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Highlights of our trip to DC

Old Jan 7th, 2011, 08:10 PM
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Highlights of our trip to DC

Thanks to the Fodorites who helped with planning our 13-night trip to DC over Christmas-New Years. The trip was fantastic, my wife and I would return in an instant, and are already considering it.

I'm not much of a writer but I'll pound out some notes from the trip, should someone else find them useful.

Hotel

Our hotel at One Washington Circle worked out nicely for us. Yes, it's not a fancy new boutique hotel, it's a bit worn around the edges, and it can be noisy at times. But the price at $89/night (plus tax) was a great value, especially given the central location. Staff was friendly and helpful. Our room, which they call an executive suite with kitchen, was spacious, comfortable and kept clean. We used the kitchen for breakfast and late night snacks. It's an easy five minute walk to the Foggy Bottom Metro.

Speaking of the Metro, the weekly unlimited Metro passes we bought were money well spent. Not having to deal with the complicated ticket machines, caring how much was left on charged up card, and just jumping on a train whenever we wanted added freedom and simplicity to the trip. Essential for anyone visiting more than a few days.

Top Favorite Sights

Just about everything we visited was worth returning to, so we often did! This was at the expense of completely missing other sights altogether. But this is how we have travelled for years, diving deeper into fewer places. It works for us. We have interest in both art and history, so our favorites will reflect where those converged.

National Portrait Gallery / American Art Museum - At the Portrait Gallery the exhibits The American Presidents, American Origins, and Americans Now were all fascinating, making you want to dive deeper into the lives and times of the people you were viewing. The George Lucas and Steven Spielberg collection of Norman Rockwell paintings was an eye-opener, giving us new respect for the depth of emotion in Rockwell's work. Albert Bierstadt, Georgia O'Keeffe, and so much more. The write ups included with the all the works were excellent.

National Museum of American History - We returned here several times, touring the following exhibits among others: The American Presidency: A Glorious Burden, Abraham Lincoln: An Extraordinary Life, First Ladies at the Smithsonian, The Price of Freedom: Americans at War. They held special interest given our interest in history. (Before the trip we watched a series of American History lectures from The Teaching Company. This greatly enhanced our visit). There were many other things we enjoyed seeing in this museum including Dorothy's red slippers, Archie Bunker's chair, a baseball signed by both Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, Julia Child's kitchen, the gunboat Philadelphia, and C-3PO. The Greenough Washington statue is unforgettable, for better or worse. Of course the Star Spangled Banner was very moving. Something for everyone here.

Library of Congress, Jefferson Building - The interior of the building is a knockout. The exhibits Exploring the Early Americas, Creating the United States, and Jefferson's Library were incredible. Maybe not everyone is interested in seeing an actual signature of Francisco Pizarro, or a letter from Franklin to Lord Howe, or Jefferson to Madison, but we were! We also made a point of seeing the Waldseemüller map, since we've just read "The Fourth Part of The World". Amazing to see the actual map. They did a great job with the interactive kiosks in these exhibits as well.

National Gallery - One of the world's great museums. We took several docent tours, all of which were enjoyable and informative, and also spent a hours exploring both the east and west wings. The Arcimboldo exhibit and Chester Dale Collection demanded repeat visits. Standing two feet away from Da Vinci's Ginevra de' Benci' was a totally different, and much better experience than being roped among the crowds 25 feet away from the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Then there were the Hudson River School paintings, Renaissance masters, iconic Winslow Homer works, and on and on ... The Leo Villareal digital light display in the concourse between the building was really cool!

Other Favorite Sights

White House - Lucky we got a spot for this relatively short notice. Something special about being in the White House! We liked that the tour was self guided, so we could take our time and backtrack a bit if we wanted to see something again. We went in with some reading material to explain what we were looking at, plus the agents answering questions were great.

Supreme Court - an enjoyable lecture about the history of the court and the building, while sitting there in the courtroom looking at those nine chairs!

Zoo Lights - this was really fun. We hit it on a balmy night (around 50 degrees). We arrived at the zoo a couple hours before dark and stayed until a couple hours afterwards. We don't always visit zoos, but this is a great one and the lights were wonderful. We did see one of the pandas.

Mall Monuments - we chose a relatively warm and calm day to walk the length of the mall, visiting most of the monuments.

National Museum of Natural History - sure everyone goes there to see the elephant, dinosaurs and Hope Diamond, but the insect display was also great!

Folger Shakespeare Library - the "Vivat Rex" Henry VIII exhibit wound his fascinating history into the collection of lovely books that belonged to him. Most impressive, but once again I'm easily impressed by seeing the actual writing of such a towering historical figure.

Phillips Collection - I went there alone while my wife spent the day with a high school friend she hadn't seen in nearly 40 years! (We all had dinner together at Old Ebbitt). This was a gem of a small museum with so many icons that it seemed like I had seen them but had not. Chief among these is Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party, but there were many other form El Greco to Lichtenstein. I'm into photography and thoroughly enjoyed the TruthBeaty and Coburn exhibits. They were sold out of the TruthBeauty exhibition catalog but I hunted one down. They are becoming hard to find.

Holocaust Museum - Not easy to look at of course, but very moving and well done.

Mount Vernon - Yet another iconic vista that lived up to expectations.

National Christmas Tree - And still another iconic vista, fantastic with the White House lit up behind it.

Minor Disappointments

Capitol Tour - too rushed. They get you through there in 45-50 minutes, and while our tour guide was nice and knowledgeable it was clear she was on a schedule. Would have much preferred a self guided tour like the White House, but that's what it is these days. Worth doing, of course, but rushed.

Georgetown M Street - the shops were what you see in many other places, didn't really feel like anything special. We knew we should have wandered up to the north but it was cold that day and we decided to retreat to a museum.

Favorite Restaurants

We focused on Mediterranean tapas. It's a style of food that we don't get here in our Colorado town and we often look for it when travelling. Some pre-trip research I did paid off here.

Zaytinya - WOW! We had one meal there midway through our trip then, booked a return for our 35th wedding anniversary on the final night. Even if you think you don't like Brussels sprouts give the ones there a try, it might change your mind!

Jaleo - another wow. Part of the Zaytinya family, apparently well known from the Jose Made in Spain show, but new to us.

Lebanese Taverna - located across the street from the Metro stop at the zoo. We were there on New Year's Day and they had a special all you can eat brunch for $20.11. We returned for a late evening snack after visiting the zoo lights.

La Tasca - We had the most fun here, possibly because our first visit was at half price pitchers of sangria happy hour! We wound up eating there for Christmas dinner at their Alexandria location, and New Years Eve at the Chinatown location. There we put our salsa lessons to good use and danced the night away to music from a great sounding Latin band.

Chop'T - Best cheap, fast, light, healthy food.

Le Pain Quotidien - when we didn't have breakfast in our hotel we headed here as it was a short walk from he hotel. Lots of bread and pastries that we don't get at home, and their quiche and tartines were great. A bit pricey but enjoyable.

M.E. Swing - Hands down the best cappuccino or latte.

We also had dinner at Old Ebbitt Grill, Founding Farmers, Legal Seafood, and Dusk in the Westin Grand. They were all fine, but didn't knock our socks off like the above tapas meals. We tried twice to get into the Blue Duck Tavern and once into Filomena, but the wait was too long at the times we were there and we hadn't made reservations.

Thanks again to all Fodoroites who helped us with the planning of this successful trip.
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Old Jan 7th, 2011, 08:14 PM
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Ooops, I hadn't finished proof reading this and accidentally hit the submit button. I think there are a few typos. Wish Fodors had an edit option!
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 05:13 AM
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Hello,Thank you very much.Next week we are on our way to visit Dc once more. I appreciate and share your love for history, and tradition. And also art. We cannot be as long as you stayed and are already regretting it. I had highlighted visiting the National Gallery of Art, the National Portrait Gallery and the
Renwick gallery and if time permits the Phillips too. Of course, I am not going to rush so maybe we cannot do them all. Have you visited the Renwich during this trip>?
I am dispointed that you say the Capitol tour is so, so, we have booked a tour at 11 AM and I was thinking of doing the Libray of Congress the same day. How would you about this?
We are going also to the Kennedy Center for a play.
We also have in mind a few restaurants one is Cafe Atlantico same owner as Zaytinya and
Tenthpen. The bar Off the record for a late drink.
Where is ME Swing? we are staying at the Hilton Garden Inn near McPherson Sq.
Right now main concern is the weather but I suppose being across the street from the subway will help although everything is so close taxis will also help.

Again thank you for all the information and I am so pleased to notice that you enjoyed and at the same time that obviously we share the same interest.
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 07:28 AM
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Graziella, ME Swing is about a 15 minute walk from your hotel past the White House & Lafayette Park and very close to the Renwick.

I think the Renwick is real gem, often overlooked b/c it's not on the National Mall beaten path. It's definitely a must see for anyone with an interest in craft and decorative art. There is a very good exhibition which closes at the end of this month on craft from the Japanese American interment camps. I'm also a fan of the Corcoran which is located very close the Renwick.

Nelson, What a fantastic trip report. Hope the fodor's editor's take notice.
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 07:46 AM
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Am soooo glad everything worked well for you. Super price on the hotel and you were smart to get the metro pass.

Come back and go to the Eastern Market (some good restos in that area0. I believe a bus called the Circulator goes there.

I share your enjoyment of the Library of Congress.

Great report!
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 07:50 AM
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Graziella-

Not sure exactly when you arrive in DC, but check the Phillips website if you plan a visit. They have a wonderful black and white photography exhibit right now but Jan 9th is the final day. After that, I think they will just have the permanent collection on display until Feb (still worth it if you like modern art, but since you have to pay admission to the Phillips and not to any of the Smithsonian museums, the fact that there is no special exhibit might make a difference in your planning.) On Sundays they also have an afternoon classical concert in a lovely room. The location is great for strolling and looking at beautiful old brownstones, with good dining options nearby at Dupont Circle.

I also have to put in a recommendation for my very favorite Smithsonian museum: the Freer Gallery of Asian Art. A wonderful space with beautiful displays and lovely landscaping outside.
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 10:21 AM
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I love all the inside information. I am taking note of all the preferences and advice of you all. It is a great help, thank you very much, of course I have been before many times but there is so much to see.
One question, we are flying Jetblue into Reagan and I checked and plane arrives at terminal A. I noticed they suggest to take a free shuttle to the Metro Station. I was not able to figure out how far it is the Metro station from terminal A , I would rather walk, actually our flight 's arrival is scheduled 1.40 , and we wish to have lunch at Tenthpen. We are planning to rush to the Metro and check in and then take a taxi to Tenthpen, of course we should be there around 2.15 at the latest.
Does this sounds doable>?
The reason behind this is that we do not have so many days for nice lunches and I really wish to go to Tenthpen. ( My husband does not eat dinner, big problem to fit all places in a short trip)
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 10:57 AM
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Graziella,

Glad the information is proving useful and thanks to the other Fodorites who have answered your questions.

M.E Swing is a block from the Renwick Gallery. One morning when we left M.E. we walked past the Renwick and stopped in for a moment. We had a tour scheduled (Library of Congress I think), and we could have dashed through the Renwick, but that not being our style we decided to carry on with our plans. The Renwick looked great, we hoped to get back to it but now that is on the next trip list.

Interesting story about Cafe Atlantico: I made a list of restaurants and had mistakenly wrote "great looking tapas" next to Atlantico instead of Jaleo (both were on the list). One evening we went into Atlantico hoping to get Spanish tapas. My wife was really hungry so we quickly ordered some of the guacamole appetizer. Before it arrived we realized we were in the wrong place and they happily told us that Jaleo was around the corner. So we had the guac, which was great, then moved on. The food is probably excellent.

You could do the Capitol a LOC on the same day. If your Capitol tour is at 11:00 then you'll by done by noon or slightly after. There is an underground walkway connecting the Capitol and LOC so you can just stroll over. Very easy and should be plenty of time.

We did the walk between the terminals at Reagan / DCA when we arrived. It takes about 10 minutes along a pathway. There is a small hill at one point, not a problem for us but worth mentioning. It's a toss up which is faster, walking or the free shuttle. Depends on how long you have to wait for the bus. For our departure we arrived at the airport at as 7:00 AM. It was still cold so my wife wanted to take the bus.

TruthBeauty and the Coburn exhibit are the black and white photography shows at the Phillips that BlueSwimmer mentioned. Well worth seeing in my opinion as well. As noted in my report I hunted down the TruthBeauty catalog online since Phillips was sold out.
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 10:57 AM
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If I understand your timing correctly, I think it's a real stretch to make TenPenh by 2:15 if your flight lands at 1:40. You'll have a better chance if you take a taxi directly from the airport to the restaurant which ought to be a ride under 15 minutes assuming no traffic issues. I guess that's a bit cumbersome with luggage but I don't see how you can arrive, get to the metro, metro to hotel and cab to restaurant in 35 minutes.

But to answer the question, the walk from Terminal A to the metro is a solid ten minutes at a clip. The shuttles do run a continuous loop.

Good restaurant choice!
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 01:11 PM
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Note that if you check luggage, I find that Reagan is usually a bit slow at getting it out on the baggage claim belt, but I am usually on Delta or American. obxgirl is right- trying to metro to hotel and then to go to TenPenh is iffy. During the middle of the day, sometimes metro doesn't run trains as frequently so you have to wait for one.

Another option, get something small for lunch at the airport (Reagan National has some very decent eating options, actually, in the main terminal building) or near your hotel to tide you over and have an early dinner at TenPenh. They only have the smoked lobster (sooo good) on the dinner menu
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 02:23 PM
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Nelson, it looks like you had a fabulous trip! Thanks for sharing your experiences and tips.
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 03:58 PM
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Thank you all. I cannot imagine how can we take the luggage even it is not much to Tenthpen
I would if I could...
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 04:58 PM
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I think we can have lunch at Old Ebbitt Grill,(lunch is served till 5PM) ....or any other suggestion of a place reachable from our hotel before lunch time is over. Preferably at walking distance if not we can get a taxi...
We shall leave Tenpenth for another time.
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 06:26 PM
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Nelson, thank you for posting such an informative report. Believe it or not, as I was driving through the city just today, I remembered that there was a Fodorite visiting over the Christmas and New Year holidays, and was wondering how the trip went. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed yourselves.

You and your wife are to be commended to making the most out of your trip -- you managed to cover most of the major "must sees" plus a number of off-the-beaten path gems at the same time. While not off the beaten path, Zatinya is quite amazing isn't it? If you do return to DC, and are still interested in a "tapas tour," you might consider a visit to Sei downtown, which is a Japanese twist on the small plate/tapas theme.
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Old Jan 8th, 2011, 07:05 PM
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MoonGirl, Yes, it was a great trip and I didn't even mention that the DC locals were an enjoyable part of it! Thanks for your earlier help.

Graziella,

For restaurants I did some online research of likely candidates, then made a PowerPoint document where I pasted in Google maps and marked the locations of the candidates. This is how I mistakenly entered "tapas" for Cafe Atlantico.

TenPenh did make it to my list, so I guess I was doing OK, though we never actually made it there.

The closest one I have to your hotel is 14K in the Crowne Plaza Hotel. They have a 2:00-5:00 mid day menu:
http://www.14krestaurant.com/pdf/14K_Mid_Day_Menu.pdf

Depending on what walking distance means to you, or you can do a one stop Metro, then a short walk, the ones I noted are:

Kellari Tavera (serve lunch until 4:00 PM):
http://www.kellaridc.com/location.php

Founding Farmers (serve lunch / dinner all day)
http://www.wearefoundingfarmers.com/contact/

We ate in the latter and it was excellent.

One sight that was omitted from my initial post:
National Archives - you felt like you wanted to get down on your knees in front of the Declaration and Constitution. Also, seeing an original Magna Carta is quite memorable. Standing by the Constitution we engaged in a conversation with one of the guards about the three-fifths rule, implied constitutional powers, and other interesting and relevant subjects.
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 09:18 AM
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Graziella, Consider giving one of the places Nelson mentioned, Jaleo, a shot. Fabulous tapas and I'm pretty sure they serve all day. You can book at OpenTable.

Jaleo is about a 20 minute walk from your hotel to Penn Quarter (Jaleo is on 7th St) or you can metro from McPherson to Gallery Place (change at Metro Center).

It's going to be a bit chilly next week. Hope you have a great trip!
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 01:43 PM
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Nelson - excellent reporting. Thanks.
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Old Jan 9th, 2011, 03:52 PM
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Thank you so very much Obxgirl and Nelson for your help in finding the right places for lunch.
It is great that we can have lunch after 2.30PM either in Kellari or at Jaleo.We might include both in our list after all .
We have eaten at Old Ebbit Grill during previous trips and are looking for other places we do not know.
I know the weather sounds real cold, we used to live in New York, but now we have lost the feeling for Winter. Real Winter I mean.
I agree that National Archives should be included in our itinerary . I firmly believe in the Constitution and it will be really awesome to see the original.Thank you Nelson for your recommendation.
Nowadays we can plan so many little details with the help of the internet and forums like Fodors chatting with total strangers as if we were old friends. I guess things will not happen exactly as planned but it is a great help indeed. I am so thankful to have eliminated from our trips the moment immediately after checking in when we were totally lost regarding where to have that first meal.... Thanks a lot, I shall write a short story of our experience and how did we cope with the weather.
PStapas of course I love and also I love Spanish cuisine, however I feel ideally tapas are to be shared among several friends.....
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Old Jan 11th, 2011, 05:10 AM
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Look forward to hearing about your trip Graziella. Have fun!

I posted some photos from my trip here:
http://www.pbase.com/mangoman/washingtondc
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Old Jan 12th, 2011, 07:07 PM
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We are considering a visit at the very end of March, and your report is very helpful. Thanks.
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