Sunday, 19 February 2012

Welcome to DC - Day One - Saturday 4 February

On Saturday 4 February, the Yorkshireman and I arose at ridonculous o'clock for a long day of travelling. Bleary-eyed but excited and armed with a well-organised and thorough travel documents folder (if I do say so myself), we caught a taxi to Belfast City Airport, then a flight to London Heathrow, where we caught another flight to Washington DC Dulles Airport.

1 Virgin plane

We flew Virgin Atlantic to the USA again and, tiny seats in economy aside, we had another great flight - their on-demand in-flight entertainment is hard to beat. This time, giddy with the thought of embarking on another adventure, I was in a chick flick/comedy mood and ended up watching What's Your Number? (predictable from the off but Anna Faris was adorable and funny as always), Friends With Benefits (good actually - even Justin Timberlake didn't put me off, which was a surprise), the Glee Concert Movie (which I had actually seen before and knew was cheesy but, what can I say, I'm a Gleek) and three episodes of Glee (because by then I was in the mood for it). The free bar certainly also gives Virgin extra brownie points for us but this time we only had two glasses of wine each (well, three if you count the one with lunch) - so well behaved!

Having cleared immigration with only about a half hour long queue, we grabbed a drink at the airport Starbucks (the Yorkshireman was glad to be back in a country where iced tea that doesn't come in a bottle with 65g of sugar added in is not a strange request and I just needed coffee) and after a bit of a wait we caught the 5A bus from just outside the terminal to L'Enfant Plaza in DC. En route I saw the Pentagon (easily the biggest building I've ever seen) and caught a glimpse of Arlington Cemetery.

Eventually we arrived at L'Enfant Plaza, where the intention was then to get a 52 or 54 bus to our hotel, but there was a bit of confusion about bus stops. Nay, a lot of confusion about bus stops. I'm not really surprised (I mean, have you seen their bus map?! It makes my brain hurt just looking at it!) Turns out that the L'Enfant Plaza stop we were dropped off at was nowhere near the L'Enfant Plaza stop we needed to get our next bus at. Also? You need exact change for the buses, which we didn't have. Feck.

One slice of cardboardy pizza and a drink from the only store around with any sign of life in it later, we had our change but were still confuddled about the bus situation. When we (ok, the Yorkshireman) finally figured it out and we made our way to the right stop, we waited 45 minutes until a 54 finally rocked up. Two actually; I guess some things never change no matter what city you're in! We would have got a taxi but the two I tried to flag didn't stop, maybe because we had luggage, I don't know. Oh and did I mention it was raining, dark, there was no-one around except other lost people, and we had a backpack and a heavy suitcase each to lug around? Also that I was still on a crutch because my hip was (is) still sore?

I was most decidedly displeased and didn't have a great first impression of DC. I mean, it was Saturday night... where was everybody?! As the bus progressed further north, life suddenly appeared, with people and restaurants and bars and shops. I was too busy trying to follow our route on Google Maps so I'd know where to get off the bus (after our earlier confusion my control freak nature was leaving nothing to chance) but the Yorkshireman reported seeing a few interesting things along the way.

All in, it took us around 19 hours to get from our front door to the check-in desk at our hotel and after the trauma of the bus incident I was not in the mood to be trifled with. Happily our hotel, the Helix, seemed well-prepared for grouchy guests and left nothing to be desired, from the efficient check-in, to the free glass of wine in their bar, to the absolutely amazing suite we were staying in, the square footage of which I swear must be bigger than our tiny mid-terrace. I also loved the d├ęcor, which was the perfect balance of retro, modern, minimalist and funky for my tastes. Words can't really do it justice, so here are a few photos:

Helix collage

The hotel is situated near where the Dupont Circle / Logan Circle / Shaw / Downtown neighbourhoods all seem to meet, so there was plenty of life around it. By the time we checked in to the hotel, marvelled at the awesomeness of our suite and enjoyed our free wine in the also-pretty-cool bar, we were hungry and so headed out in search of food.

We'd noticed a low-key little place on the way from the bus stop to the hotel called La Villa, so that's where we went. We'd thought from the name it might be Italian but it turned out to be Mexican. It wasn't particularly spicy for our chilli-loving tastes and I didn't quite get what I ordered (I just got chicken when I'd asked for chicken and steak) but regardless it was very tasty and good value for money. It "filled a hole" as one might say.

Happily full of refried beans and guacamole, we headed along to the 24 hour CVS we'd seen on our way to the hotel to buy a few snacks (by the way, white chocolate fans, have you tried Hershey's Bliss White Chocolate Meltaways? Divine!) and to pick up a few things my family had requested we bring back (corn muffin mix, anyone?).

Then it was back to the Helix for some much-needed rest. Sunday would be our only full day in DC and there was a lot we wanted to fit in, so we knew the next day would be a busy one!

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