Saturday, January 31, 2009

DC 4.0

Hey there, Good Readers.

Just wanted to thank you for popping by every day to keep up.  I know you're not used to me blogging every day now, so I appreciate the visits since I'm trying to stay ahead of the game on this visit, instead of letting it lag for weeks.  Obviously I won't have time for anything when I return to NYC as I'll just have two weeks to pack and move!


Today I intend to get right out to the Air & Space Museum before the historic aviators wing closes on Sunday for renovations until May 2010!

But I have to get this post out of the way right now, yes?


So, Thursday:  I spent the afternoon wandering around Georgetown.  There were not many tourists out, so I felt somewhat conspicuous using even my phonecam.  So I waited until dark.  It's the kind of villagey place that would look better with the lights on anyway.  You'll see.

Georgetown is twee.  It is the original Old Town, so it's like Colonial/Federal style overload, which I love.  It's full of tiny antique shops, little art galleries, and boutiques for many things. You know you're in a posh place when you walk up the street and see:  Ralph Lauren, Karen Millen London, Reiss London, Lacoste, Rugby, United Colors of Benetton, Occitane en Provence, Bo Concept, and so on.

If any of you have been to Richmond-upon-Thames, in SW London, you will know what I mean.  Georgetown is even more twee than that, more spacious, less crowded, even more picturesque, and cleaner.  (Washington is the cleanest city I've seen in aaaaaaages!)

Like Richmond, it's on the river - the Potomac.  It also has the C&O canal which was once a major shipping and transport route all the way up to Ohio.  It was preserved from paving over in the 1960s, and is today a walking and bike trail.  

However, by the time I reached the Canal I had spent too much time at Barnes & Noble choosing from a wide array of DC maps and looking at too many books *ahem* and so it was dark out.  But again, don't worry.  When I am living in Friendship Heights, I can hop on the bus at FH station and pop down to G'town anytime I want.

I got a great waterproof, tearproof Nat Geo map.  I love how the new foldout paper maps are lightly matte plasticized and less fragile while still being lightweight.  I want to put a good, clear map on my wall so I can finish memorizing this city.  I am pretty familiar with it already from studying apartment locations over the past few months, but I need the overall layout burned into my mind.

So who wants to see cute pics?

As it was dark when I left the bookshop, I walked up to near where the water is.  Rick, I did see Grace Church - in the dark, but didn't even know it would be there!  

I was getting hungry and was a little fed up of the grocery store quick meals I've been on this week, so decided to eat something proper.  So as I was walking up Wisconsin Avenue, I stopped at a little Mexican restaurant called Los Cuartos.

The a good restaurant salsa experience:  warm, thin, crispy tortilla chips, and a spicy salsa with lots of cilantro and no black pepper.  (They don't know how to do it in London or NYC, where the chips are thick and hard, there's not enough cilantro or chile, and too much black pepper.)

Guacamole, pico de gallo.  Under the cheese:  chicken tamale and chile relleno.  Rice and refried beans.  I have never ever eaten the last two items, preferring to fill up on the important stuff!

A little shop called Paper and Tea off Wisconsin Ave.

Paper and Tea from across the road - a cobbled road with an old tram track.

A home decor shop across from Paper and Tea.  The back of this store was also cute with ivy, a little gate, a little door, and a basket on a chair.  

A little Episcopalian church on Wisconsin Ave.

A cute little wine cellar.  I had liked the front door while passing it in the day.

An antique store window dressing in true Federal style - which is the American version of the early 19th century Empire (French) or Regency (English) styles

Carrots luxuriating on my corduroy trousers......again.

Another thing I have liked about being out and about in DC is not hearing the abrasive Noo Yawk or hard Northeast regional accents. Plenty of normal cosmopolitan American voices.  I heard a few Southern accents which made me smile.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

DC 3.0

I went to the National Mall on Wednesday. I got on a bus that went through picturesque Georgetown and then got out at around 17th and H, a couple of blocks from the White House.

I am not too pleased with my photos, I don't know why, maybe it's because in the winter you're racing against the fading of the light, so I felt rushed. And I guess I didn't want to be sightseeing alone.

I had ALL this ground to cover!
On the west end is the Lincoln Memorial, then follow the mall east and you see the Washington Monument. South of the WM is the Jefferson Memorial, and North of the WM is the White House. Then there is the mall lined with representative institutions of the nation, and at the east end is the Capitol, which is the center from where the city is split into Quadrants.

The back of the White House near the Ellipse. I decided to see the front after I'd come back round from walking the Mall.

The Washington Monument is separated from the White House by the great Ellipse, just a giant grass oval.

Slightly zoomed in view west to the Lincoln Memorial and WWII Memorial, from my position under the Washington Memorial

Very zoomed in view south to the Jefferson Memorial from under the Washington Memorial

From the Wash. Mem. :--- North - there's the front of the White House I was looking for, South to the Jefferson Mem., East to the Lincoln Mem.

Standing in the central point of the Mall, at the old Smithsonian Castle, view north across the Mall to the Museum of Natural History. Then look east back towards the Washington Mem, and west to the distant US Capitol.

Look north to the Justice Department

While I am standing southerly in front of the Hirshhorn Museum

Built in 2004, the National Museum of the American Indian

Very pleasing lines, don't you agree?

The National Air & Space Museum. Like many of the Museums along the mall, all part of the Smithsonian Institution

The National Gallery of Art across north from the Air/Space Museum

Finally at the Capitol

A statue of Meade in front of the US Courthouse

The National Gallery of Art as it faces Pennsylvania Avenue. I was now on my way back round to find the front of the White House

The National Archives of the United States of America, this building is vast. It was the last photo I took because the light was really going. I didn't make it to the front of the White House - but I got close on 14th and G, and should have turned west.

However, I kept seeing signs for Metro Center to the east, and I really needed to top up my metro card and find a restroom. So, walked past Macy's, got on the metro 7 stops to Friendship Heights (my new neighborhood), which I swear only took 10-12 minutes - YAY!

I went into Mazza Gallerie which is a mall, home to Neiman Marcus, Ann Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Williams Sonoma, and a few other rather exclusive shops. I don't need to go back there for a looooong time. I will in future make do with the T J Maxx across the road and have a look around for the younger Ann Taylor Loft, which I love.

It was dark out by then so I got on a bus that would take me back down to where I'm staying. What I like about the buses here is that the names of the stops are announced, so you know when to get off. The whole reason I usually avoid buses is I feel lost and out of control, and I like the subway because at least I know what stops are coming and I can get out and find my way from there. Another good thing is the bus stops are 1.5 blocks apart, so you never have to hunt for one or get lost in between them.

One day I will go into all those museums, but hey, I'm going to live here so I have plenty of time - let's just hope I don't keep putting it off for that same reason.

I didn't show you the FBI, the State Department, and so many other buildings radiating out from the mall - the heart of the city, the brain center of the nation.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

DC 1.0 + 2.0

On Monday night we had lots of snow and woke up to a white world of powdery stuff. It was like walking in sugar at first.

The view from my bedroom window:

It snowed heavily all morning, so I stayed in. Classes were cancelled and roads were continually salted. By lunchtime it lightened up a lot, so I ventured out to buy my SmarTrip card:

Time to say goodbye to my London Underground Oyster card. I don't want the proximity chip in it to interfere with the new one.

In the next two weeks I will have to finish off the balance on my NY MTA Metrocards. No more swiping at turnstiles, though it was convenient not to take the card out in order to exit as you do in London and DC. However, it was inconvenient to have to get a new card every time I needed a refill because the machine couldn't read it, even though it's supposed to last a year.

And hello to my new Metro SmarTrip card. I will soon be back to touching in and out on an electronic pad! I don't know why NYC hasn't done this sooner. Right now they are testing a similar system combining a debit, credit, and metro card in one like Barclays is attempting in London, but it's rare and I bet with budget and service cuts, change of any kind is not going to be a priority.

One thing though. Why can't they be of simple design like the Oyster? It was instituted not long after I moved to London in 2002. Before that, they were using paper tickets like NY's plastic ones. And before the plastic ones, NYC was using old fashioned coin tokens.


As the snow continued, I walked the 7 or 8 blocks north of the house to the National Cathedral.

My old dilemma: which ONE to show you, so here are three:

The National Cathedral is where an Inaugural prayer service has been held for every president since 1912. It took nearly 100 years to plan and nearly another 100 build.

George Washington commissioned a plan for a national cathedral from Pierre L'Enfant in 1791.

Congress granted a charter in 1893.

The first stone, which comes from Bethlehem, was laid in 1907 in the presence of President Roosevelt, the Bishop of London, and 10,000 spectators.

Queen Elizabeth II and President Gerald Ford attended the dedication of the nave and the west Rose window in 1976.

George H.W. Bush was on hand to oversee the placement of the last stone in 1990.

One of many side chapels

Fan vaults always captivate my eye

A cross from the rubble at the Pentagon on 9/11, presented to the Cathedral by the US Army Chief of Chaplains

One Rose window

Going down into the Crypt.

Obviously, being a newer church, there are no tombs in the Crypt, so much of it can be used for chapels and who knows what else? I nearly got lost down there, and partly spooked, because I was alone amidst all this Gothic architecture. And it has been a long time since I heard such profound silence...

The Bethlehem Chapel, where the first services were held

Two entrances to the Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea

The Altar of the Chapel of Joseph of Arimathea

A gate in the crypt, probably from the 1950s

The wee little Good Shepherd Chapel

A retro space age stained glass window

Closer look - cool huh?

And back out into the snow, which became a sharp sleet as I walked home, which overnight turned into freezing rain, ugh...

I wanted to stay for Evensong, but it was only going to be Evenprayer and only a few hardy souls turned up. School had been cancelled so there was no choir. Oh! I just remembered I was going to go this evening, but actually I have also just remembered that school was cancelled again, which caused President Obama, a hardened Chicago resident, to chide the gentle Washingtonians for their inability to handle a bit of weather.

I don't know how long I spent inside, but time disappeared and I doubt I have ever stayed so long touring round a church. I spent the last half hour there chatting with a docent. She is originally British, but married a local and has been living here for 45 years. She urged me to come visit often when I move down.


Washington 2.0

Today was very icy, but my potential landlady was determined to make good on her promise to come pick me up. We had chatted a couple of times a day since my arrival and were just waiting for some better weather.

She has been holding the room for me, and I would be a fool not to take it. It's even bigger in life than it looked in the pictures. My ensuite bathroom is the size of my bedroom in Brooklyn. The bedroom is even bigger than my old bedroom in St John's Wood. (Do any of you remember?)

Let's just say that I will be paying the same for this as I am my current cubbyhole, and that for space like this, even in Brooklyn, I would have to pay double. What's more, the lovely furniture is staying, the carpet is new, and I have that wall of closets and four whole window seats I mentioned last week.

Check it out:

I think I would have to pay at least $2000 for a room like this in Manhattan.

Here's the kitchen and the exterior. My windows face the cherry trees in the courtyard - I can't wait till the blossoms in spring!!!

I spent the afternoon with new landlady and her granddaughter. She drove me around town, pointing out buildings, parks, neighborhoods, shops, and restaurants, on the way back to my guesthouse.

The sky was clearing, and I wanted to go for a walk round the neighborhood before sunset, but when I nearly slid down the icy hill on my butt and heard the clumps of snow falling off the trees, I thought, "I don't really need to be out in this. I could go inside and do my UK tax return..."

Stay tuned Thursday, for that is when the sun comes out and the sightseeing begins!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

DC 0.5

On the way to the Capital.

The day started gloriously sunny, as usual, but soon thickened into an English greyness, which is unusual in these parts.

I woke up with a painful lower back for no obvious reason, so I called a taxi to come take me to Penn Station, rather than fighting with stairs and anyway, my suitcase was too heavy for me even at 100%.

The train was quiet, comfortable, peaceful, clean, and felt very safe. The other passengers refrained from talking on the phone, some slept, some stared out the window, did work, read, or listened to their iPods. It almost felt as though I had the car to myself.

There is something retro about the design of the diesel cars, and very similar to American Airlines - both shiny metal tubes with red, white, and blue stripes down the middle. In fact, it did feel like a plane more than a train because there was no clackety clack, it just flew along the track. The interior was very airline-like too, though the seats were the softest I've ever sat in, anywhere. Three and a half hours sitting and I forgot I even had a bum, they were that comfy.

We passed through about 4 states, stopped at two airports, and made stops along the way in New Jersey; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; Baltimore, Maryland; and finally Washington, D.C.

This is what I saw:

The Chesapeake Bay off the Maryland coast.
An abandoned power station near Philadelphia.
Every station we stopped at had a sign that pointed to Boston one way and Washington the other, well I wonder which way I was going?

First I did the crossword in the Amtrak Arrive magazine, then I read it. Gordon Ramsay was being interviewed, and I never knew he was actually nice to people in real life. Then I flipped through the railway version of the Sky Mall magazine. There are things in those magazines you never knew you needed and you go through all the phases of wanting them, envisioning them in the house you will have one day, talking yourself out of it, and then forgetting about them all until the next time you travel and pick up the evil magazine in the back of the seat.

The parts of Philly and Baltimore I saw from the train look like Harlem or the Bronx did 20 years ago: abandoned lots, burnt out boarded up rowhouses, and so on, but this is only following on the boarded up factories and steel plants. They both seem to have more graffiti than NYC. The graffiti cops, having done their job up in Noo Yawk, need to move down there now. You can see the new attempts at revitalization, like many cities nowadays. You know, riverside warehouse condos, etc.

The odd thing about Baltimore is that, even though it is in Maryland,
which is part of the South, it feels like a northern town. And indeed
it did seem as though it is on the border. Maybe this is why these
states (Md, Va, DC) are known as the mid-Atlantic states, because of
the dichotomy between North and South here.

The further south we went, industry began to fall away and it felt less gritty. In Maryland there were extensive swathes of fields, just fields, winding roads along winding rivers, belts of trees, some white picket fence villages, two cows, scattered homesteads, docks on water, and boats. When you live in a city you forget that it is still possible to leave a tract of land unused...

Finally we pulled into Union Station and I got on the Metro to Dupont Circle where my hostess CC picked me up and dropped me off at the house before heading back to work. It was very nice of her to do that.

I am staying in Glover Park, near Georgetown, in one of the cutest houses I have ever stepped foot in. It looks small from the front, but it goes on forever at the back, where the front two levels expands into four because it's built into a hill.

I met the dog Carlye (a thinker with a tail of iron), and the cats Carrot (a silent socializer) and Melly (a talkative recluse).
Carrots looooves me. He purred and slept all over my sweaters all afternoon, then he moved on to my laptop sleeve, followed by my scarf. I had to shove him off so I could put it on to go out later, but at least it was all warmed up for me :)

So as I said, the place is so cute, I can't not show you!

It's very Arts & Crafts, built in the 1920s, much like our old house in London in many ways, even down to the leaded windows and glass doorknobs. But there is a lot more warm wood here. I was pleased to note that the doors are original, as is much of the cabinetry outside the kitchen, and even the floors, which do not creak one bit. Also, there are so many rooms and nooks and crannies - larges spaces mixed with small. But no space too small. I have my own floor in what would normally be the basement although there is a balcony.

This is a proper old marble washstand with modern plumbing.

My bedroom with the bathroom attached. Spot the cat?

The hearth the cat?

The bed surrounded by stained glass.

The guest living room adjoining the bedroom. To the right are stairs up to the main level (kitchen, dining room, parlor).

A screened balcony off the guest living room. To the left, a laundry room as well as stairs to the sub-basement which again is not really a basement because it too overlooks the neighborhood.

Looking inside from the balcony. It's like an outdoor room.


I picked a good week to visit. The region is bracing for its first (very late) snowstorm of the season on Tuesday. Yes, a full inch (2.54 cm) of snow - bringing the city nearly to a halt. NY has had much more than this and just keeps going. But they're all excited down here about their inch of snow.


In the evening, I followed my nose to the Whole Foods we'd passed in the car on the way to the house. The people look normal down here so far and less "inbred" than generational city dwellers tend to do. Probably because they're all from somewhere else, other cities, other coasts, and small towns all across America. In this area especially, the streets seem lined with dollhouses and dollhouse street lamps. There is also a kind of Southern-cum-English (but not London) feel to it.

More tomorrow. Stay tuned.