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Thursday, January 29, 2015


January, Washington DC's Tidal Basin with Jefferson Memorial
Pillar to Post blog photography by Phyllis Shess unless indicated otherwise
DODGING THE WEATHER GODS—We landed in mid-January at Dulles Airport on an uncrowded Virgin America red eye and were greeted with wisps of rain and 25F on the thermometer.  We decided on a winter vacation because we could, plus we can handle bad weather better than big crowds.  Arriving at a late hour, we hopped a Washington Flyer, a quality shuttle service that has plenty of vehicles ready (even at midnightso one need not book a car in advance or share rides.  “Just wanted to get to the hotel room and the $64 plus tip fare to Dupont Circle was OK given the hour.”

Upon arrival at our hotel, which we booked six months earlier on a popular online travel website, we discovered the Massachusetts Avenue Euro-style hotel that we enjoyed on a previous trip was undergoing massive reconstruction.  We had to search for the entrance.  Our shuttle driver located the lobby down in the garage while I steamed under the scaffolding.  Check in desk turned out to be a conference a podium in a lower level hallway.  It got worse but were too tired to find another hotel for the remainder of our week in the nation’s capitol. (Example of what can go wrong by planning too far in advance and compounded by no courtesy update by the hotel re: upcoming construction war zone to guests that were on the books when owners decided to remodel.  Nice place but we’ll never go back).

Up early (it was sunny), we booked a nearby Marriott Residence Inn at 21st and P Streets NW for the rest of our stay.  Because it was January, we had a choice of rooms and the one bedroom with a full kitchen was very functional and appealing.  Every successful adventure needs a practical home base.  What the Residence Inn lacked in flash made up for in its functionality and location, location, location. Plus, we were near a large independent grocer nearby and a host of local restaurants.

When traveling to NE America in winter, the whole trip is a weather craps shoot. (Yes, we dodged the proverbial weather bullet because less than a week later the blizzard of the decade hit the East Coast).  Understanding that we planned for indoor adventures.  Luckily the cold stuff stayed away for our entire week at the Nation's capital.  Now, we were free to visit the places that we couldn’t fit in on an earlier trip.  We took a simple stroll on the National Mall and along the Tidal Basin to the Jefferson Memorial.

View into the President's box at Ford's Theatre.  NHS photo
Soon my cold nose led us indoors to the awesome Ford’s Theater National Historic site experience.  
It was personally chilling to be able to view that fated theater box where an unspeakable assassin did his work.  Like most historical sites, Ford’s has a great book/gift store with amazing contemporary paints of Lincoln.  Don’t miss what they’ve done with the Peterson House across the street from the theatre.  There you see the pitifully small bed where our greatest President died.  The somber reality was lifted somewhat by the bookstore adjacent to the Petersen House, including its four story stack of books on the 16th President as an art treatment.
The International Spy Museum was another pleasant surprise.  We walked right in. No lines and enjoyed four hours that we fully expected to be only one.

Another example of why we appreciate winter travel in the East USA was how manageable the subway was.  (Tip: buy the Metro’s SmarTrip card and save even more time by not standing in line at the ticket vending machines).

Washington DC subway station  wmata photo
The Metro was its usual workaday busy but it was not compounded by the tourist hordes trying to figure out transfer points.  Didn’t see one student with five pieces of carry luggage clogging up the train. 

Speaking of tourists (certainly not us) we exited the Smithsonian Exit on the blue line and walked right up to the Washington Monument and stepped aboard the elevator to the top of the 555-foot architectural wonder.   How long was your wait at the Washington Monument? With the time saved by not standing in Disney-like lines we were able to fit in the splendid Union Station with its mall and restaurants.  
Interior of Union Station, Washington DC. Note January sunlight pouring
in through upper windows

We also saw sites we missed before, including high tea at the Henley Hotel (we were the only customers for a first rate experience); the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History; Building Museum and the Law Enforcement Memorial, the latter two important to us as an architect writer and a career district attorney prosecutor.

The previous week it had snowed in Washington and the chilly white stuff was aging on the side of roads, sidewalks and buildings.  I remembered to wear well broken in non-slip shoes and a heavy jacket with a hood to ward off spits of rain.  Seven days in January we saw four sunny days and virtually no rain and temperatures in upper 40s.  We took a dufflebag along filled with our winter gear.  It was worth the extra $25 bag charge on our airline because you need those big jackets, thermal long johns, scarves (two scarves were trendy) gloves, ear muffs and fluffy vests and poncho (the ones you roll into a ball).

We celebrated our good fortune on the last day by finding the Monocle, a venerable steak and seafood fare restaurant near the Capitol.  We arrived to a lightly crowded restaurant (it was 2:30 pm and the lunch crowd was back to work—or in the case of our elected officials back to gridlock).

Monocle manager Jennifer Davies kindly honored
a tourist request for a photo at the Kennedy table.
Monocle Manager Jennifer Davies was very pleasant to her visiting tourists and sat us upon our request at the front window in the bar overlooking the street.

Good choice, she said as we learned by reading a brass plaque at the table that this was the favorite table of Jack and Jackie Kennedy, when our late President was a Senator.  Another lucky star followed us in as we noticed the Monocle was participating in the local restaurant week.  We took serious advantage of the featured rib and salmon entrees respectively.

“...Since 1960, this old smoothie has been counseling decision-makers both Democrat and Republican in the wisdom of saying, “An empty stomach is not a good political advisor.” The Congressional Record may not show it but intentions are spoken here, alliances formed and deals sealed....”
                                    --The Washington Post

At the next table, Maitre d’ Nick Selimos, who has been at the Monocle 30 years was most cordial and over coffee and dessert he regaled us with many of his favorite stories over the years.  It was an unexpected delight and we are confident we caught him when he wasn’t crushed with business. “Come back when it’s more crowded,” he laughed (meaning if we wanted to view politicos and lobbyists).
The coffered dome of the Library of Congress (Jefferson Building),
divided in eight stucco panels, was designed bysculptor Albert Weinhart.
Luckily avoiding the politicos we ventured to the Library of Congress and stood in awe once more at the magnificence of the interior design and architecture.  It is one of the country’s truly amazing works of art.

Because our Washington Flyer driver was so first rate, we asked for his business card for the return trip to Dulles.  As called he showed up early.  A WF cabbie can only take you from Dulles into DC.  They cannot operate in DC unless you call the WF directly and request a pick up to airport.

Washington DC is remarkable.  Roll the dice try visiting in winter.  Plan for the foul weather and be treated if it turns out mild.  We got lucky with fair skies and so may you. And, our DC trip ended too soon but we were ready for the next one as we left Dulles aboard Turkish Airlines for a winter flight to Istanbul, but more on that Euro/Asian city in winter next month in this blog.

We ran into the same tourist couple but only this time at high tea at the historic Henley Park Hotel
Interior of the National Building Museum,
where many inaugural Balls are held.

There she is, again this time our favorite tourist is posed in the honored United States
Law Enforcement Memorial, just south of the National Building Museum

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