Monday, 20 February 2012

Welcome to DC - Day Two - Sunday 5 February

Sunday 5 February dawned and after we emerged from our yummy comfortable bed, we took a peek out at Washington DC by daylight.

I was still wary from my negative experience the night before, lost in the streets of an unfamiliar city with unreliable public transport. The Yorkshireman wasn't nearly as traumatised but he has some kind of inner radar that I lack, which lets him get around by instinct... also two fully functioning hips and no crutch to get around on. I was therefore unwilling to make do with his "meh, we'll figure it out" attitude and set to analysing maps and websites (thank goodness for free WiFi!).

With a handwritten crib sheet of the addresses for, and how to get between, our intended destinations of the day, I felt more comfortable and we set off downstairs to enjoy some free tea and coffee in the bar. I knew I liked this hotel!

Our first intended destination of the day was the Old Post Office Clock Tower, which I'd heard had good views over the city. The Yorkshireman recalled seeing it on our bus to the hotel the night before so off we went in search of a bus. Eventually, after a 20 minute wait, a bus rocked up and on we got. However we pretty soon realised that the inbound route of this bus was not the same as the outbound route. Aaargh!

We ended up getting off at Independence Avenue and walking (using the Yorkshireman's internal GPS) the three quarters of a mile to the Old Post Office... where we circled the thing and could. not. find. a. way. in!

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I'd looked it up online (twice actually) and apparently whilst the shops and food court don't open until 12pm on Sundays, the Clock Tower is supposedly open from 10am. And yet, no entrance seemed open. Clearly one must have been but after yet another bus trauma, an unexpected walk (which included being pressured by a homeless guy to buy a map exactly the same as the free one we already had and were looking at at the time - way to target the tourists!) and not finding the entrance to this flipping clock tower after an entire circuit of the building, I wasn't in the mood to pursue it further and we gave up on the idea.

Instead we took a couple of photos of the J. Edgar Hoover Building across the road... I've clearly watched far too much Bones and X-Files because it was the first slight hint of excitement DC had given me (except for our hotel).

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Next we stumbled upon Ford's Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and took a few photos there too.

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Hungry now and with time-bound plans imminent, we decided to find somewhere to eat. Our first choice was full (ah, so that's where all the people are in DC on Sunday morning... brunch!) but then we stumbled upon a place called Spy City Café, which looked ok and actually turns out to be part of the Spy Museum. Go figure.

We got there just as breakfast was ending and lunch was starting, but we were given the breakfast menu and had no heart to discuss the matter further. I can't even remember what I had, just that it was mediocre but edible. I also remember that there was a strange ordering system (order at the till, but get a cup for your hot drinks, which you fill yourself at the side, but then take a seat and they somehow find you when your food is ready - like a cross between a Subway and an actual restaurant). I also recall that the coffee machine was out of service for ages and I needed caffeine so badly!

Eventually fed and caffeinated we headed up the street for our first appointment of the day (and the one we were most looking forward to)... we were off to see Boston Bruins play the Washington Capitals! (For those not sports orientated, that's NHL ice-hockey by the way)

We entered the Verizon Center just off 7th Street and F Street and tried to figure out where we needed to go. It was then I figure my opinion of DC started changing from "I hate this city" (direct and regular quote thus far) to "maybe it's not so bad". In part this was due to my first taste of someone actually caring that I was evidently less than fully mobile (and grouchy as hell), as a nice and efficient lady gave us directions and advice on how to get around after the game bearing in mind that hundreds of stairs were not really going to work for me and my crutch.

Thanks to the nice lady, we found our way to our floor and our section, and I decisively procured a soft pretzel (I had my first one at Madison Square Garden on our last trip to the USA and now associate them with hockey) and a beer. It was only just after midday but I was disappointed in our trip thus far and decided that day drinking was just the thing to perk me up. The Yorkshireman, probably weary from my ranting, clearly agreed and opted for the alcoholic option too. Then we settled in for the game.

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The game was great (I love ice hockey) but I must admit that it loses a little of its shine when you're not avidly supporting one team or the other. We'd supported the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup last year and were delighted for them when they won, but we were also going to see them play our beloved New York Rangers on this trip and didn't want to encourage them. However the Caps have also always niggled me for some unknown reason and when they had a good chance on goal in the first period I felt myself go "oh no!" and knew that I should just give in to my desire to support the Bruins, even though they were the away team (gasp!). And so, I did.

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I cheered for them the whole way, was excited for them when they won 4 to 1, and then gave them a warning glare from way back in the 400s at the end, just to make sure they knew that this whole supporting them malarkey was for this game only and they better bow to the superiority of the wonderful Rangers on 12 February. I'm sure they felt my wrath.

After the game, we found an elevator back down to the lobby and then started the mile-long walk down to our next venue: the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. When we were researching DC it became clear that visiting one of the Smithsonian museums was a must, but which one? In the end the choice was obvious since the Yorkshireman and I both have an interest in astronomy (when I was younger I used to sit on the flat roof of my parents' garden shed for hours at a time when there were supposed to be meteorites or other spacey phenomena - pity we lived in a city and all I ever saw was an orangey glow!). Also, the Yorkshireman and his dad seem to have some kind of old airplaney bond thing going on, so he had an additional interest there.

The Air and Space Museum was actually really interesting. I won't go into depth about all the exhibits, but I did really enjoy the Apollo one, where you could follow a lunar landing in real time from the tape recording of the audio and video transmissions and see actual stuff from actual missions, like their food packs and flight plans. Man I would love to be able to understand those flight plans - my brain imploded a little!

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Alas we had our own (less complicated) plans for that evening, so we only had time for a basic overview of the exhibits and would have liked to spend more time there. I'd recommend it highly, not least because admission is free!

Next we intended to get a bus north a bit and then another towards Union Station, stopping off at a bar nearby to watch a little of the Super Bowl game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots, which was happening that night. We don't know much about NFL but since we were visiting New York and Boston on our trip, we figured it might be a talking point somewhere along the line. In the end, guess what? The first bus didn't show up! Big surprise! Even the Yorkshireman was getting frustrated at this point and even though my feet and hip were sore, even I was willing to walk the mile or so back up to the second bus stop (well, allowing for a quick Starbucks pit-stop along the way). The first bus didn't pass us the whole way by the way.

We waited for about 10 minutes at the second bus stop and again, no bus. I know it was a Sunday but stuff was open and there were hundreds of people around, many waiting for buses. The demand is clearly there - up your game WMATA! Truly fed up with public transport in DC, we decided we might as well walk the rest of the way to Union Station. I hadn't quite banked on it being quite so far away though. It was a 1.5 mile walk from the museum to the station, but I assure you it felt like longer!

Obviously walking and waiting for non-existent buses took longer than the actual buses were supposed to and by the time we got to the bar we'd intended to watch a bit of the Super Bowl at, we only had an hour until our next time-bound appointment, so we walked on by and headed for the food court at Union Station instead. I went for some pizza and beer, while the Yorkshireman was all healthy and went for a baked potato with beef. I much preferred my option.

Our next (and last) appointment of the day was with Old Town Trolley Tours for their Monuments by Moonlight Tour. We'd figured with everything else we had planned that day, we might not get to see much of what Washington DC is really famous for (no, not corruption, although...), so we'd booked the tour to ensure we covered as much as possible. Being a Sunday night and also Super Bowl night, there were only six of us on the tour, but that just meant we had no stragglers at the stops and finished the tour in good time.

Our driver was great - funny and informative (even going so far as to get us the final score of the Super Bowl over the radio - the Giants won by the way) and the tour itself was really good. We saw the Capitol Building and Washington Monument from every conceivable angle, had a look at the White House, and had stops at the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial (which was really creepy in the dark by the way!), and the Iwo Jima Memorial (Marine Corps War Memorial), which was much bigger than I'd imagine it to be from pictures.

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Our driver very kindly left us all off at our hotels since there were so few of us, which gave us a chance to see a bit of Georgetown as well, including Georgetown Cupcakes from the TV show DC Cupcakes, which was sadly closed, although I think our driver might have stopped for us if they had been open - he seemed like a bit of a fan, of the cupcakes if not the show.

We were the first drop-off (thankfully after our busy day) and were greeted by fire engines and an evacuated building across the street - clearly someone's Super Bowl party had gotten out of control!

As for us, we retired to our rooms and ordered sandwiches and fries online from a place called either Cafe Mama Mia or Mamm'a Mia (depending where you look) via Seamless, while the Yorkshireman took advantage of the free WiFi and I watched Johnny tell Dr Houseman that nobody puts Baby in a corner on Dirty Dancing on one of the huge HD TVs in our suite. Apart from the fact that the Turkey Club sandwich included undisclosed cheese (much to the Yorkshireman's disappointment), it was the perfect ending to a bit of a hit-and-miss day, and a good opportunity to rest those weary feet. Sandwiches consumed, we decided to leave packing 'til the morning and went to bed.

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