So for Valentine's Day weekend this year, Therese and I decided we would go to Washington, DC, a city we both enjoy and where I have not been in a couple years I suppose. So this got me thinking about my other trips to Washington. Before I start talking about that, I want to let you know that I am not going to be revealing what Therese and I will be doing in a couple weekends, so don't anyone get any ideas...
So as I have probably remarked before, I came late to traveling. During all my years of being a poor student and then living the bohemian life in the East Village and Flushing, Queens, I just didn't go anywhere. I felt like it wasn't even an option.
As a result, my first official trip to Washington wasn't until October of 2003. Now, I HAD been there for a weekend in the late 1970s. I was invited by a friend to join the YMCA's Model United Nations team, which would be representing the Solomon Islands and traveling to Washington to take part in the National Model U.N. with people coming from YMCA's all over the country. But we spent most of that weekend in the hotel. We did go out for dinner one night at a Chinese restaurant, and I got sweet-and-sour chicken on my shit jacket, but that was about as adventurous as we got. I couldn't even tell you what hotel we stayed in. All I know is it was freaking huge, since there were probably 500 Model U.N.ers staying there.
So back to October of 2003. My friend Craig Eder invited me to come to Washington, his hometown, for the weekend, to stay with him and his wife Edie, help plan a conference and explore the city a bit. After spending a morning planning the conference, we had lots of time leftover to explore. Craig thought I would like to see the National Cathedral - he was a retired Episcopal priest, and had been Chaplain of the St. Albans School, which is affiliated with the Cathedral. And Craig had been an important presence at the Cathedral during much of its building, going back to the 1940s when he first became a priest. He was so important to the Cathedral, that in one of the downstairs chapels, there is a mosaic of him on the wall. So we drove from Craig's Cleveland Park Victorian home to the cathedral and spent a couple hours there, exploring the entire building.
The next day we decided we would drive downtown and see some of the monuments. We saw the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans memorial, the Korean War memorial. Then to top it all off we saw the (at that time) new World War II/FDR memorial. It was great spending time with Craig. He managed to somehow be one of my best buddies even though he was about twice my age - I was 41 and he was I think 83. And at 83, he was still of an imposing stature - he towered over me and must have been at least 6 foot 6. His wife Edie was the exact opposite: small and reserved. The most intimate thing she did was shake my hand!
The second time I came to Washington was in April of 2004, for a friend's wedding. I stayed overnight at what was then the Capital Hilton, a grand hotel on New Jersey Street, a few blocks from Union Station (this hotel is now called the Washington Court Hotel I believe...). Other than attending the wedding, I didn't do much of anything. The reception was at a French restaurant on Connecticut Avenue NW, and I remember walking from the reception back to my hotel, a long walk on a warm spring evening.
I next returned to Washington for Memorial Day weekend of 2007. By now, Craig and his wife had left their Victorian house and moved into an assisted living Methodist home north of the city due to health issues (Edie's heart and Craig's legs and back). I had planned with a bunch of friends to all meet up in Washington and visit Craig and Edie in their new home. I also planned to visit with my other friends, and do some sightseeing on my own. I stayed in a middle-of-the-road small hotel called Jurys Normandy in the Dupont Circle area - I picked it on the suggestion of my friends Margaret and Rich Diemer, who had stayed there previously (they were staying with their son and daughter-in-law, who lived in the Adams-Morgan section of Washington).
Saturday I was on my own, and went to the National Gallery of Art for the first time. I love large art museums, and the National Gallery has some things that make it one of my favorite. First of all, they have a great gift shop. I bought a jigsaw puzzle of Vermeer's famour Girl with a Pearl Earring that took me months to complete. Second, they have a great collection of Renaissance and early Baroque art. I felt like I was there all afternoon, and I still didn't see all the Rubens paintings. Third, and most importantly, the National Gallery is the most comfortable major art museum I've ever been to. Nearly every gallery has somewhere to sit down, and not hard wood benches with no backs like in NYC's Metropolitan Museum - here, they have couches with soft cushions, and of course with backs for you to lean against.
Also, they have an entire area filled with comfortable chairs for you to lean back in - I believe it is the East Garden Court on the main floor. By the time I got there, I was absolutely beat: I had already walked that day from Union Station to my hotel, then from the Metro stop to the National Gallery, and then all around the art museum. So I sat down in one of their comfy chairs, and promptly fell asleep.
I woke up a while later, feeling very guilty, and wondering if a guard wasn't going to come along and throw me out for sleeping in the museum. I mean, if I fell asleep in the Metropolitan Museum, that's what I would expect to happen! But I looked around, and nearly every one of the other chairs in the Garden Court was also filled with a snoozing person! How civilized, I thought, to set aside an area for people to have a nap!
Sunday was a day with my friends. I met Margaret and Richard at St. Columba's Church, which is where Craig was assistant rector when he retired in the 1990s (the church had dedicated their library in Craig's honor a few years previous to that). Afterward we met two other friends, Betty and Barbara, at Yenching Palace for lunch. Yenching Palace (which is sadly now closed) is the restaurant where JFK's representative met Krushchev's rep to negotiate an end to the Cuban Missle Crisis. After enjoying a scrumptious lunch there, we all went over to the Methodist home to visit Craig and Edith. Then, after a late afternoon nap, I met Margaret and Rich and went out to dinner with them and their son and daughter-in-law.
I spent Monday on my own once again, visiting the Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of the American Indian. A bonus for the Air and Space Museum was that at the time they were housing an exhibit from the Museum of Natural History (while the latter was closed for renovations), which included all the highlights from their collection, included the ruby slippers from the Wizard of Oz and Carrie Bradshaw's laptop from Sex in the City.
More recent visits to Washington have been to see Craig and Edith, and also to hang out with friends at Bailey's Bar in Arlington and smoke cigars and watch sporting events. I have been back to the National Gallery once or twice, and have explored some new restaurants like Gordon Biersch Brewery (near the Spy Museum on F Street).
I am looking forward to visiting our nation's capital again in a couple of weeks. I am sure we will eat at some new restaurants, and visit some museums I haven't seen before. I will be sure to report on my experiences!