Washington D.C. – Vacation Extravaganza

Before you see what I did do in D.C. for fun, there are a few things I should have done. One is take photos of the monuments I promised yesterday, and another is buy more sausages from that butcher shop, because the first two were delicious. Well, I’ll know for next time. Luckily Angela came through on the monuments front, so if you were excited for gratuitous pictures of stuff you’ve seen a hundred times before, you won’t be disappointed. Let’s go!

We stayed in Falls Church, which is about a 15 minute drive west of D.C. (or just 3 hours away during rush hour). Here’s a cool view from the car if you take Route 50 all the way into town:

I didn’t know it at the time, but this is the Courthouse neighborhood. I liked the tableau of brick going on, with different shapes at different angles and distances to the viewer, all in the same material. It reminded me of a magic eye, where it all looks like one weird collage until you move around it enough and the different shapes reveal themselves.

On the first day, we did our walking tour of the Mall. We hit up the White House first, because our Metro stop was north of the mall. The White House was great and all, but this guy next to it:

If you don’t know, take three guesses as to what the function of this building might be. If you haven’t guessed office building yet, I won’t fault you. I found it difficult to find anything in D.C. that didn’t at least look old and important, and you can see why if even the office buildings look like that. From there we headed along the north edge of the mall towards the west, to get to the Vietnam Veteran’s memorial. I wouldn’t put a picture of it here even if I had one, because you really have to walk along it to really feel it, and trust me, if you’ve any heart at all, you’ll feel it. If there’s a more powerful and fitting memorial around, I haven’t been to it.

Two interesting notes about the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial before we move on. First, everybody hated it when it was just a design on paper. Now, with people having experienced the gravity of it for themselves, you’d be hard pressed to find a detractor. Second, (and I don’t remember where I heard this, so feel free to not believe me), Maya Lin got a “C” on this design when it was a school project. I got a lot of C’s on my architecture projects, just sayin’.

Wow, this post is going to be miles long if I don’t fast forward a bit. Here’s the Cliff Notes:

Compare these two monuments: The Lincoln Memorial is a massively scaled staircase into a massively scaled temple to a massively scaled Abraham Lincoln. The FDR Memorial is a twisting maze of huge slabs of carved granite, past a roaring, powerful waterfall, to reveal … a diminutive, wheelchair-bound FDR. Discuss.

Martin Luther King, Jr. deserves better than to be misquoted on the side of the absolute most literal interpretation of “out of the mountain of despair – a stone of hope” you could come up with.

How many families get pictures of themselves underneath their state at the WWII Memorial?

Is anyone going to judge me for a gratuitous tourist shot of the Washington Monument? Even if it’s really well composed? Well, if they do, I’ll just tell them Angela took it.

After our tour of the monuments, we took a very long walk to the other side of Capitol Hill for a delicious burger and even more delicious milkshake at the Good Stuff Eatery. By the way, if food figures heavily into your travel plans, this is your indispensable guide if you ever go to D.C. Some of the restaurants are prohibitively far away if you’re looking to stay downtown, but all the ones we tried were great.

We meant to spend most of the afternoon in the National Gallery, but we found there was an Asian Heritage Festival on the way. We decided to linger a while and take in some of the dances and crafts. An old man made a dragon out of carmelized sugar. A Korean girl and her accompaniment covered “Here I Go Again (on my Own)”, made famous by Korean folk band Whitesnake. Little boys who could probably have kicked my ass did martial arts forms as dragons bobbed their approval:

And when that was done, we still had enough to check out the exhibit on street photography at the Gallery. For day two, we trekked out to Dulles airport to visit the Air and Space Museum. Try and figure out what my favorite planes have in common:

Apparently, you can dress up in shiny metal and I’ll be immediately smitten. This museum is awesome. It’s open and airy, but dense with information. Their interactive features are nice as well. Worth the drive even if it’s out of your way, and if you fly into Dulles, you don’t have an excuse. Next stop was Dumbarton Oaks:

I visited this sprawling garden in the Georgetown neighborhood when I was a student at CMU and had to come back. It’s masterfully organized; each discrete terrace blends with the others, creating pockets of vantage and refuge in equal numbers. The designer plays with physical and visual connections, allowing the adventurer a feeling of discovery while navigating an infinite combination of paths, and allowing the voyeur to have a quiet place to observe it all. The gardens themselves give the impression that if the caretakers were to take a week off, they would swallow the grounds whole.

There you go, D.C. in two days. I’m sure there’s plenty I missed, but I’d trade anything I did. I’ll just have to go back. If you have any suggestions, feel free to leave them below.

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