This past weekend Heidi and I went to Washington DC to meet up with her parents who were visiting. The trip was a good time and DC was a lot better than I remembered it being. Here is a summary of our trip.
We drove down and caught DC traffic at its worst. It probably took us over an hour to navigate our way through the city and to our hotel in the Georgetown area. The hotel was right near George Washington University, which is a pretty cool campus that is tucked in between Georgetown and the Lincoln memorial in the mall. It is a city campus that feels a little more like a traditional campus just due to the nice little neighborhood that it resides in. From what I saw it seems like it would be a pretty enjoyable place to live. We stayed at the River Inn which turned out to be an awesome place. It was definitely an old apartment building that was turned into a hotel but that was what was great about it. It was just off a main road tucked away in a nice little neighborhood. It was close enough to everything we wanted to see as well. While having a beer in the hotel lobby we got a restaurant recommendation from the very odd bartender. He recommended Harry's Tap Room which sounded good. Harry's is the oldest bar in the city apparently and it resides within the Hotel Harrington. The only problem was that Harry's wasn't a tap room at all. It turned out to be more like a Friday's but it was the first night and we were crashing early anyway.
The second day was mostly filled with monuments and museums. We actually did the double decker tour bus thing which turned out to be good since the tickets were valid for two days and you can get on and off at any stop and catch the next bus. The weekend was filled with beautiful weather so that also made it enjoyable. The highlight of the museum and monument circuit was the Holocaust museum. I have been there every time that I have been to DC and the place always delivers. Although a somber topic, the museum does an awesome job of presenting history in a well thought out organized way that does justice to the victims of the holocaust. I had the privilege of visiting Dachau while our college hockey team was on a trip in Germany and it was an amazing experience. The holocaust museum in DC is probably the closest thing you can get to visiting the real camps outside of Europe. Very impressive museum that everyone should check out at some point in their life. That night we went to Oyamel that described itself on the Internet as authentic Mexican food. When we got there I realized pretty quickly that it was far from an authentic Mexican food place. The place was a trendier tapas restaurant. I love the idea of tapas in theory. A bunch of little appetizer like foods that can be assembled a la carte to piece together a great meal. However, in practice I find that most American tapas places reside within big cities and tend to cater to the higher end consumer. What you get is, in this case, one taco the size an Ipod nano for ten bucks. I can't argue that the food was good. It was more gourmet than authentic, but good nonetheless. Me being the person that I am I just feel a little cheated when I go to tapas bars. Probably more of a personal problem, because the atmosphere was great, the margaritas were delicious, and it was a fun end to the night.
We went to a few more museums in the morning. The Air and Space museum was pretty interesting. We also went to Arlington National Cemetery. I had never been and I must say it was pretty impressive. The cemetery is a great tribute to those who died serving our country. We saw JFK's eternal flame and enjoyed the beautiful day at the cemetery. After that we continued on our double decker tour bus ride through some more of the city. Another thing I thought was really cool was the Embassy area of town. All these different countries represented side by side in old mansions in DC. It put into perspective for me how globally interdependent the world has become. After that I got sucked into shopping in Georgetown. I am one of those guys who can hang for a while shopping but I get restless and annoyed with crowds, which in Georgetown were running ramped that day due to the weather. Georgetown is beautiful. Lots of little shops and restaurants that still retain that old city charm while having all the excitement of a new and bustling neighborhood. It is also a retailers paradise I would assume. A steady base of affluent individuals and rich college kids supplemented with tourists galore. That night we met up with the son of a family friend who recommended we go get Ethiopian food. Seeing as it was my first Ethiopian food experience I was excited. There is a large Ethiopian population in DC and thus the food has become somewhat of a staple in the DC area. We went to Meskerem in the Adams Morgan section of DC which is a very cool area of town. The area has a very diverse collection of bars and restaurants. I loved the Ethiopian food. The Ethiopian culture places a lot of social emphasis on eating which is definitely reflected in the way the food is served and eaten. The food was served in a large curved bowl about the size of couch cushion. Flat bread with a sponge like consistency came out rolled up like a hot towel in first class on a plane. Everyone at the table tears off some of their bread and uses it and their fingers to pick up some of the main courses. Breaking bread is important and sharing food with friends (and with your hands) is supposed to signify loyalty and friendship of the diners. Fingers, friends, food; it was my kind of place.
Diners share large platters of food, which they scoop up with a sourdough crepe like pancake called injera (no silverware here). You'll notice a lot of watt dishes, which refers to the traditional Ethiopian stew, made with your choice of beef, chicken, lamb, or vegetables, in varying degrees of hot and spicy; the alicha watts are milder and more delicately flavored. You might share an entree -- perhaps yegeb kay watt (succulent lamb in thick, hot berbere sauce) -- along with a platter of five vegetarian dishes served with tomato and potato salads. Some combination platters comprise an array of beef, chicken, lamb, and vegetables. There's a full bar; the wine list includes Ethiopian wine and beer.
The food was definitely interesting and definitely delicious. I can't say that everyone at the table enjoyed the food and beer as much as I did, but it was a good experience nonetheless. After we finished up dinner we went to the Brickskeller bar. This place was ridiculous! Check out this beer list! Definitely a mainstay attraction in the hearts of any true beer lover. The atmosphere was great as well, with the bar being primarily a brick basement complete with varied tables sizes for all groups of friends. After a beer or two we hit up the Jefferson monument at night which was a pretty cool way to end the night.
We got up early and walked our dog Otis before doing a final monument tour of the Vietnam/Korean war memorials and the Lincoln monument. It was a final tourist cram session before our departure.
The trip was very memorable but there were a few things that stood out in my mind.
First off was the layout and overall feel of the city. Heidi and I are training for the Broad St run in Philadelphia this month so we did an 8 mile run through DC. I love how much of the city is a park or a park like feel. A law forbidding any building to be 75 feet taller than the street it resides on keeps all of the buildings short in stature and amplifies the Washington monument as the center of the city. The mall area makes the city, although ridiculously jammed packed with regard to traffic, feel clean, green and very pedestrian friendly.
This quote really stood out to me while visiting the Holocaust museum.
"Where books are burned, in the end people will be burned." Heinrich Heine
Another thing that I noticed was the education level of the cab drivers. I am not trying to generalize a profession of people but these guys put the NY cabbies to shame. While Heidi's dad chatted with a cabby it came out that all the DC cab drivers are free to own and operate their own cabs. They are obviously still regulated but it is much more a free market system than that of New York. In my mind this did two things. First off it changed the way they operate. In NY cabbies are flying around a thousand miles an hour trying to pick up as many people as possible to make some tips and make a living while still paying the man. In DC the cab drivers drove like normal human beings. The second thing I noticed that may or may not be related was how knowledgeable these guys were. One cab driver from Ethiopia knew more about Washington DC and American history off the top of his head than probably anyone I know. Another driver discussed Afghanistan with us. Another driver went into the political lenses that different nations view world events through. It was pretty impressive. Here are cab drivers, who many would assume are low educated drivers, putting us to shame on knowledge of what is going on in this world. There were times we stayed in the cab and used the driver as our own private tour guide. I imagine this happens a lot, and therefore it pays to be knowledgeable. DC likely attracts "cab talent" or at least retains it for this reason. The experience just solidified my belief that graduating from a good college or university is not the end all be all of being smart or being intelligent. Intelligent living is a result of a commitment to learning, unique experiences, and the acceptance and/or humility to know that there is so much out there you do not know. The experience also reaffirmed to me the importance of treating all people with the same dignity and respect. Everyone you meet has a unique life that has shaped the way they think and what they have to offer. You can learn from everyone, and more importantly it is the right thing to do.