Over the years I have seen the monuments on the National Mall again and again as we took guests to visit our nation’s capital. I’ve seen new monuments come to fruition and old ones get a facelift (or, sometimes, a repair). Friends who had already seen the monuments themselves were coming to DC and so I worked to plan a weekend that gave them (and me) a new side of Washington.
We started with the State Department Diplomatic Reception Rooms, where they actually do host diplomats and other dignitaries. I had heard about this on Antiques Roadshow and made a reservation. Our tour guide, Chic, showed us through the rooms with both authority and humor. Nice way to start the weekend! Dinner that night was at my favorite Peruvian in DC, El Chalan, and of course included Pisco sours. We ended the evening by walking past the White House at night, a little reassurance as we knew the terrible news from Paris (and so were not surprised when we were scooted a little farther away than usual).
Desk where the Treaty of Paris was signed (State Department Diplomatic Reception Rooms)
Breakfast the next morning was at Paul, which quickly became our friends’ “regular” breakfast place. They come from York County, PA, the best agricultural place I have ever lived, so I gave them the option of visiting Washington’s Eastern Market in Capitol Hill on this sunny November day. In addition to the fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats we’re so accustomed to, Eastern Market has a large outdoor international flea market. We looked at furniture both new and antique, clothing, jewelry. We talked to vendors, admired little kids’ outfits, and bought a persimmon. We even sampled deep-fried cheese curds from a Juniata County, PA, dairy farmer.
Carpets for sale (Eastern Market)
From there we hailed a cab to the National Building Museum (built 1887 as the Patent Office). Right now they are featuring an exhibit on the construction of the World War II memorial. Another exhibit details the efforts to repair the earthquake damage to the National Cathedral and the Washington Monument. We strolled back toward their hotel, past the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, and back to Pennsylvania Avenue. It was heartening to see people gathered in front of the White House again, some in awe, others protesting, and one solitary woman—Melody Crombie—campaigning for president. Dinner at Firefly, just off Dupont Circle, was noisy but warm.
Sunday—just another morning at Paul. The weather was so gorgeous we decided to walk to the National Museum of the American Indian. On the way we stopped at the Department of the Interior; not many people know that building has both a museum and an excellent Indian craft shop open to the public (of course they weren’t open while we were there since it was Sunday), with an adjacent sculpture garden. We wandered down the Mall, around groups of kids playing kickball, until we got to 13th Street and had to stick to a walkway. Sounds of drumming could be heard for a block or so before we saw the drummer and his plastic bucket collection making beautiful music. A quick pop into the National Gallery to show our guests a Van Gogh I love brought disappointment—it’s back in storage. But a great thing about so many of the DC museums is you can do that—pop in, pop out—for free!
The drummer at the Smithsonians
The Van Gogh we missed
At the American Indian museum, artists were working with clay as part of the Ceramics of the Southwest: A Native American Heritage Month Celebration. In the center of the room, the Zuni Olla Maidens were performing the Pottery Dance, balancing pottery on their heads! (I probably wasn’t the only person watching, just to see if that pot would move.) I spoke with the dancers afterwards, who were only too happy to talk about their dance and their clothes and what they kept in the pots (salt is traditional, a cellphone is not!). Our guests and I started looking through this museum by watching the introductory film. This was the first time I have seen it—quite spectacular and gives you a good idea of just how massive a project it is to depict the peoples who are designated “Native.”
Zuni Olla Maidens
We had one more tour stop for the day before dinner and so hailed a cab for Georgetown. A note on cabs vs. Metro in DC: if you are just going from place to place, Metro will get you there very efficiently. However, if you have people interested in sightseeing on the way, cabs may be the best way to go. Every driver we had was both pleasant and knowledgeable. We got to see buildings we would have missed if we had traveled underground.
According to a walking tour book I found, 3307 N Street NW is the house where John and Jackie Kennedy were living when he was elected president. And 3017 N Street NW is where Jackie first lived when she left the White House. So we took a little stroll through Georgetown. Walking the residential streets is a pleasure if you like to admire architecture in its many forms. We then headed down to the waterfront where kids were ice-skating on a little rink, past the C&O Canal, and back up to M Street for dinner at Bistro Francais (again the French!). I highly recommend the Poulet Bistro—cooked perfectly! We sat at the window table, so part of our dinner amusement was watching people realize they had parked in a bus zone.
Georgetown waterfront, looking up toward M Street
Our final day was a day-long van tour of the monuments with a National Park Service ranger. As I said, I have seen the monuments many times. But I have never had a narrator before. Our ranger, Mark, took us first to the Washington Monument where he showed us some of the repairs (having seen the engineering explained two days before at the National Building Museum made it even more interesting). I am old enough to remember being able to walk down the stairs from the top of the monument. That’s not allowed anymore (graffiti) but the windows on the elevator allow riders to see some of the decorative stones inside the monument. It’s a great trip down!
We next went to the World War II Memorial where, again, our trip to the National Building Museum paid off. We had seen a video of the Memorial artist discussing the wreaths that are held up by eagles (he got the idea from wreaths held up by angels in a church in Italy). That exhibit—including the plaster casts of the friezes also at the Memorial—gave us a whole new perspective. From there it was the Lincoln, the Vietnam (including the nurses!), and the Korean War memorials, with explanations and narrations by our ranger. I noticed many people hanging around our group, listening to him. A lunch break, Jefferson, and finally FDR. As I always say, if you haven’t been, go. If you have been, go again. Not when it’s hot or cold, but when you can spend some time among these monuments, reading, learning, reflecting. We’re so very lucky to have them.
A wall at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt memorial
This itinerary was a huge four days. We could have done less, but the weather was excellent and we promised ourselves we’d skip anything we didn’t feel like doing. I got to see parts of Washington where I’ve never been and visit a few old favorites as well. DC is a great city to visit . . . and I know I’ll be back before long!