While in D.C.

There are no shortage of sites to see and things to do while in our nation’s capital, and it almost feels cliche to blog about them, as most people go with an agenda in-hand of all they want to accomplish on their trip. Alas, I feel the need to share my experience this last trip, so bear with me. I’d love to hear back from others on their experiences in D.C. as well.

I arrived on Saturday, December 12th and was able to check in early to my hotel, the Palomar off Dupont Circle. Now, if I had it all to do over again, I might’ve stayed across the street at the Residence Inn (for obvious reasons), but I got a killer rate @ Palomar courtesy of Jetsetter.com, so I can’t complain. The Pal is very adequate, though the service can be a bit lacking at times. Nevertheless, the doorman was always courteous, and he’s the main one I interacted with, so I’ll leave it at that.

With my game plan in hand, I set off to the Museum of American History, which was closed during my first visit to DC in July 08. Let me begin by advising that much renovation is still going on there, which was a bit disappointing since all  I’d read led me to believe it was open at full capacity. I’d dare say 15-20% of it is closed off, and most of that, from what I gathered, was the pop culture collection. There was literally one small room of these type things, including the ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz and perhaps six other artifacts. By and large, there were many educational exhibits, and I suppose that’s what one goes to a museum for mainly, but I was definitely relishing seeing a Hee-Haw lunch box, not to mention Carrie’s desk from Sex & the City!

After perusing the MoAH, I went next door to the Museum of Natural History, which I’d quickly made my way through last summer. It was nice not to be rushed, and I enjoyed seeing all the young children marvel at all the skeletons and taxidermied animals here, especially on the underrated “hall of birds” in the basement, as seen below…

“Bird hall” in the Museum of Natural History’s basement

I must mention what a fine job the MoNH has done on capitalizing on the movie(s) set there. I think anything that gets kids into the museums is a great learning tool, so kudos all around for that.

Next, it was off for a stroll to see the National Christmas Tree, the White House, and then I thankfully stumbled upon the Renwick Gallery on Pennsylvania Avenue. I was delighted, as I’d missed it last time around, and it’s one of the original Smithsonian buildings from the early 1900s. It was a treat to venture inside–here’s a couple of photos from that collection:

An intricate, precarious glass sculpture–see the broken glass on the floor??
A Cassatt I’d never seen; several great pieces were in the Renwick.

After that, it was off for a quick stop @ Filene’s Basement adjacent to the Mayflower Hotel, and then back to Dupont to call it a night. The next morning, it was off to the one and only…

Foggy Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral! I got there in time for 10AM service, which–unbeknownst to me–was a folk service in the glorified basement. Granted, this was a gorgeous basement, with overtly vaulted ceilings, tapestries, etc., but it felt much like a crypt or a wine cellar! Turns out at the end of the service, a church member was telling us of the many ministries of the church, and when she told us about the literacy ministry she pointed out Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan’s crypts right behind where I was sitting. Pretty amazing, to say the least. I took many more photos of the basement level, but they really don’t do the building justice. I might add that every church member I encountered was nothing but gracious, which must be a challenge in a church such as this that is by and large a tourist attraction. I’d dare say 80% of the 10AM service was made up of tourists just like me.

To speed up my recounting of Sunday, I ended up walking through the rain from the cathedral back to Dupont, literally down Embassy Row. A very scenic walk in spite of the weather, and much more enjoyable than the bus ride to church! Sunday afternoon was spent at the Smithsonian art galleries: the National Portrait Gallery, and the East and West buildings of the National Gallery of Art. As with the MNH, I rushed through the NPG last summer as well, so it was nice to take my time this year. All three of these galleries are very strict in regards to bringing in bags; at the NPG, I could tote my bag, but only in my hand. At the NGA, I had to check it altogether, which is fine by me. I suppose they can’t be too safe with all those priceless works of art. At any rate, the West Gallery is undergoing some renovations–many of the rooms were completely empty of art, yet still open to the public. My favourite thing I got to see there was a whole room of Degas’ sculptures that I’d missed the last visit.

Degas’ dancer statue, the only one he permitted to be shown during his lifetime

This room is very easy to miss; I happened to enter the West Gallery from Constitution Avenue rather than the National Mall this time, and I think that’s the only reason I saw it. Though it doesn’t seem like it, the West Gallery is apparently multi-level. It’s also very difficult to find the tunnel from the West to the East Gallery, but impossible to miss it vice versa. By far my favourite work on exhibition in the East Gallery was Wayne Thiebaud’s “Cakes,” his masterpiece from 1963:


I’d admired a replica of this painting in the museum cafeteria last summer, so to see the original in person, and then be able to buy a print of it in the gift shoppe, was a true treat. I’ve already installed the print in a shadowbox and am enjoying it immensely back at home.

Monday was spent at Arlington in the morning, the Capitol in the afternoon, and the National Botanical Gardens and the Air & Space Museum at dusk. Most of those places are self-explanatory, so I’ll just insert a few pictures below. The new Capitol Visitors Centre is stunning–I arrived just in time for the last tour and therefore missed out on the exhibits, but it was worth it to get another walk-through of the Capitol, including the old Supreme Court chambers and the original Senate room as well.

Ted Kennedy’s grave @ Arlington, right down the hill from JFK’s & RFK’s.
The new Capitol Visitors Centre–Hawaii’s king has a new home here.
National Botanical Gardens–so regal!
Courtyard of the Botanical Gardens–this shows the scope of the building very well.

Not content to sleep in on Tuesday morning before my flight home that afternoon, I walked the block and a half to the Phillips Collection off Dupont Circle. While technically free of charge on weekdays, I gladly paid the $10 student admission to see the special Man Ray exhibition which was going on. (To say it was the most underwhelming part of the museum would be mean and anti-cultural of me; I’m admittedly not a big photography fan to begin with.) I knew of the Phillips from them loaning out their Renoir to the Frist in Nashville back in 2004, and was so glad to visit them firsthand to see their “Collection of Masterworks,” as they refer to it. Since it’s a private collection, I noticed several subtle changes from the Smithsonian museums. First, the temperature–the air, actually–was much different in Phillips. They have a small box contraption in each room which measures the airflow, etc. Some rooms were downright warm; the Rothko Room, for instance, had me fanning myself! But it’s their prerogative to protect their investments, and I thoroughly enjoyed my stroll through the Phillips. Here’s a few of my favourites from there:

Picasso’s “The Blue Room”
A lovely Degas–the orange and blue are gorgeous.
The highlight of the museum for me: a lively Kandinsky!
Rothkos don’t photograph especially well–here’s all the ones in the Rothko Room @ Phillips.

With that, I went back to the Pal to collect my bags, and then it was off to Reagan for my flight home. I thoroughly enjoyed my solo trip to Washington, as it afforded me the opportunity to make my own agenda and follow my own whims. I must say, at the risk of sounding blatantly selfish, that I’m glad to’ve miss the snow storms by one weekend, but I feel for all those travellers, especially tourists, who suffered because of them. On that note, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year–happy travels to all, and to all a good night!


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