A TV journalist turns toward the camera and says, “Now, from Washington this morning….” and you think very seriously: government, lawmakers, lobbyists, infighting. But we discovered a very friendly, whimsical, and sometimes playful side to this amazing city. Every museum guard/greeter, server in a restaurant, and hotel worker enthusiastically greeted us with a smile, spoke to us at length, and thanked us profusely as we left. We found whimsy in restaurant menus (fried chicken with a glazed donut? – who does that?) and swings where there normally would be plain old boring benches! It has been a marvelous week in the country’s capital.
Our first photos are of the National Building Museum, which neither of us had ever heard of. We saw it on Google Maps, on the path from our hotel to the Smithsonian, so we decided to stop and see it. Are we ever glad we did! It is a magnificent room with gigantic brick columns (covered, of course). The room has been used for inaugural parties and political rallies. We passed a woman with two small children, playing on the floor adjacent to one of these towering columns. If she comes here often, what a great memory that will be for her kids! Sitting on a bench in front of the fountain was magical, as it was so quiet in this gorgeous space with few visitors. We also – finally! – got to the top of the Washington Monument! Over the past four visits to Washington, it has been closed for renovation, cleaning, or a special event every single time. We held our breaths as we approached, sure that it would close just as we got there. You must book your tickets online the day before, as only a limited number of visitors are allowed in the elevator at one time. They are still “free,” but with a $1 booking fee. And if you don’t nab your tickets within a few minutes of their 10:00 am availability, you may have to wait another day. We were surprised that the inside doors were actually vault doors!…very thick and heavy. We were also surprised that the elevator was built in from the beginning. It originally hauled freight and stones to the top, then switched to passengers once it opened in 1885, when it was the tallest structure in the world! (The Eiffel Tower eclipsed the monument just three years later, as it was twice as tall.)
There was still a good deal of fencing around the city, and many streets, sidewalks, and access ways were blocked off. In addition, many government buildings had giant planters along the sidewalk so that cars or trucks couldn’t be driven into the buildings. We “only” went to four museums this time (mainly because so many are closed early in the week, but all are open on weekends) – the National Building Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Natural History, and the Spy Museum. The Spy Museum had lots of interesting information, along with maybe a dozen short films on various spies and missions. There was enough info to keep you in there for an entire day, although we didn’t have that much time!
We enjoyed many of the restaurants we went to, particularly the unusual flavors in two Middle Eastern restaurants. There are photos below from a Mexican restaurant along the waterfront, Mi Vida. It was beautifully decorated, and they take a risk by serving food that is fairly spicy, although we greatly enjoyed it. All in all, it was a most enjoyable week in Washington, and we are left with a good impression, great memories, and satisfied appetites.