Thursday, 14 January 2010

The wonders of Washington 1

So there I am, sitting quietly in the office minding my own business when Alex says: Claire is running her social networking course in Washington next Monday - can you go and be her backstop? Hells teeth! I've never been to the US, my passport expired in July and I don't even have a suitcase capable of venturing outside Europe...sure I can go. Much scrabbling later (fast track passport: brilliant scheme that gives you a passport in four hours, online visa waiver, John Lewis sale half-price wheelie suitcase, pocket size guide to DC and Washington Post foodie guide) and I'm at Heathrow enduring the secondary security check that makes the flight an hour and a half late leaving...but no matter. On the plane I watch Julie and Julia (Eddie has recommended the Julia Child kitchen exhibit at the Smithsonian) and blag a veggie meal which isn't too bad. Then I'm on US soil for the first time, whizzing through immigration and out into the very cold Washington night. I stayed at the St Gregory hotel, and got a very friendly, typically American welcome.
To unwind and gather my thoughts I headed for the bar and carefully eyed the beer on offer. I've never had a good impression of American beer, almost certainly fuelled by the fact the Budweiser once tried to sue the original, and very good, Bud for copyright of the name, even though Czech Bud was being brewed when John Adams was in short pants. I ordered an Amstel but the lovely bartender asked if I'm sure I didn't want to try something American.

Yuengling beer was what she was on about - brewed in Pennsylvania. It's a golden malty beer, and after a couple of sips I was convinced. Every subsequant visit to the bar alerted the staff that a Yuengling was required.
Sunday was my one free day in Washington, so I set off early to get my bearings. After a few minutes heading south, I was at Washington circle, with a fine statue of the general who bested the English keeping watch.

Then the sightseeing proper began. I headed down to the Washington monument then across the park, past a few foraging woodpeckers, to the Vietnam wall and this statue commemorating the work of women during the Vietnam war.

Just south of the wall is the Lincoln memorial. This was what I most wanted to see in Washington and I approached, half expecting to be disappointed by the reality. But the reality far outshone any images I've seen of it. It's huge, and cleverly built so that as you climb the steps, you don't see the statue of Lincoln. Only when you reach the top do you see that extraordinary seated figure.

It is, in the proper sense of the word, awesome. Lincoln stares out to the Washington monument and beyond, to the Capitol. His hands are beautiful. I paused for a moment and read the words of the Gettysburg address, carved to the left of the statue. The US knows how to do municipal art that works.
Tramping back throught the park, I headed for the Museum of the American Indian, one of the Smithsonian's newest ventures.

The building is lovely - all curves and mellow sandiness. It's a tough history and rather disconcerting to follow, as the tribes all have their own history to tell and that's what the museum does, rather than relate the more usual single narrative. The Washington Post guide had said that this was the place to have lunch: the cafe has several different counters all serving the food of different groups of tribes. I settled on the Great Plains counter and chose a chipotle chicken taco with guacamole. The chicken was good but the fried cornbread taco was outstanding.One thing I must learn how to make.
On to the Museum of American History, where I stopped off the look at Julia Child's kitchen.

There were videos of Julia's tv show and by now, I knew her wonderfully plummy accent from the film. The kitchen was warm and welcoming and packed with a lifetime's love of cooking. Outside the museum I paused to buy one of my most useful Washington purchases: a pair of earmuffs. Clamped to my lugs, they saw off the worst of the biting chilly wind. Then on to the National Gallery and the American galleries, where I fell in love with Andrew Wyeth's Wind from the Sea. Sadly, the shop had no reproduction of it. So this will have to do:

I must have walked about eight hours on Sunday, and supper was a rather indifferent bowl of clam chowder back at the hotel.
Lovely bartender: You must try the clam chowder!
Me: Where are the clams from?
LB: Let me check...(after much muttering) They're from our catering company.

Not the provenance I was hoping for.
After watching Claire do a fine day's teaching on Monday, she, Russ, her Penn friend, and I headed for the Tabard Inn, suggested by Katie who was a delegate on the course. Turned out to be a bloody brilliant suggestion.

The Tabard is a series of comfy old fashioned rooms, and Russ introduced me to another great beer: Bell's Winter White, a stonking wheat beer. My respect for American beers steeply increased. After half an hour, we got a table for supper, and very fine it was. I had forgotten my camera so I can't show you the lovely Asian seared salmon I scoffed, but it was damn good.
Tuesday was spent training, then it was back home on the red-eye and though I loved America, it was grand to be home to more snow and British accents. Mouse gave me a terrific welcome then settled down on the sofa to keep a careful eye on me to make sure I didn't go anywhere in the near future.

There's more to tell about the trip - but that can wait til tomorrow.


mangocheeks said...

I am off to make myself a hot chocolate, then I am settling down to read about your trip.

Welcome back.

Lickedspoon said...

Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip. I envy your visit to the Julia Child exhibition in the Smithsonian, and the Museum of the American Indian building, which looks beautiful. Mouse is obviously delighted to see you, s/he's just trying very hard not to show it, in the way that cats do.

fran39 said...

Thanks, Mango! Hope you enjoyed the post. Great being away but lovely to be back home.
Thank you, Debora! The kitchen was wonderful: very unchefy and homely. Mouse knows how to get me where she wants me! (Currently next to me by the pc.)