Washington DC- The Mall

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It was a pretty grey day when we arrived in Washington DC, and wandered along The Mall.  The pointy Washington Memorial is pretty noticeable from anywhere on the mall, and surrounded by American flags and cherry blossom trees.  The obelisk was finished in 1888 to honour President George Washington.  The Memorial has been closed since December 2016 (until 2019) to fix the lift system.  I did managed to get a few comedy selfies.    Collages21

Heading due West you hit the Reflecting Pool and then the Lincoln Memorial.  The Lincoln Memorial is more what you would expect from a Memorial than the Washington one, but then takes a bit more finding.  It’s a Greek style, columned building, inside there’s a larger than life (actually he was pretty tall) statue of Lincoln and panels of Lincoln famous speeches chiseled into the walls.  Apparently, Martin Luther King Jnr gave his ‘I Have A Dream Speech’ here in 1963.

Day 52

And, of course, we also caught a glimpse of The White House!  We were a little disappointed at first because there was something going down and security had roped everything off.  We don’t think it was anything too exciting, more likely to be an important visitor arriving or leaving.  So we wandered down the rest of The Mall and then back again.  By the time we got back we could get a lot closer, and enjoyed some of the protests outside.  I seem to recall that one guy kept banging a drum or something extremely annoying, and I felt quite sorry for the security guys having to listen to it all day.

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Washington DC- The Botanical Garden

Day 51

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On a whim we popped into the Botanical Garden in Washington DC.  We are strolling past the Capitol Building and wandered in.  It’s free admission, and not huge so it was a fun 30min detour.

 

Some of the areas were closed when we were there, I think they were refurbishing bits.  Inside the Conservatory there are different areas for the different climates, like the tropics, desert, and Mediterranean.  There is also a section for medicinal plants, endangered plants, and a primeval garden recreating the Jurassic era (complete with little dinosaurs).usa2

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Washington DC- The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress in Washington DC was founded in 1800.  The terrible British burned the building in 1814, and destroyed 3,000 volumes.  Those rotters.  But the following year Congress approved the purchase of Thomas Jefferson’s personal library.  The LOC is the largest library in the world with more than 164 million items.

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We went for a visit, but didn’t bother with a tour and just wandered around with a info leaflet.  It’s the interior decor and murals that are particularly impressive.  Along the ornate staircases in the Great Hall there are figures of little boys, or ‘putti’.  The represent the various occupations and pursuits of contemporary American life (that’s contemporary to 1897 when the building was completed).  Above it depicts a farmer, bacchanalian, hunter, and mechanic which is an interesting mix.

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The ceilings and walls were all covered in depictions of the arts and sciences. The lady in red (bottom right) is a mural representing understanding.   The lass in the blue represents understanding.  Above the Main Reading Room is a Government mural (top right), which reads ‘A government of the people, by the people, for the people’.

In the Main Reading Room (below) there are eight giant marble columns supporting 10ft high figures representing: religion, commerce, history, art, philosophy, poetry, law, and science.  But, unless you’re an official library person, you can’t actually go in the Main Reading Room and just have to look at it through glass from a balcony above.

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Virginia- Air and Space Museum

Whilst in Washington DC, boyfriend suggested we ‘pop’ across to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Virginia.  ‘Popping’ turned out to be about an hour on a train and 30 mins on a bus but anyway…

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There is already a Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC which is also worth a visit.  But they had so many flying machines they to build another one, and the Washington Mall was getting a little crowded.  Anyway, the Udvar-Hazy centre is basically in the middle of nowhere next to the Dulles airport.  Since it was a 3hr round trip we didn’t actually have much time to spend in the museum.  There is a lot to see, mainly planes in two large aircraft hangars.  There is also an IMAX theatre and an observation tower. We didn’t do either of those, so I can’t report back.  We did peak into the Restoration Hangar where they do restoration one I assume, although no one was working in there at that moment.

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I had some issues with the white washing of any negative elements of aviation.  Each plane had a little plaque usually with minimal information, but some gave a little more of the history.  None of them really suggested anything bad had ever happened.  Included the Enola Gay from which the an Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, killing about 70,000-80,000 people.

One of the main reasons that we went there was to see the Space Shuttle, Discovery. According to boyfriend, who knows these things, there was a controversial launch when the government put too much pressure on them to launch before they were ready.

usa1My major annoyance was the lack of places to eat.  The only place in the Museum was a McDonald’s, which did not have any vegetarian options!  Or any options for any other special diet.  So I ate fries and a cookie and felt sick.  You are not allowed to take food inside (not at all, so you would have to eat it before you go in).  If you drive there I guess you can drive somewhere to buy food but that breaks up the visit.

 

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Washington DC- Georgetown

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We left the Mall and headed out to Georgetown, the university suburb or Washington DC.  We tried to walk along the Potomac but the route turned out to be less than inspiring and our path along the the river was blocked at one point due to construction work.  Also one of us (erm me) really needed to go to the toilet…So we headed into town and stopped at the first place we saw pretty much!  It was Los Cuates, a decent Mexican place with massive portion sizes!

After lunch we wandered around the town a little in the sunshine, and it’s very charming.  They have the lovely, colourful townhouses, and sweet independent shops.  I found a tea and spice shop where I got some loose leaf tea.

Day 62

 

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New York- JFK Airport/American Airlines

After my week in USA I wasn’t thrilled about returning to the real world and going back to work, although I was looking forward to a night in my own bed.  Anyway, the second half of our trip was in Washington DC, but we got the train back to New York to fly home.  So we had an early start, then a 3.5hr train ride to NYC, then we had a few hours in Manhattan before getting the train back to the airport.  And had the silliest most stressful 2hrs in an airport I’ve ever had.

We had purchased our tickets through British Airways, but they were selling on behalf of American Airlines.  Apparently, this is a common practise but seems a bit weird to me.  It meant I checked in through BA for our outbound flight but couldn’t change our seats because it was an AA plane.  It also meant that out boarding passes said we were ‘Class M’, and yet they allowed people on the plane in groups 1-8.  A bit confusing on the outbound journey but not too bad.

Anyway, we couldn’t check in on our return journey so we had to do it at the airport.  We entered a queue with a sign at the front which said ‘Check In’, naively thinking that was where you checked in.  After getting to the front we were told we had to use the ‘kiosks’, which were the computers next to us.  So we got into another queue to use the ‘kiosks’, which didn’t work.  It couldn’t find my reservation, then refused to scan my passport, then printed out a ticket telling I needed to speak to an AA agent instead.

So we got back in the first queue to speak to the agent, only to be told ‘over there’ or something else equally unhelpful.  And we had to go the other side of the walkway to join another queue.  This queue was getting longer and longer.  All the kiosks were breaking, and there was only three staff members dealing with us (after 30mins there was just one person).  They were taking 15-45mins to process people.  We queued in this queue for an hour and got roughly 1/3 down the line.

American Airlines is obviously a huge airline, that runs lots of domestic US flights.  The people queuing in our line were taking all different flights, in the olden days different flights would have different lines so if there was a problem the plane would probably wait because it would be missing half it’s passengers. These days they didn’t seem to put a call out for anyone.

For domestic flights you only have to arrive 1hr early, we had to get there 3hrs early.  With the crazy (broken kiosk) system I don’t know why there are different timescales as we were all in the same queue.  And in the queue we were surrounded by people who had missed their flights as a result of the chaos.  After an hour boyfriend decided to try again at the kiosks and thankfully it worked for him.  The stressed out young woman in front of us went to try again too but it rejected her again, this time though it was because her flight had already taken off.

We got through security and still had 30mins before boarding so we were ok really.  But my experience of American Airlines is that the system is dumb and the staff were really unhelpful.

 

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New York- Brooklyn and Coney Island

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Brooklyn Bridge from the Subway Carriage

Day two in New York and we decided to leave Manhattan and head out to Brooklyn.  This was my first trip to NYC but I’d never been to any of the other boroughs before, Brooklyn seems huge by comparison.  There were a few places I had starred on my map to visit but trekking back and forth around Brooklyn was too much.  It was about 4 celsius (google says that’s 39.2 F), and I had a terrible migraine but other than that it was a fun day out!

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We took the subway to Prospect Park, we passed the carousel but it was closed.   So we headed into the zoo.  It was $8 each which seemed reasonable given how expensive it must be to house animals (bit suspicious of cheap zoos and roller coasters).  It’s not very big but was nice to look around, and thankfully most of the animals were inside where it was nice and warm!

Day 24We walked across the park to find somewhere for lunch.  There were some other things in the area like the Brooklyn Public Library, and a fair at the Grand Army Plaza but I was dying of jetlag so we had to give these a miss.

On 7th Ave we found a burger place to get lunch, Bareburger, which is a hippy eco-friendly hipstery place that did a pretty yummy milkshake.  7th Avenue had some cute shops, a lot of which had anti-Islamophobia signs up, something of a theme of the trip as a whole.

We headed up to the top of the street to get the subway again, this time further South to Coney Island.

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Coney Island isn’t really an island, more a little man-made sticky out bit.  Unfortunately, the theme park, Luna Park, was closed.   I think the snowstorm they had delayed the Spring opening but there were people cleaning the park, presumably in preparation for opening.  This meant most of the shops and stands along the water front were also closed.  This Brighton Beach area has a lot of Russian-speaking immigrants, and there are a lot of Russian shops and signage.

Manhatan is so built up it’s easy to forget it’s an island surrounded by water.  And even in Brooklyn it seemed weird, to me at least, to be walking along an actual beach.  Like I said it was a little (a lot) chilly, but in the summer I can imagine it would be fun down here.

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Washington DC- Places to Eat

Busboys and Poets

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Busboys and Poets was were we went for my birthday lunch.  We got there are 12:30pm on Monday and it was packed, it looked like it was full of conference people so I’m not sure how busy it is normally. We just went for burgers, and I got a nice Jasmine Green Tea and it was pretty good.  It has a fun arty vibe, and there’s a little bookshop where I bought a feminist book.  It’s that’s kind of place.

Teaism

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Teaism, as the name would suggest, is a tea cafe. They reference The Book of Tea on their website, I wrote a review of it on my craft blog.

The whole ideal of Teaism is a result of this Zen conception of greatness in the smallest incidents of life.
-The Book of Tea

They do also do food but we only went for afternoon tea.  There are three in DC, we went to the Lafayette Park one.   I got a green tea, and had mochi and ice cream as a yummy snack.  I wish we had these kinds of places in the UK so that I could have sampled all the tea on the menu.

Los Cuates

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Los Cuates was one of those places we wandered into in Georgetown when we were quite hungry and I was very in need of a bathroom break.  I think it’s a chain but it was nice.  It was still pretty early and the place was quite quiet.  We got given a free batch of homemade (I assume) tortilla chips rather than free bread.  I got spinach enchiladas which, as you can see, was a huge portion with rice and beans.   At about $11 it was one of best value meals we had.

Ethiopic

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My first taste of Ethiopian food at Ethiopic didn’t disappoint.  I ordered the strange Ethiopian tea which I can’t remember the name of.  But it tasted herby, and was nice when weaker but a little too much for my delicate palate when it got stronger.  There are a few different veggie options, I can’t remember which one I originally ordered but the waitress suggested the veggie sampler instead.  The sampler was huge, there was Gomen (collard green), Miser Wot (split lentils), Kik Aletcha (yellow split peas), and Dinish Wot (curried potato).  And the odd porous cloth it was served on was actually bread!  You eat with your hands, using the bread to mop up the food.  It’s messy!

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New York- The Lego Store

Day 12

We wandered out on day one in New York in the drizzle to get breakfast at the Argo Tea Cafe in the Flat Iron Building, which I recommend.  And just around the corner was the Lego Store.  It’s not actually that big but it quite fun because of the models they have made out of the Lego.

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Day 13There are a few Loge stores in NYC, this is just the one we visited, I definitely recommend a visit if you have kids or are a big kids.  Lego is pretty expensive these days though, so I settled with a key ring.

 

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New York- The High Line

We spent our 3.5 days in Manhattan entirely South of Central Park.  I found, you can, very quickly, get used the steel and stone jungle that is New York, and sort of forget that grass and nature exists. There are little parks and squares dotted around, but I’m not sure they’re the reason people travel to NYC.  Not to burst your bubble, but it turns out Madison Square Garden is neither square or a garden…some kind of entertainment venue…

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Anyway, the weather turned much nicer (it jumped from 4 celsius to 18 the next day).  So we, and everyone else in Manhattan, decided to walk The High Line.  The High Line is an old railroad that runs about 20 blocks (1.5miles) that has been turned into a kind of park.  It runs from 34th street to Gansevoort street on the West side.  I would say it’s mostly a raised walkway with plants along it.  It was quite pleasant but at times we were trudging along behind people we couldn’t get around.  It was, however, a much quicker way to move through the streets of New York than on street level!Day 32

Above and below are some views from The High Line.  It’s a little hit or miss with what you see, Manhattan is so built up that at various points you’re just surrounded by sky scrapers.  But there is some interesting street art dotted around. In between the buildings though you do get a few good views along the long straight streets.   It’s a free activity in a city that can get quite pricey.

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