A late arrival in Washington, DC

It’d been six weeks since our last flight somewhere and we were starting to feel the itch by the time our weekend getaway to Washington DC came around. We slept in on Friday, had breakfast, tidied the house, all while snow fell outside the window. It stopped by the time we left, catching the train, then bus, then ferry to Billy Bishop airport.

Because this airport is downtown we think it’s quicker to get to but in reality it takes about 45 minutes. Getting to Toronto Pearson on public transport takes about an hour so we’re not really saving much time. Also, flights from Toronto Pearson tend to be a bit cheaper. Toronto Pearson also has another thing going for it: US border control before you depart.

Our flight left Billy Bishop about twenty minutes late. The flight was only about half-full so Glen and I had two seats each (which was just as well as his Canada Goose jacket was spilling over into my seat). We landed at the same time as scheduled, which was good, but really it wouldn’t have made much difference.

We spent about an hour in the US border control queue along with Brits and Germans. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a queue that long. When we finally got to the front we got through without incident, having a nice officer this time, and then joined a taxi queue. That was another 45 minutes. And then the taxi ride to the airport took about an hour due to Friday rush-hour traffic and crashes on various roads.

We were also subjected to a really, really bad radio station with its hyped news reports about the impending snow storm and exceedingly cheery presenters. Listening to this station should be outlawed as a form of torture.

We’d foolishly thought that arriving in DC at 3pm would mean we’d get a couple of hours of sunlight to check out the monuments before nightfall. However, by the time we got to the hotel it was dark. The gridlock in the city really has to be seen to be believed. Streets absolutely chockers with cars and buses. Really something else, even worse than New York, I’d say.

But we finally got to the hotel, the Washington Plaza Hotel, checked in and went up to the room. Nice hotel, room looked good, comfortable. We didn’t stay long because we hadn’t really had lunch and as it was now time for dinner we were desperate for food.

During the taxi ride, Glen saw a Chinese buffet nearby. I wasn’t so keen, imagining the rest of our evening being spent hugging a toilet bowl while salmonella attacked our insides. But we went. Incredibly cheap. $13.75 per person for all you can eat. And the food wasn’t bad, though it was really white people’s Chinese.

We ate our full then headed down towards the White House. My stomach took up my earlier fears of food poisoning and started to hurt. However, I forced myself not to succumb to it and rationalised that the pain was probably just because I’d eaten too much. Thankfully, my body accepted this and I wasn’t ill.

We were really lucky with the weather in the evening as it was a really lovely night, no cold wind, no rain, no snow. We walked down to the White House where there were only a few other people around (and plenty of police). I’d brought my new tripod along so experimented getting night shots. It also meant Glen and I could be in a photo together for a change without one of us appearing in a slightly odd perspective.

Seeing the White House and the Eisenhower building (where the VP works, I think), Glen and I joked about the portrait of Fat Wolverine mentioned in Veep. Funny that out of all the films and tv shows that feature the White House, our most memorable is Veep. Goes to show how good the show is.

We then walked around the ellipse and got to the other side of the White House to take more photos. The cop on duty said we weren’t really allowed to have tripods but if we were quick, we could take our photo. He was really nice (and cute). Unfortunately, where we were was just a bit far from the White House so I didn’t get any good shots.

Next up was the Washington Monument, then down to the World War II memorial (very atmospheric), through the trees by the reflecting pool (very spooky down there but lovely) and then to the Lincoln Memorial. Going at night actually turned out to be really worthwhile. Everything is beautifully lit and there were hardly any people around, meaning we didn’t have to worry about people tripping over the tripod.

Glen had downloaded a walking tour itinerary for the monuments which suggested between 1 and 3 hours to cover all of them. It took us three hours just to do these three and there were about five more left to go!

It’s quite something to see all these monuments. Firstly, because they’re so prominent in movies, and secondly, because it’s like visiting temples and statues in Rome. Really, the ones in Washington serve the same purpose. They’re a monument to an idea or a person, which is pretty close (if not exactly like) praying to an idol.

What depressed me though was that the ideals of Lincoln and Jefferson that are enshrined have, by and large, been ignored. It’s like they’ve been put in a box and forgotten about, like they’ve been taken care of and now we can get on with the real business of the country. More on that on Saturday’s post.

It was about 9pm by the time we finished with Lincoln and our legs were starting to hurt so we decided to abandon the rest of the monuments until Saturday. Our walk back took us past the Institute for Peace, the Pharmaceutical Institute and the National Academy of Sciences. Outside this building is a wonderful statue of Einstein that makes him look a bit like a Muppet character. More photos here then up some streets that earlier in the day had been gridlocked but were now deserted. Like Perth after dark.

Unbelievably we were hungry again so decided to go into a restaurant called Woodward’s Table. From the outside, the place looked wonderful: nice bar, warm colours, attractive interior and an interesting menu. We went in, I asked for a table for two, the greeter said yes and then disappeared. No indication that she was getting a table ready for us. After a few minutes passed, she returned and someone showed us to our table.

Our waiter was surly, could barely give us the time of day, plonked our food day, barely made eye contact and didn’t smile, despite doing all this and more for the two tables around us. Was it because we weren’t wearing a smart shirt? If there was a dress code, they should have said at the door. Regardless though, we were here and wanted food so we should have received the same experience as everyone else.

When the check came and I paid in cash, the waiter took it away then didn’t come back for a while. When he saw we were still sitting there, he asked if we wanted change. I said yes. The money I’d paid would have covered the bill plus a 20% tip. No way in hell was I going to give 20% tip for that service. Unfortunately, I ended up giving him about 15% because the only thing smaller I had was a $1 note. I should have left that instead. Despite the crap service, the food was nice and well presented. I won’t go back though.

So our first night in Washington DC was a bit of a mixed bag but must say our time looking at the lit monuments outweighed the trials.

2 Replies to “A late arrival in Washington, DC”

  1. “Tripping over the Tripod” strikes me as a great title for a book about photo-taking while travelling . . .

    Your story about the surly waiter reminds me of a dinner I had when in Washington DC, with my friend (and yours) Margaret. She had booked us in to see a university production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It (or it might have been Twelfth Night–the production was so godawful I’ve repressed the title of the play), and she said to me, “I’ve found a great little French restaurant around the corner, very unpretentious, and it’s on the way to the theatre. Because it’s a student production, we don’t need to dress up.”

    Accordingly, we presented ourselves at La Marée in parkas, sweat-tops, jeans and sneakers. To his eternal credit, the maitre d’ didn’t even blink, but greeted us at the door, and led us to a table, secluded behind a bank of potted palms. As it turned out, this camouflage was not for our privacy and other benefit, but for that of the regular clientele, because it seemed that le tout Washington dined there: people swept in clad, as appropriate, in evening gowns and jewellery, or dinner suits and black bow ties . . .

    Our meal arrived EXTREMELY promptly, and we were back out on the pavement in about 45 minutes. The maitre d’ bowed us out, wished us a good evening, and hoped we’d return–all without a hint of hypocrisy about it! Now THAT is what I call charming manners and a good grip on customer relations!

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