Baltimore and most of that was at night after most of the historic stuff was shut down (for example, I was too late to board any of the inner harbor ships).

No aversion to metro. I was actually very impressed with it, and used it a lot- just forgot to mention that! But I just prefer the convenience of taxis late at night or when I have my luggage and part of my taxi use stems from the same reason for my relaxed pace- my good foot felt odd a few days of the trip, and no amount of money saved would make up for pushing that too hard

Thanks for the Baltimore suggestions, folks! I definitely want to return to there and Philadelphia- especially the latter! So much amazing history in Philadelphia! And some very intriguing architecture in Baltimore- I wish I'd had time to walk around a little more there.
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Old Apr 5th, 2016, 04:10 AM
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Sounds like you had a very nice trip. Thanks for the report.
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Old Apr 5th, 2016, 07:44 AM
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Great trip report - thanks!
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Old Apr 5th, 2016, 11:40 AM
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Great report. Thanks for sharing.
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Old Apr 5th, 2016, 11:41 AM
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Lovely report! It always makes me so happy when people have a good time in Philadelphia...I have been having one here for fifty years so far, but sometimes it's nice to see it through new eyes. Do come back soon!
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Old Apr 5th, 2016, 12:41 PM
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Really enjoyed reading your report, so much great detail. Thanks!
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Old Apr 5th, 2016, 12:50 PM
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Thanks for sharing! I'm just beginning to plan a visit to DC in June and I've noted many of the restaurants to try!
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