Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Fun Quick Trip to DC

Star Spangled Banner Exhibit at Smithsonian

June 24 through June 27, 2010

We had been looking for a week to have a getaway to DC - some time to visit museums, maybe see a show, and eat some interesting food. We used to live in DC – over 40 years ago – and have always enjoyed going back to visit but it has been 5 years since we were there last….

We left Thursday morning and had to make a short stop for Ben to inspect some machinery in VA (near Claypool Hill). He had been unable to complete his overseas inspection assignment on Wednesday due to a mistake on the part of the vendor. They worked round the clock to “fix” their mistake so Ben could inspect it on Thursday. We took US 19 and 460 and it was a most enjoyable trip to Blacksburg before we got back on I 81 to continue the trip north to DC. Southwest VA is beautiful and when you see it only from I 81 as many of us do – you miss so much. The inspection took only a few minutes and we were on our way.

We ate a good lunch at Panera Bread in Blacksburg and quickly headed on towards DC. The afternoon clipped by as we continued on I 81 and I 66 to the DC area. We arrived in the metro area right at rush hour and found ourselves on the beltway in 5 lanes of bumper to bumper traffic going our way! We were only on the beltway about 10 miles as we headed south at the Springfield exit. We usually stay in Crystal City near the metro station but this trip we were not able to get a reservation for a price we liked so we searched for a hotel near a metro station and found the Best Western in Springfield had a shuttle to the metro station about a mile away.

We easily found the hotel with the assistance of “Garmin” our GPS lady. Ben took a nap and Jane read the restaurant reviews. We were tired so selected a close restaurant and an adventure – Afghan food at Kabul Kabobs.( http://www.kabulkabob.com/) Jane has an i-phone ap that searches for restaurants near your location with customer reviews and it usually gives us good information. The “shuttle van” took us directly to the restaurant and would come pick us up when we phoned after dinner. We had a moment of apprehension when we walked in the restaurant at 6:45 and there were no diners! We ordered and by the time our food arrived there were others coming in…when we left about an hour later the place was over half full. The dinner was very good. We had Bouranee Baujaun (fried eggplant with youghert and afghan bread); salata of diced cucumbers, tomato, sweet onion, and cilantro with a lemon dressing; Chicken Tandori kabobs, Mantu (steamed dumplings with onion and beef inside and a carrot and pea sauce); and for dessert the house special Baqlawa made from walnuts and pistachios. I asked for the menu back to write all this down! The very best were the eggplant, the dumplings, and the Baqlawa. After all that eating and Jane having missed her walk today; we walked back to the hotel – less than a mile. We did however cross I 95 South (on a crosswalk). It was a total of 20 lanes at this location!!! We remember living near I 95 (Shirley Highway) in the late 60’s when it was 4 lanes!

Friday morning we had a good complimentary breakfast at the hotel – they had all the usual items along with scrambled eggs, hot potatoes, and oatmeal. The shuttle took us to the metro station and we got Jane a metro ticket and Ben added money to his ticket from several years ago. The metro is much as we remembered it – and the stations clicked by King St; Braddock Rd, Crystal City, Pentagon City, Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, Rosslyn, Foggy Bottom, Farragut East & West, McPherson Square, Metro Center, Smithsonian…that is us! The trip was about 40 minutes. This week the Smithsonian is having their Folklife Festival and are highlighting Mexico and the South Pacific. They have crafts, food, and music from each of these areas in tents on the mall. The festivities did not begin until 11 so we headed to the Museum of American History. We enjoyed numerous exhibits –new and old – for a couple hours. The restored “Star Spangled Banner” US flag exhibit was interesting. We had lunch in the cafeteria and then headed over to the Museum of Natural History where we spent several hours wandering around the various exhibits.

When we were ready for a rest we headed outside and found a bench in the shade along the mall and drank a couple of the bottles of water we had in our backpack. We headed over to see what was going on in the Smithsonian Folklife tents. We watched some dancers from Laos and then a Mexican corn festival dance.

Mexican Folk Dancers on Mall

The dance involved 4 guys climbing up a pole and wrapping ropes around it so they could “fly” down. There were also women blessing the pole and a sacrifice of some sort of chicken that had been made that morning in another event.

It was very hot so we headed on towards the National Gallery of Art where we were planning to attend Jazz in the Sculpture Garden at 5:00. We arrived about 4:30 and luckily got a seat on one of the benches surrounding the reflecting pool (that is an ice skating rink in winter).

Our Seat for Jazz Concert - completely filled with people later

We had understood most people needed blankets to sit on the ground so we had our blanket in the backpack and it made the marble bench softer! We thoroughly enjoyed the next few hours. The music was great – a jazz band with singers. The food was very good – we had ordered a basket via the internet which included French bread, meat, crackers, cheese, a couple of dips, grapes, strawberries, and a bottle of sparkling water. Ben picked the basket up with no problem.

Our Basket Dinner

The cafĂ© was doing a great business – the best sellers appeared to be pitchers of beer and sangria! The people watching was also great – young professionals seemed to find this the place to meet and greet on a Friday evening; tourists and every kind of people you could imagine. The rules were only that you could not bring in drinks and you could not touch the sculptures. People were sitting everywhere with the grounds covered by the time we left around 7:30. More information - http://www.nga.gov/programs/jazz/ .

Philippine Folk Dancing

As we passed the Folklife tent we noticed they were doing Philippine dancing so we watched it a while before heading to the Smithsonian Subway station and our ride back to Springfield. When we arrived we called the phone number we had been given and the shuttle van was there within 10 minutes to transport us back to the hotel. This service was available until 10 PM so we knew it would not be available for us after the concert at Kennedy Center on Saturday night. Another i-phone ap that Jane uses daily is the “footsteps” program that serves as a pedometer and calculates miles walked…our total for the day was 6.9 miles!

Saturday morning we were slow getting up and were feeling our age – Jane’s back hurt and Ben felt like his blood sugar or electrolytes were out of whack. Breakfast helped and we were off to hunt the nearest REI to buy Jane a pair of hiking shoes. Wearing her 20+ year old hiking boots on the adventure into the back reaches of Warrior Park hunting for dragonflies a couple weeks ago told her – these are too small! We found ourselves at the mercy of Garmin again and were soon in downtown Falls Church. Nice drive because it was Saturday! We found the REI and selected shoes – which took some time -but Jane ended up with low top instead of high top Merrill hiking shoes. Maybe Jane will be lucky and not break her ankle along the way as Ben did in AK. The good quality soles should also lengthen the life of the shoes when used for walking as well as an occasional hike. We headed back towards Springfield and stopped at Mike’s American Restaurant for lunch. This was again a good choice and turned out to be the #1 restaurant in Springfield. Jane had Mexican eggrolls and a fantastic salad and Ben had a burger and fries. Ben wanted a short nap before we headed out for our afternoon venture into DC.

About 3 we headed to the metro stop in the Sprinter and easily found an area to park since it was the weekend. We hopped on the metro and transferred at Pentagon to the yellow line to reach Gallery Place. Our museum of the day was to be the recently remodeled National Portrait Gallery. This had been one of Jane’s favorite museums in years past and is located near China Town where we planned to eat dinner. Ben’s i-phone ap - a walking GPS – helped us out for finding the museum and restaurants. We spent about 2 hours in the museum enjoying portraits of US history. Looking at many of those who led our country in its’ early days had very special meaning today as we are in such difficult times in our national government. They have added modern time leaders (variety of types) in among the historical individuals. It was a surprise to see a room of Elvis art alongside the early leaders of our country! They have done an excellent job of updating this museum and there is a lovely courtyard in the center of the building.

We headed into Chinatown and picked one of the Chinese restaurants “potluck”. Jane was not using her i-phone quite as much today since yesterday almost ran out of phone battery due to overuse of aps. We selected the “wok and roll” restaurant (http://www.wokandrolldc.com/) for absolutely no reason to find out it was rated as #1 Chinese restaurant in Chinatown on the Virtual Tourist ranking. Of interest is the restaurant is located in the Mary Surratt house where the assassination of Lincoln was planned. We had a very good but not outstanding dinner. The lemon chicken and vegetable tempura were very good.

From the Wok and Roll we hopped back on the Metro after adding a little money to our fare cards and headed from Gallery Place to Foggy Bottom station. At Foggy Bottom we emerged from the metro station to immediately see the Kennedy Center shuttle bus – hopped on it and in less than 5 minutes were getting out at Kennedy Center. It was 7:40 and the concert began at 8:00…what great timing!

Metal "Fountain" outside Kennedy Center

The concert was our second choice for entertainment tonight but we were not willing to spend $80 for tickets for “Sophisticated Ladies” at the Arena. This concert was Classical Mystery Tour (http://www.classicalmysterytour.com/main/index.htm) with the National Symphony Orchestra. Our seats were in the balcony because we again were not going to pay $80 for seats on the main floor! We enjoyed the music just as well from above. It was a great concert and reminded us of many songs we had forgotten through the years. The group was good using costumes and mannerisms of the Beatles. Interesting to me this group was here for 3 days the same time the Beatles Tribute Rain was at WolfTrap! DC was certainly getting their Beatles “fix” this weekend.

The Kennedy Center is exactly as we remembered it – we had visited several times over the years. When the concert was over the shuttle took us back to Foggy Bottom metro station and we waited only 15 minutes for the blue line back to Springfield. We had anticipated a longer wait after 10. When we arrived back in Springfield it was about 11 and we easily found our way to the sprinter and were back to our hotel in about 15 minutes. Our observations about the metro was it ran very smoothly. There seemed to be issues with the escalators at many of the stations and it was not as clean as I remembered. I did not keep track but I believe we walked up or down at least half the escalators and noticed they were advertising outages of escalators or elevators at various stations constantly. I am not sure how old the metro system is but must be time for a fix of this part of the system. There also seemed to be more trash (cups, water bottles, paper) left of the trains than I remembered from past visits. But even with these issues the metro system is a great way to get around in DC.

Sunday morning we ate breakfast and headed out for the drive home. We had some issues with Garmin as she took us south down I 95 to Culpepper and then across to Luray and New Market. It was a nice trip and allowed us a stop at Fredericksburg Battleground National Park for a Passport Stamp. We had been here years ago but of course that was in the lost passport book. We were going to stop at Manassas Battlefield but because of Garmin’s route we missed that!

We had thought we might stop in Luray for lunch but did not seem to find a suitable location so went on to Harrisonburg and stopped at Arby’s. Ben had seen an ad on TV for a sandwich he wanted to try. The food was mediocre at best and we should have known better than to have stopped there. We turned our CD book back on and made it down I 81 arriving home about 5:30. We had breakfast for dinner since there was not much food in the house ready to cook!

We enjoyed our trip and know our planning ahead via the internet enabled us to get around easily and attend several events we might not have known about otherwise. The Kennedy Center shuttle enabled a visit there that would have probably been outside our ability to walk. Driving and parking would have been much more expensive than the metro plus much more hassle. Knowing where the REI was enabled us to plug an address in Garmin and get there easily, and we would have never known to attend the Jazz in the Garden without the internet search. Reading restaurant reviews helped us when we could use the i-phone ap and using the pedometer was interesting. Technology is great!!