As some of you may or may not know I addressed my OLDER sister as dua cheh, 大姐, a term of respect, from a younger sibling. She has become dc, in short, during conversations. And just this evening, we returned from DC aka District of Columbia, the nation’s capital, Obama land.
After reading Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol (earlier this year), we were moved to visit the city to see the sites mentioned in his novel. That valiant idea was flushed down the drain as quickly as it was born. Too much work. Too much walking. Too little time. Too many excuses.
We left for DC with dc on a road trip that took only 3.5 hours there on Thursday morning. But we doubled that time on the return, thanks to heavy traffic compounded by road works and accidents. One would imagine that the driver and navigator/map reader/exact change provider/road watcher would be the most exhausted of them lot (the back-seat driver was just entertaining herself at the back). But our four-legged critter, Jessie, was the most fatigued of us all, even though she slept the ENTIRE journey back. She crashed the moment we reached home. Must be hard work sleeping, getting waited on hand and foot, fanned, and relieved.
DC didn’t have too many dog-friendly hotels, and if they did, they were all exorbitantly priced. Thanks to the commendable efforts of my dc, who scoured the internet and stumbled upon gtahotels.com, we found Hotel Madera on Dupont Circle. They were so dog-friendly that Jess even had a welcome sign waiting for her at the lobby, besides the dog bed, bowls and treats that they prepared. Red carpet treatment for the best friend! Yet, the humans had to wait a while before we could even check into our rooms.
It also helped that there were plenty of good restaurants, all accompanied by raving reviews, within walking distance of the hotel: Malaysia Kopitiam (Malaysian), Zorba’s Cafe (Greek), Teaism (Japanese food and a tea house), Sette Osteria (Italian), Froyo (yogurt) and many more. These places were touted as cheap eats, but our first stop at Kopitiam on M Street was anything but cheap. A plate of noodles costing $10++ is not cheap in my book. The unappetizing smell that greeted us upon walking into the restaurant didn’t help either. BUT, and here’s the HUGE BUT, the food was as close to home as it possibly can. After dropping Jess off at our squatters, we were famished and decided instead of going to Penang, which was just one store away from Kopitiam, for the more reviewed restaurant, Malaysia Kopitiam.
Kopitiam is a coffee shop in Malaysia: Kopi, is Malay for coffee, while Tiam, 店, is Hokkien for shop. We walked in vowing NOT to order spicy food – since we were traveling and didn’t want to have upset stomachs. We ended up ordering Mee Goreng (Indian mamak spicy friend noodles), Curry Chicken Gravy Noodles and Chicken Rendang. When the food came, we were won over. This is what heaven feels like…like home.
Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and we had to doggie bag the Chicken Rendang, which ended up sharing the refrigerator with the hotel’s booze and stinking up the entire appliance. Probably changed the make-up of all the hard liquors in there too. That chicken rendang never left the fridge until we left on Sunday afternoon back to Joisey.
With half the day gone, and hubs getting a headache and having to rest, we wanted to spend the remainder of the daylight hours at the National Mall and Memorial Parks where Washington Monument stands, followed by the WWII Memorial, the reflecting pool, Lincoln Memorial and back to the tidal basin where the Jefferson Memorial sits, but marred by a construction beam. The plan was feasible on paper, but we didn’t take into account age, heat, and most of all, Jessie. We are no spring chickens, neither is Jessie. Worse of all, the suffocating humidity and sweltering heat was just unbearable.
Parking wasn’t abundant, especially on a weekday. We had to park by the tidal basin, on Ohio Drive SW, closer to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Could have gotten a few Benjamins, or a few Clevelands ($1000), Madisons ($5000), Chases (not a president – $10,000) or Wilsons ($100,000), printed for us while we were there. By the time we actually bus-11-ed it to the obelisk, we had to take turns carrying Jessie. The sun was directly above us, and blazing in fury.
The Washington Monument, the most prominent structure in DC and a beacon for lost tourists, was built in honor of George Washington. Washington not only led the country to independence but later became the first President of the United States. The Egyptian shaped obelisk stands at 555’ 5 1/8” tall, weighing in at 81,120 tons with views in excess of thirty miles. It is built primarily of white marble blocks from Maryland, Maine granite and sandstone, with 897 steps to the observation deck. The first cornerstone was laid during an elaborate Fourth of July ceremony hosted by the Freemasons in 1848 and the capstone was set on December 6, 1884. The Monument was originally designed by architect Robert Mills. It went through a few hiccups in its erection, including lack of funding (it had a price tag of more than $1 million, approximately $21 million in 2008), illegal election by the Know-Nothing party and the outbreak of Civil War in 1861.
Walking to the WWII Memorial was just pushing it. The humans were fine. But having to lug the princess too, aside from our own weight, was the straw that broke the humans’ back. She was hot, tired, and had enough of walking. We still had to track back to the car. Lincoln Memorial would just have to wait. Ditto to Jefferson.
Before we left the hotel, dc made a few requests: more pillows (they provided only two meager pillows on each bed) and to fix the phone in the room that wasn’t working. When we got back to the squatters, nothing changed. I made the requests again. The phone was promptly fixed, but still no pillows in sight. After feeding the worn-out Jessie, we decided to have a simple, non-stomach-churning food at Teaism on R Street. We walked there, passing by a few restaurants including Zorba and Sette Osteria, which we promised to try.
From the outside, in the dark, Teaism looked quaint and inviting, with patrons sitting on stone benches, sipping tea and enjoying the darkness while feeding mosquitos. The inside was busy, bustling with people wanting to be part of the “in” crowd, eating the “in” thing. There are no wait staffs. You place your order, and hope there is a place to sit by the time you collect your food. Lucky for us, we have three of us: one to order, one to “chop” seats/save seats and one to scout for better seats if the first seats weren’t up to par. DC and I shared a cold salmon bento box (having ordered too much for lunch) with cucumber-ginger salad, edamame and brown rice while hubs had shrimp ochazuke with sencha green tea to pour into the rice. We each ordered a drink; Hojicha (green tea) for dc, green tea lassi for me, and jasmine bubble tea for hubs. The food wasn’t too good. The saving grace was our cucumber-ginger salad and the Hojicha. But I shouldn’t have had that much tea in the dead of the night.
Once, after a rare night out with dc listening to Rachmaninoff in the city, we cheap-trilled and bought iced mocha latte at McDonald’s. I didn’t sleep until 5 am that night/morning.
We were stuffed. Again. Nothing surprising there. So we took a short walk, since my ankle was starting to act up, before heading back to the squatters. We were memorizing eateries and dessert places when we spotted Froyo. A filled stomach doesn’t mean we can’t dream.
Back at the lodgings, there were still no pillows in sight. I called again. This time telling them that it is the third time I’m calling for extra pillows. Immediately after I hung up the phone, dc told me she needed toothbrush and toothpaste. Great. I called up the front desk, just as the guy came with my 2 extra pillows. The same guy showed up a few minutes later with the oral hygiene materials, with his face black as the night. We settled in for the night and dc, even having the entire bed to herself and two pillows, insisted that it wasn’t enough. She was going to call front desk to request for more pillows, but I stopped her.
We can save that for tomorrow. Or so I thought.
Drama is brewing in the horizon.
My tea kept me up the entire night. And as if that wasn’t enough, I felt some insect/bug crawling on me the entire night. Could have been dreaming. In any case, I “woke” up in our squatters with bites on me the next morning. Upon closer inspection, hubs too had one bite just above his eyelid. Or was it a pimple? I thought the previous night’s hoopla with the front desk was over the top. The morning was even worse. They called in the bug inspector and tore apart the one-month-old mattresses and found nothing. They must really love us now.
With the morning wasted with my bug complain, we took the Metro to the Smithsonian to check out the museums and the Capitol. The subway system in DC has always impressed me. Clean. Rat-less. Aerated. A far cry from NY’s.
First stop was the Smithsonian info Center aka the Castle. It is not only an information center, but a little museum. The exhibit on display was Madeleine Albright’s pin collection.
We were quickly drawn to the USDA Farmer’s Market bazaar outside the Castle. Can you tell that when it comes to food, we have no self-control? We always act like starved animals who haven’t been fed for ages. So, led by our stomachs and a promise of USDA approved homegrown food, we pushed our ways through other suckers like us. We ended up with spinach and chicken Empanadas for the girls and a Chicken Florentine for hubs. Using the excuse of not wanting to hold on to oily food for too long, we scarfed down our food, which turned out to be a let down. Tasted like cardboards. Maybe cardboards have better taste and definitely more fiber. At least we had a good view.
After that meal, we had no excuse for not moving. We had sustenance to last us 2 hours (maybe). Jess was resting at the squatters. The day wasn’t as hot as the day before.
We waltz through the halls of the Museum of Natural History, which is nothing compared to the one in NYC. We spent quite some time looking and reading the exhibits, and by the end of it, felt wasted. You don’t notice it while walking, but you actually cover quite a bit of ground on these exhibits.
Then stumbled upon the Sculpture Garden, which was having free a Jazz concert that night that we planned to attend, traipsed through the corridors of the National Gallery of Art (NGA) West, skipped the NGA East and ended up at Ulysses Grant’s Memorial in front of the Capitol Building.
By the time we got to Grant’s Memorial, we couldn’t move even if our lives depended on it. Instead of heading to the Capitol and the US Supreme Court, we took the Metro back to the hotel. Free jazz concert or not, we are not heading out that evening.
Back at the squatters, they were having free cocktail hour. We each took a different drink to try: one red, one white and a sangria. They all tasted like diluted juice. Water tastes better. Luckily, they were serving red velvet cake on the side, to wash down the awful tasting wine.
We met up with an old school friend of mine, from Assunta Secondary School, Guides and Rangers, who’s working in DC now. Since everyone voted for Italian instead of Greek, we had dinner at Sette Osteria. Hubs had the special of the night, half a lobster with pasta, I had scialatelli (homemade basil fettucine with mozzarella, eggplant, bell peppers in tomato sauce), dc had linguine della paranza with clams, mussels, shrimp and calamari (but wanted olive oil and garlic instead of tomato sauce) and my friend had cavatelli al indiavolata (with spicy Italian sausage and broccoli rabe). The only person who wasn’t complaining was hubs with his lobster. DC’s food was too fishy. My friend’s and my pasta tasted like we were eating salt. I could have sworn all my hair fell out after that.
Having been to DC three times now, I have yet to visit the Lincoln Memorial. So that night, we took the car and Jessie along, drove to the Capitol for the night view and to Lincoln Memorial.
Third time’s the charm. The view up top, before midnight, was breathtaking. The Monument at the reflecting pool was ingenious. Finally taking in the towering Abe is humbling; the man, his works, his legacy.
The Lincoln Memorial was built to honor Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States. The memorial is designed after a Greek Doric temple (an classic Greek temple), containing a large sculpture of Lincoln with inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address, flanking it. It was dedicated on May 30, 1922. Key architect was Henry Bacon, sculptor of the statue was Daniel Chester French and painter of the interior murals was Jules Guerin. The Memorial is surrounded by 36 fluted Doric columns; each representing the states in the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death, and two columns in-antis at the entrance behind the colonnade, making it a total of 38 Doric columns. (When there are columns between antae, as in a porch facade, rather than a solid wall, the columns are said to be in antis) The Memorial stands at 190 feet long, 119 feet wide and almost 100 feet high. Lincoln’s Georgia white marble statue, weighing in at 175 tons was initially intended to be only 10 feet tall but was enlarged to 19 feet to fit in with the colossal memorial, took four years to complete. Urban legend has it that General Robert E. Lee’s face is carved onto the back of Lincoln’s head. Besides that, it is also believed that Lincoln is signing his name: his left hand shaped to form and A while his right to form an L.
The epitaph above the statue reads,
“In this temple, as in the hearts of the people
for whom he saved the union
the memory of Abraham Lincoln
is enshrined forever.”
Then, as Jess and I waited for hubs to finish his picture-taking, the security guards were slowly cordoning off the area. Curious we asked what was going on.
They were preparing for Glenn Beck’s rally to “Restoring Honor,” on August 28, 2010, with keynote speaker/constant victim Sarah Palin bemoaning out of her dirt button. Here are two idiots calling for honor, and styling the rally after MLK, but are in truth dishonoring Lincoln’s legacy by having the gathering at his memorial. The sensationalized rally of the century, headed by a quack messiah, came to naught, as succinctly opined by Washington Post’s Adam Sewer. And we thought we could escape a little politics, even though we were in the capital, while the President was away at Martha’s Vineyard for the week. Lucky for us, we missed it by a hair.
Instead of hanging out in DC on Saturday, we went shopping on Saturday a Leesburg Premium Outlets in VA. Before a much-needed retail therapy, we tried to visit the Arlington Cemetery but ended up at Fort Myers, a military base, thanks to tomtom, our trusty GPS. Thank goodness the guards there didn’t think three Chinese and a cocker spaniel armed with cameras looked like terrorists. We had to drive by the Pentagon too, but even that came to naught.
In the end, with no pictures to show for, we stopped at China Garden in Rosslyn, VA for take out dim sum. We were told that it was quite good.
It looked good. Smelled even better. Even Jessie was fooled, as she salivated while we pulled out the delicacies in the car. We were hoodwinked. It was so bland. What a let down!
The Outlet wasn’t much to scream about either. Woodbury Premium Outlets in NY is better. Not to mention, having to pay more than $6 in toll one way is not fun either. Fortunately we brought a shopaholic. At least she made up for the tolls and filled the booth with wares, including a new bag, shoes, dinnerware, clothes and other stuff. Jessie was pooped. So were we! Oh! And at the end of the day, she almost took the head off of a dog three times her size! The dog was just as shocked as the owner. I just held my pitbull-wanna-be back.
The incident reminded me of when we first adopted Haydn, our Miniature Schnauzer. We were off to Philadelphia a few months after we got him. While waiting for hubs to visit the Liberty Bell, I took both the babies around the block and came upon a horse carriage. Haydn started growling and barking at the horse, more than 10 times his size, and was going to take try to bite its ankles if I didn’t pull him away. I’ve got some fierce dogs in my care. In Jessie’s case, she’s all bark. Haydn was the one with the bite and her protector.
We dropped the princess back in the hotel, who promptly went to bed, while we visited Chinatown. This is the sorriest excuse for a Chinatown ever. It spans from H to I Street between 5th and 8th Street. Never mind that it is small. There were no Chinese people. The few Chinese restaurants in the area were only frequented by the white men. Not only that, there were black people clamoring around for a rally. There were no Chinese knickknacks stores. There were no wet markets.
What’s worse, we were in Chinatown but had Spanish Tapas at La Tasca for dinner. Such a sad state of affairs. However, food was ¡mucho delicioso! We had the Barenjenas Fritas (fried eggplants with a cheese dip), Piquillos Rellenos de Marisco (piquillo peppers stuffed with shrimp and scallops over lobster sauce), Salmon ala Plancha (grilled salmon topped with sautéed spinach and fried mussels) and finally Paella Negra (black squid ink paella with roasted peppers, asparagus, shrimp, squid, scallops and mussels). The tapas were simply scrumptious, minus the stuffed peppers which tasted like it was stuffed with potatoes and flour than shrimp and scallop. The squid ink paella tasted way better than it looked. It was a very good dinner, that we washed down with Cava Sangria made with blueberries and grape juice that tasted like spiked ribena. I have never drunk so much liquor in my life! We walked out of the restaurant a little high and started schlepping around the area to just walk off dinner and to waste time on our parking meter.
We went back to the hotel and headed to Froyo, a stone’s throw away from the hotel, for dessert. You would think we would be filled to our gills by now, but gluttons never know when to stop. We took Jessie out for our night stroll and got our overpriced swirl of blueberry with original yogurt. I fed some to her royal highness, who rejected it probably because it wasn’t topped with frozen bananas and cantaloupe. Spoiled brat.
Last day in DC was spent at the Eastern Market at the back of the US Supreme Court. We thought we were going there for food, but ended up at a flea market of sorts with overpriced wares. DC was suckered into buying a straw hat, which she thought made her look like Audrey Hepburn. We almost left without any food, but was saved by a French restaurant, Montmartre. Food turned out unexpectedly good, but service was snail-like. Hubs had eggs Benedict with pancetta, dc had buckwheat crêpe with smoked salmon and I had the ultra slow 15-minute-but-turned-out-to-be-25-minute-prosciutto Panini with peppers, mozzarella and pesto. After that, our trip came to a burning end with our drawn-out return back to Jersey.