Travel Tales

exploring Washington D.C., things to do in the D.C., getting to Washington DC

Travel Tale: Washington, D.C.

October 08, 2008
by Jen O'Neill
My first trip to D.C. as an adult was a spontaneous offshoot of a journey between Philadelphia and Baltimore. I was with two friends, it was the dead of winter and we all had the same idea: to seek refuge in our nation’s capital.

Meet the Nation’s Capital

John F. Kennedy hit the nail on the head when he said, “Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” As three college students from California with hang loose attitudes, we learned our first D.C. lesson very quickly: pay close attention to the parking meters—they are hungry. But if you do get ticketed, you might receive an amusing, informative lesson in D.C. parking zones, and a complementary map of the National Mall, from the parking police.

How to Act Like a Tourist

My first observation about Washington, D.C., was that it has an overabundance of compelling tourist attractions. Unfortunately, we only allocated a couple of hours for our trip to the National Mall. Passing by the White House, we peered through the gates to see a helicopter land on the lawn and unload a cohort of what seemed to be dignified figures. We moved on to explore a history and culture exhibit at the Smithsonian and ended up purchasing multiple “I heart D.C.” key chains to mark our official inauguration into the unofficial tourist club.

How to Act Like a Diplomat

When night fell, we were ready to act like locals. Since D.C. is home to the largest Ethiopian community in the country, we ventured into its cluster of Ethiopian restaurants and found ourselves in a quandary; which eatery do we commit to? Since we were in the land of diplomacy, we decided to try different dishes at a few different restaurants.

A Twist of Bohemian Style

We were told that D.C. is just like any other hotspot—brimming with boutiques, bars and jazz clubs. We had trouble finding such spots at first, but then we stumbled upon the Adams Morgan neighborhood. Ironically, a less local source—The Boston Globe—assessed this neighborhood and deemed it to be “bohemian in contrast to Washington’s more refined areas.”

The Statement of Understatement

It’s hard to scratch the surface of Washington, D.C., in only one day. Since I moved to New York City, I’ve visited D.C. several times, in part because the Chinatown Bus and Amtrak make the three-hour ride seem like less of an obstacle. I’ve carved out a general pattern on my subsequent trips, and the first stop is always the Georgetown area.

A former tobacco port along the banks of the Potomac River, Georgetown features charming homes that are an architectural dream—Georgian mansions, Richardsonian Romanesque row houses and Federal and Classical Revival houses. The crisp campus of Georgetown University boasts a beautiful view and evokes a collegiate nostalgia.

Something for Everyone

The more I tag along with friends who are first-time visitors to Washington, D.C., the more I realize that the city is a huge educational experience. Along the way, I’ve made many new discoveries, including some that are somber, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall; some that are lighthearted and stroll-worthy, such as the Eastern Market; and some that are eye-opening, like seeing a Supreme Court hearing in action.

The Final Vote

Though Washington has a reputation for all things political, including hidden agendas, the city itself is about as straightforward as it gets. Just like every other city, D.C. harbors its own occasional obscurities, and my favorite is The Awakening a 100-foot statue of a giant struggling to free himself from the Earth.

Recently, I took my bike around D.C.—a long overdue venture. I glided through the 91-acre wooded areas of Roosevelt Island and ended with a trot through the marsh, with assistance from the boardwalk. From the island, you can see the mainland and mull upon Charles Dickens’ words: “It is sometimes called the City of Magnificent Distances, but it might with greater propriety be termed the City of Magnificent Intentions.”

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