A Capitol Time

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Washington D.C. is the most unlikely capital city I’ve ever visited. It’s certainly got more official buildings than you could shake a stick at, but it’s so calm and laid back, you’d never know there were actually world changing events going on behind those white marble facades. There’s no such thing as a rush hour in D.C, because no one is ever in an actual rush. It’s wonderful to be in a city where the pace is set to ‘amble’, you can see sky and trees, and where there are streets and streets of colourful gingerbread houses and wide avenues filled with colossal pieces of classical architecture. It might be built on a swamp and horrifically humid, but it’s a beautiful, vibrant, fascinating place to be. I love it.

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I was staying with one of my best friends, who I met at university. She lives right next to the zoo, and I spent a magical first night sleeping on her balcony, encased in the warmth of the balmy D.C. climate and listening to the peacocks calling to one another in the bird enclosure below. The next day, up bright and early, we headed to the arboretum, on the other side of town. It consists of hectares and hectares of land filled with trees from every state of the US, and is a lovely spot to come and explore. We particularly enjoyed the Bonsai tree section, and I loved seeing the original columns from the Capitol, taken down at some point in the 19th century, and resurrected here, in the middle of a field. It’s a striking sight. So is Union Market, a fabulously renovated warehouse space just around the corner which is now filled with a variety of  upmarket food stores and counter restaurants. We popped in for some lunch and had an amazing beef and horseradish bagel at Buffalo and Bergen along with one of their signature handmade sodas. I tried blackberry spice, and it was the best fizzy drink I’ve ever tasted!

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The following days were a pleasant round of leisurely strolls, delicious meals and wonderful sights. I saw fluorescent frogs and majestic lions at the zoo. I had the best french toast at Open City. I bought some lovely antiques at the Georgetown Flea Market. I saw wonderful photographs of contemporary and historical America at the Museum of American Art. I discovered a new favourite painter. I saw Julia Child’s kitchen at the Museum of American History. I learned about Native American tribes at the striking National Museum of the American Indian. I saw indigenous Hawaiian plants at the Botanical Garden. I pretended to wave at the President through the gates of the White House. I marvelled at the scale of the Capitol. I found myself surprisingly pleased by the aesthetics of the range of mid century concrete office buildings downtown. I finally got to enjoy the witty and fascinating company of Thomas. I strolled around the other Roosevelt Island and was inspired by Roosevelt’s wise words to all men. I drank gallons of iced tea, went to a proper American shopping mall and devoured the most amazing cookies known to mankind. I never had to wear a cardigan. It was a wonderful week. By the time I boarded the bus back to New York, I’d switched allegiances. The Big Apple needs to up its game. The Big Swamp is where it’s really at.

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36 comments

  1. It is wonderful that you enjoyed D. C. so much. I have never been there, but would love to go.Perhaps the revisiting of New York was not as fun as the discovery. I’m wondering if you are the sort of person who loves the adventure and discovery of a new place, but the revisiting leaves you let down. I am that way a bit with the exception of Prince Edward Island where I find so much joy in revisiting old haunts. I am such a country girl that a large city soon would become oppressive to me. I love brief visits to museums, galleries, etc. but would not like to stay. I believe that you have probably discovered parts of our beautiful capitol that is often ignored by the usual Yankee tourist. Good for you, those are always the best places.

    1. Thanks Janet! I think I am definitely a person who loves new experiences. Going back to a place never excites me as much because I’ve seen it all before! DC is definitely a good city for country people – it’s much less stressful than your average metropolis and there is plenty of green space to escape to. I hope you get to visit one day!

  2. I never expected to be as enchanted by D.C. as I was the first time I went there. I now live about an hour and a half (ehh…depending on the traffic) south of the city, in Richmond, VA, and visit often. So great to hear you enjoyed your visit, I love hearing different perspectives of our pretty city.

  3. New York needs to UP its game? Um, maybe tamp it down a few decibels, I could concede that, but it hardly has any more up to go! Sorry my home town didn’t do it for you this time. Central Park? New-York Historical Society? The East Village? The Frick Collection? Staten Island Ferry? Nothing?

    1. No…not on the noise front, certainly!! I went to all of my favourite places and had a lovely time, Diana, but it just wasn’t the same, that’s all. I loved DC so much because it’s the first time I’ve spent a long period of time there and I got to see it in a new way. It made me realise that New York is actually a very stressful place to be and what it offers in terms of lifestyle is actually not as good as it may at first appear. I will always feel a great amount of affection and nostalgia for New York, but I couldn’t live there again!

  4. The only time I’ve ever visited the US I went to Washington and loved it. I remember walking up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial marveling that I was actually there.

    1. I know, it’s like a little fantasy, isn’t it? I remember gasping when I first saw that big chair in real life – I’d only ever seen it on The Simpsons!

  5. Washington is my favourite US city because it has so much variety but never feels like its a city in so much of an enormous rush that you can barely breathe in it. Next time you visit, take the boat to nearby Alexandria and enjoy the Torpedo Factory – masses of stalls by artists and craftspeople.

    1. Yes exactly. There is so much to see and do but you never feel oppressed! I meant to go to Alexandria but just didn’t get the time – definitely a must do for next time!

  6. I thought you might be taken aback when you returned to NY. The post you wrote as you left on your holiday reminded me of what San Francisco represents for me when I moved there in 1971 after graduating from university. Like you it was the place where I discovered I had the ability to be my own person and take on what life brings. So keep it special for that reason, and remember it’s a great place to visit for about 3 days. I am a New Yorker, born and bred, so I know it is possibly the least livable place in the world, unlike London which might be the most livable (except for the ridiculous housing costs, and I could make a case that the housing crisis was imported from the money grubbers of NY, and embraced by New Labour) where the world is open to everyone. There is speculation Bloomberg will move to London when he leaves office! New Yorkers, as Diana Birchall’s comment exemplifies, have a very narrow view of the world.

    1. Er, jenni-in-london, I have lived in Los Angeles since 1971, coincidentally the year I, too, graduated from university; and have paid over thirty blissful visits to England. I think I’ve earned a little nostalgia for New York. I’m wondering in what sophisticated city did you learn to call people “narrow” in a public forum? Sheesh! Guess you’re still a native New Yorker after all!

    2. Thanks Jenni – I think you summed up my experience perfectly. I think most people who grow up in a major city have a pretty narrow view of the world – you’ll be hard pressed to find a Londoner who doesn’t think London is the centre of the universe! I am one of them!😉

  7. D.C. is lovely, isn’t it? I think it often gets short shrift because it’s so humid and the capital area is so congested, but it’s a beautiful spot and it sounds like you had a wonderful time!

  8. Lovely post and photos. I have never crossed the Atlantic and would like to visit Washington as well as NY and other places of interest. This post has certainly tantalised me, need to start saving right now🙂

    1. Oh you need to go, Booketta! America has so much to offer. The East coast is stuffed with amazing cities – I can also highly recommend Boston. Get saving!

  9. Always interesting to see one’s city reflected in visitor’s musings. I should say regarding rush hour that you were in DC at the one of the quietest times of the year. At any point in August a full 1/3 of the workforce is out of town. Of course rush hour here is nothing like NYC no matter the time of the year.

    1. Hahahahahaha it’s not even YOUR town! Your town is Brooklyn and that has nothing to do with Manhattan at all. Brooklyn I could live in a thousand times over – just give me a brownstone and Ample Hills Creamery and I am good to go!

      1. Narrowing it down, I didn’t realize your negative feeling was toward Manhattan specifically. Interesting! Have you tried Staten Island? Not only the ferry but a cool park with a snake zoo…

      2. Oh I LOVE Staten Island, Diana – the Alice Austen museum, Historical Richmond Town…I was always singing its praises to sceptics when I lived in Manhattan! Brooklyn is also one of my most favourite places ever. Manhattan just has too much stress for me now!

      3. What, you don’t want to live in a space too small to swing a cat, and pay $4000 a month for the privilege? (The same apartments that used to cost $40 a month 40 years ago. And the cockroaches are direct descendants of the same ones.) Personally, I’ve had the excitement of New York, don’t need it any more either, but am glad I had it once!

      4. 🙂 I am the same – I was enormously lucky to live there, had a whale of a time, but I wouldn’t go back – much like university!

  10. It is always a pleasure to look at our Yankee “haunts” through your eyes, Rachel, especially one of my favorite cities. It has done pretty well for itself as a swamp. I still need to visit it in cherry blossom time, though (we were there in July).

    What an exciting place to sleep. That is really close to the zoo for you to wake up to the peacocks. Won’t that be a fun tale to tell you nephews?

    1. Thank you Penny! I am just the same – I have been to DC three times and missed the cherry blossom by a week or so on my first visit which was such a disappointment. One day I’ll make it back in time! Yes their apartment building backs right onto the zoo, which is such a magical place to live! I wish I could have had my nephews there with me!

  11. I just rediscovered D.C. within the past year or so and one visit was enough to earn it a place among my all-time favorite cities. Like you, I was amazed at the slow pace. It felt like a big small town and I kept marveling about the seeming lack of traffic.

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