Saturday, May 21, 2011

Walking Our Way Through DC: DAY ONE

See the companion stories "DC Museums and Monuments: DAY TWO" posted on 5/25/2011 and "Arlington Cemetery and Some DC Culture: DAY THREE" posted on 5/28/2011 

Dexter enjoying some quiet times at home
Neil and Eric have been in DC this week, along with Neil's niece Dale.  I stayed behind to look after the house.  They know I like being in charge.  Alexa, our neighbor, visited me from time to time.  She's great and I'll miss her when she leaves for college in the fall.  The guys are all wound up, so it may take several days to hear all their stories.  We'll start with what they did the first day.  

      It all started several months ago when Eric's colleague, Judy, gave him a newspaper article announcing that the Kennedy Center would be doing a new production of "Follies" by Stephen Sondheim and James Goldman (see our review posted 5/19/2011).  The two of us had always wanted to see this musical (which is rarely produced) so it seemed obvious that we check the run times with our schedules.  There was one week we could work with.  We decided to ask my niece to join us and she accepted.  Now it was time to put an itinerary together that would allow us to visit some favorite spots as well as some new ones, mostly revolving around where we would be eating.  We had not been to DC together since 1998 so the World War II Memorial was at the top of our list.  Eric had never been to the Library of Congress.  Dale was up for whatever we wanted to see. We chose a hotel in Alexandria that was close to the Metro as we didn't want the hassle of a car.  The DC subway system (now 35 years old) is one of the easiest to navigate and definitely economical. 

      Capitol Hill  After checking into our hotel, our first stop was brunch.  We had chosen a French restaurant, Montmartre (see our review posted 5/23/2011), in the Capitol Hill area.  We boarded the Metro for the Eastern Market station.  The neighborhood was bustling with a mix of young couples, strollers, pets, and intellectuals.  After brunch we headed up 7th Street SE past boutiques in townhouses to the Eastern Market.

Boutiques Along 7th St. SE on Capitol Hill
A Book Fair at the Eastern Market

What looked at first to be a protest was actually posters and handouts for a Book Fair in the North Hall.  We entered the market to spectacular flower shops and food vendors.  Turning the corner, Spike Mendelsohn of Top Chef fame was giving a lecture.  Well-noted authors were gathered behind tables and autographing their works.  Eric couldn't resist.  
House and Garden on Capitol Hill

      A walk down Independence Avenue took us past renovated homes as well as those in transition.  The Library of Congress was within our view.
The building was completed in 1897 in the style of the Italian Renaissance.  We admired the ornate building and the fountains at walk level in the front.  Our inside tour was scheduled for day three. 
Court of Neptune Fountain in Front of the Library of Congress

     We crossed First Street to close in on the east entrance to the U.S. Capitol.  It was Sunday and there was no admittance to the interior, which we had not planned anyway.  The building is one of the finest examples of 19th-century neoclassical architecture in the world.  Walking around the Capitol grounds gives one the opportunity to ponder its history, grandeur, and massiveness.  Turning around, we had a framed view of the Supreme Court building and the Library of Congress.  

The East Side of the U.S. Capitol
The U.S. Supreme Court

The Library of Congress
U.S. Capitol Grounds from the Southwest Side

     The Mall  Working our way around the south side of the Capitol, we paused for occasional views and photos.  To our left stands the U.S. Botanic Gardens.  The original structure is surrounded by newer greenhouses and myriad outdoor gardens.  There are indoor rooms featuring the jungle, desert, orchids and rare specimens.  The collection is extensive, yet manageable.  The outdoor areas have backdrops that are both familiar and picturesque while giving the avid gardener ideas to be used back home.  

Perennial Garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden
U.S. Botanic Garden Fountain
with the National Museum of the American Indian as a Backdrop
Entrance to the National Museum of the American Indian
The Rotunda of the NMAI
      The first Smithsonian structure we came to on the Mall is a 2004 addition, the National Museum of the American Indian.  We had decided that we would pass on this museum based on time.  However, we were there and the striking building design and surrounding landscapes were welcoming us.  Everything about this museum is a tribute to the  native Indians of North and South America.  The rotunda is an inverted western landscape with a giant dream catcher skylight casting a constantly changing reflection on the lower wall.  Our time was limited so we went directly to the exhibits on the third and fourth floors.  Wandering through, the areas were filled with motion and color.  We paused for the 13-minute multi-media film "Who We Are".  Like most of the Smithsonian museums, one can either spend an hour or a day and in this case we unfortunately had to choose the former.  

An Exhibit Area of the NMAI
Mitsitam Cafe

Cherry Choclo Cobbler
      We needed energy and looked to the museum's Mitsitam Cafe.  Little did we know we were stumbling onto one of Washington's hottest meal tickets.

The cafeteria is divided into five geographical regions: Northern Woodlands, South America,  Great Plains, Northwest Coast, and Mesoamerica.  The seating overlooks an outdoor waterfall viewed through floor to ceiling windows.  We shared the cherry choclo cobbler and white corn meal crumble.  The tart cherries were the perfect complement to the savory kernels of corn and crumble topping. Looking around at other tables, we vowed that we needed to return for lunch one day before leaving.  I can tell you that regrettably, that did not happen.  For the adventurous foodie, this is one spot that should not be overlooked!

Entrance to the National Air and Space Museum
Exhibit Area of the National Air and Space Museum

      Once on the Mall, the museums of the Smithsonian are lined up side to side.  Moving onward, the next one was the National Air and Space Museum.  We were just passing through but it's one historical vehicle after another which makes it hard to pick and choose.  They were setting up for a special event that night so our picks were limited along with our time.  Again, it's an all day affair if you care to partake.  There is everything from the beginnings of air travel to the latest space adventures.

The Hirshhorn Museum from the Sculpture Garden
The Inner Courtyard of the Hirshhorn Museum
      The last stop on the Mall for that day was the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.  Its "floating" round stark concrete facade is a foretaste of the contemporary art collection inside.  It exhibits works by artists of our time in galleries that flow from one to another in a large circle.  Although new acquisitions are purchased, the collection is somewhat frozen in time beginning with art from the twentieth century.  The sculpture garden begins around the perimeter of the building with the sunken portion located across the street from the north side of the museum.  There are numerous pieces, some of which are iconic in the art world.  

No comments: