I've always wanted to visit our nation's capitol but didn't really have any intention of getting there at this point in life. However when work offered to send me to a conference at Yale and one of my gal pals was going to be on a work assignment to DC, I decided that it just made sense to add a few days on to the trip to explore some of the great history and political scene that DC offers.
I took a red eye to DC (which I never do but it seemed to be the standard flight and I was going for cheap here....) with a lay over in Detroit. Side note: actually pretty impressed with Detroit's airport! However the red eye meant that I had about 3.5 hours of sleep under my belt by the time I arrived at the Baltimore airport (again, cheaper than DC's airport). Getting the transport bus at the airport to the train into DC was really easy. The directions at the train station weren't quite as clear but I figured out which side of the tracks to get to and which train I wanted based on asking people. For $7 it was a great deal and it just might have been my first time on a train like that :)
Upon arriving at Union Station in DC, one of my old military spouse friends drove into the city to meet me. She picked me up and we went to the coffee house that is run by National Community Church (the church mentioned in the book the Circle Maker and where my gal friend attends). I hadn't had the opportunity to really chat with Erin since they moved away from our military installation in 2010, so we had about six years to catch up on. (We actually met through our dogs and her husband served in a different unit than mine. They left the military in 2010.) It was great to see her after so much time and to see what an impact the church has had in her life. She also has years of history in DC so gave me a quick run down of the neighborhoods, gentrification, and general idea of layout on our drive to where I was staying in Dupont Circle. It's always super helpful to have someone give a lay-out of the land when traveling (I also use an initial bus tour sometimes when I travel to do the same thing).
Since I was staying with my gal Christina in a short term flat rental, I let myself in and then attempted to take a bit of a nap until she got done with work. Once she got there, we changed into running gear and headed out for a quick 3ish mile jog together. We ended up off the beaten path along some creek but totally just were glad to be getting some miles in together. Post jog, showers, and a bit of chatting, we walked a street over to this great dive-y restaurant that had great food and drinks on the menu. Getting back to the flat, we chatted for another hour and then crashed.
Side note here to say that the upstairs rental neighbor was SUPER loud and a phone pacer who did not go to bed generally until 2 or 3am. I'm a light sleeper and Christina was having problems dealing with this guy's noise herself. I was so tired the first night that I got some decent sleep anyway...but this became more of an issue as the night's went on.
Day 2: I slept in like a regular lazy bones adjusting to East Coast time, which means I rolled out of the flat a bit after 10am (or 7am Pacific time). Even with a later "start" time, I used my time well. I walked from Dupont Circle through "Foggy Bottom" which ironically took me right by GWU's Milken School of Public Health as I was heading to the Lincoln Memorial end of the National Mall.
One of the many "circles" in the city.
The famous view looking out from the Lincoln Memorial.
Seeing all of the presidential memorials and reading the quotes selected was quite timely given our current sociopolitical climate in our nation.
From the Lincoln Memorial, I started walking the length of the mall....first stop was the Vietnam Veterans memorial wall. The wall itself is much larger than one envisions further putting the enormity of the lives lost into context. There also were several groups of older veterans and dependents who were visiting this day and it was especially moving to slowly walk along the wall surrounded by prior military personnel who had lost friends and family in this war. Having lived and worked with veteran populations, this always tugs on my heart, but this particular day the enormity seemed to hit home even more...I also kept wondering what type of memorial our Iraq/Afghan veterans will have...
From the Vietnam Memorial, I walked up past the White House (which uh, I almost wanted to stage a protest just to get one of those handsome secret service dudes to chat with me...) :) I did ask the (female) police officer if the First Lady's veggie gardens could be seen from outside the property, but apparently they're only viewable from inside the gates. While it was neat to see the White House, it sort of "normalizes" the life of our political figures also. I mean, we're all just people right?!
From the White House, I walked to the other side of the Mall, past the USDA building (perfect place for that protest :) but I WAS impressed with the herb garden out front), and up to Capitol Hill. I attempted to check out some of the botanical gardens on the way but the garden was closed. I sat on a wall on the lawn of the Hill for a bit to rest my feet and then I started back down the other side of the mall. I walked through a neat park area and then stopped in at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. There was a great exhibit on Africa, a neat photography exhibit on Iceland, loads of great focus on climate change and the environmental impact that our oceans are seeing, and then there was a neat exhibit that looked at human evolution (with some great food oriented components).
They also had this neat little interactive feature...here's me as a sexy awesome Neanderthal-ha :)
The Smithsonian also was having an IMAX film on the National Park's but I decided to bypass it as I've seen a lot of that type of footage in the past. From here, I walked back to our flat in Dupont Circle to meet up with Christina.
We'd already planned on doing a longer run so we headed out to do the rest of the National Mall that I didn't check out:
We ran along the newer MLK Jr & FDR memorials and then looped around to the Jefferson Memorial side.
Altogether it was a 6ish mile outing and incredibly beautiful with the sun setting. DC truly seems like a great area for running (and there were lots of areas that I didn't get to...).
After showering we both were pretty tired this night, but we walked about a mile away to this neat restaurant that had great local artisan pizza and local beer on tap! :)
The next day I decided to give the Metro a try as transportation to Arlington National Cemetery. (I always think its worthwhile to try out public transport in new places, but in the end I realized I could walk by foot about the same amount of time as it took with all the transfers to get to most places downtown.
So incredibly impactful. The headstones (and thus the lives) go on and on and on. I also was able to see JFK's gravesite but didn't feel it was appropriate to take a ton of photos here. The timing also worked out to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. BUT this whole morning also left me really upset at the general lack of respect and appropriateness that many showed. There are signs everywhere asking people to keep propriety and respect in mind and this particular site is just serious in nature. Yet I can't count the number of loud students/teens, the number of female teens hanging over memorials or jumping around things while their moms photographed them, and should I mention the guy who answered his cell phone in the middle of the changing of the guard AFTER we'd all been reminded to be respectful and quiet? After 1.5 hours with other tourists at this location, I was a little over hanging out with tourists or many other people. Instead of taking the metro back, I walked back across the river, through half of the national mall, and then trekked by the Ford Museum where Lincoln was shot. Huge lines were at this particular location so I quickly rounded the corner and instead decided to hit up a local brewery. It also was warm out this day so it was great to just sit, eat some decent food, and try out a locally produced brew. From here, I walked back to the flat and hung out relaxing until Christina got back from work.
I should also probably note two things that further impacted just resting for the rest of this particular afternoon. 1) I still had limited sleep. I had decided to stay up grading until the guy was quiet the 2nd night. So while all my online grading ended up completed, this also meant that it wasn't quiet enough to sleep until about 4am. 2) Which means that whatever cold my immune system had been keeping at bay, started to overtake my body once my sleep stores were knocked out three nights in a row. (This same cold keeps getting passed around at work even now. There are 6 of us routinely hacking in harmony....)
Christina arrived to the flat a bit earlier than the night before so we decided to head out for another 3ish mile jog together. Then since this was our last night (and she officially signed the sale of her Portland condo), we went out to celebrate with a pretty incredible meal at The Lincoln: absolutely incredible drinks & the food was amazing. Amazing rolls with gingerbread butter, chicken and waffle schnitzel, sweet potato gnocchis, kale salad, salmon with lentils. Truly some of the best fare I've had in a long, long time.
All in all it was really great to spend a few days with my gal and to explore the city. I felt like I saw almost all of the highlights in about a 24 hour window but there were several things that would be totally interesting to still check out (Mt Vernon, National Geographic Museum, nearby Alexandria, biking trails). I also was super impressed that DC felt more like a small town than a major city. I totally recognize there has been major gentrification that has occurred (and I always have mixed thoughts about that) but I felt completely safe wandering around the city and it felt like a foodie & runner's paradise while being totally walkable. I can imagine for people who live in DC, most time is probably spent on work and it might feel like there's not as much to do beyond the touristy items. I totally was impressed though and could absolutely see myself going back there. If housing prices weren't so out of this world, it actually would be a place that I would be open to contemplating for PhD programs...and I never would have imagined feeling that way before actually visiting.
From DC, I took Amtrak (metro to the train station....super easy process actually and boarding the train in this setting was super easy too) up to New Haven, CT to attend the conference. (Side note: just like with plane tickets do not delay on purchasing Amtrak.....the price went up 60 bucks in one week as it got closer....). The train ride was a neat way to see a bit more of the country side (although in many areas the train doesn't exactly go through the nicest areas of towns) and I also got to see NYC from a distance. As the train was packed, I ended up having a really nice guy sit next to me. He had traveled much of the west coast and had also been to Argentina. He was originally a lawyer from DC who now lives in Vegas and runs his own business. (Somehow this seems to be a pretty common theme: male DC lawyer becomes independent contractor/entrepeneaur.) But he was a great conversationalist and we chatted off and on for a couple of hours.
I'd booked a hotel via the conference that was really easy to walk to from the train station. The conference itself was pretty decent and it was nice to be surrounded by so many others working in the global health field. The conference as a whole wasn't exactly what I'd expected (SO many sessions that could have been streamlined....and what conference has NO food?!) but it had a lot of great presenters, I was able to connect a bit more with a couple of my colleagues, and it was great to see my students there engaged in the sessions. Being at Yale was an interesting experience and I didn't really feel like I'd missed out by being primarily raised as a West coast gal. It was a pleasure to see the campus and to sit in classrooms that have housed some of our nation's incredible thinkers. There truly is so much history there. But it also left much to desire in my book and it was disheartening to learn how much of a contrast exists between one of the wealthiest campuses in the US and the rest of the community that surrounds it. There is a big push within global health that local is also global....and I can see where there is much need in this particular setting as well.
With one of the students on the Yale campus.
While at the conference, we ate a few of the local restaurants and there were some cute shops around, but I mainly hung out in the hotel at the end of the conference days. I did get a pretty solid run and some lifting in using the hotel gym....and I loved indulging in my nightly hotel pleasure of chomping on ice chips :)
The conference was over a Saturday/Sunday, so on Monday morning I was up early to grab the train to Boston. There had been a couple of options how to do the final part of the trip, but the cheapest rental car option was for me to take the train to explore Boston and pick up a car there......and that part of the trip recap is to come :)
General summary here: DC was awesome and I'd gladly go back to study/work for a few years. Yale was a great exposure but not anywhere that I would need to return to...although there's probably the option of next year's conference there.....