Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Visiting Our Nation's Capital, Part I

Being that it’s a mere 3 ½ hour drive (pending traffic cooperation) from where I have lived all of my life, I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t set foot in our nation’s capital since I was in 7th grade on a field trip.  As a 7th grade tourist, I was a little unimpressed.  There was no doubt in my mind why it was labeled the worst field trip out of the cycle of three, the other two being New York City and Williamsburg, Virginia.  How is DC supposed to compete with NYC and Busch Gardens?  I’m glad that, as an adult, DC moved to the top of the field trip rankings.  What a fun weekend filled with museums, culture, good food, and good company.

Instead of driving and battling the horrendous DC traffic, Nick and I decided to take Amtrak down.  Our trip started out rushed and a little frantic due to me leaving my office late to meet Nick and having to run to 30th Street to catch our train, but we were quickly able to relax on our two-hour train ride.  Amtrak is so nice and clean and the people who ride it appear to be conscious that they are in a public space and therefore shouldn’t be speaking and laughing loudly to the person next to them.  Maybe this was a fluke, but it was a delightful break from my life as a daily SEPTA rider.

Upon arriving, we met up with our friend Matt who whisked us out of the city for dinner at the Lost Dog Cafe, where Nick and I shared a delicious chicken taco pizza.  The next morning we rose early and ventured off into DC via another example of public transportation done right: the Metro.  Having ridden on all of SEPTA’s modes of transportation, except for their buses, I think I have a pretty good picture of what it considers standard: dirt, stink, and confusion.  The Metro embodied none of these.  When we sat down in the car I was shocked to see that they had carpet covering the floors.  Carpet!  What is this, Disney World?  As I’m sure it does for any child who visits, Disney World marked the beginning of my love for public transportation.  As a child of the suburbs, I was amazed at the efficiency of their monorail and bus systems.  Sadly I hold all public transportation systems up to this standard, and few ever come close.  But I’m not sure even Disney World has carpet on their monorails. 

A short ride later, we arrived at the Federal Triangle stop, which was a short walk away from that day’s destination: the National Museum of Natural History

We checked out the hall of Human Origins before tagging along while our friend gave a tour of the Ocean Hall (that's him in the red volunteer vest).

He was an excellent tour guide and we learned a lot.  Afterwards, since he volunteers there and has super security access to the behind-the-scenes stuff, he took us up to one of the vaults to see how specimen are stored. These cases move along the floor to allow for optimum storage space.  You just use the controls at the end cap to move the whole unit.  Super cool.

We happened upon the very extensive vault of insects. 

Look how tiny and evenly spaced those ants are!  It was awesome.

At that point we were getting a bit hungry, so we headed out of the museum and over to The Old Post Office for lunch.  We all ended up with some sort of middle eastern cuisine and then got the most deliciously huge cookies for dessert.  Once our bellies were full, we headed back over to the museum to tackle the rest of the halls.

We started checking out the dinosaur section but had to pause because we were getting a bunch of calls from back home.  Nick’s mom graciously agreed to feed Flick while we were gone and while she was there our carbon monoxide detector started going off.  That’s definitely not a call you want to get while on vacation!  The firemen came and took readings of our entire house.  Thankfully, they didn’t detect any traces of carbon monoxide, so it appears that the detector was faulty.  I can’t imagine how terrified poor Flick was with the detector going off and the firemen tromping through the house.  He doesn’t like to hear alarms or sirens on TV let alone in our house.  I am very thankful that Nick’s mom was there to not only hear the alarm but to then comfort Flick once we found out there was nothing to worry about. 

With that taken care of, we focused back on the dinosaurs and the rest of the first floor.  Then we moved things upstairs and checked out the gems, bones, insects, and butterfly exhibits.  The Butterfly Pavilion was awesome!  The folks at the museum set up a tropical environment where the butterflies and moths fly freely, landing on the beautiful flowers, plants, and even the museum guests as we walked through.  It was a great opportunity to try out our cameras too!

These moths were HUGE.  This guy was about as big as a man's hand.

This little guy was perfectly content perched on our friend's shoulder for a bit.  Later we saw a guy with a butterfly that was perched on his head.  

We spent pretty much the entire day at the Natural History museum and were able to see the entire thing.  Along the way we even saw these “under construction” signs that looked just like WPA posters.  Classy!

We then headed back on the Metro to tidy up for dinner at Founding Farmers, which I have been excited to dine at since we started planning this trip months ago.  It is a farm-to-table restaurant, a type of eatery that has been getting a lot of attention lately from foodies because of their seasonal menus that feature fresh and local ingredients.  Nick and I are huge fans of JG Domestic in Philly and Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, which also use the farm-to-table model.  To start, we all shared the popcorn of the day, fried green tomatoes, and flatbread with tomatoes, goat cheese, and pickled red onion.  For my meal, I got the Straw and Hay Pasta, which had long noodles, asparagus, bacon, mushrooms, and peas.  It was amazing.  The sauce was super light and the bacon had the most intense (but good) smokiness without being too tough.  Nick got the southern pan-friend chicken (which came with the most amazing waffles and macaroni and cheese) and Matt got arctic char and some veggies.  Both meals were fabulous (I would know, I sampled both).  For dessert, I got red velvet cake, Nick got a black and white milkshake, and Matt got the sorbet of the day, strawberry basil.  We left full and extremely happy with our food choices.

From there, Matt drove us around to show us the town a bit, including some landmarks and memorials.  We then headed back home where Nick beat the pants off of us in a game of Scrabble.  He is a master of the game, having refined his play over the past 20 odd years.  We retired for the night happily tired from the day’s events and looking forward to the next day’s agenda.

Check back tomorrow for the rest of our DC adventures!


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