On our second day in D.C., the gloomy weather had scuttled away, leaving behind blue skies and a gorgeous day. Although our late night fun led to a late start to the day, our group still managed to experience quite a lot. To save a bit of time, we skipped a lengthy, languorous brunch in favor of a quick pit stop at Starbucks for breakfast and coffee. Then we hit up the botanical garden.
United States Botanic Garden
The United States Botanic Garden offered free entry to a conservatory boasting beautiful selections of domestic and exotic plants. Though small compared to some of the expansive botanical gardens I’ve seen in California, the selection was lovely. I particularly enjoyed the tropical room full of rich, vivid orchids. So exquisite!
The Capitol Building was a short distance from the gardens, and a pleasant walk in the crisp air. The white dome cut an impressive figure against the blue sky. Our group circled and admired the grounds.
How had this stately structure become home to such an obstructionist Congress? But then, now is not the only time in history when Congress seemed to fall short of their obligations to the American people.
“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.” ~Abraham Lincoln
“There is more selfishness and less principle among members of Congress than I had any conception of, before I became President of the U.S.” ~James K. Polk
” I have been up to see the Congress and they do not seem to be able to do anything except to eat peanuts and chew tobacco, while my army is starving.” ~Robert E. Lee
Still, it’s a pretty building…and there is hope that we the people can hold our Congress members accountable.
“Do the elected officials in Washington stand with ordinary Americans – working families, children, the elderly, the poor – or will the extraordinary power of billionaire campaign contributors and Big Money prevail? The American people, by the millions, must send Congress the answer to that question.” ~Bernie Sanders
Smithsonian Natural History Museum
Next, we walked to a park near the Natural History Museum to grab some lunch from the food trucks. The wait was long, but worthwhile. We took our loot to the fountain in front of the museum and ate in the open air, our skin periodically misted by the spray from the fountain. My chicken shawarma wrap was super tasty and hit the spot.
My favorite sculpture on the grounds of the museum was the metallic tree, named “Graft,” that added some luster to the beloved form of a twisty, gnarly, twiggy tree.
Smithsonian museums offer free admission in D.C., and the line for the Natural History Museum actually wasn’t very long – double score! Upon entry, we were greeted by a majestic 12-ton, 14-foot-tall African elephant at the center of the first-floor rotunda.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to peruse every single museum exhibit at our leisure. So we focused our time on the Gems and Minerals exhibit, which was unexpectedly spectacular. Rough or polished, stones are an art form unto themselves. We wandered through rooms showcasing diverse arrays of colors, patterns, formations, and textures. Some rocks and mineral formations looked like circuit boards and other manmade objects, but were formed naturally. Some stones had a natural color that seemed very unnatural – neon green, acid yellow. Some gems appeared suspiciously similar to the blue diamond from the Titanic movie.
In short – the Gems and Minerals exhibit rocked! See what I did there? J
When walking down the streets of D.C., there are so many important-looking building with neo-classical architecture, including mundane office buildings, that sometimes you don’t even realize when you are passing an actual important building. Our D.C. friends had to point this one out – the U.S. Department of the Treasury. That’s where the money’s at!
The White House
Of course, I couldn’t visit D.C. without catching a glimpse of the White House. Although I secretly hoped President Obama would make an appearance, he was travelling that day. But I did take a moment to soak in this iconic site. I thought of all the powerful leaders that have occupied the White House, and how they help shaped our country. Who would be next, I wondered?
“Somewhere out in this audience may even be someone who will one day follow my footsteps, and preside over the White House as the president’s spouse. I wish him well!” ~Barbara Bush
Renwick Gallery, an art gallery under the Smithsonian umbrella (and therefore offering free admission), was an unexpected delight. After passing by the White House, our group popped into the nearby gallery to admire the collection of contemporary American craft and decorative art. Among the fascinating exhibits were antique vases that had been marred and warped in captivating ways, unique amorphous furniture, wood pieces that were partially carved into unsettling limbs, and psychedelic glass-blown pieces. If you’re in the neighborhood, Renwick is definitely worth a stop.
The W Hotel
Before our NY friends had to leave for their flight, our group decided to grab some drinks together on the rooftop of the W Hotel. As we walked through the main floor, I noted the fresh yet classy vibe and admired the funky pop art of Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and other salient figures that lined the walls. On our way up the elevator, we noticed a tall, athletic man clad in the uniform of a player on the U.S. soccer team…apparently the team was having some sort of event at the hotel! The boys geeked out accordingly. But alas, there was no room for us at the rooftop bar. It was much too crazy up there. And so we decided to seek out a different scene for libations.
As luck would have it, we found an open table at The Hamilton, an institution of classic D.C. sophistication. I felt as though I should be sipping an old fashioned while eloquently crafting a deal with a congressman. Instead, I enjoyed a beer, and our group said our goodbyes as our NY friends got ready to return to the Big Apple.
Our D.C. friends led EZ and me down the chilly streets of D.C. to Chinatown, an historic neighborhood defined by a traditional Chinese arch, a number of Asian restaurants, and Chinese lettering translating the signs for all of the vendors in the neighborhood. This area has a vibrant, rough-around-the-edges feel to it, and the population seems a bit more diverse and relaxed. But Chinatown still has its fair share of fancy joints and historical buildings.
Our group took a moment to admire one such building, the Sixth & I synagogue, one of the oldest synagogues in the city that hosts arts and culture events for the public in addition to religious services for various Jewish denominations.
Indian Food – Reimagined
For dinner, our D.C. friends introduced EZ and me to Rasika, an upscale Indian restaurant in Penn Quarter, near Chinatown. As the waiter seated us, he gushed enthusiastically about the famous patrons that have dined at Rasika.
“President Obama has been here a few times,” the waiter said. “Paul Ryan – he has come hundreds of times! Hundreds!”
Rasika’s celebrated palak chaat was to die for – baby spinach transformed into delicate, crispy, savory goodness. We also ordered several other appetizers and main dishes, including some tasty tawa baingan (eggplant and potatoes in olive oil and peanut sauce), chicken tikka masala, lamb curry, and of course fresh garlic naan bread seasoned with herbs. I’ve been to dozens of traditional Indian restaurants with delicious, fragrant, generous portions…but never before had I experienced Indian cuisine reimagined with such finesse and creativity.
Presidential Debate at Busboys and Poets
We finished dinner just in time to meet up with another friend at a sports bar to watch the second presidential debate between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. The sports bar was a bit muted, with the other viewers dully watching the debate without emotion. Since we’d been hoping for a more interactive atmosphere, our group left after a drink and went instead to Busboys and Poets, a bookish bar that was much more lively.
People young and old (but mostly young) filled the tables, lined the walls, and sprawled across the stairs with a drink in hand as they gaped up at the TV screens. Our group ordered drinks at the bar, then took our post on the stairs. We gasped and murmured with the masses as the surprisingly dark debate unfolded before us. What was happening to our country?
“I’m not shy about heated debate or passionate discourse, but when people get crazy or rude, that’s a buzz kill. There’s got to be a better code of conduct, some basic etiquette.” ~Mos Def
Although we left the bar with mixed feelings after the debate, my hope in America was not lost. And we had at least a little more time the next day to explore and honor our nation’s capital.
Continued….read Day 3